My great friends Uli and Jorge are in Berlin for New Years Eve. How I met Uli is an excellent story in itself.
In 2005 I was freelancing at an agency called Strawberry Frog in Amsterdam where they kept all the freelancers in an open plan loft at the top of the building. One day Uli, a freelance writer, is brought upstairs and introduced to all of us.
He and I look at each other and without a word being spoken, volumes of information are passed.
In advertising in Australia and Asia where I spent most of my career, I was the only gay in the village. Strange that a career so creative and well paid doesn’t attract more of my lot, but c’est la. Totally different story in America and Europe but having a fellow member of the club in the same office was a revelation for me.
Uli and I sized each other up; we’re both bearded and wearing baseball caps, combat jackets, vintage t-shirts, vintage denim and boots. A nod to each other is all that is said.
For days we pass each other in the halls of the building and again, the nod. Hmm, maybe he’s all serious and German and not talky or something.
About three days later in the loft, there’s me and Uli and one other person who leaves via the stairs. Alone with the German, how to break the ice?
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Uli over-exaggeratedly look over one shoulder then the other, then he pushes himself on his swivel chair and sails across the room Busby Berkeley style, landing right next to me where I sit at my computer. He places one elbow on my desk, props his bearded face with his hand and leans in like a hairy Marlene Dietrich.
Uli: Ja, so I’m zinking you’re into Bears.
And with that, a friendship was born.
Three years later me, Uli, Jorge and the rest of my Berlin boys, Frank, Olly, Jan, Tim and Steph are sitting around a table at an Italian restaurant called Duo Forne.
This restaurant is famous in Berlin. It’s a divey hole in the wall pizza joint run by Italian anarchist punks who are famous for their attitude. I’ve been here a few times before and the service always has this air of we’re doing you a favor.
But the pizza is pretty good, it must be said.
Anyway, so we finally get sat and order some drinks from our waiter. And then we wait. 40 minutes later, we still don’t even have water.
We try to flag down anyone but all the staff that pass by our table don’t seem to be that inclined to stop. We finally grab one and explain our situation. This is met with not much more than a shrug.
Tables that arrived after us are drinking and eating even.
Again we track down a hole in the t-shirt and half his head shaved waiter and complain about the lack of anything but oxygen on our table. The waiters seem to find this incredibly funny and jokes that we must be the unlucky table tonight. No sign of an apology anywhere.
Finally some beers show up, they’re the wrong ones but by this stage I would have drunk battery acid. Another round of beers and still no food. It’s almost an hour and a half now.
There is nothing more dangerous than a table of hungry Germans except maybe hungry, tipsy Germans. Right at this moment, our food finally does arrive and begrudgingly we stay and eat.
We’re all having pizza except one of us who ordered a pasta. He asks the anarchist waiter for some cheese. The answer was a flat, no.
And then it all went horribly wrong. Or right, depending on how you look at it. But it sure got downright surreal.
An argument begins between the waiter and pretty much everyone at the table. Apparently, you aren’t supposed to have cheese with this pasta. I thought anarchy was about not having rules, but that’s me. It’s heatedly pointed out that you can’t make people wait an hour and a half for food and then tell them how to eat it.
But the Italians felt otherwise.
When Jan asks to speak to the manager, the waiter points her out and tells him that if he wants to speak to her, he can go over there.
Jan gets up, calmly crosses the room, talks for a moment with a small cross-armed woman before it all blows up into the start of WWIII. I’ve never seen Jan angry but he returns to the table, picks up his pizza and announces to all of us that apparently in this restaurant, “you will eat what you are given”. He returns his pizza to the manager with a post-haste slap on the counter.
Within seconds every member of staff descends us on and they whisk away all our food. Italy vs Germany. Game on.
Germany: So you can do something fast if you want to.
Italy: Get out of our restaurant!
Germany: I wouldn’t piss on this place if it were on fire!
Germany: You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?!
Germany: Go ahead and call the police!
Germany: When you come to work tomorrow and find this shithole burned to the ground, think of us!
OK, I may have made the last one up. But all I could think was how I wished I could speak better German so I could get in a few verbal punches.
Out on the street we may not have eaten, but it was definitely one for the home team. And after you get thrown out of a restaurant by a bunch of losers, there is only one thing to do.
We dropped into the nearest bar and got roasted as we toasted. Here’s to friends, here’s to beer and here’s to being alive! We dissected the night, laughed about the ridiculousness of it and drank arm in arm till the wee small hours.
Just when you least expect it, you are suddenly so happy and grateful for the life that you live. Flying between Berlin and LA, great friends in both cities, working for myself, answering to no one and following my life’s dream with nothing but me and a lifestyle to support.
And right then something changed. No stranger with the right words. No ocean necessary. This time it came from in me. And even though I’ve said many times that I didn’t care if I was with someone or not, this time I actually really meant it. The idea tasted different in my head. There wasn’t even a trace of bitterness.
My God, no wonder I had been so depressed. I’d been dating myself. And I have been hard work.