Preview: Karneval der SubKulturen

Detail of the Koepi's frontage
What's alternative about the Carnival of Cultures?  Everything and nothing.  Every culture that you'll see there - on a float, at a stall or onstage - will be some kind of an alternative to Berlin's indigenous culture.   The jerk chicken and samba bands will seem exotic to some of us for sure.  But then again, there are also parts of India and Africa where eating currywurst and drinking beer with fake raspberry syrup in it may seem exotic. It's all a matter of perspective.

The Karneval der Kulturen (May 22-25) was founded in Berlin in 1996 to combat the growing tide of nationalistic racism in the former East German capital.  Some would say that it also afforded the local prols (chavs) an excellent opportunity to work on their fake tans and get dressed up in pastel colours and bling-bling.  (Many seem to have taken that idea and run with it).

Some of the true minority cultures that are visible on the streets of Berlin (African, Jamaican, Turkish) will feature largely at the KDK though. Balkan and TurPop are two well-represented genres, and YAAM will do its ubiquitous reggae float at the street parade on Sunday

But if you're in the mood for something even more marginal than that, then check out the vast listing for Karneval performances - which will host more than a million people and 4,000 performers - by clicking here. You're bound to find something exotic... by your definitions, anyway! 

On the more 'local' end of the cultural spectrum, the Koepi will be hosting a parade and festival centered of its own.  The Karneval Der Subkulturen will focus on all the marginalized strands of German home-grown cultures: hip hop, punk, doomcore, speedcore and "industrial carnival" will be some of the sounds emananting from the gig space and cellar of the Kreuzberg punk squat located on Koepernickerstrasse.  Subhumanz (a.k.a. Citizen Fish) and Doom are two of the bands that will play... they may ring a bell for English readers of this blog or those of you who are into punk and crust.

A trad Namibian hairdo would fit in on any runway

While Berlin celebrates the exotic cultures that have been imported here from abroad, it is worth remembering that the Senate is continually squeezing alternative culture projects (like the Koepi) out of existence to replace them with something that makes more money.  Talk about stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

There are probably plenty of Germans out there who view Berlin's artists, activists, hedonists, designers, fashionistas and punk buskers as layabouts.  Yet when women in Namibia spend hours putting ochre and mud in their hair, or making elaborate bead trinkets to display, it's taken for granted that they probably aren't thinking about mortgages and unemployment rates (although anything is possible). If you only spare the cultures that generate revenues, you will always end up with a monoculture in the end. That's ethnic food for thought as Berlin heads outdoors this weekend to celebrate the culture of others.

For an African-American view of the Karneval, you can check out this entry by Black Girl in Berlin.   

Visuals at HI World Conference
Hedonist International is holding its third annual conference-festy weekender somewhere between Hamburg, Brandenburg and Berlin.  Sadly it's sold out, but it sounded promising enough for me to give it a plug as an idea for next year.  Yes, these are the same people who give their demonstrations names like 'Wet Dreams'.  They sound fun.  Here's a blurb about the conference from their site:

"Hedonist International was founded in 2006, in order to try and field test politics. It centers [on] action, which can mean a nude group visiting overpriced flats, or demonstrations for freedom and human rights, or doing gramophone concerts in Swiss homes for the elderly."   Each of their World Congresses has three parts - party, action and politics - and the events are ad hoc, freeform, and can discuss everything from gardening and food to drugs to social theory and new forms of direct action.  And of course, there's cool music to go with.

Another weekender happening in the countryside around Berlin is the bass-x-travaganza called Wax Treatment @ Kiekebusch Openair (near. Schoenefeld). It costs 15-25 Euros, lasts two days and features dnb, dub, and all the attendant fringe genres associated with those two things.

Have a great weekend!


Train Strikes: Getting On Board with the GDL

Melodramatic scenes like this are unlikely to occur in Berlin during the strike (the U-Bahn's too crowded for that!)
Germany’s train strike has been happening on and off for 10 months now and yet somehow, it feels like it’s been happening for about 10 years.  Perhaps that’s because the details that we hear about it never seem to change.  Every new strike comes with the same, tired preamble, stating that no progress has been made between the parties hammering out an agreement (about what?  No one really seems to know).  They tell us that the negotiations have been broken off yet again, also for reasons unknown.  Like me, you might be wondering, what's even going on here? 

After reading near-identical reports about the strikes on the Telegraph, BBC, Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Welle, I realized that the world's news outlets aren't doing much to answer that question. Their coverage all follows the same formula: half the article is spent complaining about the disrupted train services, the other half is spent quoting someone from Deutsche Bahn who is either a) criticizing the strikers or b) praising their corporation for being so patient with the strikers.   The train worker's union’s demands - a 5% pay increase and a 2 hour reduction in their working week - sometimes warrant a brief mention, like they're purely incidental. Like they're not at the very epicenter of this whole dispute. Weird. 

So I'm going to lay it out for you straight: Deutsche Bahn's management is greedy, stubborn and apparently, also wealthy enough to buy a media whitewash from every other news outlet in Europe. There. I said it. Now for the evidence.

The demands being made by the train worker's union (GDL or Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer) are pretty modest but Deutsche Bahn (which, incidentally, made 642 million Euros profit after taxes in a single quarter, according to this 2014 report) keeps on refusing to meet them.  Oddly, DB has made no attempt to justify its refusal to play nice.  But then, it doesn't have to. In July 2015 a new collective bargaining law takes effect that will effectively strip GDL of the right to act as a union.  

The new law states that only the largest trade union within a given company will allowed make collective bargaining agreements, from July onward.  So, only unions that represent vast numbers of employees will be able to take action when the bosses refuse to meet their terms.  Unions that represent people doing highly specialized jobs will no longer have the power to do things like go on strike. No wonder the DGL is aggressively pushing their case... while they still can. 

Bike-trains like this are one of the many alternative transportation methods that are used during strikes.
The new law is a sneaky attempt to erode union freedom while still theoretically allowing unions to exist.  By only allowing large unions to strike, the government can cut down on industrial actions overall, while at the same time claiming that they are liberal and democratic and tolerant... just less so than all the other administrations that have existed until now, that's all.  Unions are also prone to corruption when they get too big, so criminalizing smaller ones seems like a sneaky way to ensure that activists quickly adopt the same lowest-common-denominator, might-is-right style of thinking that their corporate bosses can 'work with'.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn keeps on returning to the bargaining table with DGL, just to give the public the impression that they are being cooperative.  Yet each time that they do, they tell the DGL that they won't meet their terms until they reduce the demands, as the EDV (the largest train worker's union) has already done. 
Unsurprisingly, the DGL doesn’t like the larger union's terms all that much, and they keep saying 'no'.  (D'you think that might be the reason why they started a new union?)   

What at first seems like a simple pay rise issue turns out to be about a bigger question: what are democratic rights and employment rights worth to a 'business friendly' government?  If the government is eroding the right of employees to freely assemble how and when they choose to, and to represent their own best interests, whose rights will it take away next?  That's the real unanswered question here.  But thanks to some tactful media misdirection, it hasn't even been asked.

As an upside, this whole strike malarkey offers the Berlin expat a little glimpse into the workings of the wonderful world of German employment hierarchies: a place where CEOs of big corporations can refuse a petty pay increases which bring the country to a halt, without giving a single good reason. It seems that 'because I said so' is reason enough.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the DGL is also trying to unionize staff members who aren't yet represented by them... like the cleaners and caterers at DB?  So on top of everything else, the DB is union-busting.  

There’s just no way to put a nice gloss on that now, is there?  Little wonder that Germany's (corporate monopoly-owned) newspapers have chosen to focus on how inconvenient and disruptive their strikes are, instead talking about why they keep on happening. 

So when you read the paper next, you might notice that  half of the column inches devoted to the strike talk about how bad for business it is... how many millions and billions it's costing (none of these figures seem to be attributable to actual, real people, natch).  Is the definition of a good business only how much money it makes?  Or is it also about how that money is spent to make society a better place to live and work? 

I've never heard anyone say that strikes are supposed to be fluffy joyrides of fun for all those involved.  But I don’t think that the journalists who are writing whiny articles about the strikes are really as dumb as they seem.  They're probably just trying to find a way to fill column inches without going into the ugly technicalities and avoid making the chiefs of DB look like… well, chiefs.  (I use the word in its chav-slang sense here). 

But from the unruffled calm that I've witnessed on the trains and tubes around Berlin, it seems like most people understand that the whole conflict is a bit farcical.

Many Berliners are already aware that the labour laws here can force workers to take extraordinary measures, at times.  As of 2013, one in five workers in Germany holds a so called 'mini job' (the German equivalent of a zero hours contract, e.g. a tax-free job without a pension or health benefits). The German government also has yet to implement a basic minimum wage.  Without a legal foundation to work with, it's no wonder that people often turn to strikes during these disputes. It's just amazing that it doesn't happen more often.  With labour laws being as basic as they are in Germany, I have a feeling that no legislation will prevent disputes like this from becoming more common as cost of living rises. 

So that's what's causing all the friction in that massive infrastructure we're all riding each day, in Berlin… We might think we are just riding this latest strike out and biding our time until these two remote parties sort ‘their’ issues out and the strike ends.  But the fact is that we are also being carried with them toward a new and less-shiny future, where employment will be less fair, and all of us less able to change it without breaking the law.  Are we really all aboard for that? 


Rhythms of Resisd@nce: Making Waves by the Pool

If you were passing through the Wiener Strasse area yesterday, you might have noticed that it was not a day for 'business as usual', down at the local pool.  Semi-nude bathers inside the pool clustered by its windowed walls to goggle at a swirling pool of dancers outside on Spreewaldplatz, making waves of the sonic kind... 

Yes, that's right: the Spreewaldplatz was briefly reclaimed by, and for, an underrepresented Berlin demographic: the ravers.  Not just the people who attend raves, but those who organize them as well: living, eating, sleeping and breathing in the liberty that is found in the city's underpopulated, undiscovered nooks and crannies. Around 90% of inner-city Berlin used to be comprised of such nooks & crannies, before the relentless march of commercialization began.  So it may be fair to say that many of the people at yesterday's 'reclaim the Gorli' party embodied the untamed spirit that put Berlin on the map in the first place.

As often reported on this blog, the city's free spirit has been bruised and disfigured by business interests, city officials and others who would prefer to box it up & sell it in some cheesy supermall.  Recently however, the free party scene has been breaking through the limitations imposed on it by the rich and powerful, and refusing to be sidelined in some distant obscure part of town. The reclaim the Gorli party seems to be the latest symptom of that fightback: ravers using their wits to secure a free space in the center, if only for a few hours at a time.   

While it was definitely a party, yesterday's event was a bona fide protest as well.  (At one point, an eminently chilled-sounding organizer responding to an angry dealer, who was ranting about an unfair arrest, by saying 'If you are angry you are welcome').  But the event was a largely non-verbal demand to dismantle the boundaries that prevent so many of us from participating fully in the city's life... psychological and stylistic boundaries, as well as ideological and monetary ones.  Some freedoms just can't be summed up on a placard or a pamphlet, it seems; they need to be exercised.  Being the change can often be as effective as demanding it. 

Things that you might have witnessed at this party included a) people doing Qui-Gong for hours under the trees whilst whistling like birds, b) speeches about racial profiling and refugees rights, c) a proud father dancing with his kid on his shoulders to speedy tekno in a 150-strong crowd d) colourful clothes, hair and banners blowing in the wind, e) a guy in a blond wig strumming a ukelele f) quasi-political speeches in praise of sunshine f) friendly nutters handing out apples and stickers and g) other assorted mash-ups and crossbreeds of scenes that exist above, below, beside and perpendicular to Berlin's mainstream.  Which is either saying something or nothing at all, because I'm not even sure if Berlin has a mainstream... 

The line of riot vans leading up to Spreewaldplatz from Gorlitzer Bahnhof only acted as a trail of breadcrumbs for party diehards to follow to the site, providing better publicity for the party than any flyering campaign could have done.  The police kept a tight rein on the sound though, only allowing the freetekno-playing DJs to increase it increments as the crowd swelled, on what seemed to be a decibel-per-head basis. But as friends were phoned and passers-by encouraged to join in, the music got louder through the day... and the night.

Meanwhile, jaded locals whizzed by without a second glance; some stopped to chat with the party's more extreme characters as easily as they would to a neighbour.  Cautiously curious tourists loitered around the edges, checking out the sub-cultural 'sight' before being gradually sucked in by its sound and movement.  They may not all have been into the music that was playing, but the atmosphere had a special appeal of its own. 

This was the third 'reclaim the Gorli' event that has happened around Goerlitzer Park recently.  There is another one planned for this Sunday afternoon (today). I think it's a great development for Kreuzberg, which is in constant danger of becoming an expensive showcase of itself; a place where tour groups can goggle at street life, on display in a shop window.  Yesterday, those roles seemed to be reversed, with the voyeurs on display in the pool while the street life was free to roam.  When it comes to saving free public spaces, it is usually a case of 'use it or lose it' and organizing democratic parties like these is a great way to use it. 

Only one sour note: the police decision to relocate these demos outside of Gorli's walls seems like a passive-aggressive tactic to ensure that the neighbours will complain about them eventually, due to a lack of sound barriers between locals & the rhythms of resistance.  That hurdle needs to be gotten around eventually - it's not hard to see how the cops may start to use residential noise fears as a reason to silence this political party broadcast.  But in the meantime, you should get down there and help them make some sonic waves of your own... with your feet!


International Women's Day: Going on the Defensive

Making feminism a threat again is the motto of this year's International Women's Day march in Berlin.  It's  not as scary as it sounds, though.  For some men, just being born female is enough to make someone a threat, after all.  It really doesn't matter to them what women say or do, how feminist they are or aren't, or how demurely they behave, or how promiscuous they are in their personal lives.  Just by existing, women will always upset certain men and, for those men, no excuse is needed to mete out a punishment that fits the 'crime'. But it always helps to have a plausible-sounding reason for attacking women and right now, that reason could be summed up as: "Feminists have gone too far and/or become too equal.  They need/want/are asking for a backlash."

If the 'feminism has gone too far' bandwagon was an actual vehicle, it would be a Ford Model-T because its that old. as the foto below illustrates, fear of feminists has been around since the birth of the Suffragette movement.  It is clearly an irrational fear; feminism has not gotten very far at all, since the early 1900's.  Here is a random, by no means inclusive sampler of some of the inequalities still faced by women today:

*Only 6 societies out of the nearly 200 countries in the world are matriarchal. And none of them are in the Western Hemisphere.

*Only 22 leaders of nations are female, worldwide.

*Women produce 2/3 of the world's food, but earn 50% of what men working in agriculture do... even in Western nations like Canada

*German women earn 22% less than what men in the same role earn.  I wonder if this figure also applies to the post of Chancellor, held by Angela Merkel?

*New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Poland, Finland, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Iceland all place restrictions on abortion rights.  This means that the state can force a woman to have a baby against her will (if only in limited situations).  Northern Ireland has a total ban on abortion.

Every bigot's worst fear: an empowered
*Vatican City is one of just two places in the world where there is a ban on women voting.  And according to LiveScience, Catholics comprise 50 percent of all Christians worldwide and 16 percent of the world's total population.    

*In one experiment, fake internet accounts were set up under male and female names.  Male accounts received almost 4 threatening and harassing messages per day, while the female accounts received over 100. Because these were not even real women (or men), we can rule out character & behaviour as being determining factors in the way others behaved towards them.  Gender bias alone was responsible.

*A Demos study of misogynist language on Twitter found that the the words 'slut' and 'whore' were used more than 6 million times during a six-week period. Twenty percent of the time, the words were used in a threatening way.  And dozens of other hateful terms for women were omitted from the study.

*Budget cuts in the UK have led to over 150 women being turned away from domestic violence shelters each day

*Almost 90% of hospital admissions in for an eating disorder in the UK are female.

*95% of rape victims worldwide are female (except in prison).  An even higher percentage of the assailants are male, regardless of the victim's gender.

*One word: ISIS. A United Nations report on ISIS stated that, "'after capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharia amongst the fighters... who participated in the Sinja operations, after one-fifth of the slaves were transferred to the IS's authority to be divided as khums [spoils of war].' The group, in its recent magazine, welcome the enslavement of the Yazidi women, declaring one of the signs of the Hour [Apocalypse] to be when 'the slave girl gives birth to her master'".

*Saudi Arabia and other nations still punish rape victims for leaving the house without a male companion, for being alone with an unrelated man, or for getting pregnant afterwards.

As the Gamergate controversy in 2014 demonstrated, it doesn't take very long for the same guys who say 'feminists have gone too far' to start advocating violence against women, themselves... the same kind of violence that they claim feminists don't need to be afraid of, or are making up to get attention.  But then, consistency of logic is not what woman-haters are really after.  They're after blood.  And the veneer of legitimacy is all that is needed for them to get a mob baying for it... and maybe a taste of it too, before calmer heads prevail.

In 2015, women are still burned as witches in some nations (Paraguay and Papua New Guinea being recent examples).  Elsewhere, witch-hunt behaviour is evident in the way that men treat women who don't automatically to submit to them, whether it's in the virtual context of an internet debate, a conservative news program or the real-world context of war-torn Sudan.  This is the real face of sexism, and it wears an anti-feminist mask.

In the modern-day West, the witch hunt has become focussed on any woman who writes about rape, domestic violence, harassment or discrimmination.  It only takes 0.5 seconds for a barrage of questions to be hurled our way: "Why do you assume that men aren't affected by sexism and sexist violence, too?" As if feminists are at fault for correctly interpreting the ample official data (not to mention personal experience) which demonstrates that women are disproportionately victims of sexist harassment and violence, and that their attackers are disproportionately male.

Back in the 1990s, when words like 'chairman' and 'manpower' were replaced with 'chairperson' and 'personnel' in the dictionaries, I remember bigotted men rolling their eyes up and saying it was unnecessary to come up with new words, because most chairpeople were men, right?  And men traditionally were the bread-earners, even if a few feminist upstarts were temporarily changing things.  Yet today, when it comes to an categorizing rapists as 'male' and their victims as 'female', those same men are quick to cry 'generalization!'  Again, consistency of logic isn't their aim.  Consistency in silencing women is.  Asking feminists to devote equal time to male victims, when discussing crimes that men rarely suffer from, basically amounts to asking us to censor ourselves and rewrite the known facts.  This, we are expected to do under threat, to satisfy a bully's need to be prioritized in all discussions, all events, and all spheres... especially spheres inhabited by women.  I say, why bother.  If speaking the truth means being a threat, then so be it.  We can wear that label with pride.

Just as there is no smoke without fire, there is no feminism without sexism.  If feminism is still a threat in 2015, it's because there are still men who feel threatened by the equality of women.  It's tragic, but it's true.  This is why the organizers of this year's Frauenkampf march are talking about making feminism a threat again.  When a group is faced with as many threats as women are, they have to become a threat - to the assailants - to survive.  It's a matter of self-defence. 

The march tomorrow starts at 13.00 in Rosa-Luxemburg Platz.  In addition there are a  few other events happening in Berlin in the coming week:

Tonight there's a benefit party in Syndicat in Weiserstr. 56 in Neukoelln which is focussed on the current situation for women in Turkey, which will shed some light on the seemingly unstoppable rise of misogyny in that country. 

The Feminist Film Week opened last night - follow the link for its program.  Films are being screened nightly in Hallesches Halle until Friday, March 13th, when there will be a closing party at Schwuz in Neukoelln.   Anyone who's not won over by Pegida's claims that stopping Islam will help the feminist cause in any way, will want to check out the film 'Casablanca Calling': "The story of a quiet social revolution in Morocco. In a country where over 60% of women have never been to school, a new generation of women have started work as official Muslim leaders. They are called Morchidats or spiritual guides.

The German History Museum is doing a Frauentag special for free (!!) from 10.00 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday the 8th.   Get there early if you want to be sure to get in.

I'll leave you with some fighting words about the backlash from the Guardian's Gary Younge:

"The lash has all but disappeared; but somehow the backlash never seems to end. [...]  The absence of the lash simply changed the nature of the backlash. It is no longer an act of political retribution: the right has turned it into an art form."
 "First it finds an enemy - preferably a weak minority - gays, unmarried mothers, Muslims, the irreligious, international law or small countries that break international law, asylum seekers, Gypsies etc. In the inconvenient instance that a real enemy, no matter how exaggerated, cannot be found, it constructs one: the "liberal establishment", the "armies of political correctness", the "liberal media" or "feminazis". Then, with the enemy, real or invented, in place, it simply creates and inflates the crisis to suit, and bingo - the bespoke backlash.
 If the liberal left wants to be taken seriously, it will have to stand for more than office alone. It's time to bring back the lash."


Berlin: The Real 24-Hour City

I am in a hallway in a turn-of-the-century community centre with high ceilings; the patchy walls are decked with fairy lights, protest posters peel from the yellowing walls.  Every inch of the scuffed floors is filled with the shuffling feet of a rainbow crowd. 

Dogs weave through a crowd of black and white Rastas, hippies with pastel dreads and randoms with out-grown, razor-cut hair do's. Fresh-faced white activists & weary black men cross paths and chat.  All around them, people are smiling & swaying in droves...

People squeezing their way down the hall slow as they pass by a group of
Africans propping up a bar, in the middle of the hall. Passers-by are dragged in by the exhibitionist banter.  The air is peppered with giddy outbursts of hilarity.  Another exchange of stories and ideas ignites. 

Hip hop and reggae throbs out of a spacious room, at one end of the hall.  At the other end, clean-shaven hardtek fans in militant gear mill around a smokey 2nd room, pumping with adrenalized beats.  Across the hall, on a 3rd dancefloor that's awash in psytrance, Day-Glo patterns on silhouetted bodies jump out under the black lights.

It's packed & we like it.  A warm haze coats the throng moving through the rooms like a single, continuous entity, languidly sprawling.  The fugue of faces is flushed with goodwill; optimism is all that holds them together.  Updates are given about the comrades in jail that we came here to support.  Earnest banter about the ones who made it through their battle with the asylum system, and the ones who were deported (or died) trying.

This is how Berlin rolls: dozens of tiny social ripples converge, colliding with you in a tide that leaves you whooping with delight on some days, fury on others...

This was the dynamic scene at a benefit party that I went to earlier this year.  How did I learn about it?  Not from looking at any of the snazzy & sensational posters papering Berlin's crumbling brick walls, oozing borrowed grit like a caricature of the urban condition.  No, I found out about it by reading a lot of low-key, black and white flyers... and going to demonstrations... and chatting to people... and checking out a lot of free fanzines & websites. Berlin's nightlife is a punk-pop collage that can only be accessed via a mix-n-match of minutiae. There is just no one source for finding out about its definitive, spectrum-crossing parties. ... there are just too many ways to get to there... too many avenues to follow.

You may find yourself in a place like New Yorck im Bethanien because you volunteer at a community center. Or because you read an article about the refugees, and you were casting about for a way to help them. Or because your punk mates live in the Wagenplatz around the corner, and you overheard the music as you were passing by.  Or because you were a fan of one of the many DJ’s & bands there, and their allure pulled you out of your usual music scenes.  Or maybe you were just hungry, and came because there was free curry being served in the hall.

The above party carried on till well past 8:00 a.m. in the morning.  Serious dancing happened, enlightening discussions were had, fresh strategies were  taking shape, all through the hours when mainstream institutions of entertainment, education and politics had switched off their ideals, put their aspirations to bed for the night. That's because it
was well-fueled by Berliners with a vested interest in its cause, like many of the best events here are.

Post-wall Berlin is an idealist’s city, after all.  That means it's also an activist's city because, well, we live in a far from ideal world.  So it stands to reason that its most authentic nightlife events are classified, not by styles, but ideologies.  And that the people living here carry those ideologies all around the clock.  They carry  them at the party as well as before it, and after, and beyond.

To experience the real Berlin, then, you have to abandon the belief that having fun and being productive don't mix.  Parties that are grounded in a real need, aim or cause, have a much more positive vibe.  Their atmosphere can't be beat, even by the most hedonistic club in Berlin.  They can afford to careen in ethereal directions because they are grounded in a solid one. And that is to help real people who are dealing with real situations... yes, even at night, and even when they’re “supposed to be having fun”.  

Newsflash: they are having fun: by denying that artificial ‘work-play’ divide, by laughing in the turbulent wake of the progress that they create and being true to themselves, whatever happens. Even here. In the Alternative Disneyland of Europe. 

At the end of the day, authentic Berlin nightlife is just a nocturnal version of its day life.  It really is a 24-hour city.  Since the fall of the Wall, it hasn't been rigidly divided, the way that most Western cities have: into ‘good’ parts and ‘bad’, ‘rich’ parts and ‘poor’, ‘professional’ spheres and ‘personal’ (not yet, anyway).

In other Western cities, there's always a center where nobody lives, that has a ‘nightlife strip’ with two or three big, corporate clubs that are open fixed hours, cost a fortune to get into, where you have to be drunk to enjoy being there.  People at them are always in a hurry lose their inhibitions and be ‘someone else’ for a few hours before going home and feigning shock at the depths of their own depravity (or blotting the memory of it out with a few more drinks). 

To understand Berlin, you have to understand that the lifestyle in those cities has changed the way that you think about having fun.  You've probably been at least slightly seduced by the idea that a celebration is something that you can pay to get... like a pizza.  Or, that it's something that happens to someone else;  a seat in the audience is the best you can hope to get unless you're off your head, watching from outside your body as you go leave your mind.   That's a very consumerist model of celebration though, and Berlin wants to remind you of that fact.  It almost gleefully leaves you clueless about where to go, what to do & where to start as if to say, "Just do it yourself!"

Clubs here will provide you with just the bare minimum props that you need to set the stage for a celebration: four walls, basic bars with soft drinks, beer and sometimes wine and spirits, toilets, loads of space to dance or chat or sit, indoors and out.  But a celebration needs a cause, and only you can provide that.  Bring what matters to you most and share it, and others will do the same. No amount of credit cards are going to help you, in this town.

Everything here happens in the security of a venue that seems as familiar as a living room, with flowery armchairs and sagging sofas, regardless of the time of day. Many clubs, bars and cafes in Berlin look like they are living rooms.  Even the regular doses of alcohol, drugs and eccentric thinking there are a permanent fixture of many Berlin flats.  

One-off bursts of crazed enthusiasm are as rare in the day as they are at night, in Berlin. Yet the city's 24-hour, subtle weirdness can give rise to bizarre, unplanned ‘WTF?’ imagery.  Anyone wandering around with a camera, however, and hoping to catch them in the act, will have a long wait between ‘Kodak moments’.  They’ll also be putting paid to any hopes of participating in those moments. 

Standing obediently on the sidelines watching the strangeness of a city with no rules seems like a tragic waste of its freedom.  Like going to Rome just to watch TV in your hotel.  Or reading a tabloid paper in the Louvre. 

In other cities, outlandish spectacles can always be found on-stage in super-clubs and mega-concert halls, while experiences of local culture are rare.  Interactive experiences are rare.  Meanwhile, every night that I go out in Berlin, I have to learn something new: how to find my way there, how to approach new people.  I have to open my mind to the reality that yet another hitherto unknown nook of the city has just opened its door to me. It requires a state of constant acceptance, a realization that the nightlife, the day life, and the city skyline are a work-in-progress.

Maybe that’s a source of frustration for some travellers, if they're here for a short time. They can't just walk into the right joint or street, switch their brains off, and let the torrent of fun sweep them away.  But (un)luckily for them, there are some clubs here that cater to their expectations.  Sort of.  Well, they're full of non-residents (or new residents that haven’t really settled in yet) but they do play Berlin music.

I won't name any [other] names here but to me, a classic example of that kind of joint was Bar 25, which closed in 2010.  It looked like many of the good clubs here do... a crazy granny's attic in a shanty-town carnival.  But the place was always packed with unresponsive tourists on ketamine, shuffling from the cheap bar to the packed dance floor like bloated diners at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Everyone seemed angry: the tourists, because they couldn't find the authentic experience they'd been looking for, and the locals, who thought the tourists were bringing the vibe down with their alien expectations.  Places like that led to an understandable backlash, especially in clubs with a similar concept (like Wilden Renate and Sisyphos).  For a while it was a righteous pain in the arse to get into many clubs, thanks to the Bar 25 effect.

But then, being inaccessible has often been Berlin’s defense mechanism. I guess it was a misguided attempt to avoid becoming impersonal and bland, by avoiding tourists who fit the wrong bill. But thankfully, the way that Berliners resist commercialization has changed in the last five years.  In 2010, for example, illegal openair parties were pretty mundane... but they were hard to find.  The challenge of finding them was what made them 'edgy', I suppose.  It seemed that Berlin's party scene equated authenticity with inaccessibility.  

These days, the people doing free parties are much more "in your face".  They're bolder, easier to find, and they seem to put more of their subversive energy into producing cutting edge sounds, a dynamic atmosphere, or radical ideas.  The new 'underground' is probably more like the old one of pre-gentrification Berlin.  If the party scene is getting back to its roots, though, it's doing so the help of the out-of-town crowd, not by avoiding them.  Crews from the festival and rave circuit from France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and further afield seem to be playing a way more active role in the scene, these days, and their style is mixing it up with the local scene.  I think that's a sign that the city’s passing out of its reactionary phase, and starting to embrace the rest of the world.

This is necessary.  At the end of the day, the squatters, the activists, the students, the starving artists and musicians that define Berlin are being driven out of it, not by foreigners, but by rich people who are from Germany and the rest of the world.  The problem isn't their nationality, it's the flawed, universal business model that they bring with them, based on eternally increasing profits.  They create pointless hierarchies and harbour unsustainable fantasies of exclusivity and getting to the top, and seem to be constantly looking for ways to turn free aspects of this city into 'profitable' (e.g. expensive) enterprises.  The people that they displace need to be replaced by fresh blood, people with the same egalitarian dreams as their predecessors, regardless of where they're from.  And their dreams have no borders.  

So before you launch into a rant about how 'overrated' Berlin is, or how hard it is to find the cool area, or how dead the place is when you finally find it, take a deep breath and remember: you’re not alone in your bewilderment.  We’ve all been there... we've all felt lost in this city, at times.  Adapting to Berlin’s unique style and rhythm may not be fast or straightforward, but it is the best way (the only way) to get a handle on its nightlife.

You're not supposed to 'get' Berlin right off the bat. 
Getting it is the constant process of learning what makes it tick, what kind of city it is and what the people here want it to be, and where your dreams fit into all that.  It's the mystery that drives people out onto the streets every weekend, to new places, trying new things.  It's what fills up new venues with eager new audiences, lured by yet another mystery. Another promise of an answer, and that answer comes from people, not profit.

People who live here have just accepted the uncertainty that goes with that.  We’ve made the leap, decided to lose ourselves and enjoy the sense of unexplored avenues, unfinished business trailing like torn streamers in the wind.  Maybe you have to return to a structured, time-strapped world, where everything has to come to a conclusion on a fixed timescale, and maybe being here can teach you something about how to break free from that world, if you want it to. But first, you’ve got to put your camera down and start exploring.   

“Never mind if it’s ‘impossible.’  What else can we hope to attain but the ‘impossible’?  Should we wait for someone else to attain our true desires?”
-Hakim Bey

This piece was also guest-posted on Shlur Mag


Review: Sunday Rotation @ R19

Aside from the red Ganesh banner hanging over the decks, the bar in R19 is indistinguishable from the bar of any other after-hours club I've been to; think Sisyphos or Ritter Butzke at 1:00 p.m.  It's sultry, red-tinged and smoky.  The crumpled leather sofas and armchairs are full of grinning, blurry people swaying and resisting the call of gravity to assume a more horizontal position.

A DJ is casually manipulating the atmosphere from an inconspicuous spot in the corner.  Tech-house beats slouch along at a sedate pace and drawling vocals are slowed to the speed of dark, cool treacle. 
I am far too awake for this type of after-hours club but, luckily, R19 has an alternative variety on offer. A quickening pulse pulls me along the hall, away from the bar and into a second, bigger room.  Entering it feels like stepping into a hard trance all-dayer from the mid-nineties.  Everyone is on their feet in a fluro-washed darkness that's bubbling with spacey riffs.  Liquid, neon patterns are flowing across portholes of artificial light that are built into the walls.  The ceilings feel high as the sound echoes.  A driving 4-4 bassline barricades us with surround sound, creating a refuge against the daytime.

A slim woman in a sun-faded, sleeveless top scrawled with the letters for 'Om' appears and starts tearing around the dancefloor like she's high on sonic crack.  Hair whipping, the high hats yank her body from side to side and her feet follow with clomping, graceless steps.  This room feels like it's the pre-party for Boom.  Or the after-party.  For some of the people here, it might even be the main event.  Wandering outside for a breath of fresh air, passing smiling eyes and grinning faces, I can see why.  This is the Place To Be if you've already danced from dusk until dawn once this weekend, and are already in the mood to do it all over again.   

Sunday Rotation happens every Sunday daytime at R19 in Revaler Strasse 19, near Ostkreuz S-Bahn.


Preview: The Silly Season Is Here

Forget summer - in Berlin, the dead winter months of February & March are when the really silly season begins.

At this time of year, you can see what a big part of the city's identity the clubs are and, in a sense, how tenuous they are.  When I check out the optimistically long listings on the party sites each weekend, I can't help thinking that some of these places are just hanging in there, holding regular events out of sheer steely determination to legitimize their existence.  Same goes for the regulars who trek through the snow to get there. 

In the summer, it seems entirely too legitimate to try and stay in Berlin year long, and seek out your fortune - whether financial or social - in this city's party scene.  But in the winter, that self-assured sense of permanence goes away... to be precise, it heads to Spain, India, the UK, California on vacation... anywhere but here. 

Left behind in the cold, empty streets, Berlin's clubs can start to seem more like place-markers that have been left there to ensure that we don't forget that 'other' Berlin, the summertime Berlin.  And all of them go on offering us a roster of vaguely important sounding line-ups, consisting of relative unknowns from big labels who play one-off parties with over-the-top silly names that try and recapture some of that freewheeling summer delirium.

I guess it's a kind of preemptive strike against all the people that would try and sell Berlin's independent clubs out from under their feet if they ever dared to take a break.  After all, the Senate generally treats the party scene like it's a teenager who's going through a temporary rebellious phase that it can't wait for everyone to sell out grow out of. 

As if to defy them, Berliners grimly carry on keep on leaving the house at 11pm on every winter night of the weekend, braving howling wind, dog-poo icicles and snow, mechanically rehearsing a schedule of celebration that was scripted during the summer months, when there was still light in the sky at 22.30 and the heat outside was just starting to fade enough by midnight that you begin to imagine facing a sweaty, packed dancefloor...  Ahh, summer....

(...sorry, I was miles away just then).

Sure, there's a whiff of delusion about it all, but Berlin's party people want to be deluded, and that's why they throw themselves into the performance of self-deception with even more zest than they do in the summer.  Below I've listed the spots that have a reliably warm and absorbing indoor culture, where people will definitely be putting on their party hats... with their woolen ear flaps down!

Salon Zur Wilden Renate: every Saturday & Sunday

Golden Gate: every Thursday & Friday

Kater Blaue (ex-Bar 25): every Saturday & Sunday

Berghain: every Saturday & Sunday

Else: Openair party this Sunday

Salon Zur Wilden Renate

And here are Unscene's recommendations for fans of the off beat & unknown...

Wild Wedding indoor festival at Brunnen 70 this Saturday

Rosi's plays 'different styles of techno and drum n bass'  TONIGHT

Gabber Noir at Subland TONIGHT

Bodies drone night @ Urban Spree. Half price before midnite!

SisyphosNext event on Feb 13-16

Ohm club (pictured) this Saturday - obscure sounds & visuals.

Stattbad Wedding: Stattnacht party is this Saturday

R19 on Saturday and Sunday, all round friendly party and chill with variety of underground styles.

Dymaxiun Droids @ Normal Bar Tonite. They say: "Our mechanic minions have started to cook a semiconducting soup with only the finest non-biological ingredients including synthetic beats, throbbing soundscapes and pitch-black vinyl! Prepare for more Dark Techno, Breaks, UK Bass, Acid and more!"

Antifa Soliparty @ Supamolly tonight with hip hop electro & pop bands.  Gypsy rock and punk bands play on Saturday.

Hip hop and beats Soliparty for refugees @ about:blank TONIGHT.

New Yorck im Bethanien offers an underground smorgasbord of activism, vegan food, punk, reggae, psy music and techno all night... and its all for a donation! Saturday from 20.00 to 08.00. 

OHM club in Koepernickerstrasse
The Koepi has punk bands, vegan food and a record distro during "two days of madness in the vault of the Køpibasement (...) in order to help some friends in need".  So basically it's a benefit, too. 

Enjoy the weekend ;-)

Tip: Don't let the low attendance numbers on sites like Resident Advisor put you off of going out. Many Berliners don't mark their attendance - too paranoid about drawing attention to their favourite parties.