- In what felt like a weird omen at the time, the cab driver who took me to Berghain on New Year's Day had never heard of the club. "Is that it?" he said as we passed a tiny bar around the corner. Then it leapt into view: the river of cabs, the staggering queue, and the club itself, regal and cube-shaped, lit up with flashing lights for the occasion. "Oh. Heh."
16 hours into Silvester, Berghain's biggest party of the year, the door had the atmosphere of a grim border crossing—barricades, floodlights, solemn expressions all around. Just beyond the threshold, the scene couldn't have been more different: in the hot and sticky air of the coat check, people were loud, flamboyant and almost perversely at ease.
Beyond the cloakroom, across the yawning chasm below Berghain's main floor, Tim Sweeney was playing disco in the Lab.oratory, a men's fetish club that's open to everyone on New Year's. Hidden in the overhead cage that houses the DJ booth, the Beats In Space host got the shirtless crowd cheering with Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," a disco classic that, like most music that gets played in the Lab, felt neatly at odds with the room's décor, which is straight out of Quake II.
I spent most of the next 12 hours one level up in the aforementioned chasm, i.e. in Berghain's main room. The three-and-a-quarter sets I saw formed a spectacular narrative arc, each four-hour block nicely complementing the one before it. Marcel Fengler's party-rocking techno helped me find my sea legs. Function was more sleek and aggressive, with perfectly detonated classics like Drexciya's "Hydro Theory" and Carl Craig's remix of "Hot On The Heels Of Love" by Throbbing Gristle. ("God, I needed that!" he said en route the bar when he finished.)
Luke Slater was even more serious—end-of-the-world, avalanche-style shit, delivered with the panache of a true master at work. DJ Pete was a much-needed reprieve. The Hard Wax clerk's set was like an Ingmar Bergman film: elegant, mysterious and deeply engrossing (Party Pete reared his head as well, most notably with the Murk dub of Liberty City's "If You Really Love Somebody").
Sometime around 8 AM I made the sudden decision to leave. I'd been there for 14 hours, far longer than I'd intended to stay, and I needed to save some energy for the final push—Nick Höppner, Marcel Dettmann and Answer Code Request—which was still 13 hours away. Trying not to over-think it, I got my coat and left.
Fresh-faced, fed and somewhat rested, I returned around 11 PM on January 2nd (this was common practice all week, you just had to make sure your stamp didn't wash off in the shower). Nick Höppner was in Panorama Bar doing his usual New Year's routine—Talk Talk's "It's My Life," Underworld's "Two Months Off," Danny Tenaglia's remix of "From Here To Eternity"—eventually finishing with a string of more left-field, UK-ish records, beginning with "Punters Step Out," Joe's amazing new one on Hemlock.
Downstairs, Marcel Dettmann was good, if not quite as special as what I'd heard there some 20 hours earlier (though Depeche Mode's "Photographic" was great fun). Answer Code Request, an artist for whom I have nothing but love, was a bit of a let-down: from what I saw, he played good tracks but never found a groove. (To be fair, I saw less than half of it. He played from 4 AM on January 3rd until sometime around 2 PM, when the party finally ended).
At some point in the midst of all this, I sat on a swing gazing out at this bacchanal and thought to myself: this is pretty much it. The rave experience rarely manifests itself more flawlessly than this, especially today. For those 60 hours, Berghain was a universe unto itself, one in which every moment (even the toilet queues) felt rich with cinematic detail. Sweaty couples spoon-danced to apocalyptic techno, strangers shared spliffs in the ice cream bar, DJs hung out and danced for hours after their sets. Everyone seemed deliriously happy. Even the door men were in good spirits when I left, chuckling and sharing a bratwurst.
I did come out of the party with one enormous regret. When I'd abruptly left on Thursday morning, Tama Sumo, one of my favorite residents, was playing in Panorama Bar, though I didn't realize it until much later. Even a week later it killed me to think of this. I was at Berghain for about 30 hours on New Year's, and I'm furious with myself for not staying longer.