Berlin’s renowned nightclub scene hangs in the balance

  • Living
  • Thursday, 11 Mar 2021

People waitng to get into the KitKat club in Berlin, not to party, but to take a coronavirus test. The once-infamous nightclub has turned itself into a testing centre. — dpa

Berlin's renowned club scene has long attracted party-goers from all over the world, but after a year of closed doors, what is the mood? And how will the scene change after the pandemic?

Sure, you can listen to music at home. But it’s not the same as dancing in a dark, sweaty club, surrounded by other people moving to the same beat – a setting that feels like a faraway dream as long as the coronavirus is around.

Especially in Berlin, a capital of nightclubs, the missing presence of party culture is palpable. “We’re the first to be closed and the last to be allowed to reopen,” says Pamela Schobess, whose club, Gretchen, has been closed for months.

“We have no idea when things will be up and running again, and where it goes from here,” adds Schobess, reflecting the concerns of many nightclub owners in the German capital.

Pamela Schobess, whose Berlin nightclub Gretchen has been closed for months due to the pandemic, says that she doesn’t know how things will go when clubs are allowed to reopen. — dpaPamela Schobess, whose Berlin nightclub Gretchen has been closed for months due to the pandemic, says that she doesn’t know how things will go when clubs are allowed to reopen. — dpa

Perhaps in a symbolic twist, the Kitkat club, which in normal times is a place for people not necessarily averse to casual sex, has been transformed into a coronavirus testing centre.

The long queues, the scowling bouncer, a cocktail in a dimly lit bar, the people who flew in on a cheap Easyjet flight just to party: Though it wasn’t that long ago, it feels like it was.

Berlin’s clubs are now struggling to survive, slowly being squeezed by rent and without much help from the government. Some are trying to stay afloat by selling wine at charity events or moving DJ nights online, but it’s all a stretch.

“It’s a bitter situation because you can’t do what you love and because there’s no reliable outlook. You watch from the sidelines as the debt begins to pile up, ” says Konstantin Krex, from Kater Blau. The expenses have continued rolling in since the start of the pandemic, while there’s been zero income.

Techno pioneer Dimitri Hegemann of Tresor says that he’s hoping for more aid programmes and the ability to reopen in a few months, while Marcel Weber, of the Schwuz club, says that thanks to a loan taken out early, it’s been possible to survive the crisis, in addition to government bridging aid.

It’s hard to imagine what club life will look like after the pandemic. One location expects ticket prices to rise and for many places to become more commercialised, post-coronavirus.

There’s also the question of how quickly people will be able to shake off months of practising social distancing and get close to one another again in tight spaces. Maybe they’ve found new hobbies and no longer need to go clubbing to fill the void in their existence – they have hot yoga and nature bathing now.

But of course, there are also some people who just want to party again. And for that, there’s a tangible sense of cautious optimism among the club operators. “More than anything, we hope that solidarity and mindful interactions between people will become a permanent thing, and that clubs, art and culture will experience an enormous swell of appreciation, ” says Weber.

Schobess doesn’t believe that dancing and social distancing really work together. “It’s about ecstasy, after all, ” she says.

What’s important to her is that whenever there is a start-up phase again, more aid will be distributed. “It can’t just go from zero to 100, ” she says, pointing to the fact that tourism will be slow to recover and concerts need lead time. Lots of people will also have less money to spend on going out.

Hegemann believes that longing for the touch of others, for partying without a reason in dark rooms, will remain.

Berlin’s most infamous club, Berghain, as usual is keeping a low profile and doesn’t want to comment on the situation. However, the motto of the art exhibition that was in the nightclub space before it also had to close down might be indicative: Morgen ist die Frage (The question is tomorrow). – dpa/Caroline Bock

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