Last week, one of our new editors asked us to draw up a list of topics that the discerning Pulse reader likes to tuck into of an evening. Immediately, the first three things I wrote down were: drugs, the 90s, and Berghain.
The Berlin techno mecca is consistently one of the most alluring subjects in clubland. Lionized chiefly because it’s been a perpetually staunch beacon of underground quality in an era of commercial compromise, it is synonymous with the highest calibre of techno, the purest ambience, though perhaps most famously, for having strictest door policy.
The latter is what has arguably kept it sacred during a time when Berlin is catering to some 11 million tourists per year, three to four million of which have traveled there solely to party. And being the most famous club in town, you need to establish a hyper-stringent set of rules to keep the riff raff and loutish Euro-Flotsam out. We’re not for a second debating the importance of the role Berghain’s doorman Sven Marquardt plays. But what we are debating is the ludicrous online cult of adoration that has lead to him being more recognizable than the resident DJs inside the club.
Conan, dressed for Berghain.
Last week, American talk show host Conan O’Brien was seen standing outside Berghain, telling jokes about how it’s impossible to get in. The Black Madonna, a regular guest at the club’s Panorama Bar, hit out at Conan for turning the club “into a comedy spectacle for a largely straight American audience.” And she has a completely valid point. Claire Danes talked about Berghain on Ellen last year, and the techno community collectively groaned as mainstream America was treated to a glimpse at the murky underground’s proudest lair. The show’s host then inquired about techno and proceeded to blast out an awful 90s Eurotrance track. And once again, Berghain was the clown car in which our freakshow travels.
Earlier in the summer, Beyond festival in The Netherlands made a mock-up of Berghain in the festival grounds that was impossible to get into. This was another in a long line of “Berghrotica” stunts that have caught fire around the internet. A banana that Ben Klock was given but opted not to eat during a 12-hour NYE set was put up for sale on Ebay. A cheeky jeepster recently was braving the club’s enforced no photo policy to snap shots of the industrial dread paradise for those not rad enough to see it for themselves. And perhaps most baffling, was the face recognition video game that simulated the door policy of the club and pitted you against a bouncer to find out how cool you really are.
The dance music audience, who are acutely aware of how culturally significant the preservation of this venue is, gobble up every detail and defend the place to the death against its aggressors and naysayers. The general public on the other hand, only get a rare glimpse into arguably the best element of our world through the lens of woefully disconnected talk show hosts looking for a cheap laugh. How can it possibly be that the Berghain is the club that US suburban families will have heard of? And that the only details they may know about the club is that it plays techno (whatever they imagine that is) and that its hard to get into?
What a strange pedestal this wonderful establishment has been thrust onto.
Berghain is a fabulous establishment in a wonderful city, with a lot of very admirable policies which the clubbers all understand - thanks in no small part to the notorious door policy. The music is always of the highest calibre, the Funktion One is tweaked to perfection, and it is, in all likelihood, the best techno club in the world. But it also represents what a lot of people quietly think about the genre: it’s just too serious. There are too many rules, and if you don’t willingly adhere to those rules you can fuck off and go elsewhere.
But Berghain has rules and a blatant lack of rules, an acute balance that makes it the best club in the world. We should celebrate the fact that the music leads everything, that there isn’t a mirror in the entire building and that you can’t take any photos inside. Not the fact that you have to be so fucking cool to get in there.