samedi, mai 05, 2007

More on Watergate Club

So, I just came across some photos from the folks who did the light installations for Watergate, and they have a both video and photos of the LED-Deck on their site. Well done!

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.

vendredi, mai 04, 2007

BerlinPartei Day 1: Immer Hellwach

So, this story begins right where Thursday left off (I'll be posting Thursday a bit later, but the important bit is that DJ came over for dinner to help me clean out my fridge).

At sometime after midnight, I kicked DJ out of my room and I started getting ready for my flight. My flight was at 6h30 from Orly airport, so I was going to leave around 3h30 with the hopes of getting there at 4h30. You see, I was flying EasyJet, and they don't do reserved seating, but if you get there when check-in opens (2 hours before), you get into the first "seating group," which allows you to choose your seat before the other groups. Either way, I'm so used to getting to the airport 2 hours beforehand for overseas flights, that it was pretty much habit.

Anyway, it was clear that I was going to get no sleep. It was almost 1h00 and I still needed to pack, clean, do the dishes, shower and generally get ready. Oh, and DJ and I had shared two bottles of wine (one red and one rosé), and DJ had brought along his bottle of Four Roses bourbon. So I was reasonably tipsy.

So I did the dishes, packed, got ready, and headed out. I managed to catch the one taxi with the talkative driver. He was very nice, but I was in no state to hold up a conversation. When he heard I was from Canada, he said: "Oh, do you know Glenn Gould?" "Of course," I said, "I did my undergraduate in music in Canada, he's inescapable." From there, the rest of the cab ride was a discussion about baroque keyboard composers and the piano/harpsichord debate. Again, not unpleasant, just a bit early in the morning for that sort of thing.

I got to the airport and got in line, but things were a bit of a mess. There were three different flights for EasyJet that morning, and since the employees hadn't shown up yet, everyone was sort of forming a line from a randomly selected counter. Thankfully, I was pretty close to the front of the line, but things got confusing when a couple of employees showed up and started checking in only travellers going to Athens. When I got to the front of the line, I asked what I should do if I'm going to Berlin, and she just said "Wait in front of the empty desk over there." I was a bit suspicious that she was just making that up to get rid of me, but I went and waited nonetheless. While I and maybe 10 more people waited for the Berlin flight, a few more employees showed up and opened the desks in front of us. As they were getting ready, the screens behind them suddenly changed to "all flights," and the big group of people travelling to Athens started to rush our much shorter line. I've been in France long enough to know how to deal with this, so I glared, elbowed and otherwise got all snippy to prevent people from pushing past me.

The rest of the flight was pretty straightforward. I got my way through security and over to the gate, and quietly knitted for what felt like an eternity, praying that I wouldn't have a hangover in a couple of hours. We finally got on the plane (I scored a good seat, thankfully), had a decent flight, and landed in Berlin at around 8h30. Since I had heard that Schoenfeld Airport is rather far from Berlin proper, I was prepared for a nightmarish series of buses and walking to get into town. However, it turns out that one of the S-Bahn (Strassenbahn, a kind of light rail system) lines runs all the way out to Schoenfeld. Alas, I just missed the "Express" train, which apparently goes from the airport to downtown in under half an hour, but the train that I did catch got me into Berlin within 45 minutes.

I made my way into the Southern end of Mitte (the "middle" area of town, one of the quarters that ran along the East side of the Berlin wall) and wandered around until I found my hotel. The place was about what you could expect for 25-30€ / night. It was essentially one chunk of an old communist-era apartment building converted into little rooms. Like so many cheap hotels, the room is just a room, with showers and bathrooms shared on the floor. Thankfully, the bathrooms and showers are kept very clean--bare and colourless, but very clean. Interestingly enough, the hotel has apparently decided to save money by going with this concept of all minimalist hand-made furniture. The obviously hired a carpenter and gave him a ton of cheap wood boards, and he/she made pretty much everything out of it. The chairs in the welcome area are just wood boxes on an angle with felt for seating, the bed is a large boxspring made out of wood, so is the nighttable, and the "closet" is a series of wooden shelves with a hanging rod sticking out of it. Hardly glamorous, but at least it's clean and simple. As a fan of minimalism, I prefer this to the ghastly paisley-print stuff you usually see in cheap hotels. The furniture was actually pretty ingenious, so I'll upload some pictures of them soon...

Anyway, it was still 11h00 and my room was nowhere near ready. When I asked when it would be, she informed me that check-in was between 17h00 and 20h00 (5 and 8pm!). Fuck! So I left my luggage with the person at the front desk, having not slept since Thursday morning, and prepared to entertain myself in Berlin for the next 6 or 7 hours.

The first thing I did was get some coffee. After that, I wandered up and down Friedrichstraße from my place (Stadtmitte) to the big Friedrichstraße station, and back. Clearly, this old neighbourhood has been caught up in the post-reunification wave of new buildings, but the little shops that make a neighbourhood haven't quite kept up. Since Mitte was one of the neighbourhoods that was close to the wall, many parts of it were effectively abandoned during the DDR era. Now, all the buildings have been restored or replaced, the architecture is a dizzying mish-mash of pre-, during- and post-communist styles, and there are office buildings everywhere. However, there are occasional Starbucks shops and one or two Imbiss stands (take-out food stands), but very little of the old neighbourhood haunts that make a place feel like home. I have to walk about 10 blocks to find a drugstore or grocery store. However, this will come with time. In the meanwhile, many of the other neighbourhoods further from the wall in both directions seem to have well-established communities.

So, to keep myself busy, I think I covered all of Berlin on foot (Google Maps has a good view of Berlin if you want to follow along ; I moved around a lot). I walked over to Potsdamer Platz to check out the new buildings, especially the Sony Centre. This is a ring of large buildings with restaurants and theatres of and offices, with the center covered by a glass canopy with several openings and canvas hangings. The result is a fresh and breezy area with partial sunlight. Allegedly, there was free WiFi available in the entire area, but the damned thing didn't work for me. I tried restarting my computer numerous times, connecting in various places within the centre, and fiddling with my settings. Other people seemed to be connecting with little trouble, so I eventually gave up and moved on. This has happened to me before, and I've come to wonder if there's just a particular server technology that doesn't work well with Macs. Meh.

From there, I wandered around the Tiergarten for a couple of hours; this apparently used to be a large swampy hunting ground ("Tiergarten" = animal-garden), which was landscaped during the 19th century in the fashion of a French-style public park (like the Bois de Boulogne or the Bois de Vincennes in Paris). This thing is HUGE and sprawling, like Central Park in NYC, but with more water and islands and boats, and more nude sunbathing.

After exploring the eastern end of the park, I crossed the Brandenburg Gate and headed east along Unter den Linden, the major downtown street before (and after) the division of Germany. Unter den Linden looks like what would happen if you bombed about 75% of the Champs-Elysées, and then replaced the destroyed buildings with several layers of architectural styles. Comparing from my last visit to Berlin in 2002, most of the Soviet-era buildings have been removed, while the earlier ones have been restored and nearly every empty space has been filled with shiny new modern buildings. I wandered down the long row of buildings and past the museum district and over to Alexanderplatz. Towering over the plaza was the Fernsehturm ("television-tower"), ostensibly built during the communist era to broadcast TV channels, but also in reality used for surveillance over its own people as well as those of West Berlin.

From there, I wandered for a bit through Nikolaiviertel (advertised as one of the best-preserved pre-war districts in Berlin), then up to Hackescher Markt, which is an old merchant district dating from the 19th-century industrial boom years. I picked up a döner kebap from an imbiss (food stand), which was amazingly delicious. I don't know what they do differently here, but it's probably good for my health that street-meat isn't this good and cheap in Paris or Chicago.

From there, I wandered up Oranienburger Straße until it met with Friedrichstraße, and then walked all the way back down to my hotel. I got back at 16h50 and there was no one at the reception, so I stood outside and waited. After a while, another guest at the hotel let me in so I could make use of their WiFi while I waited. Thankfully, the WiFi at the hotel works just fine. What's better, I can actually get a signal in my room! Far more than I had expected, really.

When the receptionist for the evening finally showed up, he apologized and gave me my keys and showed my around the hotel. I tried to maintain the conversation in German, but a lot of the vocabulary was out of my range, so eventually we had to switch to English. As much as I have a basic command of the German language, it's clear that I need to spend a lot more time here (I'm looking at you, fellowship boards!).

As soon as I got into my room, I took a quick but much-needed shower, pulled out my contacts, and finally rolled into bed. It was 17h30 at the time, so I set my alarm to 23h30 and went to sleep. Or, at least I tried my best to sleep, while a group of children in the courtyard next to me frolicked, yelled and cried when they scraped their knees.

Perlon Night @ Berghain in Berlin: Sammy D, Audio Werner, Zip with surprise appearance by Baby Ford

Much to my surprise, I woke up just before midnight feeling rested and refreshed. I took a moment to get myself together and prepare for my night out, then looked up the 24-hour train map, reviewed my map to Berghain, and started moving at about 1h00. Since the 24-hour train map didn't show any trains running to Ostbanhof ("east-train-station"), which was the closest stop to Berghain, I took the U-Bahn ("Unterbahn", under-rail, or subway) to a nearby stop called Jannowitzbrücke and started walking towards Ostbanhof. As it turned out, the other train lines continue running past 1h00 on weekend nights (including tonight), but only every 30 minutes. Either way, the rather long walk to Ostbanhof was probably for the best, since the place was still pretty empty when I got there at 2am.

On the way over, I stopped for a moment to look at my map and was approached by a well-meaning teenager. His German was rather fast and had an accent that I couldn't follow, so it took me a while to figure out that he was offering to help me and not asking me something. I kept saying "I'm very sorry, but I don't understand..." until he finally said "Where do you want to go?" in very plain German. From there, it was a comedy of errors, as I gave him the name of the club (Berghain), which he presumed was my mistaken attempt at naming one of the neighbourhoods in the area. He first tried to correct me ("Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, not Berghain."), until I found a way to clarify that I was giving him the name of a club, not a neighbourhood. He didn't know the club himself, but when I told him that I needed to get to the far side of the Ostbanhof, he was able to give me directions. I was actually doing fine finding the place, but I appreciated his determined efforts to help me. After some effusive thanks from me, we went our separate ways.

Berghain is at the end of a long, long unlit driveway that cuts between several old warehouses and an abandoned train yard from the socialist era. Once you get to the end of the driveway, there's suddenly a lit pathway to the left that leads up to the club itself. The club is in what appears to be an old power plant--at least, based on all the empty transformer boxes and switches found all over the club. You can get an image of the front of the club here, although the article itself seems a bit bitter in tone. Nonetheless, that above-linked Wikipedia article echoes what I've heard from some folks, which is that the bouncers maintain a strict but unexplained door policy. Apparently, this bar (and it's former incarnation as Ostgut) was known for being the techno-club cousin of the KitKat Club, which is a notorious sex club in Berlin. Although the "Panorama Bar" section on the third floor is more populated by straight-ish hipsters, the the main floor has always been gay-centric, complete with darkrooms for sexual play (although apparently sexual play isn't restricted to the darkrooms), and there is apparently a separate entrance for a hardcore fetish sexclub in the basement. For these reasons (allegedly) the doormen do their best to shoo away visitors who might make denizens of Berghain any less willing to get freaky. Although the bouncers never explain their decisions, what I've heard from those who've had problems is that the bouncers don't want youngsters (indeed, there were no teenagers in the club), suburbanites (they should at least dress and act like city folk), tourists (except for a certain kind of tourist, I suppose) and anyone that looks too conservative. For the record, I got in without a problem, although I was nervous as hell at the time.

Another consequence of these issues is that photography is 100% verboten, and they have a strict no-camera policy that they apparently enforce without compromise. Thankfully, I was warned of this from club reviews before going, since I usually bring my camera with me every time I go out. Anyway, this explains why I don't have any pictures of the evening in this post. On the upside, this means I don't have to edit and upload pictures and video this time. Nonetheless, you can see a lot of very well-done pictures here, here, here and here. Note that the images with the super-high ceilings are of the first floor club, which isn't open on Fridays.

So I passed the bouncer, who graced me with a "Hallo," and then into the ticket-booth area. I had a surprisingly thorough search from a rather friendly guy, bought my ticket (only 8€!) and started climbing the stairs. Coat check was a painless affair (2am is apparently still very early), and then I headed over to the main room of the Panorama Bar. I was surprised at how small this part was. When I had heard rave reviews about the size of the club, I had just presumed that this applied to the entire complex. The club had perhaps half of the dance-space of Le Rex in Paris (but with a nice wraparound bar with seating). Nonetheless, there were less than 50 people in the bar at this point, so it seemed like a good fit. As the night went on, more and more people piled in, peaking between 4 and 5am, but not petering out at all during the entire time that I was there.

Drinks at Berhain were delightfully cheap--at least compared the prices I pay in Paris. A fancy long drink with various juices and alcohols (e.g., caipirinha) costs 8€ and comes in a glass twice as large as the 11-15€ drinks at Le Rex. Similarly, the most basic beer (Beck) costs 3€ here, in comparison to 6€ for a half-pint of Kronenbourg beer (which is crap). Anyway, I hadn't eaten anything since the döner kebap I ate at 17h00, so I was I cheap date that night. =]

0h00-3h30: Sammy D

Since I got in around 2h00, I only caught the last half of Sammy D's set, but it was a very good warm-up (it's funny to think of the the warm-up period extending to 3h30); it was minimal techno (in keeping with the label featured that night, Perlon), but not yet pounding or frenetic. I wandered around and checked out the various nooks and crannies of the club, then positioned myself near the front of the club to boogie for a while. I noticed a woman speaking to someone else in English, so after the other person left, I leaned in and said, "Hey, are you North American?" "Oh no, I'm Dutch." Once again, the Dutch amaze me with their flawless English; she had a vague but believable North American accent and a great command of the language. We chatted for a bit about what brought us to Berlin that night and what we thought of Berlin so far, as well as where our hotels were, etc.

A little while later, I noticed a guy dancing next to me wearing a Minibar t-shirt, which is a minimal label officially based in London but with strong ties to Paris (two of the three label founders are French). I asked the guy in German if that was indeed a Minibar shirt, and he answered in French, "Yeah, are you French?" "No, well I'm Canadian but I live in Paris right now." "Oh cool. I've seen everything there, and now I live here." I thought that was a pretty succinct summary of many narratives of Berliner implants. They may like their hometowns, but Berlin always wins. On the clubbing front, at least. I'll have a word about the food in tomorrow's post, I think.

At some point during the set, I saw a guy hanging out with the rest of the DJs who looked an awful lot like Baby Ford (as seen a month ago in Paris). After taking a moment to be almost certain, I wandered over and asked him, "Excuse me, are you Baby Ford?" As it turns out, he was. I complimented him on his set last time he was in Paris (which was no lie; it was easily the best set of the night), and told him how much I wished his set had gone on longer. He told me that he was actually going to be spinning that night, since he was in town visiting Zip (another DJ listed that night). So, at 3h30, Baby Ford got on the decks...

3h30-5h00: Baby Ford

Baby Ford's set started off with pretty low-key minimal techno, but about 30 minutes into the set, things got much harder and intense. For me, this was the 1-1/2 hour-long set I had hoped for when he was in Paris last month. In general, his track selection seemed to highlight heavy patterned bass (i.e., 4/4 bass patterns with additional detail, such as displaced or doubled beats, secondary rhythmic patterns, melodic lines, etc.) with moderate detail in the mid range and very little in the high range. I sort of wish I had been able to record the set, as it was a great example of what I like, but you sort of had to be there and experience the music pouring out of their fantastic sound-system.

During his set, I chatted again with the Dutch woman (whose name I never got), and admired her rather cute friend. A moment later, a guy approached me and said in English, "It's a really great vibe, innit?" As it turns out, this very friendly guy was part of a stag party group from Scotland (he's from Inverness), where a few of the guys split off from the main group to find some good techno. To their credit, they came here. Anyway, we chatted for a while about the usual get-to-know-you stuff (Where you from? How's Paris? Have you been to Scotland?), and then did the "affective check-in." This is the phrase I'm using these days for the near-ritual of checking on the affective states of people around you: "How're you feeling?" "What do you think of this music?" "Are you having a good time?" As I've said in other blog posts, a lot of this seems to go towards building a sort of intimacy by ensuring that there's some mutuality of feeling between you, and trying to find an alignment of affect. Most of the time, the hoped-for answer for these qustions is "Yes!" "I'm feeling great!" "I'm having so much fun!!", although sometimes you might be looking for someone to share your non-fun, as well (see the write-up for Mark Broom's set in this post).

A little while later, without even realizing it, I did the exact same thing with the French guy with the Minibar t-shirt.

5h00-6h00: Audio Werner (Live set)

Great set. Minimal and punchy, although not quite as dynamic and wide-ranging as Baby Ford's set (this is a common problem/risk of live sets). From what I could tell from the reflection of his computer screen on the back wall, he was running Ableton Live.

For whatever reason, everyone seemed to want to ask me for drugs during this set. One guy even asked me twice, apparently unconcerned that I had already said no a few minutes ago.

6h00-???: Zip

I can't even guess at how long Zip continued spinning, because most clubs in Paris would be closed by now. I left at around 7h30 and the crowd was still going strong. In fact, one guy asked me who was spinning, and then mentioned that he and his friends had only just arrived (at 6h30). I had heard before that Berghain is sort of legendary for running right into the afternoon, so a lot of people end up here after partying elsewhere.

Anyway, his set was great, although he leaned more in the microhouse direction than any of the other DJs that night. The rather large windows at Berghain have a set of blinds that they bring down as the night turns into morning. Then, during daytime sets like this, they will occasionally open the blinds for a few seconds, and then close them again. Everyone cheers when this happens, even though it bathes us all in sunlight and makes the results of a night of partying rather hard to ignore. The late-evening nap had given me a lot of energy to keep partying, but at 7h30 I finally gave in and headed home. I probably could've stayed a bit longer, but I didn't want to totally destroy myself before Saturday night.

On the way home in bright sunlight, I realized that I really need a set of sunglasses.

Berlin Calling...

OK, so I'm off to spend the weekend in Berlin. Technically, I should have internet access in the lobby of my hotel, but I know what "internet access" usually means in the tourist industry, so I'm not holding my breath. Don't despair! I'll be back next Tuesday...

mardi, mai 01, 2007

Onions and Cilantro

Well, despite the fact that today was Mayday and I should've been out taking part in some labour-related protest (which is the tradition here), I was mostly hungover this morning, and thus missed out on the marches. I headed off to my local marché for some last-minute vegetables and fruits, and also picked up one of those delicious roasted chickens that are so easily edible here. I made fantastic warm chicken salad when I got home, upon which I grazed for pretty much the entire afternoon.

Since nothing else really happened that day (except for work and a phone meeting with folks back in Chicago), I'm including a recipe here. And since most people reading this blog probably know how to make a killer chicken salad, here's another recipe that I've been meaning to post. This is the "green" onion salsa that I made for my friend's brunch last Sunday. You see, growing up with a Peruvian mother, "salsa" to me always meant onions and something acidic; after that, tomatoes, (hot) peppers, corn, celery, beets, herbs, olives--all of those were optional. So, although this won't give you the chunky-tomato-style salsa that you might get in a grocery store in the states, it's certainly one of my favourite forms of salsa. Even if you're not a big fan of raw onions, this is worth a try once (and I've included some tips on how to mute the sharpness of the onions).

Onion-Cilantro Salsa, "Chimichurri"-style

[The ingredients for this salsa sort of approximate what you might put into a chimichurri sauce]


  • At least 2 large onions of any kind (sweet onions are nice, but even cheap cooking onions are good
  • A splash of some mild vinegar (cider, sherry, wine)
  • A lot of ground cumin (at least two tablespoons, more to taste)
  • The juice of a lime or lemon (or bitter orange)
  • TONS of cilantro (about two bunches), stemmed and chopped finely
  • A bit of olive oil


  1. Take the onions, peel them, and slice them into very thin half-rounds (or whatever cut you prefer; it just has to be thin).
  2. If the onions you have are too strong, salt heavily and put them in a collander or sieve while you prepare the coriander. Rinse with cold water to remove the salt.
  3. Add just enough of the vinegar to get the onions wet. Mix.
  4. Add cumin and lime/lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix.
  5. Add cilantro, chopped finely, and mix again. Add more olive oil if you want it to be glossier and thicker. Add more vinegar if it needs more bite, and more citrus if the cumin/cilantro is too heavy.
  6. Eat immediately or refrigerate till served

lundi, avril 30, 2007

"Making the Bridge"

Tomorrow is a national holiday, so many French people were asking each other if they were going to "make the bridge" (faire le pont). As it turns out, what this expression means is something like "long weekend." More specifically, it's what you do when you have a holiday on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and you take off intervening days to connect the holiday to the weekend before or after. In other words, Thanksgiving in the US, and May 2-4 in Canada (a.k.a. Victoria Day, a.k.a. Get drunk in the bushes in honour of "our" Queen day). Since tomorrow is a Tuesday, most people here take off today as well and have themselves a 4-day weekend somewhere nice. I wish I had thought of that. I could've gotten some cheap-ass last minute train tickets to someplace near the ocean. Ah well, live and learn.

Anyway, after an unremarkable day at work, I got home and started preparing to finally blog about my outing last Saturday. I managed to upload, select and edit all of my photos and upload all of my film clips to YouTube, before DJ suggested that we go get some poutine. Now, poutine is one of those dishes for which, once you mention it to me, I am totally hungry. And once poutine is in my head, nothing else will satisfy me. So, I wrapped up what I was doing and got ready to head out.

In what was probably poor judgement, I decided that DJ and I should try one of the bottles of rosé wines that I picked up while shopping earlier that day. I've always been a bit of a snob about rosés, but the weather is warm and I'm willing to believe that rosés in France might be less crappy than elsewhere. For what it's worth, the rosé was actually quite nice: more like a dry Italian white with a little bit of a red bouquet. Regardless, we finished the whole bottle.

From there, things sort of spun out of control. Especially since neither of us had eaten yet and we had half a bottle of wine in us. We headed off to The Moose, ready for some poutine. Of course, we forgot that tomorrow was going to be a holiday--which meant that the place was packed. At least, it was packed for a Monday night.

After travelling up and down the bar and into the back room a few times to look for a table or even a decent seat at the bar, we gave up and took position next to the main dining area, with beers in our hands. DJ and I did our best to send out "hook up and go home" vibes to all the couples that were taking up precious real-estate with their non-poutine-related courtship. For a moment, we considered circulating around the room, advising people on how to be efficient about it: "Dude, there's no way she's going to do you, so you need to hit on her friend." "Honey, don't try to bag the boy your girlfriend is already working on. Take that guy with the indyrock beard as your consolation prize."

We also spotted this guy that looked like a bizarre, neon-coloured extra from Trainspotting. He was tall and exceptionally large, with a shaved head an no neck, wearing an over-tight zip-up shell-top that had a garish geometric pattern on it, a soccer jersey underneath in clashing colours, and some floppy adidas pants that were actually still too tight on him. DJ suggested that I approach him and ask him, "Excuse me sir, were you aware that you're ironic?" It seemed like an excellent idea, but thankfully my survival instincts overrode that one.

There was a group in front of us that were also waiting for a table. Suddenly, two large tables opened up, so we let them head to one table, and then we started heading toward the next table. As we were about to take the table, a girl from the other group came over and said, "No, we're taking both tables and pushing them together." "Oh yeah? Why do you need both?" "There's 15 of us." "Fifteen?!" "Sorry, you can totally have the next table." "Whatever."

We returned to our position to sulk, bitch and glare and the group that had denied us our poutine. At some point, another group tried to push past us and find a table in the dining area. I did everything but snarl at them and they quickly took the hint and went back to drinking at the bar. By this time, both of us were ready to fight for our right to poutine, dammit.

When another table finally opened up, we pretty much threw ourselves at it. It was a table of 4, and the same girl from that other group (which kept growing as more of their friends from their MBA-students-of-France posse showed up in their incongruous 3-piece suits) darted over and tried to claim that table for her group as well. Despite being pretty tipsy at this point, I managed to marshal enough French to assert myself: "HEY!! We were totally here before the rest of your group showed up!" "Ok, ok, we'll leave you two chairs." Damn fucking straight you will, missy.

So, after a fair bit of angst, DJ and I finally managed to get seated and order up a bowl of their best poutine with Montreal smoked meat. We wolfed back our food, ordered some more beer, and took a moment to allow our arteries to harden. For the rest of our time at the bar, we drank beers (it was 2 for 5€ Mooseheads that night) and amused ourselves watching the complex ballet of "Who's getting laid tonight?" play out at the table before us. The best part of the whole drama was when the girl who was the centre of attention went away and came back with a male "friend" who clearly served as a cock-block to the rest of the guys. I only wish I could've videotaped that.

After the bar stopped serving beer, we headed out onto the street with the realization that we were still hungry. DJ knew of a kebab place in the Latin Quarter that was pretty good, so we headed off in that direction. A little while later, we discovered the place was inexplicably closed, so we headed off to another Kebab place near that cluster of never-closed restaurants around Les Halles.

As we were enjoying our deliciously-bad kebabs and greasy fries, we got chatted up by a couple of American guys who were in Paris for a while. They asked us what we were doing in Paris, which inevitably turned into DJ and I explaining our discipline and subject areas. Thankfully, both guys were far more interested in DJ's jazz stuff than my EDM stuff, so DJ got to field the "Recommend jazz clubs for me!" questions.

We left the kebab stand a bit greasier (but happier) and headed off to Châtelet to catch the night bus home. The return home was surprisingly uneventful...

dimanche, avril 29, 2007

Brunch and Sloth

Despite the fact that I only got to bed at 7am, I managed to get my ass out of bed at 11h30 with little difficulty. Mercifully, I had taken care of almost all of my cooking yesterday, so all I needed to do was shower, put the food into bags, and then head off.

I stopped at my boulangerie to drop off a bottle of the huancaína sauce that I had made, since I knew that the man who ran the place was very fond of it. From there, I headed over to my friend's place and managed to actually be the first person to arrive. Even I was impressed with myself...

Brunch was fantastic. Aside from the food I brought, there was a veritable cornucopia of good food, including some delicious asparagus, savoury pancakes (a fantastic idea, I might add), french toast, banana bread and more. We set out the food in a sort of buffet and then just grazed on it for hours on end. By the time we were done and ready to head our separate ways, several hours had passed and I was blindingly full.

With a bit of banana bread rolled up in tinfoil, I lurched to the nearest bus stop and headed home. I did actually have work to do (especially the write-up for last night), but I was so full at the time that all I could do was take a sort of "waking siesta." I sat at my computer, watching American cartoons on the Internet and reading the world news. It took me at least two hours before I could function at any intellectual level.

And, not surprisingly, dinner was two pieces of fruit.