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Scene in Berlin

Jan Kage, BerlinJuly 3, 2014

Berlin is famous for its nightlife. But getting in is an art in itself. Insider Jan Kage explains how to know when it's time to leave when the bouncer says, "Nein!"

People waiting in line to get into a club, Copyright: dpa - Report
Image: picture-alliance/ZB

Generally the door policy at Berlin's clubs is not that strict. You don't have to look posh or chic to get into a club. I can't speak for all of them, of course - I'm just talking about the clubs that are relevant.

There's one story that might be an urban myth, but it is too beautiful not to believe it's true. It must have been the late 1990s when the famous Bayern Munich soccer club played in Berlin. Their players are stars - not only in Munich and Germany, but well beyond. That seems to translate into diva expectations on the players' side. In Munich's clubs they probably get the complete VIP treatment and expect that everywhere else as well.

In Berlin, as the story goes, their limousines drove up in front of the old Cookies club. (The club itself is closing this month, by the way, after some 20 years of helping shape Berlin's nightlife). The players got out of their cars and tried to get by the line of waiting people as they usually do. But the bouncer at the door stopped them to say, "Sorry, we're full right now. Please wait."

Olli Kahn's jaw dropped. At the time he was the goalkeeper for both Bayern Munich and the German national team. According to the story, Olli and his teammates waited a whole 10 minutes to be let in...while other guests were being let through the door.

Apparently fame isn't enough for Berlin's doorkeepers.

Another thing that doesn't help you get into cool clubs is being very drunk already when you arrive. Even worse is being drunk and part of an all-male group. Four drunk Irish tourists in one group: Forget it!

Attempt number one

But when I got turned down around 10 years ago when tryin to get into the infamous Berghain club, there weren't four of us and we weren't Irish. It was my friend Beat and I and we'd already made it passed the bouncer - Sven Marquardt, a photographer known in Berlin for the tattoos on his face. He looked more closely at me for whatever reason and decided, "Well, actually it's not for you guys tonight."

He said this in a polite but firm way, so I instantly obeyed. Beat, however, did the opposite. He started explaining loudly that he had an important job at a major record company. I was embarrassed and dragged him away from the door. We went somewhere else that night.

Sven Marquardt, bouncer at Berghain in Berlin, Copyright: Ingo Wagner
Berghain bouncer Sven Marquardt is a legend in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Another friend of mine was way more effective back then and this had to do with him being able to kill his ego and focus on his main interest: Getting in. After being rejected by the face-tattooed bouncer, drunk Jan Simon went around the corner of the building and buried his red down jacket in the January snow.

On his way back to the door he met another friend whose baseball hat he borrowed and after waiting 20 more minutes he was let into the club. The man at the door didn't recognize him. Jan Simon partied into the morning hours and then stumbled out of the club to go digging for his red jacket, which he'd buried by the tree.

Of course this is high art, Buddha monk-style. You have to be in complete control of yourself and neglect any feeling of insult.

My ex-girlfriend - a CO2 trader from Finland who tried to get into the rather posh Bar 1000 one day after work with her international bunch of colleagues who were in town for a meeting - was turned down at the door, even though they were dressed up just as much as the revelers on the inside.

The wound of rejection ate at her for years. As a result, she despised all of Berlin's cool, broke artists for setting the tone and getting in everywhere.

Attempt number two

That's a bit exaggerated, but I know the feeling.

Two years ago, I tried to get into an artsy underground club called The Mind Pirates because friends were playing a concert there. I arrived late, which is maybe why I too quickly tried to rush by the bouncer, a red-haired and red-bearded Axl Rose lookalike with a stupid red bandana on his forehead.

I'm pretty sure I didn't look too drunk - but maybe I looked too happy or something. He would not let me in.

Club Berghain in Berlin, Copyright: picture-alliance/schroewig
Berghain is famous for its dark rooms and raves lasting several daysImage: picture-alliance/schroewig

"But my friends are playing!" I protested. "I don't care," was his firm reply.

I called my friend Thomas Mahmoud who had invited me and he took my side. "Don't you know who that is, dude?" Thomas stood in the bouncer's face, wildly pointing towards me. My feelings were mixed: I was grateful my friend was standing up for me, and amused because Thomas can be really funny when he gets excited. (You should watch Klaus Lemke's new Berlin movie "Kein Grosses Ding" in which Thomas plays pretty much himself.) But I was also a bit ashamed for not being let in in the first place and having to be helped out by a friend.

"That is Yaneq, dude! He has done more for Berlin culture than your tourist ass!" Thomas's arms madly gesticulated while he was in the bouncer's face, who wasn't backing down.

Thomas reached into the plastic grocery bag he was carrying, which is something like his attaché, and pulled out a handful of postcards he and painter Maria Gimenez had printed. The card shows a collage with an old Dutch landscape painting in the background and some graphic images like a black-and-white Xerox copy of an African American porn star holding a huge cock with Adolf Hitler's head on his shoulders. "Opferklub Kreuzberg," the card read on the back. "Victims' club Kreuzberg! Donate now so that no failed artist will ever become a dictator again!"

Thomas threw the postcards on Axl Rose, who looked like he was worried that Thomas might pull a knife out of his bag.

"Have these!" shouted Thomas. "People like you we really don't need, dude!"

We all laughed, except Axl. He looked at us shamefully, even though he tried to maintain his smile.

Thomas, I and the rest of us went to another Kreuzberg bar to continue the night because we definitely weren't getting in there anytime soon.

I said earlier that getting into Berlin clubs isn't that hard, but I've only explained how I didn't get in. However, I stick to what I said: Getting in doesn't mean dressing up and leaving your sneakers at home. Just don't be too drunk when you arrive at the door.

Jan Kage, Copyright: Stefan Ruhmke
Jan Kage's columns appear on the first Thursday of every monthImage: Stefan Ruhmke

Party with the government

It turns out that it's easiest to get into the places you'd least expect. Just the other day, an artist friend of mine showed me his new work, a giant installation in the new German Ministry for Education and Research, which is a huge construction site at the moment. We walked right passed the workers. No security guards, no one asking us for passes or permission to enter the building.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I am all for open government and free access for the people to the powers that be and to the ones that rule. I just would have expected a different greeting, considering the times we live in with digital cameras everywhere and guards checking even my daughter's baby bottle for explosives at the airport.

I hope it will take a while until they finally install bouncers at the doors of the ministries.

Until then: have an educating rave.