Berlin Tango Histories

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These are fragments of stories about the history of tango in Berlin, drawn from interviews done for the Berlin edition of Modern Tango World. You can see the rest of The Berlin interviews, and my article on Berlin’s Authenticity.

“The initial spark was the Horizonte Festival in the Künstlerhaus in Mariannenstraße in Kreuzberg in 1982. They invited an Argentine group who used to live in Paris, Alejandra Sedano and Coco Orlando Días, together with a live band. That was the first time that I saw tango. Jaun Dietrich Lange was there as well. After that show I was mesmerized – What is it that you’re doing? Two weeks later I was in Paris and I started working with them. I was already a dancer but not tango. Later there was a fight between Lange and us because he said how could it happen with two women.” Brigitta Winkler, PHYNIXtanzt and TangoMujer

The beginning was Juan Dietrich Lange, from Uruguay, 33 years ago (1982)…Two years later, I started...I began the Roter Salon milonga in 1993. In that time we had every week 3 milongas, not more. Now we have on this night, Wednesday, 5 milongas”…Michael Rühl, Roter Salon

“I was wearing Birkenstocks and I would never wear heels. I was attracted to the tango to find out more about what it means to be a woman. I still am a feminist. It was like playing with all the facets of what it could be to be a woman,going into that feminine side with my heels. After a while I practiced in Paris and Coco would teaches classes here, to me and my girlfriend, Angelika Fischer. There was never a question why shouldn’t we dance together. It sounds strange but we were unaware that it would be a problem somewhere else in the world.” Brigitta Winkler

Gustavo Naveira was often in Berlin 88, 89. 90, up to 97, he came every year…” Michael Rühl

“We brought Eduardo Arquimbo here in the 1980s. He would say Berlin is strange…leche sin leche… (soy milk), he would add all these things, and there is tango sin hombre – imagine that there exists a tango without the guys! How can that happen?” Brigitta Winkler

In 1990, a milonga organized by Brigitta and Angelika had between 900 and 1000 people. In Tiergarten at the Congresshalle…Then in 1996 I organized the first tango festival in Berlin. It was the first big tango festival in Berlin, the first big festival in Germany, and one of the first in Europe…Then in Europe began each year more and more tango festivals. I collect the fliers. You look at the photos to see the changes. The trousers and the embraces. Close, open, close embrace again…” Michael Rühl

“In Argentina in the early 1980s we were invited to do shows. They’re from Europe, they have hair under their arms. We danced for demos in the milongas and the TV invited us. It was ok as an art form, this strange thing that comes from Europe, but never in their milongas. They would not allow two women to dance together in milongas in Argentina in the 1980s. I moved to NY in the early 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was there, and I started dancing with women. They would say no it’s not allowed in New York. And Miriam Larici said Tango is a man and a woman. It’s not tango with women.” Brigitta Winkler

“Teachers gave only little bits of their secrets in this time. They told only a little thing. They disliked if a student was was studying in two dancing schools. There was someone who gave away more, that was Mauricio Castro. For this the Argentineans didn’t like him. He was writing about systems how to learn tango, how to give a structure to it. The idea was to teach improvisation. They all hated him for doing this. A friend of mine, Lothar Staudacher was teaching at Neue Nationalgalerie. (He started in 1982, or 1985. I studied with him maybe in 2002.) I was participating and he was doing dancing games. He put balloons on a line. The follower had to close the eyes. You have to make a linear voleo to kick a balloon. The higher the balloon, the higher the linear voleo. Lothar had met an old tanguero who had the diary of Petróleo. From this information Lothar wrote a Bulletin de tango. He was speaking about theory of steps. He made it every quarter up to 60 of these magazines. Lothar was hated for publishing these things, by Juan Dietrich Lange and others. I don’t know why. Luther plays bandoneon but doesn’t dance any more.” DJ Jens Stuller

“That is because of the specific and unique situation Berlin had as this island in nowhere land. All the laws were different than somewhere else. The city was empty. I came here because of that. There were no young people, everything was empty, you could occupy the houses, you could have lots of dance space. I could not have opened a dance studio in any other city than Germany in 1986. Tango was blossoming here, a big point in the pre-punk culture. We were dancing tango up and down the street in our punk outfits in the early 1980s.” Brigitta Winkler

I’m not the first generation of tango dancers in Berlin. I have knowledge for 20 years. I entered the scene in 1991. From the beginning in Berlin women couples existed, Brigitta and Angelika. When my first dance partner quit, Irma, my teacher, said I don’t have men for you, but there are plenty of women. Would you like to lead?” I said ok. I didn’t think about it. I want to dance, I didn’t really care leading or not. I started leading, leading, leading. The dance partners she gave me were all ages, sizes, all different kinds of women, and I could take the classes without paying. The women liked to dance with me, so I felt much more independent going out at night, I could invite people to dance. It was a nice feeling, not to sit there and wait until somebody’s inviting you.” Judith Preuss, Mala Junta

If we had looked for it there were no men. There was Juan Lange who said you can’t do that. He was going to make a studio. He had the idea I have the blood, and those are just two girls. I opened Phenixtanz with Angelika in 1986. And for 30 years I lived from tango, and Angelika too. Brigitta Winkler

When I came back from Paris in 1996 back to Berlin, the dance school Walzerlinksgestrickt asked me to teach tango. I started with 3 tango classes. After 3 months there were 5 classes, and by the end of the year there were 10 tango classes. It was too much to do alone! ” Judith Preuss

When I was not dancing tango I was dancing salsa in a small bar. There was someone who had a dance floor outside and there was music playing, and this music was ‘In the death car’ by Iggy Pop from the film Arizona Dream. And I liked it so much that I went to ask “what are you doing here?” “We are doing tango.” I didn’t have a dancing partner, so I didn’t stay there. (Dance partners were really a problem in Berlin. We didn’t have the idea to go to a milonga and change partners.) That was the initiation for me of nontango. I still play this song at milongas.” Jens Stuller

We didn’t have any cortinas, tandas and cortinas. It was a bigger mix of traditional tango and different music…I don’t know when we started to play cortinas. It happened in the last 10 years, little by little people felt this need to go back to what they called ‘the real tango of Buenos Aires’. They needed to have this definition of more traditional music. There was this wish to create more harmony and order on the dance floor by having a good DJ who runs stable music. That would help the dancers to behave better on the dance floor. It seems to me that in Paris they had the same thing. In Berlin it came to a hard change. For me it seems that people who said 10 years ago this milonga I don’t like because they never play nuevo. Exactly the same people say now oh you cannot go there because they sometimes play nuevo. This seems very characteristic for Berlin, that they took it such a serious way with this traditional music, and the cabeceo. For me, too seriously. If you want my personal leaning.” Judith Preuss

The people here like to do unique things, only once in a lifetime. You can have a critic view about this, but I think this is somehow the spirit that people have here in Berlin, craving for unique events. I recognized these events starting about four years ago. Included dancing in an old swimming pool, a factory or even a swinger club. This opens the image of “ok we can leave our traditional milonga places, our studios, and we can dance anywhere if we want”. So I think this gives the Berlin tango crowd the possibility to create more on their own. Dancing tango is not connected or doesn’t have to be connected to a fixed milonga place. Tango doesn’t always have to take place in a dancing studio, a bar or a ballroom. It’s nice to go there, and to have something regular, but as a tango dancer, and with your friends you can create your own tango place and your own tango event anywhere you like.” Max Power, Tanguito Potsdam

Berlin is the first city of the world where you had tango community who danced Argentine Tango. In Japan in 40s and 50s you had many people who heard tango music, But dancers in a community, you had in Uruguay and BsAs, but not in Europe. The first point of the world to have this outside from South America was Berlin. Berlin is famous for the boheme life. People come here to go out, to meet people, to laugh and love with them. And tango is a part of this. It was always. Also in the 1920s. Why people danced tango in the 1920s – so romantic. And also something sentimental, the sentimental feeling of the soul, to make expression. To share this with a dance partner, and with other people. Many tangos have sad feelings. This feeling I share with someone who’s very close. I dance with someone in my arms, close to my body. For some minutes. Then we go on. In a big city, you go out find many different people and you have histories that are very short. In a disco also, you meet someone, dance 5 minutes and never see them again. In tango it can be the same.” Michael Rühl

In Berlin when I started there were a lot of little fights between the dance schools, sometimes from personal relationships. Now I would say it’s a good workflow in between the studio owners.” Judith Preuss

“I started dancing tango twenty-four years ago. When I started, milongas were more intimate, everyone knew everyone, sometimes in a house. Berlin during that time had empty houses. You met somewhere, brought things, and had a good time. As the scene got big, the milongas got more professional. They would rent big rooms, and the rooms are not made for a milonga the way I felt when it started. Something was missing in these events rooms. It was a very cool situation. When it’s late or early in the night, it’s not cozy. I thought this is not how I want to spend the next 10-20 years.

“While I was missing this, the alternative tango comes up, Gotan, Bajofondo… I liked the music and I wanted to learn it and dance to it. But the milongas were strongly traditional. I moved into a loft with a space big enough to be creative. After one year I had to move to a bigger place and the idea runs over me and I must follow. It was so big. I must go for the atmosphere in a professional way. How can we create the space? We put in a kitchen, toilets, walls. We try to make it like a living room, a private atmosphere. Now it’s very big. The music develops. I play not so much modern music, now it’s 1/2 and 1/2. During that time other milongas started to play modern music. The last 5 years now the trend is more traditional, but I still continue what I like, which is mixing of music, and with this I mix the people too. You can meet people here from every part of the scene except the hardcore. People come for the atmosphere and the mixing situation.” Henning Klose, Tangoloft

Café Dominguez started four years ago in my school. They started to build a real traditional milonga with cortinas and tandas and cake. And it really attracted a lot of people. It was the right moment for this thing to open. They took it very serious, I found. Since this year maybe, or since a half year it starts to soften a little bit again. But it still is very difficult to find DJs who will play 80/20. (Editor’s note: In Berlin every milonga advertises percentages. ’80/20′ means 80% traditional music and 20% alternative.) These DJs are very difficult to find. Even if they can do it, they don’t like to do it because the public is so mean with them. Or they don’t do it anymore. The new ones don’t know what to play. Now you try to have fancy cortinas, but you stay with the traditional tango music.” Judith Preuss

The Queer Tango scene is interesting to me. This is a place where I can explore the relationship between human beings across the societal norms. So this is a place where I can follow most of the time. And I like to follow. It’s interesting for me to experience the different attraction between dancers, and the different feelings you have while dancing with men and women or other people, in every role. So it’s emotionally much more open in comparison to traditional-role dancing, where I’m always the leader and I’m only dancing with women. And what I discovered about all the queer tango places in Berlin is, that most people are really friendly. These are the friendliest places I discovered.” Max Power

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