I woke up at around 16h00, a bit dazed but at least rested. I went down to the reception and bought some access time to their wireless network, and then headed back to my room and checked my email. Seeing that I hadn’t received any mail from my Berlin friends, I decided to head out for a walk around “my” corner of Berlin while my friends finished their workdays.
I made a couple of phone calls to them as I headed out to the nearest U-Bahn stop. One of my friends was free but finishing an afternoon bowl of soup somewhere, so I told him to call me back when he was ready. In the meanwhile, I headed down to Hermannplatz, the U-Bahn station that I used when I was living on Weserstraße in Neukölln this past summer. I wandered around my old neighborhood and then headed over to my favourite döner kebab place, Güney Grill, and got myself a big-ass döner. God, they know how to make’em here.
Allow me to pause for a moment and make a clear contrast between Parisian and Berliner kebabs. In Paris, you get a sort of hot-dog bun or pita bread, split open and stuffed with meat; you get a smear of harissa or tzatziki sauce, and then you get some lettuce, tomatoes and wilted onions. This is your sandwich. In Berlin, you get a large and thick rectangular-shaped piece of flatbread (called “shingle” bread), split open and filled with a LOT of meat. You can get a white mayonnaise-and-herb sauce or a “spicy” sauce that looks like harissa but has much, much more flavor to it; it seems to have a base of tomatoes and grilled peppers, with some herbs and garlic. The “salad” for your sandwich involves cucumbers, red cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, parsley and sometimes yellow corn. This has nothing to do with the crap you get in Paris, I tell you. I may have to get another one tomorrow and take a picture or something.
After stuffing myself with the sandwich and a drink, I wandered around my neighborhood, heading down my old street and then past a series of bars that had been growing like mushrooms in this area over the summer. I eventually made it over to another U-Bahn stop, Schönleinstraße, and decided that it was too cold to keep walking.
I had heard by now that my friend was in the neighborhood of the Haeckischer Markt, so I headed over there and started walking around and waiting for his call. Again put off by the cold, I walked over to Alexanderplatz and hid in the well-heated Galeria Kaufhof, which is a huge department store. I killed time wandering through the men’s perfume section.
My friend finally caught up with me and we wandered through Mitte until we came upon a bar called the Blaues Band (The Blue Stripe), where we settled in for a few drinks. Two other friends caught up with us there and we spent a good couple of hours chatting. From there, we decided that we were hungry enough for a late dinner and headed over to a Russian restaurant / bar near Rosenthaler Platz called Gorki Park. The restaurant décor was all Soviet-Era kitsch and the menu followed the same theme: “Peasant”, “Proleteriat,” “Intelligenstia,” “Builder” dishes, etc. My friends all had various sorts of soups, including a rather tasty-looking one called Solyanka. I had a sakuska, which is apparently a plate of cold items with a shot of vodka. The plate included salted cucumbers (lightly pickled), roasted potatoes, eggplant caviar, lightly pickled onions and dark rye bread with butter. It was really quite delicious.
Another bottle of wine later, my friends were feeling tired and some of them had to work the next day. So off we went in our separate directions. I got back to the hotel, changed clothes, and started heading out to Weekend Club for my first night in Berlin.
Tobi Neumann & Matthew Styles @ WeekEnd
I got to the club around 1h00, which seemed a bit early, but I wanted to avoid waiting in line. There was actually no line to speak of when I got there, so I was spared trouble of waiting out in the cold. I was almost spared the trouble of getting in, though, when the bouncer asked if I was on the list.
Internally, I was rolling my eyes. Of the three major clubs that I go to in Berlin—Berghain, Watergate, Weekend—this is my least favourite and the one that has the weakest music programming. Nonetheless, this is the only place where I get hassled about entry if I show up alone (with that one obvious exception at Watergate this summer).
Anyway, I said that I wasn’t on the list and he asked me if I knew which DJs were spinning that night. I rattled off their names and he let me in. Even though I got in, however, the unpleasantness at the door put me in a sour mood, which only worsened when I got to the dancefloor on the 12th floor of the building (did I mention the club is in an office building?). I looked around the dancefloor and found myself playing the “Why did he/she get in, then? Did s/he have trouble getting in?” game. This sort of thing can never end well, as the answer to all of these sorts of questions is: no those other people aren’t as cool / hip / underground / etc. as you and it’s an insult to your coolness / hipness / etc. that you were questioned on it at the door.
I set about putting myself in a better mood. I grabbed a beer, stood near the DJ booth and started dancing. The crowd was still a bit sparse, so I had a fair bit of room to dance about. Matthew Styles and Tobi Neumann seemed to be doing one long back-to-back set for the whole evening, so it’s hard to say much about their particular styles. Neumann’s mixes tended to be a bit rougher and his selection involved a harder sound, while Styles seemed to be smoother and lean more towards a refined / restrained minimal techno.
Nonetheless, their overall sound was very recognizably “Berlin,” which was all the more clear to me after having been partying in Paris for the past two months. There was that same emphasis on forward-driving motion, resonant and melodic basslines, sparse but intricate textures and an empty mid-frequency range that creates a feeling of space.
By about 3h00 the crowd had finally filled in enough to feel like an actual crowd, but by 4h00 it was already clearing out substantially. Clearly, this summer was long gone and the massive crowds from that period were gone as well. Mind you, Weekend isn’t the best club to gauge the vitality of the techno scene; I’ll wait to see how things are going at Watergate and Berghain.
My hotel was on the same U-Bahn line as my old apartment, so when I got on the train I slipped into automatic pilot mode and spaced out. I managed to miss my stop for the hotel and had to turn around, which added a fair bit of time to my trip (the U-Bahn trains come very rarely at this time of night). Regardless, I got back to the hotel and finally got a good night’s sleep. Yay!