On Schönhauser Allee, few things stand the test of time; such is the turnover on one of Berlin’s busiest streets. There’s the grand, deep green, elevated railway of the U2, there’s Konnopke’s Imbiss, and then there’s the 8MM bar. Some 20 years down the line, 8MM is still the beating heart of underground music in Berlin. It’s the venue that launched the career of scores of local artists and always welcomed touring acts looking for a mic and speaker and not much more.
I’d heard you’d have a gambler’s chance of rubbing shoulders with rockstars, real ones, American ones, on any given night.
It’s also a mysterious sort of place, smaller than you’d expect. When you walk in, you can’t help but feel everything is slightly on the wrong side of dingy. Yet it boasts a dedicated following, a cohort of Stammgäste that have been in it for the long haul; heads that don’t turn when someone says something like: “You know, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played here one time!”
And some huge bands have played here. Over a storied two decades, 8MM steadily established itself as the spot for headline acts looking to play the kind of intimate shows that hearken back to the days when they cut their teeth on the stage under the spotlight’s glare. All leather jackets, sweat-filled boots, and a tight-knit, raucous crowd moving as one. Those are the shows where if you know, you know, and that’s why, time after time, you go back to 8MM.
My first experience at 8MM came before I moved to Berlin. I was an aspiring journalist looking for the cool joint in a city so packed with near-mythic venues that I felt equally intimidated and excited. A local band was playing, one that I’d never heard of before, and by cruel coincidence have never heard of since. I’d heard you’d have a gambler’s chance of rubbing shoulders with rockstars, real ones, American ones, on any given night.
Like a cult movie or an under-appreciated album, it’s a curio that rewards repeat visits, offering more every time you turn to it.
On that particularly dreary Thursday on January 9, a pock-faced, Moleskine-toting, Talking Heads t-shirt-wearing, cliché-of-an-indie-kid-extraordinaire waded his way through the inky heft of the floor-to-ceiling curtains to find a lifetime of small-town dreams manifest. All freaky new wave, Laurie Anderson, Annie Lennox, androgyny – the kind that my hometown never had to offer. Think Ice Eyes meets Newman, glorious in its unabashed weirdness, overwrought make-up, hopscotch of effects pedals, off-kilter synth, and Fender Telecaster jangle.
To my sixteen-year-old self (able to quaff as much cheap lager as I could muster), it was the apex of my musical experience to date and categorically the watershed moment that would inspire me to leave the UK as soon as I possibly could.
In the years since, 8MM Bar has taken on a different role. It’s a place you don’t have to plan on, but rather a place you can rely on for a good night, with great music and familiar faces. Like a cult movie or an under-appreciated album, it’s a curio that rewards repeat visits, offering more every time you turn to it.
Without 8MM, there would be no Loophole, no Tennis, no Sameheads, or the like.
In its 20 years, 8MM has gone from bar to venue to music label to now running its own festival, Synästhesie: one of, if not the foremost among inner-city music festivals that Berlin has to offer. Synästhesie is a well- earned moment for a cramped bar to flex those taut muscles that have bound the space in its signature, dense energy for so long, and yet another incarnation of the patient creative energy of its tireless team, forever with an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse for what’s hot in a city flooded with talent.
In the end, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and perhaps the biggest compliment you can give to 8MM is that whether knowingly or not, Berlin bars pay homage to this humble hole in the wall on Schönhauser Allee. It feels like without 8MM, there would be no Loophole, no Tennis, no Sameheads, or the like. Original venues with a distinct vibe are the kind of place you fall for without ever realising how or why. A slice of Berlin itself, it’s all in the mystique and the music.
- 8MM Bar Schönhauser Allee 177b, U-Bahn Senefelderplatz
Originally from Leeds, UK, Damien Cummings washed up (but not out) at Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor in 2017. Yet another of our Kreuzberg aficionados, he’s a keen follower of Berlin’s underground music scene and as such, music editor-at-large for Exberliner since 2019. He also works for Lola magazine, Numéro and is an avid host on city-wide community radio.