Like most of Berlin, my month started in Görlitzer Park. Not because I wanted to get my party on, but because I live in front of it. It’s where I walk my dogs every day, and when I took them out on May 1st, they seemed very confused about the crowds of people in the park. And to be honest, so was I.
There is still a ban on amplified music here on that day, and the official Mai Fest around Oranienstraße had been cancelled, so there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment to attract people to the neighbourhood. But I guess everyone is just used to coming to this area to celebrate? It turned out that the real outlaw party action was happening in Schlesischer Busch at the bottom of Görli, where the FAILED MEGA CITY crew took it upon themselves to set up some decks and a sound system to entertain the masses. From the reports I heard, it was a bit of a rager, but I was looking for a much quieter vibe.
Instead of spending the day in my own chaotic Kiez, I made a beeline to meet friends over at Holzmarkt 25. If you enjoy a nice chill time hanging out beside the Spree, this is probably one of the best days of the year to do it at this location. The May 1st action elsewhere in the city soaks up the people like a giant sponge, leaving Holzmarkt surprisingly quiet and relaxed for a change.
The first weekend in May was an art-filled tale of two halves. On Saturday, I went to see the Exit is no Object exhibition at the Katholische Hochschule in Karlshorst. The building is a former KGB-run prison, and the curatorial team transformed a previously unused basement into a series of mock prison cells.
The cells were inaccessible to the public due to the lack of fire exits, so to get around this problem the team came up with the ingenious idea of placing video surveillance cameras in front of each cell and then beaming the art works to screens placed in the foyer. This seemingly simple technique made the exhibition a cohesive whole and added an extra dimension that would have been missing if visitors were able to get up close and personal with the site-specific artworks. Even though Exit is no Object was a small exhibition, it had a large impact and made me reflect deeply on the nature of time, justice and trauma.
The same cannot be said of the second exhibition I saw that weekend – SKIN – Membrane, Organ, Archive at Zitadelle Spandau. Now, I would like to preface this by saying that the citadel is a great place to visit and hang out for the day. The grounds are nice to walk around and you can even scale the tower to enjoy a wonderful view over Berlin. This made up for the pretty underwhelming nature of the group exhibition. If Exit is no Object had an outsized impact for its scale, SKIN was the opposite. Some of the individual pieces were good and the installation techniques were inventive and interesting, but I didn’t enjoy anything beyond a purely aesthetic level.
Truthfully, my opinion was probably formed by the performance art piece ‘Anastatica’ by Moran Sanderovich that was part of the finissage. Maybe some people loved this performance, and of course art is subjective, but in the most polite terms, it was very much not for me. The whole thing seemed like it had been conceived with Instagram content creation in mind. It was akin to being repeatedly bashed over the head with a metaphor. When I shared a video of the performance via my own Instagram, someone remarked that it was very Nathan Barley. This may be a niche reference, but it was the exact thing I was thinking while watching it all unfold. When satire becomes reality, you know things are on the wrong track.
In contrast to this contrived form of art was Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s crunchy metal lords Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs at Urban Spree. Frontman Matthew Baty is completely devoid of pretence. How could you have any when you’re sporting a muscle top, tiny shorts and a Freddie Mercury-esque moustache? As expected, the centre of the crowd quickly formed into a heaving, sweaty, undulating mosh pit. The band were on rip roaring form, making me realise how much almost all modern metal owes a debt to Black Sabbath, and I mean this as a high praise – Pigs x7 take their classic metal lineage to bold new places.
A few days later, I swapped riff-laden ferocity for intricate melodies. Buggel Wesseltoft & Henrizk Schwarz performed in Emmauskirche as part of XJAZZ! Festival. As a setting, the church really added to the ambience. Situated on a circular stage in the centre of the hall, Schwarz was in charge of the electronics while Wesseltoft was in control of the piano and keys.
Collaborators and guests joined at various points, including a trumpet, a string quartet and a live vocalist. It was an exquisite combination of live electronics with classical instrumentation that elevated it above much anything else in the neoclassical genre.
From a gig in a church to a Mass on the streets, I took part in my first big bike protest of the year. Critical Mass happens on the last Friday of every month, and I’ve been taking part in it regularly for about five years. If you don’t know how it works, essentially enough cyclists gather and take to the roads so that vehicle traffic is disrupted. While it is a protest, it also has a fun element with many people bringing sound systems to blast out tunes. This ride felt different though.
Motorists are always upset that they are being delayed for a short while, but it seemed that frustrations were reaching a whole new level. There were frequent choruses of beeping horns, and I witnessed multiple car drivers aggressively confronting cyclists. It made me wonder if the negative attitude towards the Letzte Generation protests has emboldened drivers. The sense of entitlement car drivers feel towards our shared roads seems to have increased in tandem with the anger on display. All the more reason to protest, I think. See you there in June?
My month of culture came to a close by experiencing a few of our magazine articles in real life. In this issue, we have a wonderful feature with Billie Rae, the creator of sex-positive party series House of Lunacy and immersive dining experience Weisse Maus. Combining a high-end meal with insanely good erotic cabaret performances, this year’s edition of Weisse Maus took place at Theater im Delphi, which provided the perfect setting. Every single attendee went all-in on the Weimar theme, creating an atmosphere that felt akin to being on a film set.
In fact, the whole event felt cinematic. It was compèred to perfection and the variety and quality of the performances was over and above any cabaret I’ve seen in Berlin. Where else would you watch someone be suspended by their hair as they twirl in mid-air, perform a pole dance routine high above the ground, or use a claw-foot bathtub as a stage prop, before pulling a string of pearls from their most intimate of places? And I certainly haven’t seen someone pee into an ice bucket live on stage, before pouring it over their dress and kicking their feet in the puddle that formed, much to the delight of some front row patrons and to the mild horror of others. Berlin needs more cabaret of this scale and quality, and I’d love to see this become a more regular fixture in the city – with or without the food.
Finally, I wrapped up my May in the best way possible – by going to see the new Exberliner cover star Daniel-Ryan Spaulding perform his Power Gay show at Revier Südost. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was easily the best standup performance I have ever seen in the city. In fact, it was one of the best standup gigs I’ve been to ever. Spaulding skewers life in Berlin in the most painfully accurate and hilarious way possible, and no one is safe from his comedic ire.
Among the people he sends up are lesbians, straight girls, virtue signallers, the Dutch, Germans, and, of course, himself. As a fan of his social media skits, seeing the personas brought to life on stage is a joy. He’s uproariously funny, but there are also honest and touching reflections on his life experience. It’s still all about the punchlines though, and I laughed so much I had tears in my eyes. Spaulding is going through both major personal transformation and professional growth, and I believe his star is really on the rise. At the end of the night, I felt a real sense of pride that we were able to put Spaulding on the cover of the new issue and give him the spotlight he truly deserves. As far as months of culture go, you can’t ask for any more than that.
For more in the moment culture action, follow Jonny on Instagram @jonnytiernan.