I went with some friends to Berlin last weekend to not see Radiohead. As you may have seen in the news last month, the Oxford-originating band’s stage collapsed moments before they were due to play to a sell-out crowd in Canada, killing drum technician, Scott Johnson. The band postponed part of their subsequent European tour, whilst they came to terms with the loss and whilst they rebuilt the custom-designed lighting set and other equipment, destroyed in the collapse.
Having booked tickets and flights to Berlin some time ago, it would have been rude not to go. So we decided that, as well as taking in the cultural delights of the city, on Saturday night we’d head to Berlin’s most famous nightclub, Berghain, a warehouse with a mysterious door policy.
I am no clubbing connoisseur but I once spent a week gracing the super clubs of Ibiza, I have braved the foam parties of BCM in Magaluf and I have been to 151 on the Kings Road.
The latter venue in that list of the world’s finest nocturnal establishments makes for an excellent primary comparison point in this blog. I didn’t know a great deal about Berghain other than rumours passed from source to source, but one thing that a remarkably camp guy in our hotel passed-on was that we had to wear ‘really shitty clothes’. The kind of pink shirt, chinos and loafers required for a night on the Kings Road wouldn’t do here, apparently.
We were also told that it is easier to get in if you’re gay. Berghain started out as a gay club and has since become more lenient towards gentlemen and ladies of straighter disposition.
Cameras are not allowed and you are told that the consequences are dire should you get caught taking photos on your camera phone.
Another thing we were made aware of by more than one informed person was that groups were rarely allowed in, and it was better to split yourselves into pairs. This advice made me wonder if the bouncer of this establishment was in fact Noah from the Old Testament.
When we arrived, two-by-two (hurrah), in our jeans and t-shirts, we joined a long but moving queue and twenty minutes later, Noah was revealed to us. We quickly realised that this was no prophet of the Lord. No, with his bearded chin, pony-tailed hair, tattooed face, sunglasses and lip piercings, this was Satan himself. We watched as revellers fell silent in his presence. The nearer they got, the quieter they became. His gladiatorial henchmen ushered nervous looking pairings into his line of sight.
“How many?” asks Henchman No 1.
“Svie?” quiver the hopeful applicants.
Satan then either gives a slow nod, and Henchman No. 1 gestures approval by pointing where the entrance is. Oh, there it is – just behind you. Or Satan barely looks at them, gives a caustic shake of the head and without explanation Henchman No. 2 comes in to play and shows them away, pointing out their route of woe back past the crowds in the queue. Nobody seems to complain, they just cast their heads downward and head off dejectedly.
I’ve been rejected from a few clubs in the past. I remember when I was 19 being turned away from a club inMoscowcalled Propaganda, where, without uttering a word, the bouncer pointed at a brass plaque on the wall which read: Women 18, Men 30.
So we neared the front. The group ahead of us were drinking in the queue and talking loudly. Sure enough, they were given the shaking head and were prescribed the walk of shame. Amateurs.
As one of the least likely to get in, I was in the first of our three interspersed pairs to come forward and be judged. Two boys of course. I began to question why the hell I was nervous. Here I am queuing to get into a warehouse, I have to pretend to be gay (which I am adhering to, by the way, by trying to hold my friend’s hand. Except, rather unsportingly, he doesn’t reciprocate), I have to be silent and give the expression of casual boredom, I am subjecting myself to a neo-Nazi aesthetics test and yet, I’m worried that I might be told to go somewhere else. This place better be fucking good.
As these thoughts circulated around my head, I suddenly realised we were being judged. It all happened rather fast. Henchman No.1 looked at Satan, Satan didn’t appear to make any visible judgement, and then to my complete surprise Henchman No.1 looked back at us and in English said, “Okay, have a good night”, and showed us in. We’ll never know what our most convincing asset was. I think it’s that we made a most adorable gay couple. Happily, all six of us were granted entry.
When inside, morality issues aside, Berghain is, to use a German adjective, fückingfantastische. There are no mirrors or reflective surfaces. Grunge is the look. Especially so when it opens on Friday evening and doesn’t shut until Sunday night and from what I could see many people appear to never leave during this time.
Such are the metal chains holding dim red and blue lights, and an interesting double bed-size swing, that it feels like you’ve ended up somewhere between a fetish house and an abattoir.
Up an aluminium staircase, you come to a heaving dance floor measuring the dimensions of an Olympic swimming pool. Surrounding it are four gargantuan speakers, which pound techno bass through your central nervous system like an electric chair. Up another staircase, the uppermost bar area, has a slightly less hectic vibe, but not much. At the bar I was delighted to discover beers at un-London prices of 3 Euros each. The shutters on all the windows never allow you to see what time of day or night it is, but the most noticeable thing about this area is a photograph, the size of a French window, above the bar featuring a naked male arse bending over so you can see a lot more that you perhaps care to. Essentially it’s not hard to miss its meaning: I you have a problem with this; you know where the exit is.
The entire complex is a maze of different concrete nooks and crannies where you never know exactly what you might see. And much of the time, what you do see, you understand why the doormen have their no camera policy.
At 5am, with the dance floor still packed, my eyes were drooping and I decided it was bedtime. Walking outside I was surprised how bright the sun was, but more surprising was the entry queue that was bigger than when we joined it. Others in our group, braver than I, left at 8.30am to find it was just the same. What are you doing? It’s Sunday morning, don’t you people have church to got to? And Satan, whose real name is Sven, was still governing the gates of hell. Probably not.
by Ed Lines