Nov
10

Berlin BerMuDa Weekend – Day 1

Berlin is the European home of techno. After the genre was born in Michigan, Detroit in 1980, its next stop was the German capital and it is now home to many of the biggest DJs and labels within the techno scene, as well as undoubtedly the best clubs in the word. In addition to this fact, the Berlin Music Days (BerMuDa) festival was taking place last weekend so it really wasn’t a difficult decision to get a group together and book what we always knew would be a special weekend…but I don’t think anyone realised at the time just how special.

The plan was to head off after work on Friday 5th November and spend the night hopefully in Berghain. For those of you who haven’t heard of Berghain, it is considered one of the top 3, if not the top 1, best club in the world. It is also renowned for it’s brutal door policy, often only admitting one in five hopeful punters, but I will come back to this issue in a minute. As there was a group of 21 of us, we had accepted that a large part of the group wouldn’t be getting in but Berlin also happens to be home to dozens of other incredible clubs, all of which were hosting awesome nights on Friday.

After a fairly hassle free Ryanair flight to Berlin, Schonefeldairport, we dropped our bags at the hostel, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It was 12 euros each per night, perfectly clean and comfortable with a bar by reception playing some ambient techno 24 hours a day. If you ever need somewhere to stay, definitely consider http://www.ip-hostel.com/. It was walking distance from most things and the best value hostel I’ve ever stayed in by miles. Back to the evening, we had left the bags in the room and set off in groups of two or three, staggered by a couple of minutes gap and headed towards Berghain.

Some of the group had been lucky enough to fly out on the Thursday and had spent the night in Watergate. It meant that they were able to go to Berghain early on Friday, around the time the rest of us were landing, and a group of four of them were already inside by the time we got to the hostel. There is something memorable about the first time you turn the corner and see the incredible sight that is Berghain, no picture could ever do it justice but here it what you can expect to see:

I mentioned earlier the door policy. It is undoubtedly one of the strictest in the world, especially because no one really knows exactly what grants you entry, only a few things that are almost guaranteed to prevent you getting past the bouncers. I’ll do my best to give you a concise round up of the info we were given by a Berlin veteran in case it ever comes in handy. Firstly they don’t like big groups, preferably no more than twos or threes, as it keeps the club more sociable. They have bouncers at look-out points so you need to set off five minutes apart, rather than just break off from each other round the corner as they are wise to this tactic. Best to keep the groups mixed as well, there is a large gay following, so being a group of three good-looking girls won’t necessarily do you the same favours it would in London’s west end. Definitely don’t turn up drunk, they take a good long look at you before making a decision and if you don’t look sober, it’s almost a definite no. There is no dress code at Berghain, you will see a mix of everything, but if you aren’t German the safest bet is to stick to something casual and nothing flashy. No designer labels, and especially nothing that screams ‘Brits on tour’. We all went for subtle trainers and t shirts, hardly anyone wears anything with a collar, and avoid bright colours. Apart from that, you want to stay quiet in the queue, I don’t mean silent but try and stay under the radar and wait until you’re inside the club before making some new friends.

When you get to the front you will be stopped, asked how many in your group (so you might want to learn the German for ‘one’, ‘two’ or ‘three’), and then simply waved inside or told to step to the right which is a polite way of saying not tonight. If this happens, don’t argue as it won’t get you anywhere and they are more likely to remember your face next time you try. There is a common consensus that at busy times, only a lucky 20% are admitted so be ready to take a rejection on the chin and don’t let it ruin your night. If you are successful, it will be thanks to this man, Sven, the head bouncer of the club and the legend behind the door policy. He will either be your best friend or your worst enemy after a valiant attempt to get inside. Meet Sven:

Back to Friday night. We set off from the hostel around midnight in our small groups, trying to keep as much distance from the group in front of us who we were attempting to follow but inevitably, as it was dark, there was a great deal of getting lost and the ten minutes walk took us about 25, and they were 25 tense minutes I can assure you. When we finally got into the queue we were pleased to see there were only about 20 people in front of us, at peak times it can be a couple of hours and a few hundred people. As we got to the front, after seeing almost everyone in front of us get turned away, I was almost certain we wouldn’t be successful. It was also the first time since deciding to go to Berlin that I was absolutely desperate to be admitted. I had been kidding myself thinking I would be equally happy at Watergate or one of the other clubs, I needed to experience Berghain, and my fate was in the hands of Sven. We got to the front and were looked up and down for probably the longest 15 seconds of my life. As the bouncer at the door turned to Sven to confirm, I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and decided to take a confident step forward as if we had assumed we were allowed in. Next thing you know we were standing inside the cloakroom and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shaking with a combination of excitement and disbelief. I was in.

After being searched, and told that there was strictly no cameras or photography allowed inside the club, we paid our 8 euros entry and checked our jackets. I will add at this point that the no photograph policy is one that they are notorious for implementing forcefully and you can expect to be dragged out the club and never allowed back if you try to be clever and take a cheeky snap once inside (the picture on the left is therefore lifted from google and not my own work!). I then tried to casually head upstairs to meet the others, unfortunatley not all of them had got in but impressively 16 out of the 21 of us had managed it, largely thanks to the advice on the door policy from our friend Martin. However there was nothing casual about it, I was virtually running upstairs. The anticipation was killing me.

The club is an old industrial warehouse building and to quote a couple of the girls in the group, “it looks like it could have been used as a set on the film Saw”. It’s dark and filled with a twisted atmosphere that I have never experienced before. The music in the main room was completely in keeping with the surroundings. It was a very deep, dark, punchy style of techno. The basslines were relentless and the dancefloor was a sweaty shrine to the magic that was happening around us. Thankfully the bouncers don’t allow the club to become overly packed, there was the perfect balance of being full and yet still room to find a spot on the dancefloor to rave comfortably.

I have to admit that it didn’t take long for me to realise and appreciate the reasons behind the door policy. Nowhere else in the world has such a mixed group of like-minded people. I also appreciate that my tone might have been a little different if I had been turned away however! The buzz of excitement, the commitment to the music, and the Berghain ethos was present in every single raver.

Berghain is famous for the ‘dark rooms’ in the basement of the club. I won’t go into detail but unless you know what goes on down there I would be cautious when taking a stroll to check out the club. They actually happened to be closed on Friday night, but opened at various points over the weekend. If you’re looking for somewhere to sit down, don’t head for the dark rooms, they aren’t for the faint hearted. There is also an ice cream parlour run by a man in all leather hidden away up a winding staircase in the corner of the bar off the main room but this was also closed over most of the weekend.

At around 4am, after an incredible set by Portable, also known as Bodycode, who combined his Djing with his own live vocals which were distorted through a tribal effect microphone that was uniquely incredible and one of the most memorable of the weekend, the main room shut and people headed upstairs to Panorama Bar, which is the other half of the club. The club was scheduled to be open til 3pm so the night was really only just beginning.

Upstairs was a Perlon label night, and Zip was on the decks. This was a much more house-y type of set. We took up a spot near the front of the dancefloor, in front of the decks, and couldn’t have been happier. One of the great things about Berghainis the number of places to explore on your breaks from raving. There are countless spots to chill out in or go for a smoke whilst you recover a bit of energy. There is a room witha glass wall looking out over the Berlin skyline, there are rooms with couches hidden away all over the club and staircases leading to small balconies overlooking the different rooms.

The preferred drink inside the club is a type of Becks we refer to as ‘techno juice’. It is called ‘Becks Green Lemon’ and is a much lighter and more refreshing version of their normal lager, ideal for long hard nights on the dancefloor. For the alcoholics amongst you, I will add a warning that it is only 2.5% so you might want to alternate it with a different beverage. There was an endless supply of them circulating our group and I can’t remember not having one in my hand all night. The other thing to mention is the toilet policy…or rather lack of one. This is another thing I won’t go into detail on but there is very much an ‘anything goes’ policy, so be prepared. It is all part of the laid back, weird and unique atmosphere inside so you’re either going to love it or hate it. I certainly saw some things that I have never witnessed anywhere else in my life, but I loved every second.

The rest of the night was spent in Panorama Bar, which we were told by some regulars was the busiest they had ever seen it. The change in vibe from downstairs is a perfect transition from the intense night time session into the early morning and day time one. It is hard to describe why the club is so much better than its counterparts in other countries. The Berghain atmosphere is very much centred around the ethos that this isn’t a place for louts, thugs or troublemakers. The people here love the music, the people, the way of life,  and everything it stands for. You can’t help but feel you are part of something special inside those walls. A piece of techno history and part of the continuing revolution.

As morning arrived and our legs grew weary, some of us decided to call it a night and get some rest before the festival the next night, which was supposed to be the main focus of the weekend, although I doubted whether anything could ever live up to the experience of that night. I stumbled my way down to the cloakroom to get my coat, and couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt, especially since there is nowhere else you can buy them at all. The cold breeze hit us hard as we exited and a taxi home seemed like the preferable option. I had to take one picture as we looked back to say goodbye to all the magic of what was the best night and raving experience I have ever had:

The weekend had only just begun but we all knew it was going to be one that we remembered and talked about for years to come and maybe even forever. One thing was for sure, I had fallen in love with Berlin, so I feel I must in part thank Sven for this. As far as scary 7-foot giants go, who have barbed wire tattoos covering their faces, you are my favourite.

See you on the dancefloor.

1 Comment to “Berlin BerMuDa Weekend – Day 1”

  • Rob, this is my favourite piece of music-related writing for a very long while. It’s absolutely amazing how strongly your enthusiasm for that experience comes through. It really was a very, very special night. And I completely agree with your comments about the door policy – it feels so terrible to be rejected from Berghain, but the amazing mix of people that the selectors manage to maintain in there is simply astounding. I really don’t think that there’s a better crowd in the world than the Berghain/Pano “congregation” (as they call themselves!)

    Talking of congregation – I’ve always wanted to read a well written piece with a title like “Religious Symbolism and The Berghain”. I don’t have the academic training to pull something like that off, but I really think that it would make an amazing read. There are so many levels that could be covered.

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