The Berlin Diaries – Shrooming

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Look,

I considered giving this one a more subtle title but the world is probably going to end soon anyway because Donald Trump is king of the realm and Brexit is happening and everyone is racist again so fuck it, I’m done with subtlety. If you’re reading Mum, you now know that I went to Poland and got shroomy. I am sorry. Well not ‘sorry’, exactly. I mean, I understand that I did something that was perhaps not great as far as being an upstanding citizen is concerned, but it was rather a lot of fun, and so despite your probable grievances you are bound by the laws of motherdom to be happy for me. Them’s the rules. Excellent.

Alright let’s get on with it.

On Friday afternoon my colleague (secret name change alert!) Bernie, an Irish dude with a moustache who I don’t know so well but inevitably end up drunk with every Friday evening after work, invited me to festival in Poland. The festival is called Woodstock (because we in 2017 are post everything and originality is DEAD, DEAD I TELL YOU, it’s all a con and we are all DEAD INSIDE, AAAAAAHH) and had a line-up that I didn’t know too well, but did include Slaves, a favourite punk band of mine, and on top of that it was totally free, so why the bloody hell not, yes?

It turns out you can get the train to P-land from B-town for very little money if you go with some mates and purchase this weird ticket called a ‘schöne wochenende’ or ‘beautiful weekend’. Bernie and I met up with two of his friends, and our quartet hopped on the little train out of Lichtenberg armed with pissloads of booze. Bernie told me that Polish girls are amazing, and as our train rolled across the border, we were pensive and quiet, each of us picturing sweeping fields full of smiling blonde girls with brilliant cheekbones.

Remind me to never again believe anyone that summarises an entire nation as ‘gorgeous’, because this has always been and will always be giddy hyperbole that young men and women tell themselves when jetting off abroad. There are some attractive people in Poland, yes. There are also some unattractive people. There are also plenty of people who are in the middle of those two bookends, who could only be labelled as ‘fine’. The same is true of literally everywhere else on earth. Apart from maybe Denmark and Sweden. Everyone there is hot as fuck.

We got off the train in Kostrzyn, bought some beers at a nearby off license, and piled into a currency conversion bureau. I was about to hand over a 50 for the day, an amount that seemed reasonable for a festival, but Bernie told me this was way too much, and we each pooled 15 euros. It turns out this amount bought us some 40 beers over the course of the day, a baggy of some nefarious substance that in all likelihood was crumbs of cement, as well as two bus rides with change leftover. Poland is cheap.

We bought some mushroom chocolate from a secret place in Berlin en route. I have never tried shrooms before but I’ve done 2CB a few times, which is (according to people who do way more drugs than I) a middle strength psychedelic, so I didn’t feel particularly apprehensive about shrooming. We took a square each and wandered into the festival. There were no gates anywhere, no bag-check or ticket booths; it was literally a case of strolling from the bus to the front of the main stage, which seemed oddly halcyon considering how mad-for-terrorism everyone is these days.

IMG_1051.JPGThe four of us spent a while drifting to and fro among the topless Poles. The festival had been going for days already and the site was a wreck, muddy, partially nude bodies everywhere, mountains of empty beer cans and lakes of what may have been rainwater but in all likelihood was piss. Thick, dark  forest skirted the whole event, with acres upon acres of tall pines stretching away to the horizon. We bought 12 cans of beer and made our way to the campsite to chill out and wait for the shrooms to kick in.

I had no idea what to expect, but Bernie told me that there would be no visuals from the mushrooms at such a mild dose. However, for anyone reading this who is not a drug person, the fact that there are no hallucinations involved does not mean things don’t get odd. Regardless of whether or not an object looks exactly as it always did, your perception of it and how you respond to it can change remarkably. Case in point: I realised that the mushrooms were beginning to kick in when, on our to check out some nearby woods, we had to pass a long line of portaloos. The sight of 50 plastic toilets all lined up made me strangely uncomfortable, and I found myself not wanting to look in the direction of the, as I dubbed it, “land of never ending toilets”.

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Shudder

We made our way to a hilltop in the campsite which was mercifully free of muddy people, and sat while our minds slowly climbed higher. People always tell you to do psychedelics in nature, and it wasn’t hard to see why – while the people and their general muckiness looked increasingly unpleasant, the distant treetops of the forest took on a beautiful, high definition texture, and I had an urge to go and run around in them. I also had a nagging desire to be naked, because the idea of clothing suddenly seemed incredibly oppressive and cruel. I now fully get why hippies are always nude.

We lay on our backs and watched the clouds. Bernie said he preferred the Polish clouds, and that they were less melancholic and arrogant than the Berlin ones. I gazed up and found myself agreeing. The Polish clouds were merely drifting above, offering no threat, just passing idly by. I approved of them.

A man walked past some distance away with no top on. He was very skinny and for some reason the sight of his bony frame caused me offence. I found myself wishing he would go away and get his rib cage out of my face. I thought this was a funny notion and attempted to write it down in my phone to remember for later, but I kept accidentally writing ‘heart cage’ instead of ‘rib cage’, and after the fifth time of deleting it, starting over, then forgetting what the hell I was trying to convey and typing ‘heart cage’ yet again, I gave up.

Then Jesus showed up, as he always does. A man wandered past with long hair and a well groomed beard wearing a beige robe and red sash with bare feet. His friends were surrounding him. Jesus had a can of lager which he was sipping poignantly as he moved through the festival. Jesus had several brown stains on the back of his robe which he must have acquired over the festival, which lead me to dub him Skidmark Jesus. My own joke tickled me to no end of course, and soon had me rolling around on the grass cackling.

From on our hill we could make out the main stage, where a Polish band was playing. They opened their set with frightful heavy metal, but by their last number were pumping out some oompahpah-oompahpah beer-hall weirdness, and the entire crowd was apparently completely fine with this transition. Bernie described it as ‘a bit Boris Yeltsin’.

It started to rain, so we sought shelter in a nearby cluster of trees. We ducked under the canopy and found ourselves nose to nose with a mirror image group of four Polish men, who were also sheltering. The eight of us nodded to each other and stood huddled in deafening silence around a ditch full of empty beer cans. Nobody looked anybody else in the eye. In my addled mind I decided it fell to me to break the silence.

“So this is pretty groovy.”

Silencio.

We tried to get a conversation going but their English was very limited, and beyond saying cheers or swearing, my Polish is gówno. Then a drug dealer bustled into the circle and called us all ‘kurwa’ a lot, then sold us the previously mentioned nefarious substance. We asked him what it was, and all he said was “Kurwa, look in my eyes, you can trust me” then stared hard at us with wild pin prick pupils. Retrospectively, this man was probably the worst man in the world to buy absolutely anything from. But we were on mushrooms and common sense takes a backseat. We then evacuated the strange little woodland grotto to find a nicer tree to shelter under.

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A grubby man I met. When I showed him this photo he said “Oh my god is that how dirty I am?!”

We found a new tree near a family who were sitting around eating potato soup. This sounds fine, but on shrooms you can’t see help but see through the veneer of normality. You are acutely aware of how fucking strange it is that four hours ago you were brushing your teeth in the bathroom mirror, and now you are tripping balls in a rainy field in rural Poland giggling helplessly as you watch young children daintily spoon potatoes into their mouths.

Slaves were starting their set, so we bounced away down the hill just in time to see them take the stage. As always, they absolutely killed it. Isaac, the topless stand up drummer, is vicious. He’s in far better shape than when I saw them in Berlin, and girls were shrieking at him every time he walked out from behind his drum kit. I have to admit, he’s a sexy man. I pondered the fact that I might be a bit gay. Maybe we’re all a bit gay just under the surface. Hey ho.

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As I stood watching the show, the mushrooms continued their gradual unspooling of my mind. I remembered something I’d read in a magazine interview with the band: the 26 year old drummer Isaac has a shoulder injury, one that will eventually stop him from playing drums and will likely impede his movement in later life.

As I stood watching Isaac battering the drums with such ferocity, I suddenly saw everything around me with great shroomy clarity. I realised that I was part of an enormous crowd gathered to watch a man in the prime of his life deal irreparable damage to his body for our entertainment. I saw a man dressed as Jesus earlier in the day, and I suppose that image stuck in my ball trippin’ head, because now I was convinced I was watching a man act like Jesus.

I was filled with a sudden religious vehemence, staring wide-eyed around me at the dancing, filthy crowd, all mud spattered and leather clad, neon mohawks drooping in the rain, mosh pits and piss pools everywhere as though I’d been airdropped into Sodom-

And then from nowhere a rain-soaked, ruddy cheeked Bernie clattered into me, shoved by a brawny Polak.

“Oh hey man! Why are you stood still?”

It seems I’d been stood for 10 minutes with my mouth agape. In an instant my senses snapped back to attention and my dawning religious vision ebbed away. Then with a giddy cackle I skipped away into the mosh pit to get hurled around some more.

We partied straight through the night, dancing to trashy europop nonsense. I made friends with a girl dressed as a cow and a man who insisted he was a warlock. Late morning on Sunday we arrived back in Berlin, some 17 hours after we began. I crashed into my bed with a grateful sigh and didn’t leave it until the sun was down.

I later learned that Bernie lost his keys at the festival and was locked out of his flat so had no choice but to spend the next day lying face down in the local park.

All’s well that ends well.

The Berlin Diaries – Devil’s Mountain, Part 2

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Previous post: Devil’s Mountain, Part 1

Before I ever tried any psychedelic drugs, I used to imagine that they would be enhanced by going to wild places. However, now that I have dipped a toe into the ocean of psychedelia, I have realised that this is a risky move – doing so increases the likelihood of you freaking out. The experience of a suddenly mutated reality is weird enough in itself without crowding your peripheral vision with terrifying foreign schema. The idea of a tree had baffled me earlier; now I found myself facing down a thousand nightmare frescoes in the bowels of a hidden necropolis.

Maya, however, was having the time of her life.

As I stalked the compound amid gathering storm clouds and grinding violin shrieks, she skipped alongside, marvelling at the artwork. I was loathe to spoil her fun, as I knew my panic was only chemical and would pass. I eventually murmured to Maya that I was scared, however, and she took my hand. I was craving a blanket, an armchair by a fireplace and a cup of tea, not this ravaged Nazi cemetery in a cruel and twisted hellwood. I couldn’t shake off the sickly tendrils of dread. Meanwhile, Maya was following a trail of dog’s paw prints in the mud and wondering aloud whether there might be puppies nearby. I agreed with her that there must be lovely puppies hiding nearby, but my inner monologue knew the truth. No, Maya. Not puppies. Wolves, coming to eat my face.

With an orgasm of relief we rediscovered the trail of painted cats, and followed it upstairs into the main building. The remains of the structure are a shell, without walls, and the wind rolled through as the cats led us higher. Breathtaking artwork lined every floor, the vibrant, pulsating colours pouring through more now that we were sheltered from the soul sucking drizzle and mud. I could feel my rib-cage cautiously relinquishing its grip on my heart. Miraculously, we stumbled upon a lone, dog eared sofa surrounded by paintings of tropical birds; the oasis I sorely needed. A soft wind rolled over us as we nested together. I drifted back down to earth, and I was safe once more.

Exploring further, we found a mural of a gigantic cartoon mouse wearing sunglasses, next to the words ‘Take it cheesy!’. Maya stood before the mural in awe, and I wandered into the next room alone, where I froze. The space contained nothing but a single, dangling noose. Maya came to my side, and we stared at it a moment in horror, before doubling over laughing; between the two rooms, nothing could have summed up our separate psychedelic experiences more perfectly.

We eventually emerged onto the rooftop, back into the drizzle, and took turns yelling inside the two giant ragged golf balls. They are echo chambers, and every sound is churned over and over like a tombola drum. The yellow cats then led our duo of giggling idiots into the creaking skeleton tower, where together we began the ascent of the blackened stairwell towards the final orb, the last, pristine sphere at the very pinnacle of the compound. As we drew nearer, music floated down to us.

At the top of the stairwell we left the daylight behind, and hand in hand we stumbled into a thick blackness. We’d expected nothing much, merely venturing up out of sheer curiosity, and yet at the top of Teufelsberg, after hours of wandering, of suffering the elements and battling an imposing panic, we were richly rewarded. We had passed all of the trials thrown at us (admittedly, almost entirely self-imposed), and finally, we emerged from the stairwell into a new reality; a room unlike any on this earth.

High above the forest, amid howling winds, we found ourselves in a hallowed cavern, the walls stretching away in all directions, reuniting high above us. The second we entered, we were embroiled in a torrent of drums and oily echoes, a cacophony of the purest, deepest sounds you ever heard. The orb was vast around our small, confused forms, groaning high above in complete symmetry and perfect dark, save for one blade of light that severed the gloom, cast from a small grille. Beyond that window, there was nothing. Mist had ransacked the forest and left only unforgiving white. The blankness beyond was startling, and seemed to insinuate to my fragile mind that we were inhabiting a space that was disconnected from the real world. This tower of endless echoes was all that existed, lost in a white void.

We weren’t the first there; two French girls were sitting in the centre of the sphere sharing a joint and playing music from a speaker, the source of the infinite drums. The orb’s echo was so powerful that every beat hit a hundred times, a whisper became a roar, and everyday sounds of no consequence boldly elbowed their way to the fore. I could still hear myself humming ten seconds after I had finished. Every sigh became a waterfall, every footstep an avalanche.

The French girls shared their joint with us, and then faded away down the stairs, leaving Maya and I alone on the shores of our dark cove. My mind was a cinder, burned out by the day’s exploits, so I gave up trying to comprehend the spectacle and instead we simply sat, listening. And it was only when we sat, that we saw it.

Above us, towering and wreathed in shadow, was the Devil himself. Ten metres high, savagely scrawled across the whole interior of the dome, the Devil glared down at us, arms outstretched, reaching to embrace us. Maya hadn’t noticed it, yet. I took a photo of her as she sat, pensive in her innocence, cradled in the arms of Lucifer.

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We stayed there a long time, lying side by side, idly chatting and clicking our tongues at the Devil, listening to his immaterial orchestra sing back at us. Maya and I found that we could sit twenty metres apart and whisper to each other. Occasionally, birdsong from beyond the grille was swept into the cavern on the breeze, where it was bowled around the sphere like a carnival daredevil gunning a motorcycle around a Cage of Death, finally reaching a brilliant, sweet crescendo, then disappearing. None of it made sense, it was all too much to process, and so we simply lay there in wonder.

I remembered the spray cans just as we were deciding to leave. We looked around for somewhere to sign, and chose the spot where the only sliver of sunlight fell. We signed our initials in pink paint. It makes me happy to think that it is still there now, a simple message to whoever next climbs the tower that two people were happy there, once. Finally, we bid farewell to the chamber and began our descent.

Within five minutes we were back at the guardhouse, its door still sending forth blossoms of smoke into the afternoon air. It seemed a lifetime had passed since we were last here. We’d been hours inside the complex, lost on our voyage of nonsense. The 2CB had worn off now, mostly. Patterns and textures were slowly stabilising, and colours were settling back to their normal shade. It felt like we’d been asleep for a very long time, and had finally woken up from a symphony of peculiar dreams.

We looked back together at the tower and its crowning white orb, watching us leave without emotion. Mere moments ago it had seemed a safe, tranquil womb, our secret cove, but already the tower was reestablishing its menacing posture. It had shown us its secrets, it had allowed us a brief glimpse into the unknown, and now, as we wound our way back through the woods, it was reclaimed by the clouds once more. We smiled at each other at the thought of our initials daubed up there, entwined in the sky.

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The Berlin Diaries – Gonzo Part II

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Some more nefarious deeds have been done down in the gloomy frozen backalleys of Berlin, and I’m going to let you in on them. Walk with me a while, let’s talk. But, just like last time around, my cast of characters are real people with real lives who don’t necessarily want me to bounce their stories around the stratosphere. So we’re going to need disguises. We all know who they are really, but let’s play make believe for a few minutes. So, meet Jack and Sal. This time I think the narrator will be, oh I don’t know, Levi. Yeah, Levi is good.

So, as a warning to the reader, I would like to paraphrase and bastardise the title of the Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis film: There Will Be Drugs.

Further to this, I would like to evoke a young Eazy E: Don’t quote me boy, cause I ain’t said shit. Continue reading

The Berlin Diaries – Heideglühen

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This article was illustrated by my incredibly talented lil bro, Charlie. If you like his stuff you can jump on over to his Instagram, here, to see more.

Vic and I were complaining to each other a couple of weeks ago that although we’ve been in Berlin for a quarter of a year now, we’ve only gone to a few night clubs. I’ve been to Chalet, Monarch, Sisyphos twice, Kater Blau four times, and yet there are dozens of clubs I’ve never gone anywhere near. So, when Michelle text me last week saying she was off to the near-mythical Heideglühen for a day party on Saturday, I was well ready for mayhem. Mayhem I tell you! Continue reading

The Berlin Diaries – Brunch

Last Friday, Michelle invited me along to a house party, near Schlesisches Tor. I met Victoria first for a couple of beers, sitting in her cavernous flat overlooking the river Spree. It’s a stunning place. The bedrooms alone are bigger than entire flats back home. It’s the kind of place that would cost you a grand a week in London, but here Victoria and her flatmate Klara pay around €300 a month each. I swear, you could work part time here and enjoy a decent quality of life. Continue reading

The Berlin Diaries – 15th October

Today was awful. Just, awful. I lay on the sofa half-drunk for most of the day, groaning quietly, unable to sleep on the uncomfortable chairs. People came and went into the hostel, happy and healthy, going about their days, and I was just strewn across the room like a plaster floating near the drain of a public swimming pool. Alcohol can fuck you up. Drugs can make you a mess. But lack of sleep dissolves the very fabric of the universe around you and renders you a manky, gibbering globule. Continue reading

The Berlin Diaries – 9th October

Well, a fair bit has happened since last we spoke.

My third day was spent doing not much of anything, but I started to get into a rhythm of eating, life-building, wandering, and sitting in gloomy salsa-themed cafes staring out at the trains and drizzle and graffiti. Friday came, and I treated myself to a day out to see the touristy whatnots of the city. Splashing out €2.70 on a U Bahn ticket, I headed to the city centre to see the landmarks. I felt a little glum, if I’m honest. Continue reading