Why is Berlin like it is?
Why is there so much techno?
Why is there a nightclub where you can have sex? And it’s not illegal.
Why are people so unafraid to be themselves?
And why are the streets so wide, and the ceilings so high?
I don’t have all the answers, just the questions it seems, but I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences from this unique city.
December 29th – 21:05
Whenever I leave the airport in Europe my mood immediately lifts. I don’t care how little sleep I’m on, I love it. The atmosphere is intoxicating, how can you not be happy? Admittedly I’ve never had to properly live in Europe, hold down a 9 to 5 and all that, but it just seems like such a pleasant existence.
I got a bus into town, and from there followed a rushed crowd that got off at the same stop as me to a U-Bahn station. The group mentality touched me with a hint of excitement, reminiscent of when police would turn up to year 10 house party, and everyone would scatter.
A couple of seats down from me on the U-Bahn were 3 friends wearing colourful outfits and fly shoes, worn by use. There were mullets and moustaches, beanies and tattoos. It was like seeing a famous monument, I really felt like I was in Berlin.
Shortly after, two rugged people came in, homeless probably. The guy sat, and began to play his guitar and sing. The girl crouched in front of him and began singing too. Her head was down, but barely an inch from his. There was no eye contact, but the intimacy was still so raw, I took my headphones off to listen. My dad was born in Yugoslavia, so I was able to recognise some words, and deduced that they must be from round there.
Towards the end of the song, the girl went down the carriage collecting money, reminding me that people don’t only do beautiful things for the sake of it, they have to live too.
Nina (that’s her above) was waiting for me. She had been in Nuremberg visiting her mum, and we were meeting in Berlin for new years, so I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks. I managed to get the jump on her on the platform because she was checking ticket prices when I got off… sucker.
It was a clumsy surprise as I had a 15 kilogram sack strapped to my back, and another smaller backpack attached to my front. Now there’s no non-wet way to say this, but I really had forgotten how beautiful she is. I always do and it was really good to see her again.
The next day, December 30th
The next morning I went into the kitchen and met Josefin our Airbnb host, and one of her friends, who said, “I love your style, I see you and I just want to hug you”. Such a European thing to say, how many people are you meeting in England and this is the first thing they say to you? Festivals and raves don’t count.
11:00, our first stop of the day, The Holocaust memorial. Walking in you can’t help but think about why it was built. The towering, maze like structure impose on you a feeling of isolation, and the hilly ground mixed with tilted and uneven slabs is as jarring as the name, ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’.
But if the memorial is powerful, then it is also fun. Something else I couldn’t help when walking in there, was running away from Nina. It’s a very interactive installation, it enhanced my inner child, as well as my outer, thoughtful adult.
Next, Nina introduced me to currywurst. We went to this place in the mall called Best Worscht, and it really was the best worscht. The dude kept asking if he could put things on it and we just let him, he basically decided what we ate. There were too many options and he seemed to know his stuff.
After that I got to fanboy over the Berlin Wall, doing history GCSE turned me into a bit of history nerd…
Walking through all these places made me think some more. The thing I find weird about wars, is how they often stem from spats between leaders, and ordinary people are the ones who get screwed over. I’m sure you didn’t see Hitler using ration cards when times got tough. Why can’t it just be like old days where you take your armies out to a field and fight it out?
The Berlin situation though, weird man. Berlin was split into East and West, with the East controlled by the Soviets, and the West split into French, British and American territory. But Berlin was located well into Soviet occupied Germany. Some people really feel the need to force their ideologies on others so much so that shit like this needs to happen…
That night we went to Kitkat. It’s like your ordinary techno/trance club but with less clothes and more sex. We put on our sexy gear, and then put on some normal clothes, and left the house.
We had been told we might not get in as a lot of the clubs in Berlin were over 21, and upon joining the queue we were definitely the youngest there. When we arrived at the front, and the two guys in front of us were turned away. We however were in smooth sailing. After so much worry, the bouncers didn’t so much as glance at our passports. We were in!
The cloak room was free which was nice, seen as we had no choice but to take our clothes off. It was quite a sight to see all these ordinary people disrobing at the entrance. People who in the queue had made you think: “Maybe I am a little underdressed?”, were now showing you up. The normality of it was beautiful. Leaving our phones behind, we headed in.
It was relatively tame to begin with, I saw too many t-shirts on bodies, but as the night went on, and the club started packing out, it got different… This human exhibition that Austrian porn director Simon Thaur, and his wife Kirsten Krüger had created in 1994 unfolded itself in front of us and absorbed us. It was a fantastically unusual night that I will never forget.
New Years Eve
The next morning was definitely a chill morning. Back in England I’d asked a friend what to do during the day in Berlin, and when he said “sleep”, I thought that was lame. He was right though, sleep was necessary.
We got some breakfast, schnitzel burger from the take away downstairs, then back up to get ready for the day. We did a bit of sightseeing and cafeing, then home to get ready for the night out.
We had planned to go to a Jazz Cafe but it was closed, and the rooftop bar that was the backup was ticketed for New Years, so it was back to our room, where we drank beer on the balcony and watched people go wild below us.
When half 10 came around, we decided to make our way somewhere to watch the fireworks (the ones that hadn’t already gone off). We were staying in Neuköln, and the people we were staying with told us fireworks in this part of the city were banned but everyone did them anyway, so we figured we’d stay local for the show.
Our English mindsets drew us to Hasenheide Park nearby. It was a big green space, surely this is where people will go to set off fireworks? We forgot that safety was not a factor in the use of fireworks here, and the large road that sat outside of the park, with tall rows of houses on each side was much livelier. We took one glance at the dark park, and decided to take a seat on the kerb and wait for midnight.
So fixated by the spectacle that already surrounded us, when we realised the time it was one minute to 12. Nina hurried for a timer that counted to the second but it was too late. The clock ticked over. We kissed. And the world exploded around us.
Josefin and her friends said it would be like a war zone outside, and I thought they were exaggerating like we all tend to do, but they were bang on. 10 year olds using guns that shoot fireworks, and throwing little grenades into the road, while adults lit fireworks boxes before running away to a still unsafe distance. For every few fireworks that went straight up there was one going straight down the road towards a car or building.
There was something enticing about the chaos of that night. Emergency vehicles speeding up and down the streets with sirens blaring, surrounded on all sides by flashes and bangs. It’s the sense of excitement that you feel watching a big game, or marching in a large protest. The sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s a good way to live. Free.
Our club for the night was Gretchen, recommended by Florian, Nina’s mum’s husband, and it served some of the finest drum and bass I have ever heard. Commix was playing, I only knew one song of his but it was the best DNB set I’ve ever experienced.
The club itself was great, you could join the DJ behind the stage like the man with the foot long mohawk. You could smoke indoors, so no unnecessary trips into the Berlin chill. Drinks were cheap as chips, allowing me to devise the perfect drinking strategy of one shot and one beer each time I went to the bar, costing me something like €6.50 each time.
The DJ who played after Commix transitioned into some truly scatty drum and bass, conducive to some incredible dancing from the people around us, and eventually ourselves too. I can only imagine what became of the music once we’d left at around 4, considering the club didn’t close until 8 that morning!
We woke up late and went for a mosey in the afternoon the next day. The odd firework still making an appearance, like those who just can’t leave the afters. That evening we concluded our stay in Berlin, next stop Leipzig.
Where did this come from, and where is it going?
My love for the people of Berlin and how they live their lives led me in search of a source, and the answer I found is rooted in Newton’s Third Law: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. In it’s day, the Berlin Wall was a physical manifestation of oppression and separation, creating an atmosphere requiring individuals to be louder in their expression to drown out the sound of hate.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, the events of WWII and The Cold War, created the necessity for a Germany that wouldn’t allow certain things to be repeated, and I think that’s exactly what happened.
It casts light on our situation here in the UK. Three and a half years of Brexit deadlock has exposed the stagnancy of our nation, and as a people we are being strung along. The NHS is collapsing and no one can afford to buy a house, you’ve heard it all before. We’re in a state of bad but not bad enough and it allows the elite to keep taking with minimal resistance, which contributes to a more closed off community.
But the noise in Germany created to drown out the hate continues loud and clear in Berlin, and people from all over have caught wind. As technology progresses and tourism shows no sign of slowing, institutions like Kitkat and so many other cultural staples feel a need to protect themselves, with some clubs running no phone policies and putting stickers over cameras, enabling people to continue expressing and exploring themselves in a safe environment.
They are right to be protective too. Rising tourism is feeding the gentrification of Berlin, land owners no longer want to rent their spaces to nightclubs, they want to sell it to make way for “luxury housing“.
It’s up to you when you visit Berlin to do your part. Join in on firework displays, go to a nightclub that isn’t just a German Zeros¹, maybe take a few clothes off while you’re at it. Eat lots of curry wurst, and drink local beer, and educate yourself on the history of the ground you stand on, but most importantly, support what you love so people can continue to love it for ages to come.
- Zero Zero, a popular nightclub in Bath. Don’t be offended, I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve been
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