I can’t say that the day ending at 4:30pm is my absolutely favourite thing in the world… Coming from good ol’ sunny Australia, these short Wintery days up in the North are really quite bizarre at times. It just doesn’t feel right to say goodnight to the sun so early. Stick around, friend! There’s more work to be done and fun to be had!
But the people of the North have definitely adapted well to these conditions. The fun here doesn’t stop after lights out… it starts.
Berlin is world-renowned for its interesting and unique night-life, it’s long wartime history and reputation as a seat of power for one of the most influential and powerful countries on the planet. It’s not a pretty place, it’s not a calm or peaceful one, but it has an energy and an atmosphere that can be found nowhere else in the world. Berlin is a place for the modern artist, for the brave and thrill seeking youth and for all those who appreciate a good experimental noise set in a grungy powerplant-turned-night-club every now and then. To keep it brief, Berlin is weird.
Weird and Wunderbar… I finally found it
My first impression of Berlin was a completely naked electro producer crawling around the floor of an industrial club, leather wrapped around her face, screeching and scrawling chalk along the cement. I don’t think that image is going to be leaving my mind any time soon. Pan Daijing then went on to play an amazing and totally hardcore set. A good introduction to Berlin, if you ask me.
I arrived shortly after six on Wednesday after spending the morning in classes in Mannheim. The rapid rush across the entire length of the country via train was made to feel very short by the assignment work I brought with me. Even then, I’m super impressed that I can now cross my entire country in an afternoon. The thought of doing that in Australia, without a plane, would be classed as some truly fantasy-level shit.
After arriving in my hostel and checking out the surrounding area from the bus, my Aussie pals and I headed out to the world-famous Berghain bar for Oneohtrix Point Never’s gig. While we didn’t get into Berghain proper (which would have been a hell of a story to tell people back home) our experience of Panorama Bar was incredible enough. No other club I’ve ever been to has been quite like it. The graffitied and industrial surroundings make it something of a mystery from the outside, but inside it is a techno-lovers paradise of neon light, metal railing and gigantic speakers.
Like I said above, Pan Daijing’s set was truly impressive, equal parts intriguing and horrifying and with bass that I could feel throughout my entire body. Oneohtrix also played an interesting set, but his new album definitely doesn’t tickle my fancy as much as his previous stuff.
Getting back into the gig scene (I saw Andy Stott and Laurel Halo perform in Heidelberg on Friday night as well) has been real fun, especially in Berlin and Europe in general, where a lot more seems to be happening and people are brave enough to try new and truly “out-there” forms of performance on a regular basis.
Afterwards we ended up walking for a few hours, chugging beer and looking for a club to dance in. Eventually, after walking halfway across the massive city, we ended up in two other world-famous night-spots: Monster Ronson’s Karaoke bar and Barbie Deinhoff’s. At the second bar, a trashy-chic little joint bathed in sickeningly pink light, we met up with a Norwegian dude who gave us the inside tips for partying in Berlin, where to go and how to get there. Good guy. I wonder where he is now? If you’re reading this, I hope your disastrous date led to something better!
The day after though I definitely regretted our alcohol adventure. I was stuck in bed until about 1:30 in the afternoon, feeling very sorry for myself. This definitely wasn’t a pleasant way to spend my short time in Berlin, but I forgave myself after considering the long, fun night we’d had before and the months of exploring and partying that had just seemed to catch up to me on that day.
We made up for the written-off morning that afternoon by wandering around the truly impressive “Museum Island”, seeing the Brandenburg Gate and eating awesome Vietnamese food. We also wondered around Auguststraße and Tucholskystraße, window shopping in all the lovely and quirky galleries that live in that area. Again, I have to note the special sort of atmosphere that Berlin carries with it. Despite the complete covering of graffiti and grime on the street, most stores are clean, modern and interesting. It’s a really interesting mix, pitching the industrial and gross against the clean and classy. Somehow, it works… and works well. It’s a city-hipsters wet dream, of course, but that’s why I like it.
Something that must be noted is the intimidating presence of police everywhere, especially around the gate and other major sites. I mean, sure, it makes sense, but I couldn’t walk around anywhere without going into that strange mode of feeling guilty and shady without having done anything.
That night we wandered the graffiti lined streets to find hidden treasures and back-alley beauties. We spotted a dude playing guitar all by himself in a walled off courtyard, a strange Cronenbergesque bar and other wacky night-time business. Our walk along the East Side Gallery acted as a both a reminder of the significance of this city and an exciting walk through modern art history.
We partied a bit, downed a few beers… and then got stuck in a line waiting for Nicholas Jaar at Ipse. Despite waiting out in the cold for some time, we never even got close to seeing the entrance of the goofy river-side club but, ya know, I’m glad we didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have had as good of a night. Instead of clubbing and drinking and dancing we met with a number of fellow youthful travellers, including another Aussie bloke, two amazing New York fashion writers and a couple of friendly chaps from the UK. We got talking, got hanging out, got wandering and ended up connecting with each other on some strange level. That’s the great thing about international cities, isn’t it? You can walk around anywhere and meet people. You just can’t be scared of talkin’ to ‘em, or looking like an idiot. Think of it this way, you probably won’t see them ever again, so you might as well let your inhibitions go.
Then met Berlin Cat. He was a lot friendlier than Amsterdam Cat.
The Party Ends Here
We woke up on the Friday to a horrifying discovery. “Yep… That’s a bed bug.” cries Eden.
“Oh no.” Cry we.
“Go back to sleep.” Cried the others in the dorm.
The first few hours of the morning were spent feverishly going through every nook and cranny of our stuff, flipping beds, opening long-forgotten sections of backpacks. Though we didn’t/haven’t yet discovered any of the little blighters among our belongings, none of us took any chances. I personally got back home, ran everything I could through the hottest wash I could, began freezing the stuff I couldn’t and taking my jacket to a near-by dry cleaner… all starting at 5am straight off the train. I’m always very careful when it comes to bugs and viruses. Maybe I’m a clean freak? Maybe I’m paranoid?
Nah… It’s better to be safe and sorry when faced with bed devils. Complete eradication! Exterminatus!
The rest of the day was spent solo, travelling around to the places I’d missed on the day before and getting a real good taste for the city before I left later that night. Again, I was reminded of Berlin’s greyness, it’s griminess and urban starkness. But I also got glimpses of beauty, of the sprawling Tiergarten and the Brandenburg gate, now lit up by glorious sunshine.
I was also reminded that solo travel can suck once you slow down. You really start to feel a bit lonely when you stop to eat in a food mall all by yourself in a foreign city… Oh well. You gotta keep moving, don’t ya? The world isn’t going to stop for anyone.
I made a long, tiring, but oh-so-worth-it trip up to the Berlin Wall Memorial as well. At first I wasn’t too impressed, expecting, I think, a bit more of the wall itself to still be standing. But when I went inside, took a good long look at the gallery of archived stories, photos and objects, I began to realise what it meant. At a time when the world is growing even more black and white, this monument served to remind me the power of people working together for common good. If we forget East and West, forget our “racial”, religious and social differences then we can break down our own walls, throw away the dictatorships of our time and make a new, better world. Look to Berlin, people.
I finished my evening by checking out the incredibly modern and impressive Postdamerplatz side of town, including the near sci-fi Sony Centre, the beautiful and intriguing Film and Fernsehen Museum and then “The Botocelli Resistance” at the Staatliche Museen. I was so engrossed by the stories of Metropolis and Dr. Caligari and by the incredible, breathtaking works of Andy Warhol, René Magritte and Bill Viola (among many, many others) that I actually lost track of time. With my uncomfortable night train bound to arrive in less than half an hour, I began a quick walk, then a jog, then a run through the pitch black Tiergarten. Fearing shadows everywhere and knowing it was definitely not a good idea to go through that sort of area alone at night, I realised I had no other choice.
But I survived, that’s the main thing. And arrived just in time to find my train delayed by forty five minutes. Super.
The Capital Wrapped Up
Overall, I’m not sure where I stand with Berlin. I was expecting so much more.
For beauty, I’d rather spend the time in Freiburg or Berchtesgaden. For art? Maybe Melbourne or Paris. For clubbing and music? Well… maybe that’s the exception. I don’t think there’s anywhere quite like Berlin for your dose of techno, harsh electronica and totally bizarre clubs. Unfortunately, I’m not as much of a party animal as you might expect from the people I hang around with (c’mon, you thought I was so cool, didn’t ya?). Berlin did offer the goods though in the form of unique and interesting little boutiques, quirky galleries and insane levels of wall art.
So… I don’t know on this one. Honestly, I’m torn. Perhaps I’d have to spend more time there? Head back after my exams are finished? Or maybe not?
But thanks for the experience anyway, Berlin. I won’t forget you anytime soon.