Home

The sun is setting on the city and the streets grow quiet. Everyone is disappearing into their homes, the studio flats, and the tenements. After a long day of work and a bit of socialising at the street cafÈ or the beer garden, it’s time to retreat. Retreat into the inner courtyards for a conversation and a short drag on a cigarette. Retreat into the apartment with the big open windows, only to hide behind bed sheets used as blinds, in that prole manner. Retreat to the outer suburbs. Retreat to Pankow. Retreat to Spandau. Retreat, retreat, retreat.
The all-hours doner kebab shop is taking a break. It’s not closed, but there’s no one around for a kilometre in any direction. The shopkeeper sips an ice-cold orange fanta on the front stoop. It’s eerily quiet. The city with an endless pulse seems to have slowed to the faintest possible beat. Everyone has gone into retreat. The clock strikes nine and the bells in the far distance can be heard with the utmost clarity. There is no traffic sound pollution right now. A night swimmer could take a plunge into Plotzensee and they would hear of it in Potsdam. Only a few of the older set, pensioners playing dominoes are out, and they are fading into the night.
At midnight, though, the mood changes with the date. It resets and everyone’s energy is reset. At the U-bahnhofs outside the centre, there are signs of life, trickling in, bounding down the concrete stairwells and onto the platforms. Amidst the retreaters, amidst the tired, amidst the old, and amidst the infirm, there is life. The youth are gathering, and they are starting in the farthest corners, growing stronger in numbers as they move down the line and descend upon Warschauer Strasse and across the Spree in Kreuzberg. It’s time for them to wake up and play. Below the surface of a clean and modern, proudly Western capital lurks an Eastern monster. In small groups, in good cheer, if slightly restrained, the youth murmur and ride the underground lines into the city centre. Changing lines means waiting, in fevered anticipation at another station. Finally, the U1 comes. The excitement can barely be contained. Everyone is in their own skin, putting on whatever appearance they wish. Next to the stiletto queens are the camouflage cargos. There is tiger print and blue jeans. Manolo Blahnik and Asics. Doo-wop poofs and punker spikes. Everyone is welcome to this party called Berlin.
Hands are filled with pre-club cheer. There is the ubiquitous Berliner Pils and its cousins, Schultheiss and Berliner Kindl. Some hands carry the pre-mixed drinks called Radler or Diesel. A few people carry Beck’s and Erdinger. Stepping out at Warschauer Str U-bahnhof, there is a sea of people heading south to cross the bridge to Kreuzberg and another sea of people carrying the tide forward into Friedrichshain. Along the way, the currywurst and pretzel stands hock cheap eats and cheap beer to the marchers. Beggars and grifters, zealots and buskers, they all want twenty cents. A small boombox plays electronic music and stray partiers join in the dancing. The horde just keep moving forward, forward into the night, or is it morning?
Long gone are the hardships of centralised economics. Instead, it’s a false nostalgia that spurs them on at Revelar Strasse, mere blocks from the largest slabs remaining of the Wall. Down into an open alleyway, the crowd descends and splinters, with factions heading into the various side gardens and warehouses.
Pop a head inside one place and see pleasant Caucasian Rastafarians tending bar at the front. They look as if they have been waiting for this particular evening, with these particular people to arrive. It’s the youth and they are going to create something special tonight. It’s what everyone has been waiting for. Some people even went to sleep after work just to wake at midnight and hop in the shower. This place only really hits its stride after three, a girl exclaims. Out come the drinks and more Berliner Pils on display. Someone orders an Erdinger and gets it served in a long pint glass reminiscent of a vuvuzela. Prost!
One room is just a dark black box filled with black lighting and house music. A couple makes out on the ground. The next room, where the house music originates, is filled with vivacious dancers, unaware of ego or self-concern. They thrust themselves fully into the familiar house favourites of the past decade. Out the back door is a garden where a joint is indiscreetly passed around a circle. A casualty of starting on the pilsner too early is passed out next to a tree, a penis drawn on his arm in red lipstick.
Up the back stairs, a secondary entrance leads into a completely different scene from downstairs. Gone is the dark, in with the light. It’s bright, everyone is clearly visible and different scenes are going on in different corners. On the dance floor hard cores and skaters, hipsters and clubbers, all get their feet moving and sing along with FM radio hits from 1998. There are miniskirts and combat boots. Sometimes on the same person. There are couches and the couple that had been making out downstairs are now grinding and dry-humping each other on the side couch. Across the room is a corner where a table football tournament is in play. Out come more drinks, large glass mugs, Jever, Club-Mate, Strongbow, and still more Berliner Pils. Prost!
The upstairs dance floor rumbles as the bodies bounce up and down. Everyone is jumping. They jump to Kris Kross! They jump to House of Pain! They jump to Van Halen! No one cares a lick about whether those songs or those bands are “cool” or not. There is no irony, only fun. It’s a great song, man. It’s a great song, man. You’ve just got to like it. The room fills with the sticky sweat of fifty dancing fools and the smoke of fifty lit Pall Malls.
Back downstairs, the drum and bass is leading to feet blisters and transcendental experiences. How much higher can this go? How much higher can this go? They ask and plead the dance hall gods and are answered in a thunderous display. Out come the strobe lights. Out come the disco balls, long lying dormant. We going to take this higher! We going to take this higher! The grammatically incorrect chants lift the room’s spirits and the euphoria erupts. The beats get faster and faster, their cadence drawing the room closer to completion. And then it drops. Sweet release, the souls of a hundred revellers on Revelar Str.
It carries on until the day breaks, and it is light outside. The lone vendor outside the U-bahnhof is making a fortune selling hotdogs, though he throws in a small packet of jelly candies. The trains keep running all night on the weekend, but there are long intervals. At Warschauer, the end of the U1 line, tired bodies and souls just lean against the plastic partitions, half asleep, half intoxicated. Some chow down on the overcooked sausage. Others laugh and explore each other’s bodies. It’s five o’clock, anyone who cares is fast asleep. Finally, the train starts and the retreat begins.

Advertisements

One thought on “The Great Retreat

Comments are closed.