How to Get into Berghain, and Why Not To
I don’t tell them it’s not worth it: because once inside Berlin’s infamous nightclub, it rarely disappoints. It’s not just the experience of being in a former Communist power plant with cathedral ceilings. It’s about watching dawn’s light from the Panorama bar, with those Wolfgang Tillmans photographs looking over. Or it’s about losing yourself on the suspended platform of the turbine room, as one of the world’s most sophisticated sound systems enervates you with high-end electronica. Add to this mix the risqué (the darkroom, and don’t even ask what’s going in the basement) and the surprising (an ice-cream coffee shop––although, plenty of people here think they need something stronger than ice-cream to get through a club night). And did I mention the music? It’s a temple to electronica. I wish I could provide some of my own pictures, but taking them is the surest way to be manhandled by the staff and find yourself eating gravel after you’ve been thrown out. It’s no exaggeration to say Berghain is the world’s ‘most famous club’, according to ‘everyone’ from the New York Times to Rolling Stone.
But while the experience inside doesn’t disappoint, it’s easy to be disappointed at the door. The difficulty of getting into Berghain is almost as legendary as, or more legendary than, the club itself. Plenty of people feel they’ve had the ‘Berghain experience’ simply by lining up for hours to be rejected. Having been to the club a couple dozen times, and having spent my time while waiting observing the crowd, and who gets in, I actually don’t think the door policy is as mysterious as all that. I have a little run-down of criteria:
–Go early. The line is at its peak on a Saturday night after 1am, so go right when the door opens at 12 midnight, or else late on Sunday morning (the club continues from Saturday night until Sunday evening).
–Don’t be fancy. We aren’t in Paris, we are in Berlin. No labels, no high fashion. Dressing casually in black and looking industrial helps.
–Don’t speak. And if you must, speak in German. The club is reacting against the hordes of tourists who come to pay pilgrimage.
–Be serious. No joking, no laughing, show you respect and take the place seriously. You can have all the fun you want once you’re inside. This is probably the number 1 rule: silence and cool eyes as you approach the door.
–Don’t go in a big group: if you’re a guy stand close to your guy friends to show that you’re together (it’s supposed to be a gay club after all, though it’s very mixed inside).
–Don’t be too young. Unlike most of the club world, it actually helps to be older to get into Berghain and other Berlin clubs, which is maybe why students would actually ask someone as old as their professor about clubbing. 35, I’d guess, is an optimal Berghain age for entry.
Case in point: I was once in line with four Italian guys, all about 25 years old, standing behind me. They’d arrived at 2am (like I had, in my folly), and we’d all waited until 4am––pretty short for a Berghain wait, I’d say. They were wearing Milan high fashion, and convinced they were the shit, gesticulating loudly in their Lombard accents. We were still far away enough away from the door to permit a little chit chat, and when they found out it was a gay club, and only ‘straight-friendly’, they reacted with parochial shock. For me the conversation was over, and I let them go ahead, so as not to be implicated in their macho cavorting. We get closer to the door, and the boys are squealing and pinching each other’s bums. After the two hour wait, it took only a two-second ‘no’ from Sven when they finally reached the door to eject them. If they’d gone in twos, been quiet, put their arms around each other, been hairy and unkept, in black tank tops, torn skinny jeans, tatooed and pierced, but all in a studied-casual way, they would, just maybe, have passed the test. Sprezzatura is an Italian word after all.
I bounced my criteria off someone I know who works at Berghain (I need to keep him anonymous of course) and he replied: ‘That sounds about right. Sven looks for people who will fit the vibe of the club, and he tries to keep out people who will cause trouble––usually if they are too young, in big groups. But it’s no science: by a certain point in the evening it’s a crap shoot, the guys at the door get tired, and you might be turned away for, really, no reason’.
I think plenty of people who have lined up, crushed for four hours in the freezing cold, in a line that might stretch hundreds of meters, only to be turned away, might take some comfort that there’s a level of capriciousness in getting into Berghain. It’s precisely the expectation that there are fixed criteria for entry, with the hidden reality that they are not rigorously enforced, that keeps alive the urban legends around Berghain’s mysterious ‘rules for entry’.
Sven Marquardt is, of course, the ruggedly tatooed pierced doorman, the terrifying Cerberus to Berghain’s netherworld, that my friend calls the ‘Karl Lagerfeld’ of Berlin. ‘He looks really scary, but he’s actually a sweetheart’, he tells me, but I’m honestly shit-scared of him. Perhaps a lot of Berghain can be reduced to the principle of Berliner Schnauze: a tough approach, and then some kindness and friendliness once you’ve proven yourself. Perhaps, psychologically, people have such a good time at the club because they’ve invested so much simply to getting inside. It has to be as amazing as all that when you’ve waited for three hours, faced Sven, and it’s paid off. Off come the coats, you cruise up the stairs to the platform of the main hall, and the bass beat rips through you. Isn’t it amazing?
As I continue the conversation with my friend, he finally implores me: ‘Please, please, do us all a favour and don’t write yet ANOTHER article about how to get into Berghain. Enough is enough’.
Well, I’m writing the post (sorry), but it’s worth exploring why this article maybe shouldn’t have been written after all:
-Because there’s already too much hype, and the club doesn’t need any more tourists. I remember going to Berghain’s predecessor Ostgut in the 90s: it was rough and local, a place on the edge, something of a secret. Berghain is starting to feel like a place pointed out from the window of a tour bus. Locals still go here, but long gone are the times when I run into a lot of people I know. Now, it’s a place I take people who are visiting from out of town, as I would take them to the Brandenburg Gate. Only the sleeziest of nights get my local friends excited––like Snax––the kind of night that keep most tourists frightened and far away.
-Because the press often jumps to the presumption that since Berghain has been discovered Berlin is over. This is dumb. As if the fate of this nightclub could be an appropriate metaphor for the state of the city. Berlin might be its nightlife for the weekenders who jet here to lose themselves, but it’s a lot more than that for the people who have made it their home. There’s resistance to write more about Berghain, because we’ve heard too much from those New York publications that always conclude with some glib statement about Berlin no longer being ‘cool’, whatever that means.
So where does that leave us?
I disagree that one shouldn’t write any more about Berghain, because the secret has been out for a very long time now and the place hardly risks being any more inundated by tourists than it already is. Berghain is a Berlin institution, and therefore deserves comment. Now that it is over-exposed, the question is will become simply a tourist attraction like the erstwhile (now defunct) Tacheles–– a place that so defined Berlin that it eventually became the cliché itself?
The door policy might well be one way to keep Berghain’s identity: but it could just as likely defeat the club.
Door policies are inherently discriminatory and unsavoury, and plenty of Berliners think so too. I was recently at Chalet Club with a group of friends––we were a motley group, young, old, gay, straight, dressed up, messy… we fit no particular profile––and were swiftly rejected. I asked the doorman, telling him I was a blogger, to explain the criteria. He ably dodged my subtle efforts to expose ageism, sexism, racism, etc., and he simply said, ‘We are looking for a certain style for our club, and not all of you have it’.
At this point you ask yourself why anyone would go to the trouble to be subjected to this kind of aesthetic conformity? I think a lot of Berliners feel the same way, and would rather go hang out in Schwuz or a place with a more inclusive vibe like Homopatik than play the ‘am I worthy?’ game with a bunch of self-important middle men doorkeepers. The same holds for the door at Berghain, where a much longer line, with masses of tourists, makes the ordeal even more undignified.
And why would you deal with the frustration of Berghain’s line, when Berlin is not short on alternative converted industrial spaces? You simply need to move farther down the Spree, towards Ostkreuz, far far away from tourist land, to more innovative clubs that are breaking from the Berghain model of hard-nosed selection. Since locals have already seen the inside of Berghain, why would they choose it when, more often, they get a smile instead of a growl at the super sexy about blank?
Because the reality is not that Berghain is over, or that Berlin is over, but rather that most Berliners have moved on from Berghain.