There’s a fascinating article about the Berlin Techno scene (something I know nothing about) in The New Yorker this week. Check it out:
Thank god that Berghain has just this week fallen off the top ten list of best clubs in the world to place no. 13, so now when people ask us how come we’ve never been, we can wave a casual arm and say, “Oh the Berghain is so passé…”
There are many, good reasons we stay home and dance around the living room instead of going out: we have a good stereo and all the music we like, we can get drunk on better quality alcohol and for cheaper, we can fall straight into bed once we’ve had enough, we’re married and not getting younger…
However last night we broke the rule and went to Cassiopeia. It seemed like a good idea when we planned it – who can resist old school hip hop – but as the date approached, the thought of leaving home at 10 p.m., then going for drinks for over two hours, then making our way to the club – because of course there’s no point in arriving before 12.30 a.m – made us anxious in a way Mickey Flanagan describes below:
However, once we were out, it was all okay – we even had fun. The Bavarian, who is absolutely a morning person, was a bit confused at some of the sights Friedrichshain had to offer at night; “Why is that man reading Karl Marx outside a bar at midnight?” “Why have so many people got beards?” “Why are those people climbing up the side of that building?” “But seriously, that guy, reading Marx – is he really reading, or is he just posing?” “Do you think anyone’s ever stood outside a bar in Friedrichshain and read Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’?”
And then, at three o’clock in the morning, when we were leaving the club, a new mystery presented itself – people were queuing, actually queuing, to get in: “Why is everyone going in now?” “What have they been doing thus far?” “How long are they going to stay out for if they’re just getting here now?” “Aren’t they tired?” “Don’t they want to go sleeping?”
Now I know that three o’clock is a ridiculous time to leave a club, but I can’t help it – where I come from, clubs used to wind down around three, and you found yourself on the pavement by four, so I’ve been pre-conditioned stop dancing and start making my way home between those hours. I even dragged the Bavarian home at four on our wedding night (ignoring pleas of “but I like this song!”) while our friends continued celebrating till breakfast.
Leaving early, however, does have its benefits – when the Bavarian wakes up at seven a.m. in his usual chirpy mood, which he is bound to do no matter what time he went to bed, it’s just about tolerable. Any less sleep, and I would have had a problem with him singing Wir Feiern Die Ganze Nacht at the top of his lungs in the shower this morning. Which makes me think, maybe we should start going to clubs first thing in the morning – after all, they run continually from Friday evening till Monday morning in this city. People coming out of the club would be as awed by us as we were by the people going into the club when we were leaving last night – and to top it off, I’d have the Bavarian by my side, who is so energetic in the mornings that everyone would wonder what rock n’roll cocktail of drugs could produce such a high…
Built in 1942 by the Reichsbahn, its two metre thick exterior walls and three metre thick roof slabs sheltered thousands of people from air raids during the war.
After the war, being in the Soviet part of the city, it was briefly used by the Red Army as a prison and then as a warehouse for tropical fruits – in particular bananas from Cuba, lending it the name ’Banana Bunker’. (It was not destroyed after the war as many other bunkers were because of its situation in a residential area. After the fall of the wall, it was classified as a listed building.)
In the 1990s, it was the setting for illegal raves, fetish, Gabba and techno parties, and was nicknamed ‘the hardest club on earth’. This is where Berghain began. After police raids and building restrictions ended these, the Deutsches Theatre used the space to occasionally stage plays.
The building was bought by Christian Boros and his wife in 2003, who, along with architect Jens Casper, redesigned it to house his collection and build a penthouse on the roof. The process took five years and saw the removal of 450 cubic metres of concrete.
Despite the changes, walking through this artificially lighted five storey building, with its concrete walls, concrete ceilings and concrete floors, its remnants of graffiti from the 90s, ‘Rauchen Verboten’ wartime signs, and old ventilation shafts, gives you an excellent sense of its history.
The first artwork to greet the visitor is “For Whom” by Kris Martin; a three tonne church bell which stops, swings and moves back and forth over the reception area at random and in silence because the clapper has been removed.
An allusion to John Donne’s line, ‘for whom the bell tolls’, it is a reminder of mortality, death, and the original function of the building. That it is an old church bell being re-used as art in a former bunker raises questions about changing values and the relationship between spirituality and art.
Most of the art that makes up this collection comes in the form of light and room installations, but also includes abstract paintings and sculptures. At their best, these works highlight the history and the space of the rooms that they occupy. For example, a jagged sculpture by Monika Sosnowska that is awkwardly crammed into one room, and that visitors can use as a tunnel to walk through into the next room, exploits the relationship between space and emotion by creating a feeling of claustrophobia and disorientation.
Another work, by Denmark’s Elmgreen and Dragset, is a life-like dummy of a man lying in a hospital bed that looks out of the window at the hotel room opposite. When the exhibition first opened, guests occupying the hotel room, upon seeing an unmoving man lying in a former bunker, made frantic calls to the emergency services. (Now, the hotel offers a discounted rate for that room as well as signage by the window explaining that the disturbing view is a work of art.)
At their worst, the work on display is pure nonsense, but then Boros has remarked, “I collect art that I don’t understand,” so that was bound to happen. (You can read an interview with Boros at ADP.) Other artists featured include John Bock, Kitty Kraus, Henrik Oleson, Tobias Rehberger, Florian Slotawa and Sarah Lucas (who I can’t stand, but interestingly, whose work is showcased in the former toilets of the bunker…) There will be a new exhibition on from September.
Visits are only by pre-booked tours, which are available in English and in German and can be booked on the Boros Collection website. Entrance is €10.