Well, I’ve done it, after five years in Berlin I finally stepped into Berghain. I haven’t a long, bitter history of being bounced, but I never felt like going before. I believe in timing and everything has its time to be done. Anyways, first impressions are important, aren’t they? So these are mine.
Besides the first moment of cheerfulness and the physical fatigue to suppress laughter when the infamous Sven sized me up from behind his tacky glasses, building an implausible suspense, it felt like I experienced everything else as if I stand askew between two parallel realities. I didn’t belong to any of them. I wasn’t fully immersed nor completely detached. I was inhuman among aliens. Super kind, translucid-skinned aliens who sometimes spoke to me: ‘ Sorry’ when they bumped into me, ‘Sorry’ when they occupied my spot on the dance floor, ‘Do you want some water?’. Aside from apologies and water (?) offerings there were no interactions. It might have been because I don’t drink water from strangers, or because I don’t take part in games in the bathroom-playground, or because my voice is inaudible inside that place. The setting helps hinder communication. Labyrinthine, yet rigorous architectures contribute to create isolation. The smooth walls and broad spaces of this austere, industrial building make Berghain the perfect temple of Western individualism.
Here everyone, by dancing alone, vents all the stress he has accumulated during the week, months, years. To move one’s limbs in rigid jerks or sometimes off-beat steps is a cathartic ritual. To hear only the speakers’ racket purifies from the thousand of thoughts buzzing in one’s ears. Even to show one’s body, naked or constricted in leather laces, it’s a redemptive act. Paradoxically this place is consecrated to sanity, because it impedes that people derail during the foolish pursuit of goals set by someone other than themself. It avoids that people fall into a spiral of impositions: ‘work!’, ‘have success!’,’ settle down!’, for those hours none of these things matter. Dreams, disappointments, projects crumbles under decibel bombing. Frustration, enthusiasm and doubt flow into mechanic movements.
It was empowering, yet I felt bewildered. Probably because I failed at human connection. I longed for a gaze which wasn’t altered, for a smile which wasn’t abaxial, for an emotion which wasn’t synthetic. Barghain felt an extremely lonely place, crowded with individuals, all eager to find the ultimate liberation, disciple of the ego-cult, inveterate in finding their temporary beatification. My salvation were the bartenders, the only saints I worship. Their polite small-talk, their interest in my well-being reminded me that after all this wasn’t the apocalypse of empathy, but merely a collective purgatory where everyone tries to cope with his own sins. And I, as everyone else in there, belong to the swarm of overturned cockroaches who frantically moved their legs trying not to die.
At 8am I gave up. A white-grey sky matching my skin slapped my face as I got out. I was walking, my eyes like slits, annoyed by the light and the sharp rain. “Where are you going?’ I lifted my head and a guy was waiting for me. He talked as if we knew each other. I would have usually answered drily something like ‘home’, but I didn’t. ‘Let’s walk together’ he said. Together. His proposal felt so genuine and banal that I said yes. Inside a packed club I’m alone, outside in Ostbahnhof morning nothingness I found company. We exchanged gazes, we shared smiles, all things which seemed impossible in the club darkness. Whispers and giggles resonated away from the throbbing music.
I was bewildered again. I was experiencing everything and its opposite. On one hand the absolute easiness in relating with a stranger, on the other hand the almost ascetic incommunicability on the dance floor. To let someone in, to let everything out. This endless day sublimated the ferocity with whom we try to feel the world around us, in every possible way. I’ve witnessed to the egoism dictated by the club variables of sound, light and spaces dissolving into the spontaneity of reaching out to someone just outside of it. It is possible that inside we feel like a whole organism, no matter how lost in our personal trips we are. We are in holy communion just because we are all there, all part of the same ritual. We don’t need more than that. But as soon as we step outside of that sacred ground there is the true perdition. We are on our own with our conundrums, we need others in order to feel better, we can’t manage it alone, we need exchanges, approval, contrasts. So maybe that’s why we are so keen on nail ourselves to the Berghain-cross, because after the atonement we want redemption, we want to be able to walk among men again.