The Future of Clubbing in Berlin

My conversation with Lutz Leichsenring, the press officer for Clubcommission Berlin, follows a certain trend. We start talking about a specific club, I ask if it’s safe from closure, and he replies with ‘yes, pretty much’. But he can’t make any guarantees. The future of clubbing in Berlin is looking good, but there are many challenges ahead, which is why the club commission is here.

Originally founded in 2000 by just six clubs in the city, the commission came into fruition during a period when several clubs, many of which operating outside of the law, were being raided and closed by the local police. The local government at the time would not deal with the clubbing community unless they spoke as one, united voice. Today the Clubcommission has around 150 members, consisting of local clubs and event organisers, all fighting to keep club culture authentic and true. Along with organising demonstrations, such as those that opposed the closures of Knaack club and Klub derRepublik, the commission has members in the Chamber of Commerce, engaging in politics and trying to influence local leaders. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain what the difference is between a disco and a club, or what alternative culture is about,” Leichsenring tells us about his experience with politicians. “Because if you’re not into the scene and you only see drunken kids on the street, you think that this is because of the clubs.” DJB spoke with Lutz Leichsenring and spoke about how gentrification if playing apart in shaping the clubbing landscape and what the future looks like for the scene.

What are the major problems the commission is addressing at present?
Recently I organised a protest against the real estate buildings at the East Side Gallery, because this is where the epicenter for clubs is. There’s Beghain, Sage Club, YAAM etc. And they wanted to build luxury houses right in the middle of these.

"we’re uncomfortable for many people, but we’re also constructive with the stuff that we do"

You know, we’re uncomfortable for many people, but we’re also constructive with the stuff that we do. Our latest project is about free open-airs because people don’t understand what they are. We think it’s positive when young people get together and take part in the culture as long as they don’t bother anyone. Why shouldn’t they be able to meet and listen to music? So we started doing workshops with the event organisers, showing them how to operate sustainable practices, how to work with solar power, and manage littering.

The second thing we did recently was the clubkataster – this is a map showing all clubs and music locations in Berlin. There are about 700 locations, and what it shows is not only where they are but also how the landscape has changed over time. The government paid for it and set it up, and there is now a law that if somebody is building new housing, they have to check the map to see if there is a music location next to it and if there is, then they have to write that in the application, and the administration will tell them how to proceed – such as making them build the living room at the back, or use a certain type of glass for the window.

Is this is what’s happening at Gretchen?
This is in an area that is being sold and the problem is, not that someone is buying the area but for how much money they’re buying it at. If it’s too high, you cannot afford to have a club paying cheap rent. We don’t want a situation where clubs are paying too much rent, because then they are not as experimental and it would change the whole scene.

So gentrification and property investors are the biggest threat towards clubbing culture at the moment?
Yes, but it’s also the changing nature of people who move there, who don’t want to have elements of clubbing culture in these areas. Like if you go to Mitte, most of the people just want to drink champagne and don’t want to listen to serious music. I don’t know what came first, is it the bad music or the people who move there?

GEMA posed another threat towards club culture recently. What happened there?
GEMA wanted to raise their fees by 1-2000%, which was not acceptable. Now they’ve just raised it by 10%. It’s not hurting the clubs running live shows, but for everyone who is playing music then the GEMA assumes that this is your music and that you have to pay for it.

"I don’t know what came first, is it the bad music or the people who move there?"

So what we have to do is incorporate a track-based monitoring system. Now there are 100 monitoring boxes across the country and it turned out that David Guetta is the most played record in these clubs. Obviously this is not in the clubs we’re talking about. So we’re talking with them and testing these out, so that you only have to pay for tracks that are GEMA recognized.

Moving on to Stattbad Wedding’s closure. What was your take on the situation?
The problem is that Stattbad was in a ‘living-area’ and it’s not allowed to have clubs in these areas, so they couldn’t get a license if they wanted to. They had a license for a gallery, or a bar – but not as a music location.

The club ran for as long as it could, and the person who called them out happened to be a person who worked there. That’s the worst thing that could happen – when someone points the finger at you.

So they were they operating without a license?
They had a license for a bar and gallery – but not for a club for 3-4000 people in the basement.

It won’t be coming back then?
No – definitely not. They could apply for a license for a gallery, bar and co-working space, but the work would cost half-a-million, and the guy who runs the building either doesn’t have the money or doesn’t want to invest it.

Is this a common problem in Berlin? Are there many other venues operating below the law?

How is this permitted?
There are many licenses a club needs to get. One is the ‘building license’ – and this is when you have people from the fire department checking how large the area is and where the fire exits are. Then they would say how many people who can have there, like 50 for instance. Then they go to the next place and get a license for the outside bar, and they say you can maybe have 200 people there. So you have a license for say 250 people, and you can have all 250 inside and there is no one coming round to check where everyone is, because they don’t have the time to do this.

"I’m not really happy about tourism that is only about partying."

Are there many venues in Berlin that operate without a license similar to Stattbad?
You can count them on one hand, there’s maybe three. But these are like in hidden locations that only throw parties from time to time.

There’s been an on-going drama over on the Spree, with YAAM moving and Bar25 closing. What does the future look like for this area?
Well we saved YAAM. There was a lot of background work to ensure that they now have a place to stay. The Magdelane club has moved to a new temporary location at BHalla. It’s temporary because they’re going to build a new autobahn here in the next 10 years.

KaterHolzig knew what they were doing, because they had a contract for just two years – which is totally crazy to set up a location for this amount of time. And now they’re doing something totally different with Kater Blau, which is a more grown up version of everything else they did before. Plus, they have an investor for the whole area, which will allow them to develop it.

There are still some clubs that are coming and going. We had the Lichtpark which is now called RAMPE Club. Then we have a big problem with Fiese Remise, which had to shut down due to licensing issues.

So you think this area is safe from more developments?
There will always be problems with neighbours. It makes sense for clubs to be next to the water, but being next to the water makes it louder for everyone else.

And how is your relationship with tourists, who are being blamed for ruining the city?
The city asked us what we can we do about the negativity surrounding tourism. We said, please don’t send out the police and do more repressive things. The first thing we did was to analyse what was being done across Europe. Then we adapted what they do in Barcelona and Paris, where they send out mimes. I think it’s a very positive way of showing people they have to be more conscious of the people that live next door. This is about reacting in a positive way.

I’m not really happy about tourism that is only about partying. I think we have to show what our opinion of tourism is. Tourists should know what clubs fit to them and what the scene is about.

So what are your goals for the next 12 months?
The next step is to have more showcases, to document it – with ‘how to does’ and tutorials.

The city is growing closer and closer and there are many people moving here, so we have more and more problems. The more professional the clubs are in arranging things with neighbours the better. We are also trying to keep the sprit up for those who run the nightlife.

But you can see at what happened with Haubentaucher -these guys who have money go into an area with alternative culture and just build a swimming pool. This doesn’t really make sense to me. And then sell Warsteiner – which is the worst. A lot of other clubs are working with locally sourced drink brands and not Warsteiner.

And is this whole complex where Haubentaucher is on at Revelar Strasse, is this safe from future development?
It’s pretty safe. We have an arrangement with the owner and the city district, so there will be some houses built in the back, but the whole area will be kept as it is now. Pretty safe – but it can change.

Lutz Leichsenring will be tackling these issues and more at this year's Amsterdam Dance Event.