Rumours of world-famous DJs, hedonistic revelry and cavernous dark rooms; Berghain’s infamous reputation precedes it. The nightclub, located on the border between East and West Berlin, is widely recognised as the current world capital of techno. Perhaps that is why most are willing to wait in the notorious three-hour queue, only to be turned away by a group of giant East German bouncers who firmly state that “you do not belong here”.
Those that do not make the cut can take this as a personal affront. Perhaps they believe that they are not cool enough, or rather not hipster enough. In fact, the opposite is often true. Berghain is a test case for how gentrification and, more specifically, an invasion of global hipsters, are destroying the true sentiment of Berlin.
The infamous techno scene of Berlin was born from a climate of suppression, brutality and lack of basic human rights. Within the iron curtain that had descended over Europe, communist Berlin tore apart families, introduced a violent secret police force and attempted to squash any sign of human spirit. After German reunification, people expressed their new-found freedom through the underground world of the techno clubbing scene. Abandoned GDR factories and huge industrial spaces were transformed into havens of sin and debauchery.
The techno scene gave former East Germans the opportunity to create a new identity for themselves. After a lifetime of suppression, they were finally able to express their inner desires. Sexuality, fetishes, drugs, nonconformity and downright freakishness; the clubs were rife with it. The dark, aggressive techno beats were the perfect soundtrack to the emotions of an abused and angry generation.
Berghain as it stands today is the leftover ruin of this mind-blowing underground era, and a poor excuse of what once was. Entering the club, I am hard-pressed to find any true Berliners. An East German friend of mine, who used to be a huge part of the underground techno scene of Berlin, refuses on principal to set foot in the place. Instead, I frequently stumble across excited American exchange students who can’t tell their Ben Klocks from their Marcel Dettmanns, British tourists looking for a cheap thrill, and aspiring DJs who will be sure to have their techno two-step down to a T.
There is a strict no photo policy inside the club. You receive a stamp on entry with the words ‘Switch off your phone’. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent those, excited to have made it past the door and keen to share their success on social media, from tagging themselves in photos on Facebook and uploading photos to Instagram, without realising that this in itself completely goes against the ethos of the club.
The ruination of Berghain reflects the larger problem of hipster-led gentrification in Berlin. It is no secret that Berlin is changing at a rapid pace. Sections of the wall are being removed to make way for apartment complexes, artistic types are flocking in due to the cheap rent and in doing so are forcing out the established, largely Turkish, community; housing prices have risen by more than 32% since 2007.
The problem is increased by cheap tourism and an influx of international hype. Berghain, which used to be a local phenomenon, has now become famous worldwide, with international EDM bloggers commonly referring to it as ‘the Church’. The rising popularity of electro music in the US has further led to the intrusion of tourists into Berlin’s underground scene. Ultimately, the city’s free-thinking, bohemian vibe has been affected by an increased focus on capitalism.
And so, the bouncers are not telling you that you don’t belong because you are not wearing the right clothes, you don’t look gay enough or any of the other things you read online about how to get in. Rather, they are trying to protect their beloved club from being exploited by those that do not understand what Berghain represents. My advice for those seeking to obtain the “true Berghain experience”: such a thing exists only in the past.