You may have heard of Berlin for the Brandenburg gate, sausages and unfortunately, sandals with socks. But that’s what goes on before the sunset.
At night, another dimension unveils, fueled by sex, drugs and a dark, raw electronic music. However, there’s much more than simple hedonism: it’s an Ideological and intellectual lifestyle. If you had to paint it, it would be a cross between the colourful extravaganza of the Aesthetic movement and the geometric constraints of Cubism.
The experience. Every club is unique and different, but the vibe lives on different venues: bright lights will strike you, pounding beats will vibrate through your spine and the people around will be dazzling. From students to retired couples, business owners to baristas, never judge a book by its cover.
Rocki Pace, a raver who regularly visits the city, told me:
“I will never forget when I asked a guy in a bondage suit what he did for a living, and his answer was, financial planner for a charity. I mean, you will see people enjoying themselves, in every sense of the word: from the euphoria of dancing, drinking and getting high to engaging in sexual acts in front of everyone. There’s no other city in Europe that allows that kind of freedom”, he continued.
It’s not just wild, like Ibiza or Mykonos for example. Berliners see those places as vulgar, commercial and without character. Here, the escape is not only about breaking taboos. It’s a celebration of artistic, sexual, and political expression.
Some will battle on who has the most alternative, eye-catching outfit. Labelled as hipsters, they take pride in being different. The most famous one is probably Günther Anton Krabbenhöft, named the oldest hipster alive. The man, whose style was described as dandy, said to Cosmopolitan: “I want to look at myself with joy. It’s also always a reflection of my inner self.”
Club nights last from 15 to 30 hours. The intention is creating the utopic feel of an endless party. “It’s almost like a therapy” owner of Tresor Dimitri Hegemann told Resident Advisor. “People want to get lost, they want to feel protected. If you can make it to this kind of party, you discover something special”, he added.
The Music. Revelers call Berlin the capitol of Techno. Short for Technological, is characterised by a symmetric and constant beat of drums and hi-hats, seasoned with different effects. Originated in Detroit, it was an escape from the inner city for young African-Americans. The sound reached other troubled neighborhoods in Europe, like the outskirts of Naples and East Berlin. The decadent style of Berlin and its partygoers reflects the music more than anywhere else. Besides, electronic music comes from Germany. Kraftwerk were the very first group to produce songs using mainly synthesizers, machines that replicate other instruments such as acoustic guitars, pianos and drums. Black kids from Detroit and Chicago experimented with the same equipment but added a twist of disco and funk. One of the founding fathers of Techno, DJ Derrick May, said “It’s like if you put Krafterwerk and Parliament Funkadelic in an elevator and let them jam. We turned something robotic into spiritual”.
The rules: “Freedom without rules doesn’t work. And communities do not work unless they are regulated by etiquette”, says etiquette expert Judith Martin. This is the philosophy adopted by the city’s party scene. To protect this liberty, clubs have strict door policies. You don’t buy a ticket to get in, unlike most venues in London for instance. You are looked upon by the bouncers: they decide whether or not you can fit into the club’s spirit. They don’t just enforce security; they are the custodians of the crowd.
In most bars, manners are clearly defined: no smartphones please. Taking selfies might be trendy all over the world, except in Berlin. Here, you’ll be seen as a product of capitalism and tourism. The concept behind it is that you have a better time if you focus on yourself, the music, and those around you, rather than a screen.
Moreover, there is a will to protect the LGBT community. They feel free to be themselves, and are not afraid to show it. If someone filmed what happened inside, the privacy of the customers would be compromised. This is true especially for one club: Berghain.
The most exclusive club in the city. Located at the border between Kreuzberg and Friedrichsain, Berghain is an ex-power plant that many – including Rolling Stone and the New York Times – regard as the best club in the world, but that’s debatable. What can’t be argued is that this is the hardest one to get into. Celebrities get rejected, even regulars. Open from midnight on Friday until Monday morning at 6:00, thousands queue at all times but only a chosen few make it through the doors.
Here the freedom and the rules reach their climax: orgies, dark rooms where some are fully naked, the best international DJs, psychedelic lightning, massive spaces to dance and an exceptional sound system. At the same time, filming or getting pictures is not just something to avoid, it’s strictly forbidden.
Journalists, bloggers and those who got in, spend long features on how to get into Berghain. First of all, you need to be open-minded: tolerant of other sexualities, mature, respectful. This is valid for most places of the capitol. Once this checks, there are different factors. Apparently, it’s vital to be into the music. At this club in particular, you’ll be asked who did you come to listen to and why. You can’t be loud nor drunk at the queue and tourists aren’t seen that well, so knowing the language helps. No labels, no fancy dresses and some say you should be all in black. Also, going solo seems to be the best strategy, as groups rarely get accepted.
If the intimidating, heavily pierced and tattooed doorman gives you the infamous “nein” then don’t despair: there’s a lot of places to hang out that are as good if not better. The secretive and colorful Sisyphos is almost like a festival, happy and free as Woodstock was. Then there’s the historical (music wise) and intense Tresor, the freaky Suicide Circus, the fetish and eccentric KitKatClub, the classy and glowy Watergate, the minimalistic ://about blank and many other bars disseminated through the town.
The roots. It all started in 1989, after the Berlin wall came down. The UK invented raving when the middle and lower class youth felt left out by Thatcherism. Acid House parties spread from the M25 all over the country, and soon, all over Europe. Illegal underground raves became a bridge between East and West Berlin. Not long after, clubs brought the sound and the atmosphere of the warehouses to the dancefloor. As a result, sociology, ideology and history merged into arts and entertainment.
Why you should try of be part of it. Whether you’re a club person or not, it could be a journey in a magical culture that ultimately leads to self-discovery. If not, it will definitely be fun and new. The nightlife is a bit of a mirror of German society: strict on some things like timing, liberal on others, like prostitution. Strict door policy, tight etiquette, but it’s all worth it – you could have the best night of your life.