Like all well-intentioned plans, it ended in disaster. I was going to be home by eight, but as things tend to go here, a late night in Berlin ends mid-morning the next day.
The bar was closing and a girl I had met said she wanted to stay out and go to a club. I have trouble calling it a night and always want to keep going. So I went along. The white light of morning blinded us as we emerged from the basement exit of the bar. We took a cab to a desolate plot of land.
A stretch of gravel and dirt led up to a large building, a massive repurposed power station. For an industrial building it had a sophisticated style, crowned with an austere but decorative cornice. There was a sense that something was about to happen like people were preparing to launch a covert military operation. We wound our way through the empty corral that led to an especially average door considering the size of the building that loomed overhead. Like a TSA checkpoint they patted me up and down, took my bottle of water and tossed it in a garbage can filled with bottles of water. We went in.
It was like diving into a swimming pool. The music filled the air; it was the air. It was a physical substance we had to move around in. The speaker system amplified the sound in such a way that I was in the music, not hearing it. It was closer to your ears than a pair of headphones. This wasn’t happy carefree techno, it was Berlin techno, foreboding, sexy and full of doom. The space was enormous like an airplane hanger; it was massive and dark, lit with a magenta light. We walked up the catwalk and surveyed the scene. Down below it looked relatively empty just because of the immensity of the dance floor. We went through a hallway and into another area that was significantly smaller although still rather large by any reasonable standards. We wandered around the endless maze of halls, dance floors, rooms and balconies. Tinted glass and light fixtures gave each area its own color: orange, blue and red.
We ended up in a glass pavilion that was as bright as the rest of the place was dark. Everything was a silvery gray like all the colors, blacks and whites had been sucked out. I shivered; something was tickling my arms. I looked at the prickly hairs on my sweaty forearms–they were vibrating with the bass that was throbbing through the building.
We moved back to the catwalk. I came up behind her and kissed her on the neck. She was beautiful with her full figure, tight jeans and faded black t-shirt. We made out for a little while but then she said she wanted to find some cocaine and followed someone into the toilets. That was the end of that.
I wandered around through the music on my own. With smooth repetitive electronic melodies that slowly mutate as they pass through your head it’s hard to think; it’s easier to just space out. The beat pauses; the energy lingers in the air like car jumping of a cliff. You think the party is winding down–it’s morning for god’s sake. The atmospheric echo is hanging there but the bass bursts back in, relentlessly pounding and everyone jumps, their fists in the air, re-invigorated.
It gets old, though and you have to get out of there. People go for days; they take MDMA and assure me it is totally different than Ecstasy. You might see someone on Friday only to run into them again on Saturday or Sunday, still in their clothes from Friday, rolling on uppers.
When I came home the neighborhood was alive with activity. People were jogging or piling their kids into the car for a day trip. I was disgusted and recalcitrant, proud of my idiot decisions that had brought me to that point in time. This is the crux of the conflict in Berlin. On the one hand you have a growing number of people settling down, starting families and driving gentrification. On the other you have the people who embrace this rough and crusty metropolis precisely because it is poor and hassle free. Berlin, having spent the majority of the 20th century under strict oppression and authoritarian rule seems reluctant to impose order and enforce rules the way the rest of Germany does. “Berlin is not Germany,” Germans often tell me. But money changes everything. Just in the few years I’ve been coming here I can see things shifting.
That night I looked at a flyer the girl had given me at the club. It had a bizarre image that only got stranger as you unfolded it. A series of hooded figures emerged from a dark wood joined by a human size ice cream cone. Shirtless boys embraced while others were attended by nymphs. One nude goddess sported a tribal tramp stamp or as the Germans say “Arschgeweih” (ass antlers). A young boy looked out of the picture, he held the end of a stretcher on which sat a blindfolded angel. One of the poles at the front of the stretcher plunged into the butt of a man in a HAZMAT suit and exited through his crotch. Where the hell had I been? “Berghain” said the flyer.