Berghain: The King of Clubs

Before Berghain became the world's most famous club, it was the best club in Berlin. Why?

GROOVE Magazin Berlin

A cold spotlight shines down on the masses of people waiting to be let in to the box-like building. Conversations are overheard in all possible languages, and glimpses of the disappointed faces of those who were refused entry can be seen at the door. 

Berghain Entry by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Pants pockets and purses are thoroughly searched. Even before the huge apocalyptic scenes at the checkroom, the Berghain feeling is already setting in. After traveling through a labyrinth of concrete pillars holding up the dance floor, a view of the techno cathedral opens up on the staircase.

Berghain Garden Entry by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

A shiver runs through you from the very first moment. The contours of the space are only visible as shadows. The powerful concrete of the previous generator room evokes a raw, industrial energy of a bygone era.

Berghain Garden Entry by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Looking at the dance floor, the blue light of the bar shines through the large glass window on the right, and another staircase leads to the Panorama Bar on the left. The space feels like something out of this world, and as such, it can be the stage of unimaginable pleasures.

Berghain by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

For the first few hours the party seems innocent and curious. On the Berghain floor there is hardly anyone pushing, no nervous bustling, and no distractions from the music and dancing.

Berghain emergency exit by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

A primitive groove plays from the speakers—a raw pulsating beat creating a focused and hypnotic mood. Individual moments of euphoria bubble up. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Marcel Dettmann is the producer of these sounds. Drums are at the heart of his music, and the movements of the simple beat pattern and sparse sounds make up the structure of his set. When mixing, his chiseled face looks focused and resolute.  

Berghain camouflage by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

There are moments in between when he rejoices over the party atmosphere and sound and does a few dance moves. The basslines have no melody, and the sounds emerge only rarely and in isolation. They are short and concise figures. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

This raw, dirty, bare-bones style creates a certain spontaneity and excitement. The set has elements of a Buddhist ritual that serves to strip away the sentimentality and nostalgia of the pop music around today.  

Berghain storage by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Only the most essential changes were made in the former heat and power station. The difference between Berghain and Panorama Bar is reflected in the difference between techno and house on which club music is founded.

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Since its opening in December 2004, Berghain's resident DJs have invented a new unique type of techno sound. For the DJs, the sheer amount of space, the ultra-clear Function One system with its strong bass, the loyal crowds, and especially the 14-hour-long sets make this a job without parallels.

Berghain Eingang by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Resident DJ Len Faki reports: "Because of the long duration my sets have changed a lot. The relationship with the crowd reaches another level. Elsewhere you'd be one of the peak-time DJs, but in Berghain you're just beginning. You have to give 100% and you get 200% back." 

Berghain Biergarten Rüdersdorf Restroom by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The lab setup on the Berghain floor produces a sound that takes the volume and energy of hard techno but slows its tempo, creating a new type of meditative depth. 

Berghain Garden Entry by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Ben Klock explains: "The slowness wasn't a conscious decision. The techno records of the nineties become sexy when they're played six or eight percent slower."  

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The predecessor of Berghain—Ostgut—was located on the opposite south side of the vast railway land between Warschauer Strasse and the Ostbahnhof train station. In 2003, it had to disappear to make way for the construction of an ice hockey stadium. 

Berghain Fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Ostgut is the mythical birthplace of current club culture. The clubbing model that dominates today was essentially developed there. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The current club sound was formed in particular in the old Panorama Bar. Techno and house were merged into this sound to create a new type of club music, and even minimalist sound elements were worked in, as well as styles of older types of dance music. 

Berghain by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

It all began during the depression of the former 1990s when the Berlin-Mitte techno scene had fizzled out. Ostgut opened during this time.

Berghain laboratory Entry by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

To begin with, only gay crowds from the neighboring sex club partied there to harder, expertly curated techno music. One half of the dance floor was populated by muscular, greased-up men in army pants and boots with nothing covering their upper bodies. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The other half was populated by a heterogenous gay crowd. It took some time before word spread about this location in the straight party scene. For both sides, the club was a completely new experience. 

Berghain Exit by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The music during gay parties back then was often detached from international developments in club music. For straight people, the insistence of the gay community on the essential need to party was incredibly inspiring. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The fatigue that had set in across parties in established clubs was practically blown out of the water. Ostgut reminded older partygoers of their first contact with music in the early nineties. 

Berghain Biergarten Rüdersdorf Restroom by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Younger partygoers were fascinated by the social authenticity of Ostgut. Nobody went here just to brag about it to their agency the next morning. The only thing that mattered was what was happening here and now. 

Berghain Biergarten Rüdersdorf Restroom by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Through the combination of a perfect location, throwback interior design, optimal sound, spot-on bookings, and flawless service, Berghain opened in 2004 and yet again outshined all other clubs in the city. 

Berghain by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

With their second club, the creators also wanted to position themselves artistically beyond their bookings. Panorama Bar is decorated with huge pictures by Wolfgang Tillman. Concerts are put on outside the club premises, and a club record label was founded: Ostgut Ton.

Berghain side entrance by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Berghain presents an existential challenge: it's not just a place to find a partner, listen to some interesting music, or vent off some steam after working all week. It's a free space. Nothing you do there has to stem from the rest of your way of life. 

Berghain long-distance heating by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

When you're shown the greatest possible pleasures, you have to ask yourself: what do I want? Where do I belong on the map of social, sexual, and musical pleasures?

Berghain storage by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

It's a place where you learn to face your own desires. Am I straight? Am I gay? Or am I something else entirely on the endless spectrum of human sexuality?  

Berghain Biergarten Rüdersdorf Restroom by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The Berghain artists and creators emanate serenity and composure because they've been through this process. The creator alone emphasizes humanity through the decisions made. It's about creating free spaces and offering support if needed. 

Berghain fassade by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Just how relaxed all the musicians feel in Berghain, how the label was an unplanned creation, and how important artistic and social intuition is for everyone are always mentioned in conversations. 

Berghain emergency exit by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

With Berghain and Ostgut Ton, the club, label, and crowd have a connection, the likes of which have never been seen before in techno history. There are no signs of the sound of Berghain and Ostgut Ton outside the club. The autonomy of this self-contained space is the driver of its progress.

Berghain Exit by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

All the producers on the label are also DJs in the club. Len Faki states: "Something's growing there that was still there at the beginning." Dettmann adds: "It's the complete package. When I go out personally, I go to Berghain." 

Berghain yard by Alexis WaltzGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Credits: All media
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