I wasn’t able to get a later flight when I booked my tickets, so this morning I found myself getting up at 5h00 to leave my place at 6h00 to get to the airport around 7h30 to get to the gate around 8h00 for a flight at 9h20.
However, all of this was complicated by the weather. The weather forecasters had been calling for snow overnight in Paris, but there wasn’t any when I got up in the morning and looked out the window, so I thought “great! No delays!” and got dressed. By the time I was outside with my luggage, it had begun to snow in big, wet flakes.
By the time I got to the airport, the snow was falling enough for the French people around me to start calling it a “snow storm,” although most Canadians would call that just “snow.” The accumulation was not much more than an inch, but the Charles de Gaulle airport doesn’t have the equipment or the experience to handle substantial snowfall. So, as I was waiting at the gate where all the Lufthansa planes were taking off, I listened to the announcements that first delayed nearly all flights by 20 minutes, than 40 minutes, than 50 minutes. Then, the flights to Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Munich were cancelled. At that point, I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t make it to Berlin at all. Finally, at around 9h50, they started calling our flight to board. Phew.
Arrival and Lunch
I landed in Berlin somewhere around noon and made my way over to the apartment of my lovely host, Florian. The lucky bastard has this great apartment in Prenzlauer Berg with a view over the roofs of the surrounding buildings, and easily three times the size of what I have in Paris. I was overcome with apartment-envy.
Anyway, we hung out for a while at his apartment and had some tea (lapsang souchong, my favorite!). From there, we wandered over to a nearby Asian grocery store to buy some food supplies, and then we stopped in a Chinese dumpling restaurant for a BIG pile of dumplings. I think we ate 40 little potsticker dumplings. So tasty.
So we groaned our way out of there and stopped at the LIDL grocery store for a few more things, and then headed back to his place. We spent a bit more time drinking tea and showing each other our music collections (NOT an euphemism for anything salacious), and then it was time for me to get ready for my night out.
Off for drinks and dinner
Another friend of mine, a French girl living here in Berlin, had suggested going out for dinner, which had the advantage of giving my host some peace and quiet for the copyediting work he had to get done this weekend. She was still at an after-work round of drinks—for privacy’s sake, let’s call her Janine—so I waited around at Florian’s place for a little while and then headed out at around midnight. It was fucking cold that night in Berlin, but the tram came quickly and I was on my way to meet Janine soon after. On the way over on the tram, two girls sat near me and spoke French to each other (there are a LOT of Frenchies in Berlin these days). They decided they wanted a photograph of themselves, so they eventually leaned across the aisle of the tram and asked me to take a picture (in German). I said sure (in German) and went about taking the picture, but when the first shot didn’t quite work, I said, “Wait! That didn’t come out right,” in French. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before the girls started laughing, which I think registered that ambivalent moment when you’re comforted to encounter something familiar, but disappointed that you’ve traveled this far just to be surrounded by what you were trying to escape by traveling. As I’ve said, there are a LOT of Frenchies in Berlin these days.
I finally made it to a bar imaginatively named “Treffpunkt” (meeting place) on Friedrichstraße, where Janine was still having drinks with her co-workers. They were mostly a friendly bunch, so I was able to chat with other people at the table when my friend needed to spend some “friend time” with another co-worker. On the suggestion of someone else from the table, I ordered the Riesenkohlrouladen, which was a sort of fluffy meatloaf wrapped in cabbage and boiled. Yes, I was eating proper German food tonight.
As I was eating, I struck up a conversation with a young British lad next to me with massive double-0-gauge ear piercings. Or, to be more precise, he struck up conversation with me by saying, “I really like your earrings, man.” As those of you who have seen me in person (or by photo) since about 2003 or so, I have 6-gauge captive-bead earrings, which is about the thickness of a pencil and takes the shape the Greek omega sign (Ω) with a bead held between the two arms to close the circle.
So this guy just loved my piercings. He commented on how well they were proportioned to my face, how nice the earrings looked, how much they appeared as a natural extension of me, and so on. Perhaps most touchingly, he said that I looked really good with them in.
Of course I returned the compliment on his piercings. They were well beyond the size that I would’ve done with my own earlobes, but they did suit his longer and more narrow face. But I should also admit that the exchange wasn’t completely symmetrical: I wasn’t exactly raving about his piercings the way he did, and I wasn’t moved to start the exchange of compliments in the first place. But I suppose that a precise mirroring of his kind words would’ve seemed disingenuous anyway. Everybody knows that a compliment is like a gift: it creates a feeling of obligation to reciprocate.
Anyway, what was interesting about this exchange is that we started off talking about how much we liked each other’s piercings, migrated to talk about how having a visible body modification modifies how you do or don’t fit into the world around you, and finally finished with a discussion of his lesbian sister and stories of my unpleasant first years of undergrad in the isolated, conservative college town of Bloomington, IN. And at the end of the conversation, we shook hands and went our separate ways, not likely to meet again. This is the sort of thing I might include at the end of my dissertation, as an example of how moments of passing, casual intimacy are possible in contexts outside of the dancefloor. Yay, dissertation!
To the Berghain Kantine
Right, back to the story of tonight. Janine decided she was too tired to join me for a night out tonight, but that she would join me for sure tomorrow for a big night of partying. This was OK, since my two French-but-living-in-London friends were in town as well and joining me. The plan was to meet at the warm-up party going on in the Berghain Kantine (the old worker’s canteen next to the power plant that is now Berghain), so I made my way over slowly. Even though it was a warm-up party, I felt terribly, unfashionably early, coming to Berghain at midnight.
Amusingly enough, there was already a lineup outside of the main doors of the club, as clubgoers concerned with getting rejected by Berghain’s famous doormen decided to take advantage of the tendency to be less picky at the beginning of the night. On the other hand, the warm-up party—which was supposed to have started at 10 or 11pm—was practically empty. I grabbed a beer and sat myself in a corner on a comfortable chair and waited for my friends to arrive.
The music was being provided by a tag-team of 3 Berghain resident DJs, including Prosumer, Tama Sumo, and Steffi. They would each put down 4 or 5 tracks, and then hand the decks over to the next person, so there was a nice variety in sound without the set feeling incoherent or erratic. It was mostly minimal house of the light and subtle kind, although Steffi seemed to push things in a harder and more techno-y direction when she was at the tables. Regardless, it was good fun and a great way to get the night started while other folks were lined up outside, waiting to get into Panorama Bar.
My friends eventually showed up and we spent a few minutes complaining about air travel and weather delays before taking to the dancefloor. One of the two had just decided to start a record label in the UK with a partner, so I was excited to talk with her about what she’s doing to get it off the ground, what her plans were, etc.
They introduced me to another French guy that they knew, who lives here in Berlin at the moment. I’ve definitely seen him around at the Berlin clubs this summer and he recognized me as well, as his first question was, “You live in Berlin, too, right?” See? I do party in Berlin a lot. Anyway, he was nearly as talkative a person as I am, so we spent a good long while chatting about everything and nothing until he was distracted by a pretty girl with blonde curly hair. Priorities!
I’ll admit that I had him completely pegged as queer, but that may be due to the contexts in which I see him (i.e., only at Berghain). Regardless, it’s always good to make new friends, no?
At some point around 3h00, this thin guy in a body stocking decorated with ruffles to resemble a dog's ears and tail, holding a suitcase, appeared standing on the bar. The stocking covered his face, too, so he was this faceless dog-person thing with a suitcase. After standing on the bar for a while and striking a few poses, he made his way over to a stage-like area in the corner of the bar (where we were sitting) and started a performance that was synced to some video projected behind him of himself walking through forests. It's hard to make out a narrative from the whole performance, but he danced around in a jerky fashion, with gestures that implied distress or confusion. After a while, he disappeared behind the screen and came out in a plain white body stocking without any decoration. He picked up the suitcase, opened it up, and produced a pair of high heels, a wrap dress, a wig and a microphone. He puts all of this on and strikes a few poses, continues to dance spastically, and then bows. Thunderous applause. I'm left a bit confused.
Into Panorama Bar
By about 4am, we decided that it was time to make our way over to Berghain proper (or to Panorama Bar, to be precise). As we were heading out from the Kantine, I muttered under my breath to my friends, “You go ahead and hit the door as a couple. I’ll follow you as a single.” This sort of de-grouping has become something of a second nature to me now, at least for getting into Berlin clubs, where they often don’t like groups.
In retrospect, this was a stupid move. There was no line anymore in front of the club (one of the benefits of a Friday night with impossibly cold temperatures), so the bouncer must’ve seen us leave the Kantine as a group. I know that the bouncers here have refused entry to people that they thought were lying about the size of their group, so I got nervous when my friends said that they were a couple and the bouncer said, “Oh really? There’s only two of you?” He asked them two more times, and then sent them in. Then he looked at me and said, “How many are you?” Seeing as I was literally the only person standing at the door, it was obvious that he knew that we were really all together. On top of this, this bouncer was one that rarely worked the door when I was coming here weekly in the summer, so there was no certainty that he recognized me as a regular. At that point I had no option but to stick to my story, so I said that I was all alone. “Alone?” he said, unbelieving. “Alone,” I said, quietly panicking.
He motioned for me to wait at the door for a moment, which elicited a sinking feeling in my stomach. I’ve seen this before at Berghain. The bouncer says “wait over here,” lets in a few more people, and then finally says “no.” I could see that there were security personnel free on the inside to frisk me, so he wasn’t holding me at the door for any other reason than to either a) say no; or b) fuck with me.
After 15 excruciating seconds, he finally went with option b. He waved me in and, as I passed him, I muttered my usual “Dankeschön,” and he started to chuckle. Asshole.
In sharp contrast, the bouncer doing the security check was none other than the American guy that I’ve chatted with before and that has let me skip the line on a few occasions. He gave me a really quick once-over and sent me in.
The next set was by Patrice Scott, a Detroit-based American DJ that I hadn’t heard of before. His set was very much reminiscent of old-fashioned Detroit techno; although the tempo was in keeping with the slightly more relaxed speeds of Berlin-style “minimal,” the sound was a lot heavier and the textures were thicker.
Anyway, I have to admit that I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could’ve, because I started feeling rather odd. I was having a hard time concentrating, my eyes were constantly half-lidded, and felt groggy and sluggish. At first I thought that maybe the beer was hitting me harder than it normally does, so I switched to water. But nothing changed. So then I began to wonder if someone had slipped something in my drink.
Then, my friends told me that they were going to leave, because they had been up since 6h00 the previous morning. At that point I suddenly realized what was wrong with me: I was tired. I had gotten up at 5h30 Friday morning, traveled to Berlin, had an otherwise busy day, and it’s now more than 24 hours later. So no surprise that I was feeling out of it.
Anyway, I stayed on for a bit longer and tried to muster up some more energy, but then finally I decided to cut my losses and save myself for Saturday night. I left at around 6h30 and got back to Florian’s place around 7h00, where I did my best not to wake my gracious host.