Berlin club culture: politics, techno and non-commercial dance floors

Iz Elwood | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Beyond club culture, dance floors can encourage social engagement and political awareness among younger people. Between protest raves or maintaining free spaces for culture, Berlin’s alternative scene for culture and music has reached a maturity which is unique in Europe. Recent years have shown notorious figures of the Berlin clubbing scene initiate projects locally and beyond borders to share nearly forty years of cultural experiments in the city. The article gives an overview of Berlin-based collectives, clubs and projects who reconcile the spheres of politics and techno.

What makes Berlin club culture so unique in Europe?

The uniqueness of Berlin club culture and techno are set in history. Berlin’s culture is the story of a ravaged city healing from the wounds of World War II.

In the documentary B-movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989, Mark Reeder tells his personal story and revisits through heavy archives the vibrant music and art scene of West Berlin during the divided city’s punky, trashy, techno heyday. The movie gives a dense in detail understanding on how music and culture helped built the bridge between East and West Berlin.

From putting their own stamp on newly arrived music genres, to creating** free spaces for culture in abandoned buildings (like techno club Tresor), the socially conscious generation of the 80s and 90s, through the political context, gave rise to the counter-culture Berlin is known for today. Berlin post-wall nightlife** in the 90s was intense. It was an energy of relief and freedom.

Tresor to Detroit

Tresor is an underground techno club and label in Berlin. Tresor is the last vestige - though several relocations - of Berlin’s post-wall nightlife of the 90s. What does it tell us? No matter how successful a club and how liberal a city, spaces for culture and nightlife are hard to find and maintain. Cities sell land to investors and short-term rent contracts for nightclubs fail, more often than not, to be renewed.

Tresor’s history goes back to 1988, when it was first known under the name Ufo Club. In 1990, the club closes and relocates to East Berlin, in the vaults of an abandoned Jewish bank. The location is unique and inspires the new name ‘Tresor’. The Berlin place-to-be for all techno lovers eventually closes (again) in 2005, due to eviction and new plans of the city for the neighbourhood. But Tresor is not one to easily give up. Since 2007, the club found a new home in the renovated power plant on Köpenicker Straße in Mitte.

Lately, Tresor’s founder Dimitri Hegemann has started an extended collaboration and cultural project with clubs and artists in Detroit, to help bring nightlife back to the original birthplace of techno. While Detroit and Berlin share similar history - by using music and culture to reclaim an abandoned city - they unfortunately didn’t share the same faith. In a recent interview for Trax (Arte), Dimitri Hegemann shared his firm beliefs that Berlin culture and club culture has reached sufficient maturity to teach other cities how to bring underground culture overground.

© Photo by i bi, via flickr.

Politics and Techno

Mensch Meier is a Berlin club and culture house who reconciles the sphere’s of politics and techno. The club welcomes many engaged projects and has an on-location ‘awareness team’ which helps keep the dance floor safe, open and free. Mensch Meier is closely related to Frei(t)räume, a free open-air Berlin operation, and to the social movement Reclaim Club Culture who organises protest raves against right-wing extremists in Germany. What’s more? Mensch Meier curates regular club nights with discussion panels on the thematic of club culture and politics. Check out: Rebellion der Träumer.

© Photo credit by Mensch Meier, via facebook.

Intersectional non-binary dance floors

Room 4 Resistance is a collective creating intersectional spaces on dance floors. They describe themselves as “(We are) a Berlin-based queer femme / non-binary forward collective focused on community-building and creating safer space & visibility for underrepresented artists in Dance Music.” They organise regular club nights in several locations in Berlin, which included a one off at Griessmühle (No Room 4 Shade). Their monthly residency at the notorious Berlin club //about:blank was recently cancelled due to Room for Resistance’s public statement in support of the campaign #DJsforPalestine. Beyond borders, the collective hosts parties and panel discussion in clubs around Europe like at De School, Amsterdam, and The Pickle factory, London.

© Illustration by Rudy Loewe, via Room 4 Resistance

Reclaiming free spaces for culture

Many collectives and organisations in Berlin work every day on creating and maintaining culture accessible and free outside of commercial circles. One of them is Spree:publik. The collective is supported by the Berlin Club Commission and aims to keep the Spree park and Spree river a free place for cultural experiments. The city's commercial (and lobby sponsored) development projects for the Spree park is indeed subject to controversy. Many areas of the park burst with free initiatives and creativity, if the city council's plans are approved, it would mean for all those projects to stop. "The Spree and Berlin’s canals now thrive with raft cinemas, theatre performances, art exhibitions and concerts, as well as demonstrations and environmental actions. All in the spirit of solidarity and a liberal and collective way of thinking." shares Spree:publik - and they intend to keep it this way.

© Photo by Johannes Jelinek -, via spree:publik.

Last but not least, Enter the Void could probably be one of the most exciting cultural initiatives in recent years. Present in Europe, Brazil and the Middle-East, Enter the Void is appropriating urban spaces to underground youth culture. This EU-project ran from 2016 to 2017 and successfully built bridges between continents. The cultural actors behind #ETV are none-other than nightlife activists such as Horoom nights (Bassiani, Georgia), Mamba Negra (Sao Polo, Brazil), Jazar Crew (Palestine) and members of the Berlin Club Commission.

© Photo by Enter the Void, via facebook.

Be safe and rave free!

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