Or like Berlin where they go another nightby mo on 07/27/2013
Post-London, I took a week off to check out Berlin and Prague. It was my first time in both cities, highly anticipated for years based on everyone’s stunning reviews of these two cities. My boyfriend joined, as well as Cathrine & Thomas, aka #theswedish.
I was a bit disappointed that I did not immediately fall in love with Berlin — in fact, for the first two days or so, I kind of hated it. Let me explain.
– Trash errywhere.
Many people I know told me I would love Berlin because it’s hip, artsy, cool, an up-and-coming tech hub, cheap, and has great parties. I didn’t really find any of this to be the case — yes, they have lots of awesome street art and graffiti everywhere, but a lot of it is also very ugly, and there is seriously trash and broken glass everywhere. SO. MUCH. We saw our tour guide blatantly litter on the street (he was born/raised in Berlin, and seemed to be a standup dude otherwise, so I can only assume this is normal behavior). It also took me a while to adjust to the wartorn aesthetic, (though I did eventually begin to like it).
– Ugly != hip
We stayed in Kreuzberg near Kottbusser Tor station (all 4 of us in a tiny room together, not my best AirBnB moment). This neighborhood is allegedly filled with hipsters, but they must have been hiding under rocks, or inside the clubs we were not cool enough to get into? I didn’t really see anyone who looked cool. The fashion all over Berlin was also pretty abysmal, worst I’ve seen in Europe yet, also rampant fatness — same if not worse than London. (Yeah, okay, America in general is obvi superfat, but SF is, relative to these cities, an oasis of svelte).
– Cash only.
For a country with such a reputation for logistics, Berlin was fairly difficult/inefficient to navigate. Everything operates via cash (people literally laugh at you if you try to use credit card, even worse than in San Francisco), and many times you needed specifically *~*coins*~*, like for the train ticket machines (they were supposed to take bills as well, were often broken). Like, you are forced to carry around little pieces of metal in your pocket in order to pay for things. What year is this even!?
– Kinda took forever to get anywhere
While the public transit situation was pretty good, the city is really sprawling so getting between things still often involves long walks and leaving for stuff 45 minutes in advance. Different clubs in the “same neighborhood” could be 20+ minutes apart. Not Berlin’s fault (or maybe it is, idk?), but Google Maps completely fails at Berlin transit — they don’t even put the U-Bahn in there, which is like, the main metro of the city (they do include the S-Bahn, the above-ground rail, for reasons unbeknownst to me). The app that saved our asses was FahrInfo.
– Seriously, where the fuck was the internet?
Even beyond lack of googleability, stuff had extremely little internet presence — it was truly impossible to know whether a club/store/restaurant/anything would be open or not other than by walking up to it and looking. I knew Twitter ain’t really a thing in Berlin, but the complete lack of yelp/foursquare was super annoying, especially there seems to be no local equivalent (Qype was the closest thing but still very little data). Like, where has the internet disappeared off to?? How do these alleged tech hub people survive? Internet connections everywhere also seemed pretty abysmal.
– Nightlife queueing bullshit, see below.
Despite my long list of complaints, some of the stuff we did/saw in Berlin was extremely awesome. Here were my faves.
1. Mauer Park
2. Nazi Art Bunker – Sammlung Boros
There’s this 6-story former Nazi Bunker in the middle of the city that has been revamped into a modern art museum. You must sign up for a tour in order to visit it, which is a good thing because for most of these art pieces, a mini-lecture’s worth of context is definitely necessary (and fascinating). My faves were the room full of popcorn (a popcorn machine that had been popping for 10 months straight at this point), a creepy bedroom sculpture where you would crawl out the wall into the next room, and a tree branch being rotated around this room, dragging on the floor. The bunker itself was also a major part of the exhibit. Aside from having been a nazi bunker, it was also used to store fruit, and a BDSM sex club in the nineties. The inside was remodeled to give higher ceilings in some places and create interesting spaces, but many of the low ceilings were left intact, as well as the black paint on the walls from the sex-club days. Layers of disgusting history!
3. Alternative Berlin Tour
We did this our second day and it was awesome. It focuses on street art/artists as well as some of the “hipper” neighborhoods (Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, etc.), and it definitely helped us digest our surroundings, and know some great stories about the neighborhood, my favorite being Osman Kalin’s trash house. Our guide was very nice, and had also stayed out until 6 AM the night before giving us the tour (at one of the clubs we couldn’t get into) so points for being a true Berliner.
4. Middle eastern food
All of Europe really, but especially Berlin, embraces the kebab/falafel in a big and important way. Seriously, the west coast totally fails at this crucial cuisine. Also, Berlin staying up all night means you can get some schwarma whenever the fuck you feel like it, aka 5:30 AM. I think I had the best falafel of my life on this trip.
5. Beer gardens
The good news is that all the beer gardens that I’ve been to in the US trying to emulate the ones in Berlin, seem entirely accurate. I suppose there’s not too much to fuck up, if have tables & benches, beer and pretzels and sausages, you’re pretty much there. I didn’t think they really did any of these things much better than the US equivalents, but hey they were still nice. There was also a curious floating DJ setup at the one in Tiergarten:
6. Holocaust Memorial
It’s right near the Brandenburg gate and other famous stuff that we didn’t really bother so much with, until our awesome local friend-of-friend, Gordon, took us there. Definitely going at night was a good call (thanks Gordon!) to feel the full creepy, overwhelming, chilling effect.
Berlin has a reputation for some of the craziest nightlife in the world, so I thought we would be all set. Clubs are open from Thursday night until Monday morning straight, you go out around 2 AM instead of going home then like sleepy San Francisco… however this is all completely useless if you cannot even get into a club.
We arrived in Berlin on a Saturday morning. Dealing with a combo of sleep deprivation and jetlag amongst our party crew, an allnighter seemed a bit impossible, but it was Saturday night and we wanted to club SOMEWHERE. We grabbed dinner and barhopped in the evening, until sometime after 1, where we tried to go to a beachy club called Katerholzig (along the river, which apparently in Berlin is a beach) where the queue was about 500 people long and not moving. The bouncer seemed like dick, and while we did cut the line there was no way she was going to let us in anyway — bribery doesn’t work either FYI. I seriously couldn’t believe people were waiting in such a long line, to likely be rejected (many other people were getting rejected, not just us). We regrouped and headed over to Watergate, another club that was supposed to be more uhhh, democratic about entrance I suppose, which had a smaller queue but still looked like at least an hour of waiting and by now it was past 2 and we were tired and I didn’t want to deal with bouncers or whatever anymore. #fail
On our second night, which was a Sunday, we were determined to make this club thing happen. We researched which clubs would be open on a Sunday in Kreuzberg (a lot of them seemed to have cool day parties, but we were busy seeing the non-party aspects of the city during the day) and we settled upon 3 in our neighborhood to check out, that the internet promised had Sunday night parties. Using the internet, however, was clearly a crucial mistake, and NONE of the three were open. We took shelter in a gay bar nearby with pink fake fur on the walls and a scrolling LED sign (like at the dentist) declaring “naked sex parties on thursdays!!!”. The vibe felt more like it could almost break into a naked sex party at the drop of a hat, but we chatted with some other travelers and planned our next move. One guy said he noticed the Berghain line was not long (Berghain is probably the most famous of these exclusive clubs, very tough to get into) but we cabbed over, only to find that they wouldn’t let anyone inside who had not already been inside that weekend (i.e. had a hand stamp), even though they’d be open for another 12 hours at least. We gazed woefully up at the lights inside, hopped in another cab to RAW Tempel, an old rundown railway maintenance center now used for art/culture events.
Very poorly lit and graffitied over, RAW looked about the right amount of forlornness for a party we would want to attend. We followed the sound of the bass until we found the entrance. They let us in for a few Euros, no hassle — it was almost anticlimactic how easy it was to get in, actually. We bought some drinks and sat around on these steps near the dancefloor. The music was pretty good (not incredible but definitely good enough to warrant a night at this club), the dancefloor was comfortably crowded, and people were friendly. We met another Swede and a couple of Americans (including my first ever human being from Mississippi), hung out and danced. When the sun came up we walked home for about half an hour through Kreuzberg, grabbed some food on the way, and slowly went our separate ways.
It had turned out to be a pretty awesome night in the end, though I did feel like we were partying with essentially all the other rejects from all the clubs in the city, since this was our 1 success out of 7 attempts at getting into a club. Very frustrating.
Other than the lack of internet/credit cards (I hope these things are on their way), the theme of my Berlin frustrations was essentially that it was difficult to navigate and really know what the fuck was going on quickly. However, this is probably a good thing overall and means that appreciating the city would come with familiarity and expertise, spending more time to figure out its quirks and secrets. We would have certainly had a much more difficult time without the guidance of experts like Gordon, Pete (who used to live here), Cathrine & Thomas (who had visited several times before).
While it’s by no means a beautiful city, I loved how some relics of former times are left standing, and repurposed into something new today (e.g. the sex club turned art museum nazi bunker, the train warehouse club, lots of other examples of this were around). It makes you feel like you are walking around in the midst of a lot of history, and not in the way of “hey that’s a really old church over there” (like many other European cities) but more in the way that everything that there are many layers to the city, and each doorway, alley, staircase you might use every day had a different role 10, 50, and 100+ years ago. I also sensed a sort of rebellious, anti-the-man spirit and general distrust of things/people that I really did like. And yeah, it is fairly cheap (aka our tour guide’s friends lived in a 4-person house for the total cost of a single room of a 2BR apartment in SF).
The queueing shit though, probably a dealbreaker for me. Way too scene. At least, until I’m a Berlin artist/tour guide myself, working under 10 hours a week and can afford to throw away a few hours standing in a club line, I guess.