Gavin Baddeley gets Gothic with the Germans
on a Budget
‘I maintain that terror is not of Germany,
but of the soul’ wrote Goth-godfather Edgar Allan Poe – and who
am I to argue with the author of ‘The Raven’? All the same, the
very fact that Poe felt the need to emphasise that Gothic art was
not an exclusively Germanic phenomenon, suggests just what an impact
this troubled nation has had on dark culture over the years. Of
course the original Goths, the tribe who first gave us the term,
hailed from the Germanic region before they set about tearing the
Roman Empire down. E. T. A. Hoffmann, eighteenth century author
of the disturbed fairytales that so fascinated Freud, was a German.
More recently the electronic sounds that dominate modern Darkwave
owe their origins to classic ‘Krautrock’ bands like Kraftwerk and
So, when I got an opportunity to pay a brief visit, when things
at home were getting a little ‘difficult’ yet again, I seized the
chance to visit Germany’s heart of darkness. Sadly, decadent Berlin
– notorious for its shocking ‘anything goes’ nightlife in the 1920s
– was eliminated by the Nazis. In turn, Nazi Berlin was levelled
by the invading Soviet Red Army (with uncharacteristic efficiency)
in 1945. Now most ‘old’ buildings are clever reconstructions and
there is little trace of the pleasure-sodden glories of yesteryear
– you’re more likely to stumble across techno and trance than kinky
cabaret. Nevertheless, the city has survived the long years of the
Cold War divided by the infamous Wall, and now boasts a varied and
lively nightlife, which plays host to one of the most active Goth
scenes in the world.
As good a place to start as anywhere is the Transilvania bar at
Schönhauser Allee 5. It’s centrally located, boasts suitably spooky
decor and free entry for which you can enjoy a selection of dark
alternative sounds pretty much every night of the week. For all
that, it’s part of a chain, so is not particularly German, and purists
maintain it’s a bit of a tacky tourist trap. For something more
authentically odd I’d heartily recommend Zyankali at Grosseneerenstrasse
64 in the Kreuzberg district http://www.zyankali.de/.
Decorated as a cross between a mad scientists laboratory and somebody’s
living room on a seriously bad trip, disturbed trip hop and other
curious sounds complete the ambience. Add a mind-blowing selection
of cocktails and excellent – and powerful – beers (including hemp
beer) plus a range of cult movies screening on selected evenings,
and you have the recipe for a suitably mad and memorable night out.
the European fashion, Berlin nightlife begins at 10pm, and nothing
much gets swinging until midnight. There’s a Gothic event on pretty
much every evening if you’re willing to look – something I tested
as I began my hunt on an unpromising Monday. I struck lucky with
Orlog at the Duncker Club, at Dunckerstrasse 64 http://www.orloeg.de/,
which plays a broad selection of Gothic, electronic and alternative
sounds. The entrance isn’t very obvious from the outside, and if
you like seeing and being seen – forget it! It was almost pitch
black and the oceans of dry ice combined with the black-clad hordes
(and my own beer goggles) to make it one of the dingiest nightspots
I’d haunted in some time.
In a good way...
shopaholics will also find themselves diverted by Berlin. I didn’t
get round to caning the credit cards much myself, but those who
like whiling away their afternoons admiring boots and fetishwear
shouldn’t have too many problems. Establishments open while I was
Xtra Underground Fashion at Schönhauser Allee 48 (Gothic fetishwear
and accessories), The Black Rose at Danziger Strasse 25 (Goth, Punk,
rock ‘n roll and fetish store) and Plaste + Elaste at Bergmannstrasse
15 (leather, PVC and rubber). I’m told The Duncker club also holds
occasional ‘Dark Markets’.
other daytime diversions, I gave the Gruselkabinett (chamber of
horrors) at Schoneberger Strasse 23a http://www.gruselkabinett-berlin.de/
a try. Situated in the remains of Berlin’s central air-raid shelter
it operates on three levels. The top floor is a typical waxwork
horror show, complete with dubious mannequins and tableaux, supplemented
by guys who leap out at you from the shadows wearing rubber masks.
It’s scarcely sophisticated, but managed to scare the hangover out
of this customer, and is a must if you like goofy haunted houses.
The ground floor offers an entertaining, if hardly over-impressive
exhibition on the horrors of Medieval surgery, while the basement
is dedicated to the more recent horrors experienced by the citizens
in the overcrowded shelter itself while the Allies tried to bomb
Berlin into submission. For further authentic war-time nightmares,
the Topography of Terror exhibition is only a few minutes walk away
at Niederkirchnerstrasse. While nothing is left standing now, the
site was once home to the SS and Gestapo headquarters where ‘the
Final Solution’ to exterminate the Jews was planned. Set beneath
some of the remains of Berlin’s infamous Wall the exhibition is
dedicated to Hitler’s institutions of repression, torture and death,
and makes for a grim but instructive afternoon.
Culture vultures will enjoy a visit to the Gallery of Romantics
in the West Wing of Schloss Charlottensberg. Pride of place goes
to the work of Caspar David Friedrich, the early nineteenth century
artist whose bleak, haunted landscapes will be familiar from their
use on numerous Goth CD sleeves and the covers of ghost stories.
The Schloss (castle) itself is worth a look, and the grounds contain
an impressive royal mausoleum, but it was closed when I visited.
Fans of the funereal can get another fix at the Berliner Dom (dome)
on the northern side of Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse.
A remnant of past German imperial glory it dates largely from the
late nineteenth-early twentieth century – a cathedral dedicated
to the powerful German Hohenzollern dynasty. A large and impressive
building centred around a huge dome, it’s gaudily baroque. The grand
church organ is difficult to resist and, while I couldn’t make out
who was hammering the keyboards above me, I’d be very disappointed
if it hadn’t have been Vincent Price. The real treasure, however,
is in the basement which houses the Hohenzollern crypt. A truly
creepy place, it contains around a hundred of the most ornate caskets
you’ll ever see. Particularly macabre are the (numerous) children’s
sarcophagai, often decorated with little skulls. These guys liked
to get interred in style! At which terminal point, I conclude my
whirlwind tour of Berlin’s darker corners...
For further information I thoroughly recommend L’Etoile Noire, the
Berlin-based monthly guide to the Gothic scene in Germany. They
can be found on-line at http://www.etoile.de/etoile
for all the latest details. I’m no native of Berlin and my German’s
rusty at best, so if any locals care to update, expand or correct
any of this do contact me via the site. Better still, write your
own guide and we’d be delighted to put it up. I’d love to hear a
few native’s favourite picks as I certainly intend returning to
Berlin for a more extended stay.