Jun 22, 2016
A Temple by Any Other Name: Cleansed by Berghain
I had a lot of dreams about Berghain before I ever went. I dreamt of watching two guys have sex in a dark room and woke up wet. I dreamt of dancing so hard to “Subzero” that Ben Klock himself complimented my commitment. I dreamt of getting denied at the door countless times. I dreamt of finally getting in and then getting kicked out for eating a chicken tender on the dance floor. Berghain is a holy place for those who appreciate techno—and I wanted to worship.
This awareness and fascination with Berghain came not long after discovering a primal connection with dance music in general. That discovery came courtesy of a holy little home for it here in Brooklyn: Bossa Nova Civic Club. Also, courtesy of Bossa Nova came another pretty primal connection—with a human, with Boy. The first time we met at Bossa, I walked up to him and grabbed his dick next to the water cooler. Yeah, looking back over the years, I’ve come to realize that’s kind of terrible and fucked up, but it worked out. We were together from that moment forward and sprouted roots into each other as we both simultaneously planted ourselves into the small, tight-knit world of dance music in Brooklyn. It was beautiful and I wouldn’t change a thing, but a couple years later the roots between the two of us severed suddenly, clipped with steel shears.
I finally booked a plane ticket to Berlin in March, pre-breakup. The relationship ended in April, just a few weeks before I was supposed to leave, and my feelings about the trip suddenly went from very excited to dire need. I needed to get away from Brooklyn. I needed to put an ocean and a few countries between me and Boy. I needed Berghain. But doubt crept into me. Was dance music his, not mine? Boy is a producer, a DJ. I’m neither. But I love the music, the culture. The way it combines light and dark, simplicity and intricacy, humanity and technology, decadence and minimalism, anonymity and accountability. This world and this music had become my freedom, my outlet for relaxation and expression, responsible for so much of the person I’ve become and really like. But why, then, was I doubting my equal right to it? Probably because it’s a habit of our society to doubt a woman’s sincere interest in something when it is inspired, in-part or in-whole, by a man. Not that anyone questioned me. Not to my face anyhow, but I imagined these wires connecting in friends, in acquaintances, in Boy, and it made me question myself.
As my trip drew closer, these thoughts swirled inside my head. I started to play weird mind games with myself. I was convinced I would lose my passport, miss my flight. I feared the world would say to me, “You don’t deserve this. You don’t belong here,” and take my pilgrimage away. The weeks leading up to my trip I neurotically checked and rechecked and triple checked the security of my passport. I never lost it. I showed up at the airport for my flight earlier than I’ve ever shown up for a flight in my life. “The plane will probably crash,” I thought when we finally took off. It didn’t.
I landed in Berlin at 7am local time on Saturday. I had brunch with a friend. I took a nap. I woke up. We started drinking. My best friend forever, Catherine, was taking a train from Eindhoven to Berlin for us to spend the weekend there together, so that we could Berghain together. Catherine’s presence is a warm blanket—so gentle but so strong—that I hadn’t been wrapped in for almost a year since she moved to Europe. I value Catherine for countless reasons, but her equal emotional and intellectual aptitude, her kindness, her confidence, and her positive and knowledgeable presence as a fellow woman—especially in the context of the male-dominated world of electronic music—are at the top of my list. I missed her dearly, and despite all of this gushing over Berghain, she was the real reason for my trip. Catherine. Catherine and me hugging. Catherine and me at Berghain. “Wow there’s construction around Amsterdam Central,” she texted me. “So I’m only going to have 4 mins to catch my train to Berlin. Pray 4 me.” Yep, this is it. “She’s going to miss her train,” I thought. “The experience will not be complete.” But she didn’t miss it. She arrived and swaddled me in her friendship in exactly the way I needed.
It’s common knowledge that Sunday is the day for Berghain—the holy day, if you will. It being Saturday night, we decided not to blow our load. Tomorrow will be the big day, and tonight we’ll go to ://about blank. It’s no Berghain, but it’s cool, and it was their six-year anniversary that night, and Paula Temple was playing. “And we definitely won’t have a problem getting in,” I’m told. Seeing as Berghain has the most notorious reputation for turning people away—without explanation, often seemingly for no rhyme or reason—of pretty much any club in the world, I totally believed that getting into ://about blank would not be an issue. My paranoia about not getting into Berghain, however, had been in the back of my mind since the first time I read about it on the Internet, and at the forefront of my mind from the moment I finally booked my ticket to Berlin, and pretty much glued to my eyelids since all of my swirling doubts about “belonging” surfaced post-breakup. I’m not a sneaker person. I’m a chunky, black-rubber platform person. People told me I had to wear sneakers to get into Berghain over and over. At first I resisted. These chunky rubber shoes are me, so they are also Berghain, right? Finally, a few days before my trip I caved, I packed the sneakers, accepting I would have to sacrifice my personal aesthetic a bit. Worth it, whatever.
We arrived at ://about blank a little before midnight. We stood in the queue for about a half hour. “Hmm, the line is longer than usual,” I’m told. We’re a group of four (first mistake) and one of the women in our party (bless her) was wearing a leopard-print coat (second mistake). We get to the front and the bouncer quizzes us about what’s going on that night. I felt like we probably passed the quiz, but we didn’t speak German (third mistake), and then she asked to see ID (death sentence). I won’t lie, I look like a teeny bopper idiot in my passport photo. Oh yeah, and I’m American (dead). The bouncer furrows her brow. Fuck. “Not tonight, guys, sorry.” I thought I was going to cry or puke or just maybe fall over dead. Not that I was particularly upset about not getting into ://about blank, but if I couldn’t get in here, how could I possibly have a prayer of getting into Berghain?? I was holding back tears. All of this way, and it wasn’t going to happen. I knew it.
“What the fuck??” the group exclaimed. “No one ever gets denied from ://about blank! What should we do now?” My heart ached. Catherine was detecting everything I was feeling, and without missing a beat said, “Let’s just go to Berghain. If we don’t get in tonight, at least then we’ll have another opportunity to try again tomorrow,” then she snapped her head to look and speak directly to me, “But we will get in.”
I didn’t believe it. I wasn’t wearing my sneakers!! There’s no way I’m getting in. Everything is terrible. I’m an imposter. We made the walk to Berghain, hashing out our strategy. Our friend with the leopard-print coat decided not to even attempt it (bless her), and our German-speaking friend joined us. We decided to go in as groups of two and made a deal that if one pair of us gets in and the other doesn’t, there’s no hard feelings. We practiced saying our age in German. We get closer and closer. Finally, we see it. The monstrous former power plant in all of its concrete glory. We stop talking about our game plan, buy a Club-Mate, and get in the queue around 1am.
Catherine and I are obviously partners. She tries to comfort me with a little quiet chatter, but I am too busy putting literally every ounce of my energy into quietly looking like I don’t give a fuck whether I get in because I’m just some weird German girl that comes here all the time. NBD. Catherine holds my hand to give me strength but also it would only work in our favor if they thought we were gay. Forty-five minutes pass as we creep up the line. I’m so fucking stressed about my shoes. We’re watching people get turned away left and right. My mind is spinning and my heart is racing, but I’m pretty sure I’m doing a decent job of looking cold as fuck. We’re getting pretty close to the door. I remember I read online somewhere to make eye contact with the doorman—but not for too long—so I do, and then after a second look away. Seemed like it went well. Then we’re there. We’re at the door. We’re next. The doorman asks—and I can’t remember if it was in English and we actually understood the question or whether it was in German and we just assumed this was the question—“How many?” Catherine holds up two fingers. He waves us inside.
Oh my god my heart is actually exploding inside my chest. I did it. I thought I was going to cry or puke or just maybe fall over dead, but this time all in the best way. I play it chill, but I can’t even look at Catherine for fear of losing it. We split away from each other for a second to get our bags searched and get little stickers put over the cameras on our phones (no photos, real freedom). We come back together to pay for our tickets and to check our coats and realize our other group of two also got in as well. Hallelujah. I finally exhale, breath, smile, still successfully holding back tears. It occurs to me that I got in wearing my favorite shoes, not sneakers, and it gets harder to hold back the tears. I can hear the music pounding. My heart is pounding. We’re walking toward the stairs. I can’t remember if someone said it in the moment or if it was just an echo of someone who said it to me before, ringing in my head, “No one forgets their first time climbing the stairs into Berghain.” We start our ascent. Catherine points out the larger-than-life marble statue of the naked man next to the stairs. I hadn’t even noticed. I throw my arms around her. “Ah!! We did it!” I say in her ear. “Of course we did,” she says back into my ear, and then, the three words that finally made me lose my chill: “You belong here.”
At least a full minute of ugly crying later I pulled it back together and we climbed the rest of the stairs. I looked out at Berghain, everything I had imagined and more. This is the marriage of heaven and hell. This is Babylon. This is freedom and heterodoxy and hedonism at its absolute finest. This is the holy temple of techno. And then I worshipped until 6pm… and I was absolved—certainly not of my sin—but of my doubt.
On June 11, a few months after this story was written, 49 people in Orlando were robbed of their temple and their lives. We are heartbroken and furious. This story is dedicated to them—we hope all of your spirits are dancing wherever they are
Illustrations by Sarah Lutkenhaus
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