Moving To Berlin? Pet Duo, Axel Bartsch, Ralf Gutterslut, Steffa Superheilig, Patrick DSP & Snuff Crew Discuss (feature)
“A lot of times people move to Berlin for just three years or something and then they go back to America or Italy or whatever. But they bring the impact, the energy. That’s really good for the scene, because we have all these new people doing something, trying something. That’s why the music scene here is super dynamic.”
Chatting to US lifestyle guide Flavorwire.com in 2010, born and bred Berliner star Ellen Allien was positive about the hordes of incomers relocating to the German capital though added one important proviso:
“Rich people just visiting for the weekend, that’s what’s killing the city,” she warned, “but as long as people keep moving here, Berlin will remain cool.” (http://bit.ly/97ZU85 )
International DJs who’ve since gone include Made to Play’s Jesse Rose (who moved to LA this year) and Visionquest’s Seth Troxler (now based in London) plus Berghain resident Cassy, a Berliner for 8 years up until recently.
“The rent is cheaper than elsewhere, this of course is a very tempting factor for staying in Berlin but the world is big, there are so many places to look at and live in,” she told Sweatlodge Magazine last month.
“I wanted to live in a place where the food is amazing and there’s more life in the street, more energy,” she explained (Sweatlodge Radio; http://bit.ly/uL8SYy )
That Berlin can be bitterly bleak on windswept wintry nights (and uber-cold; down to minus 20ºC) is certainly true though it can be equally sweat-drippingly hot in July and August when temperatures regularly top 30ºC.
In energy terms too, it’s searingly scalding, at least according to Wired magazine who recently branded Berlin ‘one of Europe’s hottest start-up capitals’.
German magazine Der Spiegel agreed too, reprinting Wired’s words plus another interesting assessment from leading US technology blog TechCrunch.
“It’s become the place where misfits in Europe — people who want to be artists and creators, people who don’t fit in rigid social structures of cities like London — flock to do what they want,’ Der Spiegel (Tech-Crunch) reported
“If London feels like a European New York; Berlin feels like a European Portland or an Austin or a Boulder. And perhaps one day a European San Francisco,” they predicted.
If London feels like ‘a European New York’, Berlin feels more like a retro New York, specifically the avant-garde, anything goes, ultra decadent lower East Side playground of the 80s.
Packed with clubbers, punks, gays, DJs, freaks, nerds and assorted global (and German) misfits, Berlin (or rather its three inner city districts of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukoln) shares the same mix of graffiti tagged brownstone tenements, though unlike 80s era New York, it’s safe.
Remarkably so, in fact, despite the fact that every other street light is switched off after dark, as a budget saving device by cash strapped local authorities. And while it’s superficially menacing after dark, it’s also a surprisingly tranquil city, packed with cafes, parks and trees (Berliners will proudly tell you it’s the most tree filled city in Europe.)
It’s also full of cyclists and bicycle lanes; legend has it that hundreds were built after the second world war, both because so much of the old narrow street grid was flattened and because fuel shortages meant cars were beyond most people’s means.
Skrufff chatted to six Berliners who presently call the city their home: Steffa Superheilig (stylist, door selector at Renate, Kater Holzig and formerly Bar 25); German producers Snuff Crew and Axel Bartsch (Sportsclub), Brazilian incomers Pet Duo, Gutterslut (German) co-promoter Ralf Obergfell and Canadian producer Patrick DSP and asked them to share their insider tips for making the most of the city.
Berlin; Learning German- Is It Strictly Necessary?
“It’s a hard language to learn: with English you must have at least a 600 word vocabulary to have a proper conversation, while with German you need 3000 words.” Pet Duo (http://www.petduo.com/ )
Brazilian techno types Pet Duo moved to Berlin over three years ago and taking classes for 11 months managed to master the basics. However, mixing mainly with the English-speaking club community (which includes many Germans), both admit mastering it remains more than a little tricky.
“We think it is necessary at study for at least 2 years to properly speak it,” they suggest.
“Another problem is that a portion of the population in Berlin, routinely speak English, so we find it hard to practice the little that we know. Now that we’ve stopped going to classes for two years, we’ve lost a part of what we knew.”
“And because our job as Pet Duo is very international- and we speak English almost fluently, it’s not absolutely necessary that we learn it,” they say.
Both are enthusiastic about continuing with lessons, however, as is Canadian incomer Patrick DSP.
“If you’re in the big cities, you can get by with speaking English almost anywhere. Outside of the big cities, you’ll be looked at as if you’re an alien if you don’t speak the language,” he says.
“You’ll really need to know German if you plan on doing anything officially here; taxes, visas, renting, doctors. German classes here are offered by the Government (Volkshochschulen/VHS) and are quite affordable compared to German classes in your home country. I’m currently enrolled.”
German producer Axel Bartsch is more relaxed, declaring ‘it’s not important to learn German, you can get along with English pretty well. It’s always nice to know some basic words but Berliners loves different cultures.”
German tech- house duo Snuff Crew agree.
“Berlin is a really international city. If you speak English you will find your way around easily,” they say, “Though if you plan to move here, it makes sense to learn German, of course.”
Ralf Obergfell (a German who divides his time between Berlin and London working as a photographer and co-promoter of Gutterslut) takes a tougher stance.
“There seems to be a fair amount of incomers who just come here because Berlin is ‘so hip and tolerant’, he suggests.
“Sometimes I’m under the impression that a lot of these folks are spoilt rich daddy’s kids who think they can just get away with everything, and aren’t really contributing much to the city, let alone making the effort to learn the language. I find that quite sad and ignorant,” he complains.
“Though, thankfully not everyone is like that’.
Getting into clubs
“No one cares how far you have travelled or who you know, this is Berlin. The person in front and behind you in the queue have travelled just as far and know more people than you do. The door man’s responsibility is the safety of the club, their patrons and the vibe inside.” Patrick DSP (http://www.patrickdsp.com/ )
While Berghain remains famously Berlin’s toughest club to get into, most of the best clubs operate some sort of door control, with weekender club tourists one of the most likely groups to be excluded, or at least made to wait.
Dress codes are also dramatically different as evidenced by a German slang term that, like Schadenfreude, has no direct English translation: Schickimicki’.
According to About.com a schickimicki is a ‘member of the in-crowd/smart set; trend-setter, jet-setter; fashionista’, usually plus points for the VIP/ bottle service clubs of London and New York, though in Berlin the exact opposite; schickimickis are ‘superficial’ pretentious and snobbish’ people, to be excluded.
“Berlin isn’t about brands,” says Steffa Superheilig, one of Berlin’s highest profile door pickers (and by day talented fashion stylists).
Steffa does the door for Kater Holzig and Salon Renate amongst other parties, after spending the last but one six summers working at one of the city’s historically toughest clubs to get into; Bar 25.
“I think the most important thing here is to understand yourself and develop your own style. What you like, what fits you and what makes you happy. This is the most important thing for dressing in Berlin.”
“Here in Berlin people don’t have a lot of money but they are very creative so there are a lot of interesting new stuff around,” she recommends.
Steffa’s fashion shoots tend to involve stunningly beautiful, if unconventional, models wearing theatrical Elizabethan style costumes lashed together with leather, feathers and lace, so she’s certainly open to extreme looks. (for more information on Steffa, drop her an email to Steffa Superheilig:
Axel Bartsch (a relatively sober dresser) agrees.
“At clubs like Berghain or Bar 25 and Renate they like it sometimes crazy so it makes sense to think about your outfit and make an effort, gays are very welcome too,” he adds.
“Dressing up in a suit or something is not helping in general, and it’s the same if you are too wasted, stay easy and casual. And don’t even THINK about not getting in,” he laughs, “they can read your thoughts.” (Axel; http://www.kompakt.fm/artists/axel_bartsch )
Patrick DSP recommends researching where you’re going, though emphasises that the main point is to remain humble at all times.
“Don’t be an asshole. Be respectful for the place you’re going,” he urges.
“If you show up at the door being loud, aggressive, speaking loudly in a foreign language, drunk, high or in a very large group; you probably won’t get in.”
“If you don’t get in, don’t stress it or fight it unless you want them to remember your face and never let you in ever. Just go across the street, there’s bound to be a club in Berlin that will let you in (eventually).”
Patrick’s assessment comes some two years after fellow Canadian expat Berliner Richie Hawtin was (infamously) ejected after a reported fracas involving some of his friends.
“U know what, BERGHEIM (sic) is a great club once you are inside, but why does the door policy have to be so ridiculously hard,” the superstar DJ complained on his Facebook page hours later.
“Come on guys, you have a great club but don’t act so egotistically cool. We would all love to play and work with you, but you need a serious attitude adjustment!!! Good luck and remember those who have been supporting your scene before you even opened,” he complained.
Common Cultural Mistakes
“Going out in Berlin is easy; it’s a relaxed city. There is less judgement here and definitely less air-kissing than in London.” Ralf Obergfell (Gutterslut)
Pet Duo share Ralf’s overall assessment though admit moving from Brasil took then a while to culturally adjust.
“We learned that there are three rules that Germans ask from anyone: To be on time, to wear clean clothes, and the third we forgot, because we are Brazilians,” they laugh. “No, we think the third rule you must know if you move here is to pay your taxes. Correct us if we are wrong.”
“Brazilians are generally much more open for meeting new people, really easy-going and laid-back, whereas Germans tend to more closed and introspective,” they continue, “But in other ways, when the Germans open themselves they can be great fun to be with, and they can party as hard as the Brazilians do, no doubt about that.”
Patrick DSP also points out a few ‘general rules of conduct about Germans’.
“Remember that some people don’t like to be touched or like to have a close conversation. And don’t be offended if your conversations/jokes don’t get the body language you were expecting, each culture has its own way of interacting; don’t be offended if it’s not the same as yours,” he says.
“Also you’re in their land, you’re their guest. You need to adapt to their culture and mannerisms, not the other way around. I find Germans to be a friendly bunch; though Berliners are not quite as friendly though. So don’t expect people to put down the book they’re reading to greet you when you enter their shop.”
“And just because you are allowed to drink alcohol in the streets, that doesn’t mean that you should sing and yell all night long and get totally wasted in public,” Axel Bartsch adds.
“In no other city will you find as many DJs living here as in Berlin. And the clubs also book a lot of guest DJS from all over the world. So it’s not very easy to get a gig here.” Snuff Crew (http://www.snuffcrew.com/ )
“In a city where one third of the people are DJs or musicians it ain’t easy to get gigs,” Axel Bartsch concurs.
“Usually you should produce some music that gets recognized around the world so your name gets known: if you don’t have that chance, then your mixes and performance must be something special,” he advises.
“Have friends and contacts before you come; have something to show for yourself,” Patrick DSP agrees.
“If you’re new to the DJ world and expect to make it big here, then get in line. There are about 3000 FOREIGN people registered musicians/artists in Berlin, and that’s not counting all the other foreign people who are not registered with music being their main profession.”
Patrick also suggests DJs should find a local agency to represent them beforehand, an approach Pet Duo also endorse.
“Send mixes to promoters via websites dedicated for their nights,” they also suggest, “and get in touch with a DJ who has a residency at the club you would like to play and make sure he has the liberty to ask the promoters/club owners to book you.”
Patrick DSP has the last word.
“Coming here with high expectations and not understanding the huge history and cultural differences here will make for crushed dreams,” he cautions.
“Substance always outlasts any media hype and Berliners know this because they see all the techno tourist DJs coming at the beginning of the warm weather each year who leave around September.”
“I’ve met many DJs in my short time here who tell me their great plans when they first move in, only to invite me to their apartment sale when they need to go back home a few months later.”
“It’s not something to be embarrassed about, but it’s something that can be avoided with a little bit of planning and luck.”
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff