// Overseas travel blog
// Overseas travel blog
Last night was a wild foray into Berlin's underground culture, as I ventured out with a girlfriend and a Swedish rock band to the House of Red Door's at Salon zur Wilden Renate. It was a night to celebrate hedonism: nudity, sex, freedom of expression, performance art, and damn good techno. Note NSFW if you read on.
The night started out with plans to see the Swedish band at a little venue in Kreuzberg. The plan came about because my friend, a music journalist, had media passes which allowed us entry in order for her to review the show. We almost didn’t make this part of the night, even with the aid of trusty buddy Google Maps. We met on the street at around 9PM, at the location where the venue supposedly existed. Alas, it looked industrial and abandoned (however, this is not unusual for parts of the former East Berlin).
After a couple of laps up and down the street, with our ears peeled listening for traces of music in the wind, the only place emitting any kind of sound was a community function centre which was populated by masses of Turkish men, children and women, all dressed to attend a seemingly formal function. We took our chances and approached one of the men to ask for directions, but disappointly, we were only directed back to where we had started. Nonetheless, unafraid of a little adventure, we proceeded to explore the nearby industrial complex and eventually heard the sound of a drum kit competing against shrill drill sounds from a nearby work shed.
We walked towards the drums, which were coming from a building flanked by piles of debris and a shitty little handwritten sign with the name of the venue: Bei Ruth. We had found it, finally.
The two of us went in and immediately ran into one of the band members on the stairwell, who informed us that the band was still completing sound check and that we were actually very early for the gig. By this stage it was probably 10PM, i.e. early by Berlin standards.
We went up into the deserted bar anyway and bought a beer, then made a quick exit to go for a wander on the street and kill some time.
When we returned an hour later, the warm up band was starting, but the place was still utterly deserted. We ended up meeting the band and having a drink with them before the gig. When it was time, we watched their performance (which also had no turn out) and made a point of dancing enthusiastically with the small crowd, trying to make up for the lack of people through an excess of movement.
The last song concluded with somewhat of a drum breakdown, during which the defeated lead singer and one other band member jumped off stage to grab a cigarette and beer and start the after party. On hearing that they were keen to carry on, we informed them that we were heading to Salon zur Wilden Renate and suggested they text us if they were keen to party. And with that, we left the venue for our next adventure: The House of Red Doors.
A short train ride later, at around 1 AM, and we were in the line at Salon zur Wilden Renate - an abandoned apartment complex turned into an industrial, multi-room heaven of a club. We stood patiently in line behind the black clothing-clad crew, including one guy who was wearing the most sparkly silver glitter pants I’d ever seen. The bouncer at the door stood with a half-smile, and pursed lips. He was dressed in a white outfit and a white cape and had slicked down, bleached-blonde, side-parted hair. The event information very specifically stated that all attendees should be dressed in theme or liberally (i.e. the less clothes the better) so the ‘well-dressed’ tourists and conservative folk were getting turned away for being Berlin's version of "too boring".
Meanwhile, I unzipped my black vest to reveal my sheer stockings, high-waisted black underwear and a black mesh top. My shorts from earlier had been stashed away in my gym sack. Correspondingly, my friend removed her coat to display her thigh-highs and suspenders, and we turned our backs and tried desperately to ignore the two drunk guys behind us in the line who kept grabbing us and were making a despairing attempt to befriend us so they had a better chance at entry.
After a while, as is the Berlin test of determination and self-esteem, we started to get the line jitters. It's only normal to be concerned about being denied entry as you watch others (who have also lined up for what can be hours) being turned away with barely an explanation. The idiot drunks behind us were so loud they started to draw attention to themselves. They were so persistent that at one point I told them to fuck off and just take their pants off if they were that keen to get in. Mind you, this was not a joke – the guys that were initially denied entry ahead of us were given permission to go forth after they’d succumbed to the request of the camp bouncer to take off their shirts and jackets.
After what seemed like hours but was probably more like 30 minutes, we finally made it to the front and were asked how many in our group, to which we replied, “Zwei”, before getting the nod of approval to proceed inside and pay the fairly hefty 15 euro cover charge. Our wrists stamped, our bags searched, and our mobile phone cameras covered with stickers. For further reinforcement, we were read the riot act and told not to dare use them inside the club or else it was immediate dismissal. As we walked in, the bouncer was shouting inside to two guys who, after making it past the Türsteher, were putting their shirts back on: “Do NOT put your shirts back on!" he barked. "Put them in the cloak room! That is not the point of tonight - and if you put them back on, then you can return back out here!”
Once inside, we walked through a little outdoor garden, past a bar, and into a dark hallway of a multi-storey, graffiti-stained, dilapidated building. We made a quick toilet stop and as I walked out, I realised this party was going to be very different: blocking the doorway to the unisex toilets was a lady in fancy dress and weird makeup, and who was wearing a pair of giant rubber breasts. Another lady was bent down on her knees in front of her, head back, slurping down the liquid streaming from one of the nipples as the breast-wearer squeezed the teat to keep the flow steady. After the lady had had her fill, the breast-wearing lady advised us there was a special show on, just for us. All we had to do was turn right, go up the stairs and find the little room.
We soon realised that there were 'little rooms' everywhere – a dozen (maybe more!) of varying sizes and difficulty to find. I’m am almost certain we didn’t find them all, but of the ones we did stumble across, each had its own theme. Some were small and intimate, squeezing in ten people at a stretch, and some were bigger and adorned with ceiling decorations, a good-sized dance floor and pumping techno. As we made our way through the venue, we walked past guys in G-strings, people in weird outfits, topless girls, and the Berliner-usuals donning tight-black-anything.
Not long after we’d bought a drink, the Swedish band guys arrived and all managed to make it through the front door. They had brought a friend or two along as well and at that stage we all decided to go for a dance, but on the way got split up into a few different groups as the place was getting busy. With my little group, we rounded a corner and saw an intriguing room. It was blue-lit with lounges on each side and only enough space for about eight to ten people. One bench had space next to two others, so we took a seat to finish our drinks. The lounge opposite had two fully-clothed guys on it and a naked Asian lady lying across them - which was a little weird at first, but we had had a few drinks so... when in Berlin. No one was overly concerned with who else was there. Everyone just chilled.
After a little while, subtle action started up on the opposite lounge as the two guys used their hands to tend to the lady. Was it a performance? Or was it happy party-goers? That is the subtlety with which the House of Red Doors seamlessly installs its performance art. Before long, hands and fingers were flying everywhere and the lady was writhing around in pleasure on the couch. One of the guys, who was around 45 at a guess, had a grin on his face as he made eye contact with the people watching and and continued to push his arm back and forth, back and forth into the lady. We - the audience - were half-laughing, half-shocked but in any case, it was hard to turn away. After 5 or so minutes, the Asian lady started screaming and arching her back. She was enjoying herself so much and wriggling around crazily so that she looked like she was having a fit. I was genuinely concerned that she was going to flip backwards off the couch onto her head. Thankfully, with a loud sigh, the screaming subsided and she resumed her initial position lying safely across the gentlemen's laps on the couch. The show was over. It was time to dance.
We snaked our way back to find the others, but they had disappeared, so we traipsed upstairs to search. Upstairs we happened across a little bar/ mini dance floor with a DJ in a loft and some interesting wall decorations. The music was a chilled minimal/ tiki style of house and people were lounging around the lush surrounds having drinks. We decided to stay there and text the other crew to meet us there (if they could find us in the maze of rooms). While we waited, we took a shot of absinthe that almost eroded our throats. As I was recovering at the bar, I met a German girl who happened to be the next DJ playing. So we got to talking about music, female DJs, and a new project she was getting up and running to teach girls the art. We had a good chat, but then she had to disappear up the ladder to prepare for her set. I turned back to the bar to find a guy on a stool making eyes with me. He smiled and raised his eyebrows, and it soon registered that he was one of the annoying two drunk guys that had stood behind us in the line. “Ah, so you did get in!” I said. He nodded, we clinked glasses and returned to our respective groups.
Having accrued more group members for the evening, we went down to dance on one of the two main dance floors. It was nice and warm inside, so conservative dressing was neither necessary nor welcomed. By this stage, people were looser and there were drugs, arses and breasts flying around everywhere. We met a nice (shirted!) guy who was by himself on the dance floor and told him about the show we’d seen earlier. He hadn’t seen anything of the sort, so we decided to take him for a wander to see if we could find another. It wasn’t long before we found a different room that held some promise.
This room was almost pitch black, apart from two people you could see standing at the bottom of a fluoro blue ladder. We walked towards them, and they moved away so we could climb onto the first rung of the ladder and investigate. We went to climb up, but then stopped as we looked up only to see that the path was blocked by a trap door. Intrigued, one of us decided to climb to the top and investigate. New friend ended up getting to the top, where he then knocked, pushed, and pressed on the wood before deciding it was locked and couldn't be accessed. After that, we descended down the ladder and moved on. Once on a different floor of the building, we walked past another tiny room, and in which a similar scene was playing out to what we’d witnessed previously. We pulled the guy inside and took a seat on the couch.
This time it was only one guy and one girl who were having sex on the lounge opposite. After the 'show' was over, some of the crowd thanked them, and the solo guy from the dance floor took us to the bar and bought us beer as a sign of his gratitude.
By this stage we’d lost some band members, so we decided to go outside, where we found them on some lounges having a cigarette. The dawn was breaking, and the air had a chill that made the inside maze of rooms and dance floors much more appealing. So, after briefly checking in, we went back inside. We found a spot on another dance floor and lost some time among the bodies swaying under the strobe lights.
After a while, it was again time to regroup. This time we had more difficulty locating people. We searched high and low until we ran into one of the band boys who grabbed our wrists and started leading us through the masses of people. The place was jam packed. We went through two dancefloors, past two bars, and into another hall that led to a ladder. We climbed up the ladder and there was a separate loft overlooking a dance floor, with cushions and space for ten or so people.
Huddled in the corner were two of our crew, chilling with beers in hand. We took a seat, still minus one friend and, once we’d settled in, realised what we’d walked into: this time it was two guys and one girl having a threesome over on the far side of the loft. I laughed. What would otherwise be a strange sight in a club had become the norm of the evening. It was welcomed here. I was still worried that we’d left one person behind, so I offered to go back and grab them. I made my way back down the ladder and luckily they were only 20 metres away in the hallway so I called out. “We’re up here. You should come, this is hilarious. There’s a threesome happening up there. We’re all having a drink.”
We made our way back through the people and they went up the ladder first with me trailing behind. “It’s not a threesome, you lied!” they said. I was surprised that it had dissipated so quickly, as I’d only been gone a few minutes. I climbed up and quickly saw why. Another guy had moved over to join in, now making it a foursome. So, we found some space and sat with the others. The fourth participant, a young guy in his early twenties, quickly turned around to the watching crowd and proclaimed, “I’m not gay!” before he moved behind one of the male participants and joined in. At this point, we realised my friend had lost her coat, so we decided to head back down and go on a search.
After being escorted to some of the rooms we were in earlier, which had now been closed off, we were no closer to finding it. So following some lost time searching fruitlessly, we decided to call it a night (/day) and emerged into the sunlit garden.
It was 8am – although you wouldn’t have picked it inside, because the dancefloors were still flooded with people. We made our way past the white-cloaked bouncer, who was cradling a gigantic shot glass filled with bright green absinthe, and exited onto the street. Dangerously, the venue was only a short walk away from my house but also near a major train station, so three of us decided to walk to the station together. It was an unwelcome shock bustling past the throngs of early morning commuters, feeling very much worse for wear. I ducked into a bakery and bought myself some breakfast, before waving goodbye to the two friends and making my way back to my apartment, very much hoping not to run into my housemates. I crawled into bed well after my usual school-day alarm had gone off, and knew that school would be a non-event that Friday.