Mensch Meier, Berlin: 12 Hours of Dialogue and Dancing

An insider’s look at a club that boasts a devotion to discussion, a dream for equality, and an escape from reality.

“And finally, can you put one of these over your phone camera?”

The doorman holds up a sheet of small stickers to me.

“We like to make a safe space inside the club where everybody can be themselves.”

We’d already heard about this policy at Mensch Meier. In fact, we like it. Who wants the weekend to follow them into Monday morning? No one.

With the sticker in place, we’ve cleared the last step and we duck into one of the most controversial clubs in Berlin.

They’ve given an already interesting space an otherworldly feeling – like we’re in a tangent to reality

We don’t know what to expect. When we got there earlier, the whole place was under construction.

But the Ram Schakl gang who built tonight’s decors pulled it off.

A giant castle gate looms over the room, a psychedelic car stands still in violent motion and a massive mask with eyes that throb to the beat.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s what Ram Shackl does. All summer they’ve toured with festivals and built sets like these.

But still, we’re astonished. They’ve given an already interesting space an otherworldly feeling – like we’re in a tangent to reality. And that’s why most of us go clubbing, isn’t it?

This could turn into a night to remember.

The only problem? It’s only open after midnight. And in Berlin, that means the club is still almost empty (what is it with Berlin club opening times?).

Only a few lost souls hug the edges of the dance floor. Most of them are studying each other, but close by, one is transfixed by the mask.

 

Greeting the sunlight with a lot of happiness after 12 hours of only darkness and strobes

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I see my opening.

“Nice, right?”

“It’s talking to me,” he says.

I’m taken aback. I mean, the mask is pretty well-made, but it doesn’t strike me as the conversational type. Still, why not?

“What’s it saying?”

He turns towards me but his gaze doesn’t change. It’s disconcerting. As if my face is doing all sorts of things faces normally don’t do.

“The Truth” he tells me – I actually hear the capitals.

“And what’s that?”

Another long level look.

“It smells like burned rubber.”

As if on cue, a blast from the smoke machine obscures everything. When it clears, he’s halfway across the room and dancing – hands up, head down. I consider going after him but lose my nerve. I’m not sure I want to follow him down that rabbit hole.

Instead, my girlfriend and I decide to leave him to it. We buy beers and sit down to wait. Fortunately, that gives me time to reflect on the long chat we had before.

 

 

Earlier that Evening

“Coffee?” ask the boys from Tatendrang, or, the ‘urge to act’ collective. I hesitate. Call me an alcoholic, but at seven p.m. on a Saturday, coffee isn’t my first choice of beverage. Still, whatever puts them at ease.

“Sure,” I say.

I assume they don’t offer me something stronger because we’re on different wavelengths, but through our conversation, I realize I’m wrong. For them, running Mensch Meier isn’t about getting wasted. I don’t see any alcohol backstage, and unlike the rest of the city where the smell of weed is ubiquitous, the most fragrant smell is cauliflower.

One thing they’re trying to do is eliminate hierarchy. They have no managers or fancy titles. Instead, there are only two levels.

This wasn’t the first stereotype they’d trampled. It started when I met them at the door. I mean, I’m just being honest, when you say “leftist collective who run an experimental club,” I’m not expecting these guys to show up in jeans and a t-shirt.

So if they’re not tripping out on drugs, and they don’t look like their audience, then what does motivate them?

“We want to entertain people,” they say.

Of course. It’s a club after all. But they soon admit there’s more.

The tell me that they believe society is broken.

“We have to do our part to fix it.”

 

 

Mensch Meier supports artivism, activists, anti-coal parties, hospitals in Syria and immigrant groups. They hold regular workshops to teach life skills and give opportunities to disadvantaged people.

It’s also why they run the club as a social experiment.

One thing they’re trying to do is eliminate hierarchy. They have no managers or fancy titles. Instead, there are only two levels. There are those who work in the club and the 17-member collective that makes the decisions.

“In Tatendrang, everybody is equal. We meet once a week to discuss the club and only move forward when we all agree.”
Facebook was one thing they could not agree on – and so the club has no page. But they are on Twitter.

It’s all about “creating dialogue and compromise.”

Not that it’s perfect. The discussions get heated and decisions are often slow. But then, every model has its problems and this one – they believe – is better than most.

We want to create a safe space for everyone.

“If only neighborhoods were organized this way if people would only take more responsibility for where they live.”

Then there’s the policy on inclusivity.

“We want to create a safe space for everyone.”

That’s why you have to put a sticker on your camera when you come in so that people can let their defenses down. No photography either. Not even when we’re there before the club opens.

It’s also why they have Awareness Teams.

“They roam the club, just like our bouncers. But what they’re looking for is discriminatory behavior. We also ask visitors to tell us when such behavior occurs.”

And when they find it?

“Then the affected person (we don’t like the word ‘victim’), the team and the guilty party discuss what is going to happen.”

And ultimately, it’s up to the affected person, and not the Awareness Team, to decide what the consequences will be. In this way, they hope to create a space which is welcoming to minorities – like migrants, the LGBT community and the disabled.

They make it all sound like a wonderful and self-evident idea.

Back in the club

My girlfriend’s laughter pulls me from my reverie. Despite the busy dancefloor it only takes me a moment to spot the source of her merriment. In the middle of the dance floor a guy is enthusiastically doing something halfway between a dance and a stretch routine – sweat bands and all.

“Don’t laugh at him,” I hiss anxiously as I look around for the Awareness Team to come swooping in.

She gives me a quizzical look.

“What are you talking about? I just like that he’s having fun!”

 

smiley #trashEra

Une publication partagée par Aerea Negrot (@lanegrot) le

 

My anger evaporates. The guy does look like he’s having a good time. And I’m sure the point of Awareness Teams isn’t to limit our enjoyment.

In this time where everybody is yelling at each other, Tatendrang wants to talk with them and create a safe space where we can dance together.

I wonder where it comes from. Maybe because they’re from Berlin they understand a thing about building and tearing down walls. Or is that just horribly clichéd? Maybe it’s down to their namesake. They have the urge to act and try something new.

Whatever the case, I decide that it’s something I can get behind. And so I let go, stop thinking and start dancing. Hands up. Head down. For tonight I’ve talked enough. It’s time to listen – be it to the music or to whatever that giant mask has to say.

Mensch Meier

Mensch Meier // Club und Kulturhaus, Storkower Straße, Berlin, Allemagne

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Cover Picture Courtesy of Mensch Meier

Jelte ten Holt traded the ivory tower of academia for the dust of the road so he could write from the world’s many corners. He owns two bags and that's all he's rich with.
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