For a young woman living in one of the most modern cities in the world, I do not go out clubbing much. That was what was on my mind as I made my way to one of the supposedly most hip nightclubs in Hollywood last Saturday, Boulevard3. When my friends and I got there, a couple of the club’s staff were standing outside. They asked us if we had reservations; apparently you have to go online and be on their guest list to be able to go in. After we shook our heads no, the guy we were speaking to gave us a ‘let me think for a second’ look, and then said he would let us in this time, but told us to go online and register next time. He made it sound like he was doing us a huge favor by letting us in without the necessary step of registering.
The inside of the club is nice; spacious with tables against the walls. There is a big stage right by the entrance, where a very scantily dressed lady was performing with movements with what is considered modern dance these days. As the latest hip hop songs played that refer to different anatomical parts of women, I took a moment to take in my surroundings – the intoxicated women, the lone men walking around and looking for potential dance partners, groups taking pictures, and the general ambiance.
After my friends and I left the club well after midnight, we were walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and discussing our night. That is how the conversation turned to night life in Addis back in the days. I realized that even though the form of doing things changes, young people still engage in similar activities throughout generations. I was imagining our parents, and wondering how being young was like for them.
In the 60s, Wube Bereha used to be the center of night life in Addis. A neighborhood in the heart of Piassa, it was alive with booze, music and prostitutes in ample amounts almost every night. In his book Ethiopia: A view from within, Michael B. Lentakis talks about Wube Bereha: “Already at the age of 13 I had started having sexual relation in the Serategna Sefer, …Wube Bereha and Serategna Sefer were at that time famous for having the most beautiful women engaged in this trade, and although they have never read the Kama Sutra, they could naturally perform all the different acts of love with the utmost dexterity.” In a September 23, 2013 article entitled The memories of Wube Bereha published on The Reporter, Tibebeselassie Tigabu also stated: “This was the place that broke free. Freedom was experienced in the fullest form, the mainstream shattered and taboos broken, bans lifted with anything possible from intoxication and music. Renowned musicians made their memories here and it inspired a generation of Ethiopian writers and poets.” The same article goes on to state that the neighborhood was to be demolished to make way for a train project, but I was not able to find any update on whether that was carried through or not.
A lot of people would argue today that Wube Bereha was a place where someone from a good family should not go, where STDs manifested and generally an appalling place to be avoided at all costs. But whether Wube Bereha existed or not, people would have engaged in the same activities regardless, behind closed doors and more covertly. When I say this, I am not encouraging anyone to engage freely in drinking and womanizing, we all know the dangers of HIV and other ramifications that come with that. All I am saying is I am not quick to condemn Wube Bereha either, I look at it as a place where the generation before us had memorable times without as much risk as being young today entails. It is a huge part of our history.
I was not able to find a lot of published material on the history or current status of Wube Bereha, or pictures for that matter. If you have any information I could use, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to add them to this article. In the mean time, I will leave you with a link to a scene from the movie Tizita, one of my favorite Amharic movies of all time. Around the 40 something second, the actors break out into a sort of waltz, and in my mind’s eye, that is exactly how I imagine the Boulevard3 version of a club in Wube Bereha then. Cheers!