As I was reading Katy Derbyshire’s Berlin: It’s Not All Sex, All The Time and Nicolas Hausdorff and Alexander Goller’s Superstructural Berlin, one particular story kept coming to my mind. Despite being quite typical, it made me change my view on the issue brought up in both texts, namely the international stereotype of Berlin as a final stop for those who seek endless parties, easily accessible drugs and sexual promiscuity. Local people, quite understandably, tend to despise the type, but rarely do they try and put themselves in those so-called club tourists’ shoes. That story I mentioned helped me do exactly that. It took place last August when I came to Berlin for a festival called Berlin Atonal that happened to be held at approximately the same time as Ostgut Ton Nacht, Berghain’s most popular event that the venue hosts annually.
I checked in to a hostel in Kreuzberg and met my Australian roommates who arrived the day before. It was Saturday evening and, like many other club tourists all over the city, they were preparing for their big night at Berghain. They seemed to have done their homework pretty well – kinky clothing, bondage equipment, the line-up learnt by heart – they had it all in place. It was relatively early when my new friends set off for the outing of their lives; they were determined to arrive in advance and make it inside the venue by midnight, which is, as is well know, when the legendary Klubnacht starts to then go on until Monday morning. Next time I saw my roommates was at 7 AM on Sunday. Exhausted and devastated, they announced that after six hours of queuing they did not get in. Their further plan was quite straightforward: a quick shower, two hours of sleep and an U-Bahn right back to Warschauer Straße. The second go-around was slightly better: it was warmer outside and the wait was only 2 hours. However, the outcome it led to was the same. When I saw them preparing for the third pass, I could only admire their unbending intent and wish them best of luck. And luck indeed did favour them, which was clear to me the moment I woke up the next day to their excited voices. Two of them passed out almost instantly, and the third one (let’s call him Ian) was still energetic enough to share his impressions of what he would later call the best night of his life.
Ian grew up on a farm close to Melbourne and had never been anywhere outside Australia before. In his own words, “three days ago the only living things around me were my father and our cows, and now this random girl is fingering herself with my hand right in the middle of the dance floor!”. As he was describing all the wildness he observed in the dark catacombs of Berghain, still tripping on all sorts of drugs he tried there for the first time, he seemed to be the happiest person in the world. His major craving was satisfied; he would soon forget all those DJ names he had been learning so thoroughly, and his silly-looking fetish outfit would go on the shelf to collect dust. Their group left next morning and probably for good because, as he said, “it was totally worth it but I will never do it again”. Those three days they spent there were enough to bring closure to their itching curiosity, and even though I couldn’t really relate to it, in a way I was happy for them. To my reckoning, the current image of Berlin as modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, despite being quite unpleasant, cannot be ignored or disposed of, and neither can be all those poor souls who take those wild stories at face value and keep coming there in hopes of fulfilling their ultimate hedonist dreams. Ian took home a lifetime’s worth of tall tales that may or may not motivate someone else to repeat his feat. But even if someone does, will they actually contribute to the city’s image in any significant way?
Berlin surely is about sex all the time – for those who are all about it themselves. The international image of Berlin as a hedonistic haven that Katy Derbyshire describes is still present, and chances are it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But does it really have to be a reason for disturbance? As a very tenacious line from Superstructural Berlin goes, “Berlin must be like a factory producing very particular type of persona”. What this type is exactly is up for debate, but what it’s definitely not is a reckless party goer living for the night. This city is a very multi-layered structure that has many things to offer, and most of those things are clustered among its boroughs. Like any major city, it has its touristy areas that might get gruelling at times and are to be avoided by those who aren’t interested in simple one-off pleasures. It is a “mixture of social and psychological fragmentation”, as Nicolas Hausdorf puts it, and this fragmentation is an ongoing process. It never stops adapting, and it’s exceptionally good at filtering out any unwanted elements. Berlin, as most things in life, is what you make of it, and taking cheap drugs at sex parties is probably the least exciting way to get involved in its cultural life.