BERLIN—My friend B. leans against the windowsill and he grins a grin that seems to split his face in half. He has black, chunky headphones around his neck—you know the kind, the kind that is worn by all your friends who read Resident Advisor but that professional DJs never seem to bother with—and he’s smoking the tiniest joint I’ve ever seen out the window of our acquaintance’s kitchen window. I think to myself that maybe tiny joints are cool in Berlin, or maybe not, because I haven’t quite decided whether or not B. himself is cool in Berlin.
“But of everything I’ve seen in this last few months, you know my favorite thing of Berlin?” he drawls, savoring the suspense that he’s built for a piece of wisdom we never really asked for.
“I have a friend, a friend from Berlin, he works the door in Watergate.” Watergate is one of Berlin’s bigger electro clubs, and is harder to get into than most venues in a city known for its democratic nightlife—where you’re encouraged to dress down, where it’s more of an asset to be a gay man than a pretty girl, and where a polo shirt screams dickhead and/or tourist in popular conception.
“And one day I ask my friend, why do they never let in people who are wearing a collared shirt.” It’s true; they don’t. I went there once with a classical musician from Vienna—the kind of bloke that’s so impossibly charming you always wonder why he bothers hanging out with folks like you—and he was turned away, because he had a white shirt and pants on. Rookie error: I sauntered happily past wearing white-turned-brown sneakers and a T-shirt that looked like an apron from a thrift store.
“And my friend, he says, well, there is a reason.” B.’s consonants are thick and chalky; everyone thinks he’s from Turkey but he’s actually Bulgarian.
“This is what he says. He says, our club is our house. When we party in our house, we want everyone to be equal. If you wear a fancy shirt, like Pierre Cardin or whatever”—here B. pulls on his stencil tee and swigs on his Augustiner for effect—“then you’re trying to say you’re not equal to the others. And we don’t like this.”
A smile goes around the kitchen, among all of us foreign interns just working in Berlin for the summer. We like the happy ending.
But the resident good-times girl—a Southern Californian trying her hand at all-black indie chic—pipes in: “But there’s still a VIP room at Watergate, though, isn’t there?”
My friend B. raises an eyebrow, his dénouement interrupted. “Yes,” he persists, “but, you know, there’s no one in there wearing a collared shirt.”
I tried to go to Watergate that weekend with a fashionable Canadian friend, speaking English in the line and dressed, well, quite nicely. We were turned away at the door. Trudging back past the line, my mate inspected the fastidiously scruffy scene-kids with a mixture of dismay and perplexity—as if wondering what we had done wrong. And then it was out into the morning sun and a falafel at the Imbiss on the corner.
“I guess there’s a VIP room everywhere,” muses my friend B. as he finishes his beer and smiles again.
Alexander J.B. Wells ’13, an associate magazine editor, is a Literature concentrator in Quincy House.