On March 11, word came out from Berghain that the world-renowned club would be closing its doors and cancelling all events in an effort to contain the pandemic threat of Covid-19. At that point, the government line was that all gatherings of 1000 people or more were to be cancelled. With its mammoth capacity of 1500, the cavernous concrete monolith was the first of Berlin’s big clubs to shutter.
Now, such gatherings seem unthinkable, and though it was two weeks ago, 1000 reduced to one seemingly overnight. Such is the unfathomably warped time-scale of the novel Coronavirus. Since then, we have found out that 17 guests at Kater Blau have tested positive for the infection, partying unawares on the weekend before the city’s nightlife officially closed on March 13. At that time, Berlin was home to just 283 confirmed cases, 17 of which were traceable to only one club, with a further two later confirmed at Suicide Circus on the same weekend.
Our behaviour will shape the way that this virus spreads. It is, as yet, the only solution that we have to contain it. Now is simply not the time to be partying in public. Somewhat luckily, among the city’s many nightlife clichés, Berliners are quite happy to go clubbing alone. Even among our city’s expat population, there is an oft-repeated but seldom-demonstrated tendency to think of Berliners as cold. Yet, anyone who’s been on the dancefloors knows it is not about assi as much as it is soli.
The streaming solution?
“United We Stream” is the message and since March 18 (one week ago) the Club Commission Berlin and Reclaim Club Culture have been streaming live DJ-sets and performances for the solo raver. Everything you love about clubbing in the safety, security, and social isolation of your own home. Nightlife, now in glorious technicolour, every night from 7pm. While talk of building a ‘virtual club’ makes for an excellent lede, regular patrons of nightclubs will find it hard to take that idea seriously. United We Stream, however, is not really about that. Aside from a couple of truly bizarre moments – The Black Madonna shelling it out in her kitchen while an anonymous guest quietly chops aubergines in the background – the experience is surely less about clubbing at home than it is about supporting a once towering scene that is now teetering.
Night clubs in Berlin directly employ around 9000 people. Beyond that, thousands more artists rely on them as their sole form of income. The virtual club tickets on offer from United We Stream, between €10 and €30 per month, are a way of supporting those clubs. The money raised is being pooled into a relief fund for clubs and live music venues and the initiative, like all good ideas, quickly spread. For those who still can’t look through the cringe to see an artist working for free to save their livelihood; be glad that the Berlin edition looks nothing like “Club Quarantine” the US version.
Celebrity cringe and app-based community
Hosted by D-Nice, of “Call Me D-Nice” obscurity, a raft of A-listers swanned through the party. Rihanna, Jamie Foxx, and Timbaland all showed face alongside Michelle Obama and supremely awkward ft. from one Mark Zuckerberg. While well-intentioned and undeniably comical it is crucial to remember that this is a movement about community, solidarity, and above all safety that is perhaps not best expressed by a dead-set with a celebrity catwalk and a jukebox.
Now that the celebrity news wheel has finally and forcefully ground to a halt, it is high time to reconnect one another. Those seeking that ethereal pleasure of social interaction that clubs once offered might think about alternatives outside of physical gatherings which are still dangerous no matter how small. Houseparty is an app that may well plug that gap. The video calling app can accommodate eight people at once and in one of the wholesome stories of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been getting in touch with each other more than ever. Between March 2 and March 9 downloads of the app grew by over 500 percent and are currently outstripping the undeniably businessy Google Hangouts and Skype by a country mile. One of the most unattractive elements of quarantine and contagion is that it turns people inwards. It makes it simple and acceptable for people to turn away from each other and focus on themselves. Isolation is not equivalent to self-preservation, and apps like Houseparty can make the difference as we lose those spaces that connect us.
Threatened by Corona
Just two weeks ago it was unthinkable to many that Berghain would close because Berghain, famously, never closes. It might be a very long time until we see Sven back on the door, but you can rest assured that the club itself will be back. Berghain deserves the same high culture status that protects opera houses and museums, and the government will protect it from even the most crashing waves of this current situation. Many clubs, however, will not be so lucky and will be forced to close. Kiez venues such as Neukölln’s beloved DIY mainstay Loophole are under serious threat of indefinite closure, the future of Wilde Renate balances on a knife-edge and we lost Griessmuehle before any of this even started. These spaces are a vital part of the very fabric of Berlin and deserving of our attention; they are physical symbols of the things we can achieve through collective action.
Under quarantine, the 14-day cycle represents the new normal. Depending on the outcome of the next days, those fortnightly increments will bring either good news or bad news. One of the most extraordinary things about clubbing is that even when the weekend ends and the spaces close, the spirit endures. If the next two weeks bring no more instruction than simple endurance, it is well worth remembering that ethos.
Anyone wanting donate to the campaign to save Loophole can do so here.
Sponsorships for United We Stream can be found here.