Nocturnal Havens: The Echo of Berlin s Techno Clubs

Berlin, a city with a tumultuous history, has served as a canvas for cultural expression, particularly through its historic clubs. Now of course we wouldn’t rave about these clubs if it weren’t for the music that inhibited their space. There’s disco, there’s house, and there’s fucking techno. 

Techno originated in Detroit during the 1980’s, finding its way to Berlin through a combination of cultural exchange and the city’s openness to innovative sounds. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a pivotal moment in the city’s history. The reunification of East and West Berlin brought about a sense of liberation and newfound freedom. A plethora of abandoned buildings and industrial spaces in the East became available, offering affordable venues for underground events that fostered the thriving counterculture. 

Photographed by Airik Prince

And who undeniably revolutionized this music? Well duhhhhh, the LGBTQ+ community has played a significant role in the techno scene, particularly in its early days and during crucial moments in its history. LGBTQ+ communities have historically created inclusive and welcoming spaces, including nightclubs and underground scenes, where electronic music and techno could thrive. Gay people have been at the forefront, continuously pushing boundaries and questioning traditional norms, contributing to the progressive nature of the techno movement. As we all hopefully already do, let’s make sure to thank those that built the grounds for us to dance freely under the disco ball, all night long. 

Prior to the revolution that techno brought, existing clubs inhabited Berlin in the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s, Berlin was a breeding ground, where artistic experimentation held the hand of societal change. Located in the heart of Berlin’s Schöneberg district, Club Eldorado sparkled. Eldorado was a famous nightclub that opened its doors in 1926, and rapidly became an iconic venue. It was clubs like Eldorado, characterized by decadence and diversity, that reflected the city’s newfound freedom after World War I, becoming epicenters of avant-garde performances, political satire, and uninhibited partying ultimately laying the groundwork for Berlin’s reputation as a city of unconstrained creativity.

Clubs have posed as nocturnal havens, shaped by the city’s dynamic past. These spaces have not only witnessed but actively contributed to the evolution of Berlin’s cultural identity. After visiting some of these clubs myself I was enlightened to their profound impact. Let’s delve into a few historic Berlin clubs and explore how techno shaped the city’s cultural landscape.

Tresor: Photograph by Camille Blake

Tresor is one of the most iconic techno clubs that played a crucial role in establishing Berlin as a techno mecca. Opening its doors in 1991, Tresor’s building is the vaults of a former department store in East Berlin. Tresor became a symbol of the city’s post-reunification techno movement. The Building is industrial, subtly mirroring the gritty sounds of Detroit techno and providing a platform for both local and international techno artists. As I walked down the concrete corridors, I felt like I had entered a maze. Smoke filled the air, and the only light was that of the strobes to lead my way. The piercing sound of the music allowed for nothing else but your body to sync itself to the beat. 

Berghain is a temple of hedonism maintained by the techno mystique. No exploration of Berlin’s historic clubs is complete without mentioning Berghain, an institution that has attained legendary status. Housed in a former East Berlin power station, known for its stringent door policy and marathon-length parties. Berghain’s impact extends beyond music, as it has become a space that embodies freedom. The ultimate escapism, given solely to those who can make it through the door.

Line outside KitKatClub Photograph by Emma Hurt (NPR)

KitKatClub stands as a testament to Berlin’s commitment to liberation and subversion. Emerging in the 1990’s, KitKatClub embraced a spirit of sexual freedom and exploration. The club’s infamous parties, known for their exuberantly carefree atmosphere, challenged societal norms and provided a space for self-expression. Now, I had no clue what I was walking into as I approached KitKat’s daunting line at 4 a.m. Though I must say the line had significantly died down throughout my stay at KitKat’s neighbor club, Tresor. My best friend and I had absolutely no clue what to expect, only having heard crazy stories about orgys and music that made you forget you were human. I mean, it was going to be a miracle if our dumbasses could even get inside the front door.

KitKat is also known for its somewhat strict security, again in an attempt to maintain its safety and incomparable vibe. One glance, and this man decided whether or not we were worthy of this experience. We stayed extra quiet, merely nodding our heads when he asked if it was just the two of us. And to our surprise we entered wonderland. Voluntarily stripping down at coat check, promising to dance for hours and skinny dip in the ice water pool. We experienced the insanity of a bathroom stall in Berlin, as strangers became family, cramming eight into a single person stall. Sex surrounds you, and whether you participate or not, love is in the air, as the music captivates your soul. KitKatClub has become a symbol of Berlin’s alternative and open-minded culture, pushing boundaries in the pursuit of personal freedom. 

Photo by Carsten Koall

And the reason Techno continues to thrive in Berlin while it fades in other capitals across the world? That’s up for debate, but from my experiences, I would argue secrecy and privacy are to thank. It’s undeniable that the restriction of cell phone use and photography plays a huge role. Even attempting to pull out your phone or snap a photo will get you ripped out of any club in Berlin, no matter how small. Protecting these safe havens is the utmost priority, for without privacy, the techno could only stand so strong. The ability to wait in line as a businessman, enter as a techno fairy, then exit the next day with no proof or inditing evidence of the magical dreamland you’ve experienced. Through this privacy, techno scenes have yet to be infiltrated by mainstream media. Meaning they have the space to continue growing and thriving as they have for years.

Historic Berlin clubs, from the decadent days of the Weimar Republic to the techno-fueled reunification era and beyond, have woven together a culture vibrant with expression. These nocturnal institutions are not merely venues for entertainment; they are living archives of Berlin’s history, reflecting the city’s resilience and creativity. As Berlin continues to evolve, its historic clubs stand as beacons, guiding the way for future generations to explore and contribute to the ongoing narrative of this energetic and ever-changing cultural capital.

– Ferg; IG: @_ferggg_

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