All vampire night clubs

The first person I met in Berlin was a boar-hunting friend of a friend, who agreed to talk to me only if I didn’t print his name. He was in his early forties, six and a half feet tall, muscular, lean, and fair, with shaggy reddish-brown hair, some stubble, and a great deal of self-confidence. He had on worn jeans, biker boots, a loose faded black T-shirt, and a scarf, and yet I’ll confess I found myself picturing him trim and tidy in Heidelberg duelling garb. Preconceptions can be hard to shake when you’re fresh in town.

It was a Sunday night in the dregs of December, sleety and dark. We were at a bar in Mitte, the formerly bombed-out and abandoned East Berlin district that was reclaimed by squatters, clubbers, and artists after the Wall came down and is now agleam with fancy restaurants, galleries, and shops. Transplants often describe Berlin’s neighborhoods as analogues of New York’s, to assess where they fit along the gentrification continuum. Mitte, they say, is SoHo. Like SoHo, it is often full of tourists. But this bar, an early post-Wall pioneer, had a gruff, local air.

The boar hunter stirred an espresso at arm’s length and regarded me with martial skepticism. He was a veteran of the city’s after-hours party scene, but he seemed weary of it. “Everyone knows about this,” he said. “You should write instead about black rhinos.” He’d recently bought fifteen thousand acres in Namibia, in a rhinoceros preserve, to help support a conservation program. He said, “I once shot an elephant.”

He had moved to Berlin from Düsseldorf in 1993. He was a philosopher by training (his business card had him as a “Dr.”) but an industrialist by trade: he’d inherited a manufacturing firm from his father, and had done well enough with it to pursue a life of pleasure and ease, though without ostentation, in keeping with the ethos of Berlin. He’d recently returned from a four-week surfing trip to the Basque coast, where he and a girlfriend—two, actually: one for the first half of the trip, and one for the second—had lived out of a VW bus. There were other women in his life, among them a physician’s wife, whom he’d met online. (“He gave her fake tits—Thank you, Mister!”) He described his plans for the following weekend: a day hunting wild boar in a forest on the city’s outskirts, then a “sex party” (which should never be said without a German accent) at an acquaintance’s apartment, where he’d arrive with one woman but pair up with others (“It’s a seedy thing”), and, finally, perhaps, just before Sunday dawn, Berghain.

Berghain is a night club that opened in 2004 in an abandoned power plant in what used to be East Berlin. The name is a mashup of the last syllable of its neighborhood, Friedrichshain, and the one across the Spree, Kreuzberg, on what was once the other side of the Wall. It is the most famous techno club in the world—to Berlin what Fenway is to Boston—and yet still kind of underground and, as such, a microcosm of Berlin. The people I’d talked to who had been to Berghain—and there were many—conjured ecstatic evenings, Boschian contortions, and a dusky Arcadia that an American hockey dad like me had never even imagined wanting to experience.