The Old Curiosity Shop

Gothic Berlin in Three Days

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 Faust.

L'Etoile Noire 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 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.

Caspar David Friedrich's famous painting of a ruined abbeyIn 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, 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...

Berlin's GruselkabinettGothic 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 there include
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’.

A host of Berliner bearsFor other daytime diversions, I gave the Gruselkabinett (chamber of horrors) at Schoneberger Strasse 23a 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.

A macabre casket for a dead infant 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...

Another morbid sarcophagus for a dearly departed cherub 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 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.

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