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Berlin’s female bouncers: “The first rule is, nobody dies”

We spoke to three women bouncers about discrimination, keeping cool under pressure and long night shifts

Image for Berlin's female bouncers:

Berlin bouncers Xenia, Jen & Killa. Photo: Maria Abadia

There aren’t so many women in your line of work. What type of personality do you need to do the job?

Xenia: It’s not necessarily about personality, it’s about why you want to do it. You need a vision, it’s about what kind of atmosphere you want to generate. When I started working at a bar in Berlin I began to think about how I could have more influence on what is happening inside the club and how I can help generate a good crowd and everything. I never really got rejected from a club, I started clubbing when I was 16, and okay, if someone’s got the eye for how to get into a club and who should be in, it’s me! It was a bit of a dream job.

Killa: I’d also say it’s about soft skills. Everyone has their own personal style, how to select or how to say no, but in this role you have to be really empathetic. People project this “angry woman” thing onto us…

Xenia: …Yeah, or that we’re under-fucked and that’s why we always say no, something a man would never hear…

Are violent confrontations part of the job?

Jen: It’s part of the job, but the more skilled you are at communication, the more likely you are to solve the situation without violence. There are always situations where people are totally in their world, they’re not listening, maybe they’re under the influence, then you need to get rid of them because you need to make sure the club is safe and that the guests are safe. Then it’s good to have the skills to do it as least painfully as possible, and fast.

Xenia: Just recently, completely out of the blue, this guy came up to my colleague and threw a drink at her and just walked away. You can’t always read people, these kinds of things happen. You tell people no and some are completely chill and all’s good, then they ask some follow-up questions and suddenly it turns aggressive. It can always happen, you never know what people’s trigger points are, maybe it’s the third club they got rejected from, you know? You just have to keep calm. If you get nervous then everybody does.

Killa: I try to be like the rock in a storm. If it’s getting wild around me, I just get really calm inside.

How long is a typical shift?

Killa: I think there is a new law, you can’t work more than eight hours in one go. When I was younger, people worked 24 hours or longer, because some people really needed the money. On the other hand I think it’s a good sign that politicians are thinking about us and making rules to keep us safe. It was really hard during Corona, most night workers lost a vital source of income. A lot of them went to work in vaccination centres, or just found other jobs, because they just realised they could make more money or have better conditions. It’s a big challenge now actually, getting people to come back and providing them with good enough working conditions.

Jen: With the right hours it makes sense, but it needs to be practical. A lot of us work day jobs, which means working during the day and then again at night which extra challenging and exhausting. The other thing is that if you have restricted hours then you need to split shifts and so double the amount of staff.

Xenia: I find an eight-hour shift boring, I always like a 10-hour shift, I need time to warm up! (Laughs). Usually I check in at about 22:30 and I’ll be there through to six or seven the next morning.

How do you decide who gets in? The loud drunk guy at the back of the queue isn’t getting in right?

Jen: Everyone wants to know! Yeah, that guy’s not getting in… (All laugh).

Xenia: Yeah if people are already swaying, like obviously already super drunk or intoxicated. We also have special club nights like what used to be House of Red Doors, now House of Lunacy, which is a sex positive costume party, and if you’re not dressed up it’s going to be a no. Then if you have a queer positive night then the whole briefing for the team changes to attract a different kind of crowd. I know a lot of people are looking for it, but there isn’t a golden key!

Killa: I think everyone has their own personal style in selecting and saying no. Some people have a list inside their head, like check one, check two, check three or what- ever. Other people just go with their gut.

Jen: There’s a wise sentence which says doing the bouncer jobs means avoiding the work for later. No one wants to be cleaning up vomit inside, or kicking people out who become violent.

Being a bouncer means avoiding the work for later. No one wants to be cleaning up vomit

In May 2021 the federal government officially reclassified clubs as cultural institutions. Do you feel like you get enough recognition for your work?

Xenia: So much culture comes out of this scene, but because it’s not in some fancy building on Unter den Linden, it gets dismissed. But we’re working full-time jobs and it can take weeks or months to curate an evening.

Killa: You know you have the film credits at the end of the movie where you see who did the lights, who did the sound, but there are so many people working behind the scenes so people can have a good time at clubs, they aren’t really recognised for their work.

Xenia: What do you think? People should walk out and see the credits for the night in lights!

There have been a number of high-profile cases of discrimination in clubs across the city, for example at Revier Südost and Renate. What’s your own experience with discrimination?

Killa: All of us have had accusations of racism as bouncers. When you reject someone, that’s the first thing that comes into their head: racism, social or gender discrimination. In a way that’s unavoidable…

Jen: Racism is an issue. It’s one of the most powerful structural elements in this world and of course a club is about including and excluding. You have one second to decide whether you want this person in or out. It’s a societal problem and clubs also need to deal with it.

Xenia: It’s kind of like some people don’t understand what racism is or how it works like the white guy who called me a racist. You can’t have racism against white people because it’s not a marginalised group. I think a lot of people don’t realise the scale of it. Like, whoaaaaa… 

What’s the best thing about the job?

Jen: The best thing about it is the excitement. Sometimes you think you’re not in the mood to work. Then you get there and something happens and you get that rush.

Killa: It’s super inspiring to be honest, I love coming into contact with all these different streams of culture, the mix of different people. As the child of Peruvian immigrants and with only a high school diploma, it actually gave me the confidence to go study at Uni.

Xenia: I love working night shifts. None of the nights are the same, and there’s the adrenaline rush. But I think my favourite part is definitely guests giving you a big smile, when you know they had a good night.

And the worst part?

Xenia: The night shifts! (Laughs).

Jen: I can’t decide between the cold or the vomit.

Killa: I think poo also plays a big role. That’s what I really hate!

Jen: No, the worst thing is if you’re afraid that somebody might die. When you don’t get the person awake and you have to call an ambulance. That’s the first rule actually: nobody dies.