The Berghain

The New York Times called it “the best club in the world.” The mammoth power plant-turned-techno mecca, which takes its name from its neighborhood Friedrichshain and nearby Kreuzberg, has a reputation as the “hardest door in Berlin.” Comically so. People wait in line for hours, only to get turned away at the whim of the bouncer. We knew at the outset that there was a good chance we’d never make it in, and that if we did, a techno club really couldn’t be that special. But we ventured out nonetheless, determined not to leave without some sort of Berghain experience, even a rejection.

We met up at midnight and hung around at a Biergarten for a few hours, aware that no self-respecting person shows up at the Berghain before 3 or 4. Our crew was nine strong — and frankly problematic. A few girls had decided at the last minute not to come, and our 6’8″ Slovakian friend Andrej made matters worse by: a) bringing along two more dudes, and b) gleefully chugging a bottle of Havana Club rum faster than I can drink water (obvious drunks are the most likely to get turned away from the Berghain). So we were left with seven guys and two girls — and our rejection from an average-seeming bar in Kreuzberg (“too many guys”) didn’t bode well. Luckily, we managed to shed Andrej’s two (quite annoying) friends, and then Andrej himself, barely coherent as we arrived at the club. (It was a good thing he left when he did; there’s no way he would have had the stamina for what was to come.)

And there we were, at the back of a very, very long line leading to a completely unmarked (and surprisingly hard-to-find) old power plant. No photos are allowed inside, so I didn’t bother bringing a camera, but here’s a daytime shot of the building courtesy of Wikipedia:

Not much to look at, is it? But it feels a bit different when there are 500 would-be clubgoers standing between you and it.

Berliners have spent countless hours strategizing over the door policy. The consensus seems to be that it’s pretty close to random. Young, attractive, well-dressed people get turned away routinely. One thing’s clear: Tourists are at a distinct disadvantage, so we decided at the outset that we’d be speaking only German in line (tough for our Irish friend, whose German has only existed for two weeks, but good for me, since I’ve developed a real aversion to speaking English here). Dressing up, people say, can make it look like you “tried too hard,” so despite my complete fashion-blindness, I was wearing what seemed to be my hippest t-shirt (thanks, TD). Beyond that, it was pretty much up to chance.

Our fate was in the hands of two bouncers, who were among the most terrifying men I’ve ever seen. One looked quite a bit like present-day Diego Maradona, only with tattoos and piercings all over his face and a scowl that appeared as if it hadn’t lifted in 20 years. The other looked like a hulking SS drill sergeant, with a shaved head, a huge clenched jaw, and a green army jacket.

We got in line just after 4 a.m. The sun started coming up around 5:30. Two members of our party gave up and left around 6:15, reducing us to four: Justyna (Poland), Adrian (Ireland), Simon (Spain), and myself. The good news was that the bouncers appeared to have stopped turning many people away, after we’d watched a steady trickle of dejected people walk past us for over two hours. But that was just an illusion: As we got nearer, Diego started giving people the thumb — communication was almost all non-verbal — at an alarming rate. One by one, people who appeared far hipper than we were left wondering why the hell they’d just wasted the past three hours of their lives.

And then, at 6:45, we were at the front. Adrenaline definitely started kicking in. Diego and the drill sergeant sort of grunted at each other for a while as we stood there waiting and watching the startled expressions of the people exiting the club, emerging into daylight only to find a two-plus-hour line still stretching from the door. A part of me was glad that the line had been so absurdly long — after all, without the hours-long adventure of trying to get in, a techno club is just a techno club, something that would ordinarily hold no interest for me. And a part of me was even secretly hoping that we we’d get turned away. But that was just a small part.

Diego looked in our direction. With a small jerk of his hand, we were in.

I’ve already devoted almost 700 words to the build-up; the club itself really doesn’t merit as many words. After all, we spent longer in line (2 hours, 45 minutes) than in the club. But I’ll give you a few quick observations.

First, it was much gayer than I expected. While the line outside had appeared reasonably gender-neutral, inside it was at least 75% guys. Many had their shirts off. Some had their pants off. Many were making out. But the open sex I’d heard about was nowhere to be seen — or rather, was limited to the darkrooms I certainly didn’t venture into.

The music, of course, was terrible. I have to imagine the basic beat and tempo never changed over the many hours the club was open — they certainly didn’t in our time there. Every 16 bars or so, there would be a slight change — say, the introduction of an electronic imitation snare. And then 16 or 32 bars later, it would revert back to what it had been before. But somehow, every time it changed ever so slightly, people went nuts.

The lights were cool. Someone told me that the club had recently undergone a $5 million makeover, and much of that was probably invested in lights. On the smaller, upstairs dance floor, though — the supposedly straighter one — there was enough light coming in through the closed metal blinds that the lights couldn’t quite work. So we mainly hung out on the main (gayer) dance floor, where the light show was legitimately impressive and kept me from getting too bored by the unfathomably monotonous “music.”

And we danced. There were, of course, some strange characters around. Not far from us was a circle of ten or so shirtless, jacked dudes all dancing with each other. Close by was a very small woman, no more than 4’10”, who had managed to clear a column of space for herself and pretty much just marched back and forth in it, occasionally rotating the column by 45 degrees and continuing.

At 9:15, we emerged. Justyna and Adrian split off to catch the S-Bahn home, and Simon and I walked into Kreuzberg, where he hopped the U-Bahn and I went to my apartment. Along our way, we pondered whether the people we saw were ending their Saturday or starting their Sunday — and in just about all cases, it was the latter. I crawled into bed at 10, woke up at 5:30, and had some breakfast. It’s very hard to eat three square meals a day when your schedule’s shifted eight hours from where it should be.

So was it worth it? Did it make sense to wait nearly three hours in line, pay 12 euros cover, and lose a day, in order to dance for a while to bad music? Absolutely — no question about it.

But I’ll never do it again.

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One Response to The Berghain

  1. Pingback: Well That Was Brief | Ein Berliner, Briefly

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