Lifestyle & Culture

Chris Loar in Berlin: Golden Gate club is not that cool, which makes it super cool

@partynewsberlin

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♬ Originalton – Party News Berlin

It’s after four o’clock Sunday morning (or Saturday night depending on your circadian philosophy) and I’m on the U8, Berlin’s grimiest, most debauchery filled train, headed to a club that’s been described as “real Berlin grit,” “small, but fun” and “a sweat box.” This will be my first journey to Golden Gate, a venue established in 2002 and rented from the state-owned railway company Deutsche-Bahn, that’s hidden under a bridge near Alexanderplatz and is known for its all-weekend-long marathon parties.

“That’s where we send clients who are visiting Berlin and will surely be rejected from all the other big clubs,” my German girlfriend, who works for a boutique tech company, tells me. Sounds like an easy door policy, but my pre-voyage research shows more than a couple of google reviews that tell tales of clubbers being mysteriously denied entry. 

With an attitude of “whatever happens happens” I make the mental preparations necessary when visiting a Berlin club for the first time: 

• Know who’s DJ-ing .

• Be ready to speak and understand German (to the best of one’s abilities).

• Smile. 

(This is a new one for me, but in my club adventures I’ve observed lots of nervous people in line appear before bouncers with cold, tight grimaces, projecting some kind of imaginary tough/cool vibe which, if I was a bouncer, I would find annoying night after night. I’ve found that just being myself, with a tiny little smile that says, “Hey, I’m ok getting in or not, either way my night is not ruined” helps the whole exchange.)

“That grimy little club under the bridge ….”

Lines get shorter after 4 a.m.

I’m fairly certain that getting into Golden Gate is entirely easy, but as I approach the graffitied, throbbing techno-cube nestled under the S-Bahn tracks over Jannowitzbrücke, I’m appropriately nervous/excited; half the fun of going out to clubs in Berlin is the suspense of getting in or not.  

In the dead of night, with the futuristic looking Fernsehturm (TV Tower) standing sentinel over an eerily empty Alexanderplatz, this grimy little club-under-a-bridge looks much cooler than how many of my somewhat elitist Berlin club friends have described it. My attention quickens as I approach the entry, which is draped with heat-insulating plastic flaps.

I’m happy there’s no queue; going clubbing after 4 a.m. is always a good move as many lines have dwindled down to small or even non-existent. Getting rejected is a much easier sting to take if you haven’t had to stand in the cold for two hours or more.

I step through the plastic flaps and say hello to my judge for the evening, a typical middle aged tough-looking Berlin guy. 

Hast du ein Armband?” he asks, which with my B1.2 intermediate level of Deutsch should be no problem for me to understand but I can’t hear him over the noise of the club. 

Bitte?” I respond before he immediately switches to English and says, “Do you have an arm band?” 

“No,” I reply. 

“Have you been here before?” He asks. 

“No, first time,” I reply with a smile. Then he hits me with my favorite bouncer-question to date: “Do you know the name of this club?” 

“Yes,” I reply happily, “Golden Gate.” He waves me in, I pay the cover (15 euros) and I think to myself, “Hey, that’s not so hard, just have to know the name of the place.”

Serious, serious partying

The entry to the club has a bit of a bottleneck from a group of people huddled around the garderobe, intensely involved in chemical-fueled conversation with wide-pupils and clenched jaws. This is after-hours Berlin, where it’s normal for partiers to be out from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon straight. It’s about 4:45 a.m. now and Golden Gate will be going until they close Sunday night at midnight.

Like all Berlin clubs, people are here to party.

“See you at Berghain!” a woman says to an exhausted looking man sitting on one of the couches near the bar. It strikes me that Golden Gate would make for a good warm-up spot before the all-powerful Techno Temple or perhaps as a consolation club if rejected, which can very often be the case.

Just past the garderobe is a medium sized bar, which is busy, that sits below an upstairs chill-out area with several couches and even a piano. The bar is buzzing with people chatting and ordering beers and shots. 

I grab a beer and weave my way through figures in various states of intoxication, making tracks for the adjacent dance floor, which is small in comparison to other Berlin venues, but big enough to still feel like a club. The entire venue has a capacity of 250 people, and the dancefloor feels to be the approximate size of one the smaller rooms of a club like Tresor or Kit Kat

The vibe is immediately quite fun and with its graffiti-covered walls, Golden Gate reminds me very much of punk rock bars in New York circa 2002, when the city still had a few venues left that were truly rough around the edges. The DJ, a wire-thin man from Japan known as Kiku, is laying down bass-heavy break beats that the whole room is definitely enjoying. I maneuver myself towards the front to take in the DJ and the general mood of the whole room.

Proudly lacking in Berlin cool

One of the first things that I notice is the lack of super young clubbers; everyone here seems to be at least over thirty, with many looking to be in their 40s and 50s. It seems that the elite techno kids don’t think Golden Gate is cool, and it’s easy to see why: a lot of people here are dressed very atypically for a Berlin club; no leather, no all black future-goth Matrix clothes, no one nearly-naked or in their underwear, just a lot of ordinary shirts, pants and shoes.

One man, much to my disbelief, proudly channels the early aughts with a Jason Mraz style fedora. Such a look would be an absolute kiss of death for entry to many Berlin clubs, but here at Golden Gate, this fellow proudly and unashamedly rocks it. The only thing that could top this would be a Hawaiian shirt, which I (sadly) find no trace of, but I imagine would not be a deal breaker at the door.

I am immersed in the DJ’s sound when I feel a hand wrap around my wrist. A blonde woman pulls me close to her and asks in a slurred shout: “Sprichst du Deutsch?!” I nod and shout, “Ja, klar!” A look of disgust crosses her face, she drops my hand in frustration, rolls her eyes and turns away from me, rejoining her companion near the DJ booth.

It occurs to me that she could have actually said “BIST du Deutsch” (ARE you German) rather than “Sprichst du Deutsch” (Do you SPEAK German) but it was too loud for me to be sure. She seemed disappointed either way, which I found odd, as she was very clearly German herself. To make this exchange more confusing, I don’t look German at all, and often get mistaken for being Spanish or Italian. 

After a trip upstairs to the toilet, where many are waiting in line for open stalls, but few actually use them to go to the bathroom, I am blocked by a smiling middle-aged man on my way back down. “Heute, leider nicht,” (“Unfortunately, not today.”) he jokes before he erupts in laughter and I catch up to his joke with an approving chuckle. He is of course making a Berghain joke, repeating the night-crushing phrase oft uttered by bouncer extraordinaire Sven Marquedt, as he waves bright-eyed hopeful partiers away into the cold, lonely night of the rejected.

A place for everyone in Berlin

This general sense of techno levity is apparent as I take in the dance floor from above. Everyone is having a really good time, the music is thundering but the whole vibe is a bit more casual than a typical Berlin club. There are bespectacled, balding middle-aged men that look dressed to attend a parent-teacher conference dancing with great abandon into the wee hours of the morning, jacking their sweaty bodies with wide eyes and huge smiles to the pulsing beats.

Then it hits me: the whole appeal of Golden Gate is that it’s not that cool which (ironically) of course makes it SUPER COOL.

The venue has the very basics that a club should have with no frills: a good sound system, great DJs, an interesting location, a bar and a good vibe.

I dance further into Sunday morning until my bones have had enough kick drums and high hats and exit the club with a warm “Schön Abend.” The sun is only beginning to make its presence known (it rises late in Berlin winters) and for that, I am grateful. 

There is nothing materialistically golden about Golden Gate, but it’s welcoming, inclusive spirit and edgy underground Berlin atmosphere shine brightly among the constellation of “hard-door” Berlin clubs as a beacon to all those deemed not cool enough to get into the city’s storied rooms of hedonism and abandon. It had been a great night and I resolved to include Golden Gate as a regular nightlife option and especially as a place to bring friends whose attire might work against them, people who perhaps wear things like plaid button-down shirts, khakis or Converse shoes. 

Despite its icy, exclusive reputation, there truly is a place for everyone in Berlin Clubland and some nights that place is under the train tracks, under the bridge and through The Golden Gate.

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Read more about Berlin here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Chris here.

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