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O Leipzig, What Cruelty: A Taste of Nightlife

Parthe Night - © Eileen Carelock 

Leipzig is just a little over an hour away by train, so I recently decided to make a weekend trip of it. I was there to engage in the usual touristy goodness, to pay homage to some of my classical music heroes, visit their homes-turned-museums, and otherwise steep myself in the kind of picturesque historical atmosphere one is often hard-pressed to find in Berlin.

But then come 6pm and most popular sights and museums start closing down. What to do? My thoughts turned to nightlife, because why not.

Now, I’m sure Leipzig has its hip areas, and I’m sure, like many major cities, they’re not to be found near historical city center. I sort of feared that such would be the case with Leipzig, nothing but tourist bars etc. and I wasn’t in the mood to track down parties on the fringes of the city. But luckily with a little Google search perseverance back in my hotel room, I turned up the Distillery, aka the best (and oldest) techno club in Leipzig—insert wishful comparisons with Berlin cobbled together from travel blogs and Qype reviews.

Amused, I texted my partner my intentions to sample Leipzig’s techno offerings. I quickly added a self-deprecating “ha, watch me not get in” because Berlin techno clubs have taught me that getting in isn’t always a given. Especially with the big guys, never assume. Even if you’ve got a nice bouncer approval track record, it’s always best to keep a little bit of humility in your back pocket—it’ll soften the blow of rejection when/if it happens.

It ended up being a jaunty 45-minute walk from my hotel out to the club. The venue, facing the busy Kurt-Eisner-Straße, was situated behind a wooden gate, a seemingly-sleepy neighborhood to the left, an empty lot to the right. The structure itself gave the effect of a wooden shack or remote clubhouse. I spotted a scant scattering of people outside, but otherwise there wasn’t a queue—or, on first glance, a door, for that matter.

Distillery Natur  - © Eileen Carelock 

I hung back long enough to establish there was, in fact, a nondescript door, one on which to knock, and then a bouncer would open up and invite you in. Enacting this process myself, I was at first thrown off: no pat-down, no bag-inspection, no Ausweis scrutiny or quizzing about the DJ lineup. Just direct to the Kasse10€ bitte, and wrist-stamp.

Then pushing my way through a heavy curtain, boom, I was in.

The Club

Almost 1am, it was still early. Clusters of people were caught up in conversations near the bar and around the seating areas—chatting and sitting are usually strong indicators that the party isn’t yet in full swing.

I ordered a beer from a surly bearded hipster—Becks. I can’t be too critical here, because some of my favorite Berlin clubs also demonstrate confounding loyalty to this sub-par beer. No matter. You don’t go to techno clubs for their beer selection.

Anyway, I moved from there to the sparse dance floor and staked out a place in the corner to drink and lurk (I’m a bit of a shy curmudgeon until I’ve “acclimated”). The music was a deep house boogie disco thing, pretty standard stuff. At first there were mostly just girls dancing, a few guys sitting on the edge of the stage lip in the back—more sitting! Two girls dancing nearby seemed paranoid about leaving their bags next to me, throwing glances and coming over to resituate, and at the same time determined to dance in the middle of the floor. Another guy came over to stand near me, toting his plastic tobacco pouch and a beer which he ended up dropping and then pretending it didn’t happen, beer rolling away into darkness. Everyone around me seemed very young. Like early 20’s. If that. I’d read a lot of negative club reviews citing “too many kiddies”, and thus began to fret, because I wasn’t seeing much 25-40 representation in the house …

Distillery Grafitti - © Eileen Carelock 

Silently wresting a feeling of foolishness and disappointment, I kept up a halfhearted show of head-nodding to the music, all the while eyeballing a staircase next to the bar which led down into the cellar. I ended up doing this quite a long time because, while I’d seen one or two people come up, I wasn’t seeing anyone going down—“What is down there??” And finally I just decided to go have a look for myself.

The Cellar

On a second dance floor, close walls, low ceilings, and more empty than the last, I counted 10 people, including myself and the DJ. But the music was better—harder, more desolate, more bass. My feet started to work. The sound had a presence, one that firmly demanded your attention, stilling the bits of chatter between individuals. More people filed in behind us, a more age-diverse crowd. Things were starting to look up.

Turning in my empty beer at the bar, I went upstairs for a pee. Unisex bathrooms like in Berlin clubs, so no surprise there. However a huge mirror hung on the wall over the sinks, so naturally people were primping in front of it.

I silently disapproved because, well, the mirror is the instrument by which the boundless, ego-less Now is abruptly focused back to superficial self-consciousness. Or to put it another way: I know that my mascara is probably running; but more importantly it doesn’t matter that my mascara is running, so why focus my attention on it? Techno clubs are for shedding the ego and communing with the Sound—not makeup reapplication.

Descending again, the cellar was getting more crowded, so I ended up migrating to the front. The music was dark, crunchy goodness, and I figured, “F*** it, I’m on vacation,” so, unencumbered by drink or responsibility, I danced, letting the corrugated synth textures and 4/4 rhythms enfold me—made all the easier with fog machines going so thick I could barely see anyone else. It’s like we were all of us gifted with a mysterious spatial awareness: no communication between us, and yet no collisions. Other senses stripped from us, we moved in a world with its own special physics, gravity, and particle structure.

It was amazing.

And all too soon it was time to head back. I pushed my way past the bar, the upstairs dance floor bumping with boisterous youth, the courtyard, collected my coat, and then I was out into the blessedly cool Leipzig night. My assessment of the Distillery: top. I had my doubts at first, and it’s no Berghain (but in all fairness, what is?), however that goodness down in that cellar: top top.

The Cruelty

I decided to stroll back the way I’d come, hoping to encounter some sort of street food. I’d optimistically scoped out some options on the way over, but they were long since closed now—tragic.

“O Leipzig, what cruelty is this?” I lamented tipsily whilst crossing the diminished Parthe. “You would give me a techno club, but no döner when I wend my way homeward?”

Sleepy Leipzig, its shop windows discouragingly dark, its streets quiet: this is where, alas, the nightlife simply cannot compete with Berlin and our excess of delectable drunk foods—wursts, burgers, pizza slices, kebaps. Or failing that, you can always count on your local Späti.

Alas, no Späti to be found. It’s always the little comforts that have you abruptly longing for home.

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.

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