Spätis are one of my favourite things in Germany. It pains me that they are sometimes called Kiosk or Trinkhalle elsewhere in the country, because for me, any small store is a de facto Späti.

Germans love their late-night shops, so much so that there are podcasts named after them and people even make art for them. Some of them are equipped with some basic groceries like milk, bread and munchies, but they can also transform into pitstops with tables and chairs and an ashtray.

It can also morph into more.

I hadn’t fully gripped the extent to which Spätis hid secrets until I discovered one in Brückenstraße. Situated in the middle of the city, the late-night shop had a big, sweaty – sometimes only open on the weekends – secret. A friend had suggested a night out dancing in Melancholie. And I was all in.

Less primrose, more get-out-of-bed but late

To go to Melancholie, I learnt, one would have to waltz into the Späti, casually pull the door of the Kühlschrank (refrigerator) housing cold drinks and beer and, voilà, step down into the disco. I entered the loud, dimly lit space invisible to me in a cloud of smoke, and closed the refrigerator behind me, restoring normalcy to the outside world. Was this Berlin’s Narnia?

It was a cold night in the winter of 2018 – wow, that feels a lot older than it actually is. I’d moved to the German capital that same year and was digging my claws into the city, looking up at every building, observing the traffic etiquette – which btw is REAL.

For me, Berlin isn’t a primrose and petunia, rainbows and sunshine kind of city. To me, it’s a wake-you-shake-you-in-the-middle- of-the-night-to-make-memories kind of a city.

Its aesthetics lie in old, abandoned buildings, beer bottles and fanny packs on the streets. And the cosy dark bars splattered across the city, the way it is blatant and obvious about its own history. The city houses many memorials for the loss it incurred and caused during the war, and not just in museums, but on the very ground we walk on. History is almost always only a step away.

Anthea Schaap via imago-images

For a city so marked by the war and its consequences, Berlin has also carved itself as host of a world-famous music scene that hands out unforgettable nights like Lidl coupons.

I walked into the Melancholie disco and realised how monumentally my life had changed since I moved to Berlin. There isn’t really a concept of clubs or bars in Pakistan – we love our open airs, but there isn’t anything quite equivalent to the first two.

So, for me to walk into a normal late-night shop and find a club is a story for the books. And a great Berlin story at that!

We all miss the clubs, bars and just generally being normal, whatever ‘normal’ is now. Since March 2020, all clubs have been closed. It is now May of the next year, and the doors have yet to open. Berlin has over 2,000 bars and more than 300 clubs.

I miss how the sound reverberated from the speakers and how you could feel the beat in your body from head to toe. But what I miss most is the adventurous Berliner spirit. 

There is a freedom the city promises – it lies not only in its music menu, but also in walks along the Spree, lakesides and bonfires, and the freedom to absolutely reject mainstream constructions of fashion and beauty and dress as you desire!

I have lived in Dubai, UAE, where it was imperative to be stylish and dress well to get entry into a dance club. I have seen many rejected because they weren’t glamorous and glittery enough. So you can imagine how much I appreciate Berlin’s night scene. It is fine to be both under or overdressed because there is no scale – you do you.

I thank this city for removing the judgmental part of me, in an almost surgical-like fashion.  Here, I woke up one day and found myself loving everything quirky I see on the streets. When I first moved here, I was a bit fazed by how bold and brazen people are. Winter or summer, Berliners have their own style and it ranges from colourful beards and matching socks to all-black.

Berlin is like one big underground club – where you find some drunk, some not, some passed out. Some causing trouble, some extinguishing it, some selling you troubles, some putting you in a cab to go home. Some in heels, some in hoodies, and maybe you’ll even find me – somewhere behind a cloud of smoke, eyes closed, swinging to the music.

In the city’s Narnia.