"Meschugge Berlin" is a cult party organized by Israeli Aviv Netter in the German capital. For the past four years, he has been showing Germans how to party to Jewish and Israeli music.
The party is raging in the cellar of a former factory in one of central Berlin's back courtyards. The walls are made of red brick, there's a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and blue-and-white Israeli flags have been suspended from fixtures across the room. This is the gathering of a scene that was doubly stigmatized in Germany only 60 years ago: Jewish gays.
The party guests are still standing around the dance floor looking a little shy. The clock is ticking towards 1 a.m. when Aviv Netter, founder of the "Meschugge Berlin" party, takes his turn as the DJ at the turntables. Aviv, who calls himself "Aviv without the Tel," puts on a black hat with artificial payots dangling from it and turns up the volume. The Israeli folk song "Shalom chaverim" blares from the speakers - the crowds cheers, jumps to the rhythm and sings along.
The Meschugge Party has been going for four years now - the venue has changed many times, but DJ "Aviv without the Tel" is a constant element.
"This is my way of living out my Jewishness," said the 26-year-old, who doesn't consider himself religious. "But I'm still a Jew. That's different from, say, being a Christian. As a Jew you belong to a people."
The final chord of the Hebrew song rings out, and Aviv fades in an Israeli pop song. The crowd greets this one with another cheer.
'Today we're all Jews!'
Meschugge Berlin is not just for gays and not just for Jews. Word of the party's relaxed atmosphere has spread across Berlin's techno-heavy nightlife.
"Of course it isn't just Jews who come," said Aviv, adding that ads for "Unkosher Jewish Night" appear on a big screen next to the dance floor - alongside the motto "Today we're all Jews!"
Aviv said he knows the slogans are provocative - it's part of a conscious strategy to stand out in the saturated offerings of Berlin nightlife. Aviv said he just does what he feels like, and offers something that has been missing from Berlin's nightlife. There are plenty of Balkan beats and Russian discos, "but there's never been a party with Jewish or Israeli music. So I put one on."
In the first year, Meschugge Berlin came round once every three months, then Aviv put it on monthly - now it's every two weeks. "Every year I think, that's it, that's the high-point, it won't get any better," he said. "But it keeps getting better."
New door to Jewish culture
Aviv first came to Berlin from Israel when he was 21. Then, pulled in by the German capital's nightlife, he decided to stay.
"People come from all over the world to party here," he said. His parents have come to accept the fact that he lives in Germany. His mother - who did not like him being so far away - has already come to visit him.
But not his father. Aviv falls silent. He does not want to talk about his family history saying that the Berlin party scene does not belong in the same article as the Holocaust.
It's 3 a.m., but "Meschugge Berlin" is nowhere near finished. Aviv has stepped onto a ladder behind the DJ booth and begun to cheer on the partygoers, but it's hardly necessary. The air is thick. Sweaty clothes stick to the closely packed, dancing bodies. History and guilt have no part of this night - instead the partying crowd is jumping to the Hebrew hit "Nagali hava" - translation: "Let's be happy."
Author: Nadine Wojcik / bk
Editor: Sean Sinico