Nightlife in Berlin: A Magical Maze of Spontaneity
In a dream of delirium, aching with constant change after non-stop traveling, I eased back into a plastic sun lounger that uncannily resembled a white molar. Like many others in the past few years, I had been caught in the jaws of Berlin’s relentless and alluring gnashing. Word of mouth recommendations on its exploding art scene and constant promise of off-the-map spontaneity were already being turned to action.
As I curled my painted lips round that first cold afternoon beer in one of the many outdoor bars, I left the world of nine to five behind and joined the self-employed creative freelancers who work on their own time.
The small bar, Rosengarten, looked nothing more than an abandoned building from the front. But on closer inspection, as we climbed up the steps and emerged into a mid-city rose garden, the shack opened out to reveal its secret life. It was run singlehandedly by a woman of about forty. I watched her as she carefully placed cut-glass ashtrays on each of the small wooden tables, moving between the pink and white plastic tooth-chairs as if flossing. Her thin lime-green socks were pulled up to her knees and her hot pink shorts promised the sight of something more exciting than vibrant fabric. I imagined her chiffon blue shirt blowing behind her as she raced across the shiny wooden floor to the finish line of a Texan roller derby. But the four-wheeled fantasy was ruined when my eyes met her trainer-clad feet. I pinched myself back into action. It’s easy to get carried away on the endless possibility of this city.
We shamelessly posed ourselves as locals ready for a week of debauchery minus the German accents.
Unlike other capitals, London – New York – Paris, Berlin appears much calmer and spread out. I immediately felt at ease, and almost at home. For the time being though, along with a group of university friends, we Airbnb-ed an apartment in the East and shamelessly posed ourselves as locals ready for a week of debauchery minus the German accents. We armed ourselves with the authentic hipster fuel, ‘Club-Marte’ which was supposedly Che Guevera’s drink of choice. It came in fancy glass bottles that could be taken back to any newsagent in return for money or the value of that money on a ticket, which can then be given out to one of the many drifters who roam the parks collecting glass. Sensible policies like this have been reforming the city’s image for a while now. But as well as taking ideas from these, we had come as night-time detectives on the case of Berlin’s underground club scene.
After facing the reality that the Kreuzberg cool seemed to enjoy drinking cold over-brewed tea with a hint of chewing tobacco, we hoped to pick our spirits up by finding one of the many hidden-away squat clubs. Berlin seems to pride itself on secrecy with a nostalgic love for prohibition speakeasies tucked away behind unassuming closed doors. Each time we knocked to be lead into their smoky underbellies I felt underdressed, wondering where we had left our cigarette holders and trilbies.
After this whispered, cocktail-fueled meeting in closed quarters, we got our hands on a local, a friend of a friend met through Couchsurfing, who took us to About Blank. We set out on a search party through residential streets lined with blocks of grey Eastern European style flats and unassuming houses before finally reaching the club. Moving closer to the scene of the crime, we joined a short queue to await trial in front of a jury of notoriously uncompromising bouncers. After an interrogation of what we knew about the mysterious place we stood outside (and a few swift guesses at the kind of music being played inside), a thorough bag inspection and a warning not to use any photography equipment, we piled through the plastic acting as a door at the end of the white hall. I wasn’t sure if I was about to enter a nightclub or an asylum.
Each time we knocked to be lead into their smoky underbellies I felt underdressed, wondering where we had left our cigarette holders and trilbies.
Once inside we were greeted by a circle of long-coated, straight-faced women, jet black hair over their eyes. The postcard image of Berlin night owls. Like Renate, another squat club, these tunneled chambers and warehouses constantly present rooms, which are impossible to find again, strange goings-on, unsolvable riddles. One room had a ceiling composed entirely of disco-balls and another in which everyone was dressed as sailors, dancing themselves back into the sixties.
By the end of the holiday, the whole experience had become some sort of dark magical maze in my memory. It’s the right time for Berlin, constantly surprising with its ability to improvise, a revolving circus at all hours. And if you’re not too careful, you might never find your way out.