The first person I met in Berlin was a boar-hunting friend of a friend, who agreed to talk to me only if I didn't print his name. He was in his early forties, six and a half feet tall, muscular, lean, and fair, with shaggy reddish-brown hair, some stubble, and a great deal of self-confidence. He had on worn jeans, biker boots, a loose faded black T-shirt, and a scarf, and yet I'll confess I found myself picturing him trim and tidy in Heidelberg duelling garb. Preconceptions can be hard to shake when you're fresh in town.
It was a Sunday night in the dregs of December, sleety and dark. We were at a bar in Mitte, the formerly bombed-out and abandoned East Berlin district that was reclaimed by squatters, clubbers, and artists after the Wall came down and is now agleam with fancy restaurants, galleries, and shops. Transplants often describe Berlin's neighborhoods as analogues of New York's, to assess where they fit along the gentrification continuum. Mitte, they say, is SoHo. Like SoHo, it is often full of tourists. But this bar, an early post-Wall pioneer, had a gruff, local air.