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Forget the Multikulti credo preached by well-groomed cosmopolitan minds. From Russki disco to Senegalese dancehall to Prolet-paradise, we explored some of Berlin’s most monochromatic nightlife subcultures.
Mandingo Club, Saturday, 1:17
Call-and-response shouts, kora harps and tama drums echo up the narrow stairway, leading to a club space punctuated with mirrored pillars and bar stools. Small balconies line the dance floor on one side, each occupied by an older black man somberly regarding the scene below.
Two or three small groups of dancers shake listlessly to the rap-hiplife-dancehall music as DJ Rolex jump-cuts from one african genre to another. A tall man in a derby cap drifts past the cramped VIP section and through the dance floor carrying a glass of white wine in one hand and a microphone in the other, ignoring both. Another man takes a break from his fervent dancing to hold a rag against his face, his red t-shirt stretched taut across his skinny frame. Is he huffing ether or wiping sweat?
Occasionally a woman in a black dress appears and dances for a moment, drawing packs of older, ostentatiously besuited white men, before disappearing back into the VIP section. Momentarily defeated, they stalk back across the floor and return to their places at the bar. They are tacitly ignored, though it’s not hard to imagine what they’re here for. Is it because of all the big-booty white girls here tonight? Some kind of unspoken, racially motivated trade? Wait, is that a midget? COR
Ü30 Party, Saturday, 23:28
Twice a month, the temple-like building on Nollendorfplatz that houses the posh Goya Club opens its doors to a rare species in Berlin: grown-ups! The place used to be a theatre, a cinema and more recently, western nightlife hot spot Metropol where, back in the day, Depeche Mode and Human League performed.
As steeped in history as this temple may be, so are the pilgrims, for this is Berlin’s biggest Ü30 Party (over-30 party). Granted, ‘Ü30’ may be a bit of a euphemism, but who can tell 35 from 53 in the full-on frenzy that unfolds after you ascend the stairs to Goya’s massive dance floor?
Ü50 men accompany "Highway to Hell" with frantic air guitar riffs, while the DJ – in true Master of Ceremonies fashion – untiringly animates the dancers between songs: “I know you guys have been praying to hear some Madonna tonight, so finally heeeere comes ‘Like a Prayer!’”. It’s Saturday Night Fever: partiers are getting seriously sweaty on the dancefloor. On the periphery, couples get ‘intimate’, displaying the torrid promiscuity of their teen years.
Everyone goes absolutely bonkers when Neue Deutsche Welle classic "Major Tom" kicks in. While the tunes are mostly 1970s and 1980s disco-pop and rock, complemented by the occasional Schlager, the Lady Gagas of this world are not absent from the playlist: the later the hour, the more current the music.
A breathless Pitbull tune prompts a bunch of unleashed Hausfrauen to shake all they got. Just like back in 1974, this Fete will continue throughout the night. There’s something strangely endearing about the thought that one day, when adulthood finally hits us, we might be having some awesome fun among fellow Ü30ers, while reminiscing about the good ol’ days of skinny jeans and Club Mate. JH
Q-Dorf, Wednesday, 1:15
An anti-Berghain temple of fun from another age, the Dorf is one of the few old-school West Berlin joints that withstood the Wende and all its demographic changes. This is strictly all-German Prolet territory – save the occasional Italian tourist – but tonight there are definitely no Ausländer or YUKIs in sight. Founded in 1975 and hosting parties on four floors in 18 separate bars up to six nights per week ever since, Q-Dorf (aka Ku’Dorf) really is the big, bad dinosaur of Berlin nightlife, one of the oldest and biggest discos in town.
Hundreds of solarium-tanned, short-haired Kevins and Ricos from Reinickendorf to Kleinmachnow have put on their plastic bling-bling, their close-fitting purple C&A shirts and pinstriped vests to seize the opportunity to showcase the result of countless arduous hours at the gym, while scantily-clad Chantales and Moniques dance off their generously applied make-up to a new Rihanna tune.
The 2000 square-metre Großraumdisse, is a cheap booze-driven frenzy: Jason Derulo galore, Schlager karaoke, people both making and passing out, pole dancers in fantastic leopard lingerie spilling sekt into the greedily opened mouths of ecstatic ravers, sangria buckets being emptied underneath Kaiser Wilhelm paintings and wasted underage girls flashing their underpants at 40+ creeps.
It’s a good thing there are two police vehicles parked outside: with all this mayhem, punch-ups are not a rarity. In the morning, the whole caravan will move on, leaving behind mountains of detritus and the stench of vomit, while bricklayers and cosmeticians across the city wonder why the hell their apprentices are so hungover. JH
Insider Tours Pub Crawl, Hackescher Markt, Saturday, 20:30
Sixty tipsy, scantily clad tourists – mostly Aussies – are trying to stand still while taking snapshots of each other. It’s not a particularly busy night for Insider Tours, an old hand in the business. On hot summer nights, pub crawls include up to 180 guests. By the time everyone finishes their free welcome drink at the start of the crawl, abiding friendships have been forged and everybody pledges to have a “wicked” night.
The tour guide announces that there will be cheap Jägerbombs at the next bar, evoking a crazed “YAYYYGAAAR” from the crowd. The Australian girls form a circle and start chanting something fun and barbaric, before collectively skulling their beers. We stop at nearby bar Verkehrsberuhigte Ostzone, packed with all kinds of random GDR memorabilia, ideal for tourists one could figure, but mate, East German history ain’t exactly what these guests have eyes for right now.
We’re joined by a London hen party, including the bride-to-be’s 50-year-old mum. The procession moves on, in some sort of totally insulated bubble, the city and its inhabitants becoming a mere backdrop to a custom-tailored binge-drinking experience. “Booze! More Booze!” they shout. Three more bars are on the list, including XO Berlin and Sophienclub, by which point many crawlers will have hooked up, thrown up, danced their hearts out and ultimately gone home confident that they got a glimpse of the ‘real Berlin’. JH
Fifty-Fifty Club, Sunday, 1:43
Come to Fifty-Fifty on tuesday for the Nigerian buffet. Or come on the weekend for the Turkish karaoke, even though there‘s no karaoke and they might inexplicably tell you it‘s a Balkan party. Tonight, reverb-heavy, traditional Turkish vocals blast from the club‘s sound system; a keyboardist provides synth strings.
A man sits in one of the booths that line the sides of the dance floor. In sequins, his jeans scream “DOLCE & GABBANA”. He leans back and lets his hands fall on the shoulders of the arm candy perched on either side of him, speaking confidently to his older, somewhat underdressed companion sitting opposite. Dolce signals for the singer, a short, balding man with shiny black-and-gold Nikes. His earring catches the light as he leans in and whispers something in the singer’s ear, who chuckles and nods, pocketing a €50 note. The girls laugh nervously as Dolce guides them to the dance floor.
Across the room, a table of rowdy old men loudly toast to something. One sticks a €10 note to his forehead and dances up to the singer, who pulls it off, smiling. On his way back to the table, the old Turk squeezes a passing waitress’ ass. In the meantime, Dolce and his entourage have departed, leaving behind most of a bottle of incongruously cheap Gorbatschow vodka.
The singer has changed. Now it‘s a moon-faced woman in a shiny dress. One of the old men approaches, handing her a piece of paper with song lyrics. She begins to sing, and the table of mustachioed Turks stands up, locking arms and turning circles on the suddenly cramped dance floor. As they shout and gesture, spilling their drinks, she rips the paper into small pieces. COR
Dämonenball at Club Rekorder, Sunday, 3:26
To enter Dämonenball, you descend down a slim metal staircase and slip €6 to a girl in black lipstick, cross through a smoking lounge, pass by a table displaying bright red patent stilettos, skull rings and other goth-kitsch paraphernalia and move through red velvet curtains onto the first dance floor.
The 20-year-old post-punk and synthpop blasting from the speakers is more retro than demonic. Men outnumber women five to three, and the age range stretches from early-20s to mid-50s. Because Dämonenball happens only once per month, the place is packed. The unofficial dress code is all black, natürlich: the usual goth staples of corsets and long black dresses, shiny PVC vests and trousers. Those in light-hued shirts and jeans are tolerated but in no way taken seriously.
The mood is slightly different on the second dance floor. This is a crowd that is serious about dancing hard, and serious about being serious. The music is more aggressive: a punishing wave of EBM and industrial intensity. One. Must. Dance.
There are men in black muscle tees clearly here just to hit on women, and a large number of people who frequent Insomnia, one of Berlin’s biggest fetish clubs, yet despite all the sexual tension, this is not a place to hook up. Solitary dancing is more the rule. Later, as the EBM / industrial room winds down, the DJ cues up “Sunglasses at Night,” proving that the Dämonenball can in fact turn scary. CC
Voltage Club, Sunday, 2:05
If the buzzkill of Kreuzkölln‘s usual YUKI nightlife ever shunts you out to the far east, you might encounter the narrow, yellow-lit entrance of Voltage Club nudged right in between Rossmann and an Apotheke in the remote Plattenbau–scape of Lichtenberg, Berlin’s eastern Little Russia. The mountains of grisly East German housing blocks surrounding the premises, however, bear no connection to the glamour you’ll find inside.
Pass the intimidating doorman, and a dollhouse world of sumptuous Russian devuski (girls) with soft bronzed skin, toned bodies, endless eyelashes and pouty lips trot through the dance floor, Louis Vuitton handbags swinging from their arm. “Dobriy vecher!” (Good evening!) Here, Russian is the language of choice among the partiers, nearly all of whom hail from former Soviet territory.
The interior is straight out of a 1970s strip club, with bottle service lounges hidden behind streams of twinkling disco curtains. But head to the bar, and you’ll find the Russian bartenders know how to mix cocktails that are shockingly cheaper and tastier than what you‘ll find in most Mitte bars. Perched-up on opposite sides of the bar are go-go dancers – both male and female – whipping their torsos suggestively to the delight of the college girls dancing to Russian pop and mainstream house.
Older gentlemen glare from the sides, but don’t bother asking any of these sideline spectators what he does for a living. The usual reply? “I do not study and I do not work. I have a lot of money; that’s all you need to know.” ND