While it's well known for electronic music, Berlin is also considered one of the world's tango capitals outside of Buenos Aires. The German capital boasts dozens of clubs dedicated to Argentine tango.
Techno music thumping every night of the week? Absolutely. All-night dance clubs with famous House DJs? Of course. But, Berlin as one of the biggest Argentine tango cities in the world? It seems unlikely, but it's true.
Coming from a big salsa dancing scene in the US, I have always been curious if there is a similar Latin dance community hiding in some underground hotspot in Berlin. For some reason, the Berliners sporting multi-colored hair and hipster T-shirts haven't given me a lot of hope. But, here, the old cliché of not judging a book by its cover rings true: it turns out Berliners love to tango.
The first clue that the Argentine phenomenon had swept through the heart of Germany came to me as I was walking down the street and noticed sign after sign offering tango classes every night of the week. Then, when checking out the program list for Clärchen's Ballhaus, one of Mitte's well-known dance clubs, the words Tango Argentino jumped out at me.
A few weeks later, I went to Berlin's Strandbar across from Museum Island and heard Latin beats drifting from the dance floor. Dozens of couples were locked in embrace, performing Argentina's sultry dance along the Spree. I later found out from a random conversation with a Berliner during Sunday brunch that Strandbar offers tango classes three times a week and during the other evenings, dozens of clubs are competing for prominent placement in the bustling tango scene.
Argentine tango became popular in the early 20th century
Tango capital of the world
According to the website Berlin.de, these clues add up to a legitimate conclusion. Germany's capital city also claims to be the world's tango capital outside of Buenos Aires (though Paris is high on the list as well). And, the dance isn't just restricted to specific bars, there is a whole festival dedicated to the tango culture at Berlin's Culture Center.
Tangonale is a three-day-event put on by the local government, that celebrates the relationship between Argentina and Berlin. During the afternoon, visitors can enjoy poetry readings, music, film showings and exhibitions but the highlights of the event are the tango performances.
Considering Buenos Aires is one of Berlin's sister cities, perhaps it makes sense the two share some cultural pastimes.
How it got here
Upon further research of Berlin's dance scene, I found out the tango craze in this city dates back 100 years.
Originally, tango started in the bordellos of the lower class districts of Buenos Aires, Argentina in the late 19th century. It then became more established and moved into higher income neighborhoods, eventually becoming a symbol of Buenos Aires and its people.
In the early 20th century, tango performers and musicians started bringing the dance to Europe, performing in major cities like London and Paris. At that time, Argentina was one of the ten richest countries in the world, with well-to-do Argentineans maintaining homes in European hotspots, bringing in tango instructors and linking them with European nobility. By 1913, the tango fever had hit cities like London, Paris and, of course, Berlin.
Argentine tango is a sultry dance - perfect for Germany's hot capital city
Almost a century later, the tango scene not only continues to thrive but actually flourishes in Germany's capital city. On any given night of the week, one can find at least 15 different options in Berlin to experience tango – whether through instruction, group practice or simply joining other tango lovers at one of Berlin's many milongas, or tango venues.
Remember who you're dancing with
In true Berlin spirit, however, the tango crowd here isn't exactly eager to welcome newcomers with open arms. There is little patience for beginners and anyone who wants to get into the scene needs to start off by shelling out some cash for lessons.
During my aforementioned research, I saw several blog posts of tango-loving visitors to the city, frustrated at the lack of warmth emitted by the Berlin tango crowd. One man wrote "I am now starting to feel upset ... I think about how we would welcome visitors from Germany into one of our San Francisco Milongas."
No need to fret, dear visitor, it's just a part of the Berlin cultural experience.
Author: Jenny Hoff
Editor: Stuart Tiffen