Image ullstein bild/Getty Images

15 things you need to know about Berghain

The world's most infamous club celebrates its 15th birthday this weekend.

by James Anderson
12 December 2019, 11:00am

Image ullstein bild/Getty Images

Berghain is loved by clubbers from all over the world, has been written about in all manner of publications -- from i-D and The New Yorker to, er, The Sun -- and has become the subject of memes, T-shirts, rumours and folklore galore. Since opening in 2004, housed in a vast and foreboding-looking former power plant, its reputation for an unrivalled sound system, open-minded attendees, sexual abandon and general apathy towards media attention on the part of its owners and employees has enabled it to retain an underground edge, despite global fame.

This weekend is the club’s 15th birthday and promises to be a weekend of mayhem, sound-tracked by DJs including Marcel Dettmann, Steffi, Efdemin, Surgeon, Aurora Halal, among many others, with a live show from Caterina Barbieri. In honour of this anniversary, we explore the notorious nocturnal legend which shows no signs of slowing down. Happy birthday, Berghain!

1. Berghain’s founders Michael Teufele and Norbert Thormann previously cut their teeth with another equally wild Berlin club, Ostgut, which they ran from the late-90s to the early-00s. At Ostgut, there was a mix of different techno nights as well as the infamous hardcore gay fetish Snax parties (this now take place at Berghain on Easter Saturday, with a specific sportswear iteration in November). Ostgut closed in 2003, after the premises was earmarked for demolition. Not long afterwards, the twosome discovered an ideal derelict building and Berghain was duly born…

2. Berghain retains the concrete and raw architecture of its previous industrial incarnation, but has been artfully reconfigured into different core ‘venues’-within-a-venue. It houses Lab.oratory, entered via side of the building on the ground floor, home to a succession of not-for-the-faint-hearted themed fetish nights, which are mainly men-only. Also on the ground floor, accessible via the main entrance, is Säule, where the emphasis is more on new and experimental electronic music. The massive Berghain dancefloor itself is accessed via a huge staircase by the main entrance, with the Panorama Bar (where the music is less-techno and more-house) on the next floor up. There’s loads of stairs, walkways, intimate booths and darkrooms, making it easy to get lost inside, though no one seems to have a problem with that.

3. The uninitiated might ask, ‘Why is Berghain called Berghain?’ There’s no big mystery -- the name is simply a portmanteau of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the two bordering districts the venue calls home.

4. The main sound system at Berghain is widely acknowledged to be one of the best around -- so clean, crisp and powerful is its ultrasound potential that it is generally only used at up to 20% of its full capacity, otherwise maybe your ears would fall off or something. It was originally designed by a specialist UK company called Funktion-One, based a far cry from the debauched dancefloors of Berlin, in suburban Surrey.

5. Being in control of the decks at Berghain is considered the ultimate career-enhancing accolade for any techno DJ. Hence, the absolute cream of the DJ crop either has a residency, or has regularly played there, including the likes of Boris, Norman Nodge, Ben Klock, Sammy Dee, Zip, Marcel Fengler, Fiedel, Marcel Dettmann and DJ Pete, to name a few. Berghain also has its own in-house record label, Ostgut Ton, founded in 2005, and routinely releases cuts and mixes by its resident DJs and others.

6. Berghain sensibly dispenses with the tacky trappings and tendencies of typical nightclubs. For starters, the weekend opening hours generously span from 11.59 on a Saturday night through until Monday morning -- occasionally mid-afternoon. Some diehards even nip home for a disco nap, mid-marathon, then come back for more. There’s no VIP area and no mirrors or reflective surfaces anywhere -- a nightmare for narcissists. The toilets are non-gender specific (with cubicles that can fit up to six people inside -- so it’s easy to make new friends). You can wear whatever you like at Berghain -- whether that’s some clothes, or nothing at all -- and pretty much do whatever you like, as long as it’s not stopping anyone else from having a good time. That’s if you can actually get into the club….

7. The long queues to get in to Berghain are notorious, as is the seemingly-random door policy, which only heightens the sense of anticipation as hordes of hopefuls edge closer to the entrance. Not knowing whether access will be granted by the intimidating bouncers has become a ‘thing’ in its own right. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of, er, ‘helpful’ advice about this online (eg, Wear black clothes! Speak German! Act gay!), as well as tons of disgruntled revellers kicking off on social media about being refused entry. Not to mention, a site that lets you practice your entry-gaining ‘techniques’ with a virtual Berghain bouncer. Ok then. And here’s a series of photos from a few years ago, capturing crestfallen would-be Berghain clubbers who were knocked back.

8. The most well-known of Berghain’s formidable bouncers is the heavily-tattooed and pierced Sven Marquardt. He’s also a photographer and has for decades been a stalwart of the city’s nightlife. Sven was one of the key subjects of a documentary, Berlin Bouncer, directed by David Dietl and debuted earlier this year. He also published his memoir, Die Nacht ist Leben (The Night is Life), back in 2014 and in the same year unleashed a T-shirt collection in collaboration with the high street fashion brand, Hugo Boss.

9. According to urban myth, a few famous folks have also apparently failed to get past the hallowed Berghain door. Those rumoured to have been rejected include Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Florence Welch, Jake Gyllenhaal and the DJ and producer, Felix da Housecat. By contrast, the actress Clare Danes has been there lots of times and loves the place, as she gleefully explained on The Ellen Show.

10. Berghain is definitely not suited to social media addicts who want their antics to go viral during a night out. For starters, a strict ‘No Photos’ policy means the camera lens on your phone will be taped over with a sticker by the security team, when you enter. You’re likely to be promptly ejected if you unwisely peel this off and start taking pics. Despite this, some clearly didn’t get the ‘What happens in Berghain stays in Berghain’ memo, and have shared and uploaded fuzzy pics and clips from inside the club for others to see. Hence our header image from Getty.

11. Berghain is legally allowed to pay a lower rate of tax to the state than might normally be expected, after a 2016 ruling from the Berlin-Brandenburg fiscal court classed the club not merely as an ‘entertainment’ venue, but instead as an institution that produces work of significant cultural value. This special status acknowledges not only the musical merits of crowd-pleasing techno, but the other events which are routinely hosted there during the week, including ballet performances, classical concerts, fashion shows and art exhibitions.

12. Berghain inspires such dedicated fan-dom that certain devotees have even created Minecraft video tours of its interior -- these have been constructed from memory, though, so are not necessarily totally accurate. Here’s one from a few years ago.

13. Various high-profile female popstars are big fans of Berghain: Lady Gaga showcased her 2013 ARTPOP album in Halle am Berghain (a lesser-known space within the club used for specific events), while Kylie Minogue performed in Berghain’s Panorama Bar, as part of her 2018 Golden tour. Roisin Murphy, who’s always maintained her close links with club culture, also thrilled the throngs with a gig at the Panorama Bar in early 2019.

14. Wolfgang Tillmans first made his name on the pages of i-D way back in the early 90s -- with his photographs from raves, protests and clubs and others of his friends, before winning the Turner Prize in 2000, then becoming recognised as an internationally-acclaimed artist. His work is further honoured in Berghain. A large-scale Tillmans photograph of the back of a throat, along with several others, of television static, from his 2014 End of Broadcast series line the walls (and totally suit the ambience).

15. Obviously, it gets very hot and sweaty at Berghain -- which is why the in-house ice cream bar is handy for a cool-down. Although, a sweltering i-D writer once had to wait in line for ages, while the frisky twosome in front of them were enthusiastically shagging instead of placing their order!