How I lost and found a gender in Berlin

Berlin underground catwalk. Image taken from:

After three years of living in this incredible city, I understood and learned a lot. One of the brightest realisations was that Berlin, the city of freedom in all its expressions, has made me lose my gender, my femininity, my attractiveness. You can get me wrong, if you want to, but a woman needs compliments. I am far from being a narciss, but I’d get five to ten compliments a day in the UK. And when I go back to Riga, I need only a day to get a compliment from a man. But today in Berlin I received a compliment worth a million.

A woman wants to look good not only for herself, she needs to feel attractive and wanted by others. It’s a part of being a female. Berlin has been so greedy with compliments, and so generous with liberation and enervation, that the difference between male and female has vanished. Equality has it’s positive and negative sides. Wearing Dr. Martens, jeans and oversized jumper is too easy, for both girls and boys. Sometimes I think in Berlin transvestites and transexuals dress better than the women themselves. In Berlin I found myself being left without compliments both times: when I dressed pretty and when I wore casual clothes. No one pays attention, because everyone is too cool ( in both connotations). All of the sudden it didn’t matter what you wore (or wore nothing at all, they still would pay attention).

Wearing a dress from a Give Away box

Wearing a dress from a Give Away box

But here is a story. Last year I found a nice loose dress in a box on the street of Rasenthaler Platz, which said “Zu verschenken” (Give away). It was in a great condition and I took it. Today I wore it for the first time to work. After work being tired and sticky (+30) I was walking to pick up my bike. As I open a locker an older gentleman comes by and speaks fast German, and at first I thought he is telling me I parked my bike in the wrong place, but his face is kind and he says something about my dress. My German being ok did let me down this time, and I honestly said “Sorry, my German is not that good”. He made sure I spoke English and then said that he does not want to disturb me, but he was sitting in the cafe that I passed by and my dress looked so pretty on me that he could not resist to tell me. I smiled widely thanking him and he added then:”And look what I get back, a nice smile! Thanks for walking by!” We spoke for 10 more minutes, and he told me he moved to Berlin in the 70s from New Zealand and he has seen this city change a lot. He has been doing photography for living all his life long and so we spoke about photography. I placed one of his Berlin photos below.

He was extremely nice and reminded me of Adam, my 77-year old friend in England, we still exchange real post with. Needless to say Mike made my day and I felt like a woman again.

Berliners, tell more compliments! Don’t keep it to yourself! And I mean both genders here.

“It is a great mistake for men to give up paying compliments, for when they give up saying what is charming, they give up thinking what is charming.” 
― Oscar Wilde




All rights reserved by Mike Minehan


P.S. And it finally rains!

  1. Danielle said:

    Yes! I completely agree with you. Thank you for this post, and for the Oscar. Berlin is a legend in compliment-stinginess. Berliners revolt — be charmed (vocally!) by one another.

  2. just thought of this last week when i went to hannover (my hometown)!! back there, i just had to take the train for 30 minutes to go to my parents’ village and i got two compliments for my hair and a little love letter with a telephone number… here in berlin i can walk around like naked and nobody even cares… is berlin so full of beautiful girls that the guys don’t even ever look at them? i don’t know… crazy folks…

    • Good point! In Berlin you can walk naked, noone will pay attention! I am lost to explain why?

      • because there are toooo many beautiful girls and far too many naked jerks freaked out on drugs & themselfs as well, i guess. you can do anything (which is good) – but nobody will pay attention to you anyway (which is the other side of the famous berliner freiheit).

  3. LaHaine said:

    I think most people want to be left alone and would feel disturbed by such advances from strangers. Good thing for me, I’m from a region where similar behaviour is expected so it was no culture shock to move to Berlin.

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