(Editor’s note: This post about Tresor is the first installment in Chris Loar’s series on the famous/infamous club scene in Berlin.)
“Englisch oder Deutsch?”
“Uhhhh . . . English?”
“Who are you here to see?”
“Uhhhhh . . . ?”
“Sorry, not tonight darling.”
“What? But why?”
“No arguments, please. Tonight’s not your night.”
This exchange between a stone-faced door lady and a pair of sloppily dressed young men, whose collective vibe oozed youth hostel, is a familiar sight for any experienced Berlin clubber. The city offers a seemingly endless amount of places to party, but entry is never guaranteed. Usually, there will be an interview.
It was 3 a.m. on a bone-chilling Wednesday night in February and I was in line at Tresor, Berlin’s oldest Techno club. My evening was just beginning.
I wasn’t nervous about getting in: I was dressed appropriately (all gray, black boots, matching the Berlin winter) and I had also been to the original incarnation of the club, in a totally different location, all the way back in 2004, when I first visited the city and vowed to one day live here. I felt my knowledge of the venue’s history gave me good club karma. Also, I look like a grown-up (I’m 41, I behave like a mature 27 year old and most people think I’m about 33) and I really didn’t care if I got in or not. “I live here, I can always try again some other time,” I thought.
Behind me, a bespectacled man who looked close to my age stood off to the side pensively sucking a cigarette.
“Am I too old to go to clubs?” I imagined he was thinking, projecting my own insecurities onto the countenance of a complete stranger.
As I waited behind groups of various 20–to–25-year-old children, many of whom were turned away without even a DJ quiz, I really wasn’t sure. I approached the stand for judgment, was asked who I was there to see, got halfway through my answer and was waved inside. I had done my research on the way to the club; glancing at the artist lineup on Resident Advisor and memorizing a DJ name or two is pretty easy.
After I was frisked and my phone’s camera was covered with a sticker to prevent photos (standard Berlin club practice) I paid the entry fee (they take cards, cool!) and heard the hard rumbles of kick drums beckoning me from inside.
Near the entrance on the left sits a modestly sized dance floor and bar with a DJ playing beats leaning toward a friendlier, less industrial sound but my feet pulled me forward down a small flight of stairs into a long, rock-walled tunnel leading towards what sounded like a war zone. “Tresor” is German for “vault” or “safe” and as I made my way into the Berlin underground (literally and musically) I felt like I was getting ready for battle.
Into the Vault
Tiny bright lights fluttered on and off along the edges of the noise-hole as I walked through, giving the feeling of some kind of global emergency. Tresor is located in a decommissioned heat and power plant in Mitte called Kraftwerk. It being a weekday, the massive main room of the club, called Globus, was closed, although I had already experienced the space at a giant light-art exhibit by Robert Irwin.
Before all night dancing was deemed once again safe by the government, COVID-shuttered spaces in Berlin had to get creative with what they could offer. I’d have to come back on a weekend to dance under stunningly high ceilings with the ghosts of energy supply workers. On this night, I would content myself with the closer quartered and more pressurized environment of the vault space.
As I turned the corner into the lower room, crossing between two sliding barred doors, I was hit with a wall of fog, strobe lights and fast, ear-punishing Techno throbbing forward at a frenetic 150 bpm.
The energy struck me more as a protest than a nightclub; people danced, yes, but the staccato, jerking of bodies suggested a kind of breaking down of the real-world self, a cathartic destruction of the workaday habits and modalities of jobs and responsibilities, a demolition of each person’s spirit-isolating personality-wall followed by a euphoric reunification to the collective.
It was also loud, really, really loud.
Many club goers invest in ear plugs, and that night, I resolved to do the same. Tonight’s musical program (and every Wednesday at Tresor) was “New Faces Night,” where a record label takes over the club and presents its freshest talent in a kind of showcase gig. This made for a lineup of very enthusiastic and energetic DJs which is not always the case; sometimes at 6 a.m. a DJ can understandably look a bit sleepy.
A group of friends joined me later without any entry trouble, and after a quick drink at the adjacent bar, we took our own places on the flickering dance floor. We were together, yes, but each on our own journey, mine which stretched until 8:30 a.m.
As the DJ slowly faded down his last track and the crowd’s applause began to fade, I noticed a white haired man off to the side who looked about the age of my Dad. Had he been there all night, or was he just beginning his day with a bit of hardcore Techno to start things off on an energetic note?
I wasn’t sure, but I was definitely certain of one thing:
In Berlin, no one is too old for clubs.
Read more about Berlin here in Dispatches’ archives.