A Gay Man Seeks His “Cabaret” Moment in Kinky Berlin

Written by | Gay Voices, Travel

Tattooed Man in Window

Photo by Ioana Casapu

Jeffery Self (of Jeffery & Cole Casserole) headed to Berlin in search of the creativity and coolness of Cabaret, but once he got there, it wasn’t quite where he expected to find it.

Me Before Berlin

“There’s you before Berlin, and there’s you after Berlin,” friends told me before I left the U.S. At the time, I didn’t know much about the city beyond what I had learned from Cabaret. But I was heading to Europe to visit my boyfriend over the holidays. Though we’d spend most of our time in London, after a week we’d fly to Germany to experience the legendary city. I couldn’t wait to have my own Berlin story.

I quickly fell in love with beautiful, majestic, dark London. I loved its cute boys, cramped pubs, and brusque taxi drivers. London gave me great musicals, memorable adventures and the best little gay bar I’d ever entered. It was a cozy piano bar called Molly Moggs. Molly Moggs was owned by an older fellow whose two small dogs liked to wander around, sniffing up the skirts of drag queens as everyone sang along to “That’s Amore!” I thought, How could it get any better than this?

A Cold Arrival

Nevertheless, we headed to Berlin, ready to embrace it. But the city was extremely cold. And it was very German. And a fair amount of the sightseeing was war-related and morose (for obvious reasons).

However, I was still holding out hope for the gay scene. I borrowed some Wi-Fi from a nearby leather boutique with an unprotected network named “LisaKudrow.” (That seemed like a positive sign.) But as I googled a list of bars to visit, most of them did not seem to open until midnight. I thought a personal recommendation might yield better results. So I actually went to the leather boutique and spoke to the proprietor. He informed me that most of the places he knew didn’t get busy until well after 2am.

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Regardless, I headed out into the gay scene. I was armed with a list of various spots to check out and ready for a very late night. It was our last night in Berlin, and I was determined to have my wild adventure. I had hoped to encounter piano bars swaying to the classic showtunes of Kurt Weill or dance floors populated with friendly German guys. Instead, I kept wandering into places that heavily featured dark rooms and sex dungeons. (Those are fine, if that’s what you’re in to, but they’re so not my thing.) I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the scene was so kinky, it made me feel like Mike Huckabee by comparison.

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The Sun Also Rises

We were making our way back to the hotel as sunrise began to peek over the horizon. I was trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong. Where was the Berlin I’d heard about? Where was the city where creative oomph lingered in the air? And where was the art you could stumble across in the street? Most importantly, where was the magical moment that I would forever be able to add to cosmopolitan dinner conversations with cool people talking about their great experiences in Berlin?

Though the sun was coming up, people were still ambling in and out of bars. The city was nowhere near done for the night. As we rounded a corner, I was noticed a place that felt alive. We decided to stop in. People were drinking, laughing and talking their way to dawn. In the middle of it all was an old man, sitting at a piano, playing Kurt Weill. It was the magic moment I’d been looking for, and it came just in time.

It’s easy to get into the wrong headspace when we travel. We put places on pedestals. Then we get upset when reality doesn’t look quite like we’d expected. But the truth is that the beating heart of a place is often not something that you can google. You may not be able to find it by checking off even the longest list of recommended hot spots. But if you hold out hope, it may show up when you least expect it — after a long night of doubt — like a show tune welcoming the sun.

Read about how a trip to Provincetown opened one man’s eyes about LGBTQ life.

Last modified: July 8, 2019