My arbitrary approach towards choosing a post-exams holiday destination with friends (closing my eyes whilst hovering my finger over Easyjet’s map of student-budget friendly destinations, and letting it land of its own accord), resulted in a rather un-exotic choice- my finger had straddled both the Netherlands and Germany. In fact, ‘holiday’, which presupposes the take-up of a sluggish mode, on a sun-soaked golden beach, isn’t quite what springs to mind when thinking about my trip to Amsterdam and Berlin- though we did come across some pop-up, city beach hangouts.
Spending the few weeks beforehand swotting away for prelims with stringy, matted hair, to then sweat away in the coffee shops of Amsterdam and techno coves of Berlin, I realise that only now that I am back on my sofa, has my true break begun.
Our trip started with a ten hour overnight coach from London to Amsterdam, which was made even more insufferable by the James Blunt hits on repeat, and a coach driver bent on keeping us all awake with his incessant commentaries and travel updates. Amsterdam was a gridlock of trams and bikes, which helped keep us on our toes, though our sleep-deprived selves weren’t up for anything more cultural than a wander round the notorious Red Light District. As dusk fell, the neon red lights beaming from above the glass windows cast an almost romantic glow on the canal, though this scenic moment was punctured as soon as we passed the swarm of stag doers all queuing for the live sex shows.
Later that evening, we received an invite to a house party on the other side of the city. Although in hindsight, we should have listened to the throbbing of our heavy eyelids sensibly telling us to go to bed and wake up refreshed for a day of cultural sight-seeing, our curiosities had been aroused – and fatigue set aside – by the rumoured indoor Jacuzzi (which turned out, disappointingly, to be an ordinary sized bathtub with jets). Spending all of next day sleeping in from a hangover that was not worth our while, we vowed to ignore further lures of embellished house parties where spliffs masqueraded as Gatsby-like cigars.
Instead, we went to ‘Trouw’, Amsterdam’s go-to club for house and techno fans. We experienced momentary panic when the two guys in front of us in the queue were turned away for being unable to name a single DJ on the setlist, though we later put this rejection down to the crispness of their white shirts and emerging bald patches. Inside, the converted printing factory dripped with cool- from the neon lights illuminating the stripped-back, metal framework to the rugged bartender who tried, not very hard, to conceal his judgement as he handed over our jagerbombs. Sandwiched between the cloakroom and toilets was even a kiosk selling paninis and pastries, where we who hadn’t taken various hunger-stalling narcotics could sate our worked-up appetites.
Berlin was more of a city of extremes, heightened by the rapidity of public transport, which took us within minutes from the gleaming, consumerist mecca of Kurfürstendamm, where an equally polished and well-manicured crowd swarmed the streets, to the grubbier Kreuzberg crawling with unwashed party-goers and squatters. Uniting the contrasts however, is a distinctive and notable culture of graffiti and established street artists, whose work, strewn across the city’s walled canvases, form individual narratives when pieced together, as a tour guide informed us.
Even more memorable than the street art was my experience of the infamous Berghain, whose cavernous interior pulsated from the techno-pumping sound system, quite unlike any I had ever experienced. The former power plant was a foreign entity of its own- there was no VIP area, for starters, nor were there any mirrors in the toilets. Scoops of ice cream were served to glassy-eyed ravers at the bar and photography was strictly prohibited, for reasons I came to understand as I walked past the booths of hedonistic activity on the ground floor, my gaze sliding over all the bare bottoms.
Even so, I still don’t quite know if this “transcendental experience”, as a friend called it, is worth the three hour queue and risk of rejection from the dream-shattering bouncer Sven, whose barbed wire face tattoo even amplifies the club’s guarded nature.
‘Alone in Berlin’ was how I had felt at first, having endured a blossoming romance play out right in front of me between the guy and girl opposite on the train, whose ping-ponging side glances and accidental arm brushes culminated in an exchange of phone numbers. But by our last night, the Germany v. Brazil match had been a bonding experience with the euphoric German fans, and a fitting end to the trip. Like the stamina of Berliners for clubbing into the lunch hours, Germany’s stamina on the pitch could not be rivalled, even by the mighty Brazil.