A Unique Night Out: Berlin, Get Ya Head-Nod On
We roll up on Gretchen on Obentrautstraße near 2:00am. Small disjointed clusters of people are loitering outside an otherwise unassuming building next to a Bio Markt. Perhaps I’ve grown to expect my clubs to have a certain presence, whether located in industrial cellars or decommissioned power stations. The fact that there is no queue at the door has me thrown off as well.
After checking in with the cashier for entry and neon wristbands, we push through a heavy curtain and into the club itself. Not too large but not too small, high ceilings help keep the room from feeling too narrow. Projector screens hang along the walls displaying trippy geometric visualizations in correspondence with the music, and the DJ is set up on a stage across the dance floor near the far end of the long room. All in all the dimensions of the space effect a slightly discordant yet not unpleasant close-but-cavernous appeal.
A number of pillars flirt the line between gaudiness and grandeur, the undecided quality somehow evoking an aesthetic thumbs-up until you realize that, unfortunately, closer to the bar they become real obstacles. Couches abound, which is usually a troubling sign—if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time clubbing, it’s to avoid any cushion-based furniture in dimly lit spaces. Not that I have much choice; all the seats are taken up by rowdy guys raising drinks and bumping fists.
Indeed, the crowd is particularly interesting if only because it’s so different—you don’t realize how acclimated you’ve become to particular scene until suddenly you’re in a different one. I guess I’m used to the more diverse and integrated dance floors of Friedrichshain technoclubs, whereas here the room is mostly male, I’d guess young, mid-twenties, a lot of button-down shirts and backward caps.
Female presence, on the other hand, is minimal though not nonexistent. There are some advantages that come with that. For instance, the near-ghost town of the ladies’ room offers a generous half-dozen stalls, adorned with uplifting love-life and live-love messages, for which there is never a queue. However, the mirror is consistently occupied with makeup-reappliers, a sight you certainly won’t see at clubs like Berghain.
But then that’s the point of coming out to Gretchen, to sample a little something different.
Tonight’s program consists of a lot of Trap/Dubstep punctuated by borderline-Hip Hop and almost-Donk moments. The sound system is okay—heavy emphasis on okay. The frequencies give some pleasant vibrations and body buzzes, but I never really feel in danger of being destroyed by the bass. I am not awed by the pressure. The sound system feels … safe. And for a genre of music predicated on intensity, urgency, drop and boom, it’s weird to observe the hits from behind the auditory equivalent of a guardrail.
Still party momentum is happily sustained, myself included. We hang back behind the thick of the dance floor, getting our head-nod on, maybe a little foot-tap here, a little ass-shake there. Not too much is the key. The danger with Trap and its steppy ilk is that they inspire you to move, they tempt you into it, and at the same time they repeatedly set you up for failure when you try to anticipate the builds and the drops. You don’t want to be the guy who goes for the big dramatic yeah and misses. We’ve all been there, and it’s painful for everyone.
Probably the most interesting part of the night is when maybe a dozen people bearing little round printed signs from Abriss Techno infiltrate the party, swallowed up immediately by the crowd so that only the signs can be seen above the throng bouncing energetically to the bass, sayings like “ficken”, “dicke titten”, “so not munich”, and of course “refugees welcome”.
The last one—you’ve got to hand it to Berlin, even on a seemingly bro-tastic Trap clubnight in Kreuzberg, the message is here—Refugees Welcome.
Berlin, get ya head-nod on.
By Eileen Carelock
Images © Eileen Carelock
Eileen is a Berlin-based freelancer and tentative explorer of a tiny segment of the human experience. She ends up hanging out with her dog a lot; she also writes things.