Zoe Mendelson is traveling the world, talking to friends and strangers about the messy, wonderful business of love. This series tracks her journey, highlighting the best of her encounters.
Berlin might be the worst city in the world to be a single girl. I had been in Berlin a few days already when I met up with three friends of mine from college who have been living there since graduation. Gus is from the States, Pauline grew up in Paris, and Adela grew up in Tel Aviv. We met in the park on a sunny Sunday.
I’d had some frankly very boring experiences out in Berlin the two nights prior. Nobody seemed to talk to each other. I mean, sure, Germans have a reputation as cold and machine-like, but really? People don’t talk to each other in bars and clubs? Isn’t that the point of going out? I had spent a full weekend going to bars and clubs, and was not chatted up even once. This was a first. “It doesn’t seem like people here really flirt with each other,” I tell them. “No, no,” they all say. “They don’t.”
“Yeah, here no one ever hits on you. No one looks at you. People just don’t care who you are,“ Pauline explains.
And Adela agrees, “Yeah, they’re just like okay, let the girl be there. Clubs are like… you can go by yourself. You dance by yourself.” That’s what it felt like inside the clubs so their explanations made a lot of sense.
“People are in their own worlds,” Gus adds. “All of my friends here who are single are really like desperate. Because it’s just so hard.” Adela agrees. She says she had never heard of anyone going on a date. Gus says she could think of one friend of hers that she knows who has gone on a date, “but it’s not like you can sit in a café here and have some guy come give you his number. That’s not going to happen.” Pauline agrees, “Yeah, no, it’s never going to happen.”
Gus and Adela both recount experiences of having men ask them for their business card at work and asking them out via text, email, or Facebook later. “But they never do it in person! This is the fucking thing about Germans!” says Gus, Pauline laughing in agreement on her right.
Pauline explains, “It’s like Scandinavia – people make the move very quickly from dating to moving in together but the way to even getting together is like… it doesn’t happen.” They explain that from their perspective, becoming a couple in Berlin is a mysterious transition in which you’re friends for a while and then somehow you’re just together.
All of the girls agree that a much higher proportion of people in Berlin are in long-term relationships than in New York. “Once people are committed they are really committed to each other. Whereas in New York, everyone wants to still play the field even if they’re dating somebody,” Gus notes.
Adella agrees, “I feel like there’s not as much of an over… over…what’s the word – you know in NYC there’s just a million cute, smart girls everywhere. Whereas here, well there are a lot of cute smart girls here but guys aren’t like… once they’re with someone, they don’t try to get with all of them.”
“Aesthetics definitely aren’t as important here as they are in NYC,” Pauline adds. “People are more practical about what they want in what they’re looking for in another person. In New York people think about, ‘what would I look like with this person?’”
Gus’ take is similar, “And there’s not this whole act of drawing another person in but just enough and testing the water constantly, and never just relaxing and being yourself, and constantly kind of making the other person jealous so that they want you. I don’t feel like that happens here… You don’t have to sell yourself as much.”
“Yeah. It’s very straight forward here,” Pauline concludes. It all fits in line with the German stereotype of practicality and efficiency.
The three of them also clarify to me that being gay in Berlin is a completely different story. Berlin has a massive gay scene, which the girls explain operates with completely different norms. “The gay scene is like three-fourths of the dating scene here,” Gus says, “It’s really nice here to be gay. That’s a very different scene. That’s more about gay culture than Berlin culture.”
So finally I ask, “So Berlin sucks for single girls basically?”
“Yes,” Gus concedes. “But once you find a guy, he’s going to treat you super well.”
“Is that a German cultural thing?” I ask.
“Yeah, I think so, I’ve heard German girls here say that American guys are awful because they string them along,” She replies.
So, German guys may not play flirtatious games up front, but then they don’t play games once they’re in a relationship either. I guess it’s a fair tradeoff – albeit a much more practical and much less fun one.