Lifestyle & Culture

Berghain, Pt. 3: More than a nightclub … ‘a living being, a phenomenon’ 

Lady Gaga at Berghain circa 2013 (Flickr)

(Editor’s note: In Pt. 1, our hero Chris Loar tries and fails to get into Berghain, one of the world’s most selective nightclubs. In Pt. 2, he gets in. In this installment, he discovers his wristband is good for re-entry and decides to return on Sunday, Berghain’s biggest party of the week, spending a total of 18 hours at the club.)

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.

I crash, wake up at 6 p.m., order a pizza and text Jean. He replies, “I just got back from Amsterdam. Going to get myself together and meet you there around 8.” I eat, shower, dress and make my way back to the club, nervously checking if my wristband is still intact.

I approach the line with a wonderful feeling of confidence and a fuzzy glow of certainty. The regular line is massive and looks to be at least a three-hour wait. I stand in the short guest list queue and watch person after person from the regular line get rejected. I’m happy to only stand in the cold for about 20 minutes (sometimes the re-entry line wait can be four hours or longer) and get back in.

Jean is already inside waiting for me at the Panorama bar. I cross through the main room, climb the stairs and pause on a platform adjacent to the sound engineer’s area that looks out over the dance floor. It is incredibly crowded, and the energy is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Multicolored lights paint the grinding bodies into a kind of fleshy tapestry of purple, red and dark blue. Everyone is in their own individual physical and psychic space, moving to the beat, but also part of one giant, writhing, beautiful organism, rippling and grinding to the hammering techno. 

Berghain is a living being, a phenomenon. 

An innate respect for the place and each other

I pass by the lines for the toilets, which look to be about forty-five minutes long. Groups pass in and out of the stalls. Very few people actually go to the bathroom in Berghain’s toilets. 

I meet Jean, we grab a drink, and sit looking out the window at the rapidly growing queue. I’m sitting in the spot I was longingly looking up at some weeks ago when I made my first attempt. It feels good to be here. We dance for a bit and make our way upstairs to a small bar that serves only ice cream, smoothies, fresh fruit, juices, espresso and other non-toxic substances known simply as the “Eis Bar.” Jean is tired and needs a smoothie so he perches at the bar to order one while I grab us a couple of seats against the wall.

A couple next to me are making out pretty hard and after a few minutes I hear some deep moaning and the sound of latex being unwrapped. I glance to my left and see the two young figures positioned on a barstool leaning against the wall in the first few seconds of GeschlechtsVerkehr (traffic of the sexes,) and as I look away I hear the unmistakable rocking and heavy breathing of two people having what seems to be an excellent evening.

I scan the room, no one is looking at them, no one bats an eye, no one cares.

And once again, I am brought into stark understanding and immense gratitude for a strict and exclusive door policy. We are in a truly free space, where people can act as they wish and not be stared at, ogled at and disturbed. No one is trying to “hook up” here; no one is trying to “get laid”; no one is making any unwelcome advances on anyone else because amongst this group of people, such behavior would never occur as an option.

There is an innate respect for the space and each other.

Part of a glorious machine

Jean drains his smoothie and is re-vivified so we hit the main room for a dance. Berghain is packed, perhaps 1,000 people deep, much more than when I first arrived in the early morning. It seems there’s hardly any room to move at first, until we carve a couple of indentations in the snarling, mostly shirtless, glowing red crowd.

We are surrounded by fog and get moving. Within about ten minutes, there is the feeling of transition from one’s own individual presence and identity to being part of a whole. The Ego’s sense of “I” melts away, and we are now parts of a glorious machine. We churn away in this manner, with little breaks and rests here and there, for the next twelve hours. DJs often play extremely long sets here, and at 8 a.m. we are amongst the last people standing, applauding the closer’s finish to a seven-hour set.

She smiles and makes a heart shape with her hands which she pans over the room.

As Jean and I stumble toward the exit with some of his newly acquired friends, the bright light of the straight world floods over us. We stand outside for a few minutes and warmly thank the staff with a “schön Feierabend.” We begin walking towards our various destinations of rest. We are moving incredibly slow. It occurs to me that this is the slowest I’ve ever walked in my life.

All told, including my first early morning visit and my return that evening, I clocked 18 hours at Berghain, which to me feels like a long trip but does not compare to Jean, who once spent 36 hours within the club’s walls with no break, no wristband re-entry.

Among anyone I know in Berlin, his party-endurance is the strongest.

Friedrichschain is moving about in its usual Monday morning energy, and we pass people walking their dogs, going to work, and taking their kids to school. Jean and company propose going out to breakfast. I consider it for a moment, but instead answer the sweet siren song of my bed which calls me from not too far away.

My first Berghain adventure is complete. I vow to return soon and I heed the advice graffitied on the club’s wall as well as their website’s advisory page: Don’t forget to go home!

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