‘Wie viel sind Sie?’ – Following Berlin’s After-Hours Formula
It is 1.30am. Precisely 50 hours have passed since I stepped off an EasyJet plane at Schönefeld airport and took my first breath of autumnal Germanic air. I am standing, obediently but vigilantly, in a 20metre long queue outside Kater Holzig, one of Berlin’s hipper, more notorious nightclubs. I am very nervous.
A muffled yet powerful techno beat pounds menacingly from within. I know I have barely arrived in the city, but I am almost 100% sure that the couple queuing directly in front of me constitute the absolute quintessence of Berlin. They might as well have Mr & Mrs Berlin tattooed in vintage typewriter font across their high German foreheads. All six foot four of Mr Berlin’s lean frame is clad exclusively in black. Even the suede tick on his pristine Nikes is jet-black, stitched over a shell of black leather. His socks, jeans, windbreaker and hair are all black. Immaculately so. Mrs Berlin wears a black sweater, black leggings and black and grey leopard print Creepers. And to complete the symmetrical ensemble, a nose ring (obviously) hangs delicately between her scalpel-sharp cheekbones. They speak in clipped Berlin German, voices ever so slightly hoarse, presumably from all the rollies they’ve each had to smoke to get through another high-octane week of being a Berliner.
But if I look just ahead of this monochrome picture of urban perfection, I see another couple, evidently cut from the same local cloth. And then a little further on, a group of three girls, the studs on their cropped leather jackets glinting under Kater’s fairylit canopy entrance. Meanwhile, four French guys wearing largely unremarkable white and pink collared shirts are ruthlessly turned away by the stone-faced bouncer. Seconds later, the girls walk straight in, through what might as well have been a pair of automatic doors at Tesco. So clearly a trend was emerging. Quite literally. I’m wearing a blue puffer jacket and a white t-shirt. I am not getting in to Kater Holzig.
Somehow, though, I did. It must have been zipping up the puffer. Anyhow, this nerve-wracking experience got me thinking. I had obviously heard the rumours and not-so-old wives tales about Berlin’s clubs and their infamously capricious entry policies, but the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that, actually, they weren’t capricious at all. There was quite clearly a formula, which, if followed, seemingly yielded pretty consistent results. The next week I decided to test it.
Friday. Stattbad-Wedding. A converted swimming pool complete with danceable boiler room, techno bunker, and an uncompromising sound system. The city’s club of the moment. I’m wearing black jeans and a black jumper. I am with two friends, similarly dressed, one male, one female. I haven’t shaved in five days. “Wir sind zu drei”, I stutter to the bouncer.
He answers in English. My heart drops. “Nearly: Wir sind zu dritt…I let you off this time. Come in”. Bang. Sweet, sweet success at the hands of surely the only forgiving bouncer in Berlin. We walk straight in and the formula is proved once again. Groups of three, tops + dark clothes + stubble – abortive attempt at a local idiom = entry.
Saturday. My attempts at recuperation after a long night at Stattbad – drinking three cartons of not-from-concentrate apple juice – prove futile. I don’t really want to go out, but that may not be a bad thing seeing as I want to consolidate my findings by testing the formula the other way round. I shave and try Watergate with five friends – all male but one. “Wie viel sind sie?” “Wir sind mit fünf”, I reply gingerly. “Nein. Zu viele Männer”. Too many men. An awful excuse, and probably sexist on some level, but a big result nonetheless. I can go home and binge 6 torrented episodes of Family Guy (the only thing on offer in my Wi-Fi-less garret), my friends conveniently have a scapegoat on which to blame our collective failure, and the formula comes through once again. Everybody wins. Watergate included.
So, there it was. Sussed and simplified. The Berlin Clubbing Formula. Over the last few weeks it has got me in on 9 out of 10 occasions, and my accumulating confidence has made the city’s nightlife feel a lot less hostile. However, one challenge remains.
The golden chalice of the Berlin club scene. The elusive summit that so many have tried to climb and failed to reach. And tried again, and failed. Again. Yup. Berghain. A whole different kettle of fish. Even with my newfound confidence, the fear of rejection after queuing for an hour alongside Berlin’s finest has prevented me from making my first attempt. Also keeping me at bay is the knowledge that, at Berghain, you are dealing with a significant degree of genuine randomness, coupled with some seriously stiff competition, and knowing that what will probably be one of the best night’s of your life is at stake. Without exception, everyone I have spoken to who has been lucky (or tactful) enough to breach the shadowy factory gates will not shut up about how it was ‘literally the best night of my life’. The consistency of such reports borders on the absurd. Unless they brainwash you upon entry by somehow implanting the packaged memory of a totally orgasmic, quasi-religious experience, it must actually be that good.
When I do try, the formula will go out the window, and I’ll be relying on divine favours and the make-shift luck amassed from an entire day of crossing my fingers. Until then, you can catch me on the weekend circuit, Thursday through Sunday, enjoying the brilliant eclecticism of the world’s most extraordinary club scene. But just like any alternative scene, an unintended conformity inevitably arises, this time of a sartorial nature. Mr & Mrs Berlin have set the standard, and if you don’t comply, you’re spending the night on a damp wooden bench outside a nearby Späti, sipping a Pilsner and ruing your decision to wear a yellow gilet. Stomaching the nausea of door policies is a rite of passage here, and the whole ordeal can at times be a rather bitter pill to swallow. But if you can keep it down, you’re in for one hell of a trip.
Words by Arty Froushan
Pictures from RA, Stattbad