This weekend, as bars across Berlin fill with guests downing Pilsners and Mexikaners, one iconic venue will stay quiet. A citywide ban on singing together in enclosed spaces, handed down by the Berlin Senat on June 27, has left Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke with an uncertain future, forbidden to open even as hundreds of bars throughout the city continue their crawl back to normality.
Ronson’s, as it’s known to regulars, had a taste of that normality last month when they reopened for three weekends. Along with the rest of Berlin’s bars, they were able to operate from Tuesday, June 2 under strict hygiene rules that included disinfecting booths in between groups and regularly cleaning furniture. “It was more like working in a hospital than a nightclub,” Ron Rineck, Ronson’s owner, says. “But we’d be able to stay afloat with this concept.”
The team, who often hosted more than 500 customers a night pre-Corona, was flooded with reservations for those three weekends, as regulars and karaoke fanatics scrambled to book one of Ronson’s 14 booths. They were allowed 60 guests in the venue at once, which meant running the booths at 80 percent capacity. But the main stage, which hosts Ronson’s legendary drag shows, concerts and a karaoke open mic, stayed closed. “We got so many reservations when people found out we were open,” Rinceck says. “The response was amazing. We may have to raise the prices, but we’d be able to keep everyone working here.”
They weren’t open long enough to see. The Senat’s decree forbidding singing indoors arrived on June 27, sending the team of 24 full-time staff back home with no real return in sight. Ron drove to his “doomsday farm” in Brandenburg, from where he sends out video messages to the bar’s staff and supporters. Many of the monthly costs, from insurance to electricity, still have to be paid, which means the savings Rineck had generated after spending €300,000 on a complete renovation in 2018 are being wiped out. “With 24 employees and rent, that goes pretty quickly,” he says. “We get Kurzarbeit money back from the state, but it takes a long time – you have to wait 60, 70, 80 days to get reimbursed.”
The staff are rallying behind a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext, where over 600 supporters have already generated over €46,000 of the €100,000 needed to keep Ronson’s running. Supporters can book karaoke workshops, passes to sing on the main stage, drink vouchers or a tour of the venue. There’s even a veggie, fruit, herbs and flower subscription directly from Rineck’s Brandenburg farm, where buyers can get a fortnightly delivery of fresh produce for the rest of the summer season. There’s no word on when indoor singing may once again be permitted in Berlin, but there’s hope from abroad: Tokyo’s karaoke bars reopened on June 12.
The team stay in touch with regular meetings and phone calls. But for now, Berlin’s queer scene is missing one of its most essential spaces, where drag queens share the stage with karaoke nerds and wasted tourists. As long-time fan, musician and recent staff member Randy Twigg puts it: “It’s been really shitty. Being there every weekend used to be like therapy.” Until the next therapy session, whenever that is, we’ll have to settle for Ron’s videos.