The History of Clubcommission

The mouthpiece for Berlin's clubs and event organizers


Text: Airen

European Clubnight in front of Tresor Club (2019) by Clubcommission Berlin e.V.Clubcommission

Berlin never sleeps! When the sun sinks behind the western edge of the city, a remarkable world comes to life: on dance floors and in fields, among twinkling lights and booming basses, truth-seekers, hedonists, and freaks gather for a collective experience of ecstasy. It's the city without a curfew, and at night it belongs to partygoers and their sonorous sounds.

Technocity Berlin was the title of a documentary in 1993 that reported on the sense of resurgence that took hold in the reunified city. A few summers later, hundreds of thousands of people danced between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate—Berlin had become the center of a global movement. And ever since, in the new millennium, the Berghain has become one of the wonders of the club culture world. Young techno fans make pilgrimages from every continent to come to the German capital.

And now? In 2021 Berlin is the unofficial party capital of the world. All round the globe, people rave about the unique club culture on the Spree. This is where the most popular DJs perform, where the fine lines are drawn between hip and cool, hype and underground. The club scene not only defines the essence of this dynamic city—it is also now an integral part of Berlin's role as an economic and cultural center.

Around a third of the city's tourists now come for the nightlife. In 2018 alone, it brought no less than 1.5 billion euros into the coffers of the state of Berlin. Numerous sectors, from construction to event management, benefit from the boom. Over 9000 people are employed in the nightlife industry. When companies are competing for young talent, they now use the clubbing factor to promote themselves.

But it's not quite the case that it's a free ride for partygoers. Because the nightlife now penetrates all areas of the city, it is increasingly colliding with other aspects of urban life. Not all local residents appreciate a club scene that is often associated with noise, excess and drugs. Not every politician understands the importance of a lively club culture. Property speculators and large numbers of people moving into the city are driving rents up and nightlife is gradually being driven out of the city center.

And who is there to speak out for a scene that consists of committed individualists? Who represents the interests of a subculture that defines itself by being separate from the world of business? And who organizes an industry that actually stands for planned irrationality?

Yearly kick-off of Clubcommission (2020) by Clubcommission Berlin e.V.Clubcommission

20 years Clubcommission Berlin e.V.

Exactly 20 years ago, in the year 2001, the organizers of Berlin's clubs, festivals, and cultural events decided that they would speak with one voice in future. It was a time of weekly police raids, and the beginning of a decade when long-established clubs like Tresor, Bar25, Klub der Republik and the Knaack-Klub feared for their very existence because of town-planning decisions.

The united front presented by party organizers paid off: as a result of talking to the police, the pressure eased. The Clubcommission raised its profile with its demos against club closures.

Today, party activists have long since ceased to be on the defensive. They see themselves as lobbying for a wild, creative Berlin, and they claim the right to a role as a player on the urban development stage.
Lutz Leichsenring, press spokesman for the Clubcommission, explains the concept as follows: "We are the mouthpiece for Berlin's clubs and event organizers. Our aim is to provide access to the decision-makers and to the general public, to create awareness of what club culture stands for, who is behind it and what its problems are." 

This means avoiding or defusing conflicts with fellow residents, having a say in political decision-making, creating a network for stakeholders in club culture, and providing start-up assistance and advice for young visionaries from the next generation of event organizers. 

Yearly Kick-off with Erhard Grundl, Pamela Schobeß, Klaus Lederer, Kathrin Lompscher, Kai Wegener, Lutz Leichsenring on stage, Clubcommission Berlin e.V., 2020, From the collection of: Clubcommission
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The Clubcommission represents the interests of nightlife in platform debates and discussions, and even at sessions of the Federal Parliament. Such talks are usually about cultural policy or the legal framework for clubs—for example at the platform debate at the start of each year, when the agenda for club policy for the coming year is discussed with Berlin's politicians. 

Even though the Clubcommission does have paid staff, it depends on the work of its volunteers. It has a flat hierarchy and is divided into themed working groups in which up to 150 people may be involved.

Roundtable with regulatory/environmental and building authorities in 2011 (2011) by Clubcommission e.V.Clubcommission

The Venues Working Group concentrates on the increasingly urgent and controversial issue of the use of space. In a city that is becoming more crowded, where club venues compete for space with residential and commercial properties, conflicts are inevitable. The geo-information system Clubkataster helps to identify at an early stage venues where music is played which are at risk from plans to build or refurbish homes. The real-life laboratory analyzes the difficulties in the areas where there are the most conflicts, while the Pop-im Kiez Toolbox offers ways of resolving such concrete problems directly.

Free Open Air Workshop at IHK Berlin (2018) by Clubcommission Berlin e.V.Clubcommission

The Awareness & Diversity Working Group promotes diverse and non-discriminatory safe spaces, for example by providing training for staff and bouncers.

European Clubnight in front of Tresor Club (2019) by Clubcommission Berlin e.V.Clubcommission

With the Free Open Air Initiative, the Clubcommission campaigns for the legal right to use open spaces without too much red tape. More than 50 young collectives have so far been helped to bring their ideas to fruition legally. 

"Illegal raves in the open air are often where future club and festival organizers are born” says Lutz Leichsenring and describes the project as “promoting young talent in club culture."

So interaction between politics and nightlife is becoming possible more often in liberal Berlin. Not least thanks to the work of the Clubcommission, the city's authorities have now recognized the importance of club culture in Berlin society. In 2018, the Berlin Senate set up a noise control fund—a grant of one million euros for noise-insulation measures. In 2020, the Culture Senator established Club Culture Day and awarded 40 Berlin nightclubs 10,000 euros each. 

Progress has also been made on recognizing clubs as cultural institutions. Under fiscal law, Mayday and parties at the Berghain are now regarded as cultural events. Following a meeting between the Building Committee and the Clubcommission, it decided that clubs should no longer be counted as entertainment venues but as cultural venues. 

The music scene has benefited from this in concrete terms during the coronavirus crisis: for the first time, clubs have been able to draw on cultural funds that had previously been reserved for traditional cultural institutions such as museums and theaters.

"Day of Club Culture" at Salon zur Wilden Renate (2020) by Luca VincenzoClubcommission

Nevertheless, club closures have increased everywhere during the coronavirus pandemic. That's why the Clubcommission and ARTE Concert decided to set up the United We Stream project: artists performing in empty venues for a streaming platform. Monika Kruse played records in an empty Watergate, while Dirty Doering did the same in the deserted Ritter Butzke. By the end of 2020, the scheme had received about 1.5 million euros in donations and clubs in 98 cities from Tokyo to Los Angeles had joined the project.

"House music is a universal language spoken and understood by all."  – Chuck Roberts - In The Beginning (There Was Jack)

Clubcommission Berlin e.V. was not only the first alliance of its kind, but, with over 300 members, it is now the world's biggest regional association for the organizers of nightclubs, open-air events, festivals, and cultural events. All around the world, clubs and nightlife organizations are following its example: from the Japanese Nighttime Economy Association to the Mesa de la Noche in Madrid, from the Los Angeles Nighttime Alliance to AMCHA in Asunción, Paraguay.
A global network has been created: from a club night in São Paulo featuring artists from Berlin, to a DJ Workshop in Cairo, from the SoundBound Conference in New Delhi to the annual The Potential conference which pays tribute to the historically important Detroit-Berlin connection. At the European Club Night to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, music clubs from 27 European countries collaborated with 27 venues in Berlin—and Minister of State Michelle Müntefering appeared at a party at Tresor.

European Clubnight 2019 with Dimitri Hegemann (Tresor), Lutz Leichsenring (Clubcommission), Katja Lucker (Musicboard), Michelle Müntefering (Foreign Office of Germany), Michael Müller (Mayor of Berlin), Pamela Schobeß (Clubcommission), Clubcommission Berlin e.V., 2019, From the collection of: Clubcommission
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In 2019, the Clubcommission organized the third “Stadt nach Acht” (“City After Eight Conference”) conference. Here, the world's biggest symposium on club culture, experts and members of the party scene talked about all aspects of nightlife—from drug checking to gentrification, from lighting concepts to urban development. 

The Clubcommission is now an integral part of life in Berlin. The association has long since gone beyond being merely an interest group for the big clubs. A deep-rooted ecosystem has grown, driven by passionate people with a vision of a diverse city that is both loud and a good place to live in. And, for all its business activities, the Clubcommission has not forgotten what it is actually all about: partying!

Meeting of Clubcommission Board, Clubcommission Berlin e.V., 2015, From the collection of: Clubcommission
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"The significance of Berlin's Club Commission cannot be overstated. Not just for Berlin itself, where it has succeeded in giving nightlife a voice that is really taken seriously in the places where policy is made. Its importance extends far beyond that. Over the years, similar organizations have appeared all over the world that are linked together in a network without which club culture would not be as strong as it is today."

Tobias Rapp, Der Spiegel. Author of “Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno and the Easyjet Set”

"Whereas clubs used to be regarded as a diffuse, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable factor in the city of Berlin, thanks to the Clubcommission they are now an official part of Berlin's culture industry."

Jürgen Laarmann, techno philosopher, founder, and publisher of “Frontpage”

"For New York's Office of Nightlife, it was a huge honor to be able to take part in the Berlin Clubcommission's City After Eight conference in 2019. The organization's work in bringing the world together and supporting nightlife both locally and globally is more important than ever today." 
Ariel Palitz, Senior Executive Director, Office of Nightlife

Klub der Republik closing, Clubcommission Berlin e.V., 2010, From the collection of: Clubcommission
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"In my opinion, in recent years the Clubcommission has changed from being more of an economic interest group into one which focuses on the artistic side and which rightly demands that the local government uses all the room for maneuver at its disposal to protect the club scene from gentrification and being squeezed out. We're fighting together for clubs to be recognized as cultural venues. The coronavirus pandemic has presented the Clubcommission, like everyone else, with some major challenges. It's impressive to see how, with huge commitment, determination, and solidarity, it has, in a short time, found effective ways to support the club scene despite all the current difficulties. Together we are doing what we can, because we care what the city will look like in the future."
Klaus Lederer, Deputy Governing Mayor and Senator for Culture and Europe in Berlin

Credits: All media
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