The most sought–after but secretive nightclub on the planet, is the world’s temple BERGHAIN to techno and Berlin–style hedonism. It is bathed in an aura of mystery — photography is banned — and overwhelming decibels. A clubber who has actually touched
We are in front of Sven now, nervous, impatient, intrepid, overexcited, ready to burst. He looks at us. How many? Two, “zwei”. He’s imperturbable. Time stands still. Why did I put these trainers on? Don’t they look too new? I’ve been waiting for three hours. He’s been refusing everyone. We just have to get in. Sven? Still impassive. Then a nod. We go in. We behave as if this were totally normal. We enter on the left. Four heavies check our pockets, frisk us and remind us that we can’t take photos. This is one of the rules, a rule that has served to forge the myth: no one takes photos. No flashes, no silly selfies, no videos, nothing. You pay at a counter, an average of €14, and get a stamp on your wrist. That’s what you see on Instagram: the geometrical shapes of the Berghain stamp, photographed ad infinitum as proof of having been there. The Berghain’s graphic designer is surprised that so many fans tattoo themselves with it.
We go through one door to the cloakroom, a vast sorting office, where we give up our jackets and sweaters. We’re unlikely to be cold. You can buy sweets, but not chewing gum — that’s another Berghain rule. Another door and we enter a dark space and an atmosphere that oozes excitement. The noise is deafening, absolutely deafening. On the left, a shadowy maze, and opposite, the stairs. To climb these stairs for the first time is to feel the sound rising like dread. We are entering the most highly respected techno cathedral in the world, the temple of temples, the parallel world, a modern–day Fritz Lang Metropolis, a car assembly plant in Detroit in 1988, a sexual Eldorado with its hidden backrooms, an artistic utopia with the world’s finest DJs. The Berghain exhibits a number of contemporary artworks, including giant Wolfgang Tillmans photos. One of them shows a man holding his buttocks apart. When you find yourself in the Berghain for the first time, you stop dancing to take a good look at this photo, to talk about the photo, to admire the gesture, to try to understand, and then return to the dance floor.
The violence of the music makes no concessions. For the first 20 minutes, it’s like being bombarded. You lose your bearings. You hang on. Then, you let yourself go, to put it politely. People dance for about 13 hours on average. There’s a moment when the DJ opens the blinds of the Panorama Bar, flooding the crowd with daylight , as a nod to the first British rave parties in the late 80s, when the idea was to greet the sunrise with dilated pupils and hope in your heart. Folklore has it that people become possessed by dancing for 26 hours, until they lose the modern–day version of Ariadne’s thread, or their mobile battery’s run down, and they have no more contact with the outside world. For the other supreme test is leaving. You size up the situation, parlay with your friends. No, not yet, another hour, three more French kisses, or until the DJ’s set is over, or you’ve met one more person. Wait, are you really tired? OK, let’s go. We go back down to the cloakroom and find our real–life rags, nod to Sven who’s still there saying “nein”, and we walk towards the light. We look at each other. There’s no point even trying to describe how we look.