The Berlin Diaries – The Sweat of Slaves

 

After the Mike Skinner gig came the weekend. It was Friday night, and although many friends of mine were heading out and my phone was buzzing like a rampant rabbit on meth, I tore myself away and stayed home, applying for jobs and writing. I know, right?! It’s almost as if I’m becoming a proper adult – although not really, because the real reason I couldn’t go out was that I had a friend from home visiting early the next day and I didn’t want to be deathly hungover.

My friend arrived on the Saturday morning, and left Sunday evening, and in that time we crammed in a hefty percentage of what Berlin has shown me so far – sights and experiences that I have haphazardly discovered over five weeks of misadventures. My friend got the more streamlined, less chaotic version. On the Saturday, we visited Tiergarten, the Victory Column, the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish Memorial, the East Side Gallery and a (very early!) Christmas market. It pissed it down all day, so unfortunately no good photos were taken.

Saturday evening, we toured Kreuzberg, and I showed her Come Backpackers, and weirdly enough when we entered, we bumped into Alex, one of the perma-boozing French clan that took over the hostel while I was living there. He’s been there for approaching a month now. The rest of the beer swilling Frenchmen have had to pack up and head home by now, as they’ve burned through all their money. Alex is the last one standing, and he has managed to last this long because once a month he flies home, signs on, gets the money, then flies back, for under a hundred quid. He is getting around a grand a month doing this. A bit nefarious, sure, but he doesn’t seem too fazed as long as he can buy vintage jackets and cigarettes.

My friend and I got shawarmas for dinner, and toured the bars. Café Kotti, then Bohnengold and its hidden dancefloor, and finally to a house party Michelle had invited us to – at Harry’s flat, the place I crashed for four weird days when I first arrived in the city, all those weeks ago. The party was nice, and we chatted to some cool people. We headed to Kater Blau after, queuing from around 3am until 4.30am, due to the infuriating one-in one-out system. After an hour and a half, we finally got in with a nod from the bouncer. A posh English girl in front of us in the queue was turned away with no explanation, after shivering outside for just as long as we had. She stood in bewildered silence, mouth agape, as we awkwardly shuffled past her and went inside.

It was usual fare in Kater Blau. Sweet debauchery. It’s a great venue, it seems to change every single time I go. I’ve been four times now, and it’s never the same. As we walked through the mad carnival walkways, we passed rocking horses and photo booths and karaoke boxes and Mexican death god shrines and giant swings. As we entered the cloakroom, three girls whizzed out past us whooping and hollering, riding a giant wooden pig on wheels.

Fast forward a few hours and we were dancing in Kiosk, a smoke thick jungle room with an indoor swing, when a familiar face bobbed past in the dry ice fog. It was Jean – the middle aged party king from Syria, who I’d met a couple of weeks previously in a gay bar and had gone on a wild, ill-fated night out with. I cheered and grabbed him, and his face lit up with recognition. He joined us and we hung out with him for most of the night.

At about 7am he told us he was on liquid acid, and had been for the past 16 hours. He asked if we would like any. He told us you squeeze a drop onto your skin from a pipette, and for the next few hours you experience intense euphoria and mild psychedelia. I politely declined. I was already in a state and didn’t fancy staggering home amid raining frogs and crooning lampposts.

We got back home at 8am, grabbing a taxi to avoid a lengthy U Bahn journey. It was the first time I’d been in a car in five weeks. Weird. Next day was spent not doing much of anything besides festering in bed and trying to eat toast. We grabbed our evening meal of juicy cheeseburgers and chilli cheese fries from Burgermeister at Kotbusser Tor. Fun fact: Burgermeister is a clever language pun, as it actually means ‘mayor’ in German. Wowee! Knowledge! Oh my GOD the food is good. If you are reading this and you live in Berlin, stop right now. Stop reading. Fuck this blog. It doesn’t matter. Seriously, get outside and get down there, and eat every damn burger they have.

Stuffed and knackered and hungover and the rest, I bid farewell to my friend and booted her onto the U Bahn at Ostkreuz. I waved her away, and watched her train leave until it was out of sight. I was very sad to see her go. I miss her. Glum and ill, I got the U Bahn the opposite direction, all the way to Eberswalder Straße, near Mauerpark and its marvellous markets. I had a gig to go to at Frannz Club – one of my favourite bands were playing, Slaves.

I pounded a Club Mate on the train to wake myself up, and once I’d found the club, hung around outside hurriedly drinking two beers I’d bought for 70 cents each. I got my stamp and headed inside, and was thrilled to find the venue was absolutely tiny, maybe twenty metres or less each way. It looks like the stage for a student union comedy night. I suppose Slaves’ fanbase is mostly English. There was a support band on when I arrived, but I didn’t hang about. I’d brought €20, but I’d be damned if I was going to spend it on grossly overpriced venue booze. I leapt out of the building like a salmon on crack and hit the streets.

I trekked back to the off license and got two more beers. I quickly drank these, and decided I still felt a little too sick and a little too sober to properly dance and jump around like a maniac at the gig. I splurged the princely sum of €3 on a mini bottle of Jägermeister, wedged it down the front of my boxers, winced a little at the cold, and waddled back into the club past a cynical looking bouncer.

I bypassed the cloakroom, too, because money is getting low, and I refuse to spend the last of my money paying some bullring toting student to defend my coat for a couple of hours. Nah. I took it off and slung it in a dark corner behind some speakers, heaved my Jager out of my underwear, took a swig, and waited for the band. There was maybe a hundred people in the place. Perfect surroundings for raucous hoodlum music.

Slaves came on stage without much ceremony; they just swaggered over, looking frighteningly real. It’s strange to suddenly see in the flesh someone you’ve only known from a screen. They’re… they’re three dimensional. It’s trippy. Isaac, on the drums, was wearing white Levis and Docs with a tight fitted black t shirt tucked into them, and Laurie, guitar, was in pinstripe trousers and an oversized baseball jersey, along with heavily tattooed arms and a spider web running up one side of his head.

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“Alright Berlin! Oh, it’s good to be back. We love Europe, fuck Brexit. This song’s about rich fucking politicians.”

Sweet catharsis. I cheered myself hoarse.

I took another horrible swig from my bottle and pushed to the front, a foot away from Isaac as he attacked his drums standing up. No seat for Slaves’ drummer, and their live show is infinitely better for it. Stand up drumming means he is constantly bouncing from foot to foot, like a boxer in the ring. In every photo I’ve seen, Isaac is topless. Sure enough, two songs in, the top came off, flung to one side. He’s stocky, and strong. It’s refreshing to see a musician making aggressive music who legitimately looks like they could deck you.

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Their crowd chatter was brilliant – in between every song there was a brief back and forth, a proper mixing with the people who had come to see them. None of this nonsense of bands turning up, playing the songs and leaving. They were in and out of the crowd for most of the gig, Laurie leaping off the stage into the crowd for a guitar solo, or straddling the amps at the front and leaning out over everyone’s heads, holding his instrument like a machine gun. Isaac was dripping sweat as he smashed the cymbals to pieces, bellowing hoarse and furious into the mic. God knows how he doesn’t lose his voice. I nearly lost mine after one evening.

They played Spit It Out, Sockets, Debbie, Where’s Your Car?, The Hunter, and my favourite, Cheer Up London. When they introduced this song, one of their last, Isaac took the mic off the stand and prowled the stage, calling out London and its ‘miserable fucking faces, miserable fucking people’. He stared wide-eyed at each face in the crowd.

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“And if you hate your job… get a fuckin’ new one, for fucks sake! Do somefin’ about it!”

They then encouraged everyone to grab the person next to them and hug them. I embraced a laughing girl even sweatier than I was, with wild bushy hair. A small blonde girl behind me was refusing to hug anyone. Isaac saw, and told someone to hug her, but no one would. She said she didn’t want to be a ‘fucking hippy’. Laurie told her it’s cool to hug, and that they are love punks. Again, no one would hug her, instead standing in a fearful circle around her. Sod it, I grabbed her and gave her a quick one armed hug. The band laughed on stage, the crowd cheered, and Isaac hopped down and hugged her as well.

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Cheer Up London was brilliant. I sang my heart out, as loud as I always want to sing in my room but can’t as people in the street would call the RSCPA because they were convinced someone was using a bag of cats as a hacky sack. The last song was ‘Hey’, arguably their rowdiest number. The entire crowd was a mosh pit with the explosive energy of a knife jammed into a toaster.

The gig finished in a distortion drenched, voice cracked, cymbal-bullyling crescendo, and the band lay on the floor under their instruments, exhausted. Slaves took a well-earned bow, bid everyone goodnight, and left the stage. I was euphoric, as always after a good gig. I’d missed that feeling; I hadn’t been to a proper gig in years. Sweat was running down my forehead and my clothes were stuck to me. I slung my jacket over my shoulder and headed home. It was around 5 degrees outside, but I walked back to the U Bahn in my T-shirt, mopping sweat from my brow with my jumper. I got home just after midnight and fell into bed with a smile on my face.

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