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What makes Berlin's Berghain club special

Silke Wünsch
October 2, 2021

Closed for 19 months, Berlin's famous techno club Berghain reopened a minute before midnight on Saturday for its first club night since the start of the pandemic.

Berghain club, large building
Berghain's isolated location, with no next-door neighbors, is ideal for partygoersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

Berghain is one of the most famous clubs in the world. It is housed in a massive steel and concrete building, surrounded by a large property in Berlin's Friedrichshain district — a great party location because there are no direct neighbors. Since 2004, party people from all over the world have flocked to what was once an East German heat and power plant.

The club is part of the city's techno club history, which began in basements and empty factory buildings in the early 1990s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, old buildings in the former East Berlin, in particular, offered highly sought-after places to party to the soundtrack of the times, wild and sweaty techno house.

Strobe lights and beats

In the 1990s, a club that went by the name of Tresor was Berlin's most popular. Set up in a building on Potsdamer Platz, then still a no man's land between the former East and West Berlin, partygoers entered a basement complete with the rusted lockers of the former Wertheim Bank, bars in front of the windows, relentless strobe lights and equally relentless beats.

Sven Marquardt, a man in black with glasses, piercings and tattoos on his face
Debating with the Berghain bouncers like Sven Marquardt is pointlessImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Carstensen

Tresor is where Berlin's techno myth was born, but Ostgut, a club founded in 1999 and known for unique parties and boundless freedoms, sexual and otherwise, is considered to have paved the way for Berghain.

After four short years, in 2003, the Ostgut club had to make way for a multipurpose arena. The operators soon located a new building, and opened a club they named Berghain ("mountain copse") in December 2004. It quickly gained fame throughout the world, and has maintained its cult status to this day.

Strict door policy

People who want to enter the club have to stand in line for hours ⁠— with eager clubgoers waiting up to 7 hours on Berghain's reopening night.

They may or may not get in — the bouncers are unpredictable. Berghain is known to have the toughest door policy in Berlin.

Sven Marquardt — tattooed, pierced and a successful photographer to boot — is the most famous guardian of the club's entrance. In his many interviews, he comes across as impenetrable as the door he watches.

In blogs and articles, people wonder what they have to do to get into Berghain. Wear black? Fishnet stockings? Stay cool? Not grin too much? Wear sunglasses? High heels or sneakers? Wait in line alone, in pairs or in a group? Should they be gay, lesbian, queer or straight?

People partcing in darkish room, strobe lights
Special permission is needed for photos taken inside BerghainImage: picture-alliance/schroewig

There is no sure recipe for getting in, but plenty of reasons to be turned back at the door. Even if tourist brochures tout Berghain as the place to be, tourists can't simply take a quick peek inside. Debating with the bouncers is pointless. Stag parties are banned, as are bowling clubs or other groups out to party and get drunk. Berghain is an underground club, and that's what it wants to remain.

What happens in Berghain stays in Berghain

Photos are not allowed. Cellphone cameras are taped off at the door. Anyone caught taking pictures is in trouble and kicked out — because apart from taking pictures, everything is allowed, and people are supposed to feel free and unobserved.

There are several dance floors in different rooms, areas where guests can let off steam. People don't just go to Berghain to dance; it is where they can simply be themselves. There are legends about excessive sex parties and ample drug use — and parts are bound to be true. What happens, happens, but never leaves the Berghain premises.

Art in the techno temple

No wonder the club is so popular. When Berghain had to close at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, its promoters were confident things would work out quickly.

They were wrong, and clubs stayed closed. So Berghain's promoters organized a contemporary art exhibition at the club with Christian Boros and his wife Karen, art collectors who run a gallery in a former bunker in the city.

Dancers in a darkened room at Berghain
In 2013, Berlin's State Ballet chose Berghain as an unusual performance venueImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture-alliance

In September 2020, Berghain opened its otherwise impenetrable door to art lovers. The Studio Berlin group exhibition showed 115 Berlin artists who had no opportunity to present their works due to the pandemic.

The cult club has for years presented a variety of events in its many rooms. Before the pandemic, it was one of the Berlin Fashion Week venues and in 2013, the club hosted the Berlin State Ballet in its large, 18-meter-high hall.

2G rules

Berghain's outdoor Disco Garden dance club opened weeks ago, as soon as pandemic restrictions were eased for outdoor gatherings.

Since Saturday, Berlin's party people can once again get together indoors as well — following the current COVID protection rules.

Club nights in the Panorama Bar are planned for the five weekends in October, beginning at 23:59 p.m. for guests who are either vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Face masks are not required.

Guests cannot order online tickets in advance. People have to stand patiently in line because now, it's not just faces and outfits that are checked, but also digital vaccination certificates. If you don't get past the bouncer, don't fret — just try again next time.

This article has been translated from German