Our series Ode to the Night captures the rave as a rite of passage. Each personal essay reveals how the party scene is as much about hedonism and celebration as it is about coming of age. In this edition, 20-year-old Laurenz Niemeyer looks back on his teenaged self and recounts the moment when he stopped running away from his looming future.
“Stop that! You don’t want them to notice we’re minors,” my friend hissed with an accusatory look on his face. Right after we passed the bouncers, with fake IDs two older friends had reluctantly given us back in Potsdam, I couldn’t resist jumping up and raising my hand in anticipation of a high five, as if I’d just hit a miraculous shot in a game of pool. We quickly passed the cloakroom—since we didn’t wear any jackets on that warm summer night—and that moment sparked my ongoing love for a night out in Berlin’s techno clubs.
During that summer of 2016, I was a typical 16-year-old who felt a strong desire to go out and explore everything I wasn’t supposed to. My friends and I smoked pot, drank beer in the park, fantasized about going to cool parties, doing drugs, and scoring girls way out of our reach. Our grades plummeted, but we were determined to conquer the world. What world, and where it would lead us, we didn’t know.
To me, being 16-years-old was wanting to do everything adults could do: drink, go to clubs, stay out as long as you want, drive, tell people off, be the man about the house. But then I still had my mom arrange my doctor’s appointments and fix lunch for me. You want all the smoke, but none of the responsibility. In the end, all I yearned for was the carefree life of a 13-year-old, when being good at tennis and understanding the past perfect tense in English was all it took to make everyone from your teacher, to your crush, to your parents happy. I’m sure being a parent to a teenage boy is all but easy, but the more they pressured and threatened me, the fewer fucks I seemed to give. Fortunately, the capital of ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ is just a stone’s throw from Potsdam.
A year later, I found myself dancing to psytrance (as I later realized from the archived videos) in an obscure club that we’d selected not for the quality music played, but for the easy door, since our tastes in electronic music at the time didn’t go further than the latest Drumcode releases. At that east Berlin venue, all we had to do was memorize our fake ID numbers before stepping up to the bouncer. I remember when I posted that blacked-out video—with the occasional flare of light, random dance music in the background, and a time sticker saying 5:38—to my Snapchat story, I felt a sense of superiority towards my classmates, many of whom were probably studying for the math test on Monday. While everybody was preparing for their future, we were running away from it. Thanks to the intoxication, it felt awesome.
The awesomeness always stopped the moment I dragged my tired legs onto the S-Bahn back to Potsdam. I kept my head hanging, not only because I wanted to dodge the suspicious looks from adults, but also (mostly) because all the trouble that had seemed so far away suddenly filled my head with an insurmountable weight. A million questions popped up: How do I sneak past my parents? When do I finally grow a pair and tell her that I like her? Fuck, how am I gonna survive tomorrow’s math test? What in the world am I gonna do with my life?
The problem was that I never tackled these questions. The next morning, I would immediately rush out to smoke weed and numb them. The only question that really confronted me was posed by my frustrated dad, who would rush into my room from time to time, asking what the hell I wanted to do with my life if I kept ignoring school.
For me, Berlin always represented that toxic older friend who didn’t have their life in order, who tried to suck you into their self-destructive behaviors so they would feel less ashamed about themselves…
For me, Berlin always represented that toxic older friend who didn’t have their life in order, who tried to suck you into their self-destructive behaviors so they would feel less ashamed about themselves, whereas Potsdam acted as my holiday retreat. Imagine a city home to a healthy mix of eco-friendly families, left-wing pot smokers, and a bunch of wealthy people whose parks and palaces, which date back to the 18th and 19th century, are part of the UNESCO world heritage. Pretty neat, right? Then, imagine it’s located half an hour from your country’s capital, which boasts the world’s most notorious and renowned clubbing scene. That’s what growing up in Potsdam—which, according to ZDF, happens to be the fourth most lovable city in Germany—is like.
My friends and I represented a minority with our chosen weekend activities and taste in music back in 10th grade (of course!). By the time my high school graduation loomed, we had gathered a large techno community from various schools, backgrounds, and neighborhoods in our hometown. Berliners always scoff at Potsdam, belittling it as a village where it’s impossible to paint the town red—which is about as far from the truth as calling Donald Trump a rational human being. People organized open-air parties hidden deep in the forest, where the trip over always felt like a Tour De Potsdam (with Sternburg beer being our doping). In the summer, we threw after-hours by the lake that could only be shut down by the security or unexpected rain. We lived in the moment—and I’ll never regret that.
When you do MDMA, a night can feel like an hour. All of a sudden, school was over; I was 18 (I know, I should have been at least 18 the whole time). And, actually, what I missed most about school was what used to be the most annoying aspect of it: It’s something you have to do every weekday. It was an excuse to the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” I could always say that I’d make up my mind after school. Oops.
At the time, my two best mates and I were extremely adept at rationalizing our past and future actions in order to give us the impression that it’s all going to pan out as we (and our parents) imagined it. Though, in fact, we lack the guts and discipline to actually change things. Because of that lack of character, I spent my whole post-school summer in an endless cycle of debauchery followed by a joint and make-believe “mature reflection.” What do I remember from that time? Apart from an extended knowledge of electronic music and a handful of dim memories, it was mostly a feeling of deep insecurity and sadness. While the kids that I thought I’d impressed with my late-night Berlin Snapchat story were set on their dream studies, I was still running from my future. Worst of all, I noticed that I was slowly losing the upbeat personality that had once been my trademark. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands, to grow up, as it seemingly didn’t happen automatically.
A couple months later, I went to Namibia to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary to follow my childhood passion for animals. I was nervous, yet hopeful, that it was the right call to trade Berlin for Windhoek; sweaty dance floors for pristine nature; and, most importantly, nonstop Internet for an hour of Wifi every Sunday. Over the weeks, as I talked to wonderful people from all over the world, built fences, set up camera traps, and saw all the animals that I used to study in my National Geographic animal atlas, I noticed a strange feeling inside—it was happiness. It was an emotion that life inside Berlin’s techno scene insidiously takes away if you don’t take care of yourself. Of course, there are the drugs and the excessive partying, but the most dangerous aspect is the people who you encounter. Most of them deal with some kind of numbed issue, which leads them to build a fake show-off persona, based off (sometimes hot, sometimes not) fashion choices, regular appearances on Berlin’s guest lists, uncreative Instagram profiles with thousands of followers, and a ridiculous intake of club drugs, so that no one even gets a chance to reflect on their behaviors. With that on my mind, I decided to stop chasing the life of people who don’t actually have such an awesome life. Techno, clubs, after-hours, and drugs weren’t supposed to go away completely, though—but, rather, to be enjoyed in the right environment. One day, while resting in the sun, I felt the light breeze on my skin and watched the Savannah grass moving in slow waves; I smiled. Overcome with a sense of relief that Berlin and its wannabe club kids were so far away, I got up, put on “Hor” by Rod, and danced.
Everybody knows old habits are harder to kick than a toxic girl or boyfriend.
Obviously, I didn’t become a new person after that month in the south of Africa. Everybody knows old habits are harder to kick than a toxic girl or boyfriend. But I took the newly-found inspiration and filled the rest of 2018 with an internship and started 2019 with a three-month journey through South America with a friend. The gaps between I filled with my usual benders in Berlin’s infamous nightclubs, where I continued to astonish people with my young age.
August 4th was a special night for me. It was a shambolic night. Hours before my departure, I didn’t even know I would go out, but there I found myself queuing while my friends were further ahead. No kidding, I usually always get nervous and excited minutes before the face-off with the doorman, but this time was different. My friends texted me: “Skip the line! Everyone does it.” I didn’t. I didn’t even want to look at my phone, although the door was still at least 30 meters away.
Just where the barriers start, my friends approach me, telling me they didn’t get in and that I probably wouldn’t either. Eventually, I step forward, eye-to-eye with the bouncer. I felt like an ant in front of a gigantic, intimidating building. And suddenly, looking at everybody in their extravagant clothes and determined faces, I wondered what in the world I was doing here. Actually, I wondered what everybody was doing here. The doorman snapped my short moment of confusion: “How old are you?” He asked. “19,” I replied. I sounded like a child, and I felt how I did back in the days with my fake ID. He told me to repeat what I said, but “this time, with more power!” “19!” I said once more.
The two men looked at me from head to toe, before—to my surprise—winking me inside. My excitement quickly turned into anger when I walked through the building, realizing that I would spend my first night in Berghain on my own. For a brief moment, I thought about tapping Phase Fatale, who was chilling next to the toilets by the Berghain floor, for a cigarette. But that flash of confidence faded as he walked off into the darkness. Impressed by the equipment of the bar, I sat down and drank a gin and tonic while looking for a group to crash.
“Hey, I’m Laurenz, and I’ve never been to Berghain before. And I’m alone. Can I stay with you?” I had been wandering around the club for quite a while before I finally said that awkward sentence in an attempt to socialize with a group of people in the garden. The girl, who was wearing a nun’s veil, smiled at me and said: “Sure. I’m Noemi and that’s Ahmad. Stay with us.” Apparently, the cute Berghain rookie thing worked. Later that day, as I danced with my shirt off to Gerd Janson’s set—which seemed to get groovier by the minute—I smiled again, feeling the music with every fiber of my being. I felt sincerely content, although not just because it was my maiden Berghain day, but because I wasn’t running anymore—I was purely enjoying.
Laurenz’s Five Taste-Shaping Tracks
As hard as it is to narrow down years of raving, clubbing, and days spent in the park to five tracks, here’s my attempt.
“Maurader” – DJ HMC
My very first night in Berlin, I returned with a ten second video recording of this track. It took me half a year to ID it, and I obviously burned through half a dozen bluetooth speakers afterwards listening to it.
“Chainreaction” – Emmanuel
If I really had to choose, this would be my choice for the best techno track ever—in my opinion.
“Trapped” – Colonel Abrams
Ol’ Colonel Abrams has been dusting off rusty hips in Potsdam since 2016. Classic.
“1000 Dreams” – Miss Kittin & The Hacker
The world needs an electroclash return! The beat, the vocals, everything about this track is perfect.
“My Heart Goes Boom” – French Affair
This one goes out to all the after hours that never seemed to end.