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Brisk Encounter With Berlin Techno Part 1

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.

Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS, Michael Mayer

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Berlin on Gallery Weekend from East to West

Berlin is synonymous with art. You don’t need to go much further to bump into someone who, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has journeyed to the capital of Germany in search of an opportunity. With almost 450 galleries, 20,000 artists and over 3,000 exhibitions yearly, Berlin is experiencing an art boom. It heads the European art scene by a mile.

Gossip has it that over the last 20 years a new art gallery has been opened every week. Faced with that trend, no wonder that, over the last 12 years, Berlin’s galleries have joined forces to launch the Berlin Gallery Weekend (from 29 April to 1 May 2016) – the first of its kind – subsequently replicated in Paris, Vienna and Barcelona. We visited the city to see it for ourselves and spent three days packed with inaugurations, talks, parties and social events at special times to showcase the latest productions. This, just when spring is descending on the city and its streets start casting their gaze outwards.

Zero budget: admission to the galleries and other areas is free-of-charge.

Recommendation: hire a bicycle – distances become shorter when negotiated on two wheels. The city is big and the galleries string out from east to west, although centred mainly on Berlin Mitte, Kreuzberg and Potsdamer Straße. We began our tour – map in hand!

Berlin’s Epicentre – Auguststraße in Mitte

Auguststraße is lined with trendy restaurants and art galleries. This is the historic centre of Berlin; hence its name – Mitte, meaning middle. There we came across the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, a former margarine factory repurposed as an emerging art lab for mapping the latest trends. Right next door, the collector, Thomas Olbricht, presents his private collection, me Collectors Room, an area of 1,300m2 with exhibits ranging from works by Cindy Sherman to exotic objects worthy of a curio cabinet. Long-standing venues, including the widely acclaimed Eigen + Art, blend in with the newcomers, like Kicken Berlin and neugerriemschneider, and the elegant building of Sprüth Magers on Oranienburger Straße, bringing a breath of fresh air to the local scene.

One of the latest venues to burst in on the scene, which features the epitome of a fusion between art and gastronomy, is the Jüdische Mädchenschule (Jewish Girls’ School). Housed in this building – which reopened in 2012 after falling into disuse – is theMichael Fuchs Galerieand a number of restaurants which form a nexus between the past and present. Among these isThe Kosher Class Room,which offers traditional Sabbath dishes on the menu, andMogg Deli,the best place for indulging in a good pastrami sandwich.

Before leaving the centre and heading for Kreuzberg, we made a compulsory stop at Clärchens Ballhaus. Opened in 1913, this dance hall is a veritable Berlinese legend which survived two World Wars and numerous Nazi clampdowns. Young and old, tourists, locals, good and bad dancers – there is something infectious about Clärchens which makes you feel at home there!

Around Checkpoint Charlie

Near the Berlin Wall’s most famous checkpoint and also the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) and halfway between Kreuzberg and Mitte, lies the Galerienhaus. This former Lufthansa headquarters which became a centre for political asylum-seekers in the nineties, houses 11 contemporary art galleries on its various levels. If you chance to go there, be sure to see the Gallerie Nordenhake, the Gallerie ŻAK | BRANICKA and the historic Konrad Fischer Gallery. Although initially founded in Düsseldorf, like so many other galleries in the Rhinelands, it ended up moving to the capital.

A few minutes away in the Mitte direction lies one of the trendiest venues in the area, the VeneKlasen/Werner Gallery, founded by the New Yorker, Michael Werner, who brought a piece of the Chelsea scene to Berlin, making it more spacious, more professional and… more expensive.

Before leaving Kreuzberg, we visited the Church of St Agnes which now houses the König Galerie. Built in the Brutalist style, it was acquired by Johann König and opened to the public as an art gallery in 2015. Here, in what appears to be the end of the white cube, a good itinerary is guaranteed.

Potsdamer Straße – A Trendy Art Boom

We came to Schöneberg, on the old west side, where for many years galleries and creative projects have been mushrooming, taking up every available square metre. The fact is it seems to be a surefire win-win formula – the venues are mutually beneficial in that their accretion and synched opening and inauguration times draw ever more visitors. Among the galleries you simply cannot pass up are the Supportico Lopez and Esther Schipper. However, if time is at a premium and you need to make a choice, head straight for the Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie. The Italian artist opened her gallery in 2008 in the former apartment where the actor and singer Hans Albers lived from 1946 to 1948. The premises have been preserved virtually intact. The walls are lined with wood panelling and secret recesses, which act as a backdrop.

Art galleries housed on a fifth floor without a lift in reclaimed buildings; exhibitions which can only be reached by crossing two patios and three doors… the list goes on and on. If you’re planning to visit the city within the prescribed timeframe, check out the full programme and our daily flights to Berlin. Happy Gallery Weekend!


Text by Núria Gurina for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Photos by Marco Funke, Genial23, Axel Schneider, Wolfgang Staudt


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Brisk Encounter With Berlin Techno Part 2

Picking up from our activities in the previous chapter, today we continue with our monographic tour of Berlin techno. This, then, will be our second night in the city. For this purpose there is a variety of venues. In a radius of less than 200 metres there are two of the standout spots, both on the Kreuzberg intersection. Access to the first of these, Monarch, is up a staircase which doesn’t seem to lead to anywhere safe. But, after negotiating a metal door concealed on one side of the street – bingo! The venue has a fixed programme and special events, such as the XJAZZ Festival. Another of the mythical spots is La Paloma – you could pass by the door twenty times and you’d never suspect that there was any action there… and on this occasion there wasn’t. 9 p.m. is too early for this locale. We didn’t even try going to Farbfernseher as we wanted to really hit the big time!

“The best techno is still at underground rave-ups, where it’s not easy to get a look in”, remarked Ana, a designer from Madrid who lives in Berlin. With that auspicious comment we head into the Berlin night, to more exciting spots than the ones touted… Before that, we make a slip-up.

Tresor has become the Pachá of Berlin”, wages Carlota, a Catalan who has been living in the German capital for some years. Tresor is not the best of places in Berlin – it is no longer on its original premises either – but it is an affordable piece of history. The tunnel leading down into the basement hall with its strobe lights and tedious hard techno is unlike anything else in Europe. Whatever is being played, thanks to its crew it sounds marvellous. As well, the premises are clean and they even offer deodorant and shampoo to customers who prolong their stay through the night.

After a couple of hours we realise that there aren’t any real Berliners around. You can hear more Spanish and English being spoken in the corridors than German. You also encounter a host of guiris in such places as Suicide Circus, Cassiopeia, Kit Kat and Weekend. The venues actually exploit the fact that some legendary clubs have closed down precisely because of the pressure exerted by foreigners and a process of gentrification – Kater Holzig, Golden Gateor Icon, for example. We decide to head for another iconic spot, this time with its pedigree intact – Berghain, in Rudersdorf.

The sandy forecourt leading to the earthy-coloured building rising several storeys high is imposing. Not for its size but because it smells of fear from a long way off. The stats confirm that no for an answer is the prevailing response at the door. Five pro bouncers are tasked with controlling not so the outbreak of scuffles as customer dress code (spotless black, although a couple dressed in green latex was allowed in) and the deportment of the cautious queuers (no talking in the queue, no group entry, no boy-girl couples). Martí, a Barceloner who went to Berlin on an Erasmus, has never been able to get in. Needless to say, neither were we. It’s 4 in the morning.

“Have you got an invitation?” asks a sturdy bouncer in English. We haven’t yet opened our mouths, but he already knows we are certainly not Teutons.

“No”, we reply in our half-German. The bouncer moves his head to one side, motioning towards an exit. Our visit to Berghain with its legendary label is short-lived.

What gives in the club that has made the legend grow exponentially in the last few years? “It’s their hallmark of exclusiveness which the club is careful to promote”, replies a Galician, who has also been unable to gain access. “They say there are dark rooms inside and, maybe, the best music”, adds Ana. Little is known about the interior, over and above the odd testimonial from people who have managed to get in, as the image of Berlin’s clubs is jealously guarded.

The night is taking its toll on our legs. And, to round off our whirlwind weekend, we make another mistake – we go to the best afternoon club, but in the early hours. Sisyphos has been one of Berlin’s mainstays in the last few years. It is a huge, open-air expanse on the riverside, where our eyes begin to shut. We take a taxi as our NH is on the far side of the city, and we leave mulling over our encounter with techno in Berlin. “We’ll be back!”

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.

Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS, Michael Mayer



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Tell Me Who You Take To Berlin

Oh, Berlin! How can it be at once traditional and modern, cosmopolitan and friendly, cool and… cheap? One thing is certain – the German capital has options to suit all pockets, and food for all palates. It matters not who you go with, as we shall now prove.

Weihenstephaner – Bavarian Food For Your Parents

“What! We’re off to Berlin? Wouldn’t it be better to visit Aunt Anselma in Cuenca, son?” That’s how your parents reacted – fearing something too modern – when you gifted them a flight to Berlin. Just as well you found a decent little hotel in downtown Mitte. The rest was a cinch – a tour of Museum Island, a stroll through the ever lively Oranienburger Strasse. Night was falling by the time you reached Hackescher Markt and then you knew for sure – Weihenstephaner. This Bavarian-style restaurant, with two endless floors and countless saloons, wooden tables and waiters dressed as you would imagine Germans to be attired on festive occasions, was the perfect option. The restaurant is named after the beer brewed in Weihenstephan Abbey since at least 1040. And, yes, you can quaff enormous glasses of any of the varieties, from the mildest blondes to the highest-proof dark brews. If you then add succulent roast pork in beer sauce, garnished with potato dumplings, or a scrumptious veal currywurst, you understand why tears were rolling down your father’s face. Sheer bliss! And, for less than 20 euros a head, unless you get carried away with the beer.

Hasir – The Original Kebab With Your Younger Bosom Brother

You had promised your brother a trip in September if he passed all his subjects. Well, you know… but the guy goes and passes everything! You asked him where he would like to go and he replied without hesitation, “Berlin”. He was probably gunning for the Berghain, likely the best techno club in the world, although that depends on the mood the bouncers are in. After sundown, it was up to you to show him the city and, as the lad was not yet worldly-wise, you thought of taking him to Kreuzberg, the Turkish quarter, which has now been taken over by the modern crowd. Halal butcher’s shops stand alongside second-hand clothing stores; corner shops with things Muslim opposite bio-organic cafés. In short, a culture clash which left him open-mouthed. When it came to feeding him you chose Hasir, a Turkish food classic, run by a bloke who is supposed to have invented the döner kebab. The eatery is decorated with a map of the Anatolian Peninsula, photos of customers and the odd Turkish kitsch motif. The food lived up to expectations – outrageously big helpings which are ideal for your brother, who was making his final growth spurt.

Berlin Street Food Market/The Circus – The Winning Combo for your Hipster Friend

Is there any more hipster destination than Berlin? That’s what you were thinking when you got two tickets for your best friend, that bearded skateboarding guy, even though he was already greying and had been collecting board games from the 80s. “I’ll have a tough time surprising him”, you thought as you printed your Vueling tickets. Thank goodness someone tipped you off that, the second weekend each month, the KulturBrauerei building, in the modern heart of Prenzlauer Berg itself, hosts an awesome Street Food Market. The Germanic ethos comes through in this event, organised to perfection, with long rows of dining tables, a DJ and such tempting offerings as Eastern baos, Cuban cuisine, vegan pies and… with no queues! All one hundred per cent conceived, designed and executed in food trucks. To crown it all, you took him to the Katz & Maus Tap Room, the bar at The Circus designer hostel, with their craft beer made right there, the barrels and metal stills on display to bear out its authenticity. And, at a good price! Great music, ranging from Indie to rock classics, rounding off a fine example of what any hotel bar ought to be. You achieved it – your friend was left stroking his beard, speechless, enjoying a delicious craft beer.

Lucky Leek – How to Win Your Vegan Girlfriend’s Heart

Granted, your first date was disastrous. You took her to have a hamburger and that was when she uttered those three words that changed everything forever: “I’m a vegan”. That’s why the thought of a trip to Berlin made her raise an eyebrow as if to say, “I don’t intend to eat a single sausage!” But, you were clever, since Berlin happens to be Europe’s vegetarian capital for 2016. What’s more, you bet a winner – you booked a table at Lucky Leek, a high-flying vegan restaurant recommend by the Michelin Guide. Their chef, Josita Hartanto, works magic on fruit and vegetables, with such dishes as aubergine bread with seitan and tofu and courgette salad, or tomato soup with vegetable dumplings. Think green… and you can’t go wrong!


Text and photos by Javier Casto of Gastronomistas



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