21.2.11

Review: Berghain, Victim of Its Own Hype

"Clubs like Berghain didn't invent the underground, they put walls around it. They tax people for doing something that should be free and regulate something that should be spontaneous."  So says the author of this piece, who is looking at the club from a vantage point that's well beneath the ground...

If you're a veteran of the free party scene, you can probably remember going to many places like Berghain in the past.  But at Berghain, you'll pay at least twice as much in entry fees (not to mention drinks and water) as you would at a rave or a squat party.  Berghain also has security staff and fashion police - features that are utterly absent from the door at illegal parties.  Entry to Berghain is earned, rather than granted on a first-come-first-serve basis.  And that's before you've paid to get in.

The most obvious fence is the one across the front door, guarded by bouncers.  Some people say it's a reasonable boundary to have, because it's the 'only' boundary.  But if a real underground experience is what you're after, then even one boundary is too many.   Freedom is an absolute - put limits on it and it automatically becomes captivity.

Once you're past the front door of the club, its fans say, you are allowed to do whatever you want.  Yet however crazy the antics get on the dancefloor... and in the booths, and the toilets... they all just make that front door boundary stick out more... like a dam in a chaotic, wild river, slowing its momentum down.  Berghain e.V. lets its customers do what they want to the point of letting them run naked and wild, off their heads in a club full of high-end sound equipment.  But it only lets them run wild within the rigid cordons of a strict door policy, bounded by immovable stone walls.  Even if you love Berghain, you've got to admit that's a bit contradictory.

Berghain does embody the original free party spirit better than clubs like Ministry of Sound ever did,  precisely because its customers are freed from a power-tripping bouncer's gaze once they're inside. But it still puts the onus on its customers to prove that they're worthy of the club's freedom, by judging them on their style, looks and 'mood'.   Thus the safari warden blames the animals for their captivity.

It's not entirely Berghain's fault that it has a door policy, though; the council wants to see proof that things are under control.  The resulting limitations only underline how dysfunctional the concept of raving in a club is... and always has been, and always will be.  However open your ideals are, they can only be narrowed when they are forced into the confines of a profit-making, legislative machine that quantifies the legal club scene.  Techno loses its undefinable, desirable qualities when it's translated into capitalist terms.  But then, most things do.

If you're a veteran of the free party scene, Berghain will probably make you feel like a tiger in a big game reserve.  Even though you can't see the fences, you still know that they're there, keeping you in line long after you've left the queue.  But for some, a night at Berghain might offer the same heady rush that a housecat feels when it's let loose in the backyard for its first time. It all depends or whether or not you've been 'housebroken' by the rigid confines of commercial clubbing, yet.


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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.