Clubs as Temporary Locations: The Berlin Clubs in the Fight for Survival

From the temporary use of ruins to the fight against gentrification: how techno is constantly redefined in the city

Tresor Club Berlin by Michael MayerGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Clubs are temporary locations which take advantage of the spaces they find for their own purposes. They allow a utopian alternative to everyday life to become reality—sometimes for a few years, but sometimes also just for a few nights.

Tacheles Berlin by René BongardGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In Berlin, club culture could only take shape with such diversity because so many buildings stood empty after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and they just seemed to be waiting to be filled with life. A fleeting, temporary nature has been inherent in many clubs from the beginning. After all, most of them were founded on the concept of temporary use.

Maria am Ostbahnhof Berlin 2006 by NicorGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Temporary use allows empty buildings to be temporarily repurposed with cheap rental fees for a limited amount of time. Landlords can generate an income, while renters have access to cheap spaces. In principle, under these conditions, anyone could open a club in the nineties.

Der Tresor Club an der Leipziger Straße 2003 by Michael BrossmannGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Countless projects, venues, bars, and clubs emerged through this concept. Some of them quickly disappeared again. Others were made into clubs like Tresor. Tresor creator Dimitri Hegemann says the following today about this time: "A feeling of optimism dominated. We could experiment. It was a mini rebellion—a stand against the mainstream."

Brunnenstraße 183 Berlin by JotquadratGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Two decades later and the situation could not be more different. If you want to rent a venue, you need to be well off financially. Small shops are under threat from chains, the music scene has been particularly impacted, and the death of clubs is a constant theme in the city.

Maria am Ostbahnhof by Paul SablemanGROOVE Magazin Berlin

As a result, the Knaack club and the seventh WMF closed in 2010; Maria am Ostbahnhof in 2011; Delicious Doughnuts, ICON, and Tape in 2012; Horst Kreuzberg in 2013; Cookies, Weekend, Magdalena, and Picknick in 2014; Magnet Club and Stadtbad Wedding in 2015; and Rosi's, Bassy Club and Bar Babette in 2018.

Griessmuehle Berlin by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Chalet, St. Georg, and Rummels Bucht followed in 2019. The Arena Club was converted into an event venue, Farbfernseher is under new ownership, and Griessmühle changed location. The development plans for the RAW-Gelände threaten Suicide Circus, Urban Spree, and Astra, while there are worries about the future of KitKatClub and Sage Club.

Griessmuehle Berlin by Michael MayerGROOVE Magazin Berlin

One name often comes up in connection with the topic of clubs dying out and gentrification in Berlin: Gijora Padovicz. In the nineties, Padovicz began to systematically purchase occupied buildings in Friedrichshain in Berlin and remove self-organized left-wing residential projects from buildings using allegedly criminal methods. In 2007, over 200 buildings in Friedrichshain alone belonged to the vast conglomerate business.

Watergate Berlin by UploadedGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Even Watergate was bought up by Padowicz's business. A rent increase of 100 percent in 2017 was the result. The club on the Spree that was opened in 2001 held the city's best-loved parties in the noughties with series Get Perlonized and New Kids on Acid and shifted the focus from the chill Detroit-inspired techno of the nineties to house.

Watergate Berlin Terrasse 2008 by cyphunkGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The classic house styles from New York and Chicago didn't dictate the tone, but a minimalist, psychedelic, humorous sound did instead. The water floor of the club with a view over the Spree reflected the permeability and atmosphere of this music. Watergate was a breakaway from the basement clubs of the nineties with its airy, well-lit parties.

Bar 25 Berlin by Bernd Sauer-DieteGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Bar25 was also spurred on to open up the nightlife on the Spree. The minimalist house sound of this location, heavily fueled by MDMA and ketamine, worked particularly well during after-hours parties. The tracks express a feeling of timelessness and the spherical grooves create poetry when they fade away in the open air.

Club der Visionäre Berlin by Stas RozhkovGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Besides the minimalist sound and after-hours approach, the so-called Easyjetset was the biggest change in Berlin nightlife of the 2000s. Until that point, only a few thousand people went out in the city. Now, young Europeans and people from across the world travel to Berlin to rave at parties which can no longer be held in London, Paris, Madrid, Moscow, and New York due to being driven out, or which have never been held at all.

Club Berlin by Daniel LonnGROOVE Magazin Berlin

This constant stream of people wanting to party is fundamentally changing the scene. The community feeling is falling apart, and at the same time, clubs are consolidating themselves financially for partying tourists. Cheap flights make international bookings more affordable, and more and more international DJs are discovering Berlin as an inspiration and home.

Salon zur Wilden Renate by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Salon Zur Wilden Renate is one of the clubs which international musicians like dOP from Paris or Soul Clap from New York fell in love with because the shabby Berlin of the nineties continued to live on there. In 2007, the party collective moved to an empty rented building on the exit road. Over the first six years, the rental contracts were always just for three months.

Salon zur Wilden Renate by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Renate was also sold—to Gijora Padovicz. Termination was followed by a doubling of the rent. As a decision still hasn't been made about actually building an extension to the A100 city autobahn, Renate is one of the last remaining temporary use locations in Berlin. The owners aren't pleased about this. They'd rather create something that lasts.

Gegen Party Berlin by Aghia_SophieGROOVE Magazin Berlin

While the Berlin nightlife of the 2000s survived off the new locations, the 2010s were about the identity of the partygoers. The queer scene created safe spaces for the LGBTQI* community in the city's nightlife and in doing so re-politicized the dance floor.

DJ Booth at club Chalet Berlin by Will PowerGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In the nineties, the queer scene in Berlin was especially active through academic and left-wing autonomous associations. Through parties and clubs in occupied buildings, however, the queer discourse also had an impact on the techno scene. It still hardly ever forced its way into professional clubs. about:blank is therefore the first Berlin club where queer, radical left-wing interests combine with ambitious international bookings.

Pornceptual by Yu-Liang LiuGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The overlap between gay nightlife and electronic music was surprisingly small in the nineties. That changed in 1998 with Ostgut, the predecessor to Berghain. The gay scene met a mostly heterosexual party population there on the hunt for alternatives to the Mitte's rundown club scene.

Gegen Party Berlin by Gili ShaniGROOVE Magazin Berlin

While the polarity from Ostgut was preserved and so-called Berghain techno dominated the Berghain club in the 2000s, the queer self-image was no less important than the music in the 2010s. Women and non-binary people exhibit their sexuality in such a free and open way that was previously reserved for the gay scene. Collectives are building on this approach with different focuses: Homopatik, CockTail d'Amore, Gegen, Herrensauna, Buttons, and Room 4 Resistance are held in various clubs.

Kater Blau Berlin by Ingo FGROOVE Magazin Berlin

These collectives are now often more exciting and identity-establishing than the clubs themselves, where the only thing they offer is the space. Club owners rely on established themes: Suicide Circus is a throwback to the industrial esthetic of the nineties, and Kater Blau, Heideglühen, Ipse, and Griessmühle the shack style of the 2000s.

Sameheads Berlin by Groove ArchiveGROOVE Magazin Berlin

One outstanding example is Paloma Bar, which subscribes to a highly specific house sound and therefore gets by without big names. An even more exciting location is Sameheads, which creates a surprisingly independent noisy sound with a disco subtext

Berghain by Michael MayerGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The Berlin club scene has always defended extraordinary freedoms through music and socializing. The possibility of more or less evading economic realities, however, no longer exists.

Credits: Story

Text: Alexis Waltz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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