Born in Africa and raised in England, Maurice von Ritz was Exberliner’s popular gay columnist for eight years until he was poached by the BBC, where he currently works (under his real name) as a foreign correspondent “in a hot and remote country”.
“Berlin’s not the same as it was 10 years ago.” Or at least that’s what everyone told me when I first arrived here in 2000, fleeing London rents and the tube. “Everything’s got so expensive, it’s all so mainstream, there are so many tourists,” was the general agreement among the knackered-looking Berliners about to hit 40 who’d enjoyed the 1990s a little bit too much. For me though – late twenties, happy to go anywhere if the beer was cheap, living in a dingy ground-floor Hinterhof hole with orange tie-dye walls and a shower in the kitchen – it was paradise. There were still actual East Berliners in East Berlin. Pre-baby boom Prenzlauer Berg was still fun at night. And no one talked about property prices.
After a debauched decade of nonsense and naughtiness, I now work as a foreign correspondent for the BBC in a country, where everything looks a bit like East Berlin circa 1990. But for almost seven years, it was the gay column I did for the Exberliner that helped cover the alcohol costs – well, almost. It was a tough gig. I was duty bound to go to as many gay bars as possible. And keeping yourself on the guest list of every gay club in town is a time-consuming business.
In fact the diligent research carried out in the name of authentic reporting has taught me the key journalistic skills necessary for my work today. Riots and violent protests are a doddle once you can negotiate your average Berlin darkroom. The bargaining skills needed to get into any nightclub are pretty much the same as getting access to presidents and prime ministers.
And if you can be involuntarily kissed by Chantal without ending up with a venereal disease, then you know that no hostile environment will prove too hazardous.
When I’m back in Berlin these days, as I contemplate my 40th birthday, everything seems very expensive, quite mainstream and pretty touristy. Of course, that’s because Berlin’s not the same as it was 10 years ago.