How Being on the Guestlist is Helping Refugees

The chances are that if you're on the guestlist for a club on the weekend, you're also on the "guestlist" in life, in general. That privilege is easily taken for granted. The dance club concept originally began as a place for outsiders, rejects, and people who didn’t fit the mold of mainstream society. It was, and still is a "safe haven," a place where people go to feel free. Nowadays, the club scene has become an influential, powerful institution and with privilege and power comes responsibility: What would you do for those living in your city who have no home – no safe haven to return to? What if you could give a little bit of your guestlist privilege to those who have nothing?

By now, a lot of people in Berlin have heard about Plus1. You might have seen their donation cans lying on the Kasse at the entrance of your favorite club, encouraging entrants, especially those on the guestlist -who don't have to pay entrance- to donate at least one euro to their cause. These days, it's hard to miss them and the number of participating organisers, booking agencies, labels, clubs, artists and bands involved in the initiative is quite impressive.

Considering that their first official meeting was in September of 2015 and they only started handing out the collection boxes in October, the number of participating institutions (now over 130) is astonishing, perhaps a reflection of the dance music community's eagerness and willingness to act on the present crisis in Berlin. By the end of 2015, after a period of collecting for two months, Plus1 was able to donate a total of €24,000 to the initiatives they support. DJB got a chance to talk to the team about their experiences so far.

"you could say we declared battle to the concept of the guestlist"

Who is Plus 1 and how did the concept form?
Plus1 is a group of friends with an antiracist and antifascist background who have known each other for years and at some point last summer decided to get together again and get active. We all were and are extremely bothered and disturbed by the political situation: The miserable conditions that force people into exile, the deadly refugee routes, the reluctance of the European Union to help and the daily news of burning refugee shelters in Germany. There was a point, where we all felt like something must be done. Only what? We wanted to do more than calm our conscience by donating some clothes – we wanted to come up with a concept that has the potential to last. As many of us are working in this field we are well networked in the Berlin music and club scene we knew that these contacts are our strength. So to sum it up: “Plus1 - Refugees Welcome” is a group made up of committed individuals active in Berlin’s cultural life that felt the urge to become active in the support of refugees in Berlin.

What is the concept of Plus1, and how is it different from other refugee donation projects?
The concept of Plus1 is all in the name: every guest on the participating clubs’ and venues’ guestlists donates at least one euro to the campaign. Actually you could say we declared battle to the concept of the guestlist. We collect the money and donate it.

Where does the money ultimately go?
We donate it equally to three initiatives. When we were discussing which initiatives we should support, we decided that it was important to us to maintain a balance between supporting practical help and contributing to a lasting political perspective, which is why we decided to support three different projects that all do an amazing job and are extremely important these days.

1. Tangible help on-site: Moabit hilft!
Moabit hilft! is an initiative that started in 2013 to support refugees in the emergency shelter Alt-Moabit and the asylum center on Levetzowstraße. Their goal is to both help the refugees in Moabit with material, social and day-to-day support, and to eliminate prejudice through information. Since this past summer the volunteers from Moabit hilft! are stepping in to help where responsible authorities and the Senate have failed to act. Since the last summer they have been providing initial assistance for newly arriving refugees in Berlin who often have to wait for weeks outside the LaGeSo (Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales) to register as asylum seekers or to obtain their benefits.

2. Lobbying for those without a lobby: Der Flüchtlingsrat Berlin
Berlin’s “refugees council” is a network of various committed groups and activists advocating the rights of refugees and the protection of their human dignity. The "Flüchtlingsrat" has been promoting the individual right to seek asylum, the elimination of state discrimination, and furthering anti-racist work already since 1981. They deal directly with the Berlin senate, with public authorities, associations, parties and politicians to defend the rights of refugees.

3. End death in the Mediterranean Sea: Sea-Watch
Sea-Watch is a private initiative from Brandenburg, formed in 2014 due to outrage over the European refugee policy and the images of people who drowned in their attempt to flee via the Mediterranean Sea. They bought a former fishing cutter and converted it into a rescue boat. Since June of this year the Sea Watch operates on the Mediterranean Sea to save people from maritime distress during their escape.

"the Berlin club scene could play an important role in opening their doors for the new Berliners"

What are each of your personal histories, especially in relation to your involvement with the refugee crisis? And what made you go to the club scene to collect donations?
Almost all of the members organizing the Plus1 - Refugees Welcome!  campaign have history in the left wing movement, for example in antiracist groups and campaigns. Within this left wing movement a noticeable hedonist section was responsible for a strong connection between certain clubs (such as SO36, Festsaal Kreuzberg, ://about blank) and the left wing movement in Berlin. So the two main ingredients of Plus1 - Refugees Welcome! were on the table already when the situation for refugees became unbearable. This leads to a focus on music and club culture in Berlin as realm to collect money and to provide people with information.

How would you describe the participating clubs' level of enthusiasm about the Plus1 initiative?
Our initiative addresses all actors of the Berlin music and party scene. This means that not only do clubs participate, but also concert promoters, bands, DJs as well as event series and one-time events. Thus, the involvement is not consistent and not only measurable in euros.
The people working at the entrances, the doors and guestlists have an important impact on the success of the campaign. So, let´s put it this way: there are clubs where these people seem to be especially committed. Our special thanks goes to them.

Do you think that the club scene is doing enough in the midst of this crisis?
The Plus1 campaign shows that there is a strong willingness to support refugees in the Berlin cultural scene. But we have to keep in mind, that it's not the responsibility of the club scene to act. It is the German and especially the Berlin authorities that fail not the civil society. The often-used term ‘refugee crisis’ is misleading, especially in Berlin we are facing a crisis of the public administration. The situation at the LaGeSo is unbearable and it is a scandal how the Berlin senate counts on the voluntary work of Moabit hilft! and others instead of providing enough capacities to the institutions that should be in charge: the LaGeSo and the refugee shelters (Notunterkünfte).

This does not mean that the commitment of the civil society is not important. Every act that helps the people that had to leave their homes to live a decent life in Berlin is important and valuable.

What are your future goals for the project?
Apart from donation projects like ours, the Berlin club scene could play an important role in opening their doors for the new Berliners. Everyday racism does not spare the party scene in Berlin, and raising awareness about problems such as racist door policies will remain important in the future.

Plus1 - Refugees Welcome is set up as a longer-term campaign. We plan to permanently establish the concept that everyone on the guestlists in Berlin gives back for this privilege in donating for people in need.