258. A Club on the 20th Floor

(lighting made it near impossible to get good photos)

We had been tasked with visiting two “must see” clubs in Berlin. One was called Watergate, and wasn’t open while we were there, and one was apparently found sandwiched between corporate offices, on the 20th floor of a building. We didn’t have any other information, not even a name, so by the time we made it back to Berlin we had forgotten about it.

Thanks to the great deals that often pop up on booking.com, we were in hotels in Charlottenberg, instead of the usual hostels. Cheap ones, but still, it’s nice to have your own room every once in a while, especially when it is the same price as a grotty backpackers! Sadly that is usually the only perk of a cheap hotel. The Holiday Inn Charlottenberg, however, seemed to really pride itself on its “concierge” service, with signage everywhere going on about it. So naturally we took advantage, and asked them for advice on places to go out. The poor wee guy looked a little stressed, told us he didn’t get out much and went to find the guy in the back room for clubbing advice. Guy number two also didn’t seem to have many ideas, but suggested maybe we head to one nearby called Puro and gave us some incredibly vague direction.

As we wandered through the leafy green streets of Charlottenburg, we really got the feeling we were on a wild goose chase and decided to let go of that plan. Every 100m there was a brightly lit sign for some Irish pub, so we thought we’d just give up and head there. Strangely enough, it seemed to be on a basement floor of a shopping mall – we went past a bunch of closed up shops, down escalators and found a pretty packed Irish bar. How bizarre. After a snakebite or two (I know, we could only have been more stereotypical if we were drinking Guinness), we eventually thought we’d call it a night and head home. As we tried to find our way out of this confusing mall situation, we spotted another set of escalators and a big banner that said “Puro” – we had finally found this mysterious bar, in a shopping mall of all places!

As we went up the escalator to check it out, all there was was a desk where ID’s were being checked. It was kind of like a registration table at a conference. As in, trestle table covered in cloth in the middle of a huge open space type thing. Once we were given the all clear, we were walked over to an elevator, where another person inside escorted us up to the 20th floor. None of these antics were at all expected! Upon exiting the elevator, there we were in a packed club, with floor to ceiling glass windows around the entire building providing amazing views of Berlin.

When we tried to get to one of these windows, which were lined with lounge chairs in a booth-type arrangement, we were instantly met with hostility! Apparently all of the seating areas lining the glass windows can be booked out by groups, which then seemed to have the ability to block access to the view. When we pointed out that don’t worry, we don’t want to steal your seats, hit on your girlfriends or drink all your bottles of champagne, we just want to check out the view, it seemed all was well and we were met with “OK well you guys are cool, but no-one else is allowed up here.” Ummm OK, sure thing buddy…

All in all it was a fun and unique spot, if very crowded and full of people asserting some pretty strange rules to dominate what little space they could find. (I seriously wouldn’t have been surprised if the guy informed us he had peed around his seating area to mark his territory, he was that adamant).

227. Prague Pub Crawl

I once read an article in the NZ Herald, that apparently someone (residents, local government, not too sure) was complaining about New Zealand tourists travelling to Prague and getting too drunk/making a mess of the town. I can’t seem to find the link, but I thought it was hilarious that people would be complaining about the drunken antics of tourists, when all day whilst wandering through the centre of the city I was being harassed and accosted by people trying to get me to go on their pub crawls.

Such was the fierce competition between them all, that it begun to be quite entertaining hearing their sales pitches. They also had some really ludicrous deals. Apart from the usual free entry to a bunch of bars/clubs and free drinks on arrival, most of them had a two and a half hour “power hour” or “happy hour” where you could drink as much as you wanted. So these salespeople would try to get us signed up and committed right there on the spot, and would be listing what deals they have, how you can drink for longer on their pub crawl, how the other ones all watered down their drinks. My favourite of course was “Come on our pub crawl, we have absinthe.” Really? Your sales pitch is listing what the bar has in stock? At that moment I really felt whoever the complainers were ought to take a long hard look at their tourism industry before pointing the finger at the tourists.

We did the math and decided these pub crawls were much more efficient than drinking in the hostel bar, or even buying our own drinks and off we went. It was loads of fun, they did have absinthe, it was watered down, and we met a hilarious bunch of UK students, who as a travelling first, rather than say “Oh you’re from New Zealand, that’s where Lord of The Rings is from” or “Ohhhh like Flight of the Conchords” instead rolled with “That’s where Paul Henry is from!” and the hilarious quotes ensued. We also taught them all our favourite drinking game “fingers” and had a good laugh at how Fraser turned into Zach Galifianakis when he got all sweaty and swooshed his hair to the side.

We went to some really cool bars – from a Cold War themed one (with hilarious fashion magazines from Prague in the 80s decorating the bathrooms), to the creatively named “Music Bar” which had many levels and areas which were also quite well designed – from murals of famous artists to table tops covered in photos. All in all it was a fun night, and I definitely recommend a bar tour run by whoever has the best sales pitch at the time.

192. Clubbing in Berlin

Our first nightclub attempt, Berghain, had failed, but that wasn’t to deter us! This was, however, our first realisation that when someone says “Go out in this area, that’s where all the bars are” it actually isn’t that useful. The other difficulty in Berlin is that given it’s history of being so divided, there really is no main centre or one area to go out in.

We were told by our helpful hostel receptionist (which later would prove to be a rare luxury compared to other hostels and hotels) that Friederichshain was the place to go. So we headed off in that direction. The problem when we arrived was that it was a lot more spread out than we had anticipated. Given the advice to just head there and we will find the bars, we were envisaging it being a Courtney Place type scenario where they were all quite central. But alas, it was a really spread out area, and it was quite difficult to tell if the bars were any good. Especially when they all had cover charges so you don’t want to part with your euros for a crappy bar. We sat down at one that had a cocktail special, but it was pretty average and we were getting tired, so decided to call it a night. As we were headed back to Westbahnhof station, however, we stumbled across what seemed to be an old railyard, with bars in all these old wharehouses, many of which were covered in really cool graffiti, political statements and art. It turned out to be quite the find, with loads of cool bars and beer gardens with novel themes and far more reasonable prices. We stopped in at a few of them, and it was just such a cool, laid back and novel atmosphere compared to most cities which try to have the classiest bar or compared to really intense clubbing districts.

191. Berghain

One of the boys was particularly keen on a club we’d had recommended to us, which goes by the name of Berghain. From what we had been told, it was one of the biggest dance clubs in Berlin, but once it made it into the Lonely Planet (a “must do” in Berlin), the locals, staff and owners were really unimpressed about it becoming a watered down tourist destination. So we had been told it was quite exclusive, but who gets in and who doesn’t is somewhat arbitrary (apart from those looking overly touristy). It wasn’t too far from the area we were going to head out to on a Saturday night, so we thought we would give it a go. It didn’t open until midnight, but there was a garden bar next door where we sat down and had a quite drink. All of a sudden, at about a quarter past 12 (because no-one wanted to be the first one at the party) the garden bar cleared out and there was a giant line to get in. As we got closer to the door, we saw the bouncers look everyone up and down and either point silently inside, or point toward the exit. Definitely no discernible pattern.

About 20-25 people immediately before us were all straight denied, but we got quite excited when we managed to pass the look up and down test. Then the bouncers said something in German, we gave a confused look and were given the point-toward-the-exit. It seems our advice of “you probably won’t get in without a local with you” held true.

We were a bit too busy playing it cool to get any photos, but I definitely regret not taking a picture of what appeared to be the owner of the club – possibly the most hilarious person I have ever seen. He was this overweight, fake tanned, much older man with long grey hair, sunglasses on (at night), loads of piercings, but the best bit was he was squeezed in to these tiny leather pants, and had a very small studded leather vest, not at all covering his large, grey-haired pot belly. And yet he STILL thought he was the coolest thing since sliced bread. I bet in the eighties he was king of the Berlin techno club scene, but it is just plain awkward and unfortunate now!

*Update*  –  a wee google search provided a photo of the guy in question. Turns out he is one of the bouncers, although when I was there he was swanning in and out barely doing any work… I guess that means he is a “supervisor” these days. Apparently he is a wee bit famous for being all tough and scary looking. I personally still maintain he was the one of the more ridiculous people I have seen of late. And I’m travelling Europe so that’s really saying something.