An Errand Before My Return to Berlin...
Visiting Berlin for the second time made me consider, with a degree of granularity, which countries are easier to visit, and which are more difficult, for non-obvious reasons.
I will tell you later why I find Prague in the Czech Republic much easier than Germany. But for now we will discuss my rigidness for never returning to Berlin again without first finding the right shoes.
If you forget your toothbrush, your hostel will have one at the front desk. You don’t even need to speak German; just write “toothbrush” on your phone into google translate, show up at the front desk with a self-conscious smile, and pay the reasonable price. Now you will be comfortable. Berlin is known for conveniences like this. There are systems that make travel easier for the foreigner.
Berlin is famous internationally for its nightlife, but Berlin’s nightlife is not like this comfortable hostel. Berlin’s nightlife is for Berliners, not for travelers, though travelers are sometimes enabled if they have demonstrated that they understand where they are and what is going on. The travelers do not need the nightlife; they do not work in Berlin. It serves as fun, but it does not fill a function. The nightlife in Berlin is for Berliners to unwind and then go back to work. It is part of the routine life of the city.
Berlin can be a practical city. If you go to a club with the wrong shoes, this demonstrates that you do not know what is going on. The shoes do not necessarily have to be black, and they do not necessarily have to be dress shoes. In fact, you can wear black dress shoes that would get you into an exclusive club in Paris, but in Berlin these same shoes may still demonstrate that you do not know what is going on.
As for the people who say you need to wear black — black will not get you in by itself, but it is less risky than other colors. The rules for colorful shoes follow similar rules as the black shoes, but the colors have to make sense as well. If you do not wear your colors properly, you risk looking like somebody who does not know what is going on. The colors have to be the right colors, and they have to make sense with your outfit. (If you wear an outfit that does not make sense, then you do not know what is going on, and you would be dangerous to let in.) (The bar for who is “dangerous” is not very high — whoever will cause the wrong kind of commotion, or will not know how to avoid harm to oneself or others. Berlin is not London.)
You can have colorful shoes that demonstrate that you know exactly what is going on, but this is for those advanced in skills I dream of possessing. I had met one gentleman, a Pole living in Berlin, with the endurance to visit three clubs with me in four nights. I have seen him do it. I have seen him enter clubs in a colorful shirt, denim overalls and suspenders, and colorful sneakers. But he knew what was going on. Even when he spoke English with me, he knew when to speak perfect German. This man knew how to style an apartment using only thrift items, and he knew how to make friends wherever he went. He is a magician, in at least one true sense of the word.
If your outfit is okay, and the bouncer is not too critical, you may be allowed in if you have relatively tasteful, but incorrect black shoes. I had been allowed this charity a few times. But I had to face the consequences: the shoes were wrong. The kind of dancing and stomping everybody was enjoying meant that when I got stepped on, it was not a trivial pain, and there was nobody to complain to.
My colorful friend and I had a plan to visit Berghain, but three nights out in four days may have been enough, and Berghain is the sort of place where you stay for seven hours. If I had gone, my feet would have likely been crushed in ways I would have regretted.
And this is why I do not have plans to return to Berlin before finding the correct steel-toed boots and the correct outfit to go with them. If you plan on going out, going to Berlin with the wrong shoes is simply not possible.
You might have a reasonable time shopping in Berlin. You can buy the correct things to wear in a city, in the city you are going to, sometimes easier than in your home city (though this idea did not pan out in Nairobi.) But then plan to have a little less time for your good time out. With the jetlag and the open club times, you may have less time for other activities than you expected.
Berlin was particularly difficult, and particularly beautiful. Berlin was where I saw one of the most transformative monuments in my life, and I did not even catch a good glimpse in the sun, for it to change me, I just caught its shadows in the dark…