The German techno temple Berghain, for many the place to be when it comes to techno music and the underground music scene. For a place being this popular there isn’t much information out there so the guys from DJBroadcast booked a flight to Berlin to meet old-timers from the early days of this legendary club..
You can read the entire article on DJBroadcast (must read!), we’ve summarized the entire article for you down below.
How to win friends and influence people: The Story of Berghain.
In a city that prompts anonymity, Berghain is Berlin’s status symbol; forged into legend with its history of quality electronic music, and fueled by the growing demand of a techno-thrilled generation, the notorious techno club earned its stars and stripes well before its inception under the current name, while its policies continue to remain mythical to attendees and critics alike.
The legacy that precedes Berghain, began in the dislocation of the 90s after the Wall gave way to the proclaimed ‘zero hour’ of opportunity where abandoned buildings of the East became living squats, music warehouses, and eventually, contemporary clubs. “We didn’t want to be too far away from West Berlin, because there were no telephones in the East and we wanted to be close to a telephone cell. So we ended up finding a place in the Friedrichshain neighborhood.” said Tobias Rapp, who was interested in the music culture early on and became a pop culture editor for two national newspapers, followed by authoring a book on the topic of techno trending. With vacancies and sudden freedom, experimentation and escapism beget creativity, and locally sprouted party cultures, started to define their own lack of boundaries.
“…I remember having spent more than one hour in a club thinking it was Ostgut. I found out it was Casino and that Ostgut was a 100 meters further…”
Rarely giving interviews, perhaps in light of letting the music experience speak for itself, Berghain’s founders are Michael Teufele and Norbert Thormann. The names tell little of the men behind the club curtain, and descriptions merely hint at a cheerful and tattooed Michael with former fashion photographer Norbert Thormann, as his bookish business partner. The most of whats divulged lies in their well achieved intention to create a club as a work of art. And everything from the notoriously scrutinizing door policy to the endless weekend Bacchanal inside, sells like a signature, that keeps pulling in the masses.
Back to the formulative years of 1998: a sex club under the name of lab.oratory, acted on an offer to expand their space, and Michael and Norbert founded a club called Ostgut, on Stralauer Allee, in the empty shipping warehouse of the Ostgüterbahnhof train station. No advertising and no entrance street lamps. “Hard to find the venue… I remember having spent more than one hour in a club thinking it was Ostgut. I found out it was Casino and that Ostgut was a 100 meters further,” a former partygoer lamented. The acoustic experience of Ostgut was hypnotic and dark; industrial techno much to the flavor of Berghain, played by Resident DJs, also being one of the first clubs in Berlin to offer such. The sexually liberal crowd was local, predominantly male and gay; revealing an open-minded nature that eventually appealed to many beyond the demographic.
Where Tresor had swayed the clubber crowd, Ostgut’s dance floor became the place to be yourself. A place safe for experimentation, where one could encounter the unlikely interactions between bankers and dealers alike. Local DJ, Sacha Robotti remembers his “best parties in Berlin at Ostgut”, going “there with a full Adidas tracksuit and my dancing shoes… a lot of nudity… people just there for the music (and the sex)…”
“…It was an unwritten rule; you have to hide it because it’s such a treasure…”
Two years later a small office extension, opened upstairs as Panorama bar, and brought the signature lighter groove of techno and house to Ostgut, with a widening range of Berlin gender types in the crowd. Still Berlin’s ‘laut’ creative outcry, first came as a whisper, “nobody really wanted to talk about it or write about it. It was an unwritten rule; you have to hide it because it’s such a treasure. And it really became like a home to a lot of people of that time…you really felt it was the beginning of something special,” wrote Groove Magazine editor Thilo Schneider.
A redevelopment plan spurred the clubs closing in 2003. Locals did not long reel in its dissolution, as a boldly renamed Berghain, suggesting its locational Kruezberg and Friedrichshain split, opened its doors on October 15th, 2004, with Panorama bar as a first offering. An enormous and disused power plant built in the 1950s, with a dance floor capacity of 1,500, and a backbone of devotees for a reputation; Berghain could not stay quiet for long. Inside: the elaboratesound upgrade, smart design, and commissioned erotic art by Wolfgang Tillmans hinted at an operation going pro. Still after the first visit, producer Daniel Wang concluded “There is something extraordinarily democratic about the mood of the club”.
Rumors stretch far and wide about the enormity of the support for the Berghain project. Some claim the DDR power plant, was a consolation prize from o2, who had bulldozed Ostgut to make way for their performance arena. Berliner Bank folder stacks seen in the early office interviews, hint that they were also a financial ally. By late 2009, Berghain was awarded 1.2 million Euros in government funds to finance the renovations of undeveloped parts of the buildings which would have brought the club capacity to 2,500. In 2011, nothing said permanent like the purchase of the power plant from Vattenfall itself, taking all third party intervention out of the picture.
Back again to the early 2000s and Berlin, (with the Berghain for the techno-tourist), was becoming a main attraction, and by the 2005 launch of the Ostgut Ton Label, the music tourism that had originally contributed to less than 20% of Berlin’s visitors, swiftly shot into the majority. Tobias Rapp noticed as early as “2004, when I was standing in the line of a club waiting to get in… Wow, all of these people around me speak different languages. Nobody was speaking German.” As the 90s moved the West to Berlin, so did the 00s move the rest of the world closer as well. From all people visiting Berlin, 35% indicates they have travelled to Berlin for its nightlife. An anonymous doorman at several Berlin establishments said that “Berlin might well be regarded today as the ‘Ibiza of the North.'”An honorary status as the “Best Club in the World” propagated by the popular EDM culture DJ Mag in a 2009 issue, suggests a similar fortune.
Sven Marquardt, the fearced bouncer of Berghain.
These days Berghain gainfully employs at least 180 people, with every well-paid employee, receiving health and pension coverage. Booking rights and label operations have been extended to former Ostgut Residents gone seasoned employees, with gentle oversight by Michael, the founder. Ostgut label founder Nick Höppner recently handed over the label management rights to Jenus Baumecker, in order to get his own focus back on production. Booker Gideon Rathenow is known to be politically active in the digital arts community, beyond being a major force in the clubs decision making process.
“…Don’t look too glamorous; look queer; don’t act like a tourist; don’t look too young; don’t show up as a group of straight men or women; dress eccentrically; go alone…”
Just five years short of two decades of decadence, old timers bark at Berghain’s increasing popularity gain, and liberated new comers threaten to dislodge its underground credibility. Some say the bookings cater to famous DJs, and public pressure has pushed out the experimental origins of the club. Wanting to retain its mythical values, and a consequence of the jet-set visitor, notorious door policies have been instituted, keeping the place warm for “regulars”, while turning away those deemed inappropriate.
Multiple forums and apps have fueled endless conversation about the particular strategies to adopt, for certain entry to the inside. “Don’t look too glamorous; look queer; don’t act like a tourist; don’t look too young; don’t show up as a group of straight men or women; dress eccentrically; go alone” ethnomusicologist Luis Manuel Garcia summates some of the popular opinion, as part of an analysis on how the clubs image is perceived by its fans. Italian DJ and longtime Berlin clubber: ‘Qu Er’, once described Berghain, as being “of nobody… but in the [recent] time, something has changed.”