Think New York City is the city that never sleeps? — forgeddaboutit.

Berlin is the Kaiser – the king – of nightlife.

Looking for a jazz bar playing nothing but Sinatra’s biggest hits? Try Quasimodo. Or perhaps you’re craving to find a football supporters hangout boasting only the most fabulous 80s soundtrack? If so, then Stadion-Terrassen is your place.

And how about those of you who would like to partake in a secret gathering of vampires from around the world? Yep, it’s got that too — and I was there, somehow.

But first things first: just getting to Berlin is a party.


An awkward silence vibrated through the air as traffic began to break up.

If I didn’t say something, then the 600-kilometer drive to the German capital (a fact that residents near my home in Bonn make a daily point of decrying) was going to drag on for weeks.

“So,” I began hesitantly, looking for a way to break the ice to a van full of five women giving me the Death Stare, “why are you guys going to Berlin?”

“Well,” a blonde-haired girl with an overly black scarf sitting next to me said smugly, “I’m going for a model casting.” Even though she was a good half a head shorter than me, her eyes were about twice as large.

“We’re coming for support!” a girl in the back seat chimed in.

“Interesting,” I said. “I write about fashion.”

It was a mistake.

“Really?” they all screeched in unison.

Yeah, really — if it paid me more, I wouldn’t have been selling my dignity for a shared ride in a dodgy-looking red van that just screamed “stranger danger” in the first place.

There wasn’t a moment of silence after that. The vehicle seemed to run off estrogenic energy. The conversation was, to put it mildly, carnal. There’s a sad stereotype that exists about the assumed sexual orientation of men involved in fashion journalism. As a straight guy, I sometimes feel like an endangered species.

That was certainly the case here. Questions such as why the fit of a pair of skinny jeans might not work with some women’s body shapes can easily be discussed with a minimal level of awkwardness, but no one wants to share a conversation about how the German version of 50 Shades of Grey might differ from the English one — at least not when you possess XY chromosomes. I was starting to question the wisdom of accepting the offer off the Craigslist-esque Website ( I’d used in the first place. Flying would certainly have been quicker.

Mercifully, as we ate up the kilometers and guzzled to-go lattes with reckless abandon, the conversation gradually became less awkward. For complete strangers, they were surprisingly uninhibited — a deviation from most Germans I’d met thus far.

“Do you like Hermès?” the aspiring model, Elena, asked.

“I’ll be honest,” I said. “I’m not their biggest fan. Sure, it’s great to be a legacy brand, but you have to innovate once in a while. I haven’t been seeing that lately. What do you think?”

“I love them,” she answered with all the cheeriness of a seasoned PR veteran. She’d certainly win points for enthusiasm. “You see this?” she asked, holding a pink leather handbag in front of my face with distinctive double handles, clochette and gold hardware. “This is Hermès.”

I tried my best to keep my jaw from dropping. A Birkin bag, named after the legendary actress and singer Jane Birkin. Starting price: roughly $9,000. A symbol of all that the Occupy movement was against, the bag was easily worth more than the vehicle we were in.

I ran my hand across it. The leather was as soft as a cotton shirt. I doubted I would ever again be allowed to touch something so expensive.

“Your perspective changes, doesn’t it?” she said. The entire van erupted in laughter.

“Yes, yes it does,” I replied, amazed.

“Seeing is believing.”

I nodded in agreement.

The rest of the trip passed in dumbfounded stupor. A few tracks from the likes of Lady Gaga blasting from the crackly sound system provided some distraction, and I was able to help spread the global popularity of the “license plate game” (in short, you look for a vehicle with a license plate that begins with a letter of the alphabet, beginning with A; it’s a great way to cause other drivers to honk their horns unnecessarily). The heavily forested interior of central Germany soon gave way to the Soviet-style suburbs of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and finally the high rises and nouveau hotspots of the capital itself.

Noise engulfing the van’s interior like political turmoil in Washington, we stopped off near the Großer Tiergarten, an area that serves as the city’s version of Central Park. I wondered if the latter inspired the former.

“It was nice meeting you!” the van’s occupants uttered in what passed as a single chorus.

Saying farewell, I exited the vehicle, promising to write about Elena when she became famous. As the cherry-red gas guzzler that would never legally be allowed on the road in the state of California drove away, I looked up at the clear evening sky. It was warmer than I thought, but still a little brisk — time to get going.

For its size, and the vastness of its public transportation network, Berlin is a fairly easy city to orient oneself in; Tokyo it is not. Grabbing a quick bite to eat at one of the innumerable falafel stands that permeate the German capital like taquerías in Los Angeles, I hopped on the U-Bahn (subway), which like so many things was rebuilt from ruins and had to be reconnected following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The quick ride on the moderately crowded train brought me to the Tempelhof quarter, an area whose history dates back to at least 1247 and which saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Battle of Berlin in the closing days of World War II. I was getting closer to my final destination.

And just what was that final destination, exactly? I didn’t have a clue. All I knew was that it promised to be, well, interesting.

Back in September, I’d met Paris and New York-based fang-maker Sebastiaan van Houten at a party. We’d gotten to talking, and I ended up being invited to the Endless Night German Vampire Ball in Berlin. “Why not?” I’d said. It was true: the first time around, I’d found the vampire community to be nothing short of fascinating. Plus, Van Houten — also an author and whose past clients have included Twilight actress Ashley Greene — might very supplant Jonathan Goldsmith as The Most Interesting Man in the World. It certainly made a better story than yet another food-driven article about a European capital I’d been to before (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What could be the harm?

“It was sold out,” Van Houten would later say of the event. “We had sold every ticket available by around 1 a.m., and the venue was just beautiful. [For] the German scene this was the first event of its type, but not the first vampire ball. We learned a lot on how the German vampire scene works.”

And so did I.

The place itself was nestled along the rapidly gentrifying Alt-Tempelhof Straße, a street which despite its modernization still retains a distinct Cold War feel. The front of the club, the aptly named Insomnia, was nondescript enough, the large metal doors ushering guests into a run-of-the-mill queuing area accented by somewhat garish red carpeting and a chandelier. A dull throbbing could be heard, but otherwise it was eerily quiet. Two attendants were on duty to check coats, their silent expressions as warm as Reykjavik in January — or the burly, bald bouncer that embodied every Eastern European stereotype. I decided he’d likely washed out from a career with the New York Jets.

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