Numbers don’t lie. In 2019, the Club Commission reported that three million club tourists travelled to Berlin the previous year. On average, they spent €205 a day – and provided an annual turnover of €1.48 billion. Berlin not only likes to wear its techno culture as a badge of honour, it also likes to feel the proceeds in its wallet. Interestingly, very few operators want to – or can – make big money with their clubs.
Now, in year two of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city’s dance temples have been on life support since March 2020. Berlin’s cultural administration says that an average of €81,000 was paid out per club during the first Soforthilfe (emergency aid) distribution. According to Watergate Club, only €25,000 arrived, while Yaam claims to have received just €31,000.
At the same time, partygoers are missing a huge, therapeutic part of their lives. Others, arguably, are benefitting from the hedonistic pause. But for those who operate each club, those who cultivate this world-famous scene with their creativity and know-how, more than just their jobs are gone. The clubs are also a home for them.
HUSH: Berlin Club Culture in a Time of Silence (Parthas Verlag) captures this bleak new reality. Photographer Marie Staggat and journalist Timo Stein visited a total of 42 Berlin clubs from April 2020 to January 2021, documenting Berlin’s suspended subculture. Not only did they meet with club managers, but also bookers, bartenders, DJs, cleaners, security staff and caretakers. People who made the clubs the unique places we know.
“Many come to Berlin and put down their roots in this music and club culture. Some of them are also lonely souls,” photographer Staggat tells us. “And when these places, colleagues, guests fall away, it leaves no trace.”
Staggat knows the scene very well – she worked at Tresor for years. The photographer captured the emptiness of the venue and shot portraits of people in their favourite corner of the club. Journalist Stein wrote down their stories.
Stein pens political texts for renowned media publications, but partying is not his thing. “I’ve lived in Berlin for 10 years and I can count on one hand how many clubs I’ve been to,” Stein says, “but I don’t have to share the enthusiasm for music to be fascinated by these people. People who go through life with an idea, with a passion – you can’t get more than that.”
In the biggest crisis of their business model, he says, they have “always been sympathetic to the political measures containing the virus and tried everything to continue to exist. Outdoor areas were opened, food services were offered; clubs were converted into bars or opened virtually.”
One of the people who got space in the book is Kirsten Krüger, the legendary owner and bouncer of KitKatClub. In the book, she tells the story of how she came from the Swabian Alps to Berlin as a school failure and set up KitKat with Simon Thaur. Today, with a monthly rent of €20,000, she has accumulated a pile of Scheißschulden (‘shitty debts’, according to Krüger). She appeared for the interview in wellies – she had just returned from the Harz Mountains, where she is building a city on an old industrial site, including a ‘techno-cave’.
Many club operators are fighting for survival, but for some the plug was pulled even before the pandemic began. “We also visited two clubs whose demise is already sealed, or foreseeable,” says Stein, “//about blank and Rummels Bucht. The former will eventually fall victim to a motorway extension; Rummels Bucht will have to make way for a water park and new buildings by autumn at the latest. They know that the party is finite and yet they put an incredible amount of energy and money into it, shimmying from lease to lease, in the hope that they can still keep going.”
So not only is the party finite, but the perseverance of the people behind the party. At least that’s what Staggat fears: “I’m worried that at some point people will run out of steam. That they will collapse and no longer have the strength to fight on and reinvent themselves.” This fear is real. There have already been cases of members of the scene taking their own lives.
And the prognosis is rather bleak. Pamela Schobeß, chairwoman of the Berlin Club Commission and head of Gretchen, does not believe that the pre-Corona situation will be reached before the end of 2022.
HUSH – Berlin Club Culture in Times of Silence is more than a memorial to an entire scene, it is a documentation of fates and anecdotes, of people and institutions that are unique even in Berlin, which is highly saturated with a rich contemporary history. The 360-page book is published by Parthas Verlag and costs €30. All proceeds go to participating Berlin clubs.
Original article by Toni Lukic for tipBerlin. Translated by Lucy Rowan.