We’ve been away from home for four weeks now. We’ve done a lot and seen some incredible things but no experience comes even close to the one we had last night at the Berghain club in Berlin. Jez would be best to tell this story. . . . .
Let me give you a bit of background on the Berghain. It’s been voted the best nightclub in the world and is regarded as the official home of techno music. Its predecessor was a men’s only nightclub, so the Berghain has a strong gay scene. The club is known for its strict and discriminatory door policy. If they don’t like the look of you, you’ve got no chance. Similar to the clubs in Ibiza, there are no cameras allowed but at Berghain this is much stricter i.e., if you take a photo with your phone, they will take it off you.
The club is located in an old power plant. Yes, I know, it’s the perfect location for a nightclub. This would seem like an outrageous idea in any other city, but Berlin seems to be littered with old industrial buildings so it seems pretty logical.
Front view of the Berghain
I‘d been researching the club extensively in online forums because I knew it was going to be hard to get in. The door policy seems to be completely opposite to any of our big clubs in Sydney. In Sydney, a large group of good-looking, dressed up girls would be permitted without hesitation. At the Berghain, these girls would be turned away instantly. From my research, I knew that our best bet would be to act like a local – look underdressed, act disinterested and not socialise with people in the line and of course, speak German! Obviously the club wants a particular kind of clientele, one that’s serious about the music and not there ‘to be seen’.
With all this in mind, Mads dressed it down – wore jeans, t-shirt and no jewellery – and me, I just wear what I always wear – black pants, grey top. The club opens at 12am Sunday morning and closes some time Sunday night. Getting there before 4am is considered early. We left the hotel at 1am and caught the U-bahn to Alexanderplatz so we could change trains to Ostbahnof, near where the Berghain is located. Riding the U-bahn at that hour is an experience in itself. We were out of place without a bottle of drink in hand! To cut a long story short, our U-Bahn attempt failed and we caught a cab to the club.
When we arrived, the line was massive and didn’t seem to be moving at all. It’s meant to be summer here, but it felt like a winter’s night in Sydney. The wind was freezing! As we edged ever so slowly on the dirt track towards the entrance, the power plant became bigger and bigger. It was a huge, grey and imposing building. We waited and waited and waited in this massive queue of people from absolutely everywhere. From listening to conversations around us, there were loads of people from overseas and many first-timers to the club. As I mentioned before, it was important to be able to speak German to the bouncers. So for the few days beforehand, I’d been practicing one German word that I was sure would get us in, a password if you will, the word ‘zwei’. German for ‘two’. I was confident the bouncer would ask me ‘How many?’.
There were some loud American frat boys in front of us. I didn’t think they would have a chance of getting in, but I knew if they did get in, we wouldn’t have a problem. After two hours of waiting in the freezing cold, we could now see the entrance to the club. We watched in horror as the bouncers ruined people’s nights and turned them away. It looked like at least half of the line was being refused entry. The bouncers took delight in having people plead with them to get in. I heard one person plead with the bouncer, saying he’d waited for two hours. They just laughed.
On the final stretch of the queue, we were herded through metal barriers towards the doors. This entry would break every law in the book back in Australia. There was a constant weight of people pressing on our backs. Now metres away from the entrance, we could see that the frat boys hadn’t made the cut.
Denied entry. Sent home. Dismissed. Our turn was fast approaching.
The three groups in front of us were denied. There was no pleading with the bouncers; after waiting three hours in the line, they were ready to go home defeated. Our turn had come and the bouncer looked us up and down and said something in German. I had no idea what he said, but I uttered our password. He nodded. There was an awkward moment where we didn’t know whether to walk in, wait or leave. He nodded again and gestured for us to move inside.
Once inside the doorway, I had no idea which direction to go. I didn’t know if we should continue down the hall or go to the room to the left. We hesitated and we could hear someone shouting something from behind, over and over. It clicked just in time that they were telling us to go left in German. At that point, the bouncer shouted ‘left’ in English. I thought we were gonners. He’d discovered that we weren’t German after all. We quickly moved in to the room on the left and were patted down by security. My phone was scrutinised and the security guy said ‘No photos’ to me in English. I moved along to pay the cover charge and said ‘zwei’ to the guy behind the desk. I paid and he stamped our arms.
I’m not exaggerating the entry. This place is hardcore. We waited three hours in the freezing cold with a very slim chance of making it past the doors. I felt like I’d pulled off a bank robbery!
Once inside, the sheer size of this place hits me. It has a very minimal and industrial feel, lots of steel and bare concrete. The ground level had couches and beds, with people draped across them. The main dance floor is one level up. We walked up the steel stairs and found the dance floor packed with people. Funnily enough, the DJ that was playing was Deepchild, an Aussie guy. We danced for a bit and I decided I needed a drink. As it was 5am, I didn’t particularly feel like a beer so I ordered a rum and coke. The drink was quite literally two thirds alcohol; the coke just gave it a bit of colour. Surprisingly, just like the entry fee, it wasn’t expensive.
Inside the Berghain. Steel stairs leading to the main dance floor.
For the next two hours, we explored the club. It was like a maze, with many passages and dark rooms. We visited the Panorama Bar, which was on another level of the club and continued to dance for a bit. With our sore legs and tired bodies we left the club just before 7am. When we walked out in to the daylight, we saw the line to get in was still huge. It would have still been at least a two hour wait to get in. We jumped in a cab and headed for home.
Mads and I were left speechless after experiencing Berghain. The club is like no other I’ve ever experienced. Even the clubs in Ibiza cannot compare. The club could have held more people, clearly the line to get in and the strict door is done purposely to give the club its exclusive feel and keep it true to its reputation. It certainly worked on us, and it certainly worked on the people that were rejected.