Thursday, August 13, 2009


[Disclaimer:  Due to an unforeseeable sports injury involving the blogging muscle, I have not updated in, to quote one reader, "a bazillion forevers."  Posts previously conceived  and/or composed, including this one, are being processed as quickly as possible and will be released all at once.  Please note that the time and date of posting bear little if any relation to those of the events recounted.] 

You could spend your whole life in a place and never be able to explain what makes it it to a stranger, never adequately distill into words the real meaning of a place.  Until this weekend, I still hadn't really understood something incredibly basic about Berlin until recent experience drove home what I'd startingly overlooked:  No.  Beer.  Curfew.  

See, in America, even places like New York, the legacies of the blue laws specifically, and more generically a sort of cultural corollary to Moore's Law, the pervasive American attitude that if something can go wrong not merely that it will go wrong but that there really ought to be a law against that thing going at all, wrong or otherwise, this would be unthinkable.  It's profoundly un-American to organize a society without a failsafe rule against someone drinking nonstop without sleep for 96 straight hours and expiring from exhaustion.  Sure, 99.9% of people will have the good sense not to try it, and the remainder will be prevented by sheer limits of the human body's capacity for exertion, but the thought that an errant peasant might somehow slip through the cracks and be saved only by legislative fiat mandating that drinking establishments close 8 hours every night, somehow, lingers on into the 21st century.

Which brings me to Midsommar.  Er, brought me to Midsommar.  Each of the past two nights, that is, until well after the sun had risen, sometime around 7 or 8 in the morning.  Named for the traditional Scandinavian observance of the summer solstice, the German version was quite a bit less a lingering, surreptitious ritual from pagan religions long banished by the Christian church, and more two-fifty half-liters of Berliner and bootie-shaking beats from dusk 'til dawn.  Which, even though I'm something of a pagan myself, was alright with me.

The entire experience seemed somehow quintessential of everything I've learned about Berlin, so far---the cheap beer and music are the obvious hallmarks, but there was a subtler current of unshakable relaxation in the air that eventually occurred to me deeply representative of the city as I've come to know it.  (It should be conceded this was perhaps due less to insight and deep revelation than to dehydration, as I'd been sweating and drinking nothing but beer for nine hours at this point.)  In New York and other places I've lived, it's quite frequent for these events to be more dance-music concert than dance party, eager attendees crowding the stage to be close to the beloved DJs, meaning anyone who actually wanted to dance was out of space, and out of luck.  (One of the reasons I loved Bootie so much was that this almost never happened there.)  Here that tendency is culturally foreign---Berliners just don't crowd---and if a particular room got too full, there was music coming out of three separate rooms at all times, so the overstimulated could just head across the hall to an airier room.  Lines occasionally build around the bartenders and the bathrooms, but such moments were rare, and even then it just never turned into that crush that comes from a roomful of competitive jockeying for space at the bar that made a trip to a hot spot in New York so frequently a frustrating experience.  Nightlife here is... just fun.  

This persistent casualness has its downside, too.  The festival started in an open-air concert space to the northwest of the Jannowitzbrücke (the bridge is marked here, the concert space mostly visible from the Google view), but eventually moved across the street to a river-level bar when that space was shut down; evidently organizers had neglected to obtain relevant permits or indeed tell the city that it was going to happen.  Easy come easy go, I guess.

One thing remained constant, though:  Albeit single and in my ... sigh ... thirties at this point, I still have no earthly idea how to pick up a woman on a dance floor.  (Although I can come up with a series of increasingly bad ideas:  do you stop dancing and try to talk? wait to follow them into the bathroom? lean over and murmur breathily "I like the way you move"?)  So the morning after each night, I reluctantly conceded I'd reached the threshold of exhaustion, excused myself from the dance floor, climbed the stairs to the street level, and, trudging through the front doors, squinted in the early morning sun while trying to remember which section of fencing it was I'd chained my bike to.  The bike being still a relatively new thing to me, when I was almost the whole way home I collided with a curb outside my building and gave myself a pretty impressive bruise along one shin.  I prefer to omit some of the details when recounting the episode:  "Battle scars from a long night out.  Yeah, I'm a badass."

... reading:  Jeff Eugenides's Middlesex.  Comes highly recommended by a lot of friends, but so far I'm still a little meh on it.
... listening:  Lupe Fiasco's Mohammed Walks.  Took forever to find (or find priced appropriately), but am I glad I did.  
... obsessed with:  it's old, but it's good---Keyboard Cat on Mario Bros.

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