by Sam Vangelos
When one disembarks at the Warschauer Straße U-Bahn-station and walks across the Warschauer Bridge towards Friedrichshain, a brief glimpse to the west reveals an array of buildings protruding into the skyline. One building in particular – a building of tremendous cultural importance to contemporary Berlin and its clubbing culture – is ever so slightly visible, inconspicuously dwelling at the now-defunct Wriezncr Bahnhof. As your destination draws closer, nerves begin to set in, and you start questioning your every move up until now. Should I have worn that black coat instead? Maybe we should split up into smaller groups? And, naturally, the most pressing question: Will I get in?!
For many, including myself, making the pilgrimage to Berghain is a techno right of passage. Since its opening in 2004, tales of the Berghain’s unrivaled club nights have circulated throughout the electronic music community: the chest-rattling, meticulously tuned Funktion One sound system; the carefully curated artists; the delightfully diverse mixture of revelers; and, of course, the notoriously difficult door policy. Collectively, these qualities have secured Berghain a spot in the pantheon of legendary clubs next to the likes of Studio 54 in New York, the Haçienda in Manchester, and the Warehouse in Chicago. So now, the allure of this Berlin institution attracts people from all over the world who wish to try their luck in entering this techno temple.
Walking up to Berghain, the monolithic concrete structure looms intimidatingly. Only the muffled rumbling of a steady four-on-the-floor beat offers a clue as to what exactly goes on inside. Rows of metal bars, meant to herd hopefuls as they await their fate, snake in front of a building that was once a functioning power plant of East Germany. It’s rectangular windows, tinted black on the outside, prevent onlookers from witnessing what lies within. Stylistically, Berghain is quite minimalistic, evidenced by its simple geometric shapes, very restricted color palate, and symmetrical composition. That said, only after successfully overcoming the three large, bearded men stoically guarding the door does it becomes clear that minimalism governs the club’s overall architectural aesthetic.
Once inside, there are absolutely no gratuitous decorative touches, nor any noticeable augmentation to the building’s pre-existing architectural conditions. Rather than adapting the space to its needs, the club adapted its needs to the space. This ethos partly what makes Berghain, and many other clubs in Berlin, so incredibly unique to the city. By rejecting the contrived glamour of more conventional clubbing spaces and in favor of respecting the original form of the building, Berghain focuses on what’s most important: properly showcasing the music, the people, and ultimately the vibe those two things synergistically create.
Similar to the outside, only stone, glass, and metal shape the inside architecture of the club. These pure, raw, and simple mediums act as the perfect compliment to the industrial-leaning techno sounds that Berghain showcases. With ceilings that are approximately 18 meters high, the club’s expansive main dance floor creates the perfect setting to lose one’s self in the pummeling drums and esoteric synths. The scope of this main floor is reflective of the club’s overall tremendous size, which it very strategically utilizes . With three separate floors of the building accessible, Berghain boasts two dancing areas,an outdoor garden area, six bars, a café/ice cream parlor hybrid, and an array of lounge areas for dancers to chill out and recuperate. To put it in perspective, it’s fairly easy to get lost your first couple of times inside, especially among the residual synthetic fog and flashing strobes.
Considering all of this, Berghain is a perfect example of Berlin’s ingenuity in repurposing old spaces for new ideas and ambitions. It successfully cultivates a space in which the rules of the outside world cease to exist. Individuality and creativity is not simply accepted, but valued and encouraged. Those that normally exist on the margins can have a place to congregate and call their own, and in this regard, Berghain preserves an essential part of what originally made clubbing culture so vital for so many people.
All Images by Nichole Wong