What Berlin lacks in … actually I can’t finish that sentence because after four days of food, drink, tubes and trains, inspiring streets, inspired people, glorious snow, dancing, dogs, history and art, the only thing I’ve been left wanting is more.
Katie and I hit the city on Saturday night so necessarily begin the trip at the far end of hedonism. Criminally underdressed (in terms of warmth, not style) and approaching midnight we find ourselves trekking alongside one of the few remaining stretches of the old Wall in search of Berghain / Panorama Bar. The stretch is now known as the East Side Gallery and displays exciting outdoor contemporary art, only the most obvious of ways that old and new Berlin symbolically merge, and they frequently do.
Various street punters aren’t able to tell us the way to Berghain. They obviously aren’t cool enough, and neither are we. Eventually we give in and cab it before we die of exposure (it’s around minus 11 out). After a door search that stops just short of internal we’re permitted into the old power station that runs over two enormous floors. Following some good advice, we get stamped, stay for one then go elsewhere while the party kicks in.
Elsewhere translates into whiskey sours and all manner of cocktail goodies (and smoking indoors!) in Kreuzberg where we befriend a fabulous twenty year old barmaid who is off-duty but just hanging out. It seems to happen a lot in the friendly bars there. Bizarrely she’s spent some time in Iowa so her excellent English is peppered with endearing Americanisms (“I’m like, you’re kidding me, right?”).
Drinks, laughs, conversation then back to Berghain (it’s on the borders of KreuzBERG and FriedrichsHAIN) around 3 am where the main draws seem to be a party-hard, mixed-sexuality crowd, and tough but understated techno (for which the Berlin clubs are still best known). The huge windows are un-curtained at dawn so you can carry on partying into the next day in unforgiving daylight and discover at last if you’ve been making out with a man a woman or a hat stand. (We don’t quite make it that far). The atmosphere is amazing, hedonistic but not po-faced, drugs and decadence in abundance (allegedly), androgynous couples sprawled on old cinema seats, strange negotiations under red lights, divine abandon.
We leave about nine in the morning when everything but us is getting its second wind (translation: Katie is asleep). The curtains are still drawn. First item on my ‘Next trip to Berlin’ list: see it through at Berghain. I can’t wait.
Attempting to negotiate things like cigarettes and fizzy drinks at dawn in Manchester while the Normals are up and about after a night’s sleep makes you feel as if you’ve fallen off the end of the world, but here not an eyebrow is raised as you drunkenly fall in and out of the Photoautomats, hug strange dogs and make angels in the snow …