Monday, 21 October 2013

A brewery, a gig and Goebbels' secret bunker.

During the evening of my 2nd day at the "Functional Sounds Conference", I walked from the centre of the city, using the paper street map I had fought so hard to obtain on a public holiday. 

Out past Alexander Platz onto Friedrichshain, towards Prenzlauer Berg, I walked for around an hour, absorbing the strangely spacious yet oppressive architectural surroundings, still dominated by the remarkable, absurd 1960s radio tower.

Eventually, at a sudden and unlikely-looking entrance to a newly-built gated community, the street name I sought skulked diffidently in the shadows.

After so long a walk, by six lane motorways, in the rain, this end-of-journey surprise seemed like a kind of practical joke. 

I walked past identical pristine concrete boxes, a mixture somehow of reduced-scale Georgian London and Lego Bauhaus (if it doesn't yet exist, it should). 

At the end of this German Desperate Housewives landscape I did not expect to find an enormous ancient brick warehouse. The numbers were 76 and 78. Seeking 80 as instructed I accidentally strayed into one of the pristine gardens and started to imagine having my legs bitten off. 

I left and stood in confusion as it started once more to rain.

A man on a bike rode past and I called to ask where the studio was. He directed me to a dark corner with a heavy, ajar door, orange light from within.


I entered to a remarkable, huge cubic space with piano, scaffolding towers, an ancient Citroen and people sitting on sofas in the semi-darkness. I asked if this was the studio and they pointed me through a far door. 

I was now behind the fairy-lit bar in a fifteen metre high, square brick, iron pillared hall with Bluthner grand piano, mixers, modules and a Mac on the stage. 

Taking off my wet jacket and fetching a beer and some delicious sushi rolls I looked around to realise I didn't know a single person.

The evening progressed with a series of fascinating conversations with new acquaintances and some extraordinary music. 

Towards the end of the night, when almost everyone had left, I got into conversation with the owner, Jens Reule. He offered to show the only two of us remaining, me and Kevin Logan (Ear of the Duck) the underground bunkers beneath us. 


Down spiral stairs to the basement we followed in the dripping chill of pitch blackness behind Jens' torch beam. The first chamber, semi-cylindrical and around ten metres by forty was lined with rusted rectangular metal frames that had once supported bunk beds. 

A solid-rusted iron chain like an industrial stalactite dripped slowly to the floor by an arched doorway into a chillier, utterly dark second chamber. 

I entered alone, using my phone's feeble blue screen as my only light. Even twenty feet from the others I felt very alone and surrounded by whispering shades, a skin-creeping weirdness to be so close to this strangely silent memorial space.

We were, Jens told us, in the secret air-raid shelter of Goebbels' chosen Nazi-faithful families. The beds were used nightly by over a hundred people, mostly women and children in families working for or useful to the Ministry of Propaganda. 

The former brewery had been requisitioned due to its proximity to the Ministry (now an economics publishing house) and was connected by a number of tunnels to permit safe, rapid access. Goebbels was, according to Jens, not only tiny but a coward. 

Certainly it seemed that the miniature rusty manhole cover under which I stood in the echoing brick well exit was only fit for very young children. How hundreds could have clambered in or out of this hatch in a hurry was impossible to see.

Back to the hall through which we had entered, Jens shone his light into a smaller chamber, through the window space of a locked hefty wooden door. A solid-rusted bike leant against the far wall, next to folded bunk-bed frames. 

In front of these a dozen or so radio transmitters and receivers, the wheel of a tank and, mind-blowing, in a plastic bucket, far to the side, an Enigma machine, in pieces. 

Staring in silence at this mysterious, resonant hoard which Jens has cautiously, lovingly collected through years of local memento hunting, all we could hear was our breath and the quiet, echoing counterpoint of dripping brick.

On leaving, hushed in wonder, Kevin stopped at a thin, rusty iron door, unattached and leaning against a wall by the toilets. What's this, he asked. "Ah, that" said Jens with a proud grin, "is a blast door from the FΓΌhrer Bunker." 

We ascended again to the empty sound stage, drank another beer with our host, admired the fine piano and played a little to each other. 

Thanking Jens for his hospitality (it was now 2 a.m) Kevin and I left and argued amicably about the way back to town, until the distraction of a kebab shop provided much-needed warmth and meat. Or, in his case, chickpeas.

We photographed the changing colours of the radio tower and discussed poeisis and beer as we walked the long route back. 

More on UFO studios here - its rich and surprising history, their unique approach to audio mastering and studio recording, the engineering team.