In Music+Travel Worldwide‘s guide to Berlin, Siobhan O’Leary takes you a tour of all things electronic. With the weekend on our minds, she gave us her picks for the city’s coolest clubs and the best bet for 6 a.m. döner kebabs. After the jump, Siobhan talks techno and gives us the scoop on everything from her favorite festival to her Teutonic travel tips — including why you should never pay too much at a club. Now that’s the kind of advice we can get behind!
Home base: Berlin, since February of this year
Day job: Translator, Literary Agent, Freelance Writer
Last show you saw live? I suppose it was technically the celebration of the 19th anniversary of Germany’s reunification in Tiergarten (take to S-Bahn to Tiergarten station) last weekend. There were DJs playing all weekend in the evenings and plenty of good German beer and wurst to go around. It was quite a festive atmosphere, especially given that the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is coming up next month.
Museyon Guides: How would you describe the Berlin sound? Is there a “Berlin sound”?
Siobhan O’Leary: I would say it’s hard to pinpoint one particular sound that goes with Berlin, which I think is true of most cities. Sure, I’d say a more industrial sound is the “default” here, but there are plenty of artists, techno and otherwise, who experiment with different combinations of sounds and music genres. Henrik Schwarz, for example, infuses his techno with jazz elements.
MG: Where’s the best place to see a live show?
SO: Though I wasn’t explicitly going there for a techno experience, the best show I’ve ever seen was the Radiohead concert last summer at Wuhlheide — a large outdoor venue here in Berlin. Modeselektor opened for them (Thom Yorke is a big fan) and, despite the unseasonably cold and rainy weather (and a very dramatic series of phone calls after I realized I’d left my ticket at home in NYC), the whole night was quite unforgettable.
Choosing one specific place that is the best for live shows is no small task because of the huge range of nightlife options Berlin has to offer. Each neighborhood in Berlin has a very different vibe. There are all the massive warehousy clubs in Kreuzberg, the more intimate bars in Prenzlauer Berg, like August Fengler (Lychener Str. 11, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin), which often feature DJs. Then there’s the really young alternative crowd in Friedrichshain. Every individual finds his or her own nightlife niche in Berlin.
MG: Any insider tips/dos and don’t for people visiting Berlin?
SO: Don’t overdress or overspend to go out in Berlin. For example, I had dinner with a friend the other night and we were thinking about going to a club afterward. I was wearing a really frumpy I Heart NY T-shirt and jeans and not feeling too hot, to be honest. The solution for getting me club-ready, however, was not for me to go home and get dolled up, but rather to throw on one of his old wife beaters. Totally acceptable club attire. Berlin is also a very inexpensive city. Having lived in New York for nearly all of my life, I sometimes have to shake the feeling that bartenders are giving me back too much change. There’s no sense in paying outlandish club cover charges or restaurant prices — chances are, those places are not very Berlin at all.
When you’re done recovering from your night out and ready to see the city by daylight, I’d suggest setting out on foot or on bike. There are the usual bus tours, but Berlin is a very human-sized city. There is hardly a building that is taller than five stories and you’ll notice a lot more if you’re on your own two feet or wheels.
MG: What’s your idea of one perfect night out in Berlin?
SO: When I plan a real night out, I almost always end up in Kreuzberg. If you play your cards right, you can start the night with Turkish dinner and end your night … or morning, really … at a Turkish bakery for breakfast. My favorite Turkish restaurant in Kreuzberg is Hasir (there are two of them on Adalbertstraße at numbers 10 and 12). Then it’s just a short walk to Ankerklause (Kottbusser Damm 104, Kreuzberg), a little bar on the Landwehrkanal with a nautical theme (sounds cornier than it is). It’s quite easy to find places just wandering through the area near the Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn stop — Möbel Olfe (Reichenberger Str. 177, Kreuzberg) and West Berlin (which feels like something special if only because it’s located in a former doctor’s office directly above a grocery store), to name a couple. Of course, the fun starts quite late in Berlin. When your guidebook tells you that the real party starts at Berghain (Am Wriezener Bahnhof, Friedrichshain) at 6 a.m., it is not exaggerating. Another good option if you don’t mind tight quarters is Das Hotel (Mariannenstrasse 26a), right off Paul Linke Ufer. In typical Berlin style, it is a space for drinking, dancing and even watching documentaries (while drinking). Then the brave who make it to Berghain at 6 a.m. will quickly realize why there is a no photography policy there.
MG: How do you find new music?
SO: I often turn to Hype Machine these days. Then I buy what I like and don’t buy what I never would have bought to begin with! I also pay attention to what my favorite artists recommend.
MG: For people just getting into techno, where should they begin?
SO: For the background story, I’d suggest they read Tobias Rapp’s book Lost in Sound, which was just published in Germany and will be published in English next year. It give a great overview of the techno scene in Berlin and the socio-political situation from which it emerged. Besides starting with some of the artists listed here and in the related Music+Travel piece, I often find it useful to check out the programs of music festivals throughout the world to find new artists. Berlin’s huge music convention / festival Popkomm was cancelled this year but is scheduled to happen again in summer 2010. Their previous programs are posted on their website, and we’ll just have to wait and see what lies ahead for next year.
MG: Is there an artist, album or venue that you wish more people knew about?
SO: I really like the minimalist sound of Ellen Allien (and give her credit for making it big in a field dominated by men). Am also a fan of the irregular beats and sometimes even melodic sound of Modeselektor. Plus they put on a pretty awesome live show!
photos courtesy Siobhan O’Leary