It’s always good to start with a quote, this one is from one of my favourite songs. Don’t worry I haven’t set up a tumblr account and gone vegan, it just started playing on my iPod as I left Berlin on Sunday afternoon and I thought it would be a good way to start this post which will describe the people and events from last weekend.
No persuasion whatsoever has ever been needed to get me travelling to Berlin, a city that I can now boast to have visited just under ten times since I first went with Ludo in 2009. Notably, my mate Simon even managed to persuade me to go on a whim one Sunday evening following a lunch at the Royal Park Pub. As soon as I received the call from Barney, it was on. Swanky restaurants, meeting new people and lots of birthday celebration was in order. Over the weekend our leader set a cracking pace, both in terms of walking speed and event management. After two nights in Berlin I woke up with more stamps on my hands than there are days in the week. It is true; Berlin never disappoints, but for that you pay a physical price. In spite of this, a week on, you start to miss the relaxed lifestyle they have in the Wild Wild East. This story begins Friday 15th March or Independence Day, for the Hungarians amongst you.
ICE ICE Baby.
Thanks to a hiccup from Nath, I took the ICE (Inter-City-Express train) from Munich to Berlin. As cliché as it sounds, trains here in Germany run more smoothly and are just generally more efficient, which I admit is an obvious and boring fact to state, especially given the poor (albeit improving) state of affairs in the UK. As Inglorious Ingo always used to say, the best thing about travelling with the Deutsche Bahn is that they make occasional announcements in English. These consist of polite greetings such as: “Lädies end Gentellmen, velcom on board zee I-C-E to Stralsund, vee vish you a pläsent journey”. Other than that, not much happened on the journey, other than some fairly attractive girls got on at Augsburg. For the time being, we’ll refer to them as Augsbabes. In my experience these girls are all foam and no Weißbier. Having said that, my experience is based almost exclusively on a volleyball player of Lithuanian origin, but still. They overheard me speaking British English on the phone and had a huge debate about which British actors sounded the best. Predictably, Hugh Grant came out on top.
But my sense of flattery was about to come to an abrupt halt when we stopped at Nuremberg. The seat next to me suddenly became occupied by a portly lady and things took a turn for the worse. For a short while everything appeared to be normal. She poured herself into her seat, took out a book and began to read. Perfectly legit, I thought to myself, nothing wrong with that. This was until she started getting slightly too interactive with the book, stroking the pages as she read, caressing them as she breathlessly soared through the novel. When she took a break to catch her breath, I realised from the title and strange picture of the author that it was a curious sort of book (see right).
The journey continued. After a few more hours of gorgeous fields, we started to ascend and suddenly the trees became increasingly coniferous and a few pretty inches of snow covered the rocky outcrops. Having spotted a Netto with both SCHEISSE and FREIHEIT carefully spray-painted onto it, followed by two youths stood next to a tractor watching a bonfire, I presumed we had arrived in the former East Germany and as it turned out I was right. We weren’t far from Leipzig.
Eventually I arrived in the country’s capital and marvelled at the architecture of Hauptbahnhof as I took about seven escalators up to find the S-Bahn. How can one station have so many levels, I wondered. I have clearly turned into a small town mouse during my time in Munich. As I tried to get over my initial astonishment, I began to think of which train station the Germans would have converted into their extravagant Londoner Hauptbahnhof, had they been successful seventy years ago. Waterloo seems like the obvious choice? Or perhaps Victoria? King’s Cross seems unlikely, though , whereas Stratford seems like a clear contenter for Ostbahnhof. Or would they have just started from scratch? These were all questions that sprang to mind as I took my seat on the S-Bahn to Charlottenburg, West Berlin, home to Prosecco Barney. Gloriously, this part of town also happens to be twinned with Lewisham in South London. This dawned upon me after I read that two streets away from the flat ran a long thoroughfare called Lewishamstraße. Initially, I reckoned I was either experiencing some kind of optical illusion or last night’s Jäger was still talking. However, it was the real deal: the areas are twinned! Citing the infallible wikipedia as my source, let’s take a moment to appreciate the London borough’s other other international ties; namely with Antony, France and Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Fascinating stuff, I think you’ll agree.
Having rang Barney upon my arrival I was given a slightly worrying set of orders. I was told to meet him in LIDL, near the Russian Supermarket – the sort of directions that would make even urban heavyweights such as Liam Neeson take a second look at Google Maps. Having eventually found a sufficiently suspicious Russian cafe, I cleverly put two and two together, rounded the corner to find the gangster grocery. Clearly every Mafia boss’ wife had sent out her hubby and son to fetch groceries in a Mercedes M-Class, the perfect midsize SUV for the family mobster. I looked marginally out of place as I waited outside. If this was some sort of Oxford initiation then it wasn’t very funny.
Barney and two friends Josh & Ed kindly came to pick me up as I had resorted to asking passers-by if they knew where LIDL was. One clueless Frenchwoman had no intention of helping me and also made no attempt to hide that she was offended that I’d asked her. We then did a quick shop at said budget supermarket to get a few essentials in. Beer and crisps seemed to be fairly high on the agenda, as well as some outrageously cheap wine which would soon unimpress the girls. After brief introductions and a few drinks it was time to head off to one of Berlin’s most exclusive restaurants, Spindler & Klatt. We ate fantastically, I personally opted for Sushi which was good and the whole group seemed to enjoy the food. The coolest thing (literally) about this eaterie were a) the DJ whose unfortunate choice of T-shirt meant that he looked both serious and naked and b) the loos. They were large walk-in boxes made out of corrugated iron, and in the gents the urinal was full to the brim with kilos upon kilos of ice. I think this says it all, really. As well as being strangely satisfying, pissing on ice makes you feel quite important. That was my first time pissing on ice and I can definitely recommend it. Although, sadly I don’t think Phillip Schofield would feel comfortable presenting such a show. Perhaps on Channel 5, but it certainly wouldn’t be up to ITV’s standard.
We then headed to Warschauer Straße, in East Berlin and where the word “edgy” was thrown around almost without justification. The bar we were heading to happened to be having a Hungarian Folk Dancing evening and we sort of just joined in with it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It appeared to be a sort of Hungarian flash mob, but it transpired that the 15th of March is an annual celebration commemorating the revolution of 1848. After a round of shots which didn’t taste like any of the flavours they had promised to reflect, Ella and I agreed it was time to kick off the dancing. A few minutes later and we were hands on shoulders dancing round in circles with some friendly Hungarians. Eventually everyone came over to our way of thinking, and the whole team were all dancing some form of jig involving turning and simultaneously stamping whilst holding hands and moving round in circles. By the time we’d stamped our last stamp, we were on our way to the club opposite, the infamous Cassiopeia. This is a club which brought back many memories for me. After all, Berlin was the city in which I experienced the concept of clubbing for the first time. It has a simple layout, two dancefloors up- and downstairs, complete with table football and a large outside area which increases the capacity five-fold during the warm summer evenings.
By this stage in the evening I started to feel as if I had a good enough rapport with the group and I was honoured that I had been accepted into their midst, despite being a martyr and insisting on taking photos of “the real team”. It sort of felt like I knew them quite well, as if I had started as a Fresher at Somerville in 2010 and was one of those basket cases you hear about who takes a load of drugs and ends up in a coma, having woken up missing both first, second and most of third year (buddy). It was sort of like I’d known the group for ages even though I couldn’t relate to any of the stories they were telling or any of the characters that featured. It occurred to me that it is perhaps a good exercise to join a tight-knit friendship group, it offers perspective which you wouldn’t normally be able to experience when surrounded by the comfort of your own friends. Sort of like a documentary by Louis Theroux. The team included Katy, Sam, Liv, Ed, Molly, Ella, Josh and of course the man of the moment: Barney. And I think they were some of the most charming people I ever met, there must be an compulsory charm seminar that you take at Oxford. To them I was effectively a complete outsider to the group, because they all studied together at university but in spite of this they made a big effort to include me, explaining different terminology specific to Oxford: including “Crew dates” where they would end up “sconcing” their friends. The most spoken of whom was Stephane, German by blood by British in his heart. Story after story was told about him, without end. More on him later – now back to the content.
After a good stint at Cassiopeia, we then proceeded to an inconspicuous club round the corner in the same complex, but alas our platoon had been decimated and only a mere section remained. All the rest had made the sensible decision and retreated before dawn. Casualties that remained included Barney, Katy, Liv and myself. The day after we were all so shattered we got nothing done, but it was good to just have a lazy day. I think if I hadn’t already done Berlin 100 times I would have been keen to get about but otherwise we were good to vegetate in the flat, only to step out blinking into the daylight to eat currywurst, withdraw more cash and nip into the Jaguar-Land Rover Showroom.
The big event.
Saturday night was the main event, the moment we had all been waiting for. With a bit of help from pop star Finn Martin (a contender to be Germany’s entry for the Eurovision song contest, if I understood him correctly) Barney had managed to organise a series of visits to the city’s most exclusive restaurants and clubs. The highlight of which, unanimously agreed, was the official Birthday Meal; a private dining function at member’s club, Soho House Berlin. Interesting to comment here, is that although the Kaufhaus Jonaß is now occupied by the club, previous tenants included The Hitler Youth and later the Institute for Marxism & Leninism. But I still like to think we made history, to an extent. We were almost certainly better behaved than both parties. Well, definitely no worse than the Hitler Youth, but yet not quite as dull the Marxists must have been.
It was a shame that Nonie couldn’t make it, because she was in Budapest but there was still much to talk about as we got to know her friend Alice. It was really interesting to hear from her about her experience at St. Andrew’s and their crazy Harry Potter-style traditions (for want of a less coarse phrase) in contrast to her life as a language assistant in Europe’s second largest city. The meal was of course extravagant and everyone seemed very impressed with the dining indeed. We enjoyed five-star food, wine and of course vibrant and captivating company. Ed also confirmed it was a successful evening, announcing at one point that he “didn’t feel stressed”, so I guess it was a success all round, despite Josh’s best efforts to send crockery flying in all directions.
Barney then co-ordinated a perfectly smooth transition to our next destination. A convoy of taxis to Cookies, the Schicki-Micki club in the capital) where we would meet Finn the German pop star. People were more excited for the arrival of the infamous Stephane and, after a hectic day of voyaging back from a skiing holiday via Hamburg, the chap eventually managed to meet us outside the club. After a good spell of dancing and drinking, I ended the time in the club randomly winning a porcelain camel as part of a promotion. Camel in hand, we set off to a bar near Moritzplatz, Kreuzberg and despite pumping ourselves full of complex carbohydrates en route, the alcohol meant that some members of the team were starting to show signs of fatigue. But Berlin refused to let us sleep. Once we were done in the “edgy bar”, we set off to our third event of the evening/morning. After a quick tour of a nearby roundabout in arctic conditions, we found ourselves stood outside the club in Ritterstraße at around 5.30am. On the walk there Sam felt it was time to voice his concerns, understandably referring to the sketchy area as being akin to “some sort of dystopian nightmare”.
“Camel, camel on the wall. Who is the edgiest of them all?”
At 8am on a Sunday morning, you really need to summon up all the motivation you possibly can, in order to party on. I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous, taking a camel into a club or the someone actually offered to buy my camel for 11€. I seem to remember having a couple of shots of Jägermeister with Ed and then fist pumping my camel at randomers in the club. Who’s edgy now, Mr. East Berlin?
Berlin taxi drivers understandably didn’t want to lose their licences just because we wanted to get home, so I manned up and took one for the team, taking the U-Bahn and S-Bahn home solo, and getting some disapproving looks from roughly 84% of people I came into contact with. All too soon the weekend was over and despite The Bank of Fabian losing it’s AAA rating I’m of course overjoyed that I was invited to such a prestigious and key event in Barney’s calender. Thanks to everyone who made it a fab weekend, especially to Barney for a fantastic weekend of unbeatable generosity and hospitality, I am confident he enjoyed it, too which is of course the main thing. Now I need to start thinking about my own 21st.