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  • Berlin love stories: Romance from the heart of the Hauptstadt

Love in Berlin

Berlin love stories: Romance from the heart of the Hauptstadt

Berlin isn’t exactly known for commitment or romance, but these three couples overcame all the odds to find true love in techno town.

Craig and Yulia sipping beers at a pub in Novi Sad, Serbia in August last year – two days before visiting Berlin again. Photo: personal archive.

Love on the dance floor

A dark dance floor, deafening beats and two people from different countries may be the ideal setup for a one-night stand but probably not for a long-lasting relationship. In the case of Craig and Yulia, nothing could’ve worked better. “She couldn’t speak English at all, so we didn’t have to talk,” Craig explains. Originally from Perth, Australia, blonde and bubbly, the 49-year-old doesn’t immediately strike one as a likely match for 39-year-old Yulia, who hails from Ufa in Russia’s Ural Mountains.

In 2016, off-licence cashier Craig set off on a tour of Europe. When he came to the Hauptstadt, Yulia, a civil servant, was just visiting for a politics seminar. Their paths crossed at Tresor Club. “I’d never seen an Australian before, and it was like, ah that’s what a Kangaroo looks like,” Yulia laughs. “I liked him straight away!” she grins. So, on the dark dance floor, unable to speak each other’s language, they had to resort to smiles, flirtatious glances and kisses.

I think if you told us what was gonna happen the first day we met, we probably would’ve gone, that’s too hard!

But timing’s a bitch, and so, with Craig moving on to his next destination and Yulia flying back to Russia, they had to bid their farewells two days after they’d met. The Kangaroo, though, had made a lasting impression on Yulia, so, when the opportunity to see Craig again arose just a few weeks later, she didn’t hesitate. As fate would have it, the next pin on Craig’s travel map was Moscow, where they found themselves at the Bolshoi Theatre for their first proper date. “Neither of us knew a thing about ballet, but my friend’s dad worked there and could get me tickets, so I thought, what a great first date!” Craig laughs. “We decided that we got on pretty well,” he concludes, but another inevitable adieu ensued, and they had to go back to texting for four months, after which Yulia invited Craig on a road trip in Russia.

With such an unpromising beginning, it would be hard to believe they stayed together if they weren’t sitting here today. “I think if you told us what was gonna happen the first day we met, we probably would’ve gone, that’s too hard!” Craig laughs.

It was this blissful ignorance that allowed them to carry on happy-go-lucky, taking their relationship one day at a time. Because Craig and Yulia love Berlin and Craig bought a flat here when he had come upon some money he wanted to invest, they kept travelling back and forth between Russia and Berlin. “We were burning money! Between seeing each other, we worked really hard and saved as much money as we could. Then we blew it, saved it and blew it again.” In 2019, just before the pandemic erupted, Yulia quit her job, obtained a for-Russians-hard-to-get tourist visa and visited Australia for the first time – just in time to escape a Craig-less life locked down in Russia.

When Yulia’s visa ran out in 2021 and she had to go back, Craig managed to win a ticket to the UEFA European Championships in Russia that came with visa-free entrance to the country, allowing him to stay for longer than with a tourist visa. “I wasn’t interested in the football, I just used the ticket to come and see her,” he admits. When his time was up, they moved to Serbia together where they could both stay without a visa for three months.

At the moment, they’re travelling around the Balkans until they come back to Berlin this month, where they’re hoping to stay for good. “We’re probably gonna find a lawyer or someone that can tell us what we can do.”

Their life sounds exhausting. Was there ever a moment they considered calling it quits?

“He was completely different with his European attitude, everything was sparkles with him,” Yulia smiles. “It was never boring!” Craig adds. “It’s funny because it’s the opposite for us: some people just want to travel, but we can’t wait to finally settle down in our city of love.” Who knows, maybe Craig and Yulia are sitting on the plane to Berlin munching peanuts just as you’re reading this.

Until death do us part

37-year old Agnès and 46-year-old Manfred in 1988, six years into their relationship. Photo: personal archive / Iinaroosa Viitanen.

“Before I met my husband, I had a Techtelmechtel (fling) going on with his best friend Frieder*,” says 71-year-old Agnès. “I don’t know what you’d call that today.” This casual little love affair, however, would lead Franco-German Agnès to her Berlin-born-and-bred husband Manfred. “There was some talk in our group of friends that Manfred and I would be a good match. That’s probably what Frieder had in mind when he invited us both to a picnic he’d organised on Pfaueninsel,” she smiles. “That’s where we first met, in May 1982.” Frieder, being a charmer, found himself a new Techtelmechtel in the meantime. “I think everyone in our group of friends had a thing with him at some point,” Agnès laughs. “But no one knows what became of him.”

Agnès liked Manfred immediately, but it took another three months until they went on their first date. “I was working as a teacher. It was the summer holiday break, and I was bored, so I gave him a call.” They would stay together for 26 years but only marry after 22. “Manfred didn’t want to,” Agnès explains. “He was very particular about these things. He also kept his flat for 15 years, even though he lived with me, and he would say, ‘Marriage is the beginning of the end.’”

“Before I met my husband, I had a Techtelmechtel going on with his best friend.

As many precautions as the proud Kreuzberger took, Agnès’ grounded nature never made him want to run away. Perhaps it was even her firm hand that gave him the reassurance he needed. In 1998, she decided that they needed a bigger place and found them a flat in Steglitz, where Agnès still lives today. “First, he fought the idea of moving tooth and nail,” she recalls. “But when he saw the flat, he warmed to it a lot more.” Yet still, just in case, he kept his flat for another year after they’d moved. When he finally ended his other contract and committed himself to their shared place, Agnès was over the moon. “That to me already felt like getting married.”

In fact, it was this step that made Manfred loosen up a little. His sister helped him on the last leg of the way and suggested that, since they’d been together for so long, they might as well get married. And so, one evening, as they sat on their sofa watching TV, Manfred popped the question: “When are we finally getting married then?”

Agnès in her flat in Steglitz. On the wall behind her: a self-portrait of her late husband Manfred Zander in the same rocking chair. The painting shows a little fish, a zander, referring to Manfred’s last name. Photo: Iinaroosa Viitanen.

And then, only two years after tying the knot in 2004, Manfred became ill. “It happened very gradually,” Agnès recalls. “There were little signs, nothing dramatic, but he changed.” Dementia. The day Manfred started receiving care, he stopped talking altogether. “It was terrible for him because he’d always been such an autonomous person.” At the age of 66, Manfred succumbed to his illness.

When Agnès thinks back, she remembers the eloquent, self-determined and resourceful man that Manfred was before he became ill. Despite his dementia, Agnès smiles fondly as she recalls their last two years. The night before he died, he briefly came back: “He looked me right in the eyes and took my hand,” Agnès smiles. “He went the way he was.” Manfred and her never had any children. “He didn’t want to, but we always had cats,” she laughs. “Sometimes I wish we did, because then there’d still be a part of him here.”

A part of Manfred that remains, however, is his sister, with whom Agnès stays in close contact.

*Names have been changed.

A tall order

Rebecca and Nico all loved up in their Charlottenburg flat. Photo: Iinaroosa Viitanen.

Not all Berlin love stories have to start in Berlin. Or Germany, even. When 33-year-old Nico moved from Colombia to Germany 10 years ago, he probably didn’t expect to meet his future wife here. The twist of fate happened in Munich in October 2019, where the Wahlberliner went to see an old friend. Settled into a corner of a bar, ready to sip beers and chat about old times, a 190cm-tall Bavarian brunette caught sight of him. “I thought he was gorgeous,” Rebecca says of the time she first laid eyes on her now fiancé. “My friend told me to go up to him, but I was like, come on, as if I’d do that!” So, without further ado, the friend in question grabbed her hand and sat her down next to Nico, who caught on immediately. “I was supposed to be there to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in years, but she was so attractive!” he smiles, leaving no questions open. “We talked until five in the morning,” Rebecca adds.

Having got themselves into a relationship right before Covid hit, it’s easy to assume that their young love went up in flames in an instant, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “When they announced the first lockdown, he was visiting, so unfortunately, he had to stay in Munich,” Rebecca grins. But the blessings in disguise get more troubling. “Another time, when she was visiting me in Berlin, she had a nasty bike crash in Tiergarten and lost 10 teeth!” Nico says with an excitement that would be slightly worrying if it wasn’t quite cute.

I was supposed to be there to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in years, but she was so attractive!

Now, they don’t have to endure these things anymore because Rebecca gave in and moved to Berlin in April 2021 to be with her sweetheart full-time. Would she ever have moved to Berlin had she not met Nico? The answer is a very prompt and equally firm “No!” But why didn’t Nico come to Munich then? “I’m from Bogotá, I need the big city. Munich is a village.” He has lived in Berlin for seven years; there’s no other place for him, so Rebecca had to compromise.

But Nico knows how to make amends and put a ring on it last year. “We’re getting married in September,” he smiles. They’re currently in the middle of planning their wedding, but one thing is already decided: “I’m not wearing heels!” Rebecca exclaims, who is a whole 4cm taller than her comparatively miniscule fiancé.