I’m not going back to Berghain, and you shouldn't, either
May 27th. The far right Afd party had planned a rally with their party members from Hauptbanhoff to Brandenburger Tor. Apparently they had called people from all over Germany in the first big public march since being elected to the Bundestag last September.
The media said 10 thousand people were expected — and the first 2 thousand to arrive would even earn 50 euro, according to a German newspaper . But Berlin, like a progressive city as it is, saw counter-protests organized from many initiatives, from the far left parties to the club scene. More than 150 clubs signed to participate.
A couple of days before Sunday, as I scrolled the Facebook event page, I noticed the big, famous Berghain club was not on the list. More than only the strict door policy, they are famous for their silence: almost no PR statements, nothing (the only exception was complaining about taxation, a battle that they eventually won). I had friends telling me a couple of times how truculent and violent the security staff can be, and how they manage to get away with these reports every time. One of them was from a friend of a friend, woman, and DJ, who was pushed staircase down and expelled for no reason. None of the commentaries were enough from stopping me from going there, anyway — I labelled them as punctual cases — especially because Berghain, ever since the first time I stepped there in 2016, seemed more like a safe space than anything else. Even the harsh bouncer treatment and policy seemed to make sense: you have to protect the people inside, right? Although dressing black, being male, looking German and wearing sports clothes do not seem like an efficient way to judge who is or isn’t a potential homophobic.
I distinctly remember the way I felt the first time I went to Berghain. Dancing my shoes away without having to worry about guys staring or trying to grope me, losing my friends on the dance floor and making new ones, sitting for hours talking to people about philosophy or Kim Kardashian — everything seemed possible and free — it was really fun. Even in a city that knows how to party, like Berlin, other clubs didn’t seem to replicate the hedonistic vibe Berghain had to me. But everything changed last Sunday.
I arrived at Brandenburger Tor around 2 pm. The police had closed the access throughout the gate so the protesters wouldn’t confront each other. There were 5 thousands of them, holding German flags and clapping to the xenophobe words from Alexander Gauland and others. My morbid curiosity made me walk until the fence barriers: I wanted to see their faces and hear their words. I wanted to know my enemy. After some moments of observation, I met some friends at Tiergarten, where we marched 17 Juni Strasse along the techno and house sound systems. It was undoubtedly one of my highlights moments in Berlin so far: reclaiming public space, having fun democratically and inclusively for a political matter. Besides, the weather was great, and it reminded me a lot of Rio’s street carnival which made me even happier. The spirits were very high, and after the event ended, friends and I wanted to keep celebrating, dancing.
“Where can we go?”
Well, being Sunday night, we all know the place to be.
“You know they didn’t take part in today’s event, right? That says a lot about them.” — I tell my friend. But still, it was not enough to stop us. They don’t have the duty to take part, as long as they are not on the other side, I thought.
We arrived around midnight and went straight to Panorama Bar. The place was not very full, but instantaneously I felt like I should at least be in an open space — not on a sweaty dance floor.
“Let’s sit down a bit downstairs” — I tell my friend.
As soon as we sit down, a security guy arrives with two guys. GHB, I thought; I wait for the scene to develop and them to be kicked out — even though the guys look like in control of their senses. The security asks one of them to leave, but he says he has a friend inside with his things and grab his phone to make a call. Another guard arrives, and violence escalates quickly and brutally. They immobilize him, throw him on the ground and punch him several times. He screams, cries, and tries to make his body heavy — but they keep beating him up in front of everybody — and his friend watches, doing nothing.
“I am never going back to this place again” — I tell my friend, running to the door.
They could have immobilized him and thrown him out; they did not need to beat him up that way. It almost seemed like a power demonstration, showing everyone around what they are capable of if you don’t behave. But what is “behave”, after all? Wasn’t that supposed to be a “safe space”?
Arriving home, I engage in some research about the topic and stumble upon this Spiegel report about an overdose death last year related to the club and the silence around it. Berghain is not only one of the most famous clubs in the world, but also a significant corporative power, with a behind the scenes scheme that includes public forces which allows them to, inside their doors, dictate the rules. Dictate is an accurate word in this case.
Attitudes speak for a thousand words, they say. From an inclusive demonstration to an authoritarian and violent measure in a place that doesn’t stand for equality publicly and keeps silent about people dying after attending their parties, May 27th changed my perspective about how I perceive freedom, pleasure, and fun. We must always be suspicious about institutions or people that hide or omit their values.
My last advice? If you are progressive, queer, feminist, anti-racist, inclusive, colorful or humanitarian, DON’T go to Berghain. You can be the next.