Holy hanna friends!
Sketchy East Berlin warehouse soul dance party is probably one of the zaniest things I've subjected myself too.
As a lover of all things mod and sixties it's no surprise that I LOVE soul music. It's easily one of my favourite genres. I'm not a hardcore record collector by any means, it's an expensive habit after all, but I sure appreciate the ones who do spend the time and money digging and who are gracious enough to share those sounds with friends and strangers alike!
My little (though geographically gigantic) city actually hosts some pretty great nights for folks like me who dig the soul sound but I've never been to a proper "all nighter". Soul all nighters are exactly what they sound like. They start around 11 and go to the wee hours of the morning and yes, you dance to soul music. They were common place in the northern soul scene in 70's England and although the peak of that scene has long since dwindled these types of events still shake down on occasion. One of these occasions happened to be whilst I was wandering through Berlin.
I was told the Kruezburg area is an absolute must; Great art, cool shops, and great folk! After seeing it for myself I can confirm that this is all true. As I was meandering the streets I stumbled upon a store called Basic Sole. My "sixties sense" was tingling so naturally I opened the door. I was delighted to discover that it's a proper mod shop carrying clothing, shoes, accessories, and more. Most of it catered to men, as the mod scene often does, but I did manage to find myself a couple of cute postcards to decorate my sewing space back home. While at the counter I asked the clerks if they knew about a few sixties-centric nights I'd seen advertised. One was live music featuring all girl sixties garage punk rock, and the other was simply advertised as a soul night at the Bassy Club. Both sounded intriguing but I wanted a local's opinion. The shop owner, Ines, said that she wasn't familiar with the girl group and that the Bassy club night would likely be more of the soul funk sound (think 70s era James Brown). Don't get me wrong, I love James Brown, but it depends what year.
They actually suggested a THIRD night that I had not seen advertised anywhere, "Oh My Troubled Soul!" at Bei Ruth. It was to be a more traditional northern and sixties soul night. Naturally my ears perked up! They kindly wrote down the address but warned me that they had never been to this night before themselves so they weren't too sure what to expect and that it's a bit out of the way in a more industrial part of the city. BUT they said the magic word, SOUL, and I had the address, a comprehensive map of Berlin, and the amazing technological advancement that is a GPS equipped smart phone. And having spent over a month in Europe in a state of semi-culture shock (I'm exaggerating a bit here) I thought it would be nice to take in some familiar sounds and shake out some sillies on the dance floor.
The kind folks at my hostel suggested the best possible Deutsche Bahn route and after a drink with friends in the lobby I set out at around 11. The route was indeed a bit of a trek. I had to take the U Bahn....or S Bahn for a few stops then transfer to the "ring" that goes around the city, then carry on a few blocks on foot. The venue was more south, south, south East Berlin. Maybe it's the fact that it's all written in German, but I found the Deutsche Bahn maps to be extremely difficult to decipher on my own. Thank goodness for helpful hosts!
Anyway, good directions, maps, and GPS, are all fine and well if you actually take heed to them....but somehow I managed to get off a stop too early (thanks to some similar station names) and thinking it was the right one I trotted off in the direction the little blue arrow on my phone said to. And I walked, and walked, and walked, through a rather industrial part of the city with not much activity going on, and not many people around, at around midnight, with a sim card-less phone, by myself, in a country where I know no one, and don't speak the language. As i walked alone down the dark side streets I thought to myself, Nicole....this is pretty dumb. This is how horror movies start. I briefly contemplated turning around but turning around didn't really feel like the right decision so I kept walking in the direction of the arrow hoping to not be lead astray. I stumbled across the actual station I was supposed to get off at and was pleased to see I was on the right path.
I continued on and saw a couple of gals who looked like they might be dressed up for a night out and might just be going to the same place. I asked if they were heading to the soul party at Bei Ruth and they said no, they're not familiar with the place. They were nice gals though and didn't seem to be bothered by the surroundings so I felt a little more confident in the otherwise industrious area. They slipped into a gate that lead down the back end of a building but also happened to be in the direction I needed to go. I followed along knowing I would have to turn right at some point but at least walking with people who knew the area seemed better than going down the other road by my lonesome. When I got to around the spot I needed to turn right I found myself in a parking lot, facing a river, with the building I needed just on the other side. Fuck.
It's now after midnight and the path I just walked down seemed rather scary to retreat to by myself. The lone man with a shopping cart that we passed earlier didn't help. One thing was clear though, I wasn't going to swim across to the other side so I had to get back to where I came from and find the closet bridge. Maybe I'm just a big chicken with a sensational imagination but I was not keen on walking down that poorly lit road again. So instead.....I ran!! Back out the gate, turn to the left, cross a bridge. Phew!
After finding myself in the very spot the little blue arrow said to be I was faced with a row of warehouses and rogue Turkish wedding halls and absolutely no signs indicating there was any type of proper bar or club in the area. A few other people gathered round with the same inquisitive look on their face. I asked if they were also there for the soul night and thankfully, they said yes! We walked up and down the street together wondering where this place could possibly be. A phone call was made to someone on the "inside" and we set down a long narrow alley between warehouses. We could hear the music as we walked further down so this was a good sign! As it turns out, Bei Ruth, is a makeshift venue on the top floor of an otherwise unused warehouse. 4 flights of stairs later we arrived!
Was it worth the super sketchy walk and the long trek? Absolutely!! This was easily one of the best soul parties I've been to in a long while!! The two DJ's, Alva Starr (Berlin) and Nan-Hi Kim (Cologne), have amazing record collections!! I was familiar with some tunes but not most which is actually pretty great! It's always cool to hear what other people dig up. I didn't leave the dance floor once! And the room itself is exactly what one would expect of a makeshift warehouse venue. It wasn't much for decoration; a small stage with a few seats and piles of coats, a bar at the back, mostly white walls with plenty of graffiti all over, turntables and DJ booth tucked against the side wall, and a complete disregard for smoking bylaws. I got there a bit early so the room was quite thinned out at first but it didn't take long for people to start pouring in, in droves. Within an hour the room was PACKED with many other soul enthusiasts and boy could they dance! I even ran into the shop owners, Thomas and Ines, who recommended the night! I think they were a bit surprised that I was able to find the place. Frankly, so was I. We shared a few dances, and a few chats, and I learned a little bit more about the soul scene in Berlin. Apparently this was a particularly good night to be out as it was much different from the usual offerings on the scene. One gal commented that it's usually just the same people, in the same place, dancing to the same tunes, (something I can relate to) so this was a unique night even for the locals. The thing that amazes me about soul music is how many people across the world just love it. Here I was in a room full of native German speakers and everyone was going mental for these forgotten slices of American music. I'm pretty sure I heard one song in German but that was it.
Perhaps I'm over embellishing the "sketchiness" of this event, and maybe venues likes this are quite common to a native Berliner, but I've truly never been to anything like it. I've ventured to many offbeat venues all across Canada but have never been to a riverside, smoke hazed, warehouse in the boonies.
I do have to wonder how the garage rock night would have been, also another one of my favourite genres, but this was a pretty great introduction to a slice of the sixties scene in Berlin. My only complaint was the thick haze of smoke. My poor little dress went immediately into the sink for a soapy freshen up and I'm told by one of my roomies at the hostel that the bathroom smelled of smoke shortly after I came "home" for the night. Which for the record was around 4:30AM. I couldn't quite hang on to the very end of the night but I definitely got a few solid hours of dancing in while I was there! And the cab ride home proved that not everyone in Deutschland speaks English. Thank goodness I remembered to write down the address of where I was staying.
I wouldn't necessarily encourage young gals to haul themselves to the sub-cockles of a foreign city alone late at night to go to a dance party but it did turn out to be a pretty great shakedown! If you are going to attempt a long dark trek I would suggest packing a snack, or bringing a friend.....or both. I do however encourage you to go to Berlin! It's easily one of my favourite Euro cities, and if you're a soul enthusiast or a mod definitely look up the aforementioned shop and DJ's.
Oh! And Just for fun, here's one of my favourite German tunes of the sixties!
Thanks for reading!