The second-ever Burgers & Hip Hop commences on a cold Saturday in January, at around 6:30 pm. Descending the concrete ramp to Prince Charles is more like walking into a basement car park than a club. There’s a steady trickle of people shuffling down from the Moritzplatz U-Bahn. A couple of barbecues are set up outside, and approaching the entrance the first whiffs of food hit – sharp winter air mixed with searing meat.
It’s packed. Amongst the de facto Berlin winter uniforms – layers, indistinguishable dark coats – those choosing to show their hip hop allegiance do it through headgear. Snapbacks (stickers intact, jaunty angle), beanies (worn as high on the head as possible); no one’s brave enough to opt for a do-rag. The lights are up full, exposing the bare concrete interior. The dancefloor is set like a makeshift canteen, with tables and benches, like a kind of natural disaster relief centre – as if there’s been an earthquake at Kotti and the one percent has been evacuated here until the Red Cross shows up, passing the time by listening to ODB and gorging themselves on gourmet burgers.
Given the weather and people’s refusal to take off their coats, the vibe is more Weihnachtsmarkt than block party. The DJs adhere to their remit: mainstream 1990s hip hop, perfect for throwing those poorly-executed, fictitious gang signs. Some of the men out-pout the women in an attempt to look as thugged out as possible. Grunts of approval audible in French, Spanish, and the inimitable vowel-and-glottal-stop laden sounds of Danish. If you’ve ever wanted to see some crusty, long-haired rockers go wild for Missy Elliott, this might be the place. Perhaps the Hells Angels are secretly into Timbaland.
The food stalls annex the adjoining theatre, and the door between the two spaces causes an ugly congestion, a steady stream of people pushing past. Checkpoint Cheeseburger. The selection on offer is strong, with some of the best-known spots rising to the challenge: mobile outfit Buns (whose owner would have a flameout on Facebook over subprime beef), Kimchi Princess and Santa Maria both turning their hand to the ethnic burger game; Mogg & Melzer with a reuben. The puns are also out in force: Grandmaster Fleisch, Flavour Flame, and Notorious BLG. Vege Minaj missed the opportunity for a far seedier wordplay.
Though the event is projecting a picture of a cow on the side of the building, the vote of the day goes to Brot & Zeit’s chicken burger. Allegations of corruption follow – one couple was spotted frantically filling out multiple votes in a secluded corner. Perhaps the real winners are Zwei Dicke Bären: the perversity of ice cream sandwiches in January.
The opportunity to embark upon a culinary tour de force is limited by the queues, which by this point have reached Eastern Bloc proportions. Some bop awkwardly on the spot, most stand in stoic contrast to the music. More GDR than G-Funk.
At shortly after 9pm, the food hall is still crammed, the club in full swing. We leave in the hope of avoiding potential casualties: ketchup, burger grease and wooden skewers on a packed dancefloor = death. The queue at the entrance has reached leviathan proportions, stretching around the block. Two French girls waiting in line: “We like burgers and we like hip hop, so we came.” Berlin philosophy 2014. If Burgers & Hip Hop can be this popular in winter, there’s no telling how B.I.G. it can be come summer. Perhaps some of the chickens will even take their coats off. Next promise: dumplings and disco.
The next Burgers and Hip Hop happens Mar 1 at Prince Charles, 3-10pm.
Originally published in issue 125, March 2014.