When I tell people that I love German men, they often react oddly. Some point out that Germans are boring; others assume my interest is evidence of a military fetish. But my feelings for Germans are far more innocent than that. At the age of 15, I travelled to Germany with my orchestra, and in a little Bavarian village called Wolfratshausen, I met my first love.
Well, sort of. I don’t actually remember his name and our relationship was platonic by modern standards. Carl (let’s call him that), was two years older than me, tall and substantial, with curly dark brown hair. We exchanged shy glances across a room at a party where beer flowed, and spoke hesitantly a few times. He wrote me a couple of long letters after I left and I, for a while, wrote back. Our friendship didn’t last, but what it gave me was a long-term love of Germany.
There are myriad reasons to love Germany. Germans are tall and handsome; they’re good with finances (as we know from the current EU monetary mess); they have those throaty seductive accents, with that uniquely Germanic, gutteral articulation. And let’s not forget (something I missed on my first, Bavarian trip) Germany is the country of Berlin.
Berlin has long been a home of experimentation, art and excess. When the Expressonist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner spent time there from 1913 to 1915, he saw the city as an urban jungle with all the dangers and allure that that entailed. Kirchner’s Berlin women are like exotic birds, their skin pale, their lips shining in sensual red, and their bodies stretched beyond realism into long, elegant forms. His images capture a sense of eeriness on the eve of war, with the city on the verge of meltdown.
But after the first World War, Berlin flourished, temporarily, in art, culture and sex. Rightwing groups may have argued that sexual ‘abnormality’ would undermine the nation, but left-wing intellectuals were advocating for contraception, gay rights and abortion. Liberals began to separate sex from procreation, and a new notion of the erotic took hold.
A British diplomat called Harold Nicolson was there during the Weimar era. ‘There is no city in the world so restless as Berlin,’ he wrote. ‘Everything moves. The traffic lights change restlessly from red to gold and then to green… Everybody knows that every night Berlin wakes to a new adventure.’
For me, similarly, Germany holds a place in my consciousness. As a young adult, I returned, spending two summers in Dusseldorf with friends. We worked all night, slept in the day and drank Apfel Schnapps in a tiny bar at the end of our street where we knew the landlady like a friend. A few years later, I visited Berlin with a boyfriend. We stayed in a converted factory and lay at night on stiff, unromantic white sheets. We fought a lot.
As time passes now, I accept that I may never live in Germany. Carl himself and my first teenage visit are clearly no more than poorly-recalled memories; and it was in New York last year, and not Berlin, that I saw the works of Kirchner. But perhaps that doesn’t really matter. Berlin’s erotic exoticism is a mutable dream; and Germany will always have a special spot not just in my heart, but in my imagination.