Berlin’s Special Relationship to Drugs

photo: Ricardo Mancía

People do drugs in Berlin, and not just a few to be honest. Drugs, drugs, drugs… I could easily dive into the discourse now, stressing the risks, debating labels like legal and illegal. And, paint dreadful pictures of needles, white powder, pills… But, let’s just focus on the fact that people DO it, and not just in nightclubs since the early 80’s, people have been using substances to change their state of mind since the beginning of time. Even if it’s just these four glasses of wine on a Friday night or that good old nicotine shock, still, we’re using a drug.

People could just sit together and have a cup of tea, right? But, they don’t. Where human logic comes to a sudden end, there must be some ‘higher’ need. But, why is it that people in Berlin appear to desire this change of mindset so much, more than in other cities? When people come staggering my way out of overcrowded bars at Oranienstraße, when I take in the scent of burning rolled-up leaves, walking past Görlitzerpark, and staring eyes with big, round pupils pass by at Ostbahnhof, I can’t help but ask myself: If you all need to alter your consciousness in Berlin, is there something wrong with Berlin?

photo: chuttersnap

Or, is it the other way around: Berlin gives them the opportunity to do so(?) If we all think about our love (or hate) for this city, what is the one aspect that we could all agree on? – Berlin feels free. This feeling of freedom to be whatever you intend to has made people come here for decades. It is a city with a tendency towards extremes, no denying that. So, what is the most extreme form of exploring yourself and experimenting with your mind…? It seems like drugs come with that freedom package. Still, where there is freedom to aim high, there is freedom to fall, and often, in Berlin, it’s not only falling, it’s crashing down, hard.

Would restrictions help? Yes, we easily come back to painting that picture: Needles, powder, pills. Someone throw in the word ‘overdose’ and every discussion reaches a sudden dead end. It’s easier to see the black and white than the multi layers of grey in all of this when confronted with the everyday reality of escalations in nightclubs, chemsex parties, and rising criminality due to illegal drug sales. But, if we try to see beyond these striking examples, we see that there is an intricate reality to this subject matter.

photo: Raphael Schaller

Drugs may be your red rag, still, Berlin is and will be a place where people get high, high in many forms, and yes, high on drugs. Yet, unlike other cities Berlin offers more safe spaces, spaces with awareness and openness towards drugs. The event series Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs by Drag Queen and queer activist PANSY is a good example of how the Berlin scene is talking and educating about these issues, instead of suppressing an open discussion.

Although, oftentimes reduced purely to nightlife, excess, and intoxication, for many people mind-altering substances create a very different reality. They are looking for an expansion of consciousness for personal, spiritual or creative reasons. This November the Altered Conference will be held in Berlin for the first time, making these different forms of controlled substance use the subject of discussion. People love taking their mind somewhere else, and yes, sometimes they even want to escape reality. Negating this human need has never helped though, it just made people react in more extremes ways.

photo: Jakob Owens

The way many Berliners deal with drugs might seem like odd acceptance, careless even. Yet, the way it’s dealt with is just very, very Berlin to me: Let’s stay down to earth, be realistic about it and don’t freak out! A city that’s known for being free will always attract people wanting to explore their minds, their lives, their possibilities. So, let’s talk about it,have a discussion, instead of pointing fingers, making assumptions and turning away ‘cause that doesn’t sound very Berlin to me.

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<a href="" target="_self">Andy</a>