Photo courtesy of Samantha Marble.
It's been said that clubs in Berlin are either made out of concrete and steel, or driftwood and glitter. However, as the city becomes one of Europe's top tourist destinations, questions about the rag-tag nature of these venues have arisen amongst the authorities, often pertaining to safety standards. Over the past few years, several significant venues have faced temporary or permanent closure by authorities, including market and music venue Neue Heimat, which wrapped up it's final event last weekend after it was alleged to have inadequate fire safety systems. Another spot, the all-weekend-long lasting Sisyphos, was shut down last fall—mere days before hosting an event by Richie Hawtin—for a variety of safety concerns, and reopened many months later.
Perhaps the most notable loss in 2015 has been Stattbad Wedding, the former public pool complex that was home to the monthly Boiler Room broadcasts, held in the aesthetically appropriate below-pool piping rooms. On weekends, thousands of revelers would squeeze down the narrow staircases to the basement techno bunker or shuffle precariously on the sloped floor of the empty swimming pool. Turns out, the venue was operating with a bar and gallery license, with no permits to function as a multi-room nightclub. Oops!
We spoke to Boiler Room Berlin promoter and presenter Michail Stangl to get his take on why these closures are happening, and what they mean for the city's nightlife.
How would you explain the recent club closures?
I think a lot has to do with the political climate in Berlin at the moment. The past weeks have seen a lot of media attention for some of the unpleasant sides of Berlin's night life—especially some of the violence and crime that happens at night and is quite often aimed at tourists in the city's hot spots. Not that this has been much different in the past, but the recent national coverage might have shifted some politicians' attention towards Berlin's night life.
Same goes for the enforcement of certain safety codes and building regulations. The majority of the clubs in Berlin have been operating in a grey zone and getting away with it because Berlin's administrative bodies would not be able carry out controls. There might have been a shift in priorities within Berlin's administration, which would explain the recent crackdown. Of course, we should not forget the horrible tragedy of the last Love Parade—one of the effects of it was a (needed) mentality change towards event safety.
How do the closures effect the city's music community?
I think in the past, the closure of clubs didn't effect the music community very greatly. Audiences and musicians were quite adaptive and would just move on to the next venue. Luckily, enough the city offered plenty of compatible and affordable locations, so that with every venue closing, at least one other would open shop shortly after. But with Berlin becoming more and more a capital, with all the socio-economic effects that come with it, finding suitable spaces—especially in the Kreuzberg/ Neukölln/ Friedrichshain areas—has become more and more complicated.
On top of that, the audiences in Berlin aren't as adventurous as they maybe should be. I doubt they would travel all the way to Reinickendorf (thats quite far north) if the next Berghain would open up there. Even the success of a far-off location like Stattbad was quite exceptional, to be honest, and I think Boiler Room's presence there contributed a big part to that. If these increased efforts of controlling the night life continue, it will be impossible to open up a club on a small budget. Implementing most of the building and safety requirements will make an underground music venue completely un-economical.
Can you see the argument that safety needs to be more of a concern? Or is it overblown?
Luckily, the standard of safety (and responsibility) is quite high in Germany, and I cannot remember any casualties in Berlin in the recent past that were caused by inadequate safety, with one exception. The safety of visitors, employees, and musicians must always come first—there's no argument about that, and it's correct that any severe violation [should be] disciplined. What needs a re-thinking, however, is how certain building regulations and safety codes can be achieved and implemented without making culture-focused work completely impossible from a financial point of view.
A lot of venues in Berlin only became what they are because they gradually improved. The lack of control allowed semi-legal warehouses with nothing more than a few fridges and a sound system to slowly turn into fully equipped and safe clubs over the years. I'm not saying that this is the right way to handle things, but it showed at least that club owners are interested in achieving the required standards and finding ways to ensure a safe operation despite not everything being up to code.