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Editor at large: Jonny’s summer culture report

Our Editor-in-Chief gets around. This summer he has enjoyed queer performance art, dirty storytelling and live shibari.

A clear highlight of the month had to be the Internationalist Queer Pride demo at Hermannplatz.

The especially astute among you will be noting that this July Culture Report is dropping well into August. Why so tardy? Well, it’s because we’ve been very busy preparing the new print issue of Exberliner. It will hit the streets at the end of this month, and we’re very proud of how it has turned out. Apart from working on the delightful new wave of print content, this is what else I’ve been getting up to recently. 

My month started out with an invitation from a friend to go see US electropop duo Sylvan Esso at Huxley’s Neue Welt. Admittedly, I didn’t know much beyond their name, but by the time the first song ended, I was a fan. It was the exact kind of danceable yet emotive electronica that I like.

Electropop duo Sylvan Esso had the crowd bouncing agt Huxley’s Neue Welt.

The set seemed to be frontloaded with their in-your-face bangers, but the energy stayed high throughout the set, even during the more ballad-esque songs. It was the duo’s first Berlin gig since pre-pandemic times, and they seemed thrilled to be here. I reckon they’ll be back again soon given how much the crowd loved it.

I saw my first Queerdos show back in 2018 in the cosy setting of Monarch. This was in the very early days of the queer-centric spoken-word poetry and performance collective’s existence. Back then, it was a little rough around the edges, but the potential and spirit was strong. Fast forward to today, and the collective’s most recent show, The Sultry Bitch Theory, was taking place in the illustrious Grüner Salon at the Volksbühne.

The collective has some a long way since my first Queerdos show 5 years ago.

The house was packed with queers and allies and the whole event was a ringing endorsement for how far the collective has come in the past five years. It had high-concept, incredible costumes, thought-provoking monologues and a real sense of dynamism. Queer sexuality and experience is a running thread through the work, going deep and tackling heavy topics and ideas. With this show, Queerdos have raised their own bar considerably, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

Kunstraum Kreuzberg is one of my favourite art galleries in Berlin. Situated in an imposing former hospital, the location is a special corner of the world. The group exhibitions Kunstraum curates are always of extremely high quality, with thought-provoking and challenging themes. And the fact that the exhibitions are free makes it one of the most accessible galleries in the city.

Beyond Home brought together the work of women* artists from occupied territories and conflict zones.

Beyond Home – A Feminist Deconstruction is a wonderful example of the gallery doing what it does best, bringing together women* artists who have come to Berlin from countries of conflict. The work was centred around the theme of home, but took a more critical stance as to what the term means and how it interplays with the experience of migration. 

In the wake of the pandemic, a lot of the more unique, boutique festivals have been swept aside by a tsunami of rising costs and a cash-strapped populace. Electronic music festival Akasha has suffered from similar issues, so instead of a single out-of-town event this year, the festival has been running a series of smaller Edition Akasha events across the city’s venues.

This Edition Akasha took place in gART.n, and it was the first time I’d visited the location. Located in Rummelsburg, it’s in the same neighbourhood as Sisyphos and Funkhaus, so it’s in good company. I arrived there late in the day, and the place was filled with a lovely crowd, radiating an extra friendly vibe. Pumping techhouse was the order of the day for Byron Yeates’ closing set, and it ended the event on a real high. 

In summer, Smut Slam switches from its usual indoor location to a secret outdoor garden. This open-mic dirty storytelling event is a reliably good time. Willing storytellers from the crowd put their names into a hat, and when your name is drawn, you get to tell your story in front of the audience, get scored by a judging panel, and might even win a prize if you make the top three. It’s usually hosted by its creator, Cameryn Moore, but as she was off touring Canada with her show, Club Motte compère Maree Hamilton stepped up and took care of proceedings.

At Smut Slam, audience members share their sexy stories if they’re drawn from the ‘Fuckbucket’.

With open-mic events, you never know what you’re going to get. Fortunately, with stories that are inspired by people’s real sex lives, this one is almost always interesting. On this night, the tellers were all really engaging and on point without a dud among them. If you fill out one of the ‘Question or Confession’ forms for the ‘Fuckbucket’, you get entered into a raffle. Throughout the night, these forms get randomly pulled from the bucket and read to the audience. At the end of the night, a single form is pulled out, and if it matches your number, you win a very high-quality sex toy. I’ve been going to Smut Slam since 2018 and I’ve never won. On this occasion, I brought a friend for her first time. And guess who won the toy? Some people have all the luck.

This year, I decided to skip the main Christopher Street Day parade and headed to the Internationalist Queer Pride demo at Hermannplatz instead. I was at the demo in 2022 and I really loved the more revolutionary stance and feeling in contrast to the more commercialised main Pride parade. The IQP demo was set to start at 5pm, but it took almost 2.5 hours before it moved off of Hermannplatz. I’m not obsessed with punctuality or anything, but I’ll be honest and say it was a bit too much of a wait for me.

The Internationalist Queer Pride demo at Hermannplatz is a fantastic alternative to the somewhat commercialised main CSD parade.

The highlight was an amazingly dressed person who kept climbing on top of the electricity boxes to dance. They would get a big cheer and the demo would move along. Then we’d get to the next electricity box, and somehow by magic they were already there, dancing. This kept happening over and over again – 10/10 for dedication.

I’ve been to a few events in the past where a live shibari bondage tie was taking place, and it has never really enticed me. I’m not sure if it was down to the setting or the practitioners, but I never saw the appeal. Now, after witnessing Marie Sauvage perform in Berlin, I finally get it. The atrium of Kühlhaus couldn’t have made a better setting. The bare concrete walls and sparse lighting gave off a cool industrial feel, and the open atrium was ideal for the suspension part of the performance. Sauvage’s presence carries such weight and gravitas as she led her collaborator into the centre of the atrium, glitchy, dark and pulsing electronica provided the soundtrack.

Until watching Sauvage’s performance, the whole shibari bondage thing never really grabbed me.

She stood the person she was tying in the centre of the circle before walking around her, seemingly sizing her up ahead of being tied. Sauvage then proceeded to use her rope and finesse to tie her up into a contorted yet beautiful shape. There was a real intimacy and tenderness between the two, and watching the subtle ways they communicated with each other was captivating. For the climax of the performance, Sauvage’s collaborator was hoisted into the air as she laid back to examine and appreciate her work. As well she should – her skill and prowess are deservedly world-renowned. I left the venue with a newfound respect and admiration for shibari and a new interest in engaging with it further. 

Credit for getting me excited about and personally invested in the Barbie movie definitely has to go to Ruthie, our Assistant Editor. She was on the Barbie hype early, and even organised a day for the team to come to the office wearing pink, then made a TikTok rating our outfits.

I went to see the movie at Babylon Kreuzberg, and yes, I also wore as much as pink as possible to the screening. I don’t usually get swept up in the hype, but I’m glad I did because it’s a wildly entertaining romp. It didn’t change the way I think or make me see the world in a different way, but I laughed, shed tears, and enjoyed every moment. For me, Ryan Gosling stole the show – he clearly went all-in and fully committed to becoming Ken. Strong Kenergy and highly Kentertaining. Four stars.

The last event I made it to was Gaswerk Art Days at Gaswerksiedlung. This three-day happening was a celebration and presentation of some of the artists and musicians who have been working and creating from the building over the past six years.

The best bit of Gaswerk Art Days had to be the three-piece electronic act KUF. Photo: Peer Kugler

The gART.n space is part of this same complex, and there was also a second outdoor dance floor area, an area for film screenings, a jumping indoor club-style room, and access to different art studios inside the building that were doubling as exhibition spaces. There were DJs and live performances to enjoy, but the standout highlight for me was Berlin’s KUF, a three-piece electronic act with live drums, keys and double bass who melded elements of jazz, R’n’B electro and more. If you get the chance to see these guys in the future, jump right on it.