Photo by Sigrid Malmgren
First things first: I’m not leaving Neukölln because of the mediocre graphic designers chimping themselves together inside of storefronts and calling themselves artist ‘collectives’, or the boys with homesteader beards, or all the nice new white girls with massive glasses wobbling down Weserstraße on unsafe bicycles. I’m not even leaving because The Guardian recently dubbed my neighborhood ‘the epicenter of cool’. No. I’m leaving because they’ve gone and opened a tapas place down the street.
I’ve instructed my landlord to only rent to Canadians or Norwegians, and to charge twice what he’s been charging me. In fact, I even procured him a couple from Ottawa who find coal romantic. There’s tapas down the street, after all.
So today I want to bid farewell to old No-kölln (1993-2008) in a way that does tribute to the neighborhood’s traditional population of aging Germans and procreating Turks: I decide to get very drunk, very methodically. The plan is simple. One last evening exploratory march down that famed self-congratulatory Neukölln stretch: Weserstraße!
I start at the corner of Wildenbruch and Weser, in front of a building so gentrified it’s yellow. It’s the canary in the coalmine writ large. If they start painting buildings in your neighborhood yellow, then a place that specializes in croissants and/or soup isn’t too far away.
Further, a good way of knowing that a bar is silly with YUKIs are the candles. Fact: only Turks and Capitalists use electricity in No-kölln. But it’s okay, I’ve got my flashlight. This place is so new it actually never seems to really be open. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even have a name. It does have, however, a carousel horse in the window, its mouth frozen, orthopedically saying “ahh”, a candle the size of a baby’s head riding its saddle.
I go in, order a drink, flash my flashlight over some mismatched wooden tables and some 20-somethings that could be marketed as pricey eco-versions of normal 20-somethings. It’s not that they look more real, just more connected to the current idea of real. Perhaps it’s that they all look as if they should have dogs sitting beneath their chairs, but don’t. The lack seems kind of ostentatious, like veganism. The whisky selection of this unnamed bar, I should say, is good, if hard to pronounce.
The next bar on Weserstraße is called SUX. I know I should go inside every bar. But I changed my mind. Every bar except SUX . It’s not so much the terrible name, but the typography they used to write ‘SUX’ above the otherwise okay-looking No-kölln candle factory. It might as well say BMX! Or NO FEAR! So I’m afraid, and keep moving.
The next thing I pass is a place with strikingly stupid hats in the window. The shop is called HIMO. It is not Turkish. It is new-kölln. The new No-kölln dweller has a typical fondness for embarrassing the top of his head with unseasonable hats not of the baseball variety. Pull it off him as he walks by and look inside: it’s only hair, really clean hair.
Next I hit TIER, a bar that used to be another bar that used to be a vaguely sinister Indian restaurant. There’s an ever-changing bulletin board outside the door of Tier that specializes in the meaningless profundity you might expect from someone wearing a distressed t-shirt featuring Johnny Cash giving the world the finger. On this night, it reads: “WHOLE WORLDS HAVE BEEN TAMED BY MEN WHO EAT BISCUITS”. Which isn’t true, or funny, and there you go: let’s drink!
The wine at Tier is actually excellent, and so is the music selection, and so is the blonde sitting in the corner alone, checking and sending texts from her iPhone under the table, thinking Gee didn’t see, but Gee saw and actually thought she was masturbating, so next time she wants to text her half-gay Italian DJ boyfriend she should just man up and do it above the table. We don’t mind. Everyone texts, even at Tier.
Ä is across the street from Tier. It’s got an umlaut in the name and because of that I decide not to go inside. (Also, there are teenagers playing table football while listening to a DJ play something that sounds either really bad or from Detroit – and therefore maybe not bad at all, but still.)
Instead, I have two drinks at RATZEPUTZ, next on the street. My flashlight finds a sofa and a stain. They’re playing classical music, I think. Or the soundtrack to a Bulgarian film the male bartender is trying to impress the female bartender with his loving disregard of. It makes the drink go down sloooooow. I begin talking to a floppy-haired man about stocks and bonds. He thinks I’m joking. I make little balls out of the wax from the Neu-kandle and line them up and demonstrate something to do with derivatives. Fun!
FREIES NEUKÖLLN is next. This is exciting because the owner – that über-cool German guy with the croaky voice who produced the now-famous I-despise-my-cool-internationalcustomers YouTube video – recently told Der Spiegel, “There are some people who think that I hate Spaniards or Italians, but it’s not true. I just want to begin a discussion.” That last bit about wanting to start a discussion is the latest way certain Germans allow themselves to hate Spaniards and Italians, or anyone. It’s like Sarrazin saying that Muslim people are just way more stupid than German people – and then everyone gets really happy that they can finally begin that discussion. It’s about the discussion! Let’s discuss!
Anyway, Freies Neukölln is the hangout if you want snappy, Starbucks-like service (in English, too, they don’t even bother with German anymore and sneer if you so much as try)… so I have five Vente beers here and then stumble onwards toward the end of the evening.
Three more bars present themselves. The first one I forget the name of: it’s right after Freies and is small and has a woodstove. Again, not enough light, my flashlight’s batteries are dead and I knock over a table. They’re playing that Leonard Cohen album, so it kind of serves them right.
Then it’s SILVER FUTURE, a sort of Friedrichshain- themed gay bar that appears to have been decorated by a very proud 12-year-old lesbian and her two heteronormative younger siblings (they’re famous for their ‘cum-shot’ – Tabasco-red vodka with some whitish liquor!). It’s out and proud and reminds me, inexplicably, of NASCAR. Maybe it’s all the stickers? Last on my farewell tour is FUCHS UND ELSTER. The less said about this hipster meat market the better.
There are stairs. They’re steep. They go down into a basement where there are skinny boys in Brooklyn hats. The ceiling is very low and kind of salty and people are dancing to a few bearded Americans pretending to be bearded Americans from some mythical past before the pneumatic player piano ruined music. They approximate folk or blues or something so pedestrian that you realize why they’re here, in a cellar in No-kölln, in the belly of Berlin, Germany, and not in the mythical American past or present, where people have ears and music like this, full of gimmick and starch, just couldn’t get the same kind of lovelies to dance around as if a drummer really wasn’t necessary. Trust me, people: a drummer is necessary.
But anything is possible on Weserstraße, I realize, and I make my way out and and someone tells me that, hey, whatever, someone has just opened a wine shop next door to Fuchs und Elster: so it’s over. It’s all happening a few blocks over on Weichselstraße now.
Which is why I’m moving to Moabit, and in three years time – after I’ve scared away some of the locals with my American Apparel – you will be, too. Heads up, Guardian readers. Moabit is the new Neukölln.