samedi, juillet 26, 2008

Too much living for just one night

Oy, tonight was a long, long, long but also very eventful and interesting night, so this may take a while to write up and post. Hopefully the suspense is not killing you.

My daytime activities involved sleeping in, sluggishly writing up my notes from last night, making a run to the food section of Karstadt (more expensive, but at least they take plastic), and wondering why my throat was a bit scratchy [foreshadowing! I’m a master of suspense].

So, by about 23h00 that night, the ever-growing crew of Frenchy ex-pats (and I) started to organize. Fantômette, her GF, her roommate and his buddy were all going to skip pre-partying and head directly to Berghain/Panorama Bar before 1h00 to avoid the line. John (see last night) and I decided to grab a couple of drinks at one of the bars in my neighborhood (Neukölln, the bar on Hobrechtstraße near Pflügelstraße). The headliners at Berghain (Heartthrob, Tony Rohr) were both going on at 4h00, so we decided against starting at Watergate, instead planning to hit Berghain around 1h00 or 1h30.

The bar was pretty empty when we got there, but started filling up as he hung out. At first, we grabbed some folding chairs and sat on the sidewalk outside, along with most of the other patrons. Our quiet conversation was soon marred by an older, dishevelled-looking man wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with a confederate flag on it (yes, the rebel flag in Germany; I don’t quite know what to say about it). From across the street, he was yelling something in heavily slurred German that we couldn’t quite make out, and it wasn’t clear if he was yelling at us on the terrace, the building itself, or to some characters that were not visible to the rest of us.

After a couple of minutes of his yelling (while we bar patrons were doing our best to ignore him), a middle-aged, large man of Mediterranean ancestry (I’m guessing Turkish, considering the neighborhood) came out of the building above the bar and crossed the street menacingly. He started to berate the man in an equally-incomprehensible German, sending the man’s beer crashing on the sidewalk and shouting what seemed to be confrontational questions at him.

The “shouter,” probably sensing that his ranting wasn’t going to protect him from harm, got up and started shuffling away from the larger man, as if beating a retreat in slow-motion. The larger one followed him, and I finally began to understand some of the conversation:

“Tell me you’re not going to come back here! Shout it out loud for everyone to hear! Go on, shout it out!”

I doubt that this command did anything but humiliate further the older man and express the anger of the larger man, but the older one muttered his agreement and continued to shuffle away. The larger man shouted a few more triumphant threats at the other’s back, and then started walking back to his apartment building, where a friend/relative of his had emerged and was waiting for him.

Then, quietly and distantly from beyond the light of the corner store across the street, came that voice again:

“My beer?”

The larger man wheeled around on his heels, throwing his hands in the air and saying something in Turkish that seemed to convey, “Heaven help me, what am I to do with this one?” And he sauntered toward the older man, looking both amused and bellicose.

At this point, I was really worried that there was going to be violence, and I had no doubts about who would win this match-up. But instead, the larger man took the older man into the store across the street, out of my direct line of vision. There was an alternation between quiet speech and loud shouting, the hint of sudden gestures in the movement of shadows on the wall, and then the two of them walked back out, the older one holding a fresh beer in his hand. The larger man gave him a cigarette, lit it for him, and then pointed him in a direction away from us.

This was a sort of transaction that will probably take a lot more consideration to really unravel and understand, but I was struck by how the gift of a beer and a cigarette seemed to release both men from the violent relation they had just created. It’s as if the beer and cigarette didn’t just stand in for the broken beer, but also for the humiliation, threats of violence, fear and shouting. I think we all soothed ourselves with the idea that nothing violent came of this incident, but I don’t think this was a happy ending, either.

Berghain, Panorama Bar and The Line of Doom

As we had just bought our second beer, I get a text message from Fanômette: “Huge line at Berghain already. If you can get here quick, you can join us in the line.”

Considering that it was barely 0h30, this was really surprising. Since the headliners were starting at 4h00, I reasoned that there was no point ditching our beers and running to Berghain right now, as the line would be just as rediculous in an hour.

We finished our beers, chatted a bit about my blogging efforts and the joys and sorrows of writing an ethnographic PhD dissertation, and then made our way over to the club. John got a falafel from a Döner stand in front of Ostbahnhof, where a group of young Spaniards were clapping rhythmically and singing Flamenco, as they seem to do spontaneously when they are abroad. We made our way over to Berghain, only to get another text message from Fantômette: “We’re inside.” Damn.

We got into the back of the line, which indeed snaked about ¾ of the way back to the taxi stand (better than two weeks ago, but still ridiculous). It was 1h17, and we wouldn’t make it in the doors until 2h40.

So John and I amused ourselves with idle chatter, reminiscing about our earlier years in the rave/free-party scene, and evaluating those around us for the likelihood of them getting in. As you’ve already gathered if you’ve been reading previous posts, the door policy at Berghain/Panorama Bar is pretty selective, and in a way that doesn’t favour tourists—in both the national and subcultural senses of the term.

At one point, John said, “Looking at the people in line here, I don’t see this as the same crowd that we saw last night at Panorama Bar.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but don’t forget about the bouncers up there. I think you’ll find the crowd inside isn’t quite the same as the crowd that waits in line.”

And so there was a group of about 6 or 7 clubbers with Irish accents, clearly already drunk, carousing with each other and yelling loudly. They were relatively young but not out of the question for Berghain, but that wasn’t likely to help them if they kept on acting like that all the way to the front of the line. Also, the girls were a bit overdressed for the location (open-toed heels, cocktail dresses, necklaces, fancy purses) as were the boys (collared shirts, leather shoes). Add to this the fact that they were loudly yelling things like “Hey Priscilla, do you have any more booze in your purse?” and things weren’t likely to go well for them.

The stakes got even higher as one of the drunker and angrier boys in the group started declaring loudly that, “This better be the best club I’ve ever been to in my life!” over and over. Up until now, I had managed to remain rather detached about their fortunes, but I began to feel bad for him and his crew. Their chances were getting lower as they approached the door.

When we were maybe 10 people from the door, we struck up conversation with a French girl standing behind us, who had been hanging out with a pair of Swedes. She, a resident of Berlin for several years, was explaining to her companions why the group in front of us weren’t likely to make it in. John and I joined in with our own opinions on the matter, as I began to realize that “Guess who’s getting in!” had become our primary form of entertainment during our wait in line. Throughout the entire 1.5-hour wait, we would look at the dejected clubbers coming back from the front of the line, and speculate as to what was responsible for their refusal at the door.

Finally at the front of the line, the group of Irish partygoers were asked how many of them were in the group. Foolishly, they indicated that they were one big group. The bouncer looked them up and down, and then told each one of them to stand on the other side of the door and wait. Although they hadn’t quite been sent away yet, I could see some of them shaking their heads in resignation.

John and I got through, doing our best to nod politely and not utter a word. The “meaner” of the bouncers (skinny, tall, buzzed hair and tiny butt) looked over to the “mean-looking” but generally nicer bouncer (huge, burly, facial tattoos and piercings, leather jacket) and asked him something quietly, and then he looked at the two of us and nodded. I’m not going to speculate about what went on there, but I was very glad to finally get in.

Later that night I ran into the French girl and the two Swedes again, and I asked her if she had seen the Irish group get in. She said no, but she also said that they were still waiting on the other side of the door when she went through. It remains a mystery, but I certainly didn’t see them during the course of the night.

00h00-4h00: Kreon & Lemons

Upon getting in, we checked our jackets, ran to the washroom, got some drinks, and then set about finding the rest of the crew. We found Fantômette and company rather quickly and then set about claiming a good spot on the dancefloor in Panorama Bar.

Things were surprisingly non-packed inside, considering the insane lineup outside. This club can certainly hold thousands of people, but the sparseness of the crowd suggested to me that the bouncers were being especially selective tonight.

Kreon and Lemons’ set was solidly within the Berlin minimal style; it wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t exceptional or memorable in the course of the night. Their sound focused mainly on the addition and subtraction of bass beats, with less interest in the mid- or high-frequency range. Also, I think I was a bit put off by how quickly they alternated between build-ups and breakdowns; there weren’t many plateaus where I could really enjoy the tracks they were playing.

4h00-5h00: Heartthrob

I could be wrong, but I think the last time I had seen Heartthrob was almost 2 years ago in Paris, fall of 2006. His set there as well as at the M_nus afterparty at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (spring 2006) had really impressed me, as did his famous anthem-of-the-summer-of-2006, Baby Kate. Anyway, I was really excited to hear him do another live set.

Since this was a live set rather than a vinyl set (i.e., performed directly from a laptop and/or “gear” like samplers and sequencers), the set was organized less around a succession of tracks and the transitions between them, and more around the introduction and removal of individual elements and layers. If I had been complaining about the rapid-fire succession of build-ups and breakdowns in the previous set, Heartthrob’s set showed the sort of large-scale pacing that I really like. He would introduce a few elements, expand them outwards and fill in the texture, then build to a small climax, pull away, push towards a larger climax, pull away, and so on until, 30 minutes later, everything was at full intensity and the crowd was going crazy.

In a sense, it’s kind of odd that his live sets have that sort of intensity, since many of the tracks that he’s produced recently have been in the more atmospheric, low-intensity vein. Nonetheless, the live set was really great and the 1.5-hour wait to get in finally seemed worth it.

Unfortunately, Heartthrob was scheduled to play at exactly the same time as Tony Rohr, my other favorite headliner for the night, which just seemed unfair. I spent most of my time with Heartthrob (sorry, Tony!), but I did skip down there a couple of times to hear his set, which was the sort of thumping, full-on techno I have come to expect from him.

At some point during the set, a young man with shoulder-length blond hair passed me in the crowd and looked me in the eyes, smiling. He paused and then said “Alles klar?” [“Is everything clear?” or, more idiomatically, “Alright?”] I, not entirely sure what he meant in this context, smiled and agreed, saying “Ja, alles klar.” He smiled as if that was what he wanted to hear, and then he caressed my face and continued pushing through the crowd. Huh.

5h00-8h30: Adultnapper

Adultnapper’s set was a more straight-ahead minimal vinyl set, with a few tracks that hinted at house, and a certain light touch that somehow coexisted with the punchy bass kicks and busy middle-frequency textures. Although I wasn’t in the room for the entire set, I was impressed with what I heard—especially his ability to maintain a high level of intensity throughout nearly the entire set.

At this point, our group started to dissolve as we split into groups and wandered around the club. Fantômette and her GF wandered over to the bar at the Berghain level, where temperatures were a bit lower and the air circulated better (thanks to the triple-high ceilings, no doubt). Fantômette’s roommate and his friend also found themselves hanging around that area, while I was glued to Adultnapper. John decided to go home and take a shower, so that he could come back refreshed for Dinky’s set at 8h30. I was tempted to follow his lead, but I knew that as soon as I got home, I would shut down and go to sleep, thus wasting a perfectly good night.

I wandered around the club for a while, finally exploring the infamous darkrooms of the Berghain level. It was pretty much what I had expected: all the dimly-lit sexual play of any other bar with a darkroom (of which there are many in Berlin), but with a certain intensity and boldness that I think is probably pretty exceptional. I was also surprised to see a few opposite-sex couples getting it on, although they notably kept to the area near the entryway, rather than plunging into the deeper and darker recesses of the rooms.

I’ll be coy and withhold some of the details of my own adventures in that space, but I’ll say that I met a nice man named Marco (not his real name), who asked for my number but (realistically) probably won’t call. Darkrooms rarely generate follow-up dates.

8h30-12h00: Dinky

With that little bit of adventuring done, I continued my wanderings around the club spaces, and eventually found myself back in Panorama Bar. I ran into John, who was back again and dancing near the bar area of the room, where there was more space and things weren’t quite so sweaty.

Dinky’s set was, overall, really lovely, although I’ll have to admit that I was sometimes distracted by conversation and several amusing things going on around me. By the later morning, the crowd in the club gets pretty interesting, as people are mostly pretty high and euphoric, their clothes are all messy and their hair is out of place. And then along come the trannies, who always tend to drop in around this time of the morning, looking freshly coiffed and fabulous.

Soon after running into John, I see a girl pass me that looks a LOT like someone I used to see partying in the Chicago techno scene when I first got there. On a hunch, I tapped her shoulder and said, “Hey, are you from Chicago?” A bit confused and surprised, she answered “Yes?” saying it in the form of a question. After a few more questions from each of us, we figured out that we were both partying with the same group of people in Chicago (the Naughty Bad Fun Collective), although she left Chicago for Berlin just as I was getting to know those same people.

Anyway, it turns out that she knows Tony Rohr, so a little while later she introduced me to him, which was great. I had written an academic article on repetition several years ago, where I had used one of Tony Rohr’s tracks, Baile Conmigo as an example. Anyway, it was nice to chat with him for a little while before he was swept away by more admirers.

While I was standing around the bar area, listening to Dinky’s set, I was endlessly amused by this couple of muscleboys standing in front of me, who were nearly engaging in full-on sex on the dancefloor. This certainly isn’t out of the ordinary in the darkrooms, and it wouldn’t have been particularly noticeable in the Berghain area of the club, which remains pretty dark, but the Panorama Bar space has a whole wall of windows that let in light once the sun has come up (despite the massive blinds they’ve installed), and there is usually less overt sexual play in this space.

So I was amused to watch—as crowds of techno-scenesters walked by them—one guy massage his cock to erection through his rather loose Adidas shorts while grinding his butt against his partner’s crotch. Then, he reached into his shorts and started masturbating pretty openly. Then, he turned to face his partner and reached into his jeans and started jerking him off. Then, he reached into the back of his partner’s jeans and (from what I could tell through the fabric) fingered him rather roughly. I made a note to myself not to shake hands with him.

Towards the end of Dinky’s set, I noticed that the garden/patio area had finally opened, so I found John and dragged him outside. The patio area is this lovely courtyard that they’ve constructed, using some of the concrete blocks from the former power plant to create rows of alcoves with cushions for laying out in the sun and napping. There’s also a bar out here, and a DJ booth and dancefloor, which would get going at around noon.

John and I found a spot in a shady alcove for a while, but it didn’t have a good view of the main areea of the patio, so we moved to another alcove and entertained ourselves with people-watching. I discovered that Fantômette and her GF had headed home, but her roommate and his buddy were still around somewhere. After a few minutes, I went inside to fetch them and bring them out.

In the meanwhile, we met a French guy who was rather k-ed out (i.e., ketamine), and insisted on trying to talk to us in really broken English, despite the fact that we were all Francophone. This may have been partially because he was with a British woman, who was continually exchanging friendly insults with him. For a while, as the French dude shucked off his shoes and then disappeared to wander around the garden area, I chatted with the British gal, who was very friendly and had a wonderfully snarky sense of humour.

12h00-16h00: Prosumer

At around midday, Prosumer finally started his set in the patio. He clearly knew how to tune his set to the occasion, as I found it to be the perfect sunshine/morning-after music. It was minimal-house with a light texture, a somewhat slower tempo so that you can shuffle and wiggle rather than jack and jump, and there was an emphasis on crackling high-end patterns that gave everything a bit of momentum.

There was a dance area near the bar with a sort of perforated cloth covering to break the sunlight a bit. What I didn’t realize was that, hidden in this canopy, there were WATER MISTERS. Yes, that’s right. Just as I was beginning to feel overheated and sapped of energy, a network of hoses and nozzles sprayed down a fine mist of cold water over everybody. And suddenly I was refreshed and felt like I could keep dancing for the rest of the day. If I hadn’t already decided that Berghain/Panorama Bar was the paradise of techno, this certainly clinched it.

I was probably also helped by the discovery of two drinks at this point: Beck’s Green Lemon and Afri. Beck’s Green Lemon is just a bottled version of a Radler (i.e., a shandy, or a mix of beer and soda), with Beck’s beer and some sort of lemonade. It had a lighter taste than full-strength beer, and the tartness of the lemonade made it rather tasty. Afri is this cola-like drink that has a pretty high caffeine content, but isn’t as sweet as coca-cola. Very easy to drink.

By about 14h or 15h, our group started moving, as they had heard that Ricardo Villalobos was going to be spinning at another location (Strandgut) later that afternoon. I really wanted to go, but the contact lens on the left side of my face (i.e., the part still affected by Bell’s Palsy) had been drying out and hurting my eye for a while now, and I didn’t want to risk hurting myself. Also, I was beginning to get a headache, and that scratchy throat I had felt Saturday morning had returned.

I walked with the rest of the group as far as the Warschauer Straße U-Bahn station, and then I parted ways and headed home. By the time I was near home, my contact lenses were driving me crazy and that scratchy throat was clearly turning into a cold. To make things worse, it was the hottest part of the day and the temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. Gah.

I got a döner kebab from my trusty Guney Grill, sauntered home, took a cold shower and tried to get some sleep.

vendredi, juillet 25, 2008

Berlin in 4 Easy Steps

I had not been feeling all that well last night at Weekend, so I slept in pretty late today and then slowly got myself together. Another roommate arrived today from his job at a summer camp, so I chatted with him for a bit. As he went for a much-needed shower and nap, I disappeared into my room and did a fair bit of writing (mostly blogging, but a bit of proposal, too). By 20h00 or so, I was getting ready to go out again.

Fantômette and her crew were taking it easy tonight (alas, no rest for the researcher!), but my French-via-Québec friend from previous nights was still up to go out. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call him John for the duration of this post, since he will be a recurring character in tonight’s story.

Step One: Dinner at Bar25

John was only in town for a week, and although I had only been here for about 3 weeks, I had already taken on the role of tour guide. So I decided that he needed to see the two major before/after-party patio bars tonight. Since Bar25 has a restaurant attached to it, we decided to eat dinner there before moving on for drinks.

When we got there, I was surprised to find out that there was a 7€ cover charge. Of course, I’ve never been here on a weekend night, and they certainly didn’t charge cover on off-nights. Grumbling, we paid the cover charge and then headed through the patio complex, through the bar and into the restaurant. After a moment of standing around looking confused, we finally got seated at a little table on the edge of a balcony overlooking the river. The location was excellent, although we were promptly invaded by a family of very large spiders. After a bit of wrangling, we managed to convince them to hang out somewhere else.

When we got a look at the restaurant, I realized that I should’ve taken a look at the menu online before heading out. Although the Bar25 complex tends to look like an abandoned American Frontier Town movie set, the restaurant clearly had ambitions for haute gastronomie. We shared an appetizer of roasted goat cheese with a chili-fruit conserve, along with a spicy chutney and an apricot chutney. After that, John had some tagliatelle with mushrooms and cream sauce, while I had some sort of chopped veal and mushroom thing, with a cream sauce and potato fritters. All of the food was quite lovely, but those three dishes, along with a bottle of water, 2 glasses of wine and two coffees, came to 60€. Even in Paris that’s a bit steep for a restaurant in the middle range of the cloth-napkin-eatery spectrum. Considering normal food costs in Berlin, the price was just way too much. At least the view was great.

As we got up and paid the bill, John felt certain that restaurant patrons at an expensive place like this shouldn’t be expected to pay the cover charge for the bar, so he tracked down our waitress and asked her what the policy was. As it turns out, he was right, and we hustled back to the entry gate with our receipt in hand to get our refund. From there, we hailed a taxi and headed over to Club der Visionäre [LINK] for the next set of drinks.

Step Two: Club der Visionäre

Although I still hadn’t quite figured out the rules for the Kurzstrecke fare for taxis (it’s 3.50€ for anything under 2km, but you need to hail a moving taxi, and not one from a taxi stand), the driver at the stand in front of Bar25 was good enough to give us a kurzstrecke, even though it was a bit more than 2km. I gave him a hefty tip.

I hadn’t been to club der Visionäre on a weekend, so I was a both surprised and not surprised to see just how densely packed the place was. Thankfully, this place doesn’t ever charge cover —you just pay 1€ extra the first time you buy a drink and that goes towards the DJ fees—so walked down onto the patio and wrestled our way through the patio and over to the bar. The wait at the bar was really long, so we finally bought ourselves two drinks each to spare ourselves the task of getting more drinks. After walking nearly the entire length of the pier, John spotted a chair and a sort of stool-box on one of the floating pontoons. Although there was something pleasant about hanging out on a floating deck of wood, it was sometimes a bit annoying as people would jump on and off the deck and make it wobble, or push against the pier to make the pontoon drift out to the end of its chains.

Anyway, we amused ourselves for a while on the patio, talking about American politics (mostly discussing what had been missing in Obama’s speech yesterday) and marvelling at the size of the fish that were swimming in the canal. I imagine that the cover given by the huge weeping willows over the patio must be fantastic during the daytime, and we resolved to try it out sometime soon. My only complaint about the place is that the men’s washroom smells like an open sewer; I mean, it smells like a hobo’s alleyway, where layers of urine and feces haven’t been cleaned up in years. Gah. Anyway, by about 1h00, we decided that it was time to move on to the next step.

Step Three: Tresor Club

Although we were very interested in seeing Bruno Pronsato at Panorama Bar that night, John had not yet seen Tresor Club, and the Detroit Grand Pubahs were supposed to be spinning there, so we decided to check it out.

I tried getting a kurzstrecke with one of the taxis waiting out front, until finally one of the nicer taxi drivers explained that I could only ask for that rate from a moving taxi. Odd, but OK.

We decided to start walking towards Tresor, which was actually on the same street about 2km away, with the intention of hailing a cab or maybe catching a bus. As we crossed the canal along Schlesichestrasse, we saw an N65 bus picking up passengers. Although I had no idea where the bus would go, we decided to catch up with it and hop on. Even if it only ran along the street for a few blocks, it would still be faster than walking. Once we were on the bus, I look a look at the route and realized that it would actually take us directly to the club. Yay! Public transit wins again!

We each grabbed a RedBull from the imbiss in front of the Heinrich-Heine-Straße U-Bahn stop, and then wandered over to the club. To my extreme surprise—considering last week’s escapades at Tresor—there was absolutely no lineup to get in. It was 1h30, which should’ve been rush hour for getting in, and the front of Tresor looked like a ghost town.

A bit unnerved, we made our way in and paid the cover charge. I again switched into tour guide mode and started to take John around the club, showing him the various rooms in the complex. We found the Detroit Grand Pubahs spinning downstairs to a crowd of maybe 100 people, which was a bit disappointing, considering the size of that underground room. We were also bummed (but maybe not surprised) to hear the DGPs spinning a “classic Detroit” hard techno set, instead of the more hard-edged minimal stuff they have been also known to produce.

Upstairs in the Batterieraum was another DJ that I didn’t recognize, spinning techno that had a bit more of a minimal sound to it (at least, more high-frequency click patterns), but was still too fast and a bit too bombastic. The crowd here was even more pathetic, with maybe about 70 people looking lost in a room that should hold 400. I was at a loss for words as to why Tresor was so empty tonight; this is the kind of club that is so massive that it needs about 1000 people at least just to feel populated, so this was sort of depressing.

We bought some beers and headed out to the patio area to hang out for a bit, where we ran into a pair of young French boys that overheard us speaking French. Apparently, they had mistakenly headed into the nearby KitKatClub (the longest-running and most famous of Berlin’s sexclubs), where they were turned away at the door when they refused to take off their clothes for entry. Only then did they realize that they had been at the wrong club.

The boys seemed to have taken it in stride, so I joked that it would give them good practice for getting into Berghain. They had heard that it was hard to get into that club, so I gave them what had now become the standard spiel about the door policies of Berlin’s larger techno clubs. They had apparently been turned away at Weekend [LINK] earlier that night, so I consoled them with my own dour opinion of the music programming there and then advised them on how to appear ambiguously gay for entry to Berghain.

At one point in the conversation, one of the boys piped up and asked me and John, “So you two are gay, then?” As a reflex, I jumped in and said “No, just me. He’s straight,” as if I were defusing a tense moment. John, however, quickly said, “Not yet, I haven’t really tried it.” (note: John has been in a hetero relationship for 10 years.) I thought that was a great way to say “no” to that question without making it sound like you’re denying an accusation. We all made a few jokes about all the effort and dedication it takes to be gay and then changed the topic.

Later on, we were talking about the Paris club scene and they both declared that Queen was their favorite club in Paris, followed closely by Showcase. This immediately caused me to adjust my understanding of these boys and their relationship to the techno scene, since both of those locations in Paris are known as being mainstream, rather fashion-y, and certainly not respected for their musical programming. I suddenly wanted to say, “Wait, actually, Weekend is exactly the club you want; don’t go to Berghain.”

Anyway, we traded phone numbers and then John and I headed back inside. We grabbed one last drink and watched the Detroit Grand Pubahs for a little longer, and then we made our move and headed to Panorama Bar.

Step Four: Panorama Bar

We grabbed a cab and headed over to the Berghain complex as the night was just beginning to get lighter (4h00 or so). Mercifully, there was nearly no lineup at the club, so we got in with no trouble and headed straight upstairs. After checking my jacket and running to the washroom (where 5 giddy men spilled out of one bathroom stall), we headed to the dancefloor. As John said the moment he arrived in the building, “Ah, this already sounds better.”

There were maybe 300 people in Panorama Bar that night, but since that part of the building is relatively small (Berghain itself only opens on Saturday night), the place still felt reassuringly full. I couldn’t quite recognize who was spinning and the usual playlist wasn’t posted on the wall next to the DJ, so we just pushed our way into the crowd and got to dancing.

True to the Berghain/PanoramaBar scheduling, the headline Bruno Pronsato started his live set around 6h00. His set started off really well as a throbbing, bass-heavy minimal set, then went through a rather lame breakbeat-and-303-squelch tangent, and then came back to some pretty heavy minimal techno. Although most of his set lacked that house-y touch that I prefer in techno, it was still a far sight better than what we had been hearing at Tresor. [Also, John pointed out that Pronsato seemed to structure his set as a series of endless build-ups, which gets boring after a while.]

By about 7h00 we both decided to call it a night and save our energy for Saturday. We made our way out of the building and walked that tranquil 1km or so to Ostbahnhof, where we got on the train and took our separate ways home.

By the way, I’m rather proud of my trail of admission stamps on my arm from tonight, so I took a picture to post on here. I messed with the image levels to make the stamps pop a bit, so my apologies if the colors are a bit oversaturated.

jeudi, juillet 24, 2008

Tiergarten, Obama, Party at WeekendClub

After sleeping in again (see a pattern here?), I crawled my way out of bed and cleaned myself up to go meet an acquaintance for lunch. In fact, this is the same guy that had been inadvertently responsible for the bizarre events of Tuesday night. We decided to meet at the lovely Café am neuen See in the Tiergarten, which serves pretty standard café fare, but in a beautiful outdoor forest / lake setting.

I hopped on the bike and rode my way to Tiergarten, parked my bike clumsily, and then sat down for a coffee and water while I waited for the other guy to show up. Once he arrived, we ordered some food (I got this interesting potato-cheese-sausage omelet called the Tiroler Baufrühstuck or something) and chatted for a while. From there, we made our way over to the street running between Brandenburger Tor and the Siegessäule to wait in line to see Barack Obama’s speech. He was slated to speak around 18h00, but you needed to get there by 16h00 to get within seeing distance of the stage.

We arrived and parked our bikes (to a tree!) just as they opened the barriers and let people in. You still had to pass a security checkpoint, so everybody started clotting around one of several sets of security points on either side of the street. They had metal detectors and they were going through everybody’s bag very carefully. After we waited in one line for what seemed like an eternity, they suddenly closed our security station and told everyone to move to another line. Apparently, some woman had left her purse behind, and now it was a bomb risk. Fuck.

We eventually made our way through, a bit annoyed for the trouble, and claimed a spot in the ever-enlarging crowd of people in front of the stage. We were maybe about 50m away from the stage, I think, right next to the media bleachers.

We were eventually joined by someone I had met at my roommate’s bon voyage party—who had been a previous tenant of my apartment—and one of his friends. The four of us sat down on the asphalt to take up more space (so that we wouldn’t be quite so squashed when we had to stand up for the speech) and amused ourselves by talking about pop culture and the atrocious fashion sense of the people around us.

There was a trio of (apparently) Nordic youngsters just in front of me who were an endless source of entertainment. There was one girl in a pretty but somewhat over-fancy white dress, and then two guys in clearly matching attire. Both wore black pointed ankle-boots, tight, tight jeans, identical black woven belts, black collared shirts tucked deeply into their jeans, wrap-around sunglasses, and the classic “Aryan Youth” haircut (short on the sides, longer on the top and combed across the forehead). They looked like some sort of outtake of a very bad euro-trance video. To add to the comedy, they were both surprisingly short (at least my height, which is super-short for Scandinavians) and rather slim except for rather prominent beer-bellies…which were only accented by the fact that they had tucked their shirts so firmly into their jeans. Since we were sitting and they were standing, we also couldn’t help but notice just how tight and…um….low-sperm-count-inducing their jeans were. Anyway, we kept ourselves entertained by making snarky remarks about them until things started to move on the stage.

At maybe 30 minutes before, security guards (Secret Service, I think) appeared on the stage, and everybody jumped up and pressed toward the stage, so we finally had to give up our seats. Which was fine, considering how sweaty we all were by then. Alas, sweaty also means that there were many people within sniffing distance who were not wearing deodorant, which made the whole speech experience a bit less entertaining.

Also, we were treated to an ongoing commentary by a man standing just behind us, who kept yelling “Barack!” as if it were a crow call. Although he was clearly German, the fact that he was black created a lot of parallels for me with the stereotypical “predominantly black movie theater” experience, as he shouted his opinion of nearly everything Obama said. Most of the time this was just “Yes!” but sometimes he would also rearticulate something Barack had said in German: “No more nuclear weapons!” “We are all a world community!” and so on. This wasn’t such a problem when his outbursts coincided with applause, but sometimes he talked right over Obama, which the rather silent white Germans and Americans around him didn’t so much appreciate.

Obama’s speech itself was pretty short and uneventful. At around 18h00, he was introduced very briefly by an offstage voice in German and English and then walked up onto the stage. This was a bit of a surprise, as I expected there to be a stream of dignitaries introducing him, but not even the town mayor spoke (although he and many others were there in a VIP area). Obama’s speech was pretty uncontroversial and didn’t really reveal anything new about his foreign policy. Nonetheless, the mere fact of him speaking publicly in Berlin (and to a HUGE crowd) was clearly newsworthy, as video of the speech was available online within minutes of the speech’s end.

After the speech, we spent nearly 30 minutes slowly following the crowd as it left the Siegssäule. The security people had put up fences all up and down the street running toward Brandenburger Tor, so it was a bit like a cattle run. Finally, people started dismantling the fences and the crowd started to bleed laterally into the surrounding park. We followed suit and found our bikes, and then we walked the rest of the distance at a leisurely pace through the park. From Brandenburger Tor, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Martin Landsky / Kabale und Liebe at Weekend

Although I was a bit tired and not entirely in the mood to go out, Fantô, her GF, and her recently-arrived roommate were going out to Weekend bar, so I decided to come along. I got there early to avoid the line (around 0h30), and found myself getting hassled by the bouncer. When he asked me if I was coming in alone, I didn’t quite understand what he was saying and asked him to repeat himself; my accent apparently gave me away as a non-local, and he then started to quiz me on which DJs were spinning tonight. This eventually got me in, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, as the Weekend crowd (in my opinion) is usually the kind of people that get turned away from Berghain. On the other hand, that might also be why I was getting hassled; the look here was more “fancy” clubbing, exclusively heterosexual, and twenty-something. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but spend the rest of the night looking at people in the crowd with disapproval and thinking, “they let them in and I got hassled at the door?” Despite all of our strategies of self-presentation, there’s still no equivalent to a “Hi, I’ve been in this scene for 13 years, so let me in” t-shirt.

I eventually caught up with the same group of Frenchy folks from last night, along with the recent arrivals of Fantô’s roommate and a friend of his. Unfortunately, the 12th-floor area wasn’t open (which I saw the last time I was here), so we spent the night alternating between the 15th floor room (which is darker and has few windows) and the rooftop terrace. The terrace, though, was lovely. They had several sets of cushioned seats and a sunken bar, along with blankets to keep you warm and speakers along the wall, pumping out the music from below. I liked this space for the same reason as I liked Club der Visionäre: medium-volume techno that allows you to relax and talk, open-air terrace, cheap drinks. Nonetheless, the music wasn’t really inspiring me and I think I was tired out from the many hours I had spent in the sun, so by about 4h00 I headed back out and home.

mercredi, juillet 23, 2008

It's shaping up to be a busy week

After a quiet morning and a leisurely breakfast, I set about catching up on some blogging and finally, at last, chipping my way into the revisions for my proposal. I had actually defended and passed my proposal back in December of last year, but there were requests for revisions that had to be fulfilled before I could be officially ABD (all-but-dissertation); ABD is a status that qualifies you for a large number of dissertation write-up grants, so I am eager to get this taken care of. Also, I can’t really start writing my dissertation chapters if a finalized version of my proposal isn’t on file.

As you might recall if you read my rather intense catch-up post at the beginning of the month, the time between January and June of this year has been something of a panicked sprint, so nothing dissertation-related got done. On the upside, I made some decent money.

Anyway, I had a tough time getting my head back into the proposal. This was partially because my perspective on things has changed since 6 months ago, but also because I haven’t been producing academic prose for just as long. I re-read my proposal as if it were a new but uncannily familiar document, a version of me that had split off last December and drifted in another direction. I was really tempted to do a massive overhaul of the entire thing—essentially, to re-write the proposal from the ground up—but that would knock another few months out of my life, for sure.

So, I found myself acting as my own reluctant editor, grappling with ideas that no longer quite fit me, tweaking and adjusting to satisfy my committee while also making it somehow resonant with what I’m doing right now. It was tough. I started creating a new set of paragraphs on how I think my dissertation project would transform the current discourse on my topic, and found myself disagreeing with the other “me” that had written the first layer of this palimpsest half a year ago. I took a break to scan the document for typos and awkward prose, then spent another two hours hammering at the literature review section.

Relieved that I had at least made some advances after such a long hiatus, but also frustrated that it had taken me several hours to punch out the equivalent of 2 or 3 pages, I decided to treat myself to a bike ride. My roommate left me the keys to her bike while she’s in NYC, so I hopped on and made my way to the Tiergarten on the other side of Berlin. At first I had thought that a bike ride along the canal would be pleasant, but while the canal itself is lovely, most of the paths are gravel and hilly and shared with a lot of pedestrians. I would learn later that day on the way home that Urbanstraße covers the same distande and has a dedicated bike lane.

I circled around the Tiergarten at a leisurely pace until the sun began to set, and then headed home. I got a call from a guy I had met at the mutek festival in Montréal last month, who had told me that he would be in Berlin for the weekend. Fantômette had been telling me that she and her girlfriend were going to go to Watergate to see MyMy, so I told this guy about the plans and we arranged to meet at his hostel later that night to head out dancing as a group.

After a hastily-made meal of pasta and leftover ají de gallina, I headed over to meet the French-but-living-in-Québec guy at his hostel and take him out. The plan had originally been to go to the Kantine at Berghain to meet the rest of the crew, but Fantô and her GF cancelled. The two of us went nonetheless, and I invited another French friend (last seen here) to join us at the Kantine.

Part One: Kantine at Berghain

Kantine in German usually means “employee cafeteria,” and this is exactly what this structure once was. Just as Berghain was built in the remains of a DDR-era electrical plant, the Kantine (also known as the Alte Kantine, but which creates confusion with another club of the same name) was built into the small dining hall about 20 meters away from the main building. Although the converted dining hall was nothing exceptional (only the most necessary renovations had been done, nothing decorative), the biergarten / café surrounding it was lovely. There was a modernist fountain (dating, I believe, from the DDR period) at the centre of a courtyard area, with covered tables, benches, tall trees and lights hanging from the branches. Beer was as cheap as always (3€ for a Franziskaner Hefeweisen), and apparently they served food before midnight. We arrived just as the outdoor bar was about to close and the indoor one to open, so we grabbed some beers and took a minute to enjoy the patio.

Eventually, the other French dude that I had invited along showed up, and we got ourselves together and headed into the Kantine. Cover is normally 3€, but apparently it was free before midnight or something, so we got in just under the wire. The space inside was still pretty empty and the music was a bit random, but we nonetheless grabbed a couple of drinks, chatted about everything and nothing, and made use of the (surprisingly non-grungy) bathrooms.

Part Two: Watergate Club

After wandering out of the Kantine, we caught a cab and made our way to Watergate. Fantô and her GF were already inside, and there was a pretty long lineup (considering it was only 1h00 on a Wednesday). We stood in line and chatted, while the line slowly inched forwards. Ahead of us was a group of five Brazilian guys, all a little bit lit and hitting clumsily on the two British girls standing between us and them. I turned to my French-via-Québec buddy and said, “See them? They’re not getting in.” I had been explaining the Berlin door policies to him earlier, so this was a good opportunity to see it in action.

Also, there was a group of about 5 or 6 British kids behind us who weren’t likely to get in. They had at least 2 women with them, which usually would mean a clear entry into the club, but all of them were thoroughly drunk, slurring in English with heavy accents (that I couldn’t quite place). Also, they were pretty young, but I don’t think that’s as much a problem at Watergate as it would be at Berghain.

Anyway, I’ll spoil the suspense and tell you right now that neither group got in.

We were supposed to be seeing MyMy that night, which is a DJ trio, but apparently one of the members wasn’t there that night (Carsten Klemann), prompting them to shut down the upper floor. As we entered, Nick Höppner was spinning, and later Lee Jones took over the decks, both of whom are the other two members of MyMy.

Also, Exercise One took the stage for a one-hour live set around 3am, which I found OK, but not terribly exciting. The set was a bit “square” techno…it lacked some of the housey swing that I like in my microhouse-style techno.

We alternated between dancing in the lower “Waterfloor” and standing around on the deck until maybe around 5h30. This lower level has an all-glass wall that overlooks the river, so once I had been able to see the sun rise over the river while dancing, I was satisfied and headed home.

Bookmarked for Peruvian fun

Well, this isn't really a blog entry so much as a bookmark for myself. As I was looking up some online resources on Peruvian recipes to prepare my post for last Monday, I came across a listing of Latino places in Berlin that included two Peruvian spots. There's apparently a Peruvian-owned café called Sol de Oro (which is so typically Inca-romantic Peruvian) and a high-end restaurant called Pata Negra. Mind you, the website for Sol de Oro doesn't look like a café website, and the menu posted on Pata Negra doesn't look so much like a Peruvian restaurant as a modern Iberian restaurant. Hmmm.

mardi, juillet 22, 2008

Strange Encounters

Today was a day that started off rather normally, then took a very odd turn. I slept in pretty late and then spent most of the day working on some blogging, doing dishes from last night, and otherwise trying to be a bit productive.

At sometime in the early afternoon, I got a call from someone at a Berlin land-line phone number. I wasn’t sure who it was, but when I answered, the male voice spoke in American English and and introduced himself with a name that sounded a lot like a person that I was supposed to meet in Berlin (a colleague of a colleague) sometime this week. So, without thinking too hard about it, we made a date to meet later that night for drinks in Prenzlauer Berg.

Later, I arrive at the station where we’re going to meet and start looking for this person, but only find a completely unknown guy standing around and apparently waiting for someone, too. After I made the round of all the exits of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn station there, it was almost 30 minutes later and I presumed that the date had fallen through. The person in question had said earlier that day that he didn’t have a cell phone, so there wasn’t any way to follow up.

As I got on the U-Bahn platform, I got a call from this same guy, asking where I was. I said I was on the platform, but that if he was there, I would head downstairs and meet him. When I did, I found the same unknown person waiting downstairs, looking around intently. I finally approached him and we had a really odd and awkward conversation where we tried to figure out how it is that we had made a date to hang out with each other when we had no idea who the other was.

As it turns out, he also knew the guy that I thought I had been meeting tonight. From what we could figure out, our shared acquaintance had given this guy my cell phone number instead of his, and then he called me and we had somehow misrecognized each other as this same person. It was the oddest thing.

Nonetheless, we can congratulate ourselves for the deft recovery of what could’ve been a failed and disappointing night. We went to a nearby internet place and looked up our shared acquaintance’s real cell number from my email records, and then we tried to call him and get him to come meet us. In the meanwhile, we wandered down Schönhauser Allee and grabbed a beer somewhere and chatted and got to know each other.

We never got a hold of this third person (although I eventually left a message on his answering machine that must’ve sounded hilariously unlikely), and instead we spend the rest of the night bar-hopping in the Prenzlauer Berg cluster of gay bars, eventually turning in for the night around 2am and taking the night bus to our respective homes.

lundi, juillet 21, 2008

Bon Voyage and Peruvian Grub

Well, today was a continuation of the bon-voyage festivities for our roommate, although this time we didn’t stay up until 2pm the next day dancing. She had to catch a plane early the next day, so the plan was for friends to come over for drinks, and I would cook some Peruvian food.

So I went out early in the afternoon and got the necessary ingredients to make a few Peruvian dishes, although I couldn’t find the ají Amarillo that is the foundation of anything spicy in Peruvian food. Instead, I improvised with a combination of locally-available hot peppers and some roasted sweet peppers.

As soon as I got home, I busied myself making Ocopa, Huancaína sauce and some Tzatziki (not Peruvian, obviously). After slinging all of that in the fridge, I shredded the meat from a roast chicken I had bought (as a shortcut for making ají de gallina later), and then sat down and spent the next few hours working on my notes for Saturday night.

At around 18h00, the guests started arriving, so I boiled the potatoes and then started making the ají de gallina. As the guests arrived, I finished the ají (answering lots of puzzled questions as I dumped milk-soaked bread into the pot and blended the whole thing) and made a quick rice. Alas, I totally fucked up the rice, as I didn’t wash it out enough and I forgot that I wasn’t working with basmati rice. In other words, the result was a gelatinous mess of sticky rice. Yech.

For those of you who weren’t reading my blog back in the Paris days, you might not know that I’ve posted recipes for some of these dishes. You can click on the “Recipes” label to review all of the recipes I’ve posted in the past, but here’s the direct links for Ají de gallina and Papas a la Huancaína. I haven’t posted an Ocopa recipe quite yet, as I’m still experimenting with the recipe myself.

Anyway, I sorta spent the night in the kitchen, finishing the dishes and then chatting with whatever of my roommates friends that came through there. There were a few previous roommates that were also in attendance, so we spent some time chatting about the neighborhood and where one can get good food, etc. Good times.

By 1am or so, things wound down and we all slugged off to bed, full of food and beer.

dimanche, juillet 20, 2008

The Very Short Day that Followed

Well, considering that I didn’t get to bed “last night” until 14h00 today, you can imagine that my day today was rather short. I got up around 20h00 and texted a friend to cancel our date tonight, and then I sat up for a couple of hours and finished On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One, the lovely and amusing computer game by the men of Penny Arcade. By about 3h00, I went back to bed in the hopes of re-setting my body clock.