My flatmate says the moment she truly felt at home in Berghain was when she walked into the toilets to find a naked man drying his bum on the hand dryer.
I love this story because it sums up Berlin for me.
Whatdyamean the capital of Germany is basically just a dude getting his penis out? I hear you say. It’s not. But it represents the city’s impulsive energy that makes you feel as if you can pretty much do anything here and not be judged in the same way you would be everywhere else.
A few minutes walk from Ostbahnhof in an old East Berlin power station is where you’ll find the techno club Berghain. I first heard about it when I came to the city in 2015 for a journalism fellowship. I’m an amateur – people who are into the techno scene idolise this place.
It sounded like a mysterious land which you can only gain access to if you’re the Berlin stereotype of: black clothing, various stages of shaved hair, piercings and tattoos, well-bred hipster cheekbones and living in a grimy Neukölln flat.
The main clout lies with Sven Marquardt, who from this interview, sounds like an-all-round cool east German kinda guy. But I’m sure if you’re being turned away from the door, after queuing for two hours on a cold wet Sunday at 5am, you’d feel differently about this man.
As I was pulling on my trainers for my first attempt to get into Berghain on a Sunday morning in November 2015, I knew it would be unsuccessful. I’d just had a bowl of cornflakes FFS! But my flatmate at the time and I were determined to give it a go. It was about 11am and we only had to queue for about half-an-hour. The tension while you’re waiting is almost unbearable – everyone stands in silence watching pale exhausted faces walk out the club and back into civilisation. The heavy bass got louder as we reached the door. So. Many. People were being turned away.
We got to the front and the bouncer (not Sven) shook his head. To keep your dignity you have to walk off in silence although we burst out laughing as we walked back up Strasse der Pariser Kommune on the way back to Ostbahnhof, giddy as the queue anxiety dissolved.
I decided Berghain represented everything I was against: exclusion.
But since then I quietly mulled it over and collected opinions from others, trying to figure out exactly what I thought.
The club was born out of Berlin’s gay scene and is a reincarnation of the Ostgut club, which hosted the male-only fetish club night Snax. It opened in 2004, has a capacity of 1,500 and the building is also home to the infamous sex club Lab.Oratory. It should be noted that there’s a huge history of techno – clubs, music, people, DJs – in Berlin and Germany. I enjoy listening to stories about it but, because I’m more of a grunge person, I don’t know enough about it yet. This is my small take on a techno club and what it meant to me.
My trip inside Berghain came in July after a super fun evening drunk on mojitos and dancing at the Lesbian and Gay City Festival in Schöneberg, two days before my 31st birthday. My flatmate, a club regular, had invited me and I’d resisted. At 10pm she phoned. “I’ve got you a guestlist space.” It seemed like fate.
I got to the club around midnight when the Sunday night party was in full swing. Some people, fuelled on speed and other drugs, stay in the club from when it opens on Friday night until Monday morning, others come and go over the weekend.
Inside it’s enormous, like a maze. The main dancefloor pumps out hard techno – I’d advise you pick up free earplugs at the cloakroom. The smaller Panorama Bar upstairs has a slightly less frantic techno sound. There are chill out areas, a smoothie bar, black holes which, on closer inspection, are mini sex dungeons. There’s a no mirror and no photo policy so you never have to see how bad you look with no sleep. Thanks to its respected line-up of DJs every weekend and atmosphere, it’s been described as ‘the best club in the world’.
Dancing there is like preparing for the Olympics: hopping from foot to foot and shaking your arms off like you’re a boxer, and literally putting every ounce of energy you have into the music. There’s a feeling inside that you’re in another realm, marching, as if time and space has stopped. The music is so loud, the energy is so high, does anything else matter in that moment? No. It feels good for the soul. Advice: wear shorts. Jeans are too hot.
I had my own special naked man moment when standing in the toilet filling up a bottle with water.
“Does my hair look okay?” I turned round and a man had a worried look on his face as he patted down his sweat-matted hair.
“It looks great!”I said. He flashed a smile. He wasn’t wearing a thing.
But don’t worry, it’s not just dicks flying about. There are naked women too. And diversity. People from all over the world. Every sexual orientation. People with physical disabilities. People of all ages (mostly older actually). Interesting looking humans. Variety.
I left the club on Monday morning, travelling back to Kreuzberg as commuters filled trains to Mitte, Potsdam, Ahrensfelde.
At home I slept soundly until mid afternoon when I got up and prepared my classes for the next day. Back to reality.
To me it was a really special experience. I’ve tried to think why. Yes mirror-kisser types are attracted to Berghain and, although that’s not an awful thing, I do think some of these people over-egg it for the wrong reasons. It’s not about being cool or hot. The ethos is that Berghain is for people who don’t quite fit into society’s expectations. But there are also issues – how many clubbers potentially have a substance abuse problem for example?
Although the door policy sucks when you’re turned away, it does help create an amazingly diverse mix of people under one roof – a chemistry that’s hard to put your finger on. I’ve heard a lot of people affectionately say Berghain is for freaks. I love this idea of really getting on board with your own weirdness, whether you want to visit a sex dungeon, dance like you have the energy of Muhammad Ali in the 1960s or have a smoothie and a spliff in safe surroundings.
Berghain, keep encouraging us to be more weird.