Friday, 22 February 2013

23: Berghain

If you're aged between 18 and 30 and you are visiting Berlin, one of the first things your friends back home will want to know is if you visited Berghain. The former power plant-turned trendsetting club has assumed mythical status among ravers the world over. The 48-hour parties; open fisting in the dark room, women in bras, men dressed in gimp suits, all in leather -  and enough chemicals to sustain a pharmacy in a warzone.

Berghain isn't a club for the fainthearted. A night (parties often go on for two or three) spent between the lofty converted pillars of the power-plant offers a panorama of bizarrely assorted colours, sounds and faces.  Machines dance as if each swing of their arm propels the DJ by kinetic power. Muscle Maries police the dance floor with eyeballs of fury. 

Lofty highs.
Throw in two thousand people, a dark room full of open lust, more sweat than the Chinese Olympics Team and you begin to get the picture. 

Relentless hard techno combines with a timetable that diseregards life and sunlight at Berghain like in few other places. Souls holed up for parties three-days long, parties that live off the enthusiastic energy and dedication of the crowd. All this and more make Berghain a relentless visual and sensory experience.

The artwork in the side bar advertises the club's eclectic mix of influences. Look from a distance and what appears to be a nude sculpture made of jelly sits below the bartop. Look more closely and you see a jelly man fisting another jelly man.

Back on the main dance floor, smoke machines pump limited visibility into the crowd. The DJ drives his army onwards. Sweat drops rain sideways. At least a few dozen ravers never stop - like Duracell batteries recharged by techno.

Please don't go to Berghain before about 3am. It's just not cool.  Don't embarrass yourself by trying to beat the queue early because no one beats the queue at Berghain. Besides, the bouncer operates an indiscriminate discriminatory door policy, assembling a crowd head-by-head as he sees fit. 

The lucky ones who make it past the doorman's glare enter into a dungeon with the echo of a distant thump. Tall ceilings feel like the entrance to a Draculean castle. 

As the night progresses you may find yourself increasingly united with the crowd. Do not try to resist this union -  flow with it or leave.

At some point the music may stop suddenly and the blinds lifted to reveal the raver's worst nightmare; daylight. But as the brain fuses on the tired vampires around you, fear not. The blinds are shut before the brain has time to register, the music returns and Berghain is once again alive.  Berghain Blindness then just continues for the next few days. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

22: Sallowism for intermediates

If you want to be a good foreigner in Berlin, you have to be a good Sallowist. Being a good Sallowist requires work.

It's not enough to have a stack full of Gramsci books, a fridge with only protein or boots still wet with the sweat of yesterday’s demonstration. It's not enough to squat housing with wet pipes or have a Mac with funny stickers. It's not enough to talk abstractly about people whom you have never met in different continents. This is beginner's Sallowism and all very well. In fact, you can read more about it here

Sallowism is a liberal plague that afflicts freely in Berlin. It's a nostalgia for something never experienced that harps back to left-foot only shoes and rationed electricity - only Sallowism believes more in aesthetics than ideology. Sallowism has a nostalgia for late 20th Century Communism, only in Western European capitals.  Sallowism remembers posters and slogans, but forgets prisoners and The Road of Bones. Sallowism lives and breathes off disagreement. 

Like any religion, Sallowism has a hierarchy. If you have been in Berlin a while it's time to upgrade to Intermediate Sallowist Status (ISS).  

Join this popular way of life among arty Berliners and if you master it, the keys to the city will be yours. Women and men will be spellbound. Everything you say will be trumpeted like a freedom broadcast in a war zone.  Alcohol will flow freely (and for free) through your veins.

Here are a few pointers.

1. Make sure at least 75 per cent of your furniture is recycled, ripped and has spent a trunk of its adult life outside in damp conditions.
2. Wet chairs, tables or old, chunky television sets are ideal. Take them, add them to your collection.
3. Repeatedly visit abandoned factories, neglected old swimming pools and junkyards. Breweries are also worthy sites. Post ALL the photos across dozens of social networks. Comment on wall texture, atmosphere and space.
4. Own at least one dog who can open beers and bark at the Ordnungsamt.
5. Never learn German.
6. Only pay for public transport if it is totally necessary. 
7. Mumble political slogans to old conservative looking ladies on public transport with passive aggression.
8, Always carry a backpack with miscellaneous objects (including one vegan sandwich)
9. Believe the world can be saved through aid and the white man's burden.
10. Read Tip
11. Pretend you read Der Spiegel, if only to point out how conservative and obsessed with Nazis it is.
12. Drink lots of bubble tea.
13.  Eat soup (separately from bubble tea).
14. Make funny outfits and banners to be paraded at demonstrations and hung from your window or on telegraph poles.
15. Only use a lighter, your teeth or your eyeball to open beers. 
16. Carry hundreds of keys on a chain that dangles from your trousers.
17. Own a Scooby doo van.
18. Disown the Gregorian calendar.
19. Dance feverishly. 
20. Try to do as little as possible.
21. Always discuss how expensive rents are.
22. Accept absolutes.
23. Visit Beelitz
24.  Wear cardigans and of course, hats.
25. Drink Club Mate.

Friday, 8 February 2013

21: The Cold War in Berlin

One particularly grinding thing about Berlin is the cold.  This natural condition occupies the city for about seven months of the year and at first appears undefeatable - an enemy too strong who is destined to impose frostbite, colds and bronchitis despite the chemist's best efforts. But a new breed of warrior has risen from the ashes of heat to stand up to the bullying pest known as winter. Cyclists.  

This species of urban inhabitant has no age and fits no marketeer’s demographic. Snow, rain, hail or ice, light or dark, with or without helmet, these iron dragons of the sidewalk continue to peddle, regardless of how much Celsius threatens to drop his pants.

While tourists are blown through parks and across boulevards by fierce winds, Berlin grandmothers hustle and hurry the wind as if it were a pernicious child. Often gloveless and armed with nothing but a century old scarf, these men and women remind us all that winter can be defeated and that spring is more than a light at the end of a wet, cold, and slippery tunnel. 

A couple of weeks ago temperatures dropped to below -10C. This is when the warriors sparkle the most. Sure, their numbers are steadily reduced as wheel after wheel is locked away in cellars. Celsius' cruel dip merely advertises who are the real cold-munchers.

If you too wish to join this creed of weather whippersnappers, these meteorological Gods, here is a list to get you started:

1. Get a bike. These tend to have two wheels and a handle bar, but you'll want to settle for something that also includes breaks, multiple gears and a chain younger than thirty. There are ultimately two ways (perhaps even more) that you can get a bike You can try Craigslist Berlin or eBay Kleinanzeigen for a bargain. Or you can assemble one using various abandoned parts found across the city.

2. Don't wear a helmet. Research shows that drivers are more likely to be careful near cyclists who are not wearing a helmet

3. Decide whether you are a winter or summer driver. This will define what bike you buy/assemble/steal.  

4. Only stop at a red light at major junctions. Otherwise act like you own the road.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

20: A Berlin life in Apps

Because being different in Berlin is an everyday activity, you'll need to make sure you have and use the right apps, social networks and touchpads on an hour-by-hour basis. The Berlin Start-Up Scene has become the go-to place for young technical innovators in Europe, a beacon of hope for IT whiz kids hoping to one day walk in the path of Jobs, Zuckerberg, Page &co.  While SoundCloud is perhaps the most famous start-up, others are booming in its shadow.

Most of this world is run on Beta and is still in development. The apps in question tend to have a larger evil twin somewhere on the other side of the world who has already done what they are trying to do, only better. To understand these new apps, it is best that you use a Congolese touchpad and network away from Facebook - at best using ResearchGate (2.4 million users, if you're into numbers) PocketLife, Flowsee, Vamos, Moped or any other Berlin-based social network.

Berlin-based art network Flowsee. 
Whatever you do, you should be looking to try and engineer the action through some kind of local start-up app. If you're thirsty, Buddybeers allows you to send a friend an invite for a drink in any participating bars. If you don't go to bars but are sat in your bedroom dreaming of playing your masterpiece sets to thousands of adoring fans, you could start marketing yourself with YouTunez.

Of course, most of these apps and start-ups are designed to make us more interesting by delegating responsibility for basic calculations to machines.  We become more interesting by spending more money or repeating the same or old ideas through new content management systems with funky designs. Why try on clothes in a mere worldly changing room when your virtual stylist can find the latest items for you? Why throw a party when you could turn to Gidsy? Who would buy or sell on Ebay when you can sell hippy trinkets "made with love" on Dawanda?

Send your kids to school? Why bother, Sofatutor will educate them for you. 

Many of the best apps simplify the neuron process to undertake basic actions. Libraries are redundant now that Foundd allows users to search for entertainment. Other personal recommendation engines, a polite term for external generator for tired brain, include Aupeo, personalised radio based on user history, or raidarrr, for regurgitated ideas.

Some of the start-ups, rooted as they are in Central Europe, capture a collateral dusting of German efficiency: ePortrait, for example, offers a plug-in to produce cheap biometric passport-size photos from the comfort of your own home. Pure magic and fun for the whole family. 

Perhaps one of the most satisfyingly efficient German start-ups is 6Wunder Kinder, a list organizer that helps you combine your priorities: what your work dates are, what's on your shopping list and what books you've promised yourself to read. The wunderlist works like a small inner angel, sending you reminders to catch up with your wishes and desires between bouts of procrastination.  

Want to track your performance while doing all this? These guys will do it for you.
Want to avoid the Wolkshochschule and learn German online? Look no further than Babbel. A break, I hear you scream? Try Wooga and Crowdpark for gaming.

One thing you must start doing when you get into the scene is having lots of wishlists: you'll want to categorize your desires and hopes in neatly tabled cells: once you've done 6WunderKinder, move on to Toast. Make sure you share these lists as much as possible.

If you feel you haven't yet absorbed enough advertising for the day and simply must see a new way to stuff content down people's throats with subliminal messages, try Xyologic.  If you've seen too much advertising and are feeling sick with the corporate world, find a good cause, buy art and make a donation at photocircle. If this isn't enough, you could ease your burden with a well-timed charity campaign run by Spendino.

Has all that wishing and clicking made you hungry? No need to cook: Lieferheld has finally brought food-delivery comparison to the German capital.
In fact, for anything you want to buy, there are the usual price comparison sites, of which Zalando, the trendy 'vintage clothes ebay' is the most well known. 

It's not just clothes-shopping these digital plug-ins advertise to solve for you: Bettertaxi (taxi ordering), BookItNow (hotels), Wimdu (hotels), Twago (professional services), Artflakes (poster shopping). Once you've bought it all, or even while you are still thinking about it, you can tell the world about your purchasing trends using

 On an international level, the Berlin Start-Up Scene has found its niche in a lot of products aimed at streamlining businesses. Do you have a business? Great! ezeep lets you print from anywhere with one click. Other sites provide the usual hosting,  software, CMS and digital content solutions revamped according to local tastes.  And you could microblog about it all at swabr.

Berlin is too creative to ignore the arts and there are plenty of apps that help you redraw your reality too.  There is Loopcam, which turns a series of images into brief animations.  If you think you know 'the best' chisel shop, the best nugget maker or the best way to eat corn, 'the best' anything in fact, then Amen is where you go to say it. Otherwise Tweek will let you share more of your favourite TV and film preferences (Because of course Facebook, Twitter and the dozens of other film sharing forums hadn't thought of that).  The Kindle should watch its back too: Txtr has announced it will release the Beagle, "a superlight e-reader" in 2013.

If you're an evil banker with an eye for a bargain looking to buy up the whole scene, then Companisto might be the right consigliere.