In Berlin, the party goes on despite threat of club closures

Hannibal Hanschke
Hannibal Hanschke

Berlin is globally renowned for it’s nightlife, from the legendary Berghain to impromptu parties. But the city’s lively nights are under threat as pressure on space increases along with rents. Several clubs have shut down in recent months and many more are expected to follow. This story looks at a small slice of Berlin's nightlife, focusing on the people who make it so vibrant, from the people out partying to those that work in the nighttime economy.

From swing, salsa and sex to tango, transvestites and techno, Berlin's nightlife has something to offer everyone.

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Night after night thousands of Berliners and visitors head to hotspots like RAW, an old graffiti-covered train-repair site in the eastern part of the city that was once under Communist rule but is now home to clubs, bars and a pool replete with beer garden.

There, in halls and sheds situated along railway lines, people dance to reggae, punk rock, dancehall, hardcore, metal, rap and hip-hop and techno in clubs with names like Cassiopeia and techno in Suicide Circus.

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"Berlin nightlife is like a big adventure. Every day you can explore something new," said Richard Shawn, a British expatriate living in Berlin.

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Nico Brodersen, head bouncer at Bassy Club, said it is the people who count.

"Excessive, wild, free and never-ending - you can forget their names but never their faces," she said of those who like to hit Berlin's clubs in the evening.

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There is some concern about how long it can last in a city where rents are rising and demand for space is increasing as the population grows. Several clubs have closed recently and others are expected to follow suit.

In Prenzlauer Berg, a district once in the former Communist East that became a partygoer's paradise after the fall of the Berlin Wall, complaints about noise have triggered some closings.

Residents talk about "Clubsterben", or "club death".

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One of the recent victims is in the eastern district of Friedrichshain - a club called Pogo Tussy, which is being torn down to make way for new apartments.

"It's so sad to give up after 13 years but that's the way it goes," said Simone Braun, the club's former owner.

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But for now, in many parts of the city, the party continues.

For techno fans, a night at the legendary Berghain club is a must - if they can get in. Queues stretching for one hundred metres are a regular sight outside the former power plant. Entrepreneurial locals do a roaring trade selling beers to those waiting.

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For those who don't make it, there are plenty of alternatives. How about Salon Zur wilden Renate - a club spread over several floors in an old apartment building? Or About Blank - a club where the party spills out into a garden? Or Sisyphos, in former dog biscuit factory?

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At a dimly-lit kinky club called Insomnia some people switch their everyday clothes for latex or leather in the changing rooms near the entrance while others strip off and head into a whirlpool. Some openly have sex while loud music pumps out.

"Here people can be absolutely free and they can fulfil their hidden dreams. We are crossing borders. Almost the only important rule is: No means no!" said Dominique, who runs the Insomnia club with her husband.

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In other clubs, discos throb and drag kings and queens strut their stuff in shows.

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But for those who prefer to while the night away in simple bars and lounges, there's the bustling street called Simon-Dach-Strasse in Friedrichshain, full of bars and restaurants, with tables and chairs lining the cobbled pavements.

Diners can choose between Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian dishes or - this being Germany after all - Currywurst, a sliced pork sausage slathered in a sauce of ketchup and curry powder.

Writing by Michelle Martin, Editing by Angus MacSwan/Jeremy Gaunt

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