02/24/2005: "berlin part 2."
While in Berlin, I stopped by the spectacle that is the Berlin Film Festival, a.k.a. the Berlinale. I'd never been to a major film festival before. The Berlinale isn't as much of a celeb frenzy as Cannes or Sundance, but it's up there; I got to see my first real red carpet, where people like Keanu Reeves, Kevin Spacey, and (haha!) George Michael milled about, looking important. I didn't spend much time at the film festival, though; there was far, far, far too much music on the horizon. Berlin's a goddamn garden of earthly delights if you have any interest in techno whatsoever. There was too much music I had to hear while I was in Berlin. Movies could wait until I got back to New York. (Some of the films being screened were things I'd already seen -- Wes Anderson and Anjelica Huston were in town for the premiere of Die Tiefseetaucher mit Steve Zissou, for instance. I could go see that, or I could go visit Tresor before it closes down in a month. Guess which one I chose.) The film festival is in Potsdamer Platz, which has become sort of the Times Square of Berlin--a little dull unless you're screwing around with shutter speeds to make it look more like this:
One movie I did see at the film festival which was pretty great was Verschwende deine Jugend, based on the German book by the same name. It's an oral history of German punk and post-punk music, and it was presented as a cheap computerized black'n'white slide show (the end credits said: "Produced with Macromedia Shockwave"--errr) with recorded interviews playing in the background. It was kind of like watching a book on tape, but it was gripping nonetheless. Plus, it helped to cement the idea in my head that DAF was the most punk-rock band of all time (more on this later.)
It's the thought that counts!
And then there's the most punk-rock venue in the world: Berghain/Panoramabar, formerly known as Ostgut. I have no photos of the venue, sadly, because no one is allowed to take photos, with the exception of--get this--Wolfgang Tillmans, but I'll try to describe it (what I can remember, anyway). It's the weirdest venue I've ever been to in my life.
I've gotten to see several great spaces around the world--some in New York and elsewhere in the US, some in London, Cologne, Berlin, and other parts of Europe--and almost invariably, my favorites are the ones you feel like you can get lost in. Dance music is an audiovisual experience; the flashing strobes, hyperactive fog machines, and twinkling disco balls all have as much to do with the music as the DJ does. But what I find even more important is the actual layout of the space, its architecture. Can you get lost in the space the way you can get lost in music? I love labyrinthine, disorienting spaces with hidden nooks and stairways and catacombs and secret rooms. This was exactly that place.
You immediately feel like you've been transported to Mars before you get in the door. The space is in the middle of nowhere, way out on the east side of the city. The landscape is gritty and barren and grey, with bare trees, concrete, and abandoned buildings, and you you think--could this possibly be it?
You get in the door, see a big line of people, and know you're there. After a momentary security detail, you go to check your coat, and see that they didn't give you a ticket--they gave you a metal dog tag to hang around your neck with a 4-digit number etched on it. Then you walk into space--a converted power station (Germans seem to have a fascination with power stations; Kraftwerk, after all, means "power station")--and your jaw falls. The soaring ceilings are 50 or 100 feet high, there's a football field-sized floor with room for maybe a thousand people, and it all feels very raw. The floor is concrete, the look very minimal, industrial, utilitarian. The original power station details have all been preserved. The crumbly walls are dotted with ancient analog dials that read "Voltage," "Amps," and things like that. The people on the floor, for the most part, aren't the cool fashionable types who frequent places like APT in New York; these people look like they could kick your ass in. Burly dudes are cruisin' sans shirts, doing these weird rigid muscle-flex dance moves, and they're getting down to Electric Indigo, an ace female DJ spinning minimal techno. There's a bar tucked behind the main floor, which looks just as weird as the rest of the place, but then you realize that's not the only bar. You wander around and uncover hidden passageways, stairwells, more bars, restrooms, more rooms, more dancefloors. You're lost, and then you try to reorient yourself. Okay, that's the main floor. That's what I saw when I walked in the door. Or is it? There's the DJ booth. Okay, I'm lost. How do I get back? Wait, where do I want to get back to? Does it matter?
You walk up the stairs and see another dancefloor that's huge but not quite as big as the main one, with massive floor-to-ceiling windows. This is Panoramabar, and DJ T, of Berlin's excellent Get Physical label, is spinning sweaty, hard Chicago-ey house and techno. The ruffneck crowd is very into it, the vibe energetic, effervescent. For a while, Tim Finney and I both feel like we're hallucinating because we both keep thinking that Adonis' 'No Way Back' will have to start playing, but it never does. 'No Way Back' seems like an apt anthem to describe this place, I think to myself. Eventually, many, many hours later, as everyone on the floor looks more and more wasted and the raw early light of morning starts creeping through the massive windows, DJ T smiles devilishly and suddenly, from the giant speakers, a voice whispers:
Too far gone
Too far gone...