My name is Mattia. I am a single and unemployed 27-year-old Italian guy. I live with my best-friend Adriana, on the 15th floor of a tower facing Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin. From my window you can see the history. There is an amazing view on the television tower, that the Socialists built during the GDR time, the Palast der Republik, which is currently under demolition and the Berliner Dom. Isn’t it incredible? Just about 17 years ago, I would have not been able to live in this part of the city. No Rock ‘n Roll, no Spaghetti alla Bolognese, no Champagne, no Coke… European countries opened their borders and I took the chance to live in this new World, the same one that was so far for the previous generations, but it’s now so close to me. When I was eight, my skating teacher wanted to send me to West Berlin for a week, to spend some time with a German family. At that age the word Berlin sounded to my ears like a nightmare, the city with the scary wall. I guess I was as scared as an American kid, who thinks that the Russians do actually eat children for breakfast. I didn’t make it. Probably my move here was partially linked to that missed occasion during my childhood and to the fact that I am attracted to guys, with blond hair and blue eyes. Everyday I attend a German upper intermediate class in the morning and I get myself a date from the chat room, with one of those blond guys in the evening. These dates are for me fundamental to improve my skills in the German language. I know, it sounds very opportunistic, but you have to admit that having a date with a foreigner like me, in your own country can be pretty funny. There were times when I asked the waiter for “an Ass Sucker’’ instead of an ashtray. Isn’t it easy to get confused between an “Arschlecker” and an “Aschenbecher”? Well it was for me. Once I drank all my coffee and I wanted to ask the waiter to bring me another one: “Ich möchte gerne einen anderen Kaffee bitte” which I translated literally from “another one’’. The waiter started looking at me, with a rather surprised and annoyed face and asked me, how could I have not liked my coffee if I had drunk it all. “Achso, noch einen meinen Sie! Jawohl”. Well, after a few months you get used to feel like a child that is learning how to speak and the people are most of the time kind enough to be patient with me and my lack of vocabulary. Germans can be funny too with their mistakes in spoken English. Some of them have the ability to “become a present” instead of receiving one, or one can be sinking instead of thinking.
My 10th ex-boyfriend Olaf, who had recently moved from London to Frankfurt, was here for the weekend. I forgot to mention that I have a collection of ex partners, as I tend to throw myself into a relationship very fast.
We had a great time and for the first time, since I moved away from the United Kingdom, I started missing London. It has been snowing for days here in Berlin and sometimes going out is not really an option, as hands and nose could freeze off. Berlin nightlife is very complicated. It can be fun, but as everything that is German, it has to be well planned. You simply cannot take the risk to go to “Kino International” and find out that on the first Saturday of the eighth month of the current solar year, it’s another gay club’s night. Pro is, that one would not have to wait long in the queue outside in the snow, contra is that one would have to look in the mirror, to see someone who is not there to work. It was “Schwuz” ’s night. We took the N84 bus to Mehringdamm and walked just a few meters down the road. There we were. The front bar was packed, there were quite some people standing in the queue, waiting to get their hand stamped and feel a little bit like one of those farm cows or pigs. The ink was practically undeletable and one needed to keep their hands in soapy water, rubbing for ages before being able to get rid of it. The music was playing loud, the people were dancing unstoppably and the drinks were constantly served at the bar, but something was definitely missing. I looked around, trying to feel the atmosphere of this new club, a club I was not used to. Some of the guys looked simply gorgeous, blond hair, deep blue eyes and perfect bodies. Some over-exceeded with the gym to reach perfection, “der Waschbrettbauch” or the English six-pack, that they proudly displayed through the transparence of their vests. It is not London. Here one doesn’t get to see anyone drunk by 11pm, the restrooms are most likely still virgin and picking up someone would be considered as escorting. No one was kissing. I told Olaf that I felt like I was in a room full of people, shouting for attention and no one seemed to hear. Suddenly he kissed me, so passionately that made my melancholy disappear for a few minutes. Showing off? No! That is not the meaning I give to two people that display their affection in public. They just live the passion and they are just lucky that they can display their feelings to the World. I moved to Berlin because I was tired of Albion’s madness and now I started missing it. I could write so much more about my life here in Berlin, but I will do it later. I guess I just need to step back in my past and fly to London to get that feeling of freedom from those rules, that make my life here somehow less intriguing than in England.
LONDON, ENGLAND, September-December 1998
When I landed at Stansted airport on the 18th of September 1998, I had 300 pounds in my pocket. Back in the early 90s, I used to spend one month every year in a summer school in Britain, so I had an idea on how far my finances could go. Basically, I exactly knew that I had to hurry up to get myself a job, or I would have had to go back to Milan within a week or two. The Stansted Express train left the airport’s station and run at a pretty decent speed through Essex’s countryside. Britain always gave me the feeling to be in Legoland, all those red bricks detached and terraced houses, architecture style that you hardly see somewhere else but there. The plan was, that I would have reached Liverpool Street Station and from there I had to make a phone call, to get in contact with the hostel. “E.L. how may I help you?” said a rather masculine voice. “My name is Mattia Zani and I’ve booked an accommodation at your hostel. I am still at Liverpool Street station. Could you kindly tell me in which street you are located?” I took the Northern line from Liverpool Street to Tottenham Court Road, I changed there for a southbound Bakerloo line train and I got off at Lambeth North. The weather forecast that I had checked on the previous day was right. Hardly can one be wrong if one forecasts rain showers in England. Despite the miserable weather, there were kids playing soccer on the courtyard of the local church and people were walking up and down the streets with their Tesco bags. It felt exciting, a new life was beginning for me and I would have fought until the end to make it work.
After the registration at the reception of the hostel, I went upstairs to my room. That was the only accommodation that I could find from Italy, 65 pounds per week, 2-week deposit, 1-week agency fee, twin room with a bunk bed, a fridge, a table, two chairs, an outside toilet, that had to be sterilized with the most powerful chemicals ever produced, to get it back to a decent state. I checked in at about 4pm. At 5pm I went downstairs to give my two-week notice.
I met my roommate Francisco just a couple of days later. He was a Spanish guy who had lived in Cologne for quite a while and he had moved to London to improve his English. He was working in a small grocery store somewhere in the city and he had night shifts, which was good news for me as I could have the room only for myself most of the times. I had always been pretty organized: I managed to find myself a job, an English course, a flat and a boyfriend within two weeks. My adult life had started and I did not mean to waste any precious second of it. There was so much to do, so much to enjoy and so much to fight for.
I can still remember my first manager. She was an Indian lady born in the UK, with a degree in chemistry and it was so clear to me that she had some inferiority complex issues. Normally London is very generous to people who have a decent educational background. This was not the case. Susan’s degree managed to get her a leading position as a floor manager in a fast-food restaurant in Holborn. She took her job very seriously, she was very good at getting the highest profit, she was an excellent worker, but she definitely lacked of customer care skills and she had absolutely no idea on how to deal with her employees. I started cleaning the lobby and I had the impression that this was most likely, the best role that one could get there. There were only a couple of rules to respect, red clothes, red mops and red buckets, to clean the lobby and the kitchen. Blue ones were for the toilets. Trays and tables had also to be cleaned with the red clothes and cleaned trays had to be constantly brought back to the tills. It was an easy job, the most difficult situation that a foreign employee could have come across with, was if an American tourist was asking where the restrooms were or if it was possible to pay in dollars. Unfortunately my “relaxing” time in the lobby ended after a couple of weeks, when an apron was given to me. Only then, I realized that the guys who worked behind the grills didn’t smile like those in the pictures of the employees, displayed in the lobby for customer attention. It was the hardest job I ever did in my life. I was producing non-stop for hours and sweating like a pig because of the heat that was produced by the grills. I can’t remember how many times I burnt myself, trying to get those grills clean and getting the extremely hot oil on my hands. Those very hands that were only used to write, taking care of books, handling remote controls and other delicate stuff. I never had the time to think on how painful it was, to get my fresh wounds close to the heat again. If one were lucky, one would have been given a blue plaster, which would have looked pretty silly on the hand, but it was required for health reasons: No one wants to bite a burger filled with plasters. During my fast-food experience I changed tens of colleagues, good ones and bad ones. The Russians were the best. Vladimir was a very hard worker, he was funny and he helped me a lot in the kitchen. When Susan was stressed out, which happened on a daily basis, she would shout at me and Vladimir would always come to comfort me. He was simply a gorgeous guy with a great heart. Was he bound to be my first real boyfriend?