Berlin History

Ackerkeller No More, Bergstraße 68, Mitte

Last weekend, Ackerkeller staged the last of its demolition parties and closed for good.

Ackerkeller called itself Mitte’s living room. The gay bar opened in 1992, located first in Ackerstraße and then in less expensive digs in leafy Bergstraße around the corner. It was run by an association with a non-commercial bent: volunteers minded the bar and garderobe. The events here were also a little unexpected: a naked Schlager party, a non-Kosher gay Jewish party… but most evenings gay men and their friends simply drank beer, splayed out on the couches, attacked the foosball table, or danced in the smoky basement.

I always found social dynamics in this bar a little weird as a foreigner. The clientele that seemed to come here as long as the bar existed was very, well (to resort to a problematic stereotype), German. It’s here I learned the maxim, ‘Distance and Respect’, to negotiate more successfully the locals. Put away that North-American tendency towards small talk, or the Latin desire to get all touchy. Ackerkeller was composed of many silently attractive men, poised over their glasses, looking, waiting, and talking only when necessary. There was something of the old-Berlin Eckkneipe pub here, except the men went home more frequently with each other.

And now it is gone. Where will all those men go? I imagine them sitting on corners in coming evenings throughout Mitte, their living room lost. There’s one! near Hackescher Markt, staring into his glass, silently as always, not quite sure whether to venture inside Sharon Stonewall instead. Or maybe a couple of others can be found in a side street near Betty F***, singing German folk in the buff until the police show up.

Now the old building is being remodelled, as so many are in the vicinity of Rosenthaler Platz. Upstairs there will be luxury condominiums. Downstairs, no doubt an organic pet-food store or a firm that organises holiday accommodation. It’s part of the general change in Mitte. Every evening when one of these institutions closes it seems like the end of an era, except it’s happening every week.

Last weekend, rather more talky and social than normal in Ackerkeller, was the ‘demolition party’. There was truth in the name. The exterior of the building was all scaffolding, rubble and dumpsters. Inside, the furniture and fixtures were removed, a temporary bar set up on a folding table with a tablecloth over it. The walls were stripped, the bathrooms had no stalls, just a shower curtain around one toilet. The claustrophobia of the living room, the musty sofas, the ripped chairs, was removed. There was space, a minimal allure in the last moments.

And many remarked how much more beautiful it was at the end.


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Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

2 thoughts on “Ackerkeller No More, Bergstraße 68, Mitte

  • James Helgeson

    Very sad! I'm still hoping they find a new place and reopen.

  • Hi Joseph, great post. Yep it's a real shame …

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