11.12.14

Preview: Housebreaking Berlin


Have you ever noticed that Germans seem a tad paranoid about people breaking into their houses? Most renovated flats in this city feature not just one, but two (or three locks) and at least one of them is usually a 10-cylinder job that seems designed to defend a bank vault.  Maybe that's the reason why Tresor is one of the city's favourite clubs?  Whatever the case, it's all a bit unnecessary; Berliners tend to be a pretty poor bunch, and their city has some of the lowest crime rates in Europe.   

Anyway, when you've been in this city's club scene for awhile, you will start to become a bit paranoid about an entirely different problem: how to break out of the house.  And by 'house' I mean that dance music style which it ultra-ubiquitous in all of the capital's clubs, from Asphalt to Zur Wilden Renate. Whenever you start to feel that way, Unscene Berlin should be your first stop.  On this blog and the Unscene Berlin Twitter page, I post up-to-the-minute housebreaking tips for would-be dancefloor-jackers.  

This week, I've rounded up some party alternatives that are guaranteed to help you blow the doors off of the sweaty fortress enclosed in thick, stoned beats that comprises your usual Berlin club.  And the best part is that they're all affordable - you won't get robbed on the door!

Tonight, Thursday the 11th, Musicas Interminaveis Para Viagem brings us the sound of punk revivalists banging out experimental noises, plus dub tech and hardcore. The venue is set in the arches of Jannowitzbruecke S-Bahn, next to the bridge. Picture what would happen if a bunch  of punks squatted the house vibes of Golden Gate club.


Also tonight, Taiko and others play at Nord Lable meets Subaltern Records to play the bendiest, break-iest, bouncy variations of dubstep and drum n bass at about blank.


Tomorrow night (Friday the 12th) there's a benefit party for Anarcha-feminist houing project Liebig 34, featuring DJs playing Bass Techno, Rave Techno, Mental Techno and other styles that they'll make up on the spot in defiance of all the existing categories.  Ah, those crazy anarchists!  It's all happening in the decadently squatty basement venue of the Koepi in Kreuzberg.

On Saturday December 13th, there's a dubtech night at Worwien in Skalitzerstrasse, Kreuzberg.  My mate goes there pretty regularly and says the atmosphere and music at this night are perfect for dancing all night even if the place is a bit small (picture a 'housebroken' version of Farbfernseher and you've got it).


As for me, I'm not going partying this weekend because I've had too much techno lately and could really use a 'break'. Pardon the pun!



13.11.14

Party Report: 25 Jahre Mauerfall @ East Side Gallery

What some East Germans thought the world on the other side of the Wall looked like.

Who: Dr. Motte was the headliner... we missed the rest of the acts due to some bad planning.

What: It was a free party/demo to protest the destruction of the East Side Gallery (a piece of the Berlin Wall painted by artists in 1990).

When: From the late afternoon on Nov. 9, 2014 until late at night

Where: The East Side Gallery, by Ostbahnhof S-Bahn.

Why: Because the East Side Gallery is a monument to freedom.  During the Cold War, you couldn't touch the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall without getting arrested... hence why so many artists got a kick out of painting on it once the border had opened. And also, it kind of means a lot to the people of Berlin, Germany and the world (duh).

How: DJ's played, speeches were made, and gluehwein was served.  Dr. Motte riled the crowd up with a speech at one point, raging about the fact that one of the new hotels being built alongside the East Side Gallery is owned by an ex-Stasi officer.  'They were watching the Wall before and they're still watching it now!' he shouted. 

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"Is it just me, or do the kids at parties keep getting younger?"
Two little kids were giving it large on the riser, next to Motte.
Super tolle!

Notes:
The 25th anniversary of the 'Mauerfall' (fall of the Berlin Wall) last Sunday was in some ways similar to the original event.  Throngs of people gathered at the old checkpoints, and all along the path of the old wall.  But instead of trying to break down any barriers, these tourists formed a solid mass of stationary bodies, gazes fixed intently on a line of white balloons like they were under a spell. 



The balloons were meant to be released into the sky at exactly 7:00 p.m.  It was supposed to be one of those magical, cathartic moments where everyone would look up into the clear night skies and watch the symbolic 'bricks' drifting away on their clouds of helium, dissolving from view like the Wall itself.  Except it was drizzly, and dark, and foggy, and people were lucky if they could see from one side of the Spree to the other.  And then the balloons were late being released, and a bunch of them got stuck on the posts that were supposed to release them.  Before the show even ended, thousands of non-plussed Germans were already trudging back toward  Ostbahnof, muttering darkly amongst themselves and trying to erase the whole disorganised debacle from their minds.  Those poor organisers. 


People from the party helped to clean up
the balloon stands.  Or maybe they were stealing them. 

We weren't really sure.
Meanwhile, a little ways down from Ostbahnhof, a different kind of celebration was happening.  An angry celebration.  The founder of the Love Parade and Berlin resident Dr. Motte was playing a banging set of 1990s techno, trance and acid to a small, diehard crowd of protestors and Berghain-leavers brandishing Sekt. The theme of the party was 'Die Mauer Muss Bleiben' (the Wall must stay).  They weren't saying this out any perverse sense of rebellion, but because they wanted to make a very important point.   

The city of Berlin is currently allowing the development of a strip of land between the East Side Gallery and the river Spree into condos.  That strip is also knowns as the Death Strip because, well, anybody who entered it during the Cold War era was shot on sight by the Wall's guards.  Since the East Side Gallery  is kind of in the way of the cranes and machinery needed to build these condos, parts of it have been removed to allow access.  And it's not over yet:  pieces of the gallery will continue to be dismantled and 'relocated' until the building work is complete.  And after that, who knows what'll happen to them? Maybe they'll be sold off, or ground up and used to make cement.  (Well, that last suggestion is unlikely, but you can never put anything past the local government.  They've got a bit of a reputation for demolishing any remnant of the city's Cold War past). 

You can find East Side Gallery Retten's future events by checking out their blog.


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5.11.14

Merkel, Tear Down This Wall!




“I think Frank Henkel should come here and see what he is doing,” says Anja, a German activist at a refugee protest in Friedrichshain. “Instead he stays inside his house, in his warm bed.” Anja wants the senator to explain why he ordered the eviction of 108 refugees that the Senate was housing in Berlin hostels. The fact that the refugees were all members of Lampedusa, an activist group that has been fighting for asylum reform, probably played a role in Henkel’s decision… but he isn’t about to admit it. Senator Henkel has almost entirely walled himself off from the refugees, going about his life as if they don’t even exist. This past September, his stonewalling forced Anja and her friends to take the battle to his doorstep.

“We went to his office and sat on the floor,” she says. “We refused to leave until he came out.” But instead of answering their questions, Henkel’s staff called the police, who lifted the activists up and dropped them outside on a kerb, like bin bags. The move seemed symbolic of the Senate’s attitude towards refugees and their supporters: keep moving them on and hope that they disappear. 

Lampedusa was founded in Wurzburg in early 2012. Later that year, the group marched to Berlin, where it’s been based ever since. Lampedusa is demanding better living conditions for asylum-seekers in Germany. After being evicted from a Kreuzberg school in early 2014, half of its members negotiated a deal with the Senate. In return for leaving the school, they were promised rooms in hostels and a 300 Euro per-month allowance until their applications were processed. This deal should have lasted six months but just four months after it was signed, police came to the hostels and evicted the refugees. Again.

“They told me, ‘Just disappear, you are not wanted here,’” says one refugee. A dozen other evictees took to the roof of their Friedrichshain hostel in protest, demanding that the Senate explain itself. It didn’t react then and it still hasn’t.

Being a refugee anywhere isn’t easy but those who come to Germany face extra-strict conditions. They’re obliged to stay within a certain distance of the foreign office processing their application, which can take 6 to 18 months. During that time, they’re housed as cheaply as possible in military barracks, schools and warehouses, usually far from towns and cities. Refugees are also banned from working for 12 months, although the EU only recommends a 6-month limit. Jobless and far from town, refugees have few opportunities to socialize, integrate, or do anything else that matters.

The point of granting people asylum is that it saves them from a humanitarian crisis, but the government seems more concerned about saving its bureaucratic process. And by refusing to accommodate the wide range of needs and skills that refugees bring with them, it is creating a new crisis for them here. Many refugees have been hurt by the restrictions that the asylum system puts on them, and some have even died. In January 2012, an ex-cop hung himself at a shelter in Wurzburg. He’d been imprisoned and tortured in his native Iran, and being re-imprisoned within the German asylum system had only revived that trauma.  A month after his death, refugees from the same shelter staged a protest, and Lampedusa was born.

The government claims that its asylum system removes the ‘economic incentive’ for refugees to come here, and that it’s protecting Germany from an invasion of job seekers. This seems to echo the GDR’s old rhetoric about the Berlin Wall. In Cold War Germany, officials justified the Wall’s existence by calling it an ‘anti-fascist barrier'. 

Seen from the other side, it’s obvious that the only people the Berlin wall protected were the ones who couldn’t handle change. The barriers created by the asylum system aren’t much different, at the end of the day. The refugees living behind them lose nearly everything, including the right to freedom of movement, just so that a privileged minority can go on hiding from both them and the truth they represent. 

Oplatz Refugee demo in Berlin

29.10.14

Misandry: It's a Big Deal (Not)

Spot the victim: almost all of the above images are from mundane, every day ads on magazines, billboards and news sites.  Some are indistinguishable from images of true violence against women (bottom, center).  Ads like this tap into the misogynist's fantasy life and whether we share that fantasy or not, we have to admit it's riddled with violence and hate... which means that society is, too
I've been reading about the recent Gamergate debate(s) on Twitter - which I've still not got my head around, and am unlikely to, now that the number of tweet accusations flying around has reached critical mass.  But one thing that stuck with me after reading a few threads was the shocking blitheness with which guys on these threads bandy the word 'misandry' about.  They seem to have decided that the word 'misandrist' can be used to refer to any woman who says or thinks negative things about men. 

Is being negative about sexist men such an innately wrong behaviour that is somehow amounts to a real, actual prejudice, though?  And are men such super special beings that they never make mistakes or bad judgements that need to be criticised?  I don't think so. Any man who would suggest such a thing probably needs to get over himself.

When feminists criticise a man's behaviour as sexist, it's like when a colleague says to him at work , 'Just because you're good at your job doesn't mean that you can ask me to make coffee for you.'  The man in question may be doing well in every other respect, but if his behaviour is unconsciously and unfairly burdening another person, then that other person is entitled to criticise. This also applies to misogynist women, by the way.

But even if there are women out there who are just saying unfair, nasty things about men for the hell of it, I don't see how that is in any way as bad as beating up on men; yelling at them in the streets because they're not paying enough attention to us; rubbing up against them on crowded trains; raping them; tailgating them because we assume that their entire gender doesn't know how to drive; paying them too little or no money for their work; trafficking them; renting or buying them like commodities; refusing to treat their illnesses because it's 'all in their head'; and otherwise preventing their ability to live full, equal and safe lives, using the power that an unfair system has granted us over them. 

Let's face it: misandry simply lacks the same opportunities to manifest that misogyny has manufactured for itself, over the last dozen or so centuries.  If misandry exists on a large scale, then it mostly exists in the heads of females who hate men.  Misogyny, on the other hand, exists right out in the open where everyone can see it, where its random targets cannot avoid it, and where bystanders are desensitised by their exposure to it.  It even exists in the system.  That's why women cannot expect protection from misogyny, ironically enough... it's too ubiquitous. 

The restrictions misogyny places on us changes from country to country but they're ever-present, the deadening weight of prejudice embodied in flesh, steel and stone.  Sometimes, it just seems safer just to stay home, quit our jobs and squish ourselves into whatever tiny role the misogynists condone for us.  Indeed, it takes a force of will not to do that, even nowadays.  Any man who'd equate such immediate, physical oppression with the effect of some poorly-chosen words, is only showing how out-of-touch with women's reality he really is.  He would do better to stop and think about what the reality behind a woman's words is actually like to live in, before flinging the word 'misandry' out there as a defense against his wounded pride.  Misogyny is not just another virtual debate in which words are the only component; plenty of actions are involved in it too.  But maybe this point is lost on people who spend more time online than they do in the real world.

If feminists don't want to fight for the man who feels he isn't getting all the respect he deserves from every woman on the planet, it's just because they're already embattled on that front and many others.  They might feel that man's pain, sure, but their own pain is a bigger threat to their immediate existence.  All feminists, and the vast majority of women, do know how it feels to be shamed and snubbed and condescended to... but they also know how it feels to be threatened, groped, injured, shouted down and ridiculed by men who have too much power over their lives. 

So if you think that you're a good guy who doesn't deserve to be tarred with the same brush as all the other sexist guys out there, then that's great.  But it doesn't mean that you have the right to ask feminists to make sure your feelings aren't getting hurt. We have our own work to do too, you know.  

6.10.14

Review: Two Nights in Berlin City





The dancefloor was as industrialized and austere as the tunes: it was a square, black dance pit lit with strobelights, surrounded by metal railings.  Krautrock, proto-industrial, acid house and guttural techno were the sounds of the night.  They were bold, chunky, crude... sounds from the primordial soup that brought the modern variants of techno and electro to a boil.  

The Horrorist's set contained ingredients from all of the above styles, stripping them back down to the basics: four-four beats and two-chord riffs, but vested with the intensity of a rock opera.  The opening DJ, Denard Henry played a more sumptuous, plasmic kind of EBM that could have just as well been labelled 'ambient', interspersed with harder obscure finds.  Later on, DJ Deathbat played music that was 'minimal' in a bold way, unlike so much of the techno that's been placed under that heading: Trashwave, French, Batcave, Deathrock, Postpunk, Synth were his preferred styles, thin on basslines, repetitive to the point of hypnosis, yet inexplicably dark and moving.


Blitzlicht brought a small but flamboyant & loyal fan base from around Berlin to the rustic venue, under a restaurant in Rosa-Luxemburg Platz.  Lanky, excitable boys reeled through the dance floor in introverted delirium, mouthing the lyrics to the tunes that had them.  Androgyne postpunk divas sat with their eyes wide shut, clad in precisely-curated scraps of cloth, nodding extravagant mohawks that looked like exhibits torn from a backstreet gallery. 

Image from 'Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace'
The club felt full despite it being mid-week at a niche show: about 150 people came and went, clustering around the sidelines in nefarious conference, eyeing the dancers doing aerobics through smoke machine fog at the center of the room. 

After chatting to Oliver (a.k.a. the Horrorist) and his partner Andi - a photographer and author of the book Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace - we headed to the ‘new’ Kaffee Burger that was just around the corner, on Torstrasse.  Unfortunately, Kaffee Burger's draped banquettes and pink and purple lighting reminded us a bit too much of a Shisha bar at closing time.  It had the same contrast of faux-Roman decor and red-eyed customers drinking like Huns on the lash that all too many Friedrichshain bars have.  Maybe it was just the wrong hour of day for us to be there, but for the pick n' mix assortment of binge drinkers dancing and signing along to classic rock tunes on the other side of the bar, it was definitely still party time.  All the time.  

Kaffee Burger is open 24/7 by the way... there's a tip for any night owl that finds his or herself stranded in Mitte at 5 a.m.!

Our night finished up in Friedrichshain at a bar called Hexe (Witch), where we'd almost slipped into a stupor when Andi got told off loudly (but playfully) by a stout Berlin barmaid, after inadvertently nicking a staff-only seat from her.  At the same time, someone’s mobile got nicked from a table next to ours - a mini crimewave in progress! - and then voices were raised, chairs were overturned, cops were called.  As we were hustled out of there, two cruisers and a riot van tore past us and started cordoning off the street around the bar.   I wondered who that stolen phone must have belonged - they must have been a film star to get such a full-on response from Berlin's Idlest.     

Grounded Theory @ Stattbad, September 26th

The scene on Gerichtstrasse was strangely similar, when we arrived at Stattbad Wedding the following weekend: the whole street had been closed off but, this time, it was blocked by big white trailers instead of police cruisers.  We quickly realised there was a film being shot on location somewhere nearby - a new production by Tom Tykwer, the director of Run Lola, Run, actually.  So there was already drama was in the air before we even got inside the club. 

In the downstairs hallway, on the way to the Boiler Room, we met an all-female Italian crew with some very exotic cigarettes to share.  After sitting and talking for ages as the venue filled up, we watched Acid Maria play in the main room.  The legendary Berlin DJ lived up to her name with a solid, stomping set of 303’s in the tightly packed Boiler Room.   But personally, I preferred the atmosphere in the pressurised depths of the Bunker Room, where DJ Henning Baer was playing, ghetto style, behind concrete beams.  The low-hanging, exposed ceilings were damp with sweat all night long.

The only downside was that, whenever you left the Bunker dancefloor, the squatty mayhem was quickly watered down by throngs of incredulous-looking twenty-something's proceeding past.    
Sightseeing clubbers seem to be a peculiarly Wedding phenomenon, though.  Maybe it's because the clubs in the area are cheap, authentic and don't have much a door policy(?).  Anyways, the looky-loos were all gone by 5:00 a.m.   By the time, Drumcode’s Alan Fitzpatrick had taken to the decks, all that was left in the club were scads of techno fans, dancing and abandoning whatever state of Germany/mind they'd come from to transcend the superficial details of where they were and how they looked.  The fast-paced, heady mixing left little time for anything else but dancing.  


2.10.14

Let's Just Call It 'World Unity Day'


There was a comment on Twitter today that referred to children of migrants living in the U.S. as 'illegal'.  Seeing that made me stop and think about how bizarre a term that is, 'iIllegal'.  Maybe it's because the term was being applied to children, who are totally blameless of any stupid law that already existed when they entered this world.  But also, being 'illegal' isn't like some sort of measurable characteristic is it - it's not like being tall or skinny.  Yet these anti-immigration crazies talk about it like it's a real, actual thing instead of a 100% subjective, made-up classification.

What is even stranger is that the classification of 'illegal' was made up by other people!  I would think that, if you are a person (and if you're not I really want to know how you heard about this blog) then you'd want to avoid making up a law that criminalizes other people simply for being, and only when they are being on the wrong side of the border, at that.  It seems like such a mindless, hyper-territorial reflex.  Is this just the sort of muddy thinking that results from a life spent taking steroids, I wonder?  Do all but the most primordial parts of one's brain eventually get crowded out by muscle?  Inquiring minds want to know...

Why do people in expensive suits always seem to be angry?
At Supamolly in Friedrichshain tonight, there is a benefit party to raise cash for Lampedusa, the refugee rights collective.  Part of the group recently survived 14 days on a hostel rooftop in Friedrichshain with nothing but water and they are still being shunted around town from occupied site to occupied site.  The last I heard, they'd chained themselves to a stairwell inside the offices of the DGB labour union, who had called the cops to have them removed.  Serves you right for not joining the union, guys!  But seriously: what Lampedusa really needs right now is a lawyer, not a union.  This benefit party hopes to help them cover the costs.

Tomorrow at K9 (Kinzingstr. 9) in Friedrichshain, there is another benefit party for refugees called 'Another Step Over the Wall.'  The name refers to the national holiday on October 3rd, German Unity Day which celebrates the reunification of East and West Germany.  While Germany celebrates the elimination of an unnecessary border that caused pointless suffering for millions, it is worth reflecting that the country's modern border is being maintained at a similar cost... but now, it's refugees and migrants that are paying the price.

"Are there still borders? More than ever!
Every home owner, or even every tenant nails his name plate on the door, like a coat of arms and studies the morning paper as if he were a world leader.  Germany has crumbled into as many small states as there are individuals.  And these small states are mobile.  Everyone carries his own small state with him, and demands a toll when another wants to enter."

Wim Wenders, from the film 'Wings of Desire'


21.9.14

Photoblog: Silent Climate Parade 2014

Parade passes by the Berliner Dom

When was it: Sunday, September 21st at 2:00 p.m.

Where was it: Alexanderplatz to Brandenburger Tor, in Berlin's Mitte

What happened: Several thousand Berliners donned headphones and danced their way through the streets while listening to live DJ mixes and short speeches about climate change, that were being broadcast over the headsets.  Organizers also coordinated a 'crowd tsunami'... basically, that's a giant version of the Mexican wave.  By that point the parade had covered the whole length of Unter den Linden and the effect of the wave was pretty awesome.  
Everything at the parade was environmentally-friendly, too, from the electric tuk-tuk vehicles used by the DJs and drink sellers, to the balloons and even the toilets at the end of the parade. 

Why was it: The UN conference on climate change starts on September 23rd in New York.  September 21st was therefore chosen as a global day of action, when 2,808 demonstrations were held across the world.  The aim is to show the leaders gathering in New York that the public is running out of patience with official apathy toward tackling climate change.  

Who was there: Thousands of concerned people from all walks of life, ages, races and faiths.

How has it changed things? I suppose we'll find out next week...

Highlight: Taking off my headphones and realizing just how surreal the sight of thousands of dancing, cheering people looks when you can't hear the music playing in the background.  Also: the festival at Brandenburger Tor with bands, stalls and a sound system.  A simple-but-effective, fusion of flashmob action, urgency and passion to make change. 

Installation at Brandenburger Tor

WWF activists pose with panda bear while a familiar face from a previous blog entry passes by

Dancing demonstrators on Unter den Linden

Cyclist sign


Sign thrown together by yours truly in about 20 minutes (!)