The Berlin Clubbing Experience

He wouldn’t stop talking about it, so we let him write this article

By Suresh Hanubal

Editor-in-Chief

Lines that last for hours. Clubs that don’t open until 1:00 AM, if not later. A party culture that’s among the best in the world. Which city am I talking about here? Now, I know you might be thinking about London, New York, or Paris, capitals of world culture and art, but I am in fact referring to gritty, often neglected, “poor but sexy” Berlin. 

Berlin, a city which was in the 1920s on the cutting edge of social progressivism and tolerance, experienced a major cultural setback in the 1930s and ‘40s (for obvious reasons). For much of the postwar era, it remained a city divided by the brutal realities of the Cold War era, staid and constrained. This all changed with the fall of the wall in 1989, and the city experienced a wild upsurge in revolutionary and experimental sentiment over the next decade. During this time, the city correspondingly saw the opening of a number of new clubs, the most famous being Berghain

These clubs were mostly venues for young people to express themselves through techno, and quickly gained fame throughout Europe and the rest of the world. They were experimental venues, filled with what can only be described as avant-garde music, the edgiest people, and the coolest venues. The legendary Berghain, which today boasts the toughest door policy of any club in the world, and whose previous iteration, Ostgut, was founded in 1998, is housed in a former power plant. Today, Berghain, along with a host of other clubs of varying sizes, prestige, and preferred clientele dot the Berlin landscape.

Again, most clubs that exist in Berlin today are techno venues, in much the same way that the Berlin club scene existed in the 1990s. But, as the city’s club scene and international reputation have improved over the past three decades, so too has the variety of experiences and venues available throughout the city. Today, the city also boasts a large number of Latin clubs as well as a few American-style establishments. But, even in these places, the core cultural norms that define the Berlin experience dominate.

Like much of Europe, Berlin is a city of smokers. The smell of cigarettes wafts across the city at all hours, especially in the lines of its most popular establishments. Unlike in the United States, where cigarettes have decidedly fallen out of favor, in Europe they still perform the function of a social lubricant. Especially when waiting in the notoriously long lines before a night out at a techno club, smoking is a great way for prospective clubgoers to pass the time. For many people, it’s also a wonderful way to meet new people. 

And the people one’ll meet in club lines are … interesting. The “Berlin Look,” which all clubgoers who actually have a chance of getting in to said establishments (Most of Berlin’s clubs have notoriously strict door policies.) have. Now, the “Berlin Look,” as defined by travelsofadam.com, is actually not a look, per se, but an attitude. It’s, as Adam so eloquently stated, a “look” that comprises “shoes that are comfortable and practical — what you need to dance, not show off … outfits that are simple, but stylish … comfort is important … and you can never go wrong with a bomber jacket.” Basically, think about what the hipsters of Bushwick and Rods wear, multiply that by ten, and make sure you got your outfit while thrifting. 

Of course, the Berlin Look also encompasses the personalities of the people involved. If you’re not into astrology, veganism, or democratic socialism, it’s probably not for you. If you don’t think that you can commit to an all-black wardrobe, it’s probably not for you. If you can’t commit yourself to discussing the gender politics of Mad Men to members of an Afropunk Lesbian collective, need I say it again? And of course, if you can’t commit to staying out till 1:00 PM on a Monday, it just ain’t happening. 

Now, there is a reward for staying till the next afternoon, which to our simple American ears does sound a wee-bit insane. Berlin is a cultural epicenter of Europe, renowned for its ethnic diversity. Correspondingly, whenever you get back from a night out, whether that’s at 6 AM or, yes, 1:00 PM on a Monday, you can enjoy the delectable, versatile, and thankfully extremely cheap doner. For just three to five euros, depending on the middle-aged Turkish man’s mood (and doner stands in Berlin are ALWAYS run by middle-aged Turkish men), you can have yourself a mouthwatering concoction of vegetables, mutton, and sauce, all wrapped up in a sturdy loaf, similar to a pita. 

Now, with this being said, not all parts of the Berlin night out are equally as mind- blowingly positive. Despite its overwhelmingly left-wing image, Berlin, along with the rest of Europe, witnessed a sharp rise in racism in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and 2015 Migrant Crisis. This rise in racist behavior can be seen in all facets of Berlin life, but especially in its nightlife. 

This pattern of discrimination can be seen wherein Latin nightclubs have a reputation of turning away Latinx people. It can be seen in the looks on bouncer’s faces when they see a group of Black, Indian, or Arab persons approach a club. It can be seen when your German friends turn to you after talking to an ethnically Turkish man and state, without hesitation, “He’s a Turk: that’s why his German is so poor.” So, yes, Berlin is a wonderful city with nightlife to die for, but it has unfortunately not been spared by the rise in xenophobic attitudes that has plagued Europe over the last several years. 

When you do visit Berlin and, naturally, decide to partake in it’s world’s best nightlife, you should consider the following clubs. If you’re looking for an American club experience, go to Matrix. It’s the worst in the city, but should sate most American audiences. If you want something slightly better, try Suicide Circus; they’ll let basically anyone in, but provide a more-or-less acceptable techno experience. There are also a great number of mid-range clubs to choose from: Tresor (my favorite), Salon Zur Wilden Renate (it’s circus-themed), Mensch Meier (communes based in San Francisco think they might be a little too progressive), Griessmuehle (~metal vibes~), and much more that I’ve neglected to mention. If you’re into a more “kinky” experience, look no further than Kit Kat, for a “one-of-a-kind” experience. And of course, if you’re into being turned away from a club, try the aforementioned Berghain

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