mercredi, décembre 31, 2008

The New Year's Eve Mega-Post

Hoo boy, this is a long one. Brace yourself and let's get started.


New Year’s Eve! Well, not quite yet; it’s still daytime.

For some reason (probably excitement), my body insisted on waking up early, so I forced myself back in bed and slept until noon. I probably wouldn’t sleep again until late New Year’s Day, so I needed my sleep, dammit.

Once I got up, I showered, changed, and headed out in search of a bite to eat and an internet café. I grabbed a croissant at a Konditorei nearby, hit a cybercafé at Nollendorfplatz, and then grabbed a currywurst on the way home at Winterfeldplatz. I thought about stopping at a grocery store, but all of them had closed at 14h00 for the holiday, so I just headed home and finished catching up on blog posts. Yay!

Nighttime Part 1: Dinner at La Cocotte

Part of the evening’s celebrations involved a New Year’s dinner (Réveillon, in French) at a French restaurant called La Cocotte. One of my friends from Paris, D., spent a year as an exchange student in Berlin and used to work at La Cocotte as a server, and ever since she’s made it a tradition to come to Berlin for New Year’s with some friends and attend the Réveillon at La Cocotte before continuing her evening at Berghain. So, when I announced in late November that I had finally decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Berlin, she immediately told me that we would be having dinner at La Cocotte, it would start at 20h00, and the theme was “Air Cocotte.” (Cocotte in French means a cast-iron dutch oven, but it’s also the feminine diminutive form of coq, or rooster.) By the way, you can see my previous visits to La Cocotte here, here and here.

And the staff of La Cocotte took the theme seriously. All of the servers were in coordinated flight-attendant outfits, and the guests had been encouraged to dress up in a style befitting the theme. Our little group hadn’t gotten around to dressing up, but there were some guests that came in full costumes, some of them even with back-stories (one person at the table of Americans next to us came as that annoying lady that complains endlessly and demands water at all times).

But before I get to the theme of the evening, here is the menu, which was pretty impressive. It was a nine-course menu, not including a pause for fireworks between the main course and the cheese course.

  1. Apéritif: Kir royale made with champagne and violet syrup
  2. Hors d’Oeuvres: foie gras on toast, oysters (fines de claires no. 2), and frogs’ legs in butter.
  3. Appetizer 1: Oxtail soup with beef (and pork?) paupiettes, which are dumplings made by wrapping a tenderized piece of veal or fat netting around the filling and then simmering gently.
  4. Appetizer 2: filet of sole in saffron sauce, wrapped with some sort of Chinese cabbage green (bok choy?).
  5. Main Dish: faux-filet (sirloin steak) of beef with a gratin of semolina and rosemary, with a honey and fruit glaze

  6. (Fireworks! Happy New Year!)
  7. Cheese: Mont D’Or, slightly warmed and served with bread.
  8. Dessert: sabayon with fresh fruits in a chocolate wafer cup.
  9. Coffee: with little cookies or bonbons
  10. Soupe à l’oignon. Apparently, this is typically French for New Year’s.

The strongest courses were the oxtail soup, the oysters and the frogs’ legs. I found the bread on which the foie gras was served wasn’t toasted enough, so there was no crunchy texture to offset the fatty, squishy texture of the foie gras. The faux-filet was a bit tough, although that might’ve just been the cut of meat, as it was very lean and the inside was the right color (i.e., red). Finally, the sole had a great presentation—wrapped with a leaf of some sort of raw cabbage into little rolls; however, the sauce was too saffron-y and so any other nuances in the sauce were effectively overwhelmed. Having said all of that, though, the meal was delicious and a great way to start off our evening.

And so, now the “theme.” There was a multitude of ways in which the staff built upon the theme of the evening. The basic concept was that the dinner was a kind of culinary flight, so arriving for dinner was “checking in” and the countdown to midnight was the landing of the airplane. Since I like lists, here are the specifics in point-form:

  • A “Check-In” desk outside, where one of the staff members gave you a boarding pass and then frisked you.
  • A whole series of flight-attendant-like announcements between each course, such as safety instructions in the case of a party, and how to properly stow your champagne.
  • A dinner-time game where you had to find a “bomb” hidden in the restaurant, and the person who found it would win a bottle of champagne for the table. (A guy from our table won it, but he only shared the bottle with his boyfriend.)
  • Another game where you had to make a design on your tablecloth with (leftover) glitter stars, representing “Air Cocotte.”
  • A staged (and somewhat culturally insensitive) airplane hijack scene, involving the kitchen staff bursting into the dining room wearing Saudi-style headdresses made of cloth napkins and twine. The day is saved when the bartender, speaking with an excellent American accent, appears covered in bullet cartridges and automatic weapons à la Rambo and forces the “terrorists” back into the kitchen. A great allegory for class struggle, perhaps, but sort of the equivalent of having a “ghetto” theme party in the US and wearing do-rags and weaves, drinking 40s of malt liquor and eating fried chicken.
  • A HUGE amount of fireworks for midnight.
  • Pam Ann clips running on loop on the flat-screen TV in the back room.

During the evening, a rather intense rivalry emerged between our table (all French) and the table next to us (all German). Meanwhile, the table of Americans on the other side of us remained largely neutral until someone threw confetti on their table. Any similarity to 20th-century history is purely coincidental.

Also, near the beginning of our meal, one of our friends discovered a silver glitter star at the bottom of her glass of wine, which she interpreted as a good omen.

After spending at least ten minutes outside setting off fireworks, we came inside and ate some of the cheese and dessert and then started planning to leave. We were already too full to eat the final onion soup, especially considering that we were planning to dance all night. But more importantly, D. and her crew had been left somewhat scarred from getting refused entry into Berghain last Saturday, so the plan for tonight was to get there super-early (i.e., before 3h00), partially to avoid a long lineup but also to avoid being turned away if the place was at capacity. Normally I would dismiss all of this planning and worrying as unnecessary, but all bets are off on New Year’s Eve.

Nighttime Part 2: Picking up O.

No, “O” isn’t some new slang or abbreviation for illicit substances; it’s just the shorthand pseudonym for a friend that hadn’t joined us for dinner, but would be joining us for the partying. Just to review: our crew so far included me (natch), my friend and former Cocotte employee D., her boyfriend R., and another friend M., all of whom are part of my group of techno-loving friends in Paris and two of whom were part of my “Frenchy-krew” from this summer in Berlin.

We were supposed to collect O. from an Italian resto-bar over in Kreuzberg, near Schlesisches Tor, which is a long way from where we were in Schöneberg. D. had called a taxi, but the noise in the restaurant prevented her from hearing if the request had actually gone through, so we were planning to just walk up to the next main street and hail a cab. As I was heading out the door with my jacket in hand, there was a taxi driver standing inside the entrance to the restaurant, asking if I had ordered a taxi. Not putting the two and two together, I said, “No, but we need a taxi anyway.” He said sure and followed me outside where the rest of the group had already been waiting, only to realize that he was the taxi that D. thought she hadn’t been able to call. Good luck on our part, I suppose.

So we got to the Italian resto-bar to find that O. was feeling a bit sick and was on the verge of cancelling her night out. D. switched into maternal mode and told her sternly that there was no backing out of New Year’s Eve, and that she should just drink some coke and walk it off. We actually did walk it off, hustling briskly in the cold winter night from the eastern end of Kreuzberg, across the river and to Berghain near Ostbahnhof. On the upside, O. said that the walk helped a bit.

Nighttime Part 3: Getting into Berghain

The lineup at Berghain, however, wasn’t helping O. at all, especially as the claustrophobic crush of people was magnifying her nausea and general malaise. And it didn’t help the mood of any of us that some of the people in line were being annoying jackasses.

We got there at around 2h00 or so, which is pretty early for Berghain, but there was already a sizeable line; mind you, it was only one-quarter of how long the line can be at peak hours. Nonetheless, things were all the more chaotic because the line was really boad and disorganized—more a cluster than a line. It narrowed near the entrance, where there were the sort of fixed metal stanchions you see at an amusement park, and this inevitably led to squeezing and crushing of people as a line 15-people wide slowly inched through a space 2-3 people wide. In addition, this meant that the wider part of the line was moving much more slowly. Also, there was a separate line for those who had pre-sale tickets (not us), which meant that the non-presale line (us) moved even slower, as the presale line had priority.

So all of this is to say that it sucked out loud to be in line at that moment.

We were a group of five, so we decided to break up into two groups, with S. and D. as a couple, and M. and O. with me. That way, there would be one boy in each group, which was helpful for getting into Berghain, since it is still a primarily queer club and the bouncers tend to reject groups of girls (BUT groups of lesbian-looking girls get in; BUT also straight boys that look queer or gay-friendly; BUT also groups of straight-looking girls that dress in elaborate outfits…there are a lot of ways to get into Berghain, but there are even more ways to get bounced away). So we formed our groups and then separated ourselves a bit in the line so that there was no chance of mistaking us as a group of five.

One of the bouncers was busily re-shaping the line so that it wasn’t such a stampede hazard, getting people to step back and then form a thinner line. When he grabbed me to pull me back, we both got a good look at each other. This was the guy who had taken me to the front of the line this summer with a friend of Fantômette’s. And, apparently, he recognized me as well.

He told me to “go to the other side and I’ll let you in.” I pointed to O. and M. and said they were with me, which he said was OK and then went back to working on the line. However, I obviously didn’t understand him well, as there was a bit of confusion as to what that statement meant. I remembered that the last time he had brought me to the front of the line, I had been up against the barrier on the right, which normally divides the regular line from the “walk of shame” and “I already have a stamp” corridor (depending on which direction you’re walking). So I dragged M. and O. over to the right barrier and waited for the bouncer to come by and pick us up.

He walked by and didn’t look in our direction as we tried to get his attention, and I was reluctant to just jump up into the line-pass corridor and walk up to the door, since I thought that might be too forward. When it comes to getting into clubs in Berlin, your fortunes change on the whim of a bouncer, so I didn’t want to just stride up to the door without that same bouncer pretty much leading us there.

So we waited and waited for him to come back through the line and let us in. Meanwhile, O. was leaning over the barrier and threatening to puke from the mixture of cold and claustrophobia, and part of the crowd in the lineup (a mixture of French folks and Italians as far as I could tell) decided to start singing Auld Lang Syne and random Christmas carols. Much like during my stay in Berlin last summer, I looked on these folks as “marked” already with rejection; yelling and acting rowdy in line was sure to get you turned away at any club in Berlin—but especially at Berghain—and the bouncers do watch the line and remember your face when you get to the front. For me, this always gives rise to feelings of both compassion and aversion: I see them getting excited for The Best New Years Ever At This Club We Keep On Hearing About and I feel bad for the disappointment and rejection they are likely to feel very soon; but I also want to put as much distance as possible between me and them, as if their inappropriateness was contagious. (See this post from almost 6 months ago for a similar sort of moment that ended very differently.)

Anyway, we were at our wits end as O. was looking more and more like she really was going to be sick and the rest of us were just freezing cold and cranky. Finally, when I saw that “our” bouncer was working the door, we hatched a plan. I would just walk up and ask him if it was still okay to get in, and then if so I would run back and grab the girls.

As soon as he saw me at the door, he waved for me to come in, so I said I would grab the others and come back. Then, thinking quickly, I decided to press my luck and ask him if I could bring in my other two friends as well. I asked this in the most tentative, indirect way I could manage in German, saying something like, “I have two other friends with me, is that OK?” He paused for a moment, looking a bit displeased, and said, “Well, just how many are you, then?” “Five, in total.” Sounding skeptical, he says, “I’ll need to seem them first, but five is OK.”

This may not seem like a huge deal if you’re not familiar with Berghain’s door policies, but groups here are severely discriminated against, to the point that I’ve overheard bouncers say, “Three people? No way. If you would’ve just been two, maybe.” As usual, it always depends on other factors as well, but most of the time a group of partygoers will break up into pairs or singles and then not talk to each other once they got to the front of the line. Anyway, that he was OK with a group of five was extremely generous on his part, as he could’ve easily said no.

I ran back to the lineup and picked out O. and M., and then pulled S. and D., who had both pushed their way over to the barrier where they were more visible to the bouncers (D. has been let in like this as well in the past). We came up to the door, and as we were waiting for the bouncer to finish sending in the next group of people, an Italian guy started asking me if I could pretend that he was in our group. I told him that I was sorry, but no, we had already told the bouncer how many were in our group. D., in French, said to me, “Don’t let him, Luis, we’re not going to get in with him,” and the others muttered in assent. On the one hand, he looked the part of someone who would get in, looking to be in his late thirties, alone, dressed in a faded bespoke parka and a pointed toque; on the other hand, he was standing on the “rejection” side of the door, asking us to bring him in. I saw him inside later with a woman, so I suspect that his partner was already in the club and he was waiting for her to come down and bring him in (which you can sometimes do).

Finally, the bouncer came out, I pointed to the members of the group, and we got in. After the usual intense frisking and passing by the box office, we got in line at the coat check and spent nearly five minutes releasing all of our nervous energy, repeatedly saying just how relieved we were to be past the lineup, as if we needed to convince ourselves that we were finally inside. And, for a little while, I was showered with praise from my friends as the “saviour” of the evening, which meant a lot coming from a group of partygoers who have been coming to Berlin for far longer than I have and know the language better than I.

Nighttime 4: Berghain / Panorama Bar

0h00-4h30: Dinky (Panorama Bar)

[Meanwhile in BERGHAIN: Marcel Dettman and Ben Klock]

By the time we got in and checked our coats, it was 3h30, so we got in just before the lineup was getting hectic outside. As we entered into the large chamber on the ground floor, we noticed that there was a door open that usually isn’t open, and we all remembered that, for New Year’s, the bar had been planning to open the door between Berghain / Panorama Bar and Lab.oratory the very kinky and very hardcore sex club in the rear portion of the building.

So we decided to do a quick walking tour of Lab.oratory, although we didn’t venture too far into the dark corners or backroom areas. The space—especially the dancefloor—reminded us a bit of scenes from the film Aliens3 or something. Lots of bare concrete and cages and shirtless men and the smell of sweat and sex. Nobody was actually having sex out in the open (yet), but S. and D. later told me that they witnessed a rather intense fisting scene that night up in the Berghain area. So this place continues to live up to its reputation. I made a mental note to come back later in the evening and take a better look at the place, as I don’t have the wardrobe to ever get into Lab.oratory on a regular fetish night, but I never got around to it.

So we headed upstairs, through the Berghain room and up into Panorama Bar. Just as we were getting into the main dance area, Dinky was spinning this track by Reboot that I have been really enjoying, ever since I first heard it in Berlin near the end of the summer. This post is too long for me to be embedding a Beatport Player with the track, but you can go to Beatport and search for the track by Reboot, which is called “Vandon” in the Sidekick EP, released on Below. I’ve noticed that in this review of the release on Resident Advisor, the title is alternately spelled “Vandong.” Anyway, it’s a great track and represents a lot of what was in during the summer of 2008 in Berlin, so it was a great “welcome back” for me.

We grabbed a spot in our usual corner, near the front of the room and close to the windows, and got our dance on to the last 30 minutes of Dinky’s set.

4h30-8h00: Margaret Dygas (Panorama Bar)

[Meanwhile in BERGHAIN: still Marcell Dettman and Ben Klock]

Another great set by Margaret. Since I first saw her spinning at Club der Visionäre [LINK] in Berlin this summer, I’ve seen her spin a number of times and each time her sets are stronger and her technique is smoother. Her sound has also become harder and less delicate as time has gone by, but that seems to be a common trend in resident DJs of Berghain/PanoramaBar.

At some point during the set, the girls (D., M., and O.) went downstairs to the Berghain room to check out Marcel Dettman and Ben Klock. Toward the end of the set, D. came back up, telling me that M. and O. had gone home to take a nap.

This is one of the nice things about partying in Berlin—and especially of Berghain—things run right through the next day, so you can go home and take a nap or a shower or get some food and then come back and skip the line (you get a stamp on your hand which lasts the night). The girls were particularly excited about Luke Slater, who wasn’t even starting until 13h00, so they had some time to get some rest and come back. Hopefully O. will feel less puke-y.

8h00-12h00: Cassy [LINK] (Panorama Bar)

[Meanwhile in BERGHAIN: Marcel Fengler]

Cassy’s set was very good as well, and quite similar to the set she did back in November for her birthday party. It still had a heavy house influence and frequent use of vocals and disco- or funk-inspired sounds, but at the same time the overall texture was very percussive and bass-heavy and pretty intense. When I think about it, it’s a night-and-day contrast with the mix-CD she released a couple of years ago to inaugurate the PanoramaBar label.

I followed S. and D. downstairs to Berghain to check out Marcel Fengler, whose set was very much in keeping with the Berghain sound, i.e., pounding and intense techno, very little if any traces of house, and a minimalism that focuses more on minimal and gradual change, rather than minimal and sparse texture. It was a good set, but my preferences tend to lie in the Panorama Bar sound, and so not much later I found myself going back upstairs to dance to Cassy.

I also ran into two Frenchy friends of mine living in London (previously seen here, here and here), so we had a warm reunion and danced together for a bit. They also introduced me to a pair of their local German friends, who were both very friendly and a lot of fun.

By this time my left contact lens had started acting up, which was a bad sign. It had already happened to me once this summer that I had to cut a night short because my contacts were messing with me, and that time it took several days for one eye to recover and I somehow got a cold at the same time. So I was determined to tough it out this time. I had brought lubricating eye drops with me for just this occasion, so once it became clear that the soreness wasn’t going to go away on its own, I headed over to the bathroom and put in a few drops. It helped for a bit, but then things just got sore again.

So a while later I went to the bathroom, washed my hands very thoroughly, and then pulled out my left contact lens, cleaned it in my mouth, and put it back in. No dice. A little while later, I pulled it out again and washed it with tap water and gave it a good rub, but my eye was still sore.

Part of the problem was that it was the end of the month and my contact lenses are monthly lenses. So, by the end of the month, the contacts are usually beginning to degrade and they develop protein buildups, small tears and folds, and so on. I had thought ahead a brought an extra pair of contacts with me to Berlin, but I had left them at the apartment, which was clearly a mistake. Now I needed to go home and change the contacts and come back.

I conferred with S., who was sitting on one of the couches at the back of the Panorama Bar with D. napping on his lap. He pointed out that, if I left now, I would probably be back in time for the beginning of Luke Slater’s set downstairs. So off I went. I couldn’t find my London-dwelling friends, so I hoped that they wouldn’t mind my temporary absence and I headed off back to my place.

It was 10h40, it was very cold outside and the sun had risen on a cloudy and snowy morning as I walked to Ostbahnhof to catch the train back to my place. At first, the cold air soothed my now-inflamed left eye, but in a minute or so it got even more sore and I felt like I needed to do something about it right away. So I pulled my left contact out, threw it on the ground, and continued heading home half-blind.

After a long ride home, I took out the other contact lens, took some anti-inflammatory pills (ibuprofen) and put some Visine in my eye (which I am convinced stings more than it helps). It was becoming clear that my eye was seriously angry with me and that it was probably too inflamed to accept another contact lens, however new it may be. So I put on my thick-rimmed geeky glasses and decided to party the rest of the night looking as if I had planned to do the geek-chic thing all along. On the upside, all of my friends complimented me on my glasses when I returned. On the downside, they’re about 2 prescriptions old, so my eyesight wasn’t perfect. That was fine in the club, where everything’s hazy and under-lit anyway, but it was annoying during transit, when I was trying to read signs for the U-Bahn stations and such.

12h00-16h00: Nick Höppner (Panorama Bar)

[Meanwhile in BERGHAIN: Luke Slater]

When I first got back, I made a tour of the building to look for S. or D. and couldn’t seem to find them. Just after sending S. a text message, I turn a corner in the bar area on the Berghain level and see S. sitting on a couch. Yay! However, D. had gone home to join the other girls in a nap and possibly brunch. Boo! Well, they’ll hopefully come back soon. Luke Slater’s set down in Berghain was technically perfect and well-mixed, but the overall aesthetic he was going for was too bombastic for my tastes and lacked the warmth of house that I usually appreciate in tech-house and microhouse genres.

So off I went to Panorama Bar to hear Ben Höppner’s set, which was a bit of the opposite case; his selection was mostly spot-on (if a bit too heavy), while his technique was surprisingly sloppy. There were a lot of near-miss trainwrecks, which surprises me from a guy who is a member of MyMy. As a group, MyMy tend to put in very smooth and skilled performances, so I wasn’t sure what was going on tonight. Nonetheless, I forgave his coarse mixing and kept dancing.

I found my friends from London again, who had indeed been worried that I had gone home. We spent a good long time talking about the music scene in London and discussing the ups and downs of Höppner’s set as it happened. Indeed, by the end of his set, his track selection had become much more uneven. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I was only liking every other track, but rather that he was shifting between affects and styles in a way that felt disjointed, rather than part of a continuous stream of music. Anyway, his set was overall a lot of fun, but I was ready for the next set by the end of it.

By the way, you’ll be happy to know that my left eye was feeling a lot better. Although it was sore when I first got to the club, after 30 minutes or so, it calmed down quite a bit and then I didn’t notice it much for the rest of the day.

During this set, I made friends with this dude that turned to face me and started a sort of shoulder-shimmying dance-dialogue (popping your shoulders back and forth in alternation along with a twisting of the torso—i.e., like the “titty shake,” just slower—is something of a dance style here in Berlin, which I had totally absorbed over the summer). Anyway, we engaged in a shoulder shake-off for a little while and then went back to dancing.

For the next couple of hours, he would occasionally make eye contact with me and engage in short bursts of back-and-forth dancing, but no conversation or other contact. From time to time, I offered him my water and he offered me his Club Maté (a sort of soft drink made with Yerba Maté tea). He later asked me where I was from and, not having quite enough German to explain how I’m tied to at least three countries, I just said, “Canada.” He said he was from Leipzig. Neat.

A bit later, I poked his shoulder and said, “Na?” (“Well?” or “How’re you?”) and he said, “Geil, geil!” (“Hot” or “Sexy” or “Awesome” depending on context). I had been wondering during the evening if he was being friendly or flirty (probably a bit of both), but by the beginning of the next DJ’s set, it was a moot point: he and a female friend were making out like crazed weasels. Nice guy, though.

16h00-19h00: Prosumer (Panorama Bar)

Prosumer’s set was fantastic, and I have to admit that he’s becoming more and more my favourite resident DJ of the club. His set was smoothly-mixed, well-paced, and just the right mix of light, playful minimal house with punchy, punctuating beats. He also managed to bring in some older tracks and incorporate them into the set seamlessly. The one that literally made my year was when he dropped in Ken Ishii’s classic track, “Overlap,” which came out in 1996. Since Ken Ishii was himself producing minimal techno at that time, the track fit in really well with Prosumer’s set. I have all sorts of nostalgia about this track, as I was totally enamored with it during my early years of raving, so when Prosumer dropped it into his set, I nearly lost my shit right there.

By 16h30, the sun had begun to set outside, which you could see through the cracks in the blinds in the Panorama Bar room. One of my friends from London pointed to the windows and told me that this was the most magical moment of the night for him, when dusk fell again on the party and the distance from daily life seems unmistakably clear.

By about 18h00, my body said “Time’s up!” and I decided to listen. I had once again set a record for non-stop partying, so I was pretty proud of myself nonetheless.

And Afterwards,

The ride home was long and cold, made all the more unpleasant by the fact that I missed my stop and had to turn around. On the (suddenly very long) walk back to my apartment, I stopped in a Lebanese imbiss and grabbed a chicken schawarma. The guy working the counter misread my bad German and my looks as a sign that I was Lebanese, so he kept switching to Arabic whenever I didn’t understand him in German. In my sleep-deprived state, this was very disorienting, but I managed to order my food and keep lumbering home.

It was already 19h30 when I got home, so there was no point in sleeping right away and waking up at some very early time tomorrow. Instead, I thought it would be better to stay up a couple of hours longer and then sleep at a more “normal” hour.

So I made myself some herbal tea and wrote some preliminary notes on the night out. I eventually had to stop because my left eye was still a bit blurry from my adventures earlier that day and, since it’s my dominant eye, my right eye was having trouble compensating.

So, by 21h30, I was finally in bed for some well-deserved sleep.

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