I landed in Berlin on the evening of the summer solstice. It was warm and damp, a perfect omen for the smouldering season that was about to unfold. I had finally arrived with all my belongings, ready to settle in the city of my dreams. I was moving into the ample spare bedroom in my friend’s George’s pre-war flat. I hadn’t seen George in a couple of years, since before he moved from London to Berlin. I was excited to see my friend after so long. Mostly, I was clamouring to take off all my wet clothes and get under the cold waters of my new shower.
I headed to the station and kept my face on my phone trying to decode the lines and the unpronounceable stations and figure out where to go. I finally found the line after many back-and-forth trips and google maps suggestions, and casually waited for the train to arrive. And that’s the time and place I first set eyes on Rieper.
In front of me, on a pink and white billboard, there was a picture of a man. A marbled skin and blue-eyed incubus, with thick three-day stubble, staring back. His body, slightly covered by the lettering and a translucent white tank top, revealed a lean and toned physique. With his clavicle delicately protruding just above his defined, hairy chest. I gazed upon his beauty. Something so detailed, strikingly beautiful and erogenous, as if Praxiteles had sculpted his body. The soft, piercing eyes hypnotised me. Rieper… The name was carved in my brain like a lightning bolt on a wooden slab. There was something familiar, unsettling, about this man. As if one look from him could disarm all my defences and crumble all my walls.
The train started to arrive, and the blur of yellow metal and glass blurred my vision, breaking the spell and returning all the noise, motion and the standard passage of time. I rushed to pick up the bags and head to the doorways, and, while inside, tried to peak one last time at the billboard but to no avail. I had been single for a very long time and had a somewhat strange relationship with sex and intimacy. I loved having sex but was rarely so deeply passionate about the person laying with me, that more often than not, the practice had become duller than masturbation. I immediately attributed my lustful thoughts towards an inanimate billboard to my self imposed celibacy of months. And the further the train took me from that station, the lesser my mind and body were under his spell. Until I no longer thought about Rieper.
I arrived at the doorstep of my new home. George was waiting for me outside. Pink shorts and a white tank top, perfectly contrasting with his beautiful dark skin. I could only imagine how popular he must be with the boys: gorgeous smile, tight body, great style. George was the most attractive and approachable guy I had met and we quickly became great friends in college.
“David!” – he screamed effusively upon seeing me walking up the street with my huge suitcases. He rushed to me, and we hugged in the most clumsy and charming way. “It’s been too long! How was the trip?”
“It was ok. Terrible airport you people have here”. He laughed, embarrassingly acknowledging the extreme heat and the cramped spaces of Schoenefeld Airport. “I am happy to finally be here.”
We got into the building and went up the stairs up to the fifth floor.
“You’re going to love it. There’s nothing like Berlin in the summer. The drinks at the canal, the parties… the boys…” He sent a solicitous look my way as if suggesting there were no excuses not to enjoy myself in the pervasiveness of this sex-crazed town. George opened the door and kept going on and on about the wonders of Berlin to the point I shut down and realised I had finally arrived.
I was so excited to be here. It was my first experience in an apartment away from home, with my best friend, and the promise of an exciting time. I looked in awe at our fairly spacious pre-war apartment with the high ceilings and the light wooden floors like it was a million dollar property in Sunset Boulevard.
“Your room is down the hall. There’s a bathroom so go have a shower, get ready, and I’ll get us some drinks!” George rushed me along the hall. I opened the door and marvelled at my new hub. All the boxes with my personal stuff, mostly books and European cinema DVDs from my college years, as well as some furniture, were already there, including a modest mattress on the floor. On the wall, there was a sign. “Welcome home!” in large purple letters. I took some new clothes from my suitcase and took the damp ones off. I noticed the big windows with no curtains clearly facing the balconies of our neighbours and flinched for a moment realising I was completely exposed. As I decided that I…