A Night of Multiculturalism in Cold War Berlin

Shortly after arriving in Berlin for a three-year stint at the U.S. Army's Field Station, I found myself in the company of a few friends from the Defense Language Institute heading out for the evening. Bill Lewis and George Moreland, a couple of guys I'd met in Monterey, were with me. There were undoubtedly others, but those two I remember. Our destination was a bar called The Irish Harp. It must have been someone else's suggestion; I'd only arrived two or three days earlier and had never heard of the place. It turned out to be a good choice.

The Irish Harp was no more than a block off the Ku'damm, the main thoroughfare in the heart of West Berlin. As I recall, the bar's entrance was at a narrow point shaped by an acute intersection. True to its name, the bar featured a band playing Irish folk music that added to the venue's lively, fun atmosphere. We decided to start off the night with Irish coffees, a nod to the cultural landscape no doubt. I'd taken German in high school so I took the laboring oar translating the idiosyncratic orders of my friends - hold the cream, double on the sugar, etc. Given that Berliners were almost all bilingual I certainly could have ordered in English, but since I was excited to be in Germany, I decided to go native. After the round of Irish coffees we started pounding the beer - no need for my translator "skills" from that point on.

About two hours of music, laughter, and beer later I needed to visit the W.C. Upon entering, I encountered a bloated, red-faced Irishman, sweating, hair matted, and barely able to stand, steadying himself on the W.C.'s lone sink, and staring at himself in the mirror above the sink. As I passed him he blurted out in a heavy brogue, "Oh, Harry. Ya look like shit." It seems that Harry was pretty well-known at The Irish Harp because he had barely finished his brutal self-assessment when a fellow countryman blurted out from behind a closed stall door, "That's because you are a bloody piece of shit, Harry!" Harry nodded in agreement, hitched up his sagging britches, and staggered out of the W.C. to reclaim his post at the bar. I paused to reflect on the various cultural influences swirling around me. I'd like to believe that I said, "I love this place!" but it was more than 30 years ago, and even though I'm sure that's how I was feeling, honestly I probably kept the sentiment to myself.