// Overseas travel blog
// Overseas travel blog
Two words synonymous with Berlin? Techno. Berghain.
Saturday began in a responsible manner, in order to prepare for a hopeful evening and Sunday morning at the infamous Berghain. I will not describe Berghain: either you know it, or you don’t. If you fall into the latter category, ask Google why the converted power plant is the most renowned techno club in the entire world. Actually I can’t really remember what I did during the day. I think I went to the gym and did some laundry or some other similarly inane activities.
On Saturday evening, I met up again with an acquaintance at Treptower Park. Treptower is a huge green space along the river and is an ideal spot for exercise, BBQs, picnics, drinks or smoking joints. It was another boiling day and thankfully the friend and one of her mates met me at the S-bahn station to take me on the back of their bike to the picnic spot, so I could avoid a sweaty 15 minute walk.
We had nabbed a place right on the river, complete with cold beers, shade, and a DJ friend selecting all the tunes to play on the music dock. It was a great vibe. I was only expecting to be there for an hour or so, as the weather app had predicted huge storms to pass over, but they never came, despite menacing purple clouds and lightning on every horizon.
Most of the group of 6 were Australian ex-pats living in either Berlin or London, and they were a sharp, witty bunch that knew how to have a good time. We spent the time listening to music, chatting, and yelling some friendly banter at the boaters and water-sports enthusiasts passing us along the river. As it approached 8PM, but still very much daylight, we decided to go on a little mission to visit the Soviet Memorial within the park. I have been before, and it’s still one of my favourite places in Berlin. It’s surrounded by huge, vibrant green trees, and is so well hidden that it is rarely visited by tourists. The monument is gigantic and it really is quite a sight, but owing to its location its presence is very much concealed by the lush forest.
After a few dirt trails and wrong turns, we eventually got there to take in the sight. By this time my leg and butt muscles were burning from having to balance on the back of the bike the entire time. With the purple/black storm clouds, contrasting blinding green of the forest, and the sheer size of the main monument, it really was something special. We stayed for a little, and then one of the guys was kind enough to take me on the back of his bike and drop me back at the S-bahn station to head home and prepare for the rest of the night.
I had arranged to meet up with a friend later in the evening to head out for some fun and then attempt entry at Berghain in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Again, if you don’t know what I mean by attempt, bitte – consult Google. Although we’d arranged to meet quite late, she ended up being late as well and as a result we only actually started the evening after 1am. Although in Berlin this is actually perfect if you plan to be out until 10am or so! We made a quick stop in at the local Späti (Spätkauf or late-night store) and bought a few drinks to have in the park. The park was actually full of people doing exactly the same thing, so we chilled for a while and had a chat and a couple of beers. Afterwards, we made a quick stop back at my apartment for a toilet break and to make a game plan.
It was soon decided that rather than go elsewhere first and then try Berghain at around 7am, we would just head straight to the end goal. That way, should we be rejected, we could always go to another club and try Berghain again later. We jumped on a train, and travelled two stations west to Ostbahnof, where we exited and made for the back Ausgang of the station, along with another couple of black-clad Berghain-looking commuters.
The walk there was eerie. The summer sun in Europe doesn’t set for very long, and on that particular night it felt like a bit of an endless twilight. We made our way through the quiet back streets, along the train line and past some dark hardware stores. The clouds were rolling past quickly, and a strange purplish-grey light emanated from the moon, lending the sky an appearance worthy of the Apocalypse. On the way we discussed options for our game plan:
1) we could go together, and risk rejection as going in single is more likely to be successful. If we don’t get the nod of approval, then we’re both screwed. Maybe we could try later though?
2) we could go in separately and hope to both get in. But what if one gets in, the other doesn’t?
We decided that the plan was to spend the night together, so together it would be. We hung out a hundred metres from the entrance, and finished our last beer. I removed my jacket, and we prepared to line up. As we approached the line, we saw that there were only around fifteen people ahead of us, so we took our spot behind them. Some people were getting through, some not. We stayed quiet and made it to the front of the line, and before I knew it, my friend said, ‘Nein?’ to which the bouncer shook his head, and we were rejected. I hadn’t even seen the guy who denied us, and obviously Berghain needs no reasoning. Without thinking about it, we did the smart thing and walked off immediately, hoping they’d forget our faces. In fact, I wasn’t even sure they’d seen mine at all, as the decision was made so quickly.
We were a little deflated, but it’s not as though it wasn’t expected. Then it was time to make a contingency plan. But first, beer.
As options were discussed, I suggested that we might as well have a drink for 20 minutes, change our clothing and hair a little bit and try the other option of walking in separately. We had nothing to lose. I was convinced they’d barely layed eyes on me, and the amount of foot traffic churning through at that hour on a Sunday morning (especially with everyone dressed in the Berghain uniform of black) made it likely that individual faces would be forgotten quickly. I removed yet another layer of clothing, down to my mesh singlet, and tied my hair up. It was chilly. My friend removed her jacket and also tied her hair up and we decided to stagger our approaches by a few minutes, with me going first. Hopefully we’d both get in.
I walked along the dirt road, moving in towards the building from the side, and saw that no one was lining up. It was just me and the door. A couple quickly approached from the front and were let in. Another guy also approached from the front, alone, and was quickly turned away. I neared the entrance and was confronted directly with the bouncer, as I hadn’t bothered to zig zag into the line given that there were no people waiting. I stopped in front of the bouncer, looking disinterested, silently hoping for a lack of recognition and a favourable outcome.
‘Why are you lining up here?‘ he asked in English.
I looked exasperated, and said, ‘Es gibt keine Shlange!‘ (there is no line!) and motioned at the lack of people lining up in the usual area. He did a sort of half nod or looked at the ground. I didn’t need clarification or to risk him changing his mind, so I made the assumption that the lack of a ’No‘ meant a yes* and walked past him in through the entrance. Once there, a tall, adrogynous, scary-looking woman in her late forties put out her hand and grabbed for my bag. I opened the neck and she began pulling out objects.
’Remove your clothing from in there,‘ she said, as I pulled my jacket out.
She fingered my wallet and opened the coin purse, checking for drugs, then thoroughly examined my Chapstick and sunglasses case before padding the bottom of the bag. Next she grabbed my phone and pressed a round orange sticker over the camera lens, before removing my case and attaching another to the other side, making it impossible to take a photo either by normal means or as a selfie. Next I held my arms out and I was patted down thoroughly, before finally being led to the cashier. I forked out my 15 euro in return for an inky blue stamp that adorned my right wrist with the words Switch off, and walked through into the industrial foyer, filled with dark shadows and a promising pounding bassline. I was in.
As soon as I was away from the entrance, I pulled out my phone, only to see a disappointing message advising that my friend had been rejected. The plan was foiled. She insisted that I should stay in, as it was the fourth attempt for me this year, with the previous attempts all resulting in rejection. But the plan was to go together, and while one can thoroughly enjoy a night there alone, there would be time for that later.
‘Hold tight,’ I texted back. ‘I’ll go for a wander so it’s not suspicious coming directly back out, then I’ll come and grab you and we’ll go somewhere else. Can come back later.’
I walked upstairs onto the main dancefloor, treading carefully as I had to adjust to the blackness in order to see my own feet. It was semi busy, with some hard techno playing. I did a loop and then exited outside ten to fifteen minutes later, and we jumped in a cab to head to About Blank, which is another techno club in the same area. We lined up, with only four in front this time, before being promptly rejected from that venue as well. The bouncers were really not liking us tonight. Thankfully, Salon zur Wilde Renate i.e. the venue of the previously discussed Red Door Party, was on the same street so we walked down and tried not to feel deflated as we lined up yet again. My friend was still bitching about not being let into Berghain, let alone the second rejection at About blank. Thankfully, we were allowed into Wilde Renate, and we jumped at the chance to buy a drink after such a long time en route to try and find a place to party. The vibe was very different to the previous time I’d been there, but we had a dance and a few drinks nonetheless.
Soon enough, we decided that we’d head back to Berghain for one last attempt. We bought a coffee and a bread roll at the train station and refuelled on the train on the way there – it was breakfast time after all. This time the plan was again to go in solo, with the friend going first. I already had a stamp, meaning that it’s basically impossible not to be re-allowed entry. Hopefully she would get in this time, and then I could follow a few minutes later with the flick of my wrist. She put an annoyed look on her face, changed the hair again slightly, and made a quick trot towards the entrance. I met some random people having beers and made small talk, all the while waiting for the bing of my phone to get a message that she was in. After an agonising five minutes, it came. I quickly followed and walked back through, meeting her in the foyer. Finally! By this time it was after 7am, and the place was truly busy, and although a little tired, we were pumped.
Berghain is really another world. The industrial, dingy feel of the concrete walls with their minimal décor, and the high factory ceilings pay homage to its history as a power plant. The feel is raw and exposed, but dark and mysterious all at once. A multi-million dollar sound system affords the place incredible and unique acoustics, perfectly suited to Berlin’s famed minimal and edgy techno. People fly in from all over Europe just to try and spend a weekend at Berghain. Once the doors are open Friday at midnight, they don’t close again until Monday and you can quite literally spend over 48 hours inside the club. The people that do this have obviously had a little more than a coffee.
We allowed a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dark, and found the hard staircase on the far edge of the main dancefloor. We took the stairs up towards the Panorama Bar and a slosh of combined sounds from the two dancefloors washed over us. As we moved towards the upstairs dancefloor, the sound gradually evened out until we were standing on the side of the Panorama Bar, and the tech house predominated. Here the music was less severe, and the crowd smaller but no less enthusiastic. We walked behind the dancefloor to get to the bar to grab a drink, and then back out the same way.
As we walked by the little cement alcoves, a fully naked man clad in leather straps approached my friend. I couldn’t hear what was being said but after the conversation finished she explained that he was offering us a foot massage. He was a fetishist and wanted to show his appreciation for women’s feet and to provide us pleasure. She had politely declined, indicating that we had only just arrived, but kindly offered that we would take some time to settle in and then reconsider. Of course there would be no reconsidering, but the guy seemed harmless so she let him down easily. I had no doubt that someone would take him up on the offer.
Drinks in hand we made our way back down to the main dancefloor and took a spot under the lights. The sound was phenomenal, and the dancefloor was busy but spacious enough to be comfortable. We spent the next few hours absorbing the energy, watching the people and enjoying the complete comfort and anonymity that Berghain is famed for. You can literally do whatever the hell you want, provided you’re not hurting anyone: sex? go for it. Ridiculous dancing? Sure. Nudity? Encouraged. Eating an apple on the dancefloor? Yes, not uncommon.
By the time 10am was reached, the adrenaline of the night’s adventures had worn off, and the reality of the all-nighter set in. The techno changed into a gravelly, deep, harsh sub-genre that had lost the danceable beat of the previous DJ’s set. We decided to call it a night, happy that the night’s mission of getting in had been achieved. As we walked out, I sadly realised that Berghain had swallowed my sunglasses, never to be seen again and the reality of it being after 10am was only highlighted by the lack of protection from the bright sunshine. We hugged and congratulated ourselves on a fun and successful evening, and dragged our sorry selves to the train station to make a beeline for our beds.
* Please note this logic is not condoned in other situations!