Extinction isn’t just happening in the natural world at an alarming rate. It’s accelerating in the Berlin nightlife scene, with several venues giving up the ghost or fighting for their lives in the early months of 2018.
The shocker came a couple days ago from two independent sources: Bassy Club in Prenzlauer Berg is closing in March. By April, the space will be home to a Bavarian-style beer hall serving pretzels and Weisswurst! This in the once-honourable Pfefferberg, which has been gradually degraded into a touristy complex with a hostel and XL-brunch places.
Bassy, famous for its unflinching retro rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s the kind of special, owner-operated club that can never be recreated once it’s gone. It’s also home to the legendary “Chantal’s House of Shame” party, an event that brings a bit of queer excess into a rather unexciting neighbourhood. Faced with a massive rent increase, the club’s owner has apparently lost interest in continuing and couldn’t find anyone to carry the flame for the next generation.
Just down the road, on Karl-Marx-Allee, the beautiful Babette bar, housed in a gem of 1970s GDR architecture next to Cafe Moskau, is not getting its lease renewed thanks to billionaire landlord Nicolas Berggruen. Babette has long been a meeting point for the art scene and has hosted 190 exhibitions and countless concerts itself. It’s fighting back with an online petition, but its chances aren’t stellar considering what it’s up against.
In Neukölln, non-profit concert and performance venue Sowieso might very well shut down by March due to €30,000 in unpaid GEMA fees, according to manager Marc van der Kemp. As has long been known, the way Germany’s vampiric music rights collecting society operates towards venues is often deadly for the “little guys” in the music scene.
Meanwhile, in Kreuzberg, live venue Privatclub, located in a building which has been bought by “copy and paste” tech millionaire Marc Samwer, is fighting an attempted doubling of the rent and noise complaints from the start-up in the offices above the club. Apparently, the youngsters working there have trouble concentrating when bands do soundchecks during the daytime. And Samwer is demanding that the club host just two concerts per week because people have to work late in the building. Truly a sad state of affairs: Who would have thought that such disputes would ever be taking place in the middle of Berlin’s countercultural centre, Kreuzberg 36? Privatclub has been around since 1998 and now may be defeated by the evil mixture of soulless start-up culture and ruthless real estate grabbing by the mega-rich. This, from our urbanism and architecture columnist Dan Borden, just about sums it up: “There was a time when Berlin seduced the world’s youth to come and squander their best years in a smokey, drunken haze. Now Europe’s young arrive at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof eager to spend long days at computers in climate-controlled boxes, devoting their best years to speeding the wheels of mass consumption.”
It’s as if the oh-so-creative Berlin culture and nightlife that once attracted entrepreneurs in the first place has been totally forgotten. Young start-up workers, it seems, are more interested in getting home early after maybe hitting some inane “street food” event so they can get to bed by 11 and be in top form at work the next day, rather than actually enjoying their youth in Berlin. But no, food is not the new clubbing, and nightlife in this city is about staying up late, being loud and actually experiencing some interesting culture.
What is to be done? The Berlin government is making some effort to save what can be saved: it’s put together a million-euro noise protection fund, which clubs can apply for if confronted by complaining neighbours.That might help alleviate the noise problem, but does nothing to protect venues from property sharks and start-up millionaires. Everyone interested in ensuring Berlin remains a city with live music and alternative club culture and independent art in relatively central locations needs to put on their thinking cap. The Senat, the Club Commission, the Musicboard… even Berlin Partner, the city’s marketing agency, needs to start worrying that they don’t market everything that’s loveable about Berlin out of existence.
But you can’t rely on any of these official bodies to do anything quickly. Sometimes you just need to take things into your own hands. Like Jonny Knüppel, the club, venue and art space on the border of Treptow and Kreuzberg. They’ve embarked on a bold crowdfunding campaign to bring in the investment they need to legalise their great little venue. They’ve passed the half-way mark to their €60,000 goal. You too can help, with as little as €5.
The closure of a venue like Bassy is a major setback for our city. Let’s not ignore this warning sign. Let’s get off our arses and prevent the extinction of Berlin nightlife.
Want more Exberliner? Why not subscribe to Berlin’s independent English magazine?