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.
Cities can be the loneliest places in the world. When you’re truly alone, it’s beautiful. When you’re out in nature with the trees and clouds and the silence, the isolation is freeing and soothing. Inner city desolation, however, is riddled with reminders of your sorry state. Every laughing group of friends that breeze past en route to some art gallery/house party/coke fuelled sex rave (they’re surprisingly common) is another punch in the stomach. And couples? Couples can fuck right off, with their nose pecking and their coo-chooing and rampant canoodling.
So, feeling blue, I found the Brandenburg Gate via the Berlin Wall and a short train. I’ve seen the wall before and, though it’s cool, it’s not really the kind of landmark to wow after repeated viewings. It is just a wall, after all. I pass it every day now. Weird to think it’s become part of the furniture.
Brandenburg Tor is powerful and impressive, very German. A lack of English information boards meant that I had no clue of its history. Still don’t. I also visited the Reichstag, very briefly. You couldn’t go inside (at least I couldn’t find a way in), and so there’s only so long you can blankly stare up at a building.
Post Reichstag came the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a tragic, haunting, humbling and ominous memorial. A whole city block is devoid of buildings, instead dedicated to ranks of blank stone oblongs, stretching up into the sky. As you move between the stones, the tourists, the warmth, the sounds of the city die, and you find yourself wondering between the stones completely alone. Turn a corner and you catch a brief glimpse of another lost explorer, before they duck down another alley and disappear. I felt my way through the stone hedge maze, amazed by the power of the structure. Looking up, you see walls rising into the sky on all sides. It’s like being at the bottom of a grave. On the way out I saw a handful of tourists hopping from stone to stone. Grave to grave. Morons.
I headed slowly back and waited at the flat for Michelle, supping a couple in the process. She got back around 9.30pm just as I was about ready to commit from boredom. I’m bad at entertaining myself. To my horror, when I asked her about our evening plans, she told me we’d likely head to her friend’s house party around 2am. 2am! 2am is when nights end in Leeds. 2am is the target. If you’ve not thrown up on the Oceana dancefloor and been headbutted in McDonalds by someone called Henry by 2am, you’ve not been going hard enough.
We napped from 10.30pm until midnight, then got ready and set off to the house party. It was the farewell bash of a girl called Barbara, a Polish girl who’d spent the past year in Berlin. She and Michelle exchanged ear piercing squeals when they were reunited. Weirdly, the flat wasn’t hers, instead belonging to this Brazilian guy whose name escapes me. Let’s call him Raoul. He looked like a Raoul – long dark hair tumbling to his shoulders in ringlets, olive skin, an abundance of teeth, limbs that flapped when he talked. He had a high pitched Portuguese twang. Raoul gave me a friendly handshake when I entered the kitchen, before turning back to the girl he was entwined with (whom we shall call Cindy) and passionately sucking face, his Latino sexuality gushing out and drowning us all.
That last sentence sounded much less gross in my head.
There were 3 German guys and 3 French girls. They pretty much kept each other entertained. I managed to piss one of the French girls off by introducing myself twice – first when I arrived, and again not ten minutes later. I wasn’t even pissed. I talked to a few people and floated about feeling a bit lost as the only one there who didn’t speak at least two languages. A few people cleared off to the bathroom for narcotic-related reasons. Raoul and Cindy disappeared after an hour and locked themselves in the bathroom. A queue quickly formed of furious people hopping around outside the door. Someone seized the opportunity to steal the camera and tripod from Raoul’s bedroom and take thousands of group photos, in probably all of which I have the same desperate trying-to-not-piss-myself expression.
Raoul and Cindy eventually emerged and ran half-dressed into an empty bedroom (which I later was informed belonged to Raoul’s son, whose age I never found out. The son wasn’t in the flat – I hope). It got to 4am, and Michelle and Barbara started to consider the fact that we should probably be getting off to the club. 4 bloody am. We left the flat, got lost for a bit, and got the U Bahn to Sisyphos. Sisyphos is the same nightclub I was brutally turned away from without a word exchanged on my last trip to Berlin, so I was a little nervous. This time, however, we got right in, and I was able to experience The Strangeness.
The venue is a huge three story warehouse which is in complete disrepair. Someone has gutted it, stuffed it full of dark rooms, dancefloors and drug soaked cubbyholes, and has assembled a ramshackle village around the outside of it, complete with zig-zagging fairylights, photobooths, abandoned Volkswagen campervans, treehouses, and all manner of themed rooms. It’s a weird place to explore sober. It’s weirder at 5am. After a few hours partying there, it’s either heaven on earth or an earth shattering panic attack in a bottle. I kind of swung between the two – feeling safe and happy and at home, and feeling like what-the-fuck-is-this-place-how-does-this-exist-omg-help-i-need-to-go-somewhere-normal-like-maybe-a-library-or-a-Greggs.
We mainly stayed in a room away from the main building called ‘The Winter Garden’, which has nothing to do with winter or gardening, it is simply a wooden room with stained glass windows and a lot of carved furnishings. We danced in there for an hour or two, and then headed into the main building. The main room is incredibly dark, winding and twisting corridors that emerge suddenly into throbbing dancefloors. Huge industrial pipes and mechanical installations loom above, as the ridiculously powerful German techno rattles your heart in your rib cage. You know that scene in the Titanic, when they go downstairs and find all the paupers and misfits having a wild party, playing the fiddle and dancing on tables, while upstairs the bourgeoisie are wearing corsets and sternly discussing money? Well, imagine that rowdy Irish lower deck, but swap the fiddles for massive fuck off synthesisers and a topless guy called Hans smashing the decks. It was like being deep inside lower intestine of the Iron Giant, after he’s devoured a vindaloo.
The toilets were a revolving door, with nobody actually needing to use them. Lots of drugs, lots of shagging. It was intense. Every time a cubicle door opened, out would spill fifteen sniffing miscreants.
With us arriving at 5am, it got light within a couple of hours of us being there, and the whole site was transformed into a scene reminiscent of the Monday morning after a festival. The beautiful people of the night had become pale bug eyed wraiths, floating around the muddy courtyard sharing stories and hugs and cigarettes and fresh bananas sold from a stall. Someone was tending a large fire lit inside a rusty oil drum. Inside, the party showed absolutely no signs of stopping. It runs right on through until Monday.
All the weirdness converges and leaves a lingering feeling in the air, one of camaraderie and bonding. I mean, it could also be the drugs. In fact it’s probably mainly the drugs. But whatever, there is a palpable vibe of friendship and an insane openness. I sat down on a sofa at one point, exhausted from partying, and a girl from Munich slumped next to me and immediately engaged me in conversation – and not polite frivolities, but heavy talk. We discussed our careers and whether we enjoyed them and what we really wanted to do, and all the usual stuff you talk about when you’re poured over a battered old sofa at 10am in the depths of Berlin.
I came across a guy in the toilets with his top off, frantically splashing water over himself.
“What’s the facking problem?!” he yelled in a thick German accent.
“What, me?” I replied.
No, he told me, he was annoyed at his armpits, because he sweated so much. I smiled vaguely and beat it out of there, leaving him thrashing around in the sink.
It got to 1pm Saturday and I’d lost all grip on reality. Maybe Berliners can do this day in, day out, but I’m not there yet. I told Michelle I was heading back. She said she wasn’t done dancing yet, and headed back into the Winter Room. I left alone and staggered back to the flat, getting on the U Bahn like a walking corpse, staring at all the healthy happy normal well rested people hatefully. I collapsed into bed after a 20 minute walk home, and stayed there until it got dark again.
So that was Friday. Well, Saturday. Both.
2 thoughts on “The Berlin Diaries – 9th October”
This is great. I especially like how bustling cities are lonely (of course they are) and how city evenings begin when normal evenings end. The fact that most city people start partying at the hour normal people go to sleep (or well after) is a huge (and empirical) reason why normal people strike out socially in cities.
How anyone can have sex in a bathroom is beyond me (another empirical reason why normal people strike out socially in cities).
There seems to be a missing word in the paragraph in which Michelle returns at 9:30. (“Commit from boredom”)
Hey Harry thanks again for taking reading my articles! You’re right about life in the city – jam packed with possibilities, and yet if you’re not proactive, it can be easy to feel isolated. I’ve (mostly) overcome that loneliness by simply throwing myself into as much as possible.
And as for the day/night cycles – it certainly takes some getting used to. My first few months in Berlin were incredibly topsy turvy to say the least!