What I saw of its nightlife
A little while ago, a friend sent me the link to an article announcing that the Kit-Kat and Sage Clubs were closing. It made me kind of sad for two reasons: first, because it meant that I wouldn’t be able to come back; second, because it also meant the end of one of the most both human and extraterrestrial, and overall most incredible places I’ve ever been to. The Kit-Kat is not an isolated case: a lot of Berlin nightclubs are currently closing. Will Berlin succeed in keeping alive its culture, in recreating such places? I hope so.
I discovered the Kit-Kat Club almost by chance, by fortune. I first thought it was called the Sage Club, but the Sage Club is actually the name of the place during the day, its official, public and non-secret name, when it is only a sort of expensive bar. At night, it transforms and mutes into something completely different. My friends and I were on a two-week trip through Europe. Berlin was our third stop. We had decided from the start that it would be our ‘night destination’, the one we would dedicate to partying and discovering the underground world. I had never been to a nightclub before. And it was quite a first time…
On our first night, when wandering across one of the streets of Berlin, we walked by a nightclub called the Tresor. Looking at the people coming in and out of it, we had figured that it would be hard for us to get in, being a group of four freshly eighteen-year-old girls, far from being punks, without a single tattoo on our bodies. We saw people getting rejected from the entrance. But we decided to try anyway the night after. As we walked toward the Tresor, we noticed the entrance of another nightclub. Judging by the queue, we figured this one might have been more commercial, more adapted to people our age than the one we were about to get into. We decided that, if we got bored at the Tresor, we would move on to this one. Twelve euros, no queue, a weird conversation with the bouncers and a sticker on our phone’s cameras later, we were inside. It was early. The dance floor was practically empty. The Tresor was a sort of warehouse; all the walls were black with posters and stickers everywhere. There were a lot of metallic stairs, leading to rooms we were not supposed to go to. I got lost quickly, not truly understanding the architecture of the place. We took shots at the bar; for the second time since our arrival in Berlin, we got humiliated by a bartender who yelled at us to recount our money three times. The music was some basic and hypnotizing techno-trans. The only source of light was coming from the DJ set. We could barely see our feet. We were tremendously hot. People were hard to identify around us. Reflecting on it now, I realize that everything gave us the impression of being high without having taken anything. I had the exact same feeling at the third Berlin nightclub we went to, which was way too big for the small dozen of people that were here. This one was like a whole complex itself: there were not only several dance floors, but also a huge garden with lights, plants and benches everywhere, and a small path leading to the river. The music was quite different from the Tresor’s: it was also trans, but a slower one, a weirder one, with only one man playing electric guitar plugged to a DJ set, singing incomprehensible German words with a crazy shouting voice. The whole dance floor was a smoking area. This, added to the artificial opaque smoke spread everywhere, got me high as hell. When going outside to smoke a cigarette and get some fresh air, my friends and I could barely understand where we were and what we were saying. Anyway, this one was a fail. The Tresor was not, although we decided to leave at some point, annoyed by the repetitive music and eager to shout and move our asses on universal and easier music. Therefore, we ended up in the Kit-Kat Club’s queue, where we waited for a solid hour. The population of the queue was inevitably older than us, but not that much; it was mostly composed of twenty-something-year-old students, mostly men. A group of guys approached us to ask if they could go in with us, by fear of being rejected on the grounds of being men. We all got in. And we entered quite a surprising world.
The woman at the cloakroom had a cross the size of a thumb underneath the skin of her plexus. We could clearly see it bumping out of her normal anatomy. She took our clothes, but also our phones. Pictures are not allowed in Berlin nightclubs. Most of them only impose a sticker on our cameras, but some others simply impose to leave our phones in plastic bags at the entrance. Another line of bouncers stood after the cloakroom to check if we didn’t try to get round the policy. A banner with the words « Cosmopolitisch Hedonistischen Partei » was hanging above them. I managed to take a picture of it right before being shouted at to leave my phone at the desk. We got searched, meticulously searched. And then we were able to move, to explore. I was astonished to see what I saw. The place itself was an experiment. There was first a sort of saloon, with two bars and couches everywhere. Behind it, there was a pool, with the sky above it. On our second night here, we watched the sun rising by the opened ceiling. All around the water were disposed hindi carpets on the floors and walls, lights, cushions. A trapeze was hanging above the pool, in the middle. On our second night too, a woman, completely naked, began to swing on it before plunging in the water. After this room, there were the toilets, which were very much apart of the club. A bouncer was sitting on a chair in the middle of the loo, people were as much partying in the queue as in the whole place. We had to go there multiple times to drink water and refresh. At some point, I was waiting for my friends to come out; I was standing in front of a condom dispenser, topped with green lights, when a man approached me. He was kind of chubby, had crazy curly hair and tiny glasses. We started a discussion on travels. He was coming from South America and was here for his studies. I don’t remember precisely what we talked about; what I remember though, is the easiness and humanity of this talk. Even though we spent almost ten minutes together, which is long when your friends are not around, there was absolutely no pressure in the air. Even when he told me that I had pretty hair and a cool makeup. He didn't seem to have a purpose; he just wanted to talk. When I said « bye, I have to go back to my friends », he just replied « nice meeting you » with a smile and let me go.
And then, there was the dance floor. I think I’ll always remember what I first saw: a man and a woman, or, more accurately, a man and a naked butt. They were there, on a bed, in one of the corners of the room but very much exposed, completely naked, in the middle of shameless foreplays. The man was looking around him, as if he was feeding himself with the energy of the room to round off what he was doing.
All the DJs were incredible. It was the same type of music the two nights we were there: the best kind of trans I had ever heard, with a melody and lyrics most of the time, and crazy drops that would have made one of my friends die of happiness. However, the crowd’s energy and diversity were completely different from one night to the other. On our first night, most people were adults, but young adults, aware of being in an experimental nightclub known for its sexual energy, willing to get a chance. We got hit on a lot by a group of American students. That’s what was the best part about the second night: the people. I felt like I had entered a whole new ecosystem. The night had begun on a strange note: we had been heavily mistreated by the bouncers, who yelled at us that we had to take some clothes off if we wanted to get in. We weren’t aware that it was a special night: the theme was BDSM, and all the people inside had crazy outfits, from wearing fishnet tops to wearing nothing at all. One of my friends had to take her T-shirt off and got shouted at, half English, half German: « this isn’t a London nightclub, wake up!! » After this short instant of brutality, we mingled into the place. Another one of my friends had gotten afro braids on her long blond hair; they were violet under the club’s lightning, she looked like a gorgeous female alien. There were a lot of other aliens in the club. Female bartenders with nothing but long hair and panties on, boobs out, an enormous man with heavy green eyeshadow and an Indian robe, men with leather stripes and underpants, girls in transparent underwear… and maybe the famous mascot of the club. A while after our trip, I read an article in Vice talking about the Kit-Kat Club. The reporter had interviewed this mythic figure: a fifty-something-year-old man, present every night, always naked, jerking off constantly looking at the people crossing his gaze. When the reporter had asked him why he did that, he simply answered that he was fascinated and deeply excited by the beauty of the human body, male and female. He might have been the naked man with a very, very small penis, wandering around, that we ran into multiple times on both nights. But he wasn’t jerking off then.
My friends and I were supposed to take the train in the morning following our second night at the Kit-Kat. We had first decided to leave at four a.m to catch the train of seven or so. But the place successfully hypnotized us. One of the weirdest things, which contributed a lot to the underground and out-of-the-world feeling of the place, was that none of us had the tiniest notion of time. With no phone and so much fun, fifteen minutes felt like one second, one hour felt like one minute. We regularly had to go ask the toilet bouncer to give us the time, in order to not miss our train. We ended up staying there for almost six hours. Dancing, looking at people, sitting at the edge of the pool. A funny thing happened there: earlier that day, when we had gone to a peripheral neighborhood of Berlin to get my friend’s braids done, we had waited for the subway next to two girls, who were nicely smiling at us as we were dancing our asses off out of happiness and youth on the platform. We thought they were sisters; they looked cool, they both had the same haircut and hair color, a pretty tone of purple. Crazy thing: that night at the Kit-Kat, on the other side of the pool, right in front of us, here they were, kissing. We waved at them and they waved back, laughing. We ran into a lot of other special characters that night: this man who was getting his back whipped by an employee of the club, engaged to make BDSM appreciators enjoy every sex tool, from candles to chain whips, within twenty minutes; this couple properly making love on a bed next to the dance floor, the man’s head appearing at every coming and going to look at the people around; this frightening and almost possessed man who tried to climb the podium on which my friend and I were dancing, disappearing in the artificial smoke, his tongue out, only wearing chains and a leather panty; and this man, at the end of the night, standing alone on the same podium I was standing a few minutes ago, projecting over the crowd, jerking off. Judging by this description, one could picture this place as sick, as gloomy, as perverse. But actually, it was kind of the contrary, for this very reason: everyone was minding his own business. If people seemed opened to sex stuff, they got what they wanted; but if people weren’t opened to sex stuff, and were here only for the dancing and the experience, they were simply left in peace. Nothing inappropriate happened to us that night, which is funny if we compare it to other random nightclubs, where forty-year-old men don’t hesitate to grab eighteen-year-old girls’ asses without asking for permission. There, we were feeling safe, and free. The only people who came approaching us were nice and admirative; one man once told us that we danced so well that we looked like the Spice Girls. I have a very particular image in mind when I think about that night: the image of the most touching and strange couple I had ever seen, two guys, one very fat and the other very skinny, one in jeans and T-shirt and the other wearing nothing but fishnets, slowly getting closer and closer from one another, and ending up kissing, slowly, passionately, tenderly, for ages.
Overall, we got out of there with something more, something new to our lives. We got our picture taken and our back whipped by mistake. We took the way back to our youth hostel in the early daylight, our heads full of music and memories.
But what if Berlin’s underground world was really endangered now? Thanks to a friend, I was forced to dig into the reality of it all and face the fact that what I saw might not exist anymore someday. In ARTE’s video « Save clubs, save Berlin! », it is made pretty clear that Berlin is currently facing a cultural shift. Everything actually lies on a difficult balance between the city’s economy and its cultural life, a balance weighing more and more on the economy’s side. The city experiences a phenomenon of gentrification; rents have gotten too high, clubs are threatened of eviction, and meanwhile, big blocks of housings and aquariums are popping out of the ground. What is particularly a shame about all of this, is that Berlin is progressively evicting what makes it so attractive, not only in terms of partying but also of humanity: hedonism, freedom, dynamism, all those words making young people dream when thinking about Berlin. Berlin resonates as a place where expressing one’s identity and sexuality is a norm, where flying away from reality is a nightly activity. Most of Berlin’s clubs consider themselves as both cultural AND political spaces. That is the case of the Griessmühle, the third club I went to, which is forced to close its doors, but remains strongly determined to perpetuate this communal spirit gathered around artistic experiences that make the city move so much. The war has started, movements are forming, banners are hanged. I liked the words « SOS, Save Our Spaces », because I like the idea of a space, the idea of a physical location concentrating so much meaning and so much life. That’s what they are trying to save: an important part of their humanity. And I hope they’ll succeed.