Silvester liegt in diesem Jahr aus partygebender Sicht eher ungünstig, macht man da zwischen Donnerstag- und Samstagnacht überhaupt einmal eine Betriebspause? Geplant ist zumindest eine zwölfstündige Erholungszeit ab Samstagmittag. Aber so genau lässt sich das ja nicht immer kalkulieren, da heißt es Flexibilität bewahren. Zu unserer ersten Klubnacht 2010 gibt es also für alle Quicktime-Regenerierten, Silvesterabstinenzler und Iron Raver ein ansehnliches Programm: Die Snuff Crew ist eine zweiköpfige Acidkombo, die ihren Oldschool 303/707/808/909 Sound auf Gigolo veröffentlicht und mit ihrer letzten Single eine Ode an das, jawohl, Berghain produziert haben. Neville Watson hat gerade das interessante Buch "Raving '89" auf DJHistory herausgegeben, das den Anfang der britischen Warehouse-Szene dokumentiert. Watson legte vorher schon Ska und Reggae auf, ließ sich aber bereitwillig von der geraden Bassdrum mitspülen. Seine letzten Singles auf Hour House Is Your Rush, Clone oder Dissident versprechen zumindest einen ausgesucht guten Musikgeschmack. Dazu Phonique und Don Williams, ein nicht gerade übliches Berghain Programm. Komplett auf (Italo) Disco gebürstet ist heute unser XXX Floor, den neben Danny Wang und Jeffrey Sfire endlich wieder einmal I-F bespielen wird.
The Ostgut/Berghain/Panoramabar by Daniel Wang
The Panorama Bar, which is the smaller upper portion of the legendary techno club Ostgut, has re-opened on Friday, October 15, at its new address in the Friedrichshain area of East Berlin. Seven or eight of us who live nearby, plus three friends visiting from Paris, are taking two huge taxis to the opening party. We arrive at 11:15 pm, and discover that about 80 other people have already arrived earlier than we did; but we also can't help but be excited by this fact - the weather has been freezing cold for the past week, and if anyone can imagine a major club opening nowadays in a big city, which could attract over 500 people at the door an hour before opening, without ANY advertisement at all - this would have to be a very special club indeed.
Ostgut was the epicenter of Berlin nightlife starting late 1998, and was not only a place to hang out from Friday night until Sunday evening - often non-stop!
- it was a world unto itself. The old Ostgut was built inside an abandoned factory next to the Ostbahnhof railways, and there were not even street lamps anywhere near the entrance. In fact, officially, Ostgut was not on any street at all. (On a city map, there is only an empty space there.) One could reach it from Muehlenstrasse, where a long section of the Berlin Wall still remains; but we always preferred to walk down from the bridge over Warschauer Strasse station. We'd climb down a precarious and illegal metal staircase, and then walk, on raw concrete, through absolute darkness for a few minutes, until we could see the bouncers and the clubbers in their boots and bomber jackets waiting at the door.
The Panorama Bar, upstairs, usually featured a mix of house, techno, and eclectic current styles, and the crowd was equally diverse. Downstairs, on the main floor of Ostgut, the beats were strictly dark, loud, and blindingly hard, pumped out for a testosterone-charged mass of men. Another section downstairs was called Laboratory and was strictly for males with a taste for kink and hardcore. But you could move around and choose your own space for a few minutes or a few hours, from the Heaven above to the Hell downstairs, like a living version of Dante's Inferno. You could get completely lost in little Purgatories as well - the long stairwells and various darkrooms, complete with chains, slings and urinals with tubes leading who-knows-where, and corners in which men and men, and men and women, discovered parts of their sexuality which they had not explored before. Or, during the summer, you could dance with a few hundred other sweaty bodies in the Biergarten, complete with outdoor DJ booth and a bar in a wooden hut. On certain nights of the month, Laboratory was the location for the famed Snax parties, with special themes for the insatiable gay appetites of Berlin. At one party, an entire room was filled with mud. The boys all danced naked, like pigs, and it took a month to clean the walls afterward!
s. But neither was the Panorama Bar immune from madness. On one extremely hot evening, the skylights had been opened to let air in, and it suddenly started raining from the ceiling. Everyone threw their hands up, and the boys and girls flicked the droplets at each other, laughing and cheering. Our friend Thilo looked up, and realized that it was not rain, but a very drunk gay skinhead peeing down from the roof. No one noticed, however, and the party just kept on going…
This all sounds like ancient disco legend, but in fact, it was extremely recent history, and the closing of Ostgut in January 2003 - as beloved DJ Boris played the final song, „Ferry Crossing the Mersy“ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood - was lamented by everyone. We learned to re-discover the city's many other nightspots, like Kinzo, Watergate, Cafe Moskau, Cookies, Maria, Rio, even the trashy gay bars like Scheune or Connection Garage. But in our hearts we waited for the rumored construction of the new Ostgu!
t to begin. And now, here we were, standing in line at 12 am on a cold October night. We hear German being spoken all around of course, but also French, Portuguese, bits of Turkish and Polish. Some man is joking that he is going to pass out and find himself tied, gagged, soaking wet and naked on the dancefloor upstairs; everyone laughs, knowing that such a wish is not uncommon in our collective imagination. As the bouncer slowly opened the door, everyone rushed forward, and I vaguely feared being trampled over by all these people who simply wanted IN.
The entry costs only 8 euros – a tiny contribution which we gladly make toward the unfinished construction. We are not surprised by the extremely strict security, especially the questions: Are you carrying a camera? Do you have a handy which can take photos? Photography is strictly forbidden. One cannot smuggle anything past these bouncers. And what a good idea in the digital age, in which memories are contrived and tainted by the obsessive need to record, and then double-check,every moment in time.
Cautiously, with some trepidation perhaps, we slowly wander inside, and we are not disappointed. Actually, the ground-floor entrance area takes my breath away. It resembles the entryway of a modern museum; the wall is covered in 1-meter-by-1-meter square tiles, approximately 10 tiles high and 60 tiles wide, which form four huge mosaics of black and white woodblock prints from the mid-19th century. The one on the far left depicts a dark, erupting volcano; the two in the middle show a storm of tornados ravaging a landscape while tiny humans flee, and tornados sweeping across the ocean, with ships bobbing on violent waves. The print on the far right depicts rippling bands of Aurora Borealis in the sky over a northern landscape. The point is obvious: violent, incomprehensible, yet beautiful forces of nature beyond human control. It is a simply brilliant choice, as revelatory as a dream.
Parts of the stairway are still covered in dust and plaster from the renovation work. We climb two storeys and in no time, we are upstairs, in the new Panorama Bar. The hundreds of people who had just been standing in line with us look completely different now - dark winter coats have been shed, hats and gloves are gone; we are all standing there, holding glasses and beer bottles, waiting for something to happen. Three huge, immaculate prints of photos by Wolfgang Tillmans cover the walls behind the bar area. Two are long rectangles, abstract, with watery, distorted images of hair and eyelashes swirling over a grey-white background of pallid human skin. The smaller print hanging in the corner is the crotch of a naked, seated woman - just her vagina and thighs. The pubis is shaved, and the vulvae are noticeably swollen, as if aroused, almost resembling a scrotum. (One gay friend comments: it is smart not to show a penis, since that would only suggest pornographic arousal, and invite comparison with all the other penises in the room. Another friend agrees and adds: surely there is an educational purpose here, since most of the gay men in the room have never seen an aroused vagina in such detail…)
The DJ booth very much resembles that of the old Panorama bar. The long, wide DJ table hangs from the ceiling on shiny chains, and is protected from the audience by a metal railing decorated with various electrical gauges. Visually, it evokes the deconstructed cockpit of an airplane, but in fact, these are the electrical gauges from the old Heizkraftwerk (heating energy plant) which the building once housed. The disco lights are faithful to the old scheme, but also much improved. Pale orange neons have been installed vertically between the tall windows. The lights on the dance floor are all strong, concentrated colors, and seem to be high-intensity halogens. One sees mainly cherry red, emerald green, and deep purple, with newly added psychedelic blue and yellow swirls on the walls and the mirror balls. What is new and extra high-tech is a row of tiny strobes which go off infrequently, but instead of blinding one's view, they tear across the ceiling like a burst of stars - they look very, very cool.
From 12 until 1 am, barely anyone is dancing. There is only one man, a well-built, bald „Ossi«type (probably a working-class East Berliner) in a vertically striped football shirt who can't stop hopping up and down, like a jogger. But everyone else seems to be waiting for the right moment, like one's first dance party in middle school; no one wants to be the clown. DJ Alan Roxy, from the Elan Club in Thueringia, is playing an excellent mix of bouncy techno tracks. Don't worry, we reasssure him, people are just being shy!
Then, between 1 and 1:30, the dance floor spontaneously fills up, and soon no one can remember how empty it was an hour ago. But it's still a bit polite, people are still a bit self-aware. The first 2 hours are interrupted 4 times by the fire alarm - perhaps set off by too much smoke in the air - which means that the music dies, the room fills with a pleasant white light, and a st!
range pulsing (but not ear-piercing) alarm sound fills the air for 30 seconds. Then, as people stop and laugh, the beat returns, and all is normal again.
After dancing for a while, we take a quick tour of the new space. Many of the original fixtures of the Heizkraftwerk have been kept in place, which maintains the original industrial aesthetic. There are electrical panels, banks of wooden seats, and even cages with doors in the back area. The toilets are brand new, made of shiny steel, with intense red lights shining down on each cabin.
It is now 3 am, and the dancefloor is packed to the gills. People of all sexes are kissing in various corners of the club - some flirting, some evidently making love. About 5 men have stripped off their shirts, but they are hardly the sort of Muscle Marys one sees in London or New York. Their pectorals are not perfect, they have a bulge around the waist (Bratwurst and Bier have not yet been eliminated from gay men's diets here) - it's more about feeling free than showing off. Most everyone else keeps their shirt on, with a sort of modesty that comes from being in a room full of people who are rather like classmates and family members. Yet undeniably, what makes this evening amazing is the density of sexual tension in the air - there are so many inviting, ecstatic faces and moist, feral, shimmering glances, so many handsome men (a noticeably large number of beards and moustaches - very 1978), our friend Andreas exclaims, „Oh my God! I just want to have sex with them ALL!“
There is, let us not forget, a slightly smaller number (maybe 35 or 40%) of women who wear a mixture of student-girly looks and casual Berlin Mitte-chic (slim jeans, low boots or designer sneakers, shoulder-baring tops close to the body, always with an ironic or asymmetrical detail or a clever accessory). No big breasts hanging out, no loud eyeshadow, no dangerous stilettos. Clean faces and natural hair - this is an earthy aspect of Berlin's young women which I have come to adore.
The crowd is predominantly European, but of every size and hue. There is a handful of Asians, Latin-Americans, and Blacks, and about 10 Orientals speaking a mixture of Japanese and perfectly native Deutsch. There are also 2 crazy dark-skinned Thai queens with dyed blond hair in a corner, longtime Ostgut regulars, wearing a mixture of Dolce & Gabbana and Wild & Lethal Trash. What one notices more than anything, however, is a complete lack of pretention. There are spontaneous smiles everywhere, very much across the usual lines of whom one would consider having sex with or not. And what this evening lacks in literal-minded glamour (which means specifically: film stars, fashion models, fur coats, tacky hiphop or Mafia moguls – the kind who ruin a good party), it more than compensates for with its attractive crowd and its decadent yet distinctly modern atmosphere. There is something extraordinarily democratic about the mood of the club. Much like Paradise Garage, people are dressed to dance and sweat, not to show off their wealth or status.
A new DJ is on now, and for those who don't reside in Berlin, the mix could seem a bit monotonous. Yet, for those who write off most techno as uninteresting (i.e. lacking any real musicianship or composition - and I personally am often one of those critics) - it must be said that the very simplicity of these primitive, rough-edged tracks fill the space perfectly. One ceases to think complicated thoughts or feel strong emotions - rather, one feels carried away, no longer human but more like an object, a piece of wood bobbing along on endless pleasant waves of bass and synthesized drumming. When the mood and the audience are right, we are reduced to a single mass, and even the lack of lyrics is a virtue. Instead of the Anglophone hegemony of rock, disco or R&B, this might be much closer to the ideal of a pan-European music, and it doesn't require knowing any lyrics or clever breaks.
At a quarter before 5, the party is still going full-swing, and I feel the need to go home and rest fo!
r a few hours. But I can't stop imagining what the next few months might hold in store. We had been given a special preview of the entire club several weeks ago, and when the main room is finished, it will be awe-inspiring. The ceilings are 6 storeys high, with balconies from which one can gaze down on all the dancers. Furthermore, on the side of the club, there is a row of offices which are being converted into spaces for music studios. It is entirely conceivable that a hot young label like Freundinnen or Output rents a space, records a new hit in the afternoon and debuts it to an eager crowd that very evening. The head offices of Universal Music are a 10-minute walk away, and special musical evenings, which will feature not just techno but a variety of eclectic acts, are being planned as well.
The particular personality of Ostgut is owed to its two founders, both in their late 30s. Michael (multiple tattoos and piercings, New Balance sneakers, always cheerful and an enthusiast for all kinds of new music) and Norbert (a successful former fashion photographer - without any tattoos or piercings - who handles more of the financial and legal aspects, and whose bookish appearance belies a boundless imagination for planning fetish events) were reportedly able to obtain some city goverment support for the club as a cultural venue, but they also had to rely on a few investors this time to get the construction going. (Thick Berliner Bank folders sit on the office shelves). Will the club survive and thrive for a second time? This remains to be seen.
One friend jokes: The unemployment rate in Berlin remains at about 20%, and as a new generation of clubgoers discovers the pleasure of hanging out all weekend, of finding love in a dark corner or a cage, perhaps no one under the age of 35 will go to work on Mondays or Tuesdays or Fridays anymore. The entire Berlin economy soon goes kaputt, the Bundestag is forced to shut Ostgut down - and the space becomes another exhibition space like the Palast der Republik. Another friend jokes that Ostgut will become a sort of public university for DJs, and we will all be able to apply for a monthly stipendum of 2000 euros for buying records, sound equipment, and personal expenses. (Since many artists and students in Germany do receive such money for obscure fields of study, this is not at all implausible.)
And since the entrance is 30 steps away from the rear exit of Berlin's Ostbahnhof (Eastern Main Station) , it will be easier than ever for visitors from all across Central Europe to simply take an evening train directly to the club. At the old Ostgut, one actually would see BMW's with license plates from Hamburg, Frankfurt, or Switzerland drive up to the door, from which 3 or 4 well-built young men in nylon bomber jackets, both ears pierced, heads freshly shaven, would step out and join the queue. (Now that's a sight one never sees in Paris or London !)
A small group of us leave the club at 5 am - there are still 50 people outside waiting to enter. But after some sleep and an uneventful evening, we are back again on Saturday night at 3 am to witness DJ Sasse rock the crowd. Time seems to flow more quickly than ever. Andy Baumecker plays from 8 to 11 am, and the music and the energy truly shoot through the roof. On Sunday morning, the crowd has become even more beautiful, and more fashion-conscious as well. It is warmer, but no one is going shirtless. Every sexy young Berliner must be in this room (although people who came from other clubs, such as Kinzo and Rio, report full capacity there also, which is kind of a relief). We see more very pretty women, more examples of good German breeding in general. Lots of tall people and nice noses; lots of sparkling green and jewel-like blue eyes, lots of eclectic looks: a tall, skinny boy with a huge curly Afro wearing a brown silk tie, suspenders, and wooly pants. Two Turkish boys in oversized jeans, looking like brothers, whose beautiful faces and sultry dark eyes resemble a Herb Ritts portrait. Gloria Viagra the drag queen in big sunglasses, a skimpy black dress and a huge maroon-colored wig, who, with her heels, stands well over 7 feet. Two more skinny drag queens in stilettos, fishnet stockings, and miniskirts are doing prostitute poses in the corner. Three thin and very street-chic girls - one with an asymmetrical fringe haircut in a pale yellow dress with black sequinned brooch and black tights underneath, one with untamed, wavy brown hair wearing a tight black dress with Azzedine Alaia-style straps crisscrossing on her back, and one wearing a vintage red-and-blue color-block dress with a red belt, black stockings and flat white slippers, are holding hands and jumping up and down in the middle of the floor. Two handsome fetish boys - one of them in full latex rubber shirt, leather chaps, red suspenders, red-and-black leather armbands, bleached jeans, jackboots, red hankie in the back pocket AND a nose-ring! - are sitting by the window and smiling at everyone on the dancefloor. Th!
ere is a woman with a wise kind of Helen Mirren smile, hair swept up in a bun, wearing a gorgeous black scoop-neck dress with a black beaded choker, dancing in the corner.
Many people are wearing tank tops, which reveal a swirl of unusual tattoos on their back and shoulders. A number of boys are simply wearing T-shirts with an obscure logo or clever motif. Wristbands, polo shirts, and a few trucker-style hats are still to be seen. We could not neglect to mention the young man with a thin beard, wearing a white T-shirt with a fluorescent-pink silk-screen Rorschach print of a woman's face, with earholes stretched to a diameter of more than 2 cm. In his ears he is wearing thick aluminum tubes bearing the Chanel logo (authentic) ! The most brilliant accessory in the club, however, is a supermarket plastic bag with two rolls of toilet paper inside. The young man sporting it has somehow twisted and tied the plastic so that it is exactly the shape and size of a Fendi shoulder bag, and it hangs exactly the same way. (One must try to visualize this.) He slings it over the shoulder of his tweed jacket all morning, and we can't help but giggle every time we see it. And of course, along the entire back wall, underneath the Tillmans prints, are a row of various men, slouching, sitting, staring, drinking, chatting earnestly – but no one is passed out; everyone is very much awake and aware of the surroundings.
The space is very bright now - natural daylight shines through the windows. One can see the blue skies, the trees, and the railway tracks outside. This is why the bar was named Panorama - because, unlike other after hours clubs, the morning sun was allowed to shine in through the windows and light up every face in the room. At this point, I have long been lost in the beat, the joy of just being here, witnessing this bizarre, gorgeous, self-selected little universe. I wondered to myself: didn't New York feel like this, at some point in my early youth? It certainly hasn't for years now. In other corners of the world, I know that most nightlife is pre-packaged and over-programmed, a cheap advertisement for vodkas and hair-gel and plastic surgery and MTV. Or, if it's pleasant, then it's probably a bit polite, or caught up in a myth of its own past. Here, I have forgotten that those corners exist. It is very much the here and now, without apologies or tributes to anyone.
At 10 am, a HUGE, ripped, and artificially-tan gay bodybuilder wearing a torn black rock-and-roll T shirt has just arrived with his woman-friend. All of the mineral water in the club is served in large clear glass bottles, which become accidental accessories on the dancefloor. Periodically, people throw mineral water at each other - the three cute girls are even pouring mineral water onto their own faces. At 11:30 pm Sunday, we need a break. We can't believe that the dance floor is still full, and that people are still arriving. These can't all be Berliners – they're driving in from every direction to be here. In fact, two more DJ's are scheduled to play until !
at least 5 or 6 pm. This is a side of Ostgut, like an extreme version of Berlin nightlife in general, which seems to revel in excess for the sake of excess. It is not about delicate, rarefied beauty, or ironic wit, or sentimental nostalgia. It is about the human body, the present moment – stamina, bliss, perpetual motion. It is much closer to a primitive tribal pow-wow than most anything one finds nowadays. There is no sophisticated, complicated dancing. No one asks what the DJ is playing. It is just a mass of people, drunk on beer or high on who knows what, struck with an irresistible urge to move, to shake, to touch each other's skin.
The space is a living, endlessly moving panorama. Norbert and Michael stated that they wanted to create a club as a work of art, and in many senses, they have succeeded brilliantly. On Monday, we are already wondering what the next weekend will bring. We worry that our new spot will no longer be secret; yet somehow, we are confident that the new Ostgut will simply swallow up its new pilgrims show them things which they did not know that they wanted, and, week after week, leave them hungering for more. This will be a warm winter in Berlin, and strangley, not even next summer seems terribly far away.
- with special thanks to Yusi Etiman, Sascha Holzmann,
Andy Baumecker, Thilo Schneider, and Boris Dolinski
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