From a note I took on my phone during a recent visit to Berlin.
I am visiting the gay museum, plonked in the middle of one of Berlin's seemingly infinite nothing areas of gigantic crossroads; grey and blank squares of motorway that often rumble just round the corner from quiet personality-filled residential neighbourhoods. And round the corner from this one is Christopher Isherwood's Berlin address. It seems like a good and important idea to visit it.
Nollendorfstrasse is cheery tree-lined street in Schöneberg, a not-particularly-desirable area of East Berlin. A small bronze plaque hangs on the wall of number 17, near a panel of buzzers for the numerous apartments the building has become; an old lady lets herself in with handfuls of shopping. Next door is a packed cafe of friends drinking and cheering on a violin and piano duet; on the other side is an electronic cigarette store called "Fog You". Everything is bustling and alive and there is a strong smell of piss.
Within spitting distance are two bondage shops and a rainbow flag-bedecked cafe called Romeo und Romeo outside which sit thirty men and one woman. Gay flags large and little sit on every balcony and poke from every shop awning. None of the bars or clubs that Isherwood described in such fond detail are still open and the Berlin Isherwood knew had vanished within a decade of his departure.
“Always in the background was Berlin. It was calling me every night, and its voice was the harsh sexy voice of the gramophone records. Berlin had affected me like a party at the end of which I didn’t want to go home.”