Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hamburg 6.1.94: Red Wigs and Booming Voices

En route to Stuttgart, i.e., to Besigheim-Ottmarsheim, where Steve’s cousin Ludwig Sponer lives. Leaving W. and K. difficult. What first-rate human beings and wonderful friends they are—and to have hosted us with such welcome for so many days. I have no doubt we often tried their nerves.

Our night on the town of 3 Jan. turned out not to be much. At Café Gnosa, we met two of S.W.’s friends, a half-German, half-Honduran young man named Siegfried, and a German named Björn. Last names were proffered, but I never quite get German surnames when I hear them, so I stuck with deciphering the first two names.

Desultory, not unpleasant, chat around the table. I was closest to Björn, who told me he has an English boyfriend and wants to learn English, so we practiced away. He’s a baker from some little town in Schleswig-Holstein, and we discussed working conditions in Germany, stress, coming out (both Siegfried and Björn are in a coming-out group with S.), and our relationships with our families.

Siegfried said he has been expelled from his family, who blame Germany for making him queer. His father is the Salvadoran, and thus into machismo, and cannot have a son who does not (as he feels) perfectly and narcissistically reflect his own impeccable masculinity. Yet Siegfried has a lesbian sister, so the family had already dealt with homosexuality . . . .

After Gnosa, a horrible meal in a urine-smelling Chinese restaurant in St. Georg, then a walk on the Reeperbahn. We parked on Grosse Freiheit, the bawdiest of all Reeperbahn streets, and walked on it first, disappointing the barkers outside the show: “Live f—k on stage. Come in!” As we passed them without coming inside, they made rude comments (now in German, whereas their come-hither invitations were English) to our backs.

It was raining, and miserable, so we rather quickly walked to a gay bar that is a favorite of S.’s—something with a Plattdeutsch name, Toom something or other. But regulars call it Katrina’s, after its owner, a transvestite named Katrine, who was tending bar that evening. She’s a matronly, huge thing with a dowdy red wig and the kind of dress any village Hausfrau might wear, who speaks in a booming bass voice.

The bar itself was shabby and cozy, with lots of red this and that and the old battered wood settles Germans seem to love in cafés and bars. It was surprisingly quiet for a gay bar full of people (not that I am any expert: I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve been to a gay bar). There were both men and women, and the place was so smoky that I could hardly breathe after a few minutes.

German gay men: hulking, many of them, with severe haircuts, and often with ugly glasses. An air of suppressed, barely curbed aggressiveness. Lots of men at the bar blowing obligatory smoke through their noses.

But the other side of the coin is that many are also fresh-faced, innocent looking, fetchingly androgynous—often far younger looking than they actually are. Even straight German men can look and act this way, which might lead an adventurer to jump to conclusions that could be quite unfortunate, since I sense more and more that the heritage of German patriarchal militarism causes German men to repudiate homosexual advances decisively and even violently.

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