samedi, août 02, 2008

Soiree Mobilee and another weekend of craziness

Gah. So tired.

So, tonight/morning was a lot of fun, but also quite the adventure. My daytime activities were pretty unexceptional; I did some laundry, did some writing, took a short walk to the local department store for some shaving cream and to buy some easy-to-read German comics books.

The only amusing part of my daytime activity was probably my trip to the Friseur (i.e., hairdresser). Still unable to manage the German telephone conversation that would result in an appointment, I just went to the hairdresser that was inside the Karstadt department store, which gave me flashbacks to being a kid and getting my hair cut in the Zellers at Westmount Mall. Shudder.

Anyway, I did my best to express my desires, hair-wise, and hairdresser did a pretty decent job of cutting my hair. Afterwards, however, she decided to style it, and gave me this awesome wavy-bangs blow-dry coif that looked like something from 80’s gay porn (NOTE: I managed to find an example of 80s-gay-porn-hair that isn't XXX-rated, but nonetheless this link IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK). I should’ve taken a picture of it, but instead I thanked the lady, paid her for her efforts, and then ran to the nearest bathroom and fixed that thing.

Warm-Up: Club der Visionäre

The two friends from Chicago that had hung out with me last night were planning to go out clubbing tonight, so we decided to meet at Club der Visionäre for some pre-party drinking. We actually met on the M65 bus and then headed over together (although we sort of missed our stop), and of course the place was packed. My friends dug their way into the far end of the patio area and found some seating while I went in search of beer. We spent a good hour or so drinking and chatting before we decided to get moving. They were going to try getting into Berghain, so I advised them to get there early, and I was supposed to meet Fantô and the rest of the crew at Bar 25.


Since Bar 25 is in the vicinity of Berghain, we all grabbed a cab together and headed in that direction. The taxi driver dropped me off at Ostbahnhof and then the other two continued on to Berghain proper. I hadn’t yet heard from Fantômette yet about when they were getting to Bar 25, so I hung around the train station and amused myself watching the other young clubbers spilling out of the train station and heading to one of the many bars and clubs in the area.

In about 20 minutes, I got two messages. One from Fantômette saying “We’re heading over to the Mobilee party directly by bike,” and another from my Chicago friends saying, “We got bounced. Should we get back in line?” Well, that changes plans a bit, eh?

Since I was only 5 minutes away, I walked over to Berghain and found my friends. They wanted to try getting in line again, but the line was too short for the bouncer (who has a good memory) to forget their faces. Instead, I convinced them to hop into a taxi with me and head to the Mobilee party going on at Rechenzentrum / Funkpark.

Mobilee Summer Soiree at Rechenzentrum / Funkpark

We grabbed a taxi from the line of them parked in front of Berghain and headed out. The taxi driver didn’t know where the club was, but thankfully I had the street address, so he punched that into his GPS system and we headed out. All was well until the taxi driver came to a stop and said, “Probleme. Die Straße ist gesperrt.” (“We’ve got a problem, the street is blocked.”) Apparently, there’s a fair bit of construction going on in this area, and of course the GPS system wasn’t aware of that. Since he didn’t know where this place was (I could’ve shown him on a map, dammit), his sense of direction was rather brittle and this pretty much brought his trip to a halt.

I asked him if we were near the Ostkreuz station, since I recalled that there was a shuttle bus running from Ostkreuz from midnight until 5h00. It was just up the street in fact, so he drove us up to the spot where the street was blocked off and showed us the entrance to the station. We got out, crossed over to the other side of the station, and then found a small clot of people waiting for the next shuttle bus.

When the first bus came along, we quickly realized that we weren’t all going to fit, since it was just a small mini-van. The group that was there before us piled in and left us on the sidewalk to wait for the next one, which was supposed to come in 10 minutes. Ugh. My friends hit the imbiss next door to get us some beers, and we waited.

When the next van came along, more people had already gathered behind us. The van stopped a little bit further along the street, and a group of kids that had been behind us tried to climb in first. I managed to push my way on along with one of my two friends, but the other one was left out of the van. I tried in my best German to complain that we had already missed a van and had been there before these other kids, but they were all native German speakers and nobody was going out of their way to be nice to the foreigners. So we angrily shoved our way out of the van and waited for the next one, this time determined to break some teeth to get on there first. On top of everything else, it was starting to rain.

When the next van came along, we formed a sort of human wall and shoved everybody else out of the way until we were on the van. The van ride itself was surprisingly long. I’d say that we spent at least 10 minutes driving east of Ostkreuz before we got to the party itself.

I was supposed to be going in on the guestlist with a friend from Berlin who knew Pan-Pot, so we waited around to find her there. As it turns out, she had room on her list entry for my other two Chicago friends, so we all got in for free. Yay!

Things took a turn for the better from then on, as we stumbled across the half-lit sandy field between the entryway and the actual club itself. The club appeared to be some sort of riverside storage building or something, which they had converted into a club. On the one hand, the interior was mostly still white and boxy and looked, as one of my friends pointed out, like a grammar school lunchroom. on the other hand, they had a pretty complex set of lights in both the ceiling and the floor, along with a ring of banquette seating and a bar near the back. They also had this interesting installation along the long walls of the room, involving old vintage telephones painted white, mounted on the wall under glass, and then accented with a pale red neon bar across the top. This was repeated, serialist-style, around the room. There was something rather grunge-Warhol about it.

2h00-3h00: Exercise One

After checking my jacket at the coat check, we headed into the main room and found the Frenchy Krew (i.e., Fantômette and company) and I told them all about our adventures getting to the party. Within a few minutes I had forgotten all about it and was enjoying Exercise One’s set. I’m having trouble describing their set, but overall I’d say that the sound was a relatively heavy-handed minimal set, with a greater reliance on sustained, panned sweeps than I would normally enjoy. Nonetheless, every once in a while they would do a job of building up some suspense and bringing back the beat, and I would be back into it.

3h00-5h00: Anja Schneider

I remember seeing Anja spin in Paris a year and a half ago at the Lessizmore night at Nouveau Casino, and finding her set super-microhouse-y. This time, her sound was much more in the center of minimal techno, occasionally mixing house-sounding tracks, but nothing with that sort of crackling, sparse, fragile sort of sound that I usually associate with the microhouse sound. Generally speaking, I enjoyed her set quite a bit, although I kept thinking that I would like it a lot more if she had used a lighter touch and had slowed down the rate at which she changed records.

5h00-6h00: Marcin Czubala

I think this was my favorite set of the night, even though the DJ that followed him was perhaps the better performer. His overall sound involved a set of rolling bass patterns that reminded me a lot of a certain doctoral dissertation on “autotelic grooves,” that is, “self-directed” grooves that create perpetual forward motion by making the end of the loop drive into the beginning of the next loop. There was definitely something of this in the set, a certain thick and tactile velocity that you rarely hear in “minimal” techno sets.

6h00-??: GummiHz

[This guy was supposed to be spinning until 10h00, but I’m adding question marks at the end of his slot because he was still spinning inside when I left around noon.]

Several of us were in agreement: his track selection was inconsistent, but he had mad skills (“une belle technique”, as Fantômette put it). Some of his tracks I liked more, some leaned a bit too heavily on vocals in a way that I found cheesy, but he had a way of bringing together his tracks to create a really fantastic experience. He seemed to know just when to pull out the bass beat, when to bring it back, when to tweak the levels to bring out a particular element, and so on; in other words, he knew how to work the crowd.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the night was when he dropped an old Detroit house track into the mix, bringing in a rather minimal-house remix of Octave One’s “Blackwater”, featuring Ann Saunderson as the vocalist [NOTE: I couldn't find the right remix online, so you'll just have to imagine this without the strings and such; skip to 1'37" to hear the characteristic synth line]. I think it had something to do with the fact that the bass kick had been tweaked to sound a lot like the usual minimal techno bass kick…either way, this wasn’t the first time that a well-placed classic house track has really livened up a minimal techno set. I certainly wasn’t the only person who enjoyed it, as this was the moment when the entire crowd went totally crazy. It’s surprising how up-to-date that track sounded, considering that it was released around 2000-2002 in various versions.

At some point during the set, a guy started dancing next to me, clearly having a great time; he made eye contact with me, and we exchanged that series of facial expressions and gestures that says “this is fucking amazing” “holy shit, yeah.” That exchange created an opening for more, and so he came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and started ritual of “checking in”: How are you? Isn’t this great? How are you feeling? Where are you from? How long are you staying here? Do you like Berlin? I’m a native Berliner, I love this place. Are you having fun? I like you, man, you’re cool.

And so on. I was surprised-not-surprised at how tactile he was, putting his arm around my shoulders and leaving his torso open for me to wrap my arm around his waist. Berlin isn’t quite as no-touch-please as Paris, but it’s still unusual for strangers to be this tactile in everyday life. Of course, this is precisely why I’m writing my dissertation on this; these moments where the happenstance of proximity on the dancefloor turns into intimate touches, intense feelings and reciprocal mirroring are what I’m here for (so to speak).

After a few minutes of dancing next to each other and occasionally exchanging glances again, he came back to me and said, “Now, I have to ask you a quick question, but it’s really embarrassing (peinlich). I’m really sorry to ask you this.” I did my best to express my determination to not think less of him, and then he asked, “Do you know anybody with pills to sell?” Alas, I didn’t, so I said as much and told him I was sorry to let him down. There followed a flurry of apologies from both of us, as he was sorry to have spoiled the “moment” we were having with talk of business and drugs, and I was sorry that I wasn’t able to smoothly connect him with the right people so that his night could continue.

Whether to made good the sensed rupture or to indicate his continuing goodwill, he said (in English now), “I’m friends with the bouncer. If you have any problems, you tell me and I fix it for you. I’ll look after you.” This was certainly not the kind of crowd that seemed to threaten any sort of violence, but I thanked him for the sentiment, gave him a hug, and went back to dancing. A little while later, he insisted on buying me a beer and drinking it with me. I wasn’t really in the mood for beer, but how could I refuse such warmth?

10h00-12h00: Karol

The Frenchy Krew eventually decided to head outside and see if the outdoor part of the party had started yet. According to the schedule, they had DJs set to spin until midnight Sunday night. I doubt that I would last that long, but nonetheless the idea of sitting on some beach chairs in the sun was really appealing at the moment. We set up camp as a group and got to the hard work of sunbathing.

At some point, someone in our group made friends with a befreckled German girl from Hamburg, who came over and chatted with us for a while. Two of the people in our group spoke pretty much fluent German, so they all talked happily with each other, while I made half-hearted attempts to follow the conversation. At some point this German woman sat down next to me and started talking to me; at some points I could follow her speech enough to know when to nod and smile, at other times, I had no fucking clue what she was going on about. It probably didn’t help that she was clearly pretty high and wasn’t making much of an effort to speak clearly.

Eventually, she pulled out about 15 € worth of coins from her purse and asked for a 20€ bill from me. I couldn’t quite make out why she was asking for it, but since I had gotten in for free that night, I thought that I could spare the 5€ if that would mean that she would stop talking at me. Satisfied, she skipped off to see her other friends. At that moment, I turned to the other two girls in our group that were fluent German speakers and said, “I have NO fucking clue what that was all about.” To which one of them said, “Her? She was going on and on about how nice it would be that, since the weather was nice, we could pool our money together and do something beautiful. I asked her what she meant by that and she wasn’t at all clear, but I think she’s just trying to get some cash to buy herself more drugs.”

“Oh,” I said, “Whoops.”

By about 11h00 or so, Fantômette and her roommate decided to make a headstart to Bar25, since they had come by bike and the trip was pretty far. After a few minutes, I decided that I would head out early, too, as I was really in the mood to take the tram and enjoy the ride. I don’t know why, but sometimes I really enjoy the slow, leisurely ride by public transit as the rest of the city is awake and moving about.

What I didn’t count on, as I got aboard the tram towards Ostkreuz, was the heat inside the tram as it slowly puttered along. The windows on the vehicle apparently didn’t open, and the humid warmth eventually had me dozing off.

I awoke suddenly when I heard a bunch of young voices yelling “Ostkreuz!!” Apparently, I was about to miss my stop, as were a bunch of other burned-out partygoers. I jumped off the tram and looked around, unsure of where the actual station was. The other partygoers looked just as lost, so I decided not to follow them. After wandering down a few streets and failing to find an entrance, I eventually made my way back to the corner where we had picked up the shuttle bus the night before.

I took my dozing off as a sign and decided to call it a night (or day), so I took the train back to my place, bought a sausage-croissant from Le Crobag (which is my favorite unintentionally-obscene name yet) and crawled into bed.

vendredi, août 01, 2008

Failure of a different sort

After a relatively early night (I got home around 3h00, got to sleep around 4h00), I woke up relatively early (10h00) and puttered around. I answered some long-ignored emails, did a bit of cleaning, and helped a new roommate move in and get settled into the apartment.

Around 14h00 or so, a friend of mine (the same one that gave me the guided shopping tour of Prenzlauer Berg last Wednesday) told me that he was in my neighborhood, so I hopped in the shower and we went for a walk together. The Turkish Market was open today, so we headed in that direction and walked through the market. I really should’ve bought some stuff for the house, as I had barely anything to eat there, but we were walking and it was easily 33°C in the shade, so I didn’t want to schlep around bags of over-warm dairy products and softening vegetables for the rest of the afternoon.

It was so sunny and hot, that we felt dehydrated just from the effort of walking through the market (“Shopping!” swoon), so we sat down at Ankerklause (“The Anchor Cell / Hut”) by the Kottbusser Damm bridge and had some drinks. I had an Alsterwasser, which I later realized was another word for Radler (i.e., a shandy, or a beer-soft drink blend), while my friend had a grapefruit-schorle (juice mixed with bubbly water). We were a bit hungry, too, so we ordered a summer-soup of yogurt and lime juice with hunks of fresh fruit in it, along with a plate of fried calamari with garlic mayo. Very tasty, I must say. Ankerklause is clearly more of a breakfast place, though, as there was an entire page of the menu devoted to various versions of the breakfast plate.

From there, we wandered along the canal to the east until we got to a biergarten at the intersection of two canals called Burg am See. This biergarten is popular with the local Turkish population, so I had an opportunity to show off my newly-learned Turkish by declaring to my friend that the sign at the door included the words “food” (yiyecek) and drink (içecek). He was kind enough to be impressed at my minor feat.

We bought some drinks, and then wandered around the patio and eventually snuck our way out onto the greens near the water and under the huge trees. I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to leave the grounds with their glasses in hand, but nobody stopped us. We spent a good hour or so people-watching and talking about the cities we’ve lived in, and then we started to head back to the Turkish Market to meet another friend of his. On the way, we noticed that there is a tendency for beefy Turkish men to sit along the canal with their shirts off, and it seems to be at least as much about display as it is about comfort.

From the Turkish Market, I left my buddy to hang out with his other friend (a former roommate, I think) and I headed back home to try and be a bit more productive. I managed to catch up on my blogging and send out a few more emails, and then got a call from a classmate of mine from Chicago, who was visiting Berlin with his girlfriend. We decided to meet at my subway station and then head out for dinner and drinks. I had been thinking of going to see the FoundSound [LINK] people spin at Watergate, so I put on my club-appropriate clothing and headed out to meet my friends.

I waited for them on Hermannplatz, wondering to myself if I would be harassed again like I was last Wednesday. There was no funny business this time, although I was perhaps less prominent, as I didn’t pace the length of the square, instead sitting on a bench and waiting. When my friends showed up, we jumped back into the U-Bahn and headed to Kottbusser Tor. From there, we walked up to Oranienstrasse, the main drag of the Kreuzberg “alternative” scene, which has now become packed with bars and restaurants in the way Oberkampf is in Paris.

After doing a sort of tour of the street and looking at the various restaurants, we settled on an Indian place that had a fair selection of vegetarian options and sat down. Our timing was perfect, as what had been drizzle turned into a complete rainstorm the moment we got our table. Even better, the rain had finished by the time we paid the bill.

When we were ordering food, I made a point of asking for my Bengalore Lamb very hot, saying, “Sehr, sehr scharf, bitte.” He nodded with the sort of indulgent condescension that I recognized as the “whatever, you can’t handle spicy” attitude, so I then said “Mexicanisher sharf, bitte” (“Mexican-style spicy, please”). The waiter found this endlessly amusing, and the ongoing joke for the rest of the meal was that anything he brought to the table was announced as “Mexican-style”: beer, yogurt, samosas, whatever. At least the lamb was good and spicy.

After dinner, we wandered over to Molotov Cocktail for a drink, where we got their signature drink. Indeed, it came in a clear bottle, with an alcohol-soaked sugar cube that the waitress lit on fire. Aside from the pyrotechnic gimmicks, though, the drink was pretty good. At 9€, however, it’s not something I’ll order often.

From there, we decided to celebrate the lack of open container laws in Berlin by buying beer from a pizza shop and wandering the streets with beers in hand. I walked them back to the subway stop and saw them to their train, and then headed up to the U1 line to make my way to Watergate.

When I got to the club, there was a massive line. Admittedly, it was already 1h30 and the lineup always tends to get long at this time, but it was about twice as long as I had ever seen it. Again, the summer season makes going out in Berlin more cumbersome than usual. If I had been going to see one particular headliner, I would’ve just decided to go for another beer somewhere else and then return around 4h00, but the FoundSound DJs (Someone Else, Miskate and Ben Parris) were all spinning on the lower floor of the club, presumably each taking up a few hours of the night. If I came back around 4h00, I probably would’ve missed 2 of the 3 DJs.

So I put myself in line and decided to tough it out. It was 2h00 by then, so I decided to wait until 2h30 and see how much closer I was to the door. In the meanwhile, there was a quartet of Spaniards in front of me that were debating with each other the likelihood of getting into the club. Considering they were relatively young, all male, and drinking beers in the lineup, their chances were pretty low. When they turned to ask me what the cover charge for the door, I told them in Spanish, and then followed up with a series of suggestions: pretend that you’re two pairs, rather than a group; stop talking when you get near the front of the line; finish your beers before you’re in sight of the bouncer.

By then, it was 2h30 and we weren’t even at the halfway-point of the lineup. Quite frankly, I can see the FoundSound folks back in Chicago, and I still have 4 more weekends in Berlin to go out, so I decided to call it a night and cut my losses. I bought a totally unnecessary döner kebab, hopped on the train, and headed home.

jeudi, juillet 31, 2008

La Cocotte, eggs and truffles

Today started rather late again, as I had been out so late the night before. The contents of my day were actually pretty unexceptional (writing, some studying, going to the supermarket for some basic items), but the evening was quite a bit of fun. Yet another pair of French friends arrived in Berlin that morning—the same pair that had given me the (in)famous guided tour of the Berlin club scene more than a year ago—and we were all going to go out to dinner. We went to La Cocotte, a French restaurant in Berlin that specializes in homestyle French cooking, especially anything involving slow-cooking in cast-iron pots. One of the people in our group used to work for the restaurant and knew the couple that owned the restaurant, so we had a table waiting for us upon arrival.

The owners greeted us upon arrival and showed us to our table, in a cozy corner of the terrace outdoors. One of the owners brought us a complimentary round of kir royal, and that set the pattern for the whole evening. We ordered a round of verrines as an amuse-gueule, and then each of us ordered the famous oeuf cocotte as an appetizer. To make this dish, they take miniature cast-iron pots about the size of ramekins, add a spoonful of crème fraiche or white cheese, crack two eggs into each, shave some black truffle on top, close the lids tightly and put them over low heat. When done properly, the yolks and some of the whites are still soft and liquid, while the rest of it has set, perfumed with a deep truffle aroma. [Look at this description and recipe from Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini; I was totally charmed by the warmth of the comments section, where her mother and sister chime in with childhood memories]

So we gloried in the ecstasy of the oeuf cocotte, while we ordered some wine and some water (some of it on the house, I think) and our main courses. I can’t remember what the rest of the team had, but I think at least 3 of us ordered the dinde aux girolles, which was a large turkey leg braised in a dutch oven with girolle mushrooms and aromatic vegetables. It came with a fantastic little side-ramekin of mashed potatoes with olives, which was just the right portion.

By the time we had finished our main dishes, the rest of the restaurant had emptied out and the owners were constantly coming out to shush us (the restaurant is on a residential street). We finally moved into the back salon of the restaurant, where another carafe of wine magically appeared, along with a fondant chocolate cake and some crème brulée. Delicious.

Also, the back salon had a TV screen upon which one of the owners had been displaying his collection of vintage Bettie Page bondage/spanking videos. Also Delicious.

When it finally came time to pay the bill, the owner looked at the bill, rolled his eyes and said, “Ugh, just take half off the bill and split it 5 ways, I can’t be bothered to work out everyone’s bill separately.” Yay! Hooray for friendly and somewhat tipsy owners.

Well, after some escapades trying to meet up with a friend in deepest Neukölln, we called it a night and headed back to our respective homes.

mercredi, juillet 30, 2008

When things don't work so well

Well, today was surprisingly eventful for a Wednesday, so this will take a long while to write down.

I had had great plans on getting up relatively early to go to a certain hair salon in Prenzlauer Berg called GrünTon, since my hair is in desperate need of a cut. I slept right through my alarm and got up sheepishly around midday, tossing myself into the shower and making my way over to the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn station.

The salon had no openings for me that afternoon, which actually rather OK with me. The place dubbed itself a “beat Friseur” (i.e., beat-hair-salon) and had a pair of unused turntables and a mixer next to the cash register. As a friend of mine pointed out, “Didn’t we already do that in the 90s?” Well, the place had been recommended to me, but I’ll pass for now. Willfully ignoring the bushy mess that was my hair, I headed to a nearby café on Kastanienallee and got me some coffee.

Thankfully, the trip wasn’t a total loss, as a friend of mine (whom I met at a roommate’s going-away party and has since accompanied me to the Obama rally and sushi) lives in the neighborhood and volunteered to meet me and show me the hipster shopping areas. He took me down Kastanienallee to Rosenthaler Platz and then on to Häckisher Markt, where we wandered around a bit before returning back to Rosenthaler Platz.

The shopping and too varied to catalog in detail, but here are some highlights:

  • both of us like bright colours, apparently
  • this is not the “cheap vintage” sort of neighborhood, but the “carefully selected with ridiculous markup vintage” sort of neighborhood
  • Adidas stores in Europe will venture colour combinations that are just unavailable in North America
  • There’s a fine line between ironic and just damn ugly
  • The “unwashed douchebag” look is still in with many male hipsters
  • Someone (male) in Berlin is wearing bright purple stretch-denim skinny jeans.
  • Geometric patterns and prints are still in…but for how long?!
  • Japan isn’t the only place where non-English speakers buy t-shirts with nonsensical English phrases on them
  • Anything that smacks of the DDR period is instantly 400% more expensive
  • There is a lot of wonderfully tacky mod furniture in this city
  • There is a Danish (I think) store called WoodWood that has a fair bit of amusing boy wear and magazines and such, along with a series of totally non-organic perfumes that smell like things such as tar, soda and garage. Seriously. The soda one was actually pretty nice on me.
  • There is a restaurant called White Trash Fast Food which is in this amazing mid-century Chinese restaurant. They’ve kept the over-the-top decoration and fake “Chinese” lettering, which totally underscores the idea of American “white trash” culture as something exotic and strange. The menu involves lots of BBQ, chicken wings and burgers, so we each got a burger and some lemonade and stuffed ourselves silly.

After our epic shopping trip, we both stumbled back to our respective homes. It was John’s last night in town before returning to Québec, so we were determined to go out and party in style. The plans were to go to the Kantine at Berghain again for dinner and drinks, and then off to Watergate for Troy Pierce and Konrad Black…or Tresor for Guido Schneider.

Warm-up: Other-on-Other [something]phobia and Club der Visionäre

We weren’t entirely sure about going to the Kantine or another place quite yet, so we made a date to meet up at Hermannplatz in my neighborhood at 21h30. I went out at around that hour and started wandering around the centre circle of Hermannplatz, waiting for John to show up. He was taking a long time, so I spent quite a while slowly pacing the length of the pedestrian area.

At around 21h50, a guy pokes me in the shoulder, saying “Hej, Wichser.” This means, “Hey, wanker,” so I knew that things weren’t going to end well.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Um…I’m waiting for a friend.”

[something unintelligible, ending in “verboten”]

“What? I didn’t get that.”

“Hermannplatz is off-limits for your kind.”

“But I live here.”

“Then you should move.”

Having gotten the gist of his sentiments and noting that there were enough people wandering around to make violence unlikely, I rolled my eyes and walked away, and he and his friend didn’t pursue. The whole interaction was both surprising and unsurprising, and not a little bit ironic. This guy was clearly a Südländer, that is, someone from a “southern” country like Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc. The term can also apply to pretty much anyone from the Mediterranean, but in practice it’s a general term for the primarily Turk and Arab immigrant-worker populations of Germany.

My neighborhood, Neukölln, is one of the most immigrant-intensive areas of Berlin, so I suppose that he was adopting some sort of protective role in relation to this area, perhaps in reaction to the gentrification that has already been happening in neighboring Kreuzberg.

Now, I’m also of Südländer stock—of the Hispanic sort—so I can usually pass myself off as a second- of third-generation immigrant “native” until I open my mouth and present my Anglophone accent. So it was unlikely that this guy approached me because I looked too white. Based on the fact that I had been wandering around the area for about 20 minutes when he approached me, I’m guessing that he thought I was one of two things:

  1. a (competing) drug dealer, which is kind of unlikely, since most of that sort of drug trade happens around Kottbusser Tor right now.
  2. a homosexual / sex worker, cruising the area to pick up men and/or johns. This seems more likely, since there is both a gay sex bar and a (gay) sauna in the area, and there were a few youngish-looking Turkish and Arabs boys sitting on benches and looking available.

Either way, this guy was using the same sort of “cleanse our neighborhood” approach that some resentful German youths have used in the recent past, as the reunification of Germany created a collision of working-class German citizens with Turkish/Arab immigrant workers. Ironic? Just a little.

Anyway, John finally called me to say that he was running late (yes, I gathered as much), so we decided to meet in front of the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station and then head over to Club der Visionäre (instead of the Kantine at Berghain). Thankfully, nobody harassed me for waiting in front of that U-Bahn station, and John showed up in a few minutes. From there, we headed over to Club der Visionäre for a few drinks and waited until about 12h30 make our move to Watergate.

Attempt One: Watergate

Apparently, the lineup to get in wasn’t so long when we first got into the area of Watergate, but John needed to get cash and I needed to get a bit of food. By the time we took care of that and got to the club, the lineup was rather long. Long lines mean a more severe door policy, so as we waited to get in, we noticed that lots and lots of people were being turned away at the door. There was one bouncer at the club here that has a square jaw and Mediterranean features that has always let me in and seems to recognize me. I saw him at the front of the line, which comforted me somewhat. When I saw him switch shifts with a bouncer I hadn’t seen before, I got worried.

When we got to the front, the two youngish men in front of us were turned away without a moment’s consideration from the bouncer. We pushed to the front, and the bouncer shook his head without actually looking at us. I waited for him to make eye contact with me (at least look at me, dammit), and said “Both of us?” in German, hoping that it would make it clear that we weren’t with the group of drunk teenaged Brits behind us, and that we were possibly native Germans.

He kept shaking his head, so eventually I started walking away from the front of the line, down the “walk of shame” that I had seen so many other would-be clubbers walk. John, still determined to get in, switched into English and asked, “We can’t see Troy Pierce?” The tactic he was using here was an inversion of a strategy often used by bouncers to suss out tourists, asking them if they knew who was spinning that night. The fact that he had turned us away without asking this set of questions was surprising, so it made sense that John would try to provide the answers in the hopes that it would get us in. Alas, no luck; he was already busy refusing the next group of people.

Attempt Two: Watergate

I had a friend coming to the club who was on Troy Pierce’s guest list, so we waited around for him to show up, in the hopes that he could get us in with him. This was made more difficult by the fact that he was already bringing 3 other people with him, and he only had a “+1” spot on the list (i.e., “you plus one companion”). He took us all up to the guest list entrance, passing the still-lengthy line, and spoke to the woman running the guest list. She looked up his name somewhere and the nodded, and he and his 3 companions walked through the gate. She firmly closed the chain before me or John could get through.

John called out to this friend on the guest list, who had not realized that we weren’t let in with him, and he came back and tried to talk to the hostess at the door, but she said no. 4 people was OK, but 6 was apparently too much.

Detour: Club der Visionäre

It was clear that we weren’t going to get in, so we headed back to Club der Visionäre, with the intention of having a few more beers and letting the evening taper off. While we were ordering our drinks, a guy at the bar overhears us speaking French and jumps into the conversation, revealing himself to be French as well. We chat for a while about our respective evenings, and he reminds us that Tresor is still featuring Guido Schneider tonight. John was up for trying Tresor, so off we went.

Truth be told, I’m not usually the kind of person to keep on trying various alternatives when the main plans for the evening go awry. If I had been planning on seeing a particular DJ and the venue is sold out or something, I’d rather grab a drink in a quiet bar somewhere and then head home and prepare myself for the next night. However, it was John’s last night in Berlin and he was desperate to party, so I followed him to Tresor. I didn’t have high hopes for the place, as Tresor has disappointed me on both previous visits.

On the way over to the club John confessed to me that he was really buying time to try again at Watergate in a few hours. Troy Pierce wasn’t likely to come on before 4h or 4h30, and by then the line would’ve become short or non-existent. It was a reasonable tactic, although I was pretty unenthusiastic.

You see, when you’re rejected from a social space, you can have several sorts or styles of responses. John’s response was to make getting in there a mission, a sort of battle of wills or wiles against the bouncer. For me, the rejection immediately created in me a desire to avoid authenticating the place with any further effort. I wanted to go home and never return to Watergate or, better yet, return to Watergate every night dressed in deliberately uncool clothes to repeat the moment of rejection and turn it into a moment of confrontation. Or maybe I wanted to get on the guestlist and come to the front of the line, only to declare loudly that I’d rather be in Berghain; maybe I would call all of my friends already in the club and tell them to ditch the place and come with me to Berghain. Maybe I could convince the Black American bouncer at Berghain—with whom I have been on friendly terms—to deny this bouncer from Watergate the next time he tries to come over there at the end of his shift (like all club/bar staff seem to do here). Or maybe I’d become a high-level, in-demand DJ and then refuse steadfastly to spin at Watergate. That would show them.

In other words, my reaction to this sort of event is to either end the night early and avoid returning, or wallow in unsubtle revenge fantasies that promise to restore some dignity to me. Since calling it quits didn’t seem to be an option tonight, I took my revenge fantasies and my foul mood and followed John.

Detour: Tresor with Guido Schneider

The trip to Tresor was relatively quick (we took the bus), and there was no lineup in front of the building, so we just stepped in. Considering it was only 3am, the stark lack of lineup was a bit disconcerting for a Berlin club. The interior was as half-abandoned as last time, and the music was totally unexceptional. As it turned out, Guido Schneider wasn’t coming on the decks until 4h30, at which point we were supposed to be going over to make our second attempt at Watergate. This meant that we had a good hour and a half to kill listening to crap music. We headed out to the patio with our new Frenchy friend that we had met at Club der Visionäre, where he smoked a cigarette and we talked about random things.

I was not in any mood to make friendly conversation, so I let John do most of the socializing, while I tried to imagine how I could get myself back home and into bed without also abandoning John on his last night out. It wasn’t happening. Nonetheless, I was constantly waiting for something to happen that would justify me leaving the scene: a snide comment, a rough collision on the dancefloor, rude service at the bar, anything.

By 4h30, Schneider came on in the upper room, so we went over to check him out. The plan was to enjoy about 1 hour of his set, and then head over to Watergate. The music certainly got a lot better when Schneider took over the decks, and I eventually found myself dancing. I certainly wasn’t getting down and boogeying like I was at Panorama/Berghain last weekend, but at least I was shuffling about and showing some engagement with the set. At one point, John tapped my shoulder and said, “I hope we get into Watergate later, because I’d like to see you have some fun, too.” I smiled wordlessly.

Attempt Three: Watergate (and Troy Pierce)

By about 5h00, we decided to start making our move toward Watergate to give the whole thing another go. We stumbled out of the bar, leaving behind our new friend, and caught a cab. When we rolled up to the bar, there was indeed no more lineup, although some clubbers were already leaving the club. It was daylight, since Berlin is on the Eastern end of the time-zone and rather far North, and for many clubbers the night was already over.

This time there was a different set of bouncers at the door; not the guys that usually do the “selection,” but instead one of the beefier dudes that actually take care of security on the inside of the club. He seemed completely uninterested in us as we approached, simply opening the chain barrier and saying, “Viel spaß” (“Much fun”). As we wandered in and paid our cover charges, the bouncer that had turned us away earlier that night came down the hallway towards us. I glared at him defiantly, but he didn’t even look at me. I suspect that if he had, he wouldn’t have remembered why I was glaring at him, anyway.

We were in! It didn’t quite feel like a triumph, since our final success in getting in won us the privilege of giving the same institution more of our money. Nonetheless, it felt like something other than disappointment or rejection, so it was an improvement. And, finally, we could dance to Troy Pierce. John was visibly much happier about the situation, and that gave me a certain satisfaction, since the mission for the evening had been to see him off in style.

Pierce had apparently started at around 5h00, so we had only missed about 30 minutes of his set. I ran into the group of friends that had gotten in on a guestlist earlier, and they were excited to see us here. “You came at the right time,” one of them said, “Konrad Black was shitty, but Troy Pierce is fantastic!” Since I had missed Konrad Black’s [LINK] set, I couldn’t judge for myself, but it was something of a consolation to know that we hadn’t missed much.

Pierce’s set was indeed fantastic, very much in keeping with the sparse-yet-pounding aesthetic of the M_nus label. What impressed me the most by his set was the separation of layers. He had a way of tweaking with the sound levels and choosing tracks so that each musical element was audibly on a separate layer; each element seemed to occupy a particular frequency-band or something like that, because the resulting sound was free of the sort of interference and wave-cancellation that often happens when you mix tracks together. On the downside, the levels on the speakers had been turned up so high, the high-end sounds began to give me a headache.

Nonetheless, we partied and danced until about 7h00, at which point it was time for John to head home and leave his hostel. He had a plane at 9h50.

mardi, juillet 29, 2008

Turkish Lesson and Kiki @ Coookies

Today I finally started feeling a bit more like a human being, although I was still coughing and hacking and otherwise sounding pretty sick. I slept in until the sun kicked me out of bed, then drank as much water as possible and tried to get some work done on the computer. I wrote some more bloggy stuff, helped my mom look at apartments in Paris for the X-mas season, and started teaching myself Turkish.

Yes, I got a copy of a certain language learning program recently, with a whole series of languages included. This is something like crack for a language nerd like me, as I can now teach myself how to say “The young woman has long hair” in Vietnamese if I like. Now, since I’m living in Neukölln, which is populated by a dense population of Turks, I decided to start teaching myself Turkish.

The language program works pretty darn well, using word-image and sound-image associations to help you learn vocabulary. The only problem is that it also tries to get you to learn grammar inferentially through the comparison of phrases and images, rather than explicitly explaining the mechanics. While this works well when you have an entire childhood to spend listening to your family speak and being corrected by your relatives, this is not so great for the adult learner trying to absorb the language in a few weeks or months. So, as a result I know these vague grammar things so far:

PRONOUNCIATION NOTES: A) an “i” without a dot over it (“ı”) is pronounced as a neutral vowel sound, sort of like “uh” or the sound we use in English to connect two consonants. B) “ğ” doesn’t really have a sound of it’s own, but instead lengthens the vowel before it. C) “c” is actually pronounced like a soft “g” (e.g., “gem”), while “ç” is pronounced “ch”. D) “ş” is pronounced “sh”. E) all umlauts (e.g. “ö”, “ü”) are pronounced as they would be in German.

1. There is some sort of oblique (i.e., non-nominative) case ending for direct objects and/or locations, which involves the enclitic “ın”

  • oğlan — boy
  • oğlanın üstünde top — The ball is on the boy.

2. Sometimes the adding of this case ending mutates the last consonant of the word, sometimes not. It’s not yet clear when or why.

  • at — horse
  • atın üstünde kız — The girl is on the horse.
  • masa — table
  • masanın altında oğlan. — The boy is under the table (note: an extra “n” is added before the case ending)
  • üçak — airplane
  • üçağin içinde oğlan — The boy is in the airplane (note: “k” turns into “ğ”)

3. The plural marker “-lar” is added both to the subject AND to the verb , BUT two singular subjects together are not marked as plural.

  • kız yürüyor — The girl walks.
  • kızlar yürüyorlar — The girls walk.
    • BUT
  • adam ve kadın yürüyor — The man and the woman walk.

4. Most importantly, the number four is spelled “dört”, and is pronounced like “dirt” in English. Haha.

So there you go. I’ve certainly learned a lot, but sometimes I function under a certain assumption about grammar for quite a while before I figure out that I had just misunderstood it. For example, I thought “bir” was the copula verb—that is, the equivalent of “is” in the phrase “a is b”—until I later deduced that it means “one,” “a” or “an.”

Spur-of-the-moment clubbing: Kiki @ Cookies

Anyway, by evening I was feeling bad about having not left the apartment all day, and my body was almost back to normal, so I decided to head out and try the club Cookies, which is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some of the Berlin natives that I’ve met have said that Cookies used to be their favorite club, so I was curious to see what they meant by that.

I had heard that it was a bit snobbier / lookish than the standard techno club, so I put on a collared shirt, some slim-fit jeans and my pair of leather ankle-boots and headed out. It was still a bit early in the evening and I hadn’t yet had dinner, so I wandered down Sonnenallee in my neighborhood and went to a Lebanese place that served some very cheap and reasonable sandwiches. I got me some kefta in flatbread and then headed back to the U-Bahn station. I wandered all the way from Hermannplatz to Kottbusser Tor, by which time it was 23h30 and it seemed like the right time to make a move, considering the place opened at 22h30.

The club (apparently in a “new” location) was a fair distance away from the other clubs in Berlin, right at the intersection of Friedrichstraße and Under den Linden. This is smack in the middle of Mitte, about 200m east of the Brandenburg Gate, which is otherwise populated by old pre-war and DDR-era administrative buildings, embassies, hotels, museums and some luxury shops.

The entrance to the club was hard to find at first, since you essentially walk down an alleyway and enter what appears to be an old cinema through the fire exit. I got past the door-woman and the bouncers, who were in the middle of giving some grief to a collection of young men trying to get in, paid the 6€ entry fee, and headed into the club.

The club was a bit small but potentially intimate, with a pleasingly retro minimalist wood-and-black-leather design. The space was still filling up at this point, but there were a few people already milling about. There was a rectangular bar near the entrance where they were serving really expensive drinks with poor-quality alcohol (6.50€ gin & tonic; 7€ rum & coke); I was pleased that they made the drinks stiff, but the liquor they were using had all the subtlety of gasoline.

I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled from my weekends in Berghain, but my near-instant reaction to the place was : “LAME!” This club had a more aspire-to-be-Wallpaper-magazine crowd, wearing “classy” designer outfits and trying desperately to pick each other up. The crowd was resolutely hetero and not especially interested in the music, as far as I could tell; they tended to treat the music as background noise for flirting / showing off.

Speaking of which, Kiki was already spinning when I got there and I hardly recognized him. As the French would say, he was spinning “n’importe quoi” (“whatever,” but with much more pejorative connotations), laying down a motley collection of deep house tracks with more of an ear for ambience than performance. This was miles away from the sort of crackling minimal set I’ve heard from him in past performances. I suppose he was playing to the crowd and making some money on what is usually an off-night, but nonetheless disappointing.

After sending text messages to Fantomette and a few other friends to tell them just how awful the whole thing was, I decided to stay for at least an hour and get a bit tipsy to make the night worthwhile. The highlight of the evening was having Nick Höppner (1/3 of MyMy and the musical manager for Berghain’s label, OstgutTon) show up with a companion and have a drink next to me. He was greeted by all the bar staff like a bit of a hero, then he lit a cigarette and disappeared into the “smoking area” down the hall.

Around 1h30, John called me to see what I was up to, and I took the opportunity to dash into the alleyway and tell him just how sucky the whole thing was. I had already finished my second drink, so wandered back out into the street and caught a night bus home.

So, Cookies sucked pretty hard, but I was sort of relieved as well. So far, most clubs that I had been to in Berlin had just been varying degrees of awesome; even Tresor’s disappointing crowd was balanced out by it’s amazing location. I was beginning to wonder if Berlin could do no wrong, so there was something reassuring in discovering that Berlin has some shitty clubs, just like anyplace else.

lundi, juillet 28, 2008

Sickness and Recovery

[If you were in the rave scene in Detroit / South-Western Ontario in around '96 or so, you might recognize this as the name of an amazing M_nus rave in a field near Windsor.]

Yay! I have a cold and I’m miserable!

Once night had fallen on Sunday and the temperature had dropped to a reasonable level, and threw myself into bed and got as much sleep as possible, well aware that I wouldn’t be able to sleep once the sun spilled into my room. I’m beginning to really resent the fact that there are no curtains in my room.

When the sun finally scorched and sweated me out of bed today, I lurched reluctantly into the kitchen and made myself some eggs for breakfast. I covered them in hot sauce and extra-hot mustard, and then grabbed a raw hot pepper and ate that, too. It gave me some temporary relief, but I knew that I would be feeling like crap for a while. My roommate felt bad for giving me his virus, so he gave me some of his own cold-cure vitamins and I made myself drink tons and tons of water. It seemed to help, I think.

I was motivated to get through to the other side of this cold, as I had made dinner plans with some friends for tonight, and it was going to involve one of the best places for sushi in town. So, I spent most of the day writing up my notes from the weekend, downing tons and tons of water, snacking on super-spicy lentil curry from the night before, and trying to ignore the sheer sweaty heat of the sun spilling into my room.

By 19h00, I was feeling relatively decent and ready to make an attempt at dinner. I doused myself in a cold shower, made myself up into a reasonable facsimile of health, and traipsed over to the U-Bahn with what I hoped was a display of energy and verve. We had sushi at a place called Sasaya, which was delicious and really lovely as a location. They had lots of seafood-related specials that were above and beyond regular sushi, such as fried squid tentacles with a dipping sauce made from their livers, home-made fish balls poached in a light broth, and a sort of “summer”-roll filled with raw veggies. We also got an assortment of sushi and a few rolls, and everyone was pretty happy. Dessert involved a pair of bowls of Matcha green tea powder turned into a thick slurry, accompanied by a pair of sweet mochi balls filled with what looked like sweetened read bean paste. Also, we had this panna cotta that was sitting in a puddle of jasmine tea, which was light and lovely and not at all over-perfumed. My only complaint was that the seating (which was floor seating) was upholstered with something vinyl-like, which stuck to my flesh and got all sweaty. Ew.

From there, we parted ways (in a manner that one of my dining companions later dubbed “anti-climactic,” which is certainly the case considering my current nocturnal habits) and headed home. I stayed up for a while doing some more writing and catching up on some emails, and then called it a night.

dimanche, juillet 27, 2008

coughcough hackhack ew

After sleeping sporadically for a few hours in the intense afternoon heat, I woke up with a full-blown cold. Dammit. I think I got whatever my roommate had last Friday. I sure hope I didn’t pass that on to anybody Saturday night.

Feeling not a little bit miserable, I set about making a super-spicy lentil curry, in the hopes of jump-starting my recovery and at least temporarily clearing my respiratory passages. As I let the mixture simmer, I got an email from John, on behalf of the crew. They were still at Strandgut, and Ricardo Villalobos was slated to start playing around midnight, although in fact he started earlier by doing some ping-pong (i.e., trading control of the turntables with another DJ) with the other DJs. Anyway, he encouraged me to put my contacts back in and show up for the late-night party. If I had managed to get some substantial sleep and I wasn’t in the throes of a total cold, I would’ve taken a shower and given it a try, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I sent them all my apologies and got back to making dinner.

Flashback from last night

Last night, while John and I were waiting in line to get into Berghain, we would occasionally see men dressed in fetish gear leaving the building from the other side. I told John that these guys were leaving the Lab.Oratory [LINK], a very fetish-oriented sexclub operated by the same people as Berghain and Panorama Bar. We entertained ourselves for a while, looking at the guys leaving the place after a night of sexual play and wondered aloud what they had been up to.

Our wondering came to a stop for a moment as a guy walked by with a huge garbage bag full of something slung over his shoulder. We both looked at each other and had the same thought: “What’s in that bag? I don’t want to know, do I?”

Well, when we finally got into the club, I made a point of picking up the flyers for Berghain’s August lineup, along with the Lab.Oratory flyer. I didn’t look closely at them at the time, but tonight, as I was getting ready to prepare my notes for my blog, I took a look at the Lab.Oratory flyer. So guess what was going on in the sexclub while we were waiting in line Saturday night?

Scat Night

That’s right: sexual play involving shit. As the description on the flyer says, “Smear it, smell it, break a rule!”

So, I now have an all-too-clear idea of what was in that guy’s plastic bag. Ew.