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Tattoos and testicles May 13, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

The sun has now beat down on Berlin long enough – a week at least – for anyone but the most negative to forget that we live with one of the planet’s most intemperate climes. Far be it from me to put a dampener on things and heaven forbid that I should mention, just as we put the endless(-seeming) greyness out of mind for however long we are blessed with this perfection, that Berlin’s climate is, for want of a better word, shit.

The Wetteramt decided that we would dispense with spring this year. We went straight from the 250th consecutive day of gloom and a grey sky so low you scraped your head off it to cloudlessness, sunshine and temperatures of 25 degrees and above. Not surprisingly, the locals are all of a sudden awash with hormones and do almost nothing but leave their houses, flaunting their existences like they were nothing to be ashamed of.

I had a feeling at some now unpindownable point in the past that fashions were about to veer towards the smart. Perhaps I’d just seen a man with an office job or a foreigner in a shirt-collar, smart strides and polished shoes. And I thought men were about to plump for neat, sculpted haircuts. That women might revert to a just-short-of-high heel. That trousers would once again display an intimate familiarity with the iron. Who knows, even hats might reappear.

And that probably would all have happened if only the clothes- and hair-wearing months of misery and low metabolism had lasted just a smidgen longer. But now it’s all exposed flesh. No sleeves. Legs galore. And short haircuts.

Just as we were on the cusp, I went to the hairdressers-cum-sex-workers. While the haircutting harlot was giving me a cranial hand-job, I admired the exquisite locks of a man in front of me. I guessed he might be of mixed German and Turkish origin. The locks were thick and wavy and a delicious dark red. I stared at him whenever it was decent to, including when he left, donning a fedora as he did so.

“Isn’t hair a marvellous invention!” I said to all Berlin as I left the hairdressing brothel but all Berlin answered, “Not while the sun’s out,” and instantly proceeded to shave their heads as one. I am now the only person in Berlin capable of tousling.

And the things folk put on their heads! I gawped at a couple with lashings of tattoos and an ugly little dog with testicles which ran like a fat child. She hadn’t been able to have her head shaved yet so still sported her teddy-girl pony-tail and those tufts at the front. Her legs and arms were a riot of bruise-coloured foliage. Her gentleman friend was the same. But his shaved head had been given over to the tattoo-artist too. It was difficult to coordinate my gait to get close enough or for long enough to read the whole work. It had words and everything. And numbers. I thought they might represent the date the tattoo had been done, and surmised he could easily have done just as well with making a note in a pocket diary. How will he remember the date, after all, when his hair grows back come the end of the sunshine?

Just as I was arguing with myself whether I liked tattoos or not, I came to a road. Crossing the road, as anyone knows, takes three hours in Germany so I had plenty of time to mull over the options. I told myself to compromise after I’d already come to auto-blows and decided that one or two, especially if on a moulded male arm, do it for me almost as much as a broken limb. But a man on a bike – bald, tattooed – who could clearly hear my inner discussion went to stick his fingers in my eyes as he rode past. I didn’t know whether to put it down to hair-envy, sun-stroke, tattoo-poisoning or him not being able to find a way to express the fact that he found me dangerously irresistible. Even from the vantage point of a bike.

The Russian explained that sometimes a poke in the eye is just a poke in the eye.



1. annie - May 13, 2008

BiB! One of those civilized bicycle-riding Berliners tried to attack you as you stood innocently on the pavement? Were you perhaps pulling extraordinary faces without realising it?

2. Mr D - May 13, 2008

Your angry bike man must have cousins in Stuttgart. If I wasn’t spending every waking moment on job apps I’d blog about a couple of recent experiences with angry-for-no-reason tall bald men. Not pleasant at all.

I thought hot weather was supposed to make everyone feel happy.

I plan to drop by Berlin one coming weekend, by the way – while I’m, you know, still in the country. Any idea of when you might not be totally ‘pleite’, Mr Pleite?

3. BiB - May 14, 2008

Mr D, when? I’m always roughly pleite, but sometimes it’s more extreme than others. But I can normally scrape together some money for an apple juice or two. Give me a rough idea so I can psychically pen you in. And come and see your Hauptstadt before it ceases to be so. But, no, the sun is having a good effect on people…

…because, Annie, I don’t think it was really an act of aggression. Maybe I was a tad too close to the edge of the pavement (cyclists tend to be very prissy about their rights). Or, as I’m trying very hard to convince myself, he was so stunned by my gorgeosity that he tried to spoil it by making me eyeless. Which would count as an act of aggression, actually, wouldn’t it? I was going to plump for the lazy option of him simply being mad, but then whoever heard of a madman on a bicycle!

4. ThePenguin - May 14, 2008

25 degrees!? I just put the heater on…

5. BiB - May 14, 2008

‘fraid so, though it’s cooled a tad now. The Russian says, in his ever optimistic way, that we’re in for a long, freezing summer.

6. Mr D - May 14, 2008

Rain to come in a day or so, though.

Just looked at hotels but have no idea of what part of town it would make most sense to stay in. Any tips? This time I’d mainly want to spend a day in Potsdam, which I didn’t do last time, and go to some ‘special’ bars. (I did the main Berlin tourist stuff a few years ago when I visited a friend who used to live there.)

As for when, I don’t know, really. Any weekend. I could even go there this weekend, while the iron’s hot. As long as I don’t clash with any big festival or parade – I hate people!

7. Mr D - May 14, 2008

Maybe it’s just tall bald men without hats. They’re nearer the sun and they’ve got no protection.

8. BiB - May 14, 2008

Wank, I have a friend here from London this weekend and would hate to be unhostly while you were here. What about the weekend after, which would coincide with Eurovision for maximum queenery? I’d say stay in Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte, but then I would. The West is closer to Potsdam, but it’s not a bad S-Bahn ride even from over this way. And the West does have more special bars. Schöneberg would be the area to look for in that case. This place is perfectly located at least for the East.

Yes, perhaps a scorched pate is the problem.

9. Mr D - May 14, 2008

Eurovision weekend could be an idea. Having a double-filling on the Friday morning, though. Will think more tomorrow on the way to Constance, if my new sandals arrive in time. (Long story.)

10. BiB - May 14, 2008

You’re walking to Constance? Is this part of a round-Germany spiritual journey, culminating in screaming at the injustice of Eurovision scoring with a gaggle of queens in Berlin in ten days’ time?

11. Mr D - May 14, 2008

Not quite in bed yet. Nope, but I’ve only got crap sandals and I’m not leaving the flat if the new ones haven’t arrived, as the ones I currently have kill my feet and legs (no back-strap). I ordered the new ones through my flatmate’s shoeshop. I was hoping to go on a day-trip to Constance tomorrow, before at least three days of rain set in. But that all depends on my sandals.

Right, and now sleep!

12. Mr D - May 14, 2008

And there would be injustice if a TV show could score with a gaggle of queens, whereas I, a living and breathing human being, can’t find even one nowadays, never mind a gaggle.

Having said that, it’s understandable in a way. TV sets have been getting thinner and sexier, whereas I haven’t.

13. Marsha Klein - May 14, 2008

Ooh, Eurovision! A couple of years ago we, and some friends, had a Eurovision party which involved choosing one of the competitor countries and bringing appropriate food and drink. One of the cinemas here in Edinburgh is showing the whole thing, in glorious Tecchnicolor, on the big screen. I’d love to take Daisy (that girl LOVES a bit of kitsch) but it’s over-18s only. Anyway, it’s in the middle of her exams and, as a responsible parent, I should be encouraging her to study.

I’m a bit scared of overly tattooed people.

14. Ed Ward - May 14, 2008

Northern Europe has the worst tattoos anywhere in the world, and it’s a standoff whether Amsterdam or Berlin is where you see the worst. The former is the home of Hanky Panky, reviled by most American tattoo artists (not to mention the Japanese), as Master of the Blotch, but these guys here evidently idolize him.

Of course, there’s another problem: exposure to the sun fades the lighter tattoo colors, and causes dark colors to expand. So all that finicky line work you spent €80 an hour getting meticulously inked suddenly acts like it was fresh ink on blotter paper. This doesn’t apply to “tribal” tattoos; they’re already blotches fresh out of the pit.

The other thing about nice weather and tattoos is you get to see what fantasies people want to adorn their bodies with, and frankly I’ve had it with trolls and leering skulls and Grim Reapers and wizards and flaming skulls. And the men’s tattoos are even worse!

(Full disclosure: I have never had a tattoo in my life, but have written extensively on the subject in another lifetime and have seen masterpieces by the likes of Horiyoshi, Don Ed Hardy, and Rollo Banks, so yeah, I know what I’m talking about).

15. Mr D - May 14, 2008

When I as at school someone got a tattoo of a wanking gnome. The mind boggles.

Worse yet, it was the headmaster!

(Not really. It was a 15yo lout.)

No sandals, no Constance. Local errands instead.

16. Ben - May 14, 2008

Damn, I was just planning to get my head-shave on and now you’ve gone and made it sound all Berliner conformist. Blast.

Ed, you might be interested in a new coffee table book on bad tatoos called No Regrets. At least the preface from David Cross is amusing. According to Howard Stern, who’s flipping through the book there, someone’s had the likeness of Christopher Walken inked on themselves, which is nice.

17. BiB - May 14, 2008

Ben, I may have exaggerated the extent of the shaved heads for the sake of the blog-post, so I say shave your head with pride. Though I remain a believer in hair and will make a point of commenting on your increased handsomity with every new millimetre of freshly regrown locks. I couldn’t think quite who that Christopher Walken chap was and have google-imaged him and would hate to wake up with him every day. In real life too.

Mr D, wanking gnome tattoos! I expect he’s gone on to regret that. And I hope that your sandals will have arrived in good time for you to come and scrap with the queens over Eurovision, or Eurovision over queens. Do let me know if you’re going to come or not whenever you can as I’m also trying to work out dates for a quick trip to Italy to see my bro, who’s on a Euro-tour (from NZ) (and thoroughly hating every second and parrying questions from his wife and children along the lines of, “Can we go back to New Zulland now?”).

Ed, as I was writing this, I remembered your stories of the Hawai’ian (have I got the apostrophe in the right place?) tattoo guy. Or the tattoo guy on Hawai’i. Or am I confusing a number of different stories? I’m too much of a wuss to go for one myself and can’t think of a design (or a person. Is there anyone you’d like to look at on yourself?) I’d want to put on my body and I’m sure it’d look ridiculous anyway. Nothing I yet secretly want to cherish under my clothes and nothing I want to tell the world. Perhaps I could have, ‘Buy me wine,’ tattooed near my mouth but am still on the wagon. I think it’d be more practical to carry a billboard around instead.

Marsha, no! Eurovision for over-18s? Why on earth? There’s nothing naughty about it, is there? And it’s going to be on the telly anyway, presumably without a warning. There is already much talk in my gay world of where it’s going to be watched. It’s just like New Year. Much the most important date on the calendar. In keeping with tradition, no decision will be made and I’ll arrive in a place at a minute to whenever it starts and get bollocked by Berlin queens – a moanier human cocktail would be hard to invent (though Paris queens might even outstrip their Berlin counterparts) – for ruining their view.

18. Mr D - May 14, 2008

I’m flexible. Work out when you’ll be in Italy first. I’ll be here at least until the end of July.

19. BiB - May 14, 2008

OK. Will do. Though it’s bound to be between Eurovision and the middle of June.

20. Marsha Klein - May 14, 2008

I think the screening might be in the cafe-bar of this particular cinema rather than any naughtiness inherent in Eurovision. It’s such a shame because I’m sure it’ll be great fun but I’m consoling myself with a feeling of righteousness for not distracting her from her studies. All pointless, of course, as she’ll probably have some vital party or other to attend that weekend.

Exams start tomorrow – wish me luck!

21. BiB - May 14, 2008

Marsha, not that I recommend Daisy take up majorly early boozing, but I like to repeat as often as I get the chance that I decided to celebrate finishing my finals a tad too early and got utterly slaughtered – with Liukchik and EiNY, actually – the night before my final final. Turned up the next day sleepy and dazed… and got the bestest mark of all my exams.

In any case, best of luck. Is this Scottish-equivalent GCSEs? Or Scottish-equivalent A Levels? (Are they called Ordinaries and Highers or is that in Ireland?) No, must be the former, unless Daisy’s had an ageing spurt.

22. Marsha Klein - May 16, 2008

Daisy is sitting her Highers which, I THINK, are Scottish equivalent AS Levels (that’s new AS Levels which seem to come between GCSEs and A Levels) not old style AS Levels which were more advanced than A Levels. In my day we sat Ordinary (or ‘O’) grades and Highers – these names might still exist in Ireland. I know they still have Highers.

Anyway, the first exam (English) seemed to go quite well and now she’s out in the garden sunbathing, sorry REVISING for her French exam on Wednesday. On the subject of languages, she’s asked me to ask you how difficult it would be to pick up a Slavic language if you’d previously only studied Romance languages. She’s hoping to do French and Spanish at university but this morning a prospectus arrived from Bristol and they offer French or Spanish in combination with Czech, Russian etc and that’s got her thinking…

I finished my finals days before all my friends but when they finally finished we ate strawberries and cream and drank pink champagne until I was so drunk, I had to phone Brian (yes, we’ve been together FOREVER) and ask him to collect me. I could barely stand. Don’t remember any ill effects though.

23. BiB - May 17, 2008

Oh, I’d thoroughly recommend throwing a Slavic language into the mix. They are a different kettle of fish, but nothing’s insurmountable while the brain is young and springy. Plus it’s a nice new insight into inflected languages and of course, another world. And the Slavic languages are beautiful. I’d say go for Russian because, numbers-wise, it’s the most ‘useful’ but the truth is that the Slavic languages are probably a lot closer to each other than the Romance languages. So one is a massive head start to knowing and understanding the others.

24. IsarSteve - May 25, 2008

(irony on) I wouldn’t bother .. after watching.. being forced to watch the Eurovision Song Contest last night, I have come to the conclusion that “Slavenglish” is an up and coming language and who knows, in two hundred years, the whole of eastern Europe will be speaking it…

Although come to think of it, the winning song (from Russia) could have been sung in Swahili, for the amount of english in the song that I could understand. But even then, it still would have won… bring back France Gall, Vicky Leandros and Sandy Shaw I say…

25. BiB - May 26, 2008

Isar, it was all a bit of a sham, wasn’t it? Though I suppose the sham is part of the fun. Though we collected queens did have a moment of glee when Germany, having scored almost no points at all, or perhaps actually none at that point, was given the delicious douze by Bulgaria. No mystery. One of the German songstresses was, funnily enough, from Bulgaria.

Marsha, by the way, I’d also say, on the language-learning front, only to take up a lingo if it’s of interest. If Daisy is naturally more interested in Japan, or China, or the Arab world, then I’d say do one of those languages. But if she has an interest in the Slavic world, then, yes, go for it.

26. Mr D - May 28, 2008

Do a big language! Little ones have no respect for native English-speaking language workers, whereas big ones do. In my experience. Speaking a less common language actually lessens job opportunities.

27. BiB - May 28, 2008

Yes, I agree. I flirted with Polish and Finnish at university and, while I’m glad to have flirted with them, I’m equally glad they didn’t become my whole degree. I used to bump into someone who’d done a Finnish degree after he’d graduated. He’d come into the university library to read Finnish newspapers. He couldn’t find a job… I’d even considered Welsh at some point. Bonkers.

Alternatively, Marshypops, may I naughtily direct Daisy away from languages altogether and recommend she study medicine?

28. narrowback - May 28, 2008

I agree Welsh would have been bonkers…

I spent a couple of weeks in a gaelic class in my younger days. glad I didn’t invest more in terms of time and money as the only time the skill would come into play would be during drunken pub nights with the few friends who hail from the Gaeltacht (or former residents of HMP Maze)

Polish would be of far greater utility here in Chi

As I am contemplating a trip to Moscow in the Fall, I’ve got to try to expand my russian beyond “yes”, “no” and “thank you”… “a cold beer please” would be the appropriate baby-step

29. Marsha Klein - May 28, 2008

She’s doing French and Spanish at the moment (Spanish is quite big, no?)

I was talking to my lovely Finnish sort-of sister-in-law at the weekend and she said that Finnish wouldn’t be a very useful language to learn.

Why medicine? This is a girl who can’t even look at a bruise never mind actual blood without feeling faint. No, I think it’s languages for her.

30. Mr D - May 28, 2008

I’d recommend language + business studies/economics/law. Languages by themselves really are useless for decent future jobs, unless she wants to be a school teacher or take a vocational MA.

Not that I would have listened to such advice – I did Danish and Linguistics, with Dutch subsidiary. I can’t even be a school teacher!

31. ThePenguin - May 29, 2008

I’d second Mr. D there… hate to get all boringly adult, but back in the day I laboured under the impression that 3 or 4 years at university studying a language or two would leave me with perfect fluency. However, it’s just a start (unless you have some prior experience, such as having lived in the country in question), and if you really want to speak the language well (e.g. well enough to work with it professionally), there’s a whole lot of hard work during and after involved.

On the other hand I vaguely recall British employers weren’t particularly worried about what kind of degree one had, unless one is doing something specialist.

32. Mr D - May 29, 2008

We were told about companies not caring about specialisation when I was at school, and that it didn’t matter what we studied. We then graduated during a recession and found it not to be as true as it used to be. Sure, in-house training still exists, especially if you want to be an accountant, for instance. But in general I feel that most companies want graduates with a degree that’s at least vaguely relevant for their profession, rather than coughing up to train them entirely from scratch. I may be wrong, of course; it’s just the impression I get from reading job ads. Having said that, I never read British job ads nowadays. In Scandinavia, at least, they always want a specialist!

33. Liukchik - May 30, 2008

Everyone in the UK (with the exception of myself) seems to have done at least basic Spanish, plus there are, in London at least, thousands of young Spaniards with impeccable English. Arabic, Japanese or Mandarin would be the way to go – my nephew is off to Beijing in September for a year’s intensive Mandarin course. Plus the government has invested in university-level teaching of all of these languages plus those of Central and Eastern Europe. Ten years too late, but nonetheless..

34. Steven - May 31, 2008

I have to say you really are a beautiful writer, very enjoyable. But why isn’t your name ‘pleite’ anymore? Have you had a windfall,eh?

35. zoeleon - June 1, 2008

I have been in Spain for exactly two months (hip hip horray) and not one single Spanish speaker has taken advantage of my English; in fact the level of English here is noticeably worse than in Mexico. I am mildly surprised, but Spanish speakers seem quite petrified of English. Anyway, from my perspective, immersing in Spanish at age 20-21 was a foundational career choice and one of the best decisions of my life. It’s both critical to getting along in my hemisphere and may be the key that finally opens a long-term life in Europe.

36. BiB - June 2, 2008

Zoeleon, yes, Spanish is brilliant on the geography front, isn’t it? OK, only a little corner of Africa and none of Asia, really, unless we pretend that Filipinos can speak Spanish, but, my god, the Spaniards did a good job from Mexico to Antarctica (almost), didn’t they?

Steven, thank you. Very kind of you to say so. I’m still ‘pleite’ (both here and in the real world). BiB came about by accident, really, and I didn’t think, when I started over four years ago (eek – young and innocent then) that maybe the first bit of the blog address and my ‘name’ should have been the same. Just a convenient abbreviation from Broke in Berlin. I changed the nickname on here to BiB, rather than pleite, as I thought it would make me be BiB when I comment on blogspot blogs, but it didn’t work.

Lukeski, that’s encouraging to hear that there’s been investment in language-learning/teaching. Yes, I know I know we’re lucky and everyone speaks English etc. etc. but it’s SO good for the soul/mind/everything to learn languages. I think it should come in really early at school but suppose there just wouldn’t be enough qualified language teachers.

Mr D, I’m very out-of-date with the UK too but guess, as more and more folk go to university, that specialisation will be more and more expected. A degree probably was still looked upon as a sign of intellectual enormity till not that long ago. Now that they’re more normal, perhaps employers will get fussier about them.

Pengers, I agree (and with you agreeing with Mr D). I think a language degree is really only a beginning. Or a continuation. Unless you’re really brilliant. I think my university was great at the linguistic level but still don’t think I learnt Russian till I spent another two years there at the end of my degree. Perhaps we are meant to keep a conspiracy of silence that doing a language degree doesn’t get you perfectly bilingual as ladies are expected to keep quiet about the horrors of childbirth.

Marsha (and Daisy), look at all the brilliant advice! Surely we have sorted Daisy’s career between us. I really like Mr D and Pengers’s words about doing languages and something and Lukeski’s about throwing in an Asian language (though French and Spanish are already great, if that’s the favoured choice). I mean, I’m all for languages. Really, really for them. And would have happily studied a squillion more at university and got rid of all the non-languagey bits. But, and as much as I hate to raise the words ‘career’ and ‘future’ and all sorts of scary grown-up (i.e. boring) concepts for someone as young as Daisy, I think it would be a wonderful bonus to have something to throw in with the languages.

Narrowback, yes, do do a quick Russian course if you get a chance. As Zoeleon says about Spaniards being reluctant English-speakers, the same applies in Russia. And your efforts would be much appreciated. At least learn the alphabet, so street names and the like won’t be a mystery. Холодное пиво, пожалуйста (holodnoye pivo, pozhaluista) should get you the beer, at least.

37. Geoff - June 2, 2008

You don’t need to throw something in with the languages; hard as it may be to believe but language graduates have higher average earnings than all other arts graduates, only scientists and professional specialisms like law earn more.

I don’t think you need to specialise unless you want to work in a career that absolutely requires it – in fact in my field (advertising) we generally find non-specialist graduates to be a much better bet than people with business or media studies or marketing focused degrees. I’d say just do what you love and it’ll all turn out OK in the end.

38. Marsha Klein - June 3, 2008

Thank you everyone who pitched in to the “what language?” discussion above. Daisy and I are both very grateful.

This is why I love the internet and, more specifically, blogging.

39. narrowback - June 4, 2008

I’ve picked up a phrase book but the concept of a new alphabet spooks me

however, after much practice I have been able to master the rough polish equivilent “zimne piwo” so I should be able to handle that simple phrase at least

40. BiB - June 11, 2008

Narrowback, it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Mind you, I learnt it when my brain was young and springy. I tackled Hebrew much later and was much the dimmest person in the class. Still worth a shot, though.

Marsha and Geoff, thank you. Marsha, my heart would be with what Geoff says, but then I’ve probably been on a downer about language degrees since finishing a language degree. So it’s wonderful to read what he says/you say, Geoff, about language graduates doing well. Of course loving what you study is super-important to making the whole course enjoyment and not torture.

41. Geoff - June 11, 2008

Yeah, I was quite heartened to find that out too, I always wondered if I’d wasted my time a little when I should have been doing something more ‘useful’. I only found the stats out recently as I’m currently working on a campaign to encourage more people to learn languages at school, which has been great fun.

42. BiB - June 11, 2008

Geoff, truly you are saving the nation. Weren’t you discouraging youngsters from boozing not that long ago? And now making them learn languages! And all the while climbing mountains at weekends. My admiration is boundless. Can you then start a campaign to teach me how to sort my life out?

43. Geoff - June 12, 2008

I’m just making up for my previous jobs where I was rotting their teeth by flogging them sugary drinks and destroying the planet by promoting cars, so it’s just a kind of penance!

I’ll start working on that sort your life out campaign as soon as I work out how to sort out my own!

44. BiB - June 12, 2008

No, Geoff, no. Yours is sorted. You started paying your bills by direct debit and now look! You’re travelling the world one minute and climbing mountains the next. I should take a leaf out of your book (except I don’t like travel and direct debits would constantly be bounced).

45. Geoff - June 13, 2008

Don’t like travel? Why ever not. It’s my most favouritest thing in the entire world!

46. BiB - June 15, 2008

Oh, go on then. I suppose I do really. Sort of. A bit.

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