It’s 2:23 in the morning.
For two reasons, it doesn’t feel right to say I’m on a dance floor. First, there’s the architectural discrepancy – I’m actually at the bottom of a drained swimming pool – and second, there’s the matter of word choice. The dictionary defines dancing as such: dance [dans, dahns] verb (used without object), to move one’s feet or body, or both, rhythmically in a pattern of steps, especially to the accompaniment of music.
True, my fellow club-goers are moving, but those movements are minimal. They shuffle their feet and let their arms dangle. Their rhythm is so non-existent that, if I observed them without sound, I would guess they were “dancing” to ambient traffic noises. In reality, ambient traffic noises would be an improvement upon the evening’s soundtrack. Nevertheless, everyone is moving to the noises, so I move too.
A swirling social club this is not. I’m among obedient parishioners of the Church of House Music, and mass is in session. I manoeuvre into a row in the middle of the dance-floor-slash-pool and, like everyone else, face the DJ. With a fixed position, I’m able to take in my surroundings.
For two reasons, it feels like I’m in a Teutonic forest. First, everyone is tall. Not freakishly tall, but tall enough to make me wonder if birds nest on their heads by accident. Second, everyone is indifferent to my presence. I scan the room for mutual glances but the crowd gives me nothing. Figuratively and literally, they are as unmoved as oak trees.
In a way, this is liberating. When nobody is looking, who cares what I look like? My self-conscious reflexes relax. I yield to the fog of human perspiration and neon lights. I kind of like the music. I kind of get clubbing.
Then a tree moves.
Phase One: Optical Illusion
At first I suspect an optical illusion. Twenty minutes ago, I noticed the back of the head of a 6'3 blonde guy fifteen feet away. Now I notice the back of the head of a 6'3 blonde guy five feet away. But is this the same back-of-the-head I saw earlier? There are several 6'3 blonde guys (god bless Berlin) so it’s hard to tell. Certainly nobody would say this guy is approaching me. He’s simply getting nearer.
But after twenty more minutes, a 6'3 blonde guy is standing right next to me. Risking vanity, I wonder if blondie meandered here on purpose. I look in blondie’s direction – he’s cute! – but he keeps his eyes locked on the DJ. We resume not-dancing side-by-side.
Phase Two: Sidelong Glances
After a while blondie glances, not at me, but in the direction of the space in front of my face. I assume he’s trying to look past me and I keep dancing. Then blondie looks left again, this time – if I had to guess – at the tip of my nose. When blondie ventures another gander, I turn to look at him too. Eye contact, at last! Only 45 minutes into courtship.
Phase Three: Elbow Grazes
Blondie nervously turns to face the DJ. Ten eventless minutes go by. Then I feel the faint graze of blondie’s arm on my elbow. It was probably an accident; I think nothing of it. Five minutes later, however, I notice two more elbow-grazes. Then three elbow-grazes in one minute.
The music falls into a soft puddle of sound. Blondie leans over.
Phase Four: Census Taking
“Wie heißt du?” he asks. What is your name?
“A little bit!” I answer. I don’t know German.
The music ramps up for another round of ballistic bass. We both face the DJ. With lines of communication established, the elbow-touching becomes downright brazen. Blondie leans over again and, mercifully, switches to English:
“Do you live in Berlin?”
“For how long?”
“Oh! I am from Frankfurt.”
But blondie isn’t finished. He continues his line of questioning with the thoroughness of a census taker. Where am I from? What is my blood type? Do I floss? What are my thoughts on succulents?
Phase Five: Decision Time
I’m flattered by blondie’s attention but exhausted by the effort of slow-motion flirting – if talking about my family pet at 3:30am counts as flirting. My favourite public-toilet-turned-burger-joint closes at 4:00am so I have a decision to make. Do I want blondie or a burger?
An emboldened blondie rests a hand on my torso as he explains German street names. My stomach responds with a grumble. I make an effort at gratitude: In the U.S., women would claw each other to scale this mountain of a man. In Berlin, the mountain keeps a respectful distance until he’s sure I’m receptive to a late-night conversation about gene therapy.
Alas, I’m still assimilating. And I’m still hungry. I give blondie a smile and slip towards the door. I appreciate the courteous if cautious behaviour of a Berlin suitor, but I still prefer my late-night action fast, hot, and with a side of fries.
This piece was excerpted and edited from Let’s Take Berlin, a book about expat life in Berlin by Jessica Guzik.