The colossal concrete walls stare at us with indifference. Rejected. The voices of overcrowded trains still ring in my ears. Barely draped in singlets we step aside, hestitant to leave, facing the finality of our situation. It is over before it begins. The wardens of the great wall have spoken, turning down the ones deemed unworthy, who could be judging what’s unfolding inside. I stare at my friend, who dragged me here full of purpose. She shrugs her shoulders and glances back up at me, innocently, mistaking me for someone with a plan. One of the gatekeepers watches us, marinating in our gloom, surrounded by cold night. After thorroughly evesdropping and mustering the desperation in our half-naked bodies he finds something that flips his switch, and with a blanc expression, he slowly comes closer and reels us in.
You hold your breath while they check your pockets, every pocket, your socks, girls bras, between your toes, the soft part of your shoes, and even scraping and digging on the bulge in your pants. My phone gets blindfolded with a sticker. Handing it back to me, the guy gives me a stern look. I advance to pay. Even the people at the register look judgemental. I still feel like being scolded for something I haven’t done yet, or for something I am not. I am still holding my breath, but pay confidently. I thought, now they actually want something from me. The stamp was a bunch of gothic symbols spelling the word FAGGOT.
I had been here before, years ago, when I moved to Berlin. I don’t remember much of that, but it left an impression of grandeur, and I recall that everyone was taking drugs, drugs I hadn’t heard of before. I don’t know and never knew any DJ names, but at the time I recall that I really liked Paul Kalkbrenner. But they don’t play that kind of music in Berghain. It’s not raw and diffuse enough. And I remember that I met this drugged-out girl that invited me to her hotel room and said there was another guy waiting, and that I should bring rubber gloves.
Berghain makes you think of a nordic fortress in the cold mountains, shrouded in the dark heart of an ancient forest where great warriors reside. It is majestic like a temple and on the inside it strikes you as an arena for gladiators. From the ashes of a former heating plant it rises in the late 90s as the epicentre of Berlins techno culture. Stripped of turbines and generators the only thing left was the enormous Stalinist concrete skeleton. The lungs of this grand building are tucked away, dimmly lit areas for a certain kind of gathering – the dark rooms. The Gladiator’s Hypogeum.
While I wait for my friends I sit down on a row of seats that look comfortable at first but are hard as nails when you toss yourself onto them. Someone is kneeling before me, vainly glancing into a round mirror while putting glamorous make-up on his face. He gave me an uncertain look, as if not satisfied with the outcome. I tell him he looks amazing and he shouldn’t doubt himself. “Its a party, I have to judge myself.”, he says. “I guess there is no party without vanity.”, I reply. He starts putting make-up on me; white circles around my eyes. I can barely spot them in his mirror. I guess it makes me look more interesting. I thank him and go with it.
When you turn in your jacket you have two choices where to go next. Most head straight into the line for the toilet cabins, which mainly serve as shelter to roll out your first batch of chemicals. Across from the wardrobe you will enter the twilight and pass a big statue on your way to the staircase. The massive figure is blowing something, an ungodly horn with veins in it. I walk past it with my eyes glued to its grotesqueness. People are resting at its socket in the black. Some stray light reveals the crown of their heads and you can spot the faint, breathing glow of cigarettes in the darkness.
If you turn left from the statue there is a cosy little bar and your first handful of dark rooms. They are everything you can imagine. People reminiscing, indulging, having exited chats, and sexual anarchy in all its glory and liberation and absolution. I do not progress far. I don’t want to impose on anyone’s frivolous private party. It doesn’t even feel I am watching exploration, rather watching someone doing it flagrantly in a different place than home. And I am too vulnerable to go all the way in, bluntly exposed with all the pale, bare skin. I feel like raw meat on a spear in the middle of a suspicious clearing, just without the trap. A pound of flesh, a mouthful of blood-dripping gazelle. I can see the jungle stir from my presence. It is broodingly hot and steamy, sweat pearls crawl on my skin, and a lot of bodies graze me and bump into me, briefly clinging to my wet skin. Male bodies just covered by shoes and necklaces brushing against me. And suddenly an unexpected slap on my ass. But it doesn’t faze me. I am calm. There is nothing threatening about this spectacle. A guy stops in front of me, moves the strap of my singlet to the side and plays with my nipple. “Do you want to come with us?”, he confidently whispers in my ear. I am clearly not ready to follow some gay strangers down the rabbit hole.
I have to admit to myself that this exposition of human physique and frill is something to behold. Bald gladiators strapped together by leather, connected through hefty chains, thick steel rings and bound by massive shiny locks. Rings on chains, chains on rings, locks on chains, rings on cocks and fine combs in fancy little leather pockets around the neck. Golden chains on black skin, silver chains on white skin. Black and white tats. Shaven and unshaven warrior heads. Flashy nakedness. Perfectly crafted bodies, boasting with manliness and vigor and bulging with brute strength – the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. It is fascinating to see all that muscle mass, all those countless days and years in the gym, slapping clay on, taking it off somewhere else, for no archaic purpose, just to look handsome and desirable.
The drug scene in Berlin is imposing. Speed and G and E and Emma and K and the other K. Everyone strokes their nose all the time. It’s so ridiculously obvious and telegraphed. It seems like everyone is taking the same kind of medicine to fix something inside, an illness. Maybe the illness of being blasé. The toilets reek of shit, the floors are wet and dirty and disgusting. Spreading the mud with their high, black boots, everyone stands in line to get in, giddy and impatient, having loud and important conversations on their wait to more activation, more edge. Because if there is one thing you want to show off it is your edge. Edge is the currency here, the only one.
The regulars at Berghain become master smugglers. Getting it inside is almost all of the magic happening. What follows is a mere infinite loop. Everyone is always pushing into the cabins. The horrors of diminishing returns have afflicted them. And of course you are no addict, it’s just for fun, on the weekends, and everyone is doing it. It’s like being inside of a drug addict for a night. There is still safety glass in between you and the abyss, right? Where are the girls I came with? I start talking to myself. They seem to have submerged into the swamp of toilets, to look for the one thing everyone here single-mindedly strives for. While I wait for the others, I talk to a couple from Milan. “We don’t have nothing like this in our country. The volume, it is crazy!” They tell me they don’t think about sex at all, they just want to bathe in the volume of the music. His girlfriend had an insane body and showed a lot of it. She was exactly my type, cute and curvy and brunette. There are a lot of girls here who show you a lot, driving you close to insanity. It is like a boot camp where they want to break your spirit. But it seems that they don’t want me. It seems they don’t want anything. They already have it. This here is the most sexually explicit and yet asexual place on earth. At least for a person like me, who doesn’t come for the drugs. The tease is real, and it really leaves your confidence and compass in ruins. If it weren’t for all the attention from my own gender I might start pouting.
Berlin, maybe it reminds them of a childhood they never had, that they rather had than their own. So many young girls strut around looking for something to fill their vessel. Will it ever be cool again to have virtues, to be an innocent teenager? To have those qualities and not jump from sixteen to Berghain? They choose their role model and want to become it as soon as possible, no matter what it takes. They don’t like to tell the story how they come from a small place where nothing happens. Concealing that past makes you a stranger to yourself, because then the thing you are doing right now becomes everything you are. There is an undeviating focus to move forward in life, because your past is just less interesting than this now. Self-imposed amnesia. It’s like a ray of sunlight streaming through a crack in the wall. You stand in it, and it’s wonderful, glorious, warm and life-giving and fills you with glee and tranquility, but around you is darkness, and as soon as you move or even turn your head you are swallowed by it. That’s why you keep going, for days, keeping the streak alive.
The way these young girls handle the drugs baffles me, nimble-fingered and very self-assured. They are experts with 19 and 20 and even younger. And they drop it, snort it, just like that, in the sweat-dripping toilet booth. Is this the new smell of teen spirit? But I guess the lure has always been there. Christiane F. would agree. A quote from this movie about teenage heroin addicts springs to mind: „Guck sie dir alle an! Je cooler sie sind, desto mehr haben sie gedrückt.“ (“Look at them! The cooler they are, the more they have shot.”). Fashion label ‘Heroin Kids’ capitalizes on this rebellious image and glorifies the grim consequences of being a forsaken, spindly wreck from life-ending drug abuse. Their models look half-dead, lingering almost unconcious in some lifeless corner of a dark industrial facility. On their dirty underwear is written: “Will fuck for drugs!”. To me the only cool thing about stoically looking death in the face is the nonchalant smile of a devil-may-care attitude, of maybe a superhero, not going to clubs and getting wasted. There is just no substance to this. Make it in this world or don’t make it.
The people here are hippies, but without the colours, without the joy of talking to and being with one another. It’s just showing off how little you care about anything, and how much you want to be someone you are not #livingtheartistlife. Maybe for some it’s to mute the clutter of a normal life banging around in your head every day of the week, and for others a humble wish for more inspiration and creativity, to get somewhere, anywhere. Maybe that drive was the beginning, how they started, and now it’s just every week, a new cycle, which doesn’t allow your brain to cultivate the revelations you had the first time, or the last time. I don’t see anyone taking notes. Everyone is so busy looking ecstatic and fabulous, displaying artistic temperament without being a true, all-consumed artist. Because if they were, they wouldn’t be here. Or maybe it’s because as a creative you are everything when u are working and you feel like nothing when u don’t.
Without having touched anything, I feel the urge to wash my hands. Then I had to pee. I choose the far end of the urinal for a quiet, uninterrupted moment with myself. I take it out and let it flow. In the corner of my eye I notice a shadow moving towards me. It’s a crumpled, thin figure wearing nothing but a worn-down leather collar, and for the naked rest of him resembling the creature Gollum. He stares at my fountain of urin and with his desperately pleading eyes, begs me to drink it, while already crouching forward to the tip of my stream, where the piss hits the metal. I shake my head and firmly tell him: “NO!”. He drags his wretched body a little closer. I shake my head again, this time I hope with more authority. He still moves towards me. Every time I turn my head he is a little bit closer. I look at my hands to focus on hitting the urinal and instantly switch back to him. He is very close now, with wide, begging eyes and weakly points to his mouth, like a neglected prisoner who hasn’t had a meal in days. His body is crumpled and his movements are low to the ground, silently groveling. I have to get over myself and shout at him: “NO! … NO! PISS OFF!”. I can’t look in his eyes, his sadness is too profound.
It feels like an hour since I last saw my friends. In the far corner across the dance floor the sexy silhouette of a techno girl catches my eye, wildly dancing on a stair top. The dripping sweat from her side tail runs down her skinny neck. Her stance is low, almost squatting, and something is oozing from between her legs, but it doesn’t have any sexuality, and she stretches her arms towards the ceiling as if she has never grown before. The beauty of the female clientele is almost crushing me. Models dancing on high platforms in bikinis and figure-hugging dresses, with tiny noses, thin necks and bouncing tails. It all seems a surreal excuse to work out and to become even thinner.
You lose track of time in a place like Berghain. The next day has already begun outside, and inside, lasers are feathering into each other, daylight is piercing through what seems bullet holes, leaving blinding streaks in the haze, like the rising sun surging through an untouched forest. The light is emerging and setting behind the speakers. Laser heads look and move like torpedoes; rolling, flickering, firing relentlessly. They have their own rules and their own reality. The strobes create pillars of light, forming beacons and bright passages in the dark. Gaunt people are praying to the sound, and with their hands, in the air, forging nothing, casting nothing. Bass is life. Bass is purpose. Everyone is stomping. Everyone is facing the DJ. You see streaks and glimpses of humanity darting by, while distorted voices give dimension to the sprawling bass of hard techno. In the half-light of Berghain you only get an idea of peoples faces, hushing past you, revealing only the most unashamed features. A torrent of cryptic identities. The really crazed ones flick their wrist at you when they storm by.
When the music hits you for the first time it feels like your lungs are collapsing and bass competes against your heartbeat, as if someone tries to resurrect you from heart arrest while your heart is still going. And it pushes you around like a bully. You have to fight against it, shake it off. You have to make it all the way across the threshold, deep breath over deep breath, along a shredded rope in your mind. Do you really want to be here? It’s like a malicious massage, that feels wrong but also good, and you ease into it, while your brittle sense of reality shelves off your microcosm. Your mind is marooned on an island, floating on a sea made of bass. I have no idea what DJ is playing, just think of the most insane version of “Rhythm is a Dancer”, with soul and sternum crushing bass and some eerie out-of-this-fucking-world bird noises hovering on top, bent and streamlined by the architect to build the walls of the soundscape. I am bewildered by the conception of such a dark, thumping orchestra.
Melodies and vocals are nice and everything, but let’s be honest here, you go to Berghain for one reason only: BASS. – Shape, Clown, Daydream, Disaffected, Leather, Cleric and Wormhole are just a few of the names of the songs being played. They all offer different expressions and bodies of bass. The massive speakers tower above you with monolithic presence and posture. They have air intakes like a gas mask, worn by a giant robot with an open rib cage. They are monumental and indifferent. Unbending, immovable and with quaking, earth-bending membranes. The bass has no direction or shape. Although there is this physical anchor in reality, the bass is so low and powerful and visceral that it seems to come from the pillars of the earth. Every beat is an enormous seismic slam affecting the tectonic plates underneath you. Rumbling, staggering ground slams, wrecking balls colliding, battering rams getting repelled by immense iron gates. The variety of thumping and hammering is glorious. The thick, chunky concrete resonates and intensifies the brutal waves erupting from the speakers, expanding it throughout the whole building with a haunting industrial growl and unholy reverberation. It’s fascinating that the ceiling doesn’t crumble. I guess a fortress with the prowess of the socialist classicism doesn’t falter that easily. The foundation of Berghain will probably still stand a thousand years from now, when we and everyone we ever knew are long gone.
Strobes pop, lasers cut through thick haze. You wait for the climax of the music. The climax is defined by the absence and then resurgence of bass. When the bass stops for a moment in time you can feel your brain catching up, only to be thrown behind again, decades, centuries, to a time when asteroids were hitting earth, creating planetary shock waves and laying ashes to what was before. The sound system has only one function: pushing you out of your reality, squeezing out the last drop of your thoughts and worries about that life out there, and ultimately pushing you into this world. Stampeding bulls trampling over your body. Brute force hitting your reset switch, over and over again. Erase all content and settings? Yes.
In Berghain you are dipping your head into another cosmos. You are scraping the rim of a black hole. You experience music that is howling and barking like the dogs from hell. The foundation of the dance floor growls at you, like a monstrous mechanical beast that is chained underneath you, in a black, bottomless pit. Some bass sounds like the blowing of big exhaust pipes in a space ship, or like the dull thudding against an endlessly large window. Other not so low frequencies are incredibly hard punches, as if smashing unbreakable granite rocks into each other and some fast mid bass sounds like napalm drops and machine gun fire and war drums at the same time.
The minimal music is pounding and tearing at you, almost severing your bones. You escape death by obeying the rhythm of the monotone drums. The soldiers stomping, swaying and cuddling to the beat of freedom. And then suddenly fading in out of nowhere, the Mortal Kombat theme. I am frozen for a second. In all that anonymous theater an immeasurable nostalgia, a flashback to my youth. It makes me happy from a place that no one else can have in this moment. “Hey girls. Hey boys. Superstar DJs. Here we go”. Then A faint 90’s loveparade tune. Music is the key. Just glimpses of something real in between – they don’t want to alienate those who came for the abstract, nameless immersion – linked faintly in your distant memories, from that life out there. Only for a brief moment you get your head out of the pressure of the ocean, to gasp for some air, enjoy the sunlight on the surface, only for a minute, then back to sledge hammer time, back to the merciless, primordial, genocidal bass attacks. The drop hits you.
There are no voluptuous bodies here, only pretty gym boys with black pants stroking their thick hair, driven by lust and ease. I am outmuscled by everyone. Heavy-duty bodies, flexing, swaying, shifting and caressing. I wash my hands again. Everyone is topless, T-shirts loosely tucked in the back pockets. Everyone is making out, kissing niples, licking rings on nipples, stroking beards, spooning on the dancefloor. The metal clangor is still tearing at me. The haunting sound of saws, bolt cutters, bending, shattering, colliding steel, emitting and erupting from the e-guitar of a demon butcher. Heavy metal from a forge of mystery and darkness. Don’t settle for anything less. Dive into the fray. Be free Berlin.
The floor is sticky. Shards and bottle caps stick to my soles. I can’t get free but I don’t want to stay in the pit. Everyone is looking for the look on your face. Everyone is bumping into me, but without a sinister motif. They bang into you and then they hold you steady, as an apology, and to create the first sensual contact. Straps, buckles, beards, an amazon in underwear, raising her hands, restrained by a chain, worshipping the ecstatic gods of thunder and lightning. Guys showing off their tribal trinkets, resting on bulking hairy chests. Near the vast, stretched out main bar sits an old man with a skull of a head under a baseball hat, brooding there in the dark, operating from the shadows. He draws on his cigarette, his eyes flash at me, waiting there, patiently. In the right corner of the long bar is a big metal swing. A guy has taken it, holding both chains of the rusty pendulum with stretched out arms and open legs, showing off his private parts. I leave him in his exposition and turn left, up a small delicate flight of stairs, winding high into the Eisbar where I find refuge. A cosy little cafeteria tucked away in a hidden corner of the club. The only place where I can truly rest.
Its visual centerpiece are giant pairs of big industrial lampshades, resembling the burning thrusters of a space shuttle. Perhaps a reference to the turbines of the old world in this building. They shine on translucent bricks. Behind them shimmers the purple glow of the dance hall. Underneath the lamp, people talk and have coffee and ice cream. There seems to be a constant layer of smoke, but it doesn’t come from anywhere. Orange candles breathing against static green exit signs. Sharp yellow spots and diffused purple lights with barn doors all alike fill the haze with voluminous light rays. Cigarettes light up in dark corners. A girl spits her ice cubes back into her glass while typing wildly on her phone. You hear screams of the techno junkies in the distance when a new drop hits them. A big stamp on the back wall says “Zulaessige Nutzlast” (permissable load). People are relaxing here, eating apples and bananas and revitalize. I am doing the same, with a cup of ice cream in my hands, chocolate and banana.
A lot of girls are just wearing bras and tiny backpacks and small round sunglasses, clad in stiff white skirts like lampshades and thick white plateau sneakers, flashing in the dark. I want to share all these moments with someone, but there is no one here who has the patience to talk. Everyone from every angle is rushing past me with some kind of agenda. When u meet a girl, it is never about you and her. It’s always about it. It will be brought up within the first 10 minutes. If I don’t have it, she moves on. No one wants to meet you, get to know you. The girl next to me throws her head back while she takes a deep draw from her cigarette, exposing that lean, skinny throat to the light. Neck is life. There is so much unclothed prey. Am I not supposed to hunt? I wouldn’t mind a little philandering. This feels like garden Eden but only with Adam and the snakes, no Eve. I follow a nice ass to the dance floor to have some fucking purpose.
Panoramabar is the second dance floor on the second level. It has its own character and genre. People view it completely differently from Berghain. Some prefer its lighter music to the darkness of Berghain. It has more of a house vibe to it, although the bass and soundstage is cut from the same dimension and intensity. The dance court is very busy and pretty girls are once again elevated on platforms for the utmost exhibition. One girl in particular draws my attention. She dances like a very athletic figurine that came to life, shifting from leg to leg in a wave pattern with wide-spread legs – the wide-birth dance – which so many girls exercise here. You need a wide stance to take the heavy shifts of the side movements of the upper body. Her underarms swing like a gunslinging bond girl for further balance. The rhythm and movements are very sexual. It is fluid but she is still stomping with her feet, mirroring the authority of the bass drums. She wears net pants with a lot of holes. The biggest holes in her net are over the hip area. She has perfectly firm ass cheeks, the kind you only get from the gym or endless dancing in Berghain. A choker is clasping her thin neck. Big silver circles dangle from her lobes. She has a nose ring and her red eyes are flaming with irritation from dehydration and side effects. Her pupils are highly dilated, almost swallowing all colour in her eyes. She has very small breasts and the nipples are poking through the soft bra. Her arms are now flung into the air, disclosing a patch of freshly shaved axillary hair, cradled and gleaming in the wet armpit. I want to eat out her armpits. I want to dine on her sweat. Her gay company wears dark shades, a black-rimmed hat and a black-feathered chest piece. They have a strong bond and are each others anchor in the entropy of this place. Her main accessory is a fanny pack of cracked, dark-grey leather. It has a pale shine when the dampened, feathered light plays on it. The fanny has two front pockets where the closed zippers meet in the middle. It is locked and loaded with everything you need for a seamless 3-day drug frenzy.
More and more frail, bouncing girls on sneakers streaming into the club, kicking, boxing, banging fringes, springing tails, wearing short jeans, chewing gum for a thinner throat. Small Asian guys with shiny silver hats. Costumes made of glittering scales. I like to watch the sparkling objects rustling through the dark. I’m sitting here like a little boy eating his ice cream while the unbridled adult madness explodes around me. I have settled down on a row of old cinema chairs next to the toilets, where the line for taking drugs seems even more absurd than downstairs. It must be noon outside. Hot streaks of light are bursting through blue, purple and orange window tiles in a steep angle. Competing against that radiance is a lonely green exit sign, faintly glowing, trying to hold its ground. A black janitor sits next to me holding a key chain and talking on his phone. Would he talk to me and listen to my stories? I feel the strong urge to be with others, not dance the whole night with myself. I want to feel another ones body. I feel like the lonely green exit sign on an ever-expanding wall, lost in the vast nothingness of space. I am alone.
A guy with a full-body G-string from balls to shoulders stops in front of me. He takes a break and a deep breath, pushing his hands deep into his hips and arches his back. Everyone else around me is strutting off to somewhere. Everyone wants to look unique and busy and special and tough and experienced. Even the nice girl type, pulling her hair back with gel to create a slick edgyness. Just don’t look vulnerable and normal. Be on top of the game, or lose your Berghain credibility. You can feel the pressure mounting up on those who really want to fit in. Every weekend is a game 7.
I decide I have enough of this place and take one last walk around the Panoramabar before I leave. Strolling through the dark passage behind the dancefloor, you find a row of black cabins on the left side stretching throughout the tunnel. I notice a young girl with open legs getting eaten by a human ape. She is pale and cute and looks like nineteen. She wears net pants under Nike shorts and a sporty tank top, but her tits are wildly dangling out. He is tall and has the hairiest back I have ever seen, wearing a blue plastic skirt and his body hair as a sweater. He is almost bald but has strains of long, greasy black hair running down from his head, while he piggishly dines on her. She throws her head back with closed eyes, grabbing the back of his head and pushing his face tighter into her lap. Then he fucks her from behind. The girl finishes him off while she pushes her ass out of the tiny booth for all to see what they missed out on. She licks his scrotum and sucks on his shaggy balls and then swallows his cum. I stand there and watch without shame. I graduated from Berghain.
But what the hell do I know about all of this, I’m just an outsider looking in. Maybe I wasn’t made for these times. Or maybe people just wanna live the best story they can at that moment in time, and Berlin is quite suggestive what that story might be. My theory is that it stirs the caveman in us, exposed to the sound of a growing planet that is not conscious yet, with roaring fires and infinite, impartial grinding. Escapism into the primal and visceral and unending. And meat. Paleolithic. The hunt is part of it, but also being hunted. It triggers your survival instincts. It makes you feel more. After a visit to Berghain you rise from the ashes of your former self. And when u exit the club your ears remain shell-shocked for hours. Every voice you are listening to sounds distorted and metallic and unreal, like that screaming robot from Star Wars that is about to be disintegrated.
If you are hungry to witness Berlins debauchery at its finest, and you want to feel the hooks of hedonism sinking into your flesh you should unquestionably delve into the depths of Berghain. It is certainly no utopia because this place really exists. And if you get it it takes your breath away. Absorbed correctly it is catharsis. It is marvelous and alluring. The only thing I can’t help but feel is that beyond the beautiful decor there seems to be a deep cynical resignation within the community and a strong sense of entitlement.”This is the only place to be and we are here, we are it.” And they give you a look of: “I was here before you.” And because it leaves such a profound impression on you, most that have felt this place seem to come back, again and again, and then the extraordinary becomes the ordinary. It feels like people leave something behind in Berghain. Like a snake shedding its skin, and they retrieve it, slip into it when they come back to the endless extravaganza. People are not in awe anymore. The fierce and outlandish circus loses its reverence. It becomes their third place after home and work, but the first one after nothing when they wanna be free of everything.