Breaking the Mold: Berlin

At a decommissioned airstrip in the heart of Berlin, a deep, electronic bass pulsates in the background as the sun begins to set and a light snow gently falls.

“This is so Berlin!” exclaims one of our companions.

Bobbing to the beat in minus fourteen-degree weather with a spiked cup of tea in gloved hands on a Saturday afternoon is the Berliner way of getting people out of the house. Apparently, even the winter chill and the thickening ice are cause for celebration – an impromptu snow rave among friends in the middle of Berlin Templehof Airport. Insane? Maybe. Un-German? Quite the contrary.

Those who jump to the conclusion that Ze Germans are stiff, anal-retentive, sticklers-for-time killjoys most probably never met a single one. If indeed they have, it is most likely that their prejudice was already there to begin with. The Germans, after all, are a highly industrious, innovative, obsessively efficient and creatively motivated people. That they do not know how to have a good time is said more out of spite rather than a matter of fact. And as most stereotypes go, it could not be more wrong. A case in point: Berlin.

Being the seat of power in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany), the reinstatement of Berlin as the political capital is a milestone in German reunification. The newly formed government, foreign embassies, industry representatives and special interest groups were quick to move the entire political machinery to the now-demilitarized center in order to rebuild what is currently the largest economy in Europe, a political and economic force to be reckoned with. Two decades onward, it is no longer reunification that characterizes Berlin, but gentrification.

In theory, the movement brings about economic homogenization to a neighborhood, supposedly resulting in a lively (not to mention wealthy), suburban character, comparable to the genesis of New York’s LSE or Soho in London. For instance, what was once a working-class district in Northeast Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg is now overrun by students, hipsters and young families alike. It is a prevalent issue marred by controversy and sometimes even conflict. Out with the old and in with the rich.

To cater to this young, urban population, an increasing number of cafes, bars and restaurants creatively pop up overnight in the most unusual niches. A 1950s cinema in Kreuzberg, for example, is now the Rock-Indie-Elektro-Pop club Lido while the defunct Imperial Post Office presently houses C/O Berlin’s ongoing photo exhibits and is scheduled for reinvention later this year. Little by little, these atrophied, Communist-era monuments are inevitably transformed into public spaces. The ever-changing backdrop allows its citizens to march to the beat of their own drum. And if you live in Berlin, that drum is most likely to be a deep, electronic bass.

Though 2011’s “most popular DJ” may be French, Berlin is still the electro capital of the world, the anthem of choice that defines the city’s nightlife. Energetic, pulsating and complex, its rhythm mirrors that of everyday-life – the hustle and bustle on the streets, each and every U-Bahn hop, the maddening crowd. You hear it almost everywhere, on the underground, in the clubs, at the party while waiting in line to get in. The soundtrack is addictive to say the least and the scene is nothing less than epic, ending only at the break of dawn; while at hedonistic institutions like Berghain that gathers a never-ending queue, to leave would be unfathomable, simply madness.

If the crowds are not to your liking, there is always the option to grab a cold one at the nearest kiosk for the brisk commute. Despite its effects being a constant headache to the Berlin Police, public consumption of alcohol is not only permitted, it is a way of life. Feverishly devoted to their national beverage, Berliners need not wait to get home in order to kick back and relax. They need only to purchase a beer or two and drink it on the way. Undoubtedly, German beer is still the benchmark in terms of quality, quantity and variety. Only half litre bottles in this town, no quart-pints. That being said, summer is the ideal time to visit Berlin when the beer gardens are at capacity and the drinks are overflowing.

This time around, amidst the blistering cold, the central motif was to catch-up with good friends, and in Berlin there are many. Up a flight of stairs at a nondescript location, we head off to a bar for what looked to be yet another endless round of drinks. From the outside looking in, you would never suspect what lay behind these concrete walls – a dimly lit, smoke-filled room, indie rock blasting thru the speakers, a group of friends in the corner and bright smiles all around.

Gazing out, the U1 zips right past the window, its wheels turbulently gripping the rails as it heads off into the darkness. There is talk of upgrading next door, to a tighter space with better taste in music. The DJs spin electro. The place, tightly packed.

As we made way to brace against the bitter cold, woolen scarves and coats in check, I felt obliged to break the silence.

“This is so Berlin!” I said. ✌

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