Public service announcement: you are about to get publically SERVED, boy!

See that woman with the red trousers? See her face? That, my friend, is patented Berlin Contempt™

First, a little bit of backstory. I have long hair. A lot of very long hair. So much thick, long hair that it swirls around my neck and shoulders like a ravenous deadly octopus, threatening to consume my upper torso. In order to dry it, brush it and shape it into something resembling a civilised hairstyle I would have to wake up at least 45 minutes earlier every morning. So instead I tend to let it dry naturally on the walk to the train stop and then take the time during the journey to fiddle with it until it takes an acceptable form. Today I was doing just that, but when the train pulled up to the next station an old lady, just before she disembarked, swung her handbag and thwacked me in the stomach with it. I buckled slightly and looked at her with confused astonishment. ‘DEN DRECK LÄSST MAN ZU HAUSE’ (‘Leave your muck at home’) she barked before shuffling off the train in bitter fury. A nearby bloke sniggered gently into his croissant. Having seen men quite literally squeeze the liver purée out of a sausage skin onto their awaiting tongue on the train before, I didn’t really think it was the kind of place where one observed the usual airs and graces of society, but the bruise on my belly seems to suggest otherwise. It was nonetheless a proud moment; I’ve never been handbagged before. I feel like such a rebel.

And it was weird, because of all places this is the one where you can be most comfortable and most open with your…behaviour, so to speak. Here more than anywhere else do I get the sensation that you really can do, wear, say, puff what you like in public and people will just happily leave you to it. Perhaps I have already mentioned, but near to my office is a sweet little children’s shop, and right next to that is an ENORMOUS NEON-PINK DILDO EMPORIUM. They currently have a Christmas tree in the window covered in nothing but plastic tits.

Well, this photo was actually taken in Hamburg, but you get the idea.

 I love that. In the UK, if such two shops were juxtaposed against each other on the high street hordes of mothers would complain that “I don’t want my children to be exposed to such hardcore smut on a daily basis! That’s why there’s a watershed! Don’t you dare abuse my little Dillon’s mind with your unforgivable sexual depravity!” Over here, little kids happily wander along past the flowers with male members growing out of their centres, and observe the burlesque fishnet-stockinged reindeer in the window with curiosity, while their mums happily trundle pushchairs alongside. “Ma, where do babies come from?” “Well Klaus, if you just look to your right, you’ll see a pretty good summary in that shop-window diorama.”

Things rarely get more intense than the womens’ locker rooms at the gym, though. The levels of nudity reach new heights which make me, as a prudish English schoolgirl, gasp – internally. Personally, I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable to apply lotion underneath my pendulous breasts in the middle of an open public space; nor would I be happy to arrange all of my menstrual apparatus in and around my knicker region while there were other people around simply putting on their jumpers. Hell, I now even feel ashamed brushing my hair in the changing room, since it so evidently crosses a line. But Berliners are totes cool with that and they don’t see any point in being shy or closeted among each other, whether friends or strangers. 

And as with the violent handbaggery I experienced today, this openness of spirit and behaviour isn’t always a good thing. There’s very little discretion: once I walked a good twenty minutes with two guys wandering along behind me having a very loud conversation about how my legs were so pale white that they looked like they were made of cheese. They’re entitled to their opinion, but I can’t help but feel that I am entitled to my cheese-legs being discussed at least in covert whispers rather than bellowed at the back of my head. 

There’s also a lot of spitting. A lot. As in, every few minutes some pleasant gentleman will rattle his tonsils and hock a huge lump of mucus right onto the pavement, usually about three centimetres away from where you are standing. If they’re not spitting, they are engaging in the kind of open-mouthed retching cough that sounds like they have detached their lungs in the process. It’s genuinely disgusting – and dangerous: my poor colleague recently had one guy phlegm directly onto his shoe. The kind young man in question then said some disparaging things about my colleague’s face and family and *cough* fisticuffs ensued. A very nice coat was ruined and a very nice hand was wounded; it was an outrage. This spitting epidemic simply must be stopped. I fer that one day I might have to punch someone myself.

Buskers massacring the hits of Stevie Wonder for seven hours on the pavement while the poor people waiting for the bus try to focus on anything else in the entire world but the godawful music. Cyclists ploughing along the pavement with two wiggly children on lethal, tiny bikes behind them, all three of them reaping pedestrians left and right as they wheel along looking at everything except the stretch of tarmac in front of them. Builders smoking a worryingly large joint at 7.45am on their way to work (all I can say is, I’m glad I won’t be living under whichever roof that particular builder was working on). A man on the U-bahn unwrapping and eating an entire wheel of Camembert the size of a frisbee, as if it were a light snack. A woman in front of me in the cinema: she looks pointedly into the eyes of her companion, then sticks out her (quite amazingly long and large) tongue, puts it to the bottom of her beer bottle and then slowly licks it up the entire length of the bottle before swirling it twice around the rim and then taking a large mouthful of beer, which she then visibly passes into the mouth of her buddy during a particularly wet kiss. In front of me. As a prelude to a long session of unfettered hanky-panky. In front of me. At a film about a flamboyant gay pianist.

Evidently, you can do whatever you like in this city. You can earn your money however you choose and resort to the most unsavoury acts to attract a mate. You can distribute your bodily fluids wherever you damn well please (I still think back fondly to the way the little kids at the Kindergarten used to gently coat my hands with their snot). You really can wear what you want – these days I don’t go to the gym in anything fancier than a binbag with a hole cut in the top of it. It amazed my parents when they were here, and it still amazes me. I guess it’s a very special kind of freedom: not only the freedom to be how you choose to be, but also freedom from being judged for however you choose to do that. Unless, of course, you happen to do it nearby a furious old lady with a particularly heavy handbag.

Rose T