IS THIS THE WORLD’S BEST GAY NIGHTCLUB?
BERLIN’S BERGHAIN NIGHTCLUB IS A FORMER POWER STATION WITH MULTIPLE DANCE FLOORS, DEPRAVED FETISH NIGHTS AND THE ULTIMATE PARTY PLAYPEN. STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARC ANDREWS.
Variously described as the world’s capital of electro, techno, tech house, minimal techno (or just industrial noise to some ears), Berghain is a Berlin institution. It’s an attraction right up there with Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and the German capital’s discoball-shaped TV tower (Fernsehturm).
Berghain gets its name from its location smack bang between two Berlin districts: Kreuzberg on the former West Berlin side and Friedrichshain on the old East Berlin side. The former power station, now the capitol of dance music, can host up to 1,500 techno-loving guests at any one time.
Not merely one coatcheck, well-stocked bar and well-lit dance floor, Berghain offers a multitude of quirky spaces housed under one humungous metallic and concrete shell. The club’s big room features a high platform with huge hangar-like ceilings and incessant techno beats reverberating off the cavernous staircase and walls. Beside the main dance floor is a sizeable dark room with a sling – just one of the many special allocations Berghain makes for its liebling gay audience.
Berghain began as a gay club over a decade ago. Then called Snax (with a special Easter event still held under that name once a year) it hosted men-only parties with the entire space opened up exclusively for gay men to enjoy. Besides the usual upstairs Berghain and Panorama dance and bar areas, there was also access to the extensive Lab.Oratory maze downstairs, where all kinds of sexual mischief, perversion and general debauchery is not so much allowed as actively encouraged.
During Berghain’s special Snax weekends, the Lab morphs into an anything goes gay pigpen. A large pit with steel grating allows patrons to be pisser or pissee, depending on what side of the metal walkway you’re on. There’s also a
In the maze downstairs, sexual mischief, perversion and debauchery are not just allowed but actively encouraged.
raised bath area for those who want to further indulge in streams of pleasure. Elsewhere guests can freely roam around the bowels of this huge industrial labyrinth to discover the rope rack, the “butt room” (a dark room with a bench where naked bottoms are bent over in waiting), a sizeable fisting station, an open plan shower for water-loving exhibitionists, a vast array of slings, plus a somewhat indispensable douching area for heightened hygiene. There is, quite simply, nothing in the world like the Lab’s downstairs depravity. That’s just another reason that makes Berghain sehr special.
During any regular calendar month, The Lab hosts gay nights such as Friday Fuck 2-4-1 (sex party with two for one drink special), Yellow Facts (let the piss party flow), Fausthouse (for fisting enthusiasts – the management recommends cutting your fingernails prior to arrival), Naked Sex Party (for those who like to nude up in true Germanic style), Revolting (a night for both male and female cross-dressers), Athletes (sports fetish wear) and Spritztour (for those with a penchant for biker gear).
Ever evolving, the downstairs space also now squeezes in the occasional suit and tie night (Office Slut), plus there’s Sewer System (for those who prefer their club to be one massive dark room), Oil And Grease (no dress code) and a true Berghain classic, Mask (face covered, body nude).
While Lab.Oratory is gay only, the door policy of Berghain’s mixed main rooms upstairs can be exceedingly brutal. Potential clubbers can be turned away for no reason other than the Berghain staff consider you uncool. When we were in the queue at 5am one Saturday night, 20 straight tourists in front of us were all sent
home. We made it in because at that time of night Berghain wants to be seen as welcoming its faithful following of gay men.
Intriguingly, once you do get in and security frisks you, what they’re looking for isn’t drugs but cameras. There is no photography allowed on the premises. Berghain is also a club without any mirrors or reflective surfaces. In many ways it’s like stepping back in time to the pre-AIDS, ’70s disco heydey when people partied without limits.
Yet it’s not Berghain’s sexual proclivities or strict door policy that have made it so infamous. It’s more due to its Zeitgeist-defining electronic dance music as it champions numerous new sub-genres before they become commercial or chart favourites. With its exposed concrete and steelwork, the industrial edge of the music perfectly matches the gritty, austere surroundings. Known as “the essential techno pilgrimage”, in 2009 DJ Mag voted Berghain the #1 club in the world. They declared that “as far as techno goes, there is little debate about where the centre of the universe lies at the moment – deep inside the vast vortex of 70 Am Wriezener Bahnhof, Berlin. Or Berghain and its upstairs Panorama Bar to be specific.”
It comes as no surprise that Lady Gaga, of all edgy pop stars, chose to launch her Artpop album at Berghain. She swanned in to warble a few new ditties on a Friday night in the Panorama Bar, which is also the hot spot to buy ice cream if you need to cool down in between dance floor seizures.
Now entering its second decade, Berghain continues to set the trends and raise the bar in the world of clubbing, dance music and gay nightlife. It is most definitely the coolest club in the world, but being as it’s in Berlin – the coolest city in the world – you wouldn’t expect anything else.
HOW TO GET INTO BERGHAIN
At last year’s Hackathon held in Berlin, the big issue for the computer geeks didn’t revolve around Wikileaks, Google, or even how to reach the final level of Angry Birds but – would you believe? – how to get into Berghain. What did these unchic geeks come up with? They created an app to tell you what to wear to ensure you get past the door bitches/butches and, importantly, where to purchase that Berghain-friendly outfit. Such is the all-pervasive power of the world’s coolest club. more: berghain.de or find Berghain on Facebook. For what’s on at the Lab. Oratory check out lab-oratory.de.
Our low key correspondent, Marc Andrews.
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