Well, today was surprisingly eventful for a Wednesday, so this will take a long while to write down.
I had had great plans on getting up relatively early to go to a certain hair salon in Prenzlauer Berg called GrünTon, since my hair is in desperate need of a cut. I slept right through my alarm and got up sheepishly around midday, tossing myself into the shower and making my way over to the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn station.
The salon had no openings for me that afternoon, which actually rather OK with me. The place dubbed itself a “beat Friseur” (i.e., beat-hair-salon) and had a pair of unused turntables and a mixer next to the cash register. As a friend of mine pointed out, “Didn’t we already do that in the 90s?” Well, the place had been recommended to me, but I’ll pass for now. Willfully ignoring the bushy mess that was my hair, I headed to a nearby café on Kastanienallee and got me some coffee.
Thankfully, the trip wasn’t a total loss, as a friend of mine (whom I met at a roommate’s going-away party and has since accompanied me to the Obama rally and sushi) lives in the neighborhood and volunteered to meet me and show me the hipster shopping areas. He took me down Kastanienallee to Rosenthaler Platz and then on to Häckisher Markt, where we wandered around a bit before returning back to Rosenthaler Platz.
The shopping and too varied to catalog in detail, but here are some highlights:
- both of us like bright colours, apparently
- this is not the “cheap vintage” sort of neighborhood, but the “carefully selected with ridiculous markup vintage” sort of neighborhood
- Adidas stores in Europe will venture colour combinations that are just unavailable in North America
- There’s a fine line between ironic and just damn ugly
- The “unwashed douchebag” look is still in with many male hipsters
- Someone (male) in Berlin is wearing bright purple stretch-denim skinny jeans.
- Geometric patterns and prints are still in…but for how long?!
- Japan isn’t the only place where non-English speakers buy t-shirts with nonsensical English phrases on them
- Anything that smacks of the DDR period is instantly 400% more expensive
- There is a lot of wonderfully tacky mod furniture in this city
- There is a Danish (I think) store called WoodWood that has a fair bit of amusing boy wear and magazines and such, along with a series of totally non-organic perfumes that smell like things such as tar, soda and garage. Seriously. The soda one was actually pretty nice on me.
- There is a restaurant called White Trash Fast Food which is in this amazing mid-century Chinese restaurant. They’ve kept the over-the-top decoration and fake “Chinese” lettering, which totally underscores the idea of American “white trash” culture as something exotic and strange. The menu involves lots of BBQ, chicken wings and burgers, so we each got a burger and some lemonade and stuffed ourselves silly.
After our epic shopping trip, we both stumbled back to our respective homes. It was John’s last night in town before returning to Québec, so we were determined to go out and party in style. The plans were to go to the Kantine at Berghain again for dinner and drinks, and then off to Watergate for Troy Pierce and Konrad Black…or Tresor for Guido Schneider.
Warm-up: Other-on-Other [something]phobia and Club der Visionäre
We weren’t entirely sure about going to the Kantine or another place quite yet, so we made a date to meet up at Hermannplatz in my neighborhood at 21h30. I went out at around that hour and started wandering around the centre circle of Hermannplatz, waiting for John to show up. He was taking a long time, so I spent quite a while slowly pacing the length of the pedestrian area.
At around 21h50, a guy pokes me in the shoulder, saying “Hej, Wichser.” This means, “Hey, wanker,” so I knew that things weren’t going to end well.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Um…I’m waiting for a friend.”
[something unintelligible, ending in “verboten”]
“What? I didn’t get that.”
“Hermannplatz is off-limits for your kind.”
“But I live here.”
“Then you should move.”
Having gotten the gist of his sentiments and noting that there were enough people wandering around to make violence unlikely, I rolled my eyes and walked away, and he and his friend didn’t pursue. The whole interaction was both surprising and unsurprising, and not a little bit ironic. This guy was clearly a Südländer, that is, someone from a “southern” country like Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc. The term can also apply to pretty much anyone from the Mediterranean, but in practice it’s a general term for the primarily Turk and Arab immigrant-worker populations of Germany.
My neighborhood, Neukölln, is one of the most immigrant-intensive areas of Berlin, so I suppose that he was adopting some sort of protective role in relation to this area, perhaps in reaction to the gentrification that has already been happening in neighboring Kreuzberg.
Now, I’m also of Südländer stock—of the Hispanic sort—so I can usually pass myself off as a second- of third-generation immigrant “native” until I open my mouth and present my Anglophone accent. So it was unlikely that this guy approached me because I looked too white. Based on the fact that I had been wandering around the area for about 20 minutes when he approached me, I’m guessing that he thought I was one of two things:
- a (competing) drug dealer, which is kind of unlikely, since most of that sort of drug trade happens around Kottbusser Tor right now.
- a homosexual / sex worker, cruising the area to pick up men and/or johns. This seems more likely, since there is both a gay sex bar and a (gay) sauna in the area, and there were a few youngish-looking Turkish and Arabs boys sitting on benches and looking available.
Either way, this guy was using the same sort of “cleanse our neighborhood” approach that some resentful German youths have used in the recent past, as the reunification of Germany created a collision of working-class German citizens with Turkish/Arab immigrant workers. Ironic? Just a little.
Anyway, John finally called me to say that he was running late (yes, I gathered as much), so we decided to meet in front of the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station and then head over to Club der Visionäre (instead of the Kantine at Berghain). Thankfully, nobody harassed me for waiting in front of that U-Bahn station, and John showed up in a few minutes. From there, we headed over to Club der Visionäre for a few drinks and waited until about 12h30 make our move to Watergate.
Attempt One: Watergate
Apparently, the lineup to get in wasn’t so long when we first got into the area of Watergate, but John needed to get cash and I needed to get a bit of food. By the time we took care of that and got to the club, the lineup was rather long. Long lines mean a more severe door policy, so as we waited to get in, we noticed that lots and lots of people were being turned away at the door. There was one bouncer at the club here that has a square jaw and Mediterranean features that has always let me in and seems to recognize me. I saw him at the front of the line, which comforted me somewhat. When I saw him switch shifts with a bouncer I hadn’t seen before, I got worried.
When we got to the front, the two youngish men in front of us were turned away without a moment’s consideration from the bouncer. We pushed to the front, and the bouncer shook his head without actually looking at us. I waited for him to make eye contact with me (at least look at me, dammit), and said “Both of us?” in German, hoping that it would make it clear that we weren’t with the group of drunk teenaged Brits behind us, and that we were possibly native Germans.
He kept shaking his head, so eventually I started walking away from the front of the line, down the “walk of shame” that I had seen so many other would-be clubbers walk. John, still determined to get in, switched into English and asked, “We can’t see Troy Pierce?” The tactic he was using here was an inversion of a strategy often used by bouncers to suss out tourists, asking them if they knew who was spinning that night. The fact that he had turned us away without asking this set of questions was surprising, so it made sense that John would try to provide the answers in the hopes that it would get us in. Alas, no luck; he was already busy refusing the next group of people.
Attempt Two: Watergate
I had a friend coming to the club who was on Troy Pierce’s guest list, so we waited around for him to show up, in the hopes that he could get us in with him. This was made more difficult by the fact that he was already bringing 3 other people with him, and he only had a “+1” spot on the list (i.e., “you plus one companion”). He took us all up to the guest list entrance, passing the still-lengthy line, and spoke to the woman running the guest list. She looked up his name somewhere and the nodded, and he and his 3 companions walked through the gate. She firmly closed the chain before me or John could get through.
John called out to this friend on the guest list, who had not realized that we weren’t let in with him, and he came back and tried to talk to the hostess at the door, but she said no. 4 people was OK, but 6 was apparently too much.
Detour: Club der Visionäre
It was clear that we weren’t going to get in, so we headed back to Club der Visionäre, with the intention of having a few more beers and letting the evening taper off. While we were ordering our drinks, a guy at the bar overhears us speaking French and jumps into the conversation, revealing himself to be French as well. We chat for a while about our respective evenings, and he reminds us that Tresor is still featuring Guido Schneider tonight. John was up for trying Tresor, so off we went.
Truth be told, I’m not usually the kind of person to keep on trying various alternatives when the main plans for the evening go awry. If I had been planning on seeing a particular DJ and the venue is sold out or something, I’d rather grab a drink in a quiet bar somewhere and then head home and prepare myself for the next night. However, it was John’s last night in Berlin and he was desperate to party, so I followed him to Tresor. I didn’t have high hopes for the place, as Tresor has disappointed me on both previous visits.
On the way over to the club John confessed to me that he was really buying time to try again at Watergate in a few hours. Troy Pierce wasn’t likely to come on before 4h or 4h30, and by then the line would’ve become short or non-existent. It was a reasonable tactic, although I was pretty unenthusiastic.
You see, when you’re rejected from a social space, you can have several sorts or styles of responses. John’s response was to make getting in there a mission, a sort of battle of wills or wiles against the bouncer. For me, the rejection immediately created in me a desire to avoid authenticating the place with any further effort. I wanted to go home and never return to Watergate or, better yet, return to Watergate every night dressed in deliberately uncool clothes to repeat the moment of rejection and turn it into a moment of confrontation. Or maybe I wanted to get on the guestlist and come to the front of the line, only to declare loudly that I’d rather be in Berghain; maybe I would call all of my friends already in the club and tell them to ditch the place and come with me to Berghain. Maybe I could convince the Black American bouncer at Berghain—with whom I have been on friendly terms—to deny this bouncer from Watergate the next time he tries to come over there at the end of his shift (like all club/bar staff seem to do here). Or maybe I’d become a high-level, in-demand DJ and then refuse steadfastly to spin at Watergate. That would show them.
In other words, my reaction to this sort of event is to either end the night early and avoid returning, or wallow in unsubtle revenge fantasies that promise to restore some dignity to me. Since calling it quits didn’t seem to be an option tonight, I took my revenge fantasies and my foul mood and followed John.
Detour: Tresor with Guido Schneider
The trip to Tresor was relatively quick (we took the bus), and there was no lineup in front of the building, so we just stepped in. Considering it was only 3am, the stark lack of lineup was a bit disconcerting for a Berlin club. The interior was as half-abandoned as last time, and the music was totally unexceptional. As it turned out, Guido Schneider wasn’t coming on the decks until 4h30, at which point we were supposed to be going over to make our second attempt at Watergate. This meant that we had a good hour and a half to kill listening to crap music. We headed out to the patio with our new Frenchy friend that we had met at Club der Visionäre, where he smoked a cigarette and we talked about random things.
I was not in any mood to make friendly conversation, so I let John do most of the socializing, while I tried to imagine how I could get myself back home and into bed without also abandoning John on his last night out. It wasn’t happening. Nonetheless, I was constantly waiting for something to happen that would justify me leaving the scene: a snide comment, a rough collision on the dancefloor, rude service at the bar, anything.
By 4h30, Schneider came on in the upper room, so we went over to check him out. The plan was to enjoy about 1 hour of his set, and then head over to Watergate. The music certainly got a lot better when Schneider took over the decks, and I eventually found myself dancing. I certainly wasn’t getting down and boogeying like I was at Panorama/Berghain last weekend, but at least I was shuffling about and showing some engagement with the set. At one point, John tapped my shoulder and said, “I hope we get into Watergate later, because I’d like to see you have some fun, too.” I smiled wordlessly.
Attempt Three: Watergate (and Troy Pierce)
By about 5h00, we decided to start making our move toward Watergate to give the whole thing another go. We stumbled out of the bar, leaving behind our new friend, and caught a cab. When we rolled up to the bar, there was indeed no more lineup, although some clubbers were already leaving the club. It was daylight, since Berlin is on the Eastern end of the time-zone and rather far North, and for many clubbers the night was already over.
This time there was a different set of bouncers at the door; not the guys that usually do the “selection,” but instead one of the beefier dudes that actually take care of security on the inside of the club. He seemed completely uninterested in us as we approached, simply opening the chain barrier and saying, “Viel spaß” (“Much fun”). As we wandered in and paid our cover charges, the bouncer that had turned us away earlier that night came down the hallway towards us. I glared at him defiantly, but he didn’t even look at me. I suspect that if he had, he wouldn’t have remembered why I was glaring at him, anyway.
We were in! It didn’t quite feel like a triumph, since our final success in getting in won us the privilege of giving the same institution more of our money. Nonetheless, it felt like something other than disappointment or rejection, so it was an improvement. And, finally, we could dance to Troy Pierce. John was visibly much happier about the situation, and that gave me a certain satisfaction, since the mission for the evening had been to see him off in style.
Pierce had apparently started at around 5h00, so we had only missed about 30 minutes of his set. I ran into the group of friends that had gotten in on a guestlist earlier, and they were excited to see us here. “You came at the right time,” one of them said, “Konrad Black was shitty, but Troy Pierce is fantastic!” Since I had missed Konrad Black’s [LINK] set, I couldn’t judge for myself, but it was something of a consolation to know that we hadn’t missed much.
Pierce’s set was indeed fantastic, very much in keeping with the sparse-yet-pounding aesthetic of the M_nus label. What impressed me the most by his set was the separation of layers. He had a way of tweaking with the sound levels and choosing tracks so that each musical element was audibly on a separate layer; each element seemed to occupy a particular frequency-band or something like that, because the resulting sound was free of the sort of interference and wave-cancellation that often happens when you mix tracks together. On the downside, the levels on the speakers had been turned up so high, the high-end sounds began to give me a headache.
Nonetheless, we partied and danced until about 7h00, at which point it was time for John to head home and leave his hostel. He had a plane at 9h50.