The Berlin Diaries – A Refreshing Spot of Grime

Hello again.

It’s been a while. How the devil are you?

I’ve not written any new diary entries for a week or so, because I’ve been spending too long writing while steadily running out of money and neglecting to look for work. Don’t fret, though. I’ve been up to a lot, and I have some cracking stories for you.

It wasn’t supposed to be such a wild weekend, it was just one of those times when you go out once, get a little carried away, and end up partying for a week. The first night was Thursday. It was around 7pm, and I was wandering the streets of Neukölln with Victoria trying to find this guy’s house, a German called Christian. I’d met him once before, briefly, but hadn’t really got the measure of him. Armed with road beers (everywhere requires a road beer), we navigated to his flat.

His block of flats used to be a special home for disabled people, and because of this everything is spacious and a bit clinical. The lift is enormous, designed to fit several wheelchairs inside. Christian welcomed us into his pad and introduced his flatmate, whose name escapes me. We sat around drinking and listening to Christian’s bizarre, experimental vinyl collection. At one point a track came on that was just a man shouting and banging a hammer. Christian looked a bit sheepish in the wake of our horrified expressions, and put a different album on.

Christian is very, very German. Imagine every German you have ever met, condense them into one blonde haired, tall, sharp cheekboned, steel jawed young man, and you have Christian. And, like the stereotypical German, Christian is very literal. UK humour just soars over his head like a Frisbee caught on the breeze. It isn’t that he doesn’t make jokes – he makes lots. It’s just that his jokes are more straight, standard, this-is-funny-we-are-laughing humour.

British people rarely speak literally. Almost every sentence I slur is packed with exaggerations and faux-generalisations, mostly for my own amusement. We don’t even realise we’re doing it. Victoria said something to Christian about it being freezing outside, like minus fifty degrees. Christian disagreed and said it was more like six degrees. Victoria apologised and said that, yes, six sounded more accurate. Ask a German how they are doing, and don’t be surprised if the answer is ‘fine, why?’. They’re just more direct.

A couple of Christian’s friends arrived, a girl and a guy. The girl was English, and very posh, and had just arrived from the airport. We wasted no time in jetting off to find a bar Christian knew. It was one I’d been to in summer, the fantastically German-sounding Klunkerkranich. It’s a bar on the top deck of a multi-storey car park, decked out in clinging vines and wooden benches and festoons and bunting. It’s gorgeous in summer. It was slightly less so with the biting winter air whipping our eyes, so we ducked inside instead, into the cosy bar area.

We got drinks and sat around on velvet cushions chatting and trying not to cough from all the smoke. Everyone smokes in the bars here, which gets a bit much after a while. You inevitably go home stinking of ash, even after just a quiet drink in a coffee shop. We chatted to Christian a bit more. Victoria was telling him about her summer at camp in America. She asked him if he wanted to see photographs. He said no, he couldn’t be bothered to sift through them. He never intends to be rude, he just doesn’t filter his thoughts before they come out. Victoria abashedly put her phone away.

I got a call from hash hippy Dave, and he asked if I was coming to the Mike Skinner DJ set that night. I told him I was keen, and agreed to meet him there. I finished my drink and bid the others farewell, and set out on what turned out to be a bloody massive trek to Kotbusser Tor, a good couple of miles at 11pm in freezing winds. I grabbed a horrible, horrible takeaway burger en route, to line my stomach. I waited about 15 minutes for it to be cooked, and when he handed me it, it looked like that fake plastic food kids play with in reception. I ate it, wincing, and hurried to the venue.

I got lost again, for a bit, but finally wound my way there. I wasn’t 100% sure I had the right place, but a giant, building sized projection of Mike Skinner’s face told me I was probably correct. The bouncers eyed me up as I approached – I’d turned up to a grime/bassline night in desert boots and a cardigan. They asked me if I knew who was playing. I told them. They nodded and thumbed me inside.

The venue was tiny. One half of the room was a dancefloor and DJ decks, the other half was a sunken bar with steps down to it. It looked like someone had thrown up a bar in the middle of a giant drained jacuzzi. The dancefloor saw a hundred people close packed under a low ceiling. I could see Dave, right at the front, jacket off, sweating, long hair bouncing about his shoulders as he bobbed around, joint in hand. Directly in front of him was Mike Skinner, headphones on, busy tweaking dials and tapping buttons and doing whatever DJ’s do.

It was strange; he was literally a metre away, this huge figure who redefined UK music. He just looked like a normal guy, but then that’s not saying much, as being a totally normal guy is Mike Skinner’s appeal. He was wearing a polo shirt and sweatpants. Behind him was a legion of collaborators, the rap group Murkage, passing bottles of rum around and occasionally grabbing the mic for a few bars.

I said hi to Dave, who was in his own world. I got a drink and joined him while he rolled another joint. We chatted a bit, but kind of kept to ourselves. It was too noisy to talk, anyway. I went to the front for a dance, and Skinner played everything from 2000-era bassline to new grime, as well as throwing in some Kanye, some old school hip hop, and, of course, The Streets. ‘Fit But You Know It’, ‘Blinded By The Lights’, and ‘Has It Come To This?’ were highlights. It was unbelievably refreshing after a month of nothing but techno. UK grime has such a furious energy that you can’t emulate elsewhere. I played Skepta to Christian back his flat earlier that night, and he asked me to turn it off, as it sounded ‘so aggressive’. Heh.

At 4am, after 6 hours, the set finished, Skinner’s hair slick with sweat. The venue was at capacity when I arrived, now there was maybe 15 people left, cheering and dancing as he wound the last track down, leaving a loop of distortion and bass shaking the room. He left the decks and walked off through the crowd, congratulating everyone who was made it to the end. He grabbed my shoulder as he passed and told me well done, which I was thrilled with. I said ‘cheers, pal’ and felt very cool. Dave was up behind the decks talking to the Murkage crew and inviting them out to Berghain. I’m not sure how keen they were. I think they were more concerned with the girls surrounding them.

We left, after stealing about fifty balloons from the sound engineer’s booth. I asked Dave after why they didn’t play that music in clubs here. He supposed that it’s too high energy – you can’t jump around and party to wild tunes for 72 hours straight. Minimal techno, however, means you can dance more chilled and last for days. I don’t know whether it’s an English thing or just me, but personally I think I’d rather party harder, have a wild time and go home earlier, as opposed to turning a night out into an endurance test. I’m sure my friend/one year Berliner Michelle would slap me down for saying that, though – to her, it’s not an endurance test. She just genuinely doesn’t get tired, and enjoys the euphoria of dancing for days.

I’m off to a house party with her tonight, actually. Lord help me.

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