The Berghain is Europe’s most select club. A seasoned clubber reports.
— Going to the Berghain is a night–time experience that changed my life. I have witnessed lively conversations both at work and in Paris cafés that went on for hours between those who were let in and those who weren’t. Tales of queueing for four hours to get into the Berghain and then being turned away in anguish, to mull over a thousand theories on the selection method used by the cruellest physiognomist in the history of mankind. The first thing you see is the front of the huge former East German power station. The building stands the equivalent of seven storeys high. Five tall windows on the left give you an inkling of the red and blue lights in the Panorama Bar, the club’s quieter second floor, musically speaking, that is.
The Berghain lies in the middle of nowhere on the border between Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts. And yet, since December 2004, from Friday evening through to Monday morning, there’s a line of taxis nearby at all hours of the day and night. A couple of guys sell bottles of drink to people in the queue. As you wait you can hear a variety of different languages. Sometimes on a Sunday morning you get lucky. There’s no queue, and you can go straight up to the door. But usually it’s like a sort of latter–day Ellis Island, with a seemingly never–ending line that is scarcely moving. Some people give up and leave. Ten yards before you reach the door, you begin to feel nervous. You see those who are refused entry walking away. There’s a lot of them. At least one person in three is not allowed in, sometimes one in two. Their backs stiffen, and their faces tighten. You see the apprehension in the faces of even the most blasé, the hardened night owls, or those who have had the most to drink. Here, there’s no room for the opportunistic liberal values of New York’s Studio 54 club. Looking rich and beautiful won’t get you anywhere. Selection is on an entirely different level. The problem is that no one seems to know what level that might be. The physiognomist’s name is Sven. He is the subject of many a desperate chat room discussions, and the most feared man in the electronic world. He’s the filter. He can say nein or nod his head in the direction of the music. He can ask questions, “How many of you are there?” is one of his favourites, and there are myriad theories on the right answer. He looks at what you’re wearing, in detail. You try and imagine his whims and phobias.
The back of the queue turns into a bottleneck, and follows the winding maze of a metal barrier. The tension is at its peak, and seems interminable. You hear “nein” after “nein”. Few dare to object when Sven delivers his ruling, the humiliation is bad enough, and his judgement not subject to appeal. Those on the list who don’t need to queue are members of Berlin’s bohemian aristocracy.
Five yards from the door, you hear Sven say “nein” three times, then a fourth. He lets a girl in whose face is hidden behind dreadlocks, and then turns away some fashionistas. He lets an oddly sober, well–heeled young guy in. There’s no logic, no point trying to understand. It’s as if Sven knows exactly who’s inside at any one time and that he is creating the perfect balance to make for the best social mix possible, so that no one subgroup will be over–represented. Rich or poor, techno music lovers or tourists, the EasyJet–set or Berliners(… He takes all types, but as and when he feels like it.
The entrance to the Berghain, on the edge of Berlin’s
Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain