Lifestyle & Culture

Berghain, Pt. 2: Inside Berlin’s sexy, libertine ‘Metropolitan Museum of Techno’

A rare photo from inside Berghain

In Pt. 1 of this series, after his friends Jean and Tarik give up, Chris Loar is turned away for the third time from Berghain, Berlin’s most famous and decadent nightclub. Chris is sent packing by no less a deity than infamous Sven Marquardt, head of Berghain security and one of the world’s most known nightlife guardians.

So you think Chris, an American expat in Berlin, is done, right?

Yeah, you don’t know Chris.

I go home and read everything I could about Berghain, interviews with Marquardt about the history of the club and his photography, the design plan and Berlin techno in general.

There are countless rejection stories.

Berghain has many tales that add to its lore, from Elon Musk getting nein-ed to Claire Danes gushing about how it’s “the greatest place on Earth” on Ellen. Even American comedian Conan O’Brien has a sketch where he tries to get in.

My eagerness was tempered by a healthy amount of patience. “I live here,” I thought to myself, “Berghain isn’t going anywhere. Some night I’ll get in. I’ll just try and try and try again,” as Jean later advised me.

And so one night after bartending at Sohnemann Bar in Samariterkiez, about a 20-minute walk from Berghain, I decided to make another attempt. It was four in the morning, and I had nothing to lose. If denied, I’d simply walk home.

This was just an after-work visit. Whatever.

I walked through the cold quiet night and arrived at a non-existent line. A young man whose body-language read as being less than sober appeared and stepped ahead of me to approach the club. I kept pace behind him but left enough room so it was clear we were not together. I thought that maybe he looked too wasted to get in, a nice contrast to my older, more mature vibe and that would help my chances.

The same bouncer who previously denied me was working. To my surprise he waved the jaunty fellow inside.

To my extreme delight he asked me “Bist du allein?” (are you alone) and after I replied “Ja ich bin allein,” he motioned me inside. I’m in!

Was it because I was wearing darker clothes and boots? Was it because I had shown persistence to the same door guy and maybe he finally realized I was okay to let in.

Berghain is its own country

Now for the search. My next stop was a medium-sized room with five small high tables, each with a staff member tasked with confiscating any drugs or other illicit materials. As wild and free-for-as all of Berlin’s clubs are, they all come with an iron-clad golden rule: no visible drug use. If caught, you are likely to be kicked out.

Englisch oder Deutsch?” I was asked. “Wahrscheinlich Englisch ist besser” (Probably English is better) I replied. “Just relax,” the nice man told me, noticing my bright eyes and slight shiver from the winter cold. “Take everything out of your pockets.” I placed all of my personal effects on the small table and after a small glance around the room, I had the combined feeling of being at both passport control and the Ausländerbehorde (Immigration.)

As I would soon learn, Berghain is its own country. So, it makes perfect sense that the point of entry feels somewhat reminiscent of Germany’s various bureaucratic processes. Instead of a visa, one gets a wristband that allows re-entry with a 5 euro fee. Instead of a passport stamp, a sticker is placed over the camera of your phone. Picture taking is the other big no-no at Berghain and other clubs; what happens here, stays here, with no record except your own memories.

I pay my entry fee and receive my coveted wristband which has the sentence “Wovon träumst du?” (What do you dream of?) written on it. I turn the corner, check my coat at the garderobe and I am immediately struck by a feeling of gratitude for the extremely selective door policy.

There is clearly some of the universe’s hardest partying taking place within these walls, but everyone looks very mature about the whole thing. People know what they’re doing here. No party-tourists, no aggressive drunken bros pushing each other around, looking for a fight. Berghain seems like it’s where adults go clubbing, not for beginners.

Everyone is incredibly pretty.

Club bouncers all pride themselves on diversity and tolerance but there is one very noticeable commonality amongst the Berghainers; they are mostly very beautiful.

Metropolitan museum of techno

I’m done with check-in and walk through the ground floor of the club known as the Säule. It’s mostly a chill out room with a bar, that sometimes has music going on but is usually a place of quiet and respite amongst the blissful chaos. I approach the stairs to the main floor, known as Berghain, under which lies one of the club’s two notorious “dark rooms.” These spaces are storied for their anonymous and unbridled celebration of casual sex.

Berghain is an evolution of gay parties in the ’90s, so these dark corridors are largely considered “cruising rooms.” But, all types of people are welcome to do as they please, as long as they respect the space and each other. Later that evening I would see two men engaging in oral sex just outside of the room; maybe it was too full inside?

I climb the giant floor of grated metal stairs towards the main floor and walk a platform that provides a perfect wide-angle behind-view of the massive dance floor. Fog is everywhere and piercing, angled red lights flash and flicker, providing a hexagonal frame for the whole scene.

Berghain is a beautifully designed space and has a holy feeling. It strikes me as a kind of Metropolitan Museum of Techno, where partying is a fine art. The sound is loud, fast, hard and crystal clear. The whole look of the place reminds me of every underground club scene in every sci-fi or action film, think The Matrix, Strange Days or even the latest Batman film. I can’t wait to get moving.

I take my place in the middle of the floor and shake all the pre-entry anxiety out of my warming skeleton. It’s 5 a.m., everything is red and throbbing and I’m already having SO MUCH FUN.

In Berhain, time does not exist

After a while, I take a quick break to check out the upstairs area, Panorama bar, a slightly smaller, brighter room with DJs playing more house-y tunes, with a less punishing and machine-like sound. There are many couches to lounge on and the vibe is much more social. One side of the room is entirely windowed, the shades of which are drawn shut, closing out any reference to the “real world” outside.

In Berghain, time does not exist, but in the wee hours of this dance floor, the blinds on the windows sometimes magically pop open on cue with the music, to give everyone a playful reminder of the real world outside.

I float for a while between both spaces, have a few drinks and watch people. Many are in various stages of nudity, some completely naked, including one the bartenders. At first it seems wild, but after a while it’s sort of like being at the beach. In this space, people wear less or no clothes, no big deal.

At this hour, many are dancing, and many are resting in the spaces of many designated relaxation zones, cuddling, making love, sleeping or just talking. It’s approaching 7 a.m., and despite texting all of my friends to come meet me, no one is out it seems, not even Jean.

I spend another hour slowly wandering around the whole club, back and forth: I’m tired from working all night, but I don’t want to go home. Then I remember the magic power of my wristband. I still kind of can’t believe that I actually made it inside, so I’m skeptical that my bracelet will definitely grant me re-entry; maybe I would have to pass another test? But after speaking to the very nice people at the garderobe I am assured that all I have to do is come back and go to the “guest list and re-entry line” on the right side of the club, pay 5 euros and that’s it.

I don’t want to leave, but my bones are weary. I need a nap and so I leave Berghain and walk back to my flat for a quick rest, some food and preparation to come back for the club’s most packed night.

Sundays at Berghain are arguably Berlin’s (and maybe the world’s) best nights out.

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You can read the final installment of Chris’s adventures at Berghain here.

Read more about Berlin here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Chris here.

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