One year ago, Berlin's first exclusive business club opened its doors to the world of politics, business and culture. The idea of cigar-smoking above the roofs of Berlin is catching on in the city's high society.
An "exclusive place where the elite can interact with like-minded" - the Berlin Capital Club
From the lounge of the Berlin Capital Club, you can almost reach out and touch the intricately carved stone figures which decorate the dome of Schinkel's Berlin Concert Hall. The club is situated right in Berlin's historic center, just where it should be, says its chairman Rolf Dieter Klostermann, namely "at the crossing point between business, culture and politics."
On this cold, sunny morning in wintry Berlin, the lounge is mainly full of business representatives celebrating the club's first anniversary, mingling with journalists who have made it to one of Berlin's most exclusive addresses on the Hilton Hotel 7th floor for the first - and what may be the last - possible time: Exclusivity is a top priority in the club, an asset Klostermann knows is one of the club's most attractive qualities. It is a quality which has contributed to the club's steady growth in members since it was founded one year ago.
No German club tradition
"Our success is a sign that Berlin has a great need for these kind of meeting points," Berlin Capital Club (BCC) Vice-President Peter-Hans Keilbach says. Germany simply doesn't have the same club tradition like Britain or the U.S., according to Keilbach. Indeed, London alone has 90 business clubs, New York 150. But in Germany there are only 9 business clubs nationwide. "Apart from the missing tradition, Berlin was more or less cut off from the world," Keilbach says, referring to the years during the Cold War. Helping Berlin back onto the international stage is one of the Berlin Capital Club's main aims, Keilbach says.
At least 50 representatives of major German international companies have made it to Berlin in recent years, the club estimates, not to mention the many diplomats and figures from culture and politics who flocked to the city after the German government moved to Berlin two years ago.
Today, the list of the club's 767 members reads like a Berlin Who's Who: Former Deutsche Bahn head Heinz Dürr, Pixelpark founder Paulus Neef, fashion designer Sandra Papst, and Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit are all members of this "exclusive place where the elite can interact with like-minded" (Klostermann). Regular visitors for luncheons at the club restaurant include Bavarian State Premier Edmund Stoiber, Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily, U.S. ambassador Daniel Coats and British ambassador Sir Paul Lever.
BCC President Rolf D. Klostermann likes to call the BCC the "club of decision makers".
Exclusive, but not elitist
However, it is this elitist attitude, which Robert Newell, Director-General of the Royal Over-Seas League in London, and board member of the Club Secretaries and Managers Association, describes as "not nice." The traditional business club in Britain is exclusive, not elitist. "You will find an Australian sheep shearer, a farmer from Lancashire and a member of the British government all at our bar," he says.
In addition, "the traditional business club in London is a members' club – every penny goes into the club and the comfort of its members, and does not line anyone's private pocket", he says. These clubs are therefore open to all members of society: Even students can gain membership in the Royal Over-Seas League in London for under 90 euro a year.
At the Berlin Capital Club, the majority of the clientele are from the world of business, followed by lawyers and soliciters: Membership costs 1,250 euro a year, plus a joining fee of 3,800 euros. "A sausage stall holder may not become a member, but the owner of a sausage company chain may well be," Vice-President Keilbach explains.
Berlin Capital Club
In addition, the BCC is a private club, belonging to the CCA group, one of the leading operators of more than 200 clubs and resorts worldwide. "We are not a non-profit organization, we are profit orientated," BCC business manager Hans-Jochen Gerhardt says. So far, the club, which cost some 3.2 mill euro to build and develop, is still struggling with a deficit, but Gerhardt hopes to break even next year. But for this, more members are needed.
Behind Gerhardt, the statues decorating the dome of Schinkel's Berlin Concert Hall sparkle in the November sunlight.
But as from 2003, members of Berlin's high society will be faced with a choice between this breathtaking view, and a no less awe-inspiring panorama of the city's vibrant boulevard, Unter den Linden and the majestic, freshly renovated Brandenburg Gate: Next year, the worldwide operating China Club opens its doors under the roof of the Hotel Adlon. Berlin's decision-makers may face some difficult decisions to make yet.