Berlin Portraits

Henri Jakobs on Love’s Ghost

An Interview for the Berlin Portrait Series on The Needle. By Joseph Pearson.

Henri Jakobs. Used with permission.

The Needle speaks this week, for the Portrait Series, with Henri Jakobs, the frontman of the electro-band Tubbe, who tells us about Berlin’s best-kept secret: which is the loneliness of people overwhelmed by possibilities.

Henri is trans and transitioned in 2016 and 2017; the Süddeutsche Zeitung published a remarkable podcast about his experiences, which you can listen to here.

Like most others in his portrait series, Henri is a transplant to Berlin; he has been in the German capital since 2011. He was born in Munich, as he tells me, “Next to the location of the Oktoberfest. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be less Bavarian”.

“Why did you come here?” I ask.

“To escape broken hearts (actually just mine) and Stammtischdenken”, he replies.

“And why did you stay here?”

“I decided to have my heart broken in Berlin”.

“Do you feel like a ‘Berliner’?”

“On good days I feel like a citizen of this planet”, he says.

“What are these Stammtischdenken? I know a Stammtisch is a regular’s table in a pub or bar”. (Stamm means ‘trunk’ and Tisch means ‘table’).

Henri replies, “That’s right. In Bavaria, a Stammtisch is a place where mainly older and conservative people meet. To discuss their conservative views while drinking too much beer”.

I ask whether there’s such thing as a trans Stammtisch, because I think there should be one.

“Actually I think there might be! But I’m not well informed”.

We’ve talked about Munich and Berlin, but I want to know whether Henri would consider living somewhere else. Certainly, a couple months ago, in endless winter, I was considering some place with eternal sunshine, like Valencia or the near side of the moon.

Henri tells me, “I still fancy the thought of living in a cave with a talking animal”.

I am intrigued, “What kind of animal?”

“An Erdmännchen [a meerkat] would be nice! Or a flamingo”.

“A long neck to peak outside the cave sometimes!”

Berlin, of course, has many more amenities than a cave. And I ask Henri whether there is something he particularly likes in the German capital.

“I am constantly hungry. When there is no food, I get very sad. Berlin has lots of food”.

“More than a cave presumably”, I opine.

“But food strangely doesn’t make me constantly happy. But being miserable with a full stomach is way more pleasant”.

“Is there something you would like to change about Berlin?” I ask.

“If only people would arrive on time. Well…if they come at all. Changing plans at the last minute seems very Berlinish to me”.

“And where do you go in the city for pleasure?”

“I have a little garden. That’s the place I go for silence and to pretend to know about nature”, Henri tells me.

“Where do you go in the city for work?”

“I leave the city for work”.

“And to cheer yourself up?”

“Back to the garden. Vegetables can be very entertaining”.

“And to turn off?”

“I talk to my cat, which is a very silent conversation. The cat isn’t really interested in my stories”.

“Haha. And where do you go to think?”

“I just drive around the city on my scooter called Beppo”, says Henri, “Everybody should have one”.

“What colour is Beppo?”

“Beppo is some sort of white. Whitish”.

“I’d like a scooter”, I tell him, “But I’m sure I’d fall off”.

We now get to the part of the conversation where I ask Henri about the theme he wanted to discuss with The Needle, which is “Love’s Ghost”. But what is Love’s Ghost?

Henri explains, “Berlin seems to be the town where thousands go for maximum pleasure and to lose themselves. But once you really live here, Berlin can be the loneliest place on the planet. Everybody is very busy presenting an amazing life on social media, while actually sitting at home alone. In front of the food they just took 50 pictures of.  Don’t get me wrong, Berlin is a lovely place. But it is not waiting for you. There is something about this city–– everybody always seems to be waiting for a better option. Be it a better party, a better restaurant, a better and more important friend, or a better and more important love of their life. A laugh is just a swipe away, so why spend time with someone who might not be that much fun? I really think that loneliness is one of the biggest and best kept secrets in this city. Probably like in every bigger city around the planet. Luckily, I have found friends who will cook a soup for me when I’m sick, so I don’t need to be afraid of love’s ghost. But I spent a lot of time on the couch with the said ghost sitting right by my side”.

I reply, “There’s a honest mix of sadness and acceptance in what you say. I wonder if you can give some advice to fellow queers out there who need some encouragement?”

Henri Jakobs replies, “My message to my fellow queers is: It’s been said before, but it is true: just when the night seems the darkest, dawn is approaching. If you are struggling, things will get better. They do. And this comes from one of the most pessimistic persons on this planet. You aren’t on this earth to please anyone else but yourself. Be brave, you will be rewarded with love and life. I promise.”



Do come see Henri at one of his concerts! You can follow on Facebook and on Tubbe’s Website. And a final word from Jakobs: “Oh…and by the way…trans and queer rights are human rights. Just to let you know”.


About The Berlin Portrait Series on The Needle

The Needle, one of Berlin’s most-read blogs, is beginning of a series of portraits of Berliners. The Berliners included, however, were not born here. They are all transplants: people who have come from somewhere else to make the German capital their home. We also interview people who have a meaningful connection to the city, but have since moved on. We aim for diversity: to claim the city for internationals (and those from diverse places and backgrounds in Germany) who make Berlin a better and more vibrant place to live.

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Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.