samedi, juillet 19, 2008

The Long Night that was really Morning

After a pretty late night out, I slept in until about noon and then slowly put myself together. I managed to head out a do a bit more grocery shopping (including the milk I had forgotten about yesterday), and then I came home and worked on my blogging and answering emails.

Tonight was going to be a big night, as one of my roommates was leaving Germany next Tuesday and we needed to party in style. At around 21h or 22h, she went over to a friends studio space with a few other folks, and I headed over to Kottbusser Tor to pick up Fantô and her girlfriend. From there, we joined the rest of the crew at the studio space and partied there until about 5h.

But this was just the pre-party. Our real goal was to go to Berghain, but (as I learned last week), the headliners don’t come on until 6h usually, and the lineup is ridiculous from 1h – 5h usually. By the time 5h rolled around, we called a van-sized taxi (we were 8 people in total at this point) and we headed over to Berghain.

Berghain Time!

According to the several Berlin natives in our group, the lineup should’ve been nearly empty by then, but when we arrived at 5h30, the lineup was still ridiculously long. It wasn’t quite as long as last Saturday, but it was still more than halfway to the taxi stand. They presumed that maybe it had to do with some of the big names playing that night, or maybe with the fact that it was the summer and every college-age techno-lover in Europe was in Berlin trying to get in here.

We stood in for about 45 minutes before finally getting near the front. At that point, one of the people in our group asked, “How are we going to get in as a group of 8? They’ll never let us in.” To which another one of us said, “What are you talking about? Tonight we are each one alone.” There’s something poignant or ironic or maybe just comical about the fact that a merry band of partygoers have to deny their social ties so that they can continue/re-create them on the inside of the club.

Anyway, we broke into a trio, two pairs and a single and made a point of not talking between the groups as we approached the door. To bring up the stakes, much like last week, a group of four young girls were turned away at the door as we got close. Again, they probably waited as long as we had for the pleasure of being told their night had to re-start somewhere else. And at 6am in the morning. The sun had been up for at least two hours, and our party was just officially beginning.

After checking our jackets and getting the first round of drinks at the lower-level bar (right next to the darkrooms, I might add), we headed upstairs into the main “Berghain” room. I knew from experience that the music upstairs in Panorama Bar tended to be more my style, so after a few minutes I told my friends where to find me and headed up there.

6h00-7h00: Format B

This pair was about halfway through their live set when I got up there, so I can only comment on the last half of the set. Nonetheless, it was certainly the clicky-yet-bassy minimal that I had been missing last night at Tresor (you can hear some of this on their website (click on this section header) and on their Myspace Page , although you have to imagine a much, much more powerful bass kick to the whole thing.

I spent most of this set trying to find where our group had gone, then trying to help them find each other. Finally, I gave up on the endeavor and settled near the front of Panorama Bar. I ran into one of the members of our group that I had just met tonight, and she pulled me right up front and center, against the DJ booth. I would stay there for another 3 hours or so.

7h00-10h00: Phage and Daniel Dreier

Again, I don’t know what it is about Panorama Bar that does this to me, but I found Phage and Daniel Dreier both freaking hot—Phage scorchingly so (and I’m usually not one for red-heads). And the fact that Daniel Dreier’s (presumed) last name is also the German slang term for “threesome” just made everything a bit more pornographic. Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I checked in with my new party-buddy next to me, and she said, “I’ll take all of them, thank you.”

So, sexiness aside, their set was really excellent and a more intense than the set Phage did alone a week earlier at Watergate. Their track selection put a lot of emphasis on basslines that were pitched (i.e. had a somewhat melodic shape) and rhythmically complex patterns. The remixes they did of Autotune’s “Dirty” and 3 Channels’s “Night Track 2” are good examples of what I’m talking about. Here's a quick transcription I've whipped up of the bassline on each track, with links to a long sample from

NOTE:You'll want to listen to this with good earphones or speakers with good bass, otherwise you won't be able to hear the basslines. The pitch levels are approximate and relative, and the colors are just to help distinguish pitch levels.

Autotune, "Dirty" (Phage & Daniel Dreier Remix)

3 Channels, "Night Track 2" (Phage & Daniel Dreier Remix)

Although I certainly like a lot of complexity in the high-frequency range (i.e., “clicky” stuff), there’s also something about rolling, moving, melodic basslines that really get me dancing.

10h00-12h00: Jens Bond

I listened to the first few tracks of Jens Bond’s set, which were a bit less sublte and more aggressive than the previous set, then decided that I needed to sit down for a while. There was plenty of space to sit down in the Berghain area, but I still wanted to be upstairs so that I could hear what was going on in Panorama Bar, so I circled around the bar area, looking for some open seating. Finally, as I walked down one of the dark hallways that cuts long the back of Panorama bar, I saw a group of people jump out of one of the many cubbyholes that have remained from the days when this former power plant used to hold heavy machinery. The cubbyhole had a cushion along the bottom, so I got in, leaned my back against one concrete side (which were vibrating!) and proceeded to rest my weary legs.

I was sort of half-asleep and half-awake, with my eyes partially shut, which may be why a young man later walked up to my cubbyhole, turned to face me, opened his pants, pulled out his cock, and proceeded to rearrange and then re-pack his dangly bits back into his pants. After that was done, he looked up and realized that I wasn’t asleep. His response to this moment of unexpected (and unsolicited) intimacy-exposure was to smile affably and put his hand on my knee before disappearing off onto the dance floor. While I certainly appreciated the sentiment, that same hand had been on his sweaty genitals a minute before; ah well, it’s Berghain, after all.

12h00-16h00: Nick Höppner

I don’t know whether he would take it as a compliment or an insult, but I couldn’t tell when Bond’s set ended and Höppner’s set began. They both cultivated a sound that stayed within the zone of Berlin minimal techno, but with a taste for pounding, straight-ahead percussion that approached the sort of big-room techno you usually hear in the Berghain room.

By about 1:30, my roommate and another pal felt like heading home and crashing, so I decided to go along. I had been planning to keep on dancing for as long as I was enjoying the music, but I sort of hoped to meet another friend Sunday night, so I thought I ought to get home…since it was already Sunday afternoon.

We wandered our way down to the coat-check and then off to the taxi stand, from which we made our way back to our respective places. After taking a moment to fire off a text message to tonight’s date (“Hi, it’s 2pm and I haven’t slept yet.”), I fell into bed.

vendredi, juillet 18, 2008

More Awkwardness, Tape Club, and Tresor Club

Considering that I had a (relatively) late night, getting to bed around 5h00, I was up and perky by a rather early noon. I spent the first few hours of my day running some laundry and getting some blogging / writing done. For a little while, I finally got started on revising my proposal (the final blockade to having official ABD status), which went well until I hit a writing block.

At this point it was sometime in the later afternoon, so I headed out to run some errands while my brain tried to work around the writing block. I picked up some Coke Zero (it tastes better here, I swear!) and some bleach and was halfway home before I realized that I needed milk, too. Shit. Anyway, I kept walking.

As I got to the door of my building and started pulling out my keys, I noticed that a pair of footsteps behind me had fallen silent when I got to my door. I turned around to see a man in his mid-twenties, rather lean, with mid-length messy hair, stubble, a yellow t-shirt tucked into track pants, and a set of keys on a lanyard around his neck. He was looking directly at me and smiling, so I smiled back. As I made to say hello, he launched into a short phrase in the form of a question, but it was too fast and too under-enunciated for me to quite get it. I told him that I didn’t speak much German, and he brought his hands together excitedly and said in English “Crash!”

Ah, yes, there had been a clot of emergency vehicles on Hermannplatz a moment ago, and I guess that’s what that was. I nodded in recognition and then asked him in German whether he had seen it himself. He said no, and then launched into another excited spiel that I could only presume was tied to the accident somehow. His speech was really fast and pressured, and it wasn’t helped by a slight stutter that kept returning. At this point, I slipped into “nod and smile” mode, trying my best to appear agreeable and asking him to repeat himself when he seemed to be asking me a question.

I was beginning to suspect that this man was a bit developmentally delayed or something, especially given the glee with which he talked about the car crash and rubbed his hands together. At some point, I gathered that we were now talking about either the vice-president or the “white president.” This seemed like a good point to extract myself from the conversation, so I waited until a pause in his speech and then said something along the lines of, “OK, great! I better go now,” and ducked inside. I felt bad, since he seemed to be eager for social contact and just as eager to talk about the car crash, but I couldn’t follow his speech enough to even provide him that pleasure.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. I grabbed some sushi at a Vietnamese restaurant that had recently opened on our street. They had a 50% promotional discount on all sushi for the opening, so the meal was certainly pretty good value. It was what the French would call “correcte”: the sushi was edible, tasty within reasonable expectations, but nothing to write home about (although I guess I’m doing that right now).

Party Mission One: Tape Club

Fantômette had a couple places on a guestlist at a bar called Tape to see a DJ named Quarion; he was spinning the opening set at midnight, so we headed out rather early. I met with her and her girlfriend (who was joining her for a week or so in Berlin), and we all headed off. Tape is rather far away from the usual neighborhood for clubs in Kreuzberg / Friedrichshain; it’s a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station), which is just a little north-west of the Brandenburg Gate. We were able to take the S-Bahn all the way to the Hauptbahnhof, but as we got out to walk, we realized that it was pouring rain. We waited for a little while for the rain to pass, but it wasn’t going anywhere. We then tried getting a cab, but all the cabs said it was too close to be worth the fare. Finally, we waited for the rain to let up a bit and then struck out on our own. Two of us didn’t have hats (including me) so we were pretty miserable by the time we got to the (not so close) club.

After a bit of confusion at the door, switching between German, English and French, two of us got in for free and we shared the cost of the third person. We grabbed some drinks and then wandered around the bar. The club is set up in what is clearly a storehouse, with the usual raised loading dock along one front of the building and several delivery doors. The club itself takes only what appeared to be one section of the building, including two floors. The setup inside, nonetheless, is rather interesting.

You go down a black hallway for maybe 20 meters, and then turn into a doorway on the right, which leads you to a set of stairs. There’s actually an unmarked door just to the side of the stairs, which serves as a short-cut to the dancefloor, but we missed it. The stairs lead up and to the right, into a lounge / loft area, with a bar and some seating and a DJ spinning downtempo hip-hop. If you continue through to the other side of the room, you discover another, wider set of stairs leading down and to the right, which leads you into the main room of the club. There’s a small but adequate dancefloor, encircled by a set of rails, and then a band of seating along the walls of the club. (I should really sketch the interior of the place…) The décor was pretty minimal, involving black walls with a set of 5 or 6 horizontal stripes, although it was accented by a light projection of a cassette tape in line-drawing format. All of this seemed to make the main room feel like a sort of 80s roller-rink, which I liked.

Quarion’s set was a bit low-intensity and generically minimal techno, which is sort of to be expected from an opening DJ set, so we hung out for a little while and Fantô said hi to the DJ. The club showed no signs of getting any more full than it already was, so we decided to hit another club. None of us had been to the newly re-opened Tresor club, so we decided to go there.

Party Mission Two: Tresor

We grabbed a taxi from Tape to Tresor, since it was a long way off and the S-Bahn was running on the late-night schedule. The taxi driver seemed to determined to take as many small side-streets as possible, so within a couple of minutes, I had totally lost my sense of direction, which was a rare moment for me. Every once in a while, the Fernseh’turm at Alexanderplatz would appear over the horizon and I would get a better idea of where we were. I was pretty sure that he was taking the scenic route to get there—who needs to cut through Gendarmenmarkt to get to Kreuzberg?—but none of us in the cab were knowledgeable enough about the city streets to argue.

A while later, we finally spill out of the cab and into Tresor. But wait; there’s a line. As we walk through the entryway into the parking lot of this re-purposed power plant (yes, just like Berghain), we discover that in fact there’s a long, fat line that runs the length of the front face of the building.

Since the rain had (mostly) stopped at this point, we grumbled a bit and then got in line. The line moved in fits and starts, which made us wonder whether large groups of people ahead of us were getting fed up and leaving, or whether the bouncers were deliberately keeping the line long for “PR” purposes. Either way, it took us nearly an hour to get to the front.

While we were waiting in line, Fantô commented on the makeup of the people in line, saying that the crowd here looked a bit more “basique.” At first I thought she means something like “mainstream” or “touristy,” which made sense, since the crowd in line was filled with mostly-hetero-looking twenty-somethings and teens (rather than the variously-queer thirty-somethings of Berghain / Panorama Bar).

A little while later, a small group of younger folks emerged from the head of the line, clearly angry about being either turned away at the door or thrown out of the club. One of the men in the group was actually having something of a rage attack, alternating between a stream of curses and inarticulate screams while sometimes wheeling around to yell at the club. One of the girls in the group, presumably “with” him, would repeatedly catch his arm and drag him further from the club, but his exit was a long one. Things got heated as one of his moments of rage went in the general direction of another group of (older, tougher-looking) men who had been sitting on the grass and drinking. There was some sort of chest-puffing confrontation, with both sides trying to talk the parties down, and eventually they moved on. At this point, Fantô said, “Do you understand now what I mean by basique?” Ah, gotcha. This was more like “basic instincts” or something along those lines, as an euphemism for “testostorone saturation.”

Alas, the front of the line was where our paths separated. Fantô’s GF didn’t have a piece of ID with her, and (for the first time I’ve seen in Berlin), they were asking for IDs. Despite the fact that she was clearly over 18, they turned her away at the door. I had already passed security, so Fantô and I had a rapid pow-wow at the door, and then I continued into the building while they headed home to regroup.

The contrasts of crowds carried on into the club. While at Berghain the men are a mix of hyper-muscular gay men with their shirts off and thin / effete heterosexual men (generally speaking, of course), the crowd at Tresor included a lot of hyper-muscular straight men with their shirts off and no homos to be seen. I’m willing to believe that I was the only gay creature in the building that night.

Just the club itself, however, was worth the wait and the price of admission. It is indeed a converted power plant from the DDR years, and—if it’s possible to imagine—they’ve done even less than Berghain to refurbish it. All the necessary plumbing and seating is available where it’s needed, although the style is about as unsexy and utilitarian as possible. Otherwise, you’re pretty much wandering through an abandoned power plant, covered with old graffiti tags.

The basement (called the Tresor room), must’ve been used to keep hazardous materials or something, because you had to walk along a 30m underground tunnel, which smelled strongly of moss and had what appeared to be dirt floors. At the other end of the hallway was a long but low-ceilinged room, with cage-like metal grids extending between some of the pillars, as if this had been somewhat high-security at one point. Although the room gave me a nostalgic surge for the warehouse parties of the 90s, the music being played here was a sort of sped-up hard techno that bordered on hardcore / gabber. I hung around a bit to get a feel for the place, but I got sick of the music pretty quickly.

The Batterieraum was on the second floor, in what must’ve been the control room and offices overlooking the generator floors (or, guessing from the name, a room with batteries). Although most of the room had been turned into a long dancefloor and a longer bar, one window remained that gave a view onto the crumbling ruins of the main floor of the power station. That view, in itself, was a sight to behold. The music here, mostly played by the headliner Pan-Pot was exactly what you’d expect to hear at a club associated with the grand old techno label of Tresor. Their sound was smack in the middle of Detroit Techno, although the emphasis on machine-like, un-syncopated, totally straight rhythms sometimes made it feel like hard trance. Again, not my style, but I could tough it out for a few hours.

There was apparently a third room on another level, called the +4 bar, which gave a view over the remains of the factory, but I never got to check it out. I stayed in the club until about 5h00, waiting for the next DJ, Luke, to come on. His set was a bit closer to the kind of minimal I tend to like, but by then I was out of energy and tired, so I headed home.

jeudi, juillet 17, 2008

Kurfürstendamm, Bar 25 & Club der Visionaere

Thankfully, there was a bit of sun today, which meant that I got up at a reasonable hour and wasn’t entirely lethargic. I made myself some coffee to perk things up, and then got to work catching up on blogging. After writing, some answering of emails and a bit of laundry, it was the late afternoon and I felt like rewarding myself. So, it’s off to (re-)discover Kurfürstendamm.

Kurfürstendamm is (West) Berlin’s main shopping / tourist / luxury drag, sort of like Fifth Ave in NYC, the Mag Mile in Chicago, or Bloor/Yorkville in Toronto. Years and years ago (2002, I think?), I did the 6-week backpacking tour of Europe and landed in Berlin for a night. I had planned to spend the weekend, but that weekend was the German soccer cup finals between Munich and Berlin, and so there were absolutely no rooms available after Friday night. Anyway, the train station where our train arrived at the Zoologischergarten Bahnhof (the Hauptbahnhof, or main station, hadn’t quite taken over operation at that point). This is about half a block from Kurfürstendamm, so I spent a good amount of time walking up that street looking for food, and then sitting in an internet café somewhere along the way (before the days of ubiquitous WiFi).

I haven’t been back since, so it was interesting to emerge from the U-Bahn stop today and instantly recognize the layout of the street from 6 years ago. Nonetheless, a lot has changed; if anything, the retail density on this strip has multiplied and intensified. Where there had been one H&M store 6 years ago, there are now at least 5 or 6, depending on whether you count the women-only or men-only stores. What’s crazy about this is that they are within about 200m of each other, and they all stock the same items. Otherwise, there is a huge Niketown (as in every city, it seems) and a bunch of other recognizable multi-national clothing and luxury goods stores.

If you walk past the bombed-out Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and along Tauentzienstraße to Wittenbergplatz, you go to Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West), known locally as KaDeWe. This place is Berlin’s answer to the grands magasins of Paris, without the space restrictions that those stores have in the Hausmann-designed buildings of Paris. KaDeWe is a good 8 stories tall, with a massive food hall on the top floor and a bunch of food counters on the floor below. Along with the food counters on this floor is a “gourmet” section, which my roommate had told me carried pretty much every specialty and imported food stuff that one could imagine. Since I was hoping to maybe do some Peruvian food for my roomie before she leaves, I decided to take a look around and see what I could find. In the end, I didn’t find any Peruvian hot peppers, but I did find a lot of chocolate. I won’t disclose how much I spent on chocolate, but it’s pretty comparable to the kind of damage I’ve done to myself in Paris shops.

After staggering out of there, covered in a mix of buyer’s guilt (but not remorse) and the shopper’s high, I did a turn around Wittenbergplatz and headed back past the church ruins and toward the South-West end of “Ku’damm.” By the time that you get to the Uhlandstraße station, the shops go from Zara and H&M to Gucci and Louis Vuitton. On this less-traveled end of the street, you can find all of the super-high-end shops you would expect in a large European city, including several that I didn’t see on Friedrichstraße in Mitte (former East Berlin, but the newer luxury district). Once my feet got tired and it was getting late, I climbed on a double-decker bus that ran all the way to Hermannplatz and enjoyed the ride home.

To Bar 25 and Club der Visionäre

The group of Frenchy friends that I had seen on Tuesday were back in town for a moment, but they were going to see Hercules and Love Affair at the Lido, and I wasn’t really feeling up to it. They had plans to hit Berghain afterwards, and I would’ve joined them…except that I’m pretty sure that Berghain isn’t open on Thursday nights. *shrug*

Anyway, my friend Fantômette was up for a bit of going out, so we headed out to Bar25 to check it out. Although the music was the sort of non-beatmached potpourri of “electronica” that one would expect to hear in an indy-rocker-spins-at-afterparty DJ set, the actual layout of the place is great. As far as I can tell, the Bar25 complex used to be some sort of frontier-themed amusement park or something, but now it is a multi-room entertainment complex. Upon entering through a rickety-looking doorway, you walk down a corridor of wooden fences and past an entry into a semi-covered club space. If you continue past there, you pass a door on the right that says “Pizza” (which I presume serves some sort of food during regular hours) and then you get to the river Spree. As you follow the river to your left, you pass a lit campfire with benches surrounding it, a few surrealistic lighting elements, a huge old willow with two swings attached to the branches, and then a sort of log-cabin facsimile with a bar at one end and a sit-down restaurant at the other end.

Fantô and I grabbed some drinks (I tried the Radler again, this time with lemonade) and sat down next to the river and chatted for a while. When it got too cold (what is it with cold and wet weather in July??), we headed indoors and had another drink on the very soft leather couches inside. The music was pretty insipid, though, and eventually we decided to change places.

I had heard that Dan Bell was going to be spinning with Barbara Preisinger and another guy at Club der Visionäre, so we decided to just head over there and check it out. After a bit of hemming and hawing about how to get there (the S-Bahn and U-Bahn service changes after 1h00), we caught a taxi.

The club was the same as when I had been there on Tuesday, except with maybe 3 times the amount of people. The decks were pretty much filled out with partygoers relaxing and chatting, and there were plenty of people packed into the little indoor space between the bar and the DJ. The three DJs for the night did a sort of endless tag-team set, so I can’t really speak of one person’s set versus another person’s, but the sound was a really pleasant low-key minimal techno / house for the entire evening. Although there is certainly something to be said for the intense Berghain-style party, I could really get to enjoy this more low-key setting. In some ways, this puts the lie to the claim that electronic dance music is only tolerable as an instrumentalized helpmeet for drug-fueled dancing. On the other hand, I’m wary of slipping into the “autonomous music is good music” philosophy.

Anyway, we had a great time at Club der Visionäre and managed to have a few amusing encounters with very drunk and/or high folks, and then around 4h00 we finally climbed into a taxi and headed home.

mercredi, juillet 16, 2008

Comfort Curry for a Gray Day

Well, today started out depressingly gray and stayed that way all day, and something about the weather really got to me. I slept in until noon, slugged around for a bit without accomplishing anything substantial, and then took a nap again until 17h00, thinking that it would give me some more energy. Realizing that I hadn’t had a coffee all day—and that we were out of coffee grounds—I finally schlepped my butt into the shower and headed out to the nearby grocery store. I decided to check out the nearby Penny Markt, which is maybe a step up from Aldi and very similar to the Franprix chain in France. What was available wasn’t high quality, but at least it was cheap. I got a fair bit of pasta, a bottle of Coke, potatoes, sausages, toilet paper and tissues, espresso grounds and some chocolate for just under 18€.

Anyway, my day was spectacularly unproductive, except for the domain of food. Perhaps sensing that I wasn’t going to get any writing done, I went into the kitchen and made an ersatz curry that I’m rather proud of. And so, without further ado…

Luis’s “Deutscher” Curry

I’m calling this a German curry because I make use of sausage filling, potatoes and carrots as the main elements of the curry, which would often appear on a traditional “home-style” German plate.

Zutaten (ingredients)

  • 2 generous pinches, each of the following whole spices:
    • cumin
    • fennel
    • anise
    • dark and/or light mustard seeds
    • ajwan a.k.a. lovage
  • approx 500 g of sausage filling
    • (in germany, you can find this out of the casing, but if you can’t find that, just buy 500 g of uncooked sausage and then pull off the casings)
  • 1 large white onion, diced finely
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 3 teaspoons of minced fresh ginger
    • (more if you’re using prepared ginger)
  • 1-2 hot peppers and/or pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 3-4 cardamom pods, bruised with the flat of your knife
  • 2 tablespoons of ground tumeric (or just use a generous dose of prepared currypowder)
  • 3-4 small waxy potatoes (e.g., “princess” or “new” potatoes), cut diagonally into ½-cm slices
  • 4-5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally into ½-cm slices
  • 1-2 cups of water or stock (as needed)
  • ¼-cup of butter

Zubereitung (preparation)

  1. I was a moron and didn’t brown my meat and toast my spices first, but you don’t have to follow my mistakes. So you should take a large and deep saucepan / stockpot / dutch oven and put in about a ½-cup of oil. Add all of the whole spices (but not the cardamom) and toast at high heat until they begin to release their aroma.
  2. Normally, I would wait until the seeds start to pop before moving on, but we’re going to brown the meat as well, so toss in both the sausage filling and the onions, and break it up with a wooden spoon over medium-high heat. You want a bit of browning, so once it’s broken up, leave the meat to sizzle and stick to the bottom of the pan, moving it around every once in a while.
  3. Once the onions are at least translucent and the meat is mostly brown (if you’re working with ground pork, it won’t go deep brown like beef), toss in the tomatoes. They will release a fair bit of liquid, so take advantage of this opportunity to deglaze the pan (i.e., scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan).
  4. Add the garlic and ginger, mix, and then wait for the garlic to mellow out a bit (but don’t let it burn!).
  5. Add the hot pepper / pepper flakes, cardamom pods, tumeric, potatoes and carrots and mix quickly to coat everything.
  6. By now, the consistency of the mixture should be pretty thick, so add enough water (or stock) to just barely cover everything and mix well. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and keep at a simmer.
  7. Go read a book or something. A good curry takes time, especially if you want that thick gravy-like texture, so set it simmer uncovered until the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, then add another cup of water, simmer, and so on until the vegetables are well-cooked and the sauce has thickened.
  8. When everything has come together, remove the pot from the heat and add the butter. Adding the butter after cooking allows for that buttery finish without adding as much butter.
  9. Allow to cool and thicken, and then serve with rice or, to be totally German, slices of dark rye bread.

mardi, juillet 15, 2008

Sneak-Attack Tuesday Party!

The day started off with the promise of being relatively quiet. I caught up on the some blogging from the weekend, answered some emails, and otherwise tried to get some “business” done. Later in the afternoon, I headed off to the Türkischer Markt to buy some supplies for dinner, not realizing that I was going there near the close of the day. On the one hand, this meant that some of the things I wanted were sold out. On the other hand, I got three baskets of grapes for 1€, 3 cucumbers for 1€, a loaf of bread for 1,30€, and so on. Also, the merchants get a bit more desperate and vocal toward the end of the market day, so the vendor calls are more insistent and inventive (and entertaining).

I had picked up the necessary ingredients for a sort of chopped greek salad, so on the way hope I picked up a röst Hänchen (roasted chicken) and took it home with me. I made a lovely little salad by dicing a cucumber and red onion very finely, adding finely-cubed Frischkäse (fresh cheese, less salty than feta), the juice of a lime, olive oil, and a handful of finely chopped mint. The results were pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. I served myself a helping of that, and then got to work tearing the chicken apart with my bare hands. Roaster chickens here in Europe are a fair bit smaller than what you get in the states, so I was able to eat the whole thing myself, although I was feeling pretty sluggish afterwards. I lurched my way to my bedroom, thinking that I was going to head to bed soon.

Then I got a text message from a French friend that was passing through Berlin with a couple of other friends, on their way to the North Sea. They were staying in Berlin for the night and wanted to do something techno-y, so they were heading to Club der Visionäre, which is one of those river-side / dock clubs usually popular for the after-party recovery crowd. So, I grabbed my party bag, put on some shoes, and headed out the door at around half past midnight.

Club der Visionäre

Since it was a weekday night, the U-Bahn wasn’t running all night, so I had to take a bus. I waited until the N47 came along, which would take me as far as Görlitzer Bahnhof. I walked the rest of the way to the Schlesisches Tor station and then along Schlesisches Straße, which took longer than I had expected. But, finally, I made it to the club.

Club der Visionäre is a mostly-outdoor club (with awnings) located at the point where the Landwehrkanal emerges from the Spree river. It’s really an old dock and storage building converted into a club, with a small “inside” where the bar and DJ is located, and lots of outdoor space. Actually, it probably has more in common with the typical Germanic Biergarten than a dance club. Nonetheless, this place is popular with the techno scenesters here in Berlin, partially because it’s open during the week (i.e., when the big clubs are closed) and partially because the big-name DJs that spin at the big clubs on the weekend often end up spinning here on Sunday afternoons. Although I haven’t done it yet, I can imagine that sitting here in the sunshine the morning after a night of partying would probably be really nice.

So I get in and wander around, eventually finding my friend, who introduces me to his traveling companions. One of them is an American who has some interest in popular music studies, so we have a good conversation about my project and he asks me some really useful questions. When I tell them all about what happened in the lineup at Watergate last Friday, they get all worried about their chances of getting in, since they were thinking of returning to Berlin this weekend. I actually appreciated the opportunity to re-explain the ins and outs of Berlin nightclub door policies, and hopefully I was able to assure them that they would likely get in to Berghain or Watergate or something similar.

While at the bar, I decided to try a Radler which is this Berlin specialty involving a combination of beer and orange juice (or, more frequently, Fanta). It was OK, tasting sort of like a kir made with a white beer instead of champagne. I don’t think I’m going to order it again anytime soon, mind you.

At around 3h00 or so, my partying companions realized that they had to be awake by approximately 8h00 that same morning, so we all spilled out of the club and headed home. I caught a cab, which got me back home for about 8,30€. I don’t know if it’s the gas prices or what, but Berlin cabs are more expensive than I would’ve thought, especially in comparison to Paris taxis. I think part of it is that there is a “special” rate at night or something, since the meter often starts at 3€. Anyway, I got home and crawled into bed, a lot later than I usually do on a Tuesday night!

lundi, juillet 14, 2008

Prenzlauerberg and a new arrival

After everybody slept in nicely, my roommate and her guest decided to go visit some old haunts in Prenzlauerberg, and they invited me to follow for (late) breakfast. We hit a little café on Kollwitzstraße and Sredzkistraße called Café Anna Blume, which served late breakfast and had some fantastic cakes (at least they looked fantastic; I didn’t have the appetite for a massive slice). It’s also a flower shop, apparently.

Anyway, I had the “Alpenrose” Zusammenstellung (combination plate), which included a bit of very fresh cottage cheese, some fresh fruits, some slices of alpen cheeses, some butter and bread, some thin-sliced cured ham, and this AMAZING jam. The jam was made from raspberry (I think), but the twist was that it had rosemary in it. The combination was magic, quite frankly. I could’ve smeared that on anything.

After a lovely breakfast (with the first bit of sun I had seen in a week) I left the girls to do some shopping and I headed back to the apartment. I got a fair bit of work done and, while puttering away, I sent a text message to the cell number of my friend Fantômette (previously seen on many of my Paris posts as an emerging DJ and head of La Petite Maison Electronique and the Happy People Only series of parties) since I knew she was supposed to be arriving in Berlin soon. As it turns out, she had just arrived today! So we made a date and later that evening we went out for dinner and drinks.

Finding the dinner part of the program was a bit of a challenge, as we wandered around the unfamiliar area near Kottbusser Tor. We walked along Oranienstraße, which is supposed to be the “hip” area of that street, but it was mostly rather touristy. We eventually found an Indian restaurant that looked reasonably good, called Amrit, so we sat down and had dinner. From there, we met up with my roommate and her friend at one of the bars on Hobrechtstraße, where we hung out until the wee hours. By midnight, poor Fantô—who had been awake since 3am this morning—was falling asleep in her chair, so I walked her back to her place and then walked myself back to mine.

dimanche, juillet 13, 2008

Mach leise!

As you might imagine, since I didn’t really get to sleep until about 10h00 this morning, waking up happened rather late. I think I got up around 15h00 or 16h00, but I could be wrong. Either way, I started writing up some of my notes for last night, then went out to meet a guest of my roommate, who would be staying with us for a couple of days. We hung out and waited for the arrival of another guest: the guy that would be moving in August to take over one of my roommates rooms.

When he arrived, we all headed out to do a tour of the neighborhood, looking at all of the new bars that have popped up on Weserstraßse and Hobrechtstraße. While walking along Sonnenallee, my roomie pointed out a Lebanese place that does HUGE dinner combos for 1€ each. I could’ve used that in Paris, dammit. At 1€, I don’t need to cook ever again! On the other hand, I like to cook. But I could see how you could live in (certain parts of) Berlin without ever needing to make your own food.

Also along the same street, we passed a café called Oum Kalsoum Café, which is another spelling of Umm Kulthum, a hugely important musical figure for Egypt and the Arabic-language music scene. I got all excited and started explaining this to my companions, then caught myself slipping into “Intro to World Music 101” mode and stopped. I suppose I’m a music nerd anyway.

I made a point of telling the incoming roommate about my now-favourite Kebap joint, Güney Grill, where you can get a lovely döner kebap for only 2€. We continued walking around the neighborhood and eventually made it to a Vietnamese restaurant on Hasen Heide called Hamy. It was really lovely; although their phở wasn’t quite the same as the stuff I got in my old neighborhood of Uptown in Chicago, it was still very satisfying and comforting.

From there, we wandered up Hobrechtstraße and hit one of the bars along the street, which was literally an old storefront whose fixings had been ripped out, left bare with scraps of WWII-era wallpaper, furnished with second-hand furniture, and lit with dim yellowish lights. This is the look of nearly 90% of the “hip” neighborhood bars in “bohemian” areas of Berlin, it seems. Not that I was complaining; the feel of these places was often really comfortable—as if you were sitting in someone’s bedroom.

The bar turned out to be featuring unpasteurized Chechen beers, so we each ordered one kind of Chechen beer, and then sat down to continue chatting. About 15-20 minutes into our conversation, we were interrupted by a pair of girls playing cellos. At first they played a duet that sounded like a 19th-century etude, so we took it to be background music and kept on talking. After that piece, they started to imitate blues guitar licks on their cellos (in rather ingenious ways, I must admit), while one of them began to sing. Her approach seemed to be Tori Amos vocal style, Kate Bush lyrics, and a little bit of Fiona Apple. Often, the song would have moments of great potential, but they would invariably swing in some direction that left me sort of cringing on her behalf.

There’s a lot of this in hipster bars in Berlin, apparently. Starving musicians and ensembles will just walk into a bar (or onto a patio), set up their instruments, and start playing. Sometimes the bar management gives them a bit or money or beer, sometimes not. Usually they get some cash from the people in the bar, although it doesn’t always add up to a lot. These musicians will often circulate through a series of bars in one night, creating a sort of circuit. So, if you sit in one bar for a while, you may have 4 or 5 different musical acts perform for you (and then ask for money).

Anyway, we eventually ran out of steam and hobbled back to the house, where we sat around for a bit and then went to bed. Lazy Sunday!