Berlin is the Romantic city of the 21st century. It’s the kind of city that when I walk around Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, I feel like I could be in the movies (movies meaning films like Style Wars or Kids). It’s a lot like the city in the end product of Caden’s play in Charlie Kauffman’s new film, Synecdoche, NY, only except for the fact that his version is filled with depression and death and Berlin is filled with young artists riding banana bikes and punk rock kids with dogs (meaning = happiness). Actually, the only real similarity I suppose is that both Charlie Kauffman’s fake city and Berlin both really like vandalism. Even in that though, the Kauffman city is filled with the kind of “Bush sucks” and “Satan Rules” type of graffiti that looks stupid and in poor taste, and Berlin’s vandalism is some of the most impressive and interesting street art I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, the Berlin city government issues complimentary spray paint cans in the weekly mail and street art is a regular part of the high school curriculum. With this in mind, I expected my hostel, Pfefferbett, to look a lot less like a newly renovated and sparkling clean mariachi bar on the border of Mexico and Arizona than it actually does.
I walked into my hostel early. It wasn’t hard to find, being that it’s literally right in front of the Senfelderplatz subway station. I entered to see the bartender wiping down the green adobe bar–like the night had just ended and the last of the weekly salsa dancers were catching taxis home. If I remember correctly, Norah Jones was playing over the stereo system, but I am just going to round up and say that it was actually soft Spanish guitar playing bossa nova music, since later in the night, that was actually the case. I hold a series of assumptions in my mind about places like this. Pfefferbett, even if it’s only themed Southwestern in Berlin instead of being a genuine Mexican hometown favorite, has a certain specific Romantic appeal. It’s the same sentiment that I feel towards bars where I can imagine old New England fishing boat captains grabbing a pint after a long trip in the Atlantic, or old VFW’s in small Midwestern towns. It’s the idea that the regulars in places like this are probably filled with experiences of unnoticed heroism that I want to pretend actually happened to me. After I got the opportunity to wander around Pfefferbett for a little while, I quickly realized that the place was a lot less of a simulation Mexican bar where old masked wrestlers could happily drink Dos Equis and reflect on the golden years and a lot more of a very new and super nice hostel with a vaguely Southwestern décor.
My imagination didn’t get the memo though, so ever since I arrived at Pfefferbett, I’ve been putting everything in the context of me staying above a swanky lounge in Tijuana. This has gotten increasingly difficult as I started discovering all these technological conveniences that Pfefferbett offers. Obviously free wifi and accessible computers for guests falls into that category, but the real difficulties came from things like the magnetic locking system that Pfefferbett uses, the book lights attached to the nightstand above every bed, and the corridor lighting that is motion- activated. Old hometown Mexican bars probably didn’t have any of these perks, so maybe Pfefferbett is a little more like what a Southwestern themed bar would be like in Blade Runner. The sushi bar that Harrison Ford is in at the beginning of the movie probably also had motion-activated corridor lighting.
Later on, after I had already spent two days in Pfefferbett and had written around 2,000 words on the place, I was told by a staff member that it wasn’t actually supposed to be themed Southwestern at all, but rather the interior designer was trying to get the nature “inside”, since they have such a nice porch area and a sizable beer garden. Woops. My bad. To go along with the theme of a noir-esque Mexican style hostel, I wrote a story that I was going to work into my review of the place, as an example of what could happen if you stayed at Pfefferbett, based on the Mexican theme. It was an entirely fictitious story in first person, about me coming to Berlin as an undercover detective for the United States government to find the man who killed the German Ambassador. As the story unfolds, you see my discouragement with the fake cues that the Russians have been throwing me since they clearly murdered the man who was putting so much effort into uncovering the Russian plan to monopolize Eastern Oil Rigs and drive reassemble the Eastern Bloc by economic force. My marriage back home starts to crumble as my tenure in Germany is elongated and my mission becomes more and more complicated. At the point where I begin the story, I’m a regular at Pfefferbett; just a broken American cop who’s looking for a new place to spread his wings and has a sweet tooth for cheap whiskey. All of this is based on this fake romanticism that makes me feel like I’m in Casablanca when I’m in Pfefferbett. While I’m sitting at the adobe bar, a sweet girl sitting a few seats away talks me into having a cigarette out on the Veranda, which I reluctantly accept. Eventually I realize that it’s the ambassador’s daughter, looking for a man to replace her father, and we have a serious moment, which reinvigorates me to bring justice to Germany and the whole eastern world. If you want hints on how to waste time, my handsome readers, I’d be the one to ask.
I suppose that the idea of taking nature “inside” is the same principle as Southwestern design. People made their houses out of clay for a reason–probably the same reason that Pfefferbett made their bar out of imitation adobe. I suppose I should have been tipped off that it wasn’t themed that way when the hostel was actually super comfortable and clean instead of dirty and constantly smelling of taquitos and cheap mariachi guitarist cologne (which is how I imagined the bar in my story).
Regardless of my assumptions, Pfefferbett still has a slight Casablanca feel to it that makes me feel like I’m in an important place doing important things. I’m not sure why this is. It could be the antique style “hostel” sign lighting the brick warehouse that is Pfefferbett, the surprising luxury that is ordinarily beyond the realm of imagination in hostels, or the central location in an exciting Berlin neighborhood. It could also be because I have the imagination of a 4th grader who grew up watching Humphrey Bogart films. Last night, immediately after being told that Pfefferbett wasn’t actually supposed to be Southwestern themed, it started raining. In an act of an attempted liberation for my delusions about my detective story, I put on my wool trench coat, turned some Miles Davis up in the ear buds, and took a walk around the block. I don’t know what I was expecting, but nothing important happened. I just got wet and cold. I looked up at the “hostel” sign and thought to myself how affirming it would be if it started flickering. It didn’t. It’s too new. I walked inside and felt the sudden warmth and comfort of having a warm place to stay and a secure room to sleep in. I can’t imagine feeling as warm and comfortable walking into my pretend dive Tijuana motel. I took a shower and went to bed, where I slept without the stress of thinking that Mexican/German hookers could have died where I was sleeping. Despite my romantic delusions, I guess I actually prefer it this way.
By: Ben Majoy