May
25

Berlin Weekend 2011

After the huge success of my first trip to Berlin last November, it was merely a matter of time before I knew I would return to the city of techno, and luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. Having barely scraped the surface of the multitude of clubs, sights and hidden treasures that cram themselves into this beautiful city, my expectations could not have been higher. With so much to do in a relatively small amount of time, it was always assumed that we were going to be busy from start to finish. My only issue upon returning was how best to write up the experience. There are some trips that are almost too difficult to put into words and this weekend definitely falls into that category.

When planning an adventure to the German capital it is very tricky to make a detailed itinerary for the whole trip in advance. The city is notorious for having an often frustrating door policy, which whilst having the benefit of keeping the clientèle to an exceptionally high standard,  can often interfere with your schedule, especially if you’re travelling in a big group, and you can’t always guarantee that everyone will be admitted to the same places. This is partly annoying but it also adds to the whole excitement of your trip, a cheeky element of unknown.

We boarded the standard 6.45pm Ryanair flight from Stansted on Thursday. The infamous techno tourist flight. This gets you in to Berlin at about 9.30pm, which is perfect for dropping off your bags and having the whole night ahead of you. This night just so happened to be 30 Years Of  Sven Väth at Watergate:

Watergate

Arriving at about 1am, I was surprised that the queue wasn’t particularly long. Especially as it was a Thursday night, there weren’t too many other clubs boasting big DJs so I imagined most people would be heading there. We split the groups up into twos and threes to maximise our chances of getting in but I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t all be successful. Wearing dark, casual clothes, keeping quiet and behaving yourself in the queue are all advisable, but even if you do everything right you can sometimes just be unlucky when it comes to your moment of judgement . I was in the penultimate group and all the others had been successful. After promising the door woman we would be behaving ourselves, we were granted entry and before I knew it, the whole group of 12 were standing inside Watergate. It would have been impossible to ask for a better start to the weekend.

The club was full but not painfully packed and the vibe upstairs was electric. Snaking my way to the front of the dancefloor I found myself mere metres away from Sven. Something I love about Berlin clubs are the DJ booths. They are never placed too far off the dancefloor and they aren’t raised or on stages. This means the DJ is almost part of the dancefloor. You can often dance right the way around the booth and there is something very personal about the DJ being right in the thick of the action.

Sven was on the best form I have ever seen him. He interacted fully with the crowd, shaking hands with his avid admirers, smiling throughout and dancing his way through each drop. The crowd mirrored his excitement, raising their arms when he did and exploding into full raving mode at each techno fuelled explosion of bass. It was incredible. Only the super clubs of Berlin can really do justice to a DJ of such skill and ability. The lighting along the length of the ceiling upstairs is one of the other main features of the club, a series of rows of colour changing lights that illuminates the dancefloor in waves.

Heading downstairs to check out the rest of the club I was blown away. Watergate has an outside area that is a massive deck on the river. It is one of the most special parts of any club I’ve been to, especially at sunrise when you can see the orange and yellow beams of light illuminate the breathtaking skyline that surrounds you. There is also a downstairs dancefloor with all glass walls so that you can also enjoy this sight even if you can’t tear yourself away from the music. As hard as it was to call it a night, eventually after watching the sun come up we decided to head outside. It is humbling to have a DJ play for more hours straight then you are able to rave but with Sven famous for his 12 hour plus epic sessions, I was happy to admit defeat to him.

After returning to the apartment, a couple of us decided to enjoy a bit of the sunshine in a local park. Armed with a bottle of whisky and some sunglasses, we went off on an adventure. This expedition carried on into the mid afternoon and would require a write-up all of it’s own in order to cover all the weird and wonderful things that took place during it, so you will have to use your imagination. Finally I could barely keep my eyes open and it was time to get some food and then some much needed rest.

Friday night started fairly late as I only managed to get myself up shortly before midnight. There was a lot to choose from but Luciano playing Panorama Bar was my main interest. As it was only the Panorama Bar section of Berghain open, which has a relatively small capacity compared to when the entire venue is open, I wasn’t too optimistic for us all getting in:

Panorma Bar (1st attempt)

Some of the group were successful in making their way past the infamous Sven who guards the gates to the twisted wonders that lie within the club. I however was not one of them, but being turned away for the first time wasn’t terrible, it is all part of the Berlin experience, and I noticed on the door that Luciano wasn’t scheduled to play until 9am…I had a feeling this wasn’t the last I would be seeing of the club that night.

Jumping back into a cab with the half of the group who had been unsuccessful we headed to Icon, a smaller club not too far away that Jack Beats was playing at:

Icon

With no queue and seemingly no door policy, we easily made our way inside at about 2am. All the clubs in Berlin seem to cost about 10-12 euros, which is excellent value for money. We had timed our entrance perfectly by chance as Jack Beats appeared behind the decks about 20 minutes later. This was an electro set, quite different from the rest of the music of the weekend but was very well received. A very energetic dancefloor, bouncing up and down to a very commercial set, including the likes of Swedish House Mafia – One and other such classics. Dipping in and out of genres, the set centred around electro and drumstep. After the two hour set we were ready to move on in search of more techno, and I would summarise Icon as a club well worth checking out if there is a DJ playing you want to see. The crowd there was a good one, and there was an intimate feel to the place that I enjoyed.

Next up we decided to visit Weekend club, which again was a short cab ride away:

Weekend Club

This club is located on the top floor of a hotel. Again there was no queue and although the doorman stopped to look us up and down, I didn’t get the feeling that there was much of a door policy here either. We made our way up in a lift that has a bouncer to escort you. It is quite odd stepping out into the thick of a club. The venue is fairly small, consisting of really just a dancefloor and bar. It was boiling hot inside and there was nowhere to go and chill out which really wasn’t ideal. The main positive of the place is the view out over Berlin from the windows, but this novelty isn’t really enough to compete with the other clubs we visited. The music selection was really good, a very bouncy and fun style of tech house, but the DJ was either having issues with the equipment or had very poor skills as the beat matching was actually embarrassing. The other negative was the crowd. It was the worst I have ever experienced in Berlin. There was an aggressive vibe to quite a few of the guys, and the rest were either super sleazy or off their faces to the point of annoyingly falling into you whilst you were trying to dance. We didn’t last more than about 40 minutes there, but being 6am which is still early for Berlin night life, we weren’t about to end our night on a club that had been disappointing overall.

Next on the agenda was Tresor:

Tresor

Tresor is one of the longest running clubs in Berlin. It has been about since 1991 and although it closed in 2005, it was re-opened in 2007 in a new venue that was originally a power plant. It is a vast and intimidating building from the outside and turning up as the sun was starting to appear, I knew we were in for an experience. Charging us only 5 euros entry, we made our way cautiously into the main room. The next couple of hours can only be described as an enjoyable nightmare. The dark and gloomy rooms, corridors, and hidden spaces  are overwhelming and not for the faint of heart. For the bravest of ravers there is a long winding corridor taking you downstairs into the basement with the message “Welcome To Hell” above it. What lies below is a dungeon, filled with pounding techno that cuts right into your chest. The slow strobe lighting makes it almost impossible to see what’s going on around you, which is perhaps a good thing. Just small snapshots of the carnage happening around the room. I wouldn’t want to find myself alone down there. I don’t think you can really have experienced Berlin until you have seen it for yourselves. The best I can do at describing it is comparing it to being lost in a twisted maze of terrifying awesomeness. Trapped in a nightmare that tests every one of your senses and for some reason you never want to wake up.

At about 8am it was time to tear ourselves away and return to the apartment for a fresh t shirt and a quick sit down. I tried to lie down and accept my night was over but all I could think about was Luciano was just about to start his set at Panorama Bar and before I knew it I was back in a taxi and heading back out.

Panorama Bar (2nd attempt)

Arriving about 9.30am and only managing to recruit one other from the group for this ambitious journey, we made it past the doormen without any issues this time. It was hard not to run up the stairs as the bass got louder and louder. The main Berghain was shut until Sunday but the upstairs Panorama Bar was very much open and in full force. We ran in to a few of the group who had made their way over after a night at Watergate and took up position near the windows where the shutters were struggling to stop the scorching daylight that was begging to make its way inside. The crowd is always a mix of the weirdest individuals you could ever expect. Every sexual orientation has its place in here and the sights you can find either in clear view of the dancefloor or hidden in the dark corners and caves around the club are one of a kind. There is a reason they impose a strict no photos rule.

I don’t know if Luciano had been playing all night elsewhere or had woken up early and well rested to play this set but either way he was on excellent form. The DJ booth once again here is right in the thick of the dancefloor and there is a real feeling of unity amongst the ravers, which considering the extremes of the diversity of the crowd, is a pretty magical and unique thing. The set came to an end around midday but we still weren’t ready to leave so we stayed til the club had virtually emptied at about 1.30pm where a female DJ who’s name I couldn’t find out had brought the tempo down a little bit to a more relaxed, deeper techno. Perfect for the weary souls that were starting to realise this night couldn’t last forever.

When we finally left, I received a phone call reminding me that the group had a Segway tour of Berlin booked for 2pm and we had to hurry straight there. I had completely forgotten about this but having already forked out 50 euros for it, we made our way to the meeting point, unsure of how we were going to cope with the next few hours.

As it turns out, the tour was incredible. Admittedly a few of us were a little worse for wear, but gliding around the city in the beautiful sunshine, seeing all the sights and historic features ended up being one of the highlights of the weekend. I’m not convinced the poor lady leading the tour enjoyed our company quite as much as we did, but I highly recommend the experience.

Once we finally finished at 4pm some of the group who had slept rather than partied in Panorama Bar decided to go to a bar called Yaam which is a Jamaican themed place by the river. I was way too tired to even consider joining in so I will save the details of this place for when I attended later in the weekend. All that was left for me was to collapse into bed and get in as much rest as possible before our final night.

The Saturday night was the last ever night of Maria Am Ostbahnhof so whatever happened our night was going to have to include that:

Maria Am Ostbahnhof

Considering the club is now closed, I suppose there is limited merit to going into too much detail about this venue. Especially as I clearly have had no lack of things to write about! The music was not what made this place so special, as the techno was of the harder variety, even leaning towards psy-trance in the main room. What really made this a memorable experience for me was the outside area; a balcony strip surrounding almost the entire venue with couches by the river, tables and seats hidden all over the place. It was particularly necessary as the club was the hottest venue we visited, unpleasant at times, but the outside chillout area made it bearable. By the third night it is reasonable that we didn’t have as much energy to put into the long raving sessions we had accomplished earlier in the trip, so it was a perfect place to combine some short sessions on the dancefloor with nice long periods outside where the group could chat and recap on the some of the weekend. It also made me realise after being forced to split the group up the previous night that there really is no substitute for having us all in one place.

When we left as the sun had come up, we decided to take the whole group back to Tresor to let the few who had not yet experienced it see what we had been trying to put into words since the night before. I don’t think this needs a separate section to recount as it was pretty much the same beautifully disturbing experience, with the only negative being the departure of one of the members of the group who had booked an early flight on the Sunday. Soon after that we had all hit our limits and it was back to the apartment once more.

Sitting outside on the grass having a few drinks and trying to remember all the amazing occurrences of the last two nights, three of us refused to accept the weekend was over and decided to head to Berghain to see off a trip to Berlin the only way I know how:

Berghain

I have had in the back of my mind whilst writing the rest of this article that at some point I would have to try and put into writing the final section of the trip. I have worried I won’t be able to do it justice 0r that it would end up just being a long paragraph of flattering adjectives but I will do my best.

Let me start by saying that there is nowhere in the world that even comes close to being in the same league as this club. You can’t even compare it to Panorama Bar upstairs. It is an entity of its own, a shrine to the techno culture and the epitome of breathtaking. The main room is a big open space with massively high ceilings, a dark and hollow surrounding that is both minimalistic and also full of character. The sound system puts to shame even the likes of the Funktion 1s at Fabric. The bass pounds so hard into you that every single bone in your body takes the full force of each pulse around the room. At one point it felt like I was in a mosh pit but instead of hitting into people, I was being thrown around by the sound waves themselves. It’s not just the drop of each tune but every single beat, each individual bar, that alters the vibe in the main room. It carries you along forcefully, preventing you from leaving the dancefloor or stopping for even one second. It is a powerful and emotional experience that you have to see for yourself to even begin to understand. There is something animalistic about the people on the dancefloor, you can’t help but be stripped back down to a primal state were it’s just you and the music. It isn’t hard to understand why people have been known to spend unthinkably long sessions in that place. Hours disappear like seconds. As the time of our flight crept ever nearer and we eventually agreed we had to leave, it was the most difficult decision of the weekend. One of my friends put it best when he said he finally understood the expression “slave to techno”.

Before accepting that the weekend was well and truly over we stopped off at Yaam Bar. This is one of the most out of place venues in the whole city, but in a great way. It is on the river and has been entirely filled with sand. It is Jamaican themed and an excellent place to unwind after a heavy session in the clubs. Rastas and tourists all lounging around, sipping a cold beer, lying along the length of the river or just snoozing in the shade to the mellow sounds of reggae and classic beats. There’s a five-a-side pitch for those with a little more energy left than we had and a basketball hoop. It’s somewhere you definitely have to check out at some point on any trip.

How can I possibly summarise what really has to be one of the best 72 hours I have ever experienced in my 24 years to date? This weekend made me realise that there is nowhere I’d rather spend my time raving than Berlin. Even Ibiza, whilst not a substitute as such, falls short in areas where Berlin excels. It is the European home of techno and has somehow managed to maintain the ethos and atmosphere that was originally created when the genre first emigrated from Detroit in the late 1980s. It’s far more than just a city, a genre or a label. It’s an understanding of music, a way of thinking and a lifestyle that unites a more diverse following than any other genre anywhere in the world. Leaving Berlin is only made bearable because there is never any question that your return is never too far away.

This trip was one blur that seems like it could have all happened in 10 minutes. The only thing to add is that these adventures only have the lasting effect and memories I always associate with them largely because of the people I go with. It wouldn’t be even nearly the same to go through any of these experiences and discoveries alone. The combination of a great group of people, the best clubs in the world and music that quite simply leaves you speechless is the best I can do at summarising a weekend that has had such an impact. Everyone involved deserves a pat on the back and a high five(fünf). Until next time, ich liebe Berlin, doof doof.

See you on the dancefloor.

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