Lost Souls of Berlin: A Tale of Bohemian Consequence
It’s a Tuesday night after work, and I find myself enjoying a Sterni on the banks of the river Spree with a guy I'd met at Kater Blau the previous weekend. Although that night had become a blur after my friend suggested a third round of vodka shots, I vaguely remember this guy, let’s call him M, offering me a cigarette on the dance floor. This led to the usual drunken club chat, him telling me that he was a politics grad recently moved to Berlin to pursue his passion for DJing. I was feeling his skater-boy style and foreign accent which I couldn’t quite place, so I gave him my number—and here we are.
As intelligent, attractive and generally, for want of a better word, normal M had seemed when I first met him, whilst sitting on the banks of the Spree it soon becomes apparent that 1) he smokes weed every day; 2) he has serious paranoia and anxiety issues; and 3) he occasionally takes ketamine alone in his flat.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge him for any of this or look down on him in any way. However, I can't help but be strongly reminded of something a friend told me recently: if you are not already sure of who you are, it can be easy to lose yourself in Berlin. This statement rings true for a lot of cases.
In this bohemian city of liberal values and relaxed boundaries, it requires a strong will not to get swept up completely in the avant-garde fervour. You can hop on the U-Bahn at 11am on a rainy Monday after 10 hours of partying, smelling of smoke, glitter falling from your face, sunglasses covering your eyes, and your fellow passengers will not so much as bat an eyelid. It's not considered weird to turn up to a club entirely by yourself, at any time of day, and you will be guaranteed to find friends once inside. The licensing laws here are so lax that you can always count on a Späti to be open near by to stock up on alcohol or cigarettes—this was particularly novel for me coming from Edinburgh, where purchasing alcohol after 10pm, let alone consuming alcohol in public areas, is prohibited.
The free-spirited atmophere with its seeming lack of rules is a big reason why so many people love Berlin. But there is certainly an ugly side to this abandonment of the norm. Self-restraint is key to making it in Berlin. Whilst people here can escape the tiresome pitfalls of so-called mainstream society, it is possible to go too far the other way and forget yourself entirely. Whilst no one will judge you for your party habits or for drinking a Pfeffi on the underground at 10am dressed all in black, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise caution. All too often I meet people like M, who seem to have lost their way a bit in this city, and they may not always receive the helping hand they need.
I love Berlin for its non-judgemental nature, its forward-thinking and environmentally-conscious inhabitants, its acceptance of everyone and everything. However, in my eyes, it would be a mistake to pretend that the lack of consequences in this city are not dangerous for those who are perhaps more vulnerable than others.
By Sophie Tanno
Photo © Sophie Tanno