samedi, mai 05, 2007

BerlinPartei Day 2: The Grand Tour

Well, after coming home rather late this morning, I crashed in bed until about 14h00 or so. As before, the sounds of the children playing in the courtyard next to me prevented me from from sleeping very long, and by 14h00 I was wide awake. I showered up and headed out for lunch.

There was a sushi place around the corner that looked reasonably clean, so--despite my previous experiences in Europe--I decided to go for sushi. While the preparation was good but unexceptional, the fish was very fresh; and that's pretty much the most important part of good sushi. I had a pretty good serving of sushi and a nice Hefeweizen (unfiltered white wheat beer). However, I was also reminded during the meal that my German needs a lot of work. I can go to a counter at an imbiss and say "Ein Döner, bitte, mit rote Soße." ("A döner kebab, please, with red sauce.") However, I couldn't find the words to say "Hi, I'd like to eat on the terrace, please, and I'll start with some sparkling mineral water." Nonetheless, I managed to make myself understood, and the waiter--although rather bemused--patiently deciphered my broken German without switching to English. I've actually noticed, oddly, that the service industry people tend to stick to German until you ask them to switch to English, but random strangers that you meet on the street or in clubs often switch to English as soon as they hear your accent (the guy giving me directions last night being an exception to that rule).

Anyway, after a good meal, I headed north to Friedrichstraße station, to the nearest grocery store (a 30+ walk on foot, just to show you how uneven the filling-in of West Mitte has been) to pick up some bottles of water and snacks. After returning from the club this morning, I had realized that there were very few places to get food and a bottle of water beyond regular work hours, so I wanted to stock up on some post-party supplies.

I headed back to the hotel to drop off my goodies, stopping briefly at the hilariously named bakery, Le Crobag (seriously, that's the name), for an amusing Berliner pastry: the Wurst-Croissant. As you might imagine, it's a croissant wrapped around a sausage. At the time I was just eating it out of curiosity, but I could see how that might be very satisfying for breakfast.

By the way, I've noticed a ton of Dunkin' Donuts locations in Berlin. What's up with that? I have to say that DD is the last company that I could imagine flourishing in Europe.

Anyway, since it was a nice afternoon, I headed over to the West end of the Tiergarten and spent a while exploring the further regions of the park near the lakes and islands. I eventually made my way back to Brandenburg Gate, and then back over to Friedrichstraße. Before heading back to the hotel, and in the guise of "dinner," I tried another Berliner delicacy: Currywurst. Essentially, this dish is a pork sausage, sliced into thick chunks, and then smothered in ketchup and curry powder. You usually get fries or a roll of bread with it. It ain't haute cuisine, but there's something wonderfully satisfying about it. It reminds me of grilled cheese sandwiches and ketchup.

Anyway, I spent pretty much the rest of the pre-clubbing night at home, writing up the blog post for yesterday. Then, at about 1h00, I headed out to the first in a long string of clubs. As you'll see, the rest of my time in Berlin was quite busy...

First Stop: WEEK12END

WEEK12END is a popular techno, house (and occasionally hip-hop or drum'n'bass) club at Alexanderplatz (which is the main square in old East Berlin with the tall TV / surveillance tower). A block away from the main square, the club is actually located in the 12th floor of an old office building. Only in Berlin, I tell ya.

Alexanderplatz is a bit confusing for directions, so I spent a fair bit of time wandering around in circles before I finally saw the building and headed over. There is another more mainstream-y club on the main floor, accessible through the ground-floor retail space, but Weekend required entering through the main office doors and heading up the elevators. I was greeted at the front doors of the building by 3 bouncers (interestingly enough, German clubs seem to hire white Germans to do security, rather than the black men usually hired in Paris clubs). After paying the entry (10€) at what must normally be the reception desk (this is still a functioning office building by day), I headed to the back of the floor, where there was a coat check. The elevators were right next to the coat check, and I hopped in and took it up to the 12th floor (thankfully I had heard what floor it was on, because there were no signs posted in the elevator). The club was only one half of the 12th floor, actually, so when you got out of the elevator, there was a set of glass doors leading into a dark-lit nightclub to the right, and a white hallway and set of doors leading to a recording company to the left.

The club itself was very nicely designed. The overall look was glossy black counters and seating, with a big square bar in the middle of the floor that had huge vases with calla lilies on opposite corners. Unlike at Berghain/PanoramaBar, the servers at the bar wore a uniform of sorts: black button-down shirts and black aprons. There were several large cushioned benches for seating between the bar and the west-facing windows, as well as a long ribbon of banquette seating all the way around the windowed area of the bar. The dancefloor itself was actually rather small, fitting in maybe 35m2.

I didn't bring my camera, since I was planning on going back to Berghain, but you can get some good quality daytime photos of the club here, and I've found a couple of night-time from the web that I've included below; the camera person was obviously using high exposure/slow shutter, because the club is normally darker-lit than this.

The crowd was a fair bit younger than the Berghain/Panorama crowd; they were mostly in the late teens and early twenties, almost entirely white (which was true of pretty much every club I went to, with Berghain being slightly less so) and a bit more mainstream in their fashion. As much as I'm reluctant to use that label, I think mainstream is probably the best descriptor, as I certainly couldn't judge whether these kids were from the 'burbs or downtown, from Berlin or from the countryside, but I could tell that they bought most of their clothes from H&M, The Gap and similar stores, there were far fewer piercings and visible tattoos than at Berghain/Panorama, hairstyles were more conservative, and the majority of the crowd was hetero (and the only two gay guys I saw there reappeared at Berghain later that night). I suppose this was the sort of crowd the Berghain bouncers were trying to prevent, with their (in)famous door policy.

The DJs spinning that night were apparently Barem and Ben Parris from Foundsound Records. I couldn't quite make out which of the two of them was spinning while I was there, and nobody in the crowd could help me out, either, which I suppose says something else about the crowd. I made a quick tour around the floor to look for a playlist, but there was nothing that I could find. Anyway, I drank a few beers, danced a bit, enjoyed the view over Berlin, and enjoyed the music until about 3am, at which point I headed out for the next club...

Next Stop: Watergate

[Pictures taken from the Watergate website; you can also go the website and click on "Location" for a 360˚ view of the interior of the club.]

Now, if only I had taken a moment before leaving my hotel room to double-check the location of this club. I mis-remembered this place as being across the river and at the foot of the bridge near Ostbahnhof. While it was indeed at the foot of the bridge across the river Spree from one of the S-Bahn stations, it was certainly not at Ostbanhof. So, I got off at Ostbanhof and quickly realized that there was no bridge directly in front of the station. I looked to the left and to the right and decided that, since the bridge to the West was closer, I'd try that one. I walked over to that bridge and crossed it, which actually brought me past another club called Maria am Ostbahnhof, that I had heard about. I crossed the bridge and saw some lights on the water waaaay off to the east. Clearly, I had picked the wrong direction. I continued over the bridge and picked the first street heading east, walking easily 3km before I finally got to the next bridge. As I got there, I noticed that there was a U-Bahn station right there called Schlechisches Tor. Goddammit.

To add insult to injury, I still took a wrong turn. Presuming that the club was on the west side of the bridge, I started walking along the edge of the river, down a dark and unlit quay, only to see nothing. There were a group of young guys stacking some sound equipment into a van and speaking a mix of German and English, so I went over and asked them for directions. With a big smile, perfect English, and an arm around my shoulder, one of the guys said "Of course! It's back the way you came for 30 meters. Just head straight and you'll find it." One of his friends then said, in less perfect English, "But can I have your money to get in as well?" I answered in German, "Es tut mir leid..." ("It pains me, but..." or "Sorry") which the first guy found hilarious. Anyway, with that finally taken care of, I headed over to the club and got in at around 4h00.

Admission was 10€ again, and 1.50€ for coat check and 3.50€ for a bottle of Becks beer. I grabbed a beer in the less-crowded lower floor, then headed upstairs to look at the playlist and check things out. I didn't recognize the folks playing in the "Waterfloor" downstairs, but on the main floor Butane was currently playing (4h00-5h00), then Sarah Goldfarb (5h00-6h00) and later Onur Özur (6h00-7h00). In the end, Sarah Goldfarb never played (don't know why, although there was a short woman with black curly hair running around looking very pissed), so Butane actually continued until 5h30, and then Onur Özur started early.

The "Waterfloor" is the lower-floor lounge area that is on the same level as the river water. In fact, you can walk through a glass door and walk out onto a dock that extends into the river. I imagine this would be fantastic on warm summer mornings. The main floor was actually a very well-designed space; it's a long hall-like room with the bar on one end (near the entrance) and the DJ booth at the other end. All along both of the long sides of the room were raised areas with banquette seating, which meant that you could sit down and drink your beer with a great view of the club (over the crowd). From the back of the bar to the back of the DJ booth, there ran a long strip of lights across the ceiling that were distributed to look like pixels. This was the only lighting element in the whole area, which would change colour and display different patterns in time with the music (see the pictures above and their website--under "Location"--for some great images). In fact, two of the common features of all of the clubs I visited in Berlin were: 1) sleekly modern but also very practical interior design; and 2) much more seating available than in Parisian clubs. What I really liked about the seating areas is that they were spaced in such a way that you can still dance among the benches and seats if you want to. So the somewhat smaller dancefloors ensured that smaller crowds grouped together to form an intense and packed public, but at the same time the crowd could overflow into the seating areas when things got packed.

Anyway, I hung out for a while on the seating, drinking a beer and admiring the interiors. When I moved over to the dance floor, this guy approached me and put out his fist, presenting it for a fist-to-fist soul handshake/bump. A bit bemused at this teenaged white German boy prompting me for a soul shake, I smiled and bumped his fist. Apparently thrilled (and more than a bit under the influence), he slung his arm around my shoulder and started to push through the crowd with me. As we went, he made various gestures of greeting and contact to the people we passed, mostly trying to get eye contact and recognition. At first I wasn't sure if he knew these people, as most of them smiled and acknowledged his presence, but didn't really engage with him or chat him up. By the time he had done this to virtually everyone he had passed across the floor, I presumed he was either the most well-known guy on the dancefloor, or he was being almost indiscriminately friendly. What was interesting for me (as a person who is working on public intimacy, stranger sociality and such) was how he traversed a room soliciting nothing more than brief moments of recognition, resonance and mutuality from those he passed. I didn't hear him utter a word, it was all through touch, facial expressions, eye contact and gestures. After a couple of minutes, he came across a girl that he clearly found attractive, and disengaged his arm from me to approach the girl and make his advances. She smiled but didn't return any sort of sexual interest, so after a moment he was crossing the floor again, tugging on a guy's scarf and then trying to get a handshake from him.

Most of the crowd wasn't quite as outgoing as that guy was. Everyone tended to dance on their own or with their friends, although they weren't unfriendly when approached. I generally found in most Berlin clubs that people won't spontaneously approach you, but once contact has been made, they are very friendly.

Anyway, I stuck around until maybe 6h00, and then started making my way over to the next club...

Last-ish Stop: Berghain / Panorama Bar

I started walking from Watergate towards Berghain, thinking I could do it on foot. Once I crossed the bridge to the other side of the river and saw the cluster of industrial buildings in the distance, I began to despair and started looking for a taxi. After maybe a kilometer, a free taxi came along and we were on our way. It was already broad daylight--sunrise happened an hour ago--and I was on my way to the "main" club for the evening. I got into the club rather easily, checked my jacket, and then headed off onto the main floor to explore. As you can see from some of the pictures above (mostly taken from The Berlin Paper's website, since you can't get a camera in there), the main floor of Berghain is MASSIVE. You actually walk two flights of stairs from the ground floor to this huge platform that has three-storey ceilings. This is the main "Berghain" room, while you can climb another set of stairs to get to the Panorama Bar, with the view out over the city. The sound was powerful and loud (mostly minimal techno and hard techno), but very well done. At no point did I feel the need to plug my ears, and my ears weren't ringing when I left the club.

Within moments of arriving, as I crossed the dance floor, I ran into two of my friends from Paris, D. and S., who were apparently also spending the weekend in Berlin. After exchanging excited greetings, they invited me to hang out with them after the club and through Sunday, and my plans for the rest of the weekend were pretty much set...which was really good, since I otherwise would've missed a lot of great stuff that I didn't know about on Sunday.

We spent pretty much the rest of the morning hanging out at the club and circulating between the lower and upper floors, until 10h00, when the patio opened up. The patio was a !@#$ing genius idea. It was a well-tended backyard, essentially, with a tiled patio area, cut-grass lawn, some bamboo and other plants here and there, and then two rows of cubbyholes made out of re-used 1x1x4m hollow cement building blocks. We grabbed one of the cubbyholes and camped out in the sun, relaxing and tanning until about noon. From there, we headed out to the S-Bahn station and headed our separate ways. I was going to go home and take a siesta, since I had been up for almost 24 hours and I had spent a lot of my time during the afternoon yesterday walking. D. and S. were going to go home, shower, and head out for breakfast, then on to Badeschiff, which is a pool floating on the river Spree, to take in some sun.

Of course, as I got home around 13h00, the same freaking children were in the courtyard playing loudly. Gah.

3 commentaires:

amy a dit…

I wouldn't worry about asking for sparkling mineral water in Germany -- in my experience, that's the only kind of water their is. "Wasser, bitte" will probably get you what you want.

amy a dit…

ugh. there is.

LMGM a dit…

Yeah, the precise word was Wasser mit Kohlensäure, I think. Either way, I could make myself understood, I just spoke in short, abrupt sentences with horrible grammar. I totally need to review my grammar...