Berlin

Occult Berlin

From impromptu tarot readings to astro-charting apps, from queer feminist witchcraft to coffee cup seers and ghost hunting, occultism is back, and millennials are spearheading the trend. We tracked down three Berliners with a sixth sense.

Image for Occult Berlin
Photo by Jacob Spetzler
From impromptu tarot readings to astro-charting apps, from queer feminist witchcraft to coffee cup seers and ghost hunting, occultism is back, and millennials are spearheading the trend. We tracked down three Berliners with a sixth sense. The DIY rite fixer From the deep forests of Transylvania to her Mitte Wohnung, Viviana Druga uses her hand-crafted tarot deck and her magic rituals to mend all wounds. Before Viviana Druga was born, her mother dreamt she would have a blue-eyed daughter who could speak German. It’s safe to say that this prophecy has now come true: a 10-year Berliner with blue eyes, the Romanian, now in her thirties (she likes to say she’s 232!), lives in her bohemian-style Altbau apartment complete with a makeshift altar, countless stones and a gong, near Rosenthaler Platz. It’s here, in her green-tinted earthy living room,that she welcomes guests once or twice a week to read them her extra-special tarot cards: the Tarot de Berlin, a deck she designed in collaboration with costume-maker Tata Christiane, and for which she photographed friends and family members as they re-staged characters from the 15th-century Tarot de Marseille. At first, it was one of her art projects, but since 2013, after three years spent refining the designs, she’s been using them as a tool for what she defines as “psychomagic”, a form of esoteric therapy made famous by Chilean cult director Alejandro Jodorowski. Like most practitioners, Druga has her own take on this form of therapy. “Let’s say you have a problem with your kidney,” she proposes,“to heal, you would go to the doctor to have it removed or replaced. With psychomagic, you reenact the operation by making it look so real that you believe that your sick kidney was removed – it’s like a placebo effect, it works!” Druga uses this approach, and her life experience, to design her rituals. As a child Druga spent her summer holidays with her grandparents in a remote village in Transylvania, where the forest washer playground. She often got lost as she wandered around, sometimes for 10 hours straight, but somehow she always found her way back. “I realised that fear is temporary. I developed a kind of understanding that you’re never alone, you have something inside of you that brings you home every time.” But growing up in a family with strong Christian heritage wasn’t always easy. As she was entering adolescence, she had a personal crisis and couldn’t understand her place in society. “You can’t be listening to Marilyn Manson while living in a village and think that everything is fine,” she asserts. Her mental state got worse, and at the age of 16 she attempted suicide. “There was this moment of going away, then nothing, and finally coming back. The last part is what I’m interested in, the energy of it fills you with hope and gratitude.” Druga uses her near-death experience as a metaphor in her sessions. To start, she usually lays out five cards in a cross shape. The first card represents the problem, the “going away”, while the rest offer ways of solving it. She then designs a ritual for the “coming back”. “I receive the whole human realm of yearnings and pain. For some people, it’s about not repeating certain mistakes, or how to deal with being hurt. For others, it’s about how to fix their relationship with their parents or partner,” she says referring to that 29-year-old girl who couldn’t move forward with her career due to her shyness. “The cards helped me realise that the problem traced back to her mother, to the ‘bad things she did to her.’” As a solution, Druga proposed that she should meditate on her mother’s image, send her light and ask for a release. “But sometimes it takes a more elaborate action to attain freedom.” In the girl’s case, Druga prescribed a one-time performance, that should be unique and never to be repeated again: “This could be dressing in your mother’s clothes, then taking them off and burying them in nature, in the presence of a witness.” Druga hardly advertises her skills beyond her Tarot de Berlin Facebook page, and her website, where you can buy your own deck for €25. Her clients mainly know of her through word-of-mouth, or her performances at Haus Schwarzenberg’s Monsterkabinett. Sometimes she offers her sessions for free, other times, she charges an undisclosed, “two-figure amount that is below what you can find in other places”. – Özgül Demiralp
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Photo by Sonia Teruel Rabadán
The professional ghostbuster Minckee Gerhold cleanses haunted houses of unwelcome guests. So when you hear things going bump in the night… who you gonna call? In the ordinarily bright, pink baby nursery of a Schöneberg apartment, an unusual gathering is taking place. The darkness is overwhelming save for two small candles casting warped shadows across the walls. A small device with five different bulbs of green, orange and red lights is placed in the centre of the room, watched closely by its apprehensive onlookers. “Spirits, are you there?” calls Berlin born-and-raised Minckee Gerhold, ghost hunter of 20 years. “If you are, come to the green light and change it to red!” A bright dot blinks back at the bystanders. Nothing. Yet, just to their left, a pendant hanging in a child’s tipi starts to swirl in rapid circles… If you think this is a scene from The Conjuring you are sorely mistaken. This is just a regular night for Gerhold, who, with her long, jet-black hair, dark eye makeup and solid black boots, is a striking presence. She wears her big silver rings and a brown, leather jacket with a laid-back nonchalance – calm in the face of the storm. Gerhold has installed various contraptions in order for the ghosts to make themselves known: an automatic LED in the bathroom, set to light up at any shift in movement, and a doorbell on the bedroom’s threshold to be triggered by any passerby – in the flesh or not. (There are a few jump starts when a human mistakenly brushes past and the bell is set off.) She also carries with her an infrared camera and a remote-control walky-talky, with which she can record the images and voices of the phantoms. The ghost hunter explains that these gadgets are solely for her clients, as she herself doesn’t in fact require any technical assistance to feel and see the spirits.
I saw him exactly as I saw you, except he was transparent. He was looking at me like ‘What the hell! What are you doing in my house?’”
Gerhold knew she had a gift from an early age. It all started at her Oma’s funeral when she was 12 years old. She looked down at the open casket and understood that her grandmother was no longer among the living, but she could still feel her presence. Later, in her early twenties, she encountered a poltergeist (an evil ghost that has the ability to physically move objects – yikes!) in her own apartment. This undead Russian soldier was looking for his mother. “As I turned around in the shower I saw him exactly as I see you, except he was transparent. He was looking at me like ‘What the hell! What are you doing in my house?’” Evidently, he was rather disgruntled that Gerhold was living in “his” apartment, and as she recounts, “It scared the shit out of me.” From that moment on, she decided to embrace her supernatural powers, taking the task upon herself to free the trapped souls from their earthly constraints. As well as a ghost hunter, Gerhold is a certified reiki master, a spiritual medium and a reader of tarot. She charges for her private reiki and meditation sessions, but not for the ghost hunting. She is usually contacted via Facebook or word-of-mouth, and her services include helping people communicate with spirits, finding misplaced documents in their home or ridding her clients or their flats of negative energies. She is certainly in high demand, but Gerhold insists on a phone consultation prior to meeting. It is important for her to vet her clients and deduce whether their requests are actually relating to the spiritual world. “If someone wants me to find the money their ex-boyfriend has hidden, no way, I don’t do that.” She doesn’t get stuck up in between people’s unfinished business or personal vendettas. Aside from being overloaded with inquiries, a woman with a sixth sense might have to deal with constant stimuli from invisible forces. But Gerhold, much like a non-addicted social media user, can “log on” to the spiritual world whenever she pleases. The end result of the ghost hunt in the Schöneberg apartment? Spookily, and inexplicably, in the empty bathroom, two figures were clearly visible through the infrared camera lens. Then the camera died, along with the walky-talky device. Coincidence? According to Gerhold, there were in fact four spirits in the apartment, peeping yet disappearing as soon as discovered. Her reasoning for her devices breaking down, even though they had fresh batteries, is that the ghosts were afraid of the medium’s presence because they knew they were not supposed to be there. As for the spinning pendant… Gerhold is hesitant to jump to eerie conclusions. Someone probably just knocked it on their way past. Nevertheless, she will soon return to Schöneberg to help the mischievous ghosts move on from earth in peace, and her client will finally be able to sleep a little more soundly at night. – Fabienne Lang
Image for Occult Berlin
Photo by Sonia Teruel Rabadán
The Kiez coffee seer Gülsüm Götz sees more than just dregs at the bottom of coffee cups. Having inherited her grand-aunt’s divination gift, she reads the future for relatives and friends. “Don’t believe fortune telling, but don’t stay without it.” So goes the famous Turkish saying, which 51-year-old fortune teller Gülsüm Götz does not hesitate to reiterate. She emigrated from Turkey to join her parents in Berlin when she was 10, but the Middle Eastern art of tasseomancy, a form of divination that interprets the patterns found in coffee grounds or tea leaves, has never left her. Although she mainly does it for entertainment when her friends or family members come over to her flat in north Charlottenburg, it is clear that her acquaintances take it quite seriously. Her “regulars” are not only Turkish, but also Polish, Russian, Arabic and German. Popular to say the least, she expects nothing in return for her readings and people keep coming back, relentlessly calling at her doorstep. And for a reason: she is known for her predictions to come true.
“I need to look at the coffee grounds to provoke a prediction that will pop up in my mind. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a talent I have.”
Götz believes that her special talent was given to her by her grand-aunt, as the capacity of divination is usually passed down generations. Her interest in tasseomancy started when she was a child, as she watched her mother and her aunts perform readings in the Turkish city of Adana. In keeping with her roots, she uses a teaspoon of Turkish coffee for her sessions, which she mixes with an espresso cup of water. “Be generous with the amount of coffee,” she jokes. Unsurprisingly, Götz is a modern woman: instead of the typical Turkish coffee pot, the copper, pink-tinted cezve, she uses an electronic, kettle-style appliance. It was a gift from one of her friends who she reads to, who was no doubt hoping to boost her productivity. And further infuse the high spirits with positivity, of course. Once the coffee has brewed, she fills the small, plain-white espresso cups with the hot, smooth liquid. Then, the drinker is told to think about what they want to know while drinking. When the beverage has been completely slurped up and only the dregs remain, the espresso cup is turned upside down, in the direction of the torso, and left to rest on top of a saucer. After a short wait of 10 minutes, the cup has turned cold and is flipped back around, revealing intricate patterns in the muddy-looking sediments. This is when Götz works her magic. Without following any guidelines, she interprets the shapes she sees. “I need to look at the coffee grounds to provoke a prediction that will pop up in my mind. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a talent I have.” Götz’ predictions can be quite specific. She shares the story of a friend who came for a fortune reading because she was worried about her young son, who didn’t know what to do with his life. “I told her to relax. I predicted that her son would study medicine and marry an Italian woman. Now, he is in med school in Poland and just moved into a WG with his Italian girlfriend.” But the things she sees don’t always have a happy ending. For that same friend, she foresaw that a woman would come in between her and her husband, and again, this turned out to be true. “Usually, if I see bad things, like death for instance, I don’t tell them. I also always advise them to not live based on what I predict and to just let it stay in the back of their mind. I don’t want to give them false expectations.” Although evidently a successful seer, Götz remains conflicted about her craft. She can’t pull it out of the bag at any time. She works as a caregiver and is often tired from work, or preoccupied with her two kids. For the readings, her mind needs to be clear. “I need to be in a positive mood to be able to gather my energy,” she says. But the real basis for her reluctance is religion, as she is also a Muslim: “I believe in God. To predict the future is the equivalent of saying you know something before him. It’s a sin.” But her friends have found a way around this. “They tell me they will take the sin onto themselves.” — Özgül Demiralp