One of the most memorable and frequented places in Berlin where I make my stay is in a small café called Reza. It is discreetly nestled at the tip of Nollendorfplatz in quaint/slutty Schöneberg, on the bustling Maaßenstraße where you can find a variety of shops, restaurants and watering holes that cater to a seen-and-be-seen clientele, with much of the attractions there assembling areas of alfresco opportunity.
It was the place of my first “date” – just three years ago when I met a nice (enough) German a few blocks away at a bar whose tag-line boasts, “Heterofriendly”. That time was before I was jaded by so many more sleazy destinations in the heavily gay populated locale. My friend brought me to this off the beaten path place and explained to me it was where he had his recent birthday celebration.
Reza encapsulates all that is necessary and desirable for me in a home away from home; the place is a beaming sentiment for a writer who craves a dwelling fit for autonomy in some sort of vicariously voyeuristic point of view of society. There, you can smoke, drink, have a strong coffee, meet friends (and actually hear their conversations), use the free WiFi, cruise, relax, and work. The service is above par, and the prices are mid-range. It is frequented by locals who run the gamut in age, class and ethnicity, though if you had to pigeonhole a median demographic, I’d go with middle-aged, veteran expats from Mediterranean areas.
The place is adorned with vintage and modern photography – the likes of some sort of Helmut Newton aesthetic, bold and controversial fashion and journalistic photography all in black and white, hung in various unorthodox positions and varying in framing and sizes. I’d say most of the photographs were taken between the late 60s and early 90s, and every time I go there I notice something new.
There is a certain Parisian feel to the place (many times you will walk in and hear music sung only in French), and this expounds itself in the decor as well. Bistro tables and chairs of brown and beige wicker, red “leather” interior juxtaposed with hard black marble and weathered wood chairs, and mirrors that exploit the contrasting antiquity of the always new Berlin, a reflection of publicity and privacy.
I was captivated (yes, I’m being dramatic) in 2009 by the taper candles. The simplicity and elegance of these poignant, poniard looking things was something I missed most when I sojourned back to the USA. Nowadays they serve as this symbolic metaphor for my staying here, in so many ways – but to put it simply, when I see them it brings a certain sense of calm and a desire to burn at only one end.
Since that first “date”, I have introduced many of my friends to it. Having not known that the place existed but knowing full well the infamy of Maaßenstraße, I’ve been afforded the cheap thrill of seeing the look on their virgin faces as they took the place in. Now deemed “our place” by my dearest, best girlfriend, it only takes a few words for us to schedule our rendezvous point; this bar noir that serves as a purposeful and pithy backdrop for our meetings.
I met her there just this past Friday, a necessary filler for the chasms that go too long between us seeing each other. It was sort of a reunion with the place because we have spent much of our meeting times outside with the abrasive yet welcoming warmer weather, something uncommon in the cold state of Berlin.
We made peace with the ills around us, together, and gabbed on and on about what was right and wrong with the world. I myself had fallen victim (again) to the terrible plague that is Berliner Fever (something I wish to pen about separately), and per usual needed support as much as I wanted to give it to my dear friend.
There is always something new and something old with her – and we beckon ourselves immaculately as to never succumb to the confines of social media and technology – tangible keeping in touch with touching is a necessity of our auspicious relationship. I cannot live without her.
And then, a funny thing happened.
During my visits downtown (I now reside uptown in a keiz called Wedding whose namesake is a pun in itself as it seems as though this is the place where romance goes to die), I try to overload myself with all of the things I need to do that involve some sort of action including society which includes meeting with friends.
First, before my dearest girlfriend left, we met the acquaintance of another friend of mine – whom I’ve known longer than most in this transient town. I was happy to introduce him to her and we cackled over this and that, him with his beer, her with her Red Bull and I with my barely touched kaffee.
As the ashtray filled up with over-sucked butts, it was a monumental moment for me, for her, for him, for us – it was that divine opportunity to experience life outside of the death of Berlin. This city holds so many close called never to be seen again moments of serendipity, where a sudden and almost coerced closeness is melded, only to melt away not only through the hands of time, but also through the poverty and hedonism that constantly thwarts any meaningful connection here. This was not so in this case and each of my old friends became new to each other; I was pleased.
My dearest girlfriend left, and one of my oldest friends stayed and therein began a constant conversation that played itself out in the most uncanny way. Another friend – an American compatriot, was walking along Maaßenstraße with a perpetual antagonist of his, and I called out his name (in an outwardly obnoxious American fashion) and I noticed that he too had a conversation for me for it had been months since we sat in a café or bar and poured our souls out to each other. He had to go, steadfastly towards a story he would tell me later.
After one of my oldest friends left, and the American disappeared back out into the real-ish world, one of my newest friends stopped by and the whole situation was starting to resemble some semblance of speed-dating but with friends that I adore rather than strangers I would hope to.
After the conversation with the dearest friend, and then the longest friend, and then the newest friend – the American friend returned and the whole experience came full circle. I could recite verbatim the repetitiveness of what was said by each and every one of them. The similarities were chilling in a way in their identical nature. The subject was that ever elusive Topic A. That thing that can never stop being talked about. And I witnessed it in my active listening mode, not saying much, allowing their hearts to flow with the wonderful atrocity, asking questions and getting meaningful answers, being there for them and only them, there in that moment. The common theme was fear – and passion and so many other things. There were raised voices and tears and big gulps of beverages to refuel their content, as they went on and on in sometimes monologue form, and I thought that I could not and would not get inspired, but I was because this is the dialog that all art is made of. The syntax was jarring and cathartic in a way – and I wondered for just a moment if we were reading from the same script – all of us. Her, him, him, him, me – I sat there from the time the hazy sky began to flood with darker hued clouds and the sun fell under us as the moon sat above. That wretched beast, Love: was all they could talk about.