Brisk Encounter With Berlin Techno Part 1
07 June, 2016
The techno splendour of Berlin in the nineties is unlikely to return. But, this does not prevent the German capital from oozing club culture. We’re guiris – you can see that from a mile away. We smile in the metro simply because we’re downing one of the umpteen exquisite beers you can easily buy in Berlin’s 24-hour stores, or in the metro itself, from the stands that have taken over the underground landings. We’re guiris and, as such, we soak up the city’s nightlife by living out all the dreams and half-truths handed down to us about the historic nineties in Berlin, of basement clubs and all-night parties. Our premise is straightforward – what remains of that club culture splendour in Berlin? We have just forty-eight hours to tune in to the techno beat of today.
It’s Friday, so the adventure begins. Like any decent racing car, the body requires breaking in. And no other European city has more – or better – excuses than Berlin to drink a beer drawn at the counter. Our first stop takes us to Hops & Barley, a tavern with as many types of frothy beverage as the likelihood of rain in that Teutonic country. Dim light, gridded floor and we’re hard put to find a bar stool. The ideal space for stretching exercises.
When one’s throat is sated with pilsen, it’s time to move on, and the metro is our best option. Berlin has a comprehensive network and trains run to 12.30 in the morning on weekdays and round the clock on weekends. Near the Ostkreuz metro station, in an area hemmed in by railway lines and studded with niches formed by twisted iron bars –– a surprise awaits us. In a fenced off work area a bonfire is burning, surrounded by a group of youngsters, a computer and loudspeakers playing techno full blast. Here, the “scouts” listen to catchy “bits”, an image far removed from that of youngsters in Spain, where they gather around a bonfire, guitar and songbook in hand. Open-air parties are a permanent fixture of Berlin – they know a thing or two about them in Rummelsburg.
With this good omen of the city’s techno DNA behind us, we head for a an illustrious nearby squatter’s venue, ://about blank, one of Berlin’s numerous self-managed centres. “Love techno, hate Germany”, it says on the door. The day’s programme is antifascist, for 12 euros. Inside, the dark, crowded cube that is ://about blank offers a heady experience – a tight space and many young Berliners with their eyes closed, swinging their heads about frantically to the music DJ’ed in vinyl. The inner patio is the place to chill out. They recommend we attend a festival called Homophätik, which we will likely check out on subsequent trips.
Berlin does not sit well with the idea of “on a human scale”, as it stretches across a vast territory. This means you have to make the right choices. As for the right days – Chalet is the ideal club for Wednesdays, while Renate is best for Thursdays. But, today is Friday and it’s past four in the morning. We decide to leave the great techno marathon for tomorrow.
Saturday dawns splendidly for a day in May – the sun sends powerful shafts of light into the inner courts created by the residential blocks strewn across Berlin’s terrain. In one of them, some girls are rehearsing a choreography. Next door, a boom box blasts out strains of ambient music.
For lunch – it’s amazing how quick noon sets in when you’ve been up in the wee hours – we are taken by a Sudanese restaurant on Reichenberger street. This is a small eatery with a one-dish menu of the day – for meat-eaters and vegans – at competitive prices. Before plunging into the night again, we spend the afternoon browsing intently through another of any music lover’s crown jewels in Berlin – the record shops.
While finding the stores is something of an achievement, The Record Loft poses a veritable quest. But, using up the few megabytes of your ISP’s European rates brings a reward. On the fourth floor above another of the aforementioned inner patios lies Hard Wax, accessed via a staircase with steps plastered with labels and magazines from all continents. Hard Wax is a small label specialised in electronic music. They also have a vinyl store. The afternoon is also a good time to dip into the bookshops in the Hackescher Markt. Some have large techno sections, notably Do you read me?, which also boasts a selection of local fanzines. In fact, their bibliography of Berlin’s cultural construction is extensive, ranging from such titles as Future Days, from “early times”, to Krautrock and the Construction of Modern Germany, to works focusing on the nineties like Der Klang, der familie. There are also exclusive titles from Berlin itself, witness Berlin Sampler. From Cabaret to Techno. 1904-2012.
Once your hands are sore from leafing through boxes of vinyls and keying in the titles of upcoming releases, it’s time to head for one of the pre-party clubs. But, more about that in the next chapter.
Text by Yeray S. Iborra | Our thanks to Ángel Molina, Ana Riaza, Carlota Surós and Martí Renau for the first-hand information on the itinerary for this article.
07 June, 2016