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Scene in Berlin

October 22, 2010

Nerdnite is the latest addition to cool Berlin's social calendar. Deutsche Welle's Jane Paulick got her geek chic on and had a look.

Scene in Berlin
Image: DW

Weird sights are nothing unusual within Berlin's nightlife, but the scene I witnessed at the FC Magnet Club in the Mitte district last week was weird in a very novel kind of way.

In a neighborhood that's widely known as party central, well over a hundred people had gathered to listen to self-proclaimed nerds hold forth on subjects close to their heart. The event was Berlin's third ever 'nerdnite,' and the evening's topics included laser technology, geometry in Islamic art and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

According to Urban Dictionary, a 'nerd' is "an individual who does not conform to society's belief that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. [They are] often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject."

Celebrating dorkdom

It's a description that many in Berlin must identify with, because the club was packed to the rafters. Nerdy is obviously the new sexy, even if the subheading on nerdnite's website is "be here and be square."

But as far as I could tell, the audience was made up neither of squares nor social rejects. Give or take a few pairs of heavy-framed spectacles, they were the same people usually sighted propping up bars and burning up dance floors at clubs with strict door policies. So what on earth were they doing listening to Barbara - known to her friends as 'laser Babs' - waxing lyrical on the awesomeness of laws of physics?

"I think people come to nerdnite for fun, beer and some edutainment as well," said co-organizer Jan Renz. "It's a mixture of assembling interesting facts about random topics and realizing that other people have nerdy interests as well, from the professor to the laser engineer, from the beer-loving dude to the housewife next door."

Are lectures the new concerts?

It's not the only event of its kind in the capital these days. A concept first dreamt up in Japan, Pecha Kucha nights have recently become a regular fixture at the Festsaal Kreuzberg club, and involve someone talking along to 20 images, for 20 seconds each, about a subject of their choice.

Then there are the Berlin Bunny Lectures, organized by Supatopcheckerbunny at the nbi club in Prenzlauer Berg, which feature invited experts discussing topics as diverse as nutrition, monarchy, outer space and reality versus illusion. Meanwhile, hip venues including the Edelweiss and the Lido have started hosting Science Slams, which see boffins vye for audience favor with arcane theories and facts.

Laser Babs, however, prefers the more relaxed vibe at nerdnite.

"What I like is that there's no competitive aspect to it," she said. "That's why it's so popular ... nerds can let off steam without any pressure - and get free beer into the bargain, and the audience can chill out over a drink and marvel at how obsessive people can get about obscure stuff. And everyone gets to feel part of something that's kind of zeitgeisty."

Back of the class

Speaking for myself, it takes a bit more than this to get me out on a chilly Thursday evening. The nerds' enthusiasm for their subjects is endearing, and the audience appears genuinely enthralled. In this age of disposable, dumbed-down entertainment, it's reassuring to think that people are still fascinated by difficult topics - especially in Berlin, where there's no shortage of cheap thrills.

But I find my gaze drifting repeatedly towards the episode of "The Forgotten" that's showing on the TV above the bar with the sound turned off. Doesn't Christian Slater look old, I muse. I force myself to concentrate on the PowerPoint lecture, but it's no good. My inner egghead hasn't been awoken. It's definitely still slumbering, and after a few hours of nerdnite, so am I.

Author: Jane Paulick

Editor: Kate Bowen