Notes on Berghain

A dark and sweaty space of bass, sexuality, and hedonism. The building stands giant and alone, a cool slate exterior, with pitch black insides. People emerge all gritted teeth and grimaces, the lines on their faces telling of a lengthy experience that was either transcendent or debauched. Inside, bodies in black clothes or leather restraints move in time with an 808 snare, a low, throbbing baseline that heaves and swells, matched by a crowd that moves in unison. The experience of Berghain is unique. As an institutional beacon to queer politics, and sometimes drug-fuelled hedonism, its pure existence has made socio-politcal waves since it opened in 2004. Like many clubs of its generation, Berghain is a cornerstone of Berlin’s queer nightlife. It is a reincarnate of Ostgut, a male-only fetish club that straddled the turn of the century. Fifteen years later, the concrete covert still tenders a platform for nonjudgemental exploration, and has become a symbol of Berlin’s techno heritance, offering a form of the genre that is noncommercial and unpretentious. 

For a lot of people, Berghain is a shrine to collective pleasure. And to those puritanical Others, it represents the most nihilistic and licentious aspects of the human condition. Regardless of opinion, its popularity has only grown since inception. The club returned the ultimate parting shot to all its naysayers when in 2014, it was eventually admitted a ‘high culture’ status, equating it with the city’s hallowed museums, galleries and theatres. Don’t be fooled, your Sunday tour of the Pergamon will bear little or no resemblance to a Sunday afternoon at Berghain (you’ll find more leathermen in one place, than the other). But beyond BDSM abandon, the club offers a collective and unselfconscious experience that as of yet, no arts institution has been able to replicate. 

To enter Berghain is to shift from one temporality, to another. Repetitive, trance-inducing beats, low lighting and a stringent lack of windows help create not only an immersive, but a wholly indefinite state. Although people generally dance alone, staring at their shoes or blankly ahead, one’s experience is unequivocally shared with those around you. Berghain convention also dictates a ban on mirrors and photography, initiating a less selfie-obsessed, less self-conscious experience. There is real solace to be found in a space free of perpetual documentation, especially at a time when our engagement with the arts is so often defined by the photos we take, and share. This release translates itself to an experience of being, where there is an obvious semblance of matters-of-factness. Berghain’s non-judgemental spirit is evident in the distinct lack of people looking at people, the total absence of any gaze. Often what arts organisations fail to do is undermine our constant withdrawal into subjectivism. Berghain does the opposite; drawing people together in a common understanding. Perhaps at a time when we are more politically alienated than ever before, such an experience can only be positive.