Excessive drinking paired with art has always been deeply entrenched in any city’s culture. Berlin’s best proof is the cinematographic document Berlin Drinking Battle by Rolf S. Wolkenstein and Wolfgang Hogekamp. The film was made in 1989, just one night before the fall of the Berlin wall. Obviously, they managed to somehow document their benders on video (even if that was before the era of digital cameras) rather than being sensationalized as binge drinkers in the tabloids. We wanted to know how they got this show on the road and met up with Rolf S. Wolkenstein to have a sober little chat about schnapps and the 80s film scene.
Vice: What was the Berlin film scene like back then?
Rolf S. Wolkenstein: When I started studying here, the schools were still run under a cloud of hippie and old ‘68 revolutionary thinking. Everything had to be like collective filming, you know, have a certain relevance and dialectic and so on. Of course we were young and disapproved of that. So we did our own thing. We had to do that anyways, because there was never any faculty around. You were basically forced to gather your own experience with this medium.
OK, but how do you end up bringing your camera into a bar?
The whole thing was organized by this bartender in a bar called Mittenwalder. It was our regular very, very late night joint. The idea was probably born when we were drunk too, but it was thoroughly organized and pretty radical for back then. Somebody even programmed this little application that allowed an Atari or Amiga to digitally keep track of the shots the night before.
What was the shooting like that night?
I just found out about the shooting like an hour beforehand. My friend Wolfgang, who produced the film, came up to me and told me. He was the guy who won. You had to pay an entry fee of 20 Deutsch Marks and you were in. There were 14 contestants and lots of them managed to bear up to the 30th round of Tequila shots. I think like half of them. Wolfgang won with 40 Tequilas and the second guy had 39 and then there was this other dude, who wants to puke on someone in the film, he managed 38. Sadly, I only got around to filming 75 minutes of that night.
What do you think of the film now that so many years have passed?
It’s a contemporary document. I arrived in Berlin during a time you’d probably refer to as post punk today. The way we dressed, the way we talked and all the fooling around we did. We lived in lunacy and sometimes we were even the ones who organized that madness. I just think that this whole drinking and lifestyle culture turned to the worse now.
That night you guys killed quite a decent amount of booze,
right? Was the film supposed to show people how awesome it is to get
Ha, I never drank alcohol, so I wouldn’t be able to tell. Berlin used to be this fake metropolis inside the GDR, which was solely surviving on infusions from outside. That rubbed off on people and their drinking behavior. But still, I think it was different to the flat rate binge drinking you see today.