Lifestyle & Culture

The Watergate: Watching the sunrise at Berlin’s posh, debauchery-free club on the river

It’s 11 p.m. on a Friday night in Berlin and it is still much too early to go out. My preferred time of departure for a journey into clubland is ideally between 4 and 5 in the morning, which is conveniently when I finish bartending on Saturday nights. At this hour there is often no queue, and the party has already been in full swing for a while.

But it’s Friday, I’m not working and I want to check out a club I haven’t been to yet. Tonight I’ve got my sights on Watergate Club, located in the hip neighborhood Kreuzberg, just a short walk away from the Warschauer Straße U bahn and the East Side Gallery. LIke many of Berlin’s clubs, Watergate’s location is of particular interest; the two-room club’s lower level (The Waterfloor) sits directly on the Spree River, and it is this view, accompanied by a top-level sound system, that I am most interested in.

Also common to Berlin clubs are the varying amounts of negative impressions, expressed both in person and in online reviews which I, having some pre-party time to kill, am scrolling through for amusement. My chuckles start to turn into a small flicker of worry however, as I note the ample amount of complaints from clubbers that have been turned away at the door, refused entry with not much of an explanation.

‘You, not you’; keeping out the tourists

This is of course a standard component of any Klubnacht in Berlin: sometimes, you just don’t get in. Berlin’s clubs are very sensitive about the environment that they offer, and in theory are set up to be spaces of wild, free, revelry balanced out by maturity and a mutual respect of others as well as the club itself. The city’s bouncers are the Guardians of VIbe and often, for better or worse, are very strict gatekeepers.

If they feel like a potential group is too aggressive, or looks like they’re just there to get laid, or reek of Berlin tourists looking to stare and point at the sometimes very freaky Berlin nightlife as if they were in a zoo, that group will often be met with a “Sorry, Not Tonight Guys.”

My review research shows that the majority of the indignant rejects are groups of tourist men, some even going so far as to claim sexism and describing the bouncer as a “mean looking blonde lady with hoop earrings.” My club friends are all working tonight and I’m adventuring out alone, which has often proved helpful for successful entry.

I figure that simply by not being part of a drunken English Bachelor Party in Berlin, or “stag-do” as they call it in Blighty, I’m probably gonna be fine.

After enough procrastinating, it’s 12:30 and time to get going. If I wait any longer to go out, I might fall asleep. I leave my flat in Samariter Kiez, and walk through Friedrichschain toward Kreuzberg, crossing through trendy Boxhagener Platz.

As I journey over Warschauer Bridge, I walk by several groups of men, men on holiday in Berlin. It’s mid-April and tourist season has just gotten into swing, with throngs of meandering visitors looking to experience the city’s notorious nightlife. Sometimes I walk by equally sized groups of women and hope that maybe there’s a place where these two groups can both be admitted and get off the street.

It’s 1 a.m. as I approach the entrance to Watergate. It’s still a bit early (the club has only been open since 11) and happily, there isn’t much of a queue. Directly across from the entry sits a small Döner Kebab Imbiss Stand (fast food Kebab stand) in front of which stands a large group of disappointed looking, drunken British men, cramming food into their faces. These are, no doubt, unsuccessful partiers, denied entry for very likely simply being too loud in line (Tip No. 1: Be Quiet Whilst Approaching The Door.) “Great location for a döner spot,” I think to myself.

I take my place in the small line. Ahead of me is an almost identically dressed group of British tourists, talking loudly amongst themselves. The bouncer, who fits the aforementioned description although I get no “mean” vibes from her, takes one look at them and waves them away. They are predictably offended, try to argue and are dismissed with a “no explanation, move along.” A young woman in a giant white fur coat is in front of me and is quickly waved inside. 

Now it’s my turn. “Deutsch oder Englisch?” the bouncer asks.

Deutsch Passt,” (German is fine) I reply.

Biite schön,” she replies and motions for me to enter. (Tip No. 2: try to speak German)

And like nothing, I’m in. I pay the 23 euro admission (a bit expensive for a two room club, and cash-only which is less and less normal in Berlin,) get a cursory pat down from the bouncer and place the required stickers over the camera in my phone, a standard practice in most Berlin clubs. I check my jacket at the garderobe and enter the Waterfloor, where I will spend most of the evening.

The first thing I notice is that, ironically, there are several groups of very touristy looking English men with the same vibe as those that I witnessed being turned away earlier. This illustrates a very important point to keep in mind when adventuring through Berlin’s restricted-access nightlife; strict door policies do indeed have a care-taking function to the venues that they guard, but sometimes the means of selection and rejection are seemingly arbitrary. (Tip No. 3: if rejected, don’t take it personally, just move on.)

Agism isn’t a thing here: Carl Cox at the Watergate

Twenty-somethings share the floor with sexagenarians

Sure, the club doesn’t want to let in tons of rowdy tourists, but what if the majority of clientele are in fact rowdy tourists?

A club can’t simply reject everyone, right?

Watergate is indeed a bit touristy, but that’s okay, because the sound system is killer and the DJ (A Portuguese woman with flowers in her hair) is on point, and the view is captivating. The DJ booth stands in front of an entirely windowed wall which looks out onto the river Spree, backlit by the glowing red hues of marine warning lights. 

From the back of the room, it looks as if the dancefloor is the same level as the water, so it really does feel like one is dancing on a “Waterfloor” as the room is called. A large, three-sided bar is located near the entry, and big soft seating areas outline the perimeter of the room. Watergate is a proper club, but it feels a bit more loungey and posh, with virtually no trace of industrial grit, typical of many of the city’s party spaces.

The room is steadily filling up more and more, and amongst the mostly tourist groups, there are a few lone middle/older aged Germans bopping away to the thumping techno. Berlin prides itself on a strong culture of tolerance, and nightlife ageism just isn’t a thing here. It is perfectly normal for groups of 20 year old clubbers to share the dancefloor with sexagenarians or sometimes even older revelers. The only difference is that the latter rarely come in big groups, but they enjoy the spirit of the night just the same. In Berlin, partying till the sun comes up isn’t something you have to grow out of.

After a while of enjoying the Waterfloor, I journey upstairs to check out the main floor, a room roughly double the size of the Waterfloor with an impressive arched structure of dotted lights. This room also has a great view, but feels less directly connected to the water, which for me is the most compelling aspect of the club.

I hang out up here for a while and then head back down stairs, where I feel the energy is the best.

The DJ booth stands in front of an entirely windowed wall which looks out onto the river

Low debauchery factor

Watergate strikes me as a kind of symmetrical inverse of another well known Berlin club: Golden Gate. Both techno gates are very approachable in their own way and are less overwhelming to the beginner Berlin clubber than say Tresor or KitKat.

They look like clubs, yes, but they also just look like bars with big dance floors, in contrast to some of the more rabbit-hole-like spaces created out of decommissioned power plants. Maybe I’m just a bit too early, but there is a total lack of leather, boots, chains, and all-black attire typical of Berlin’s more industrial-forward rooms.

Watergate is by far the least “freaky” Berlin club I’ve been to, and for those just starting to explore the city’s Labyrinth of Hedonism, this could be a solid comfort.

After several hours of enjoying the throb of the speakers, I notice the sky above the DJ’s watery backdrop slowly becoming lighter, and I realize it’s time for me to head home; making it to bed before the sun is fully up is – tonight at least – a win.

Watergate’s truly best feature becomes starkly evident; this club, with its own little outdoor waterfront promenade,  is a great place to watch a sunrise.

I grab my coat and shuffle back out onto the street, the crisp morning air pricking my face. I mutter “I am not a crook” to myself and wonder if there’s any secret Easter Egg of a Nixonian reference somewhere in the club that I missed (probably not.)

It had been a very fun evening, but by far my least wild Klubnacht in Berlin to date, which for a lot of folks, might still be considered pretty wild. Watergate is a place I’d recommend for those who want to hear some good solid Berlin techno and house, but are looking for a perhaps less full-strength debauchery/hedonism scene.

A milder club indeed, but Vorsicht, good clubbers: like so many of Berlin’s nightlife spaces, it can come with a hard door. 


Read more about Berlin’s club scene here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Chris here.

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