I would like to start by saying that I didn’t actually go “underground” in Berlin. Maybe that makes the title of this post somewhat misleading, but, better to be misleading than to use the slightly derogatory tone that could come from using another similar title, such as “Hipsters in Berlin.”
I caught a ride from Frankfurt through www.carpooling.com, a car share that to me is more efficient than blahblahcar.com because you don’t need prior approval from the person offering the ride. Instead, you can book online and finish the transaction using paypal. Kristin, the driver, was a pleasant fifty-something year old elementary school teacher born and raised in the former West Berlin. During the five and a half hour long ride, she talked about what it had been like to grown up in Berlin, a city divided by very different governments and a big concrete wall.
I superficially understand some of Berlin’s intricate history, but, why was this city split into two different territories, like an island surrounded by hostile land instead of water, remains a mystery to me. And to Kristin too, but she said that life in the former West Berlin was considered good. She lived in the American quarter and went to the same international school where she teaches at today. She remembers the absence of close family friends who were left on the other side of the city when the wall came up, overnight in 1961. She also remembers vividly seeing some of them again at Checkpoint Charlie when the wall came down twenty-eight years later. This is one of the funny things about the German culture: on the day that the wall came down, Kristin and her students finished class as they normally would and only after completing their required eight hours, they headed out to look and the fall of the wall that is considered to be by many, the most important symbol of the German unity. Ahhh, whatcha gonna do? Education first.
There have been many repercussions from the fall of the wall, many positives and some that probably still need time to get sorted out. There is a tangible sense of movement in Berlin, the vibe out in the streets is very different from the air in other metropolitan areas I’ve visited. Berlin doesn’t look like Frankfurt or Munich. Instead, unsettlement and liberation are expressed in the form of graffiti art that decorates the entire city and street performers that smoke cigarettes under nearly every bridge.
Kristin mentioned that there is a high percentage of alcoholism and unemployment, the latter seemingly true, at least according to The European Job Mobility Portal that shows that in Berlin almost 12% of the population is unemployed. To me, it all adds to it: the loners wearing sunglasses at four in the morning, people drinking beer in the subway at two in the afternoon, they all contribute to the feeling of freedom that I love about the city. If you think about it, the nineties were just here and in the great scheme of things, the wall came down yesterday. A huge percentage of professionals (some of whom abandoned their homes in the East) moved to the West looking for a better life and many of these people were denied job opportunities because of the invalidity of their professional training from the former East. An eagerness to make things happen combined with the struggles of figuring out a new system are still part of the landscape of the city today.
The history of Berlin is heavy with darkness and the tension from the past shows in some amazing ways like a strong arts and music scene that’s making international markets talk… particularly for techno. Everyone wants to party in Berlin, electronic music connoisseurs love the city and seemingly, all techno lovers know of Berghain.
Berghain is a former male-only fetish club turned into “…quite possibly the current capital of techno”, according to Philip Sherburne. But even if you are not into techno, you might have at least heard of Sven Marquardt. Sven is not only is the most famous bouncer that I’ve ever had the privilege of being rejected by, he is also a published writer and a photographer. I have a hard time not laughing when I think of the convenience of his artistic endeavors, it seems opportunistic to write a memoir that promises to be read by most ravers who are probably subjects in the book and still trying to dig out tips for how to get into the club. But, the truth is that not being admitted was a good hit for my ego and an important part of my Berlin experience. Why the hell didn’t I get in? Come on Sven! I’m cool, I wear black and I’m a mediocre photographer too! But trying to understand what goes behind being accepted into Berghain or not, it’s a pointless exercise that has wasted the time of many and it could be a representation of what the underground scene in Berlin looks like:
– Mostly black (as in the color)
– Mostly white (as in the race)
Remember that in Berghain your shoes matter. I still think that my friend’s boat shoes were the main reason why we got rejected, or, maybe they could smell the utterly uncool desperation in me. At the end of the day, I gave it a shot. I gave it two, actually and I had to satisfy my curiosity by paying a 5 euro entrance fee to see an art exhibit inside the huge venue. Before I left, one of the less famous bouncers told me that the rules of admission and exclusivity in Berghain are only known by those who work within and when I told him that I would write about them on a blog, not surprisingly, he seemed even less inclined to provide further information.
Perhaps the only way to really get Berlin is to become a part of it. If so, it’s possible that I can’t force my presence while traveling for one week. Rather, just like in Berghain, I have to dive in and prove myself before I can become a part of this promising underground scene.