Gentrification and Club Death in Berlin?

20.4.2017 by Julia Schwenner

Berlin is a well renowned place for many reasons - its unconventional charm, its freedom, its creativity, its immense size; not to mention the countless green spaces, canals and lakes in the areas surrounding Berlin, its unique history – and, of course, the legendary Berlin nightlife. Our capital has now become the Mecca of tourists and celebrations from all over the world. In droves they arrive every weekend in to Tegel or Schönefeld airports, only to spend a few nights in Berlin and fly back on Monday morning. Berlin has and is a club culture. Berlin is a party. As well as its obvious positives, this does entail some disadvantages (long queues, full dance floors, etc...). On the flip side, money flows into our city. Berlin was quoted by Berlin's former mayor, Klaus Wowereit as being "sexy, but poor".

Club-tourism is huge in Berlin and the practise injects money into the metropolis every weekend. In addition to this, there is the steady stream of migrants hailing from South Europe as a result of the economic crisis which we have experienced during the last few years, not to mention the locals who also like to let their hair down and put on their dancing shoes. According to the tourism portal of Berlin “visitBerlin”, there are around 1300 clubs in Berlin. So, what has forced the "Berliner Club Death" to be mentioned regularly in the media for years now? Do we have to worry about the loss of cultural property and our city's economic power? Has Berlin's time as the centre of club culture and electronic dance music expired? Or is it all just hot air?

Let’s start from the beginning. What does “Club Death” mean? Club Death is the sad situation when clubs are forced to close due to lack of funds, lack of permits, safety standards, anger from local residents, loss of land due to construction projects by larger investors, and so on so forth. Parties are being cancelled and the options for club-goers are diminishing. I believe that we are approaching a time when we can claim that a piece of urban and cultural history is being lost.

What does it look like on the ground in Berlin? Some facilities seem untouchable - the Berghain, is a great example: the location is central, acoustically unproblematic, its popularity with its client base has been immovable for many years. However, many other locations have had to relocate or even close in recent years:

One of the major losses was the Stattbad Wedding, which had to close its doors in May 2015 due to a lack of nightclub licenses (ups) and inadequate building security measures. The Horst Krzbrg struggled for a long time with the influx of high-quality music from interested musicians. This constituted a large part of the club's regular guests and the money was leaking fast; in order to cut loses it was converted into a residential area in the immediate neighbourhood. The construction was finally finished in February 2013.

The Knaack was a key institution in Berlin just a decade ago but sadly the icon fell when in 2011/12 it was deemed as not having sufficient noise protection for the local area – this was caused by a fault in the construction office, which had failed to put down noise protection as an obligatory building condition.

The Golden Gate Garden was forced to close as the property belonged to the city and it was deemed that its outdoor nature was not suitable for the surrounding neighbourhood.

Even the famous Sisyphos was closed for several months in the autumn of 2014 due to various safety concerns.

Magdalena and Heideglühen had to leave their central locations in Kreuzberg and Mitte and move to Treptow or Moabit.

Last but by no means least, I would like to mention the Bar25, an internationally known Berlin institution, which had to close in 2010 due to the construction of the river Spree. However, the group re-took control of the area during an intense bidding process two years later, whereupon they opened the club Kater Blau in the same area.

So it appears that in Berlin the key problems consist of reckless construction projects or lack of safety standards of the clubs. The promoter and presenter of Boiler Room Berlin, Michail Stangl, explains this development: "The majority of Berlin clubs operate in a ‘Grauzone’ and get away with it because the Berlin administration is not able to control that. There may have been a shift in the priorities of the Berlin administration, which would explain the recent developments."

Nevertheless, it is probably exaggerated to speak of this shift as 'Berlin Club Death'. New clubs are regularly established, and, as in the case of the Bar25, clubs are often relocated and reopened elsewhere. Stangl, however, responds to this critically: "We hope, however, that they have a moment in Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. If these increased efforts to control the nightlife go on, it becomes impossible to open a club with little money. Most building and safety regulations make an underground music venue absolutely uneconomical. The safety of visitors, employees and musicians undoubtedly comes first and it is true that any violation of this should be disciplined. What needs to be considered, however, is how certain building regulations and safety restrictions can be achieved and implemented without being completely inaccesible from a cultural and a financial viewpoint.

Marc Wohlrabe from the Berlin Club Commission, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of Berlin's club scene, cannot confirm a massive club death. "The concept of club dying is exaggerated," he says. However, it is true that Berlin institutions are obliged to give way for new construction projects. Wohlrabe calls for the city to plan smarter and more analytically on where to be build.”

Talk of Berlin's club death may be exaggerated. Nevertheless, old, established and popular clubs have to return again and again due to a lack of safety precautions, neglected conversions and recklessly planned construction projects. This, ultimately, leads to the loss of key monuments of Berlin’s culture and history and is also bad for the domestic economy.

However, if the communication between club operators, the city council, investors and residents improves; appropriate safety and noise protection measures can be implemented in a moderate time frame and construction projects planned with due regard for each other then this development could be stopped in time. There is still enough room for everyone in Berlin.