samedi, août 23, 2008

And on your left you'll see the darkroom...

Sorry for the delay in posting this. This was another rather busy weekend, AND I’ve been busy trying to wrap up my apartment search by email, so things have been hectic.

Since I hadn’t gone out Friday night (the first time in a long time, I might add), I had gone to bed relatively early and got up at an unusually early time (in the context of my usual Berlin schedule). I was supposed to meet Fantômette for lunch and later a trip to a graffiti expo somewhere in Friedrichshain, so I told her to contact me when she was ready and then I set out for a little walk in my neighborhood.

I hadn’t really spent any time on Karl-Marx-Straße, so I headed down that street for a little while as I neared the centre of Neukölln. There were some genuinely lovely bits of graffiti on some of the storefronts and alleys, and I was regretting having forgotten my camera at home. I made it to about the second U-Bahn station and then turned around and headed back to Hermannplatz. From there, I headed up Kottbusser Damm to Kottbusser Tor, and then I walked along Oranienstraße, which was approximately the area where we were going to eat lunch, anyway. After a while, I got a call from Fantômette and we met for lunch.

We went to this Vietnamese place on Adalbertstraße near Oranienstraße called Green Rice or something along those lines. I ordered the Pho, which I pronounced with my best Vietnamese pronounciation, and the result was that he thought I had said “fünf” (five in German) and he made me a rice curry instead. Ah well, it was still pretty good.

The Graffiti exposition itself was pretty spectacular. It was in an old abandoned brewery in East Berlin, which had layers and layers of really well-done graffiti in all of the hallways. Many of the rooms in the building were being converted or were already converted into studios and offices, but the overall look of the building remained “abandoned building.” The floors were creaky and uncleaned, the walls were coated in graffiti and holes, most of the windows had been broken and then covered over with plastic, and the upper parts of the building looked downright unsafe.

The expo was in what must’ve been one of the production rooms, which had a pair of huge rooms with super-high ceilings, easily three storeys high. The theme was actually “street art,” so some of the pieces were spraypainted or glued onto the wall, but other pieces were on canvas or sculptures or the like. There was a series of canvasses with brown backgrounds and really smooth-lined, “superflat” shapes in yellow, which I really liked. Not my preferred color-scheme, but I loved the look.

After hanging out for a while and getting a good look at all of the work, we headed out and looked at some of the other tags and images painted on the exterior of the building, and then headed back home in our separate directions.

When I got home, I finally put some money into my Skype account and called my sister, who had recently moved to a new apartment in Manhattan, and we chatted a bit about that and about my own adventures finding an apartment in Paris. For nearly 1 hour of talking, it only cost me about $1 USD. Not bad, this Skype thing.

Later that evening, my roommate and his girlfriend, who was visiting, asked me if I knew of an Italian place in the area. I said yes, and, through the process of giving them directions, ended up joining then for dinner. It was at the same Casolare Trattoria that I had had dinner at last weekend with the Frenchy Crew, and it was as packed and busy as last time. The service was just like last time: overwhelmed and understaffed but friendly. And the food was just like last time: fantastic. Two of us got tagliatelle with mushrooms, which were simply made with a mixture of delicious mushrooms, and the other got a pizza with a mixture of meats and cheese and artichokes. Tasty!

Berghain/Panorama Bar, the grand tour

Tonight I was supposed to be showing the club to a friend who lives across the hall from me, along with one of her friends visiting from New York. Since I didn’t want to have any issues getting in, I told them we would head to the club super-early (around 12h30 or 1h00).

I got ready in my super-special outfit for that night. My TOTALLY RAD friends in Toronto, Amy (a.k.a. Smitten Kitten) and Keith had sent me the best belated birthday gift EVAR. The sent me a “classic” version of the Denver Nuggets basketball jersey (see below), with the super-gay rainbow across the chest. This just seemed perfect for a night at Berghain. And, on top of that, the name and number on the jersey was for a star player from the 80s, Alex English. In other words, I had the word “English” splayed across the back of my shirt. The whole thing is indescribably fabulous.

So I put that on and covered it up with my usual going-out Le Tigre zip-top, and then got ready to go out. I had hoped to pair the jersey with some sporty shorts, but it was just too fucking cold. The weather here in Berlin has been consistently cold, as if it were winter in Paris. I don’t get it.

Anyway, we headed out to the club to find that, at about 1h00, there was already a huge lineup. The line looked to be about 1 hour long, so I left the girls at the back of the line and looked to see if there was anyone a bit further up the line that I knew. In the process of doing that, I came close to the black bouncer that had let me in a couple of weeks ago:

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Oh me? I’m just looking for a friend that was supposed to be here by now.”

“You need to get into the line.”

“Yup, OK.”

Well, I guess he wasn’t in the same friendly mood as last time. Ah well. I rejoined the other two girls and I made a point of standing on the far right of the lineup, in clear view of the bouncers as they made their patrols up and down the line. Alas, none of the bouncers doing the line pulled me up to the front, but on the other hand the line was moving really fast. We probably got to the front after 30 mins of waiting.

As usual, and despite experiences to the contrary, I started to get worried as we got closer to the front of the line. I think I had done a good job of coaching the girls on how to dress for the club, and one of them was well within the age range of the club (35) and the other was close enough to no longer be “too young” (26). Nonetheless, there’s nothing quite so invasive as doubt.

The older grizzly biker dude was at the door, along with the guy that had pulled me out of line last weekend, so we got in without incident, passed through the security, and made our way into the club. As soon as we checked our coats and got some drinks, I went into tour-guide-mode. I decided to walk them through the entire building all at once, so that then they could move around the building with or without me. It was kinda fun doing the guided tour, gesturing to one side and yelling over the music, “Here’s where the electrical turbines used to be,” or “There’s the darkroom,” or “Look! A giant picture of a vagina, courtesy of Wolfgang Tillmanns”. Anyway, we eventually settled down and got dancing.

0h00-4h00 in Panorama Bar: Craig Torrance

I’ll be honest and say right now that I didn’t much like this set. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it was the sort of slow-mo house that tends to sap my energy, and he made use of a lot of vocals that I found kinda lame. I’ll cut him some slack for the fact that this was an opening set and you’re not supposed to upstage the headliners, but I felt like his set was better suited for a chill-out room or an afterparty or something. We entertained ourselves by occasionally moving to the other room (Berghain) and then back again, but nonetheless I was pretty happy when we changed DJs

4h00-5h00: Penner and Muder live

These two guys put on a pretty good show, although the started a trend that would repeat itself throughout the entire night. Their live set started out really well—minimal house with punchy basslines and sparing but effective use of vocals—but the style shifted about 30 minutes into the set and I found myself getting bored. It seemed like the intensity level just sort of dropped, there were more atmospheric / ambient moments, and the sound turned to a more classic house sound. Meh.

5h00-7h30: Dave DK

This was sort of the same story. I started out really liking his set, but he made some sort of shift halfway through and I lost interest. The good part was very good, though; his selection of tracks put his set on the border between a sort of minimal house / microhouse and something more techno, and the energy levels were pretty high. Nonetheless, I eventually fell out of it and went down to Berghain to catch the second half of Redshape’s live set (see below).

While I was dancing, this guy came up to me and asked me if I was from Denver. As it turns out, he’s from Denver, and I think he was a bit disappointed that I was just wearing the shirt for the unintended-gay-appeal. Ah well. As I chatted with him, I noticed that one of his friends looked a lot like someone I had seen on campus back in Chicago, so I eventually approached him and asked him. As it turns out, he had been enrolled in the class I co-taught with Lauren Berlant last winter (he dropped out after one or two meetings, tho), so we had the requisite “holy crap, small world!” moment and then engaged in a bit of cultural studies shop-talk. There was something amusingly surreal about discussing Foucault and governmentality and intimacy theory while the people around you are dancing, high and/or engaging in pretty intense sexual play. Hooray for Berlin!

Also, while I was dancing near the DJ booth a bit later, a rather cute shirtless guy who had been dancing near me started making eye contact with me and smiling. I returned the gestures and we started making eye contact more frequently, and then eventually he patted me on the shoulder, said “Geile Mucke, Mann!” (“hot music, buddy”) and then told me he would be right back. Of course, given the state he was in and the sort of club Berghain/PanoramaBar is, I doubted he would really be right back.

6h00-7h30 in Berghain: Redshape live

This was certainly the best set of the night, as far as I was concerned. It was in Berghain—with the sort of sound that usually comes with that room—so the set was emphatically techno, with a minimal approach to texture and density while still making use of maximally-loud beats and high intensity. The whole thing reminded me a lot of the sort of intense and mind-bending live sets of Plastikman back in the mid 90s when I saw him a lot in Toronto.

Len Faki was to come on after his set, and after the first couple of tracks I found the set too bombastic and headed back up into Panorama Bar.

7h30-10h00 in PanoramaBar: Naughty

This was another starts-great-and-then-WTF? set. Naughty started with a really well-punctuated tech-house set with electro touches (distorted synths, 80s nostalgia sound). Then, at around 8h30, he veered suddenly into a mix of disco and vocal-heavy “classic” house. While a single “classic” vocal track within the context of a techno set can really be amazing (see GummiHx’s set at the Mobilee party a month back), this was just annoying. At about this moment, one of my buddies that was at Bar25 texted me to ask if Panorama Bar was worth the 12€. I said, at this moment, no.

I saw that cute shirtless guy again on the dancefloor, dancing next to a less cute shirtless guy that I presumed he knew. I passed by them on the way to the bar and made eye contact with the cute guy as we patted each other on the shoulder. The other guy patted me on the shoulder and winked in this friendly-but-firm way that said, “Mine.” I wasn’t entirely sure if the intended meaning was “He’s mine, so back off,” or “We’re together, so if you like what you see…” and the confusion wasn’t alleviated by the fact that the cuter guy was still making eye contact and looking pretty interested.

I was a bit too tired to pursue anything romantic and I wasn’t in the mood to figure all of that out in German with two rather high guys, so I smiled and kept moving. I’m sure I’ll run into them again.

10h00-12h00: Ewan Pearson + Sasse

This set saved me from going home early. Although they were just doing a vinyl set, their sound had the sort of minimalist attention to sonic detail that you would usually get in a live set. The overall style was punchy techno with a house swing, throbbing bass and crisp higher-frequency percussion, with a tempo that made it danceable at that late hour. I bounced my way through their set until a few minutes before noon, and then got ready to head out.


As it turns out, my buddy that was at Bar25 had come over and installed himself at the Kantine next to Berghain, which opens around 10am for those who want breakfast. The weather was horribly cold and wet, so he was the only person there aside from the bar staff, but there he was quietly reading Tolstoy as I came out of the club. We sat at the bar for a while and had a coffee, and then we started heading home. Since my friend had the all-important stamp from Bar25, we could’ve headed over there to continue partying, but I was tired and it was fucking cold and wet, so a lot of the incentive to go to Bar25 was gone. Similarly, there was supposed to be a really great afterparty going on at Strandgut that afternoon, but Strandgut is an outdoor beach-style place, so I wasn’t up for that either.

So we took our separate ways home, I got a döner from my favorite imbiss and once again tried my best to order in Turkish, and then I went home and crawled into bed.

vendredi, août 22, 2008

Back from Paris

Yay! Back in Berlin. Not that I was happy to leave Paris necessarily, but after a week of running around Paris in a panic, trying to find an apartment, I’m really looking forward to a weekend of partying / research in Berlin. This is the last weekend I have where I can allow myself days to recover (next weekend I leave town on the Monday, Sep 1), so the plan is to party like there’s no tomorrow.

Having said that, I decided to take tonight off, since I had gotten up far too early to catch my plane, and I hadn’t quite gotten over the exhaustion of the Paris trip. Also, Paris is expensive and my wallet could use a break tonight.

So, after dragging myself home from Tegel airport, I got out at Hermannplatz and headed home. On the way home, I stopped by my favorite Güney Grill for a döner kebab. I overheard the woman at the counter speaking in Turkish to someone about “Sose beyaz” (“white sauce,” using a combination of German and Turkish words) being “içinde” (“inside”) something, which inspired me to try out my Turkish. So when she asked me what sauce I wanted, I said “kırmızı” (“red”); I had to repeat it twice before she realized that I was speaking Turkish, and then she got all excited and asked me how much Turkish I knew. I said that I knew virtually nothing, but she nonetheless continued to pepper our exchange with Türkish words, most of which I could sort of make out. I probably should’ve tried this when I had more sleep.

Anyway, I made it home, made a bit of food and then decided to take a nap, just in case I was inspired to go out later that day. When I woke up later that evening, I took care of some more email, especially of the sort related to an apartment contract (in an effort not to jinx it, I’m not talking about it quite yet), and then I amused myself on the internet for a few hours and went to bed.

Mmmmm. Tranquility and low-intensity affect.

jeudi, août 21, 2008

Meanwhile, in Paris

Hey y'all. Here's a quick hello from Paris-town. I'm searching for apartments right now, and it's la galère totale (a total shit-storm). Most of the problem stems from the huge assymmetry between supply and demand here. Today, I picked up the magazine called Particulier à Particulier (independent to independent), which specializes in transactions between private parties (i.e., no agencies). It comes out once a week, every Thursday. I picked it up today at 9am, fresh from the printers, and when I started calling numbers around 10h30, all of the numbers I called had one of these three characteristics:

  1. The apartment was already rented
  2. The contact person's answering machine was already too full to leave a message
  3. The line was endlessly busy

For the apartments that have "open" visiting hours, you show up at the location at there are already 100 people in line, mostly with their parents standing over their shoulder, dressed in their finest "we are aristocrats" attire. I didn't even stand a chance.

To add to this, I've heard from some friends who have relatives connected to these sorts of companies, the employees of magazines like PàP often have access to the content of ads before they're published, and make use of them for their own interests or pass them along to their friends before the apartment is even officially on the market. So much for free-market capitalism, eh?

I've had better luck with Craigslist postings, actually, although you really have to dig through all of the holiday-rentals and scams. I've got a 27m2 studio near parc Buttes-Chaumont that I'm going to visit tonight, so wish me luck! Anyway, I won't be blogging regularly while I'm gone, so here's something to tide you over:

Karl Lagerfeld and friends, via GoFugYourself

dimanche, août 17, 2008

Sunday, now with less activity!

OK, here’s how Sunday went. I’m keeping this in point-form, because I was probably awake for all of 6 hours:

  • I woke up around 20h00, and my roommate, bless his soul, had waited for me to wake up to go out for dinner. What a gentleman.
  • We headed out to a Vietnamese place called Ha My, which was just on the other end of Hermannplatz. Delicious.
  • While at the restaurant, I tried to ask in German if they made avocado shakes, and the guy looked at me as if I was asking for a horseradish sundae. Huh.
  • Went home, answered some emails, fretted about my upcoming apartment-hunting trip, and tried to get to sleep early, so that I’ll be able to get up for my 7am flight Tuesday.