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But more than anything, dating in Berlin makes one feel like a perennial spokesJew. At times I’ve offered sage counsel to men troubled by their family’s Nazi history, or attempted to explain why Jews circumcise. Other dates have been awkward because of lack of cultural awareness or sensitivity: I’ve had dates call me “a little Woody Allen,” or wonder why it’s so bad to take their sexy pics in front of the Holocaust memorial. (That’s something of a trend here; a lot of guys take off their shirts at Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and then post the photos on Grindr, a gay-dating app. Why? It’s still a mystery to me. Is it cultural insensitivity? An attempt to look pensive and aware of history? Who knows.)
Later in the week, Tobias invited me to see the band Iron and Wine perform at a warehouse in Kreuzberg, a trendy district in Berlin. I tried to appear as if I were the same silly, self-deprecating guy he met in yoga class, not a dreary reminder of Germany’s sordid past. I wore a polka-dot shirt and cheered wildly for the low-key folk band.
After the show, on a gum-stained bridge clogged with partygoers, Tobias casually asked if I could buy him a drink at a nearby convenience store. I reached into my pocket and fumbled around for a coin with some heft to it, but all I could find were the lightweight copper 1 cent and 5 cent pieces. I told him I didn’t have the cash. He gave me a look.
“You’re not a cheap Jew, though, right?” he asked. Then he laughed.
“That’s bullshit,” I responded, but I don’t think he heard me over the roar of a nearby train.
The next day, I ignored Tobias’s phone call. I decided I’d rather be single than imagine what my ancestors would think of me dating an anti-Semitic German man. The fact that we were interested in the same New Age philosophy seemed like a cruel irony.
Surprisingly, though, the experience did not dissuade me from continuing to date German men. It’s embarrassing in retrospect, but a part of me reveled in being the spokesJew.
I enjoyed being both “unicorn” and cultural ambassador. I introduced one date to the nondubbed version of the TV show “The Nanny” (“What is this voice? Is this real?” he asked me, to my sheer delight). I told another about all the Tel Aviv electronic bands I adored. I even joked lightly about my Jewish upbringing to strangers who knew nothing of Jewfros or Hebrew schools.
The backdrop to many of these revealing and entertaining exchanges was a chintzy bar in Berlin’s gayborhood, appropriately named Heile Welt — Heal the World. Smokey and loud, Heile Welt was a raucous place, similar to the kind of gay bars you’d find in the United States.