On a recent trip to Berlin, myself and four friends were taken under the wing of a local resident, promising to show us the nightlife that tourists don’t usually get to see. That’s because the Berlin scene is very different other parts of Europe, with it’s own set of rituals and expectations. How do Berliners party? They party hard. Very hard.
One doesn’t simply go to a club
Berghain isn’t the only club in Berlin that’s hard to get into. If the club is worth going to, be prepared for a detailed interrogation on the door on why you and your mates should be allowed in. In fact, best not bring your mates at all – big groups aren’t welcome.
Before heading out to the club, our local friend gave us a detailed briefing on how to get in, which included the following steps:
- Know who’s playing: To get in you’ll need to know what DJs are on and what time. We found the night’s Facebook event page and memorised the line up to be sure.
- Split up: Never go in big groups, especially if you’re male. We split our group of six in half to maximise our chances. If anyone is refused entry, be prepared to leave the weak behind.
- Don’t wear brands: Berlin is the counter-culture capital of the world, so the normal rules of dressing in your Sunday best do not apply. Make sure you have no brands on show, and don’t wear anything fancy. Even wearing our plainest clothing, we stood out in the club as all the locals were wearing jeans and plain black or white t-shirts – that goes for Men and Women too!
- Don’t be a tourist: Berlin’s nightlife is like nothing else, and the fact is without going with a local chaperone like we did, you probably won’t get in. Make sure you speak to some locals before you try to get in, find the event details so you know whats on, and get a German speaker to do the talking on the door so as not to arouse any suspicion.
Once you’re dressed in some drab clothing and know the setlist like the back of your hand, you’re ready to face the interrogation on the door.
As they reached the font of the line, our first group faced some detailed questions from the bouncers. The conversation went like this:
- Who are you with?
- Just the three of us
- Who else is coming?
- No one else, just us
- Why do you want to come in?
- We want to see Artifakt at 2:30 and John Hessler at 4:30
- Who else do you want to see tonight?
- Denise Rabe
After this brief interrogation, they showed their passports and were eventually let in. A separate group of people then went in and were subject to some more questioning. Bringing up the rear, my group went next. As no-one else had joined the queue at that point, they were less suspicious about who would be joining us, and we were let in.
Don’t get your phone out
Once you’re in, don’t even think about getting your phone out, or any sort of camera.
As our local contact explained, the Berlin nightlife is all about letting your inhibitions go and living for the weekend. People want to be able to get on with whatever they want, without it coming back to them in their day to day life. It’s best to keep your phone firmly in your pocket so as not to upset anyone.
Things can get pretty crazy in some of the Berlin clubs, and that’s putting it lightly, based on Berghain’s Wikipedia page:
Once a year Berghain closes its doors to the straight crowd and unleashes a no-holds-barred gay marathon where anything goes.
On that note – the majority of the big Berlin clubs actually started out as gay clubs. The Berlin scene is rather unique in that it is primarily gay-centric, where straight people are welcome to join in, rather than the other way around.
As phones aren’t allowed, famously Berghain has no mirrors anywhere – not even in the bathrooms. This seems to be typical of the top undergroud clubs, as Ipse didn’t have any either. Why should you care how you look when it’s all about the music anyway?
Lyrics are overrated
Who needs vocals? The DJs in Berlin certainly don’t, as in our 8 hour long visit to the club, no vocals were heard whatsoever, in the continuous set consisting of a mix of house, hardcore techno, and tech-house.
The crowd really gets into the music here, too. While to untrained ears the soundtrack is an endless bass beat at 130 bpm, with a slightly different snare sample every so often, and the bass dropping out every 32 bars before coming back in even more intensely than before, to the locals it’s much more than that. After each DJ left the stage, they were given an ovation, something you’ll never experience in your local Oceana or Tiger Tiger.
The soundtrack really is the key focus of the Berlin nightlife, taking precedence over everything else. Want to talk to someone? Not here. Unless you meet any other tourists, the only time anyone will speak to you is if they’re after drugs. If you’re hoping to pick up girls, you can forget about that too – it’s not the time or the place.
And when you’re dancing to the hypnotic soundtrack, make sure you do it right.
The default dance move of any dudebro familiar with Jersey Shore and Skrillex, the fist pump, is sadly not welcome in Berlin. Instead, revellers alternate between a sort of sway and a shuffle. Do anything other than this and you’ll stand out like a sore thumb.
The night doesn’t start until 4am
If you’re used to pre-drinking from 7:30, hitting the club at 9 and being tucked up in bed by 3, you’d be doing it wrong in Berlin.
So what’s the right time to hit the club in Berlin? Midnight? no. 1 am? nope. 2 am? Still too early.
Clubs don’t fill up until around 4am, and don’t peak until much later. In fact, Headline act Denise Rabe only hit the stage at 7:30am on our visit. The party keeps going all weekend, until Monday afternoon in some cases. Clubbers typically stay in the club until the sun is up, and as several serve food, coffee, with some even have areas to take a nap, there’s not really a reason to leave.
That’s especially true if you’ve made it in to Berghain, considering around 75% of people get turned away. Once you’re in, you’ll want to stay in.
The timeline of a typical Berlin night out is very different to the UK. Ours started like this:
- 9 pm: Hit the hostel bar for some looseners
- 10 pm: Took the U Bahn to east Berlin and visited some dive bars
- 12 am: Had some cocktails on the tail end of a 6 hour long happy hour
- 2 am: Took the bus to Ipse
As a Brit, two things were surprising about that night; first the fact that they have happy hours that last six whole hours when in London most happy hours last for about 30 minutes, second was that when we entered the club at half two, we were pretty much the only people there aside from the warm up act. It only filled up by 4am!
If you’re looking to experience night life the Berlin way, make sure you pace yourself, and get lots of sleep before hand!