The new old underground

Despite the incessancy of gentrification, this has not been a bad year for your inner party-noctambule, with a spate of new nightspots that run the gamut from hole-in-the-wall to ever-fresher hipster meat market.

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Sigrid Malmgren

Despite the incessancy of gentrification, this has not been a bad year for your inner party-noctambule, with a spate of new nightspots that run the gamut from hole-in-the-wall to ever-fresher hipster meat market.

Some sad truths: Maria has succumbed to Mediaspree, Weserstraße turned into Berlin’s YUKI playground, and both White Trash and 8mm are not long for Senefelderplatz. Meanwhile, doormen are controlling face at the mimetic entrances of the new Mitte bars. Berlin is now home to thousands of a certain type of loaded expat and South Germans curious to simulate how the other half lives – or wishes it did.

But the new wealth has been, unsurprisingly, counterbalanced, and not just in post-student Neukölln. What both sides of this economic coin apparently share is a general desire to attempt to simulate what the founders had hoped to find in Berlin. Even Soho House, which occupies the former home of the East German communist party archives, is built within a skeleton of the class struggle (which its members would like to think they’ve won).

The irony, though, is this: as the salient feature that tied Berlin nightspots together was their imminent demise, a spot where one might securely roll in the rubble is antithetical to Berlin. This is where doormen-guarded bars such as Trust and King Size fail us: they will last as long as their proprietors desire them to. What could be less in the temporary spirit of Berlin? But some of the newer locales do appear thankfully tenuous.

Don’t bother showing up on Tuesday at the once-biweekly Cussler, which is now only open on Friday. The artist-run cement block well summarizes the general NK spirit for doing a lot with a little and, evidently, not doing it often enough. Its small size promotes overflow on weekends, and with its wall art and laptop DJs, provides a sort of impoverished mirror to King Size which, truth be told, shares many of its young and pleasurably starving artists as patrons when they’re in a less hopeful mode.

Contrast this to Pigalle Bar a short walk away. Closed a few months ago under bombastic circumstances, it’s been remade/remodeled by Marcus Trojan of Weekend/Trust fame and, interesting as an experiment in bringing high fashion to Kreuzkölln might have been, the launch was relatively low-key: drinks are affordable and their Off the Shelf night, which brings in notable DJs such as Scuba and Exercise One, is free of electronic music, indulging instead in post-punk, AM Gold and rockabilly. That said, it doesn’t seem to get a lot of love: neighborhood art-types find it sterile. A good place to take their parents?

Said parents might also be found at Marie-Antoinette, assuming those parents were once neighborhood art-types themselves. This converted brick arch beneath the Jannowitzbrücke U-Bahn, close to several similarly designed art galleries, harkens back to 1990s Berlin, if only because of its lack of ventilation. Atypically, it appears to be only the assholes who smoke during the shows, which reflect an expanded taste of the Madame Claude folk who run the spot (though many local bookers use it). Which is to say, avant-rock and the larger freak-folk acts: The Ex, Sunburned Hand of the Man, et al. The sound is well-maintained, despite the general dire acoustics of stone arches.

Then again, they have festivals at Stonehenge, the behavior of which you might recall at Südblock, although one doesn’t want to take the comparison too far, as the space looks more like an electronics store during the depths of Thatcher’s England and, after all, the druids didn’t participate in the ancient ritual of brunch, which Südblock offers on weekends. Founded by the Möbel-Olfe team, it possesses a similar “Is it really so gay? Yeah, it pretty much is” vibe, though the door is claimed open for everyone. There are almost-nightly DJs and events, which often take on a political tinge, with the music a by-now-not-uncommon disco/new wave/Schlager-kitsch mishmash.

A similar Everything Goes musical vibe can be found from the DJs at Heartbreaker back on the girly-boom street Sanderstraße. Smallish for dancing, with a neon logo on the wall and a constant stream of chain smokers, DJs in the past tended toward a preference for Swinging Sixties and Swigging Fifties, but recent days have shown a refreshingly eclectic output that even manages to bypass both New Order and Human League on occasion: a Berlin miracle. Though No-kölln, with its considerable expat and Turkish scene, has never been a center of techno-fetishism. Top shelf whisky is available, and that’s no small thing in Kreuzkölln.

But for dancing more Kreuz than Kölln, you might consider My Name Is Barbarella, which, despite having German producer/DJ Ian Pooley as a principal investor, has not exactly caught fire yet. But with its 2001 spaceship lighting and consistently strong techno/electro line-ups (including a regular night from Pooley), one suspects it may soon garner a crowd looking for cleaner lines than one finds at, say, Kleine Reise. It feels a bit like the sort of place that came and went in Friedrichshain mid-oughts, but then, that just means that there’s a gap to be filled. Though not in Friedrichshain, which this piece doesn’t have much to say about.

These days, if you want Friedrichshain, go to Kreuzberg, more specifically Mind Pirates, which certainly carries a whiff of the political and social concerns of the old days, and considers itself more of a project space, or rather “A sustainably not-for-profit ‘anti-agency’”. An anti-agency you can drink at! They’ve been around in one form or another for a couple of years and often host quite interesting film series, as well as a range of art, performances and even flea markets: a centralized mind pirating off into multifarious modes of expression. And isn’t that what Berlin nightlife is often about? Even now?