Insiders: Berlin legends – Britt Kanja

Berlin always drifts somewhere between left and right, rich and poor, success and failure. We’re a city of thousand faces and maybe the most prominent face over the years has been that of our nightlife. Ask anyone who’s been to Berlin and they will gladly tell you, the never-ending parties are beyond good and evil. Some might even tell you about the many stars and legends that have once shaped the surface of our nightlife to what it is today. One of those stars is Britt Kanja and we talked to her about the craziest parties in Berlin, the meaning of life and the secret of her seemingly everlasting beauty.

Q: Hey, Britt. As you know we have many international readers who might not be so familiar with the Berlin nightlife and its history, so let’s start from the bottom. Could you tell us about the infamous 90° club that you and Bob Young founded in the 80’s?

A: Bob and I were both very life-affirming and full of joy. But no matter where we went, it was never quite what we longed for, so it wasn’t long until we began throwing our own parties. In the beginning it was just a theme party called Tanzstelle in various different locations, but eventually it came as it had to come and we founded our own club, called the 90°. Life was very intense back then. Our parties went on forever, the nights became days and days became nights again. The vision of beauty united us and we were always glad to find like-minded spirits. The kind of people who realized that fame was just a game and you’ll only ever be a winner at it if others win as well. 

Q: You toured Europe as a professional dancer and lived in San Diego for five years before coming back to Germany. Did that have an influence on your idea of giving birth to a new nightclub?

A: I really had a cultural shock when I got back to Berlin in the 80’s! Many people had left the city and others moved in, often from smaller villages. They moved in for financial and political reasons, to study or to avoid being drafted. I studied nutritional science back in the US and I looked like blossoming life itself when I returned, but that really wasn’t en vogue here. It was cool to look sick and broken and walk around with your nose high up in the air, feeding on your own arrogance. So the vision of beauty that we brought to the table was something completely new.

Q: So where did you find your inspiration?

A: Berlin was the gay center of the world in the 60’s and the nightclubs and coffeebars were buzzing with life. When I returned home in the 80’s, it had changed into a city with a very low spirit for community. That was the time I figured that any place I came back to, people rejoiced and told me how everything had fallen apart while I was gone. It was right then that I realized I have always had the gift of connecting people and bringing them together, so founding a nightclub was an easy choice to make.

Q: You must have seen some really, really wild parties over the last decades. Which of them were really off the hook?

A: The style of our parties always was something between genius and chaos. The guests were a mixture of all ages, hetero, gay and androgyne. You know all these bad taste parties people always go to and have a blast? We were the first ones to pull that trick out of the hat. 20 years ago we threw the first „Bad Taste Is Back Again“ party in Berlin and it was mindblowing! Celebs from around the globe joined in. Unforgettable memories, especially since everyone was dressed up like in the 70s, no matter which background they had.

Q: That does sound marvelous. Are there any oth-

A: Wait, I remember an even better party! Berlin, 1995. All the stars and politicians were invited to the unveiling of the Reichstag and half of Europe’s Royalty booked flights to Berlin to become part of this legendary happening. And so we threw an immense party the night before in Café Moskau. The theme was Indian night and all the celebs were dressed up as Indians, turbans and everything. That might be one of the most legendary nights I remember.

Q: So you’re saying Berlin’s most popular public figures got totally wasted and the next day it was off to the historic unwrapping of the Reichstag?

A: Yes, exactly! And just think of it, everyone wearing those hilarious indian costumes.

Q: At the unwrapping?

A: No! At the Café Moskau, the former club-restaurant for priviliged people during the communist era. We were the first to bring back life into the venue after the political turnaround, the fall of the Wall. The army had to clear the place of wiretaps first, though. The place was Honecker’s entertainment „palace“ in the GDR, featuring many private séparées and hidden rooms. I can only imagine what kind of things Honecker did at the Café back then. Hence all the wiretaps! Then we found the biggest surprise yet. The basement was filled with pineapple tins, up to the ceiling. Hundreds of them, no, thousands! What a view that was!

Q: Haha, maybe Honecker was secretly undertaking pineapple experiments in the basement. But enough of the parties – you’re a woman of many talents. What else do you do?

A: I designed a collection for a knitting manufactory, I did the choreography for the fashion show as well as the production of the fashion catalogue. After I retired from working in the 90° club I started studying graphics- and film cutting programs at a media academy and did a traineeship at the Circus of Now. Nowadays I spend a lot of time painting. I am currently working on an art exhibition – each piece consists of three pictures and covers a whole wall and there’s five all together. So far it has me a 3/4 year and it’s not even finished.

Q: That sounds great, you’re still going strong! How did you manage to stay so fit, mentally and optically?

A: Life offers us nuts, but cracking them is up to you. Everyone faces their challenges and some people become desperate over time. That’s bound to make you old, grey and bitter. You’ll only get in trouble if you run away from your challenges instead of facing them and I prefer clarity over bitterness. I’m constantly trying to broaden my horizon and I feel I’m expecting less and less and am able to give more and more. We’re living in tough, exploitative times but it’s up to you to make the best out of it and stay fit.

Q: Truer words have never been spoken! Last question – could we please get an insider tip for a wild night out in Berlin?

A: If you’re a little crazy and tolerant and maybe a little gay, too, then I know just the spot. It’s an underground party called Chantal’s House of Shame and it takes place every thursday. As excessive and uninhibited as it gets these days. There’s a wild mix of gays and heteros and things can go from normal to hunky-dory in a split-second. It doesn’t matter who you are and what you are, everyone’s welcome.

Q: Any last words?

A: There’s hope for humanity. You. It’s in each and every one of us. Fill up the treasury of your beauty. Only when the power of love overcomes the love for power, this world will find its peace.

Thank you, Britt! We wish you the very best and we hope to see you in Berlin’s spotlights for many years to come!

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