Berghain is not about you

Sure, we’ve been talking idly about going to Berghain since, well, since before the move to Germany. Almost shameful that it’s taken us some six months to make it happen, but I suppose we’ve been caught up in the move, the apartment, the new job, and the convenience of the goth club just across Frankfurter Allee or the simple allure of the spätkauf beer walks have been a lazy distraction.

Why Berghain? Berghain is regarded as one of the world’s best techno clubs, known for its hedonistic marathon weekend parties. It’s housed in formidable industrial building, a former Vattenfall power station in fact. The club has a notorious reputation for difficult entry. Long lines and hundreds turned away. There are certain tactics for bettering your chances, websites with lists of the DO’s and DON’T’s of getting into Berghain, things like: dress stylish/casual (dress to dance); don’t go in a group of more than 3 (couples and singles fare better); don’t talk while waiting in line (this is about holding your shit together); don’t be overly drunk or on drugs (this is also about holding your shit together). Common sense stuff, really, but nonetheless intimidating.

Skirting by the back side of Berghain way back in January.
Skirting by the back side of Berghain way back in January.

Last night, we committed ourselves to going to Berghain. Clothingwise, we opted for “goth-casual”, T in basic hoodie and jeans; me in a tank top, shorts, fishnets, and combat boots, hair pulled back in a high ponytail.

We made our approach sometime around 3:30am, maintaining our lowkey goth bar beer buzz from earlier. Berghain loomed, massive in the darkness, dull bass booming ominously. The queue for entry stretched back some distance, and it wasn’t long that more hopefuls fell in behind us. Despite it’s length, the line seemed to move quickly. As we moved forward, there was a steady stream of people being sent away. The group in line behind us was quite loud, quite possibly coked up, a lot of sniffing and rapid uninhibited chatter in Dutch. As we got closer, another group made to force its way through the line, two girls skipping ahead of us, and a guy hopping a barrier. American tourists. Really? Patience. For all their efforts to skip to the door, the bouncers sorted them out, sent them away down the rejection path.

I was admittedly nervous when we made the final approach, and beginning to shiver a bit from the cold. The quiet couple ahead of us was turned away. To the side, I recognized the pierced and tattooed doorman Sven Marquardt from an online interview T and I had watched long ago in SF. “Be cool, be cool,” I thought, and readied my German phasing “Wir sind zwei”, for when the bouncer should ask how many. But it was oh so much more subtle than that. I don’t know that the bouncer acknowledged us at all, and there was still one guy waiting in front of us in the queue. I was caught a bit off-guard, a smile and a subtle head nod from Sven, which I didn’t think was meant for us. Eye contact this time, and I started to hold up two fingers, another smile, nod, and a quiet “Geh weiter”. Sven approves. And in we go.

* * *

Into the belly of Berghain, a cavernous space filled with thunderous bass. It’s dark. It’s dirty. The air is filled with fog machine and cigarette smoke and sweat and hot breath. It’s raw and unrelenting and glorious.

No photography is allowed inside the club. Anyone caught taking photos will be ejected. It’s about privacy, but I think it’s also about creating that firm boundary between the world of you and the world of Berghain. You’ll notice there are no mirrors, no reflective surfaces anywhere inside the club. This is a place to lose your self, to lose your self-consciousness. No fixing of hair or makeup as you sweat it and smear it away. You don’t matter, only the energy and the music.

And it’s true, the longer we stayed, the more T and I began to settle into the sound and the rhythm, upstairs in the Panorama Bar, and downstairs on the fringes of the cavernous main dance floor. It wasn’t like the goth club where I feel like I need to hide myself in the midst of the crowd, ever aware and slightly embarrassed of my inescapable sense of identity. This was a near all-encompassing sense of indifference and sound and motion. I think that’s what Berghain is, it’s a remorseless machine. It has no room for your ego, because Berghain is not about you, it doesn’t care about you. It goes, and you can go with it, or you can leave. Hence the restrictive door policy.

It’s true, I get off on negation of self. I could see losing hours here. And no need for mind altering substances either. I was sweating my way through my two beers, buzzed but never stumbling. I felt good. Sunlight began to sluice through the metal shutters of the Panorama Bar, and there was that near-magical moment when the shutter opened wide to reveal a Sunday morning beyond. And then they snapped shut again, plunging the room back into shadow and music and dance.

* * *

T and I emerged later into that sunlit morning, bewildered by the brightness, stumbling with sudden bodily fatigue, and barely out of the door before saying things like “Soooo gooood!” T and I ambled homeward, at last glimpsing our reflections in shop windows as we passed. This visual confirmation of self making us once more corporeal, pulling us back to earth, reminding us of our frail mortal bodies with their need for food and for sleep.

Smudgy remains of my Berghain entry stamp.
Smudgy remains of my Berghain entry stamp.

Much eat. Much sleep. Berghain, we shall see you again.

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