It is a bitterly cold early November morning, and I have been standing in a queue for a touch under two hours. In front of me looms an ominous former East German power station built during the Cold War. And for all these people queuing to have gone inside, it seems eerily quiet. The only audible sound in the still winter air is the thudding bass of a kick drum. But before I get to investigate the inside, I’ll need to negotiate with the most famous bouncer in the world. Sven Marquardt.
For those of you unfamiliar with that name, he is the equivalent of the devil at the gate. He sports barbed wire facial tattoos, bullnose piercing, a grey-haired man bun, and big square framed hipster glasses. He is the man who makes the final decision as to whether you get into the building tonight or not.
Just as soon as I have made this mental note to remember a description of Sven my turn for judgment arrives!
Sven: ‘Wie viele’?
Me: ‘Zwei, bitte!’
Sven: Gestures towards the entrance (A pitch-black doorway) and nods his head.
Me: Giving high fives to myself in my mind, because if I act that out in front of Sven Marquardt. He will reverse his decision immediately, no questions asked. And all my mastery of the German language will count for nothing.
Berghain is arguably the most famous (or infamous) underground music club in the city, and possibly the world. Playing tonight are techno heavyweights Tale of Us, and Adriatique. The former has performed a Friday night residency at the establishment for the past few years. And for a club that has so much ‘underground’ acclaim is strange because these guys play a Thursday night residency at Hi, Ibiza, which is the complete opposite of somewhere like Berghain.
So what does that mean for some of the most covered topics about how to gain entry?
Countless articles about what wear can be found online. All full of tips and tricks to get you past the Berghain door policy. But the simple fact is no one has the foggiest idea of what works. It’s all simply the luck of the draw. If you are dressed like a preppy frat boy, then you aren’t getting in. So, leave the boat shoes at home.
It is far more likely that you are being vetted for entry well before you ever stand in front of Sven Marquardt. Berghain uses spotters who stand in the queue to size up the potential patrons. So, if you are stepping out of line while you are in the line, word will make way up to the doors, and you will be turned away. But not before they let you stand for hours in the freezing cold and wait your turn for an up-close rejection.
Unfortunately, tonight the main part of Berghain is closed, and only the Panorama Bar is open to exploring. It will have to suffice because after all managing to gain access into these hallowed halls at the very first time of asking is a stroke of luck.
The Panorama Bar is on the upper levels of the building. To get there is one of the more interesting flights of stairs in recent memory. Because the club stays open all weekend means you will see people in various states, for better or worse. You never know who you might meet on that Berghain stairwell. Inside it is absolutely heaving.
The DJ’s booth looks like a butcher’s shop set from a Saw movie where the antagonist would likely operate. However, as grim as the thought crossing my mind is. I appreciate that the booth is not the centrepiece of the room. These types of set-ups/performers have recently hijacked the electronic music scene (won’t mention any names). Berghain removes this attention entirely and provides an environment where the experience lies in the entire venue rather than just the booth itself. A fundamental building block in the creation of Berlin’s club culture.
At this time, I must break off in a small tangential rant (not too long, I promise).
The feeling I am getting is that the Berghain crowd is full of wannabe Instagrammer’s pretending to like underground, without actually having to experience something underground. Even though you can’t take photos, it seems to be full of people just there to say that got inside. Only to post on social media that they got into Berghain. Thankfully no photos are allowed. Otherwise, it would be full of Instagram tools doing the pout lips pose, sort of like what Hi (Ibiza) actually is.
Ahhh! Ok rant over, and I feel much better now.
The sound inside is top-notch. The acoustics of the building (although originally not built for this purpose) are fantastic for a thumping angry German kickdrum accompanied by the odd high hat and snare. No expense has been spared on the audio experience because even at the insanely high decibels, you can have a conversation. Albeit a disjointed one at best considering it is well past sunrise.
Adriatique is prepping to pilot the proceedings from the butcher’s booth, and a reveller has thought to shine some light on the situation. They briefly pull open a blind to illuminate the room. The action is greeted by an intense resistance from the vampire-like crowd who despise this flash of light. The blind is soon closed (likely until Monday morning).
However, the light has not been a bad thing for everyone. It has reminded me that it is probably time to get out of there because it has already gone 10 a.m. Back down the world’s most exciting staircase and back into the light, I go. There is no Sven to say ‘auf wiedersehen’. Just ringing in my ears, and a great big smile on my face. What an experience!
On the one hand, you will never experience these levels of debauchery and hedonism anywhere else. Period! On the other, you can see Tale of Us or Adriatique play highly commercial venues pretty much anywhere. The result is that Berghain seems to be Berlin’s most commercial underground venue. We recommend heading to Mensch Meier for a better underground vibe.
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