Berlin Club Culture

Berlin Club Culture (1)

The entrance to Club Tresor on Köpenicker Straße in Berlin's Mitte district.

Much more than just a weekend activity, clubbing is part of the cultural fabric of Berlin. An guide to the history, important locations and ideology behind the city's famous nighlife.

Vibrant, varied, alternative, surprising, intense, disorientating, hedonistic: Berlin's nightlife has many faces. The capital is known as one of the best locations for clubbing in the entire world and continues to draw in tourists and newcomers with wild stories and myths about the local party scene. Read on for some interesting facts about the history, present and future of clubbing in Berlin.

A Brief History: Clubbing in Berlin in the 1990s

Berlin Club Culture (2)

A Berlin original since 1991, albeit with a change of location: the techno club Tresor.

To gain a deeper understanding of the current club culture in Berlin and its importance for the city's cultural fabric, let us to travel back in time to the 1990s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, an atmosphere of celebration swept the newly reunified city. There was an abundance of abandoned buildings and factories all over the city, especially in the eastern party, which were quickly turned into illegal nightclubs and party locations by a crowd of party-hungry young Berliners. Legal peculiarities such as the non-existent curfew made the city a fertile ground for a newly emerging vibrant clubbing scene where parties could go on for as long and people liked. After the tense atmosphere of the Cold War and the oppression of the Soviet regime, people longed for freedom, self-expression and spaces of without rules or regulations - values that continue to characterize the Berlin nightlife until today.

Berlin and Techno: A Love Story

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Techno is without a doubt the defining music genre of the current Berlin clubbing scene. Even thoguh the bass-heave genre of electronic music did not originate in Berlin but in Detroit (USA), techno music and its corresponding youth culture was quickly adopted in West Germany in the mid-1980s and the whole of Germany after the reunification. Berlin became one of the most important centers of the scene in the early 1990s and has had a significant influence on the development of techno culture since then. Early techno clubs that emerged shortly after the fall of the Wall and influenced the nationwide and international scene were E-Werk, Tresor, Bunker, Walfisch and Ostgut.

Contrary to the genre's original form from Detroit, the typical Berlin techno sound is often more subdued, located somewhere between minimal techno and minimal house. The city is home to some of the most celebrated DJs in the world - including Ricardo Villalobos, Ben Klock, Ellen Alien and Paul Kalkbrenner - and continues to be a haven for all those hopefuls looking to make it big in electronic music.

Berghain, KitKat, Sisyphos: Legendary Locations

Berghain (3)

Rarely this empty: the entrance to Berghain.

With a few exceptions, most of Berlin's famous techno clubs of the 90s no longer exist. Nevertheless, their spirit lives on. Many of the people who started illegal parties after the fall of the Berlin Wall are now successful club owners. Among the new generation of clubs, names such as Berghain, Sisyphos, Watergate, Kater Blau, ://about blank and Kitkat as well as regular party nights such as Staub, Symbiotikka and Klubnacht ring a bell with partygoers way beyond city limits.

Each Berlin club has its own vibe, crowd and musical style. For example, Berghain-goers favor a darker, rawer industrial sound while Tresor is known for Detroit techno and clubs such as Kater Blau and Sisyphos tend to play a danceable mix of techno, house and EDM. Many of the most famous clubs in the capital are known for their strict door policy, which is to ensure that the selected crowd fits the vibe of the respective night and location.

Come As You Are: Culture and Values of Berlin's Nightlife

Berlin Club Culture (6)

"You are very welcome": Many people see clubs in Berlin as safe spaces to express themselves without criticism or judgment.

To the uninitiated, the strict door policy many Berlin clubs might suggest a selective attitude critical towards outsiders. However, according to Berlin party regulars, the opposite is true. For many people, Berlin's nightclubs are spaces of freedom and self-expression, allowing them to shed restrictive social norms for a night and be whoever they want for a night. Many of the scene's prominent actors continue to uphold authenticity, openness and acceptance are the core values of Berlin's club culture.

Authenticity remains a core value when it comes to clothing as well. It is no accident that the dress code at Berlin clubs differs quite a lot from other major cities, including in that there often isn't one. Yes, many Berliners wear black and you are more likely to see people partying in sneakers than in heels or dress shoes. However, individuality is celebrated over conformity and many people with unique personal style use clubbing as an occasion to dress creatively and sometimes provocatively. It is therefore not unusual to see gender-bending or fetish wear-inspired styles on a night out.

KitKat Club (3)

The entrance to Berlin's famous sex-positive KitKat Club.

Once you've made it past the door, many Berlin establishments believe that you should be allowed to do what you want as long as you don’t bother anyone else. This mindset has lead to many well-established sex-positive parties and a number of locations known for their hedonistic, anything-goes atmosphere. At such establishments, patrons usually show up minimally clothed or in fetish gear. When it comes to what exactly goes inside the club, only those who were there will know - taking photos or videos is usually forbidden for privacy reasons.

The Future of Clubbing in Berlin

Berlin Club Culture (8)

A sign at Berlin's techno parade Zug der Liebe reads "Bass gegen Rechts" (Bass against the Right).

From its origins in the 90s up until today, Berlin club scene has made up an integral part of the city's culture. In recent years, the city has attracted a large number of tourists looking to experience its famous nightlife first-hand. In the eyes of some Berliners, this has lead to a dilution of the anti-commercial, underground aspect of Berlin's club culture, while most others welcome the diversity brought by visitors.

Even though partying in Berlin today is a somewhat more commercial experience than the illegal raves of the 90s, Berlin clubs have remained a cut above the rest of the world with their round-the-clock parties, hedonistic atmosphere and their unique music-loving patrons coming to celebrate life. In recent years, some events such as the outdoor techno parade "Zug der Liebe" have been bringing back the spirit of the 90s. Joyfulness, hedonism and social engagement for more tolerance and acceptance will undoubtably be the values characterising Berlin's club culture in years to come.

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Last edited: 3 August 2023