Berghain: 36 Hours Inside the World's Most Exclusive Nightclub
Nightlife

Berghain: 36 Hours Inside the World's Most Exclusive Nightclub

by Linux

This is What You Missed Last Month (According To Linux), in which nightlife it-girl Linux takes us behind the velvet rope and into the VIP section of Scene-City. Through her extreme (sometimes exaggerated) lens, Linux gives us the tea on what really happened at every party-of-the-century that floods our Instagram feeds. (A note from the author: don’t take what she says too seriously — she’s just a club kid after all).

Around 7 AM Sunday morning, anywhere between 100 to 500 people line up in an outdoor queue within zigzagging barricades. They’re patiently (and silently) waiting for their turn at the chopping block. Few are granted entrance, leaving most wannabe patrons rejected with a simple, brutally casual “nein.” Something as common as money can’t yield an individual inside, as nearly anyone can afford a 20-euro entrance fee. In order to persuade the door to vouchsafe you, a more rare form of payment is in order: vibes. This currency-of-cool is mega-hard to come by, especially in an internet-era filled with so many imposters.

Finally next in line (after standing mute for half an hour), my chances of door-denial begin to sink in. My usual tricks won’t work here: There’s no guest list and there’s no swindling the bouncer. In a few seconds, if I’m turned away, I will have no other option but to go back to my hotel, pack my bags and fly the 15 hours home empty-handed.

Willkommen,” I hear from a face-tattooed man dressed in head-to-toe black leather. I try to keep my cool. “Danke,” I reply under my breath, as he gestures me inside the legendary four-story nightclub in Berlin. I’ve made it: This is Berghain.

Bodice and shoulder pads: Selfhood, Trench: Stylist's own, Thigh-highs: Wolford, Boots: Purple Passion, Purse: Balenciaga, Sunglasses and necklace: CHRISHABANA

But who am I to be telling you about Berghain? My name is Linux, and I am the New York Downtown It-Girl. I spend my time throwing and attending New York’s hottest and most exclusive parties, just barely living to tell the stories. Being so involved in the nightlife industry, I’m constantly told by cool kids and scene queens alike that there’s nowhere like Berghain. But just how true was that persistently recited hymn? I’ve been to so many hyped-up clubs, festivals and parties, only to be dejectedly let down by how over-rated and under-major they were in reality.

Would the same fate be sealed for Berghain, or would I finally be impressed? There was only one way to find out, so I booked my flight from JFK to BER seeking the clubbing experience of a lifetime. Only one thing held me back: the bouncer. Berghain is infamous for being the most exclusive, hard-to-get-into nightclub in the world. (Elon Musk was just denied earlier this year, an instance that flooded the internet with headlines and further spread the notion that some places on Earth are inaccessible even for the Man on Mars.)

But before we even try to get inside Berghain, we first need to understand the history of the infamous club and how it became the elusive and renowned techno haven it is today.

Berghain as it exists today opened in 2004, but its full story dates back to the early '90s. During a conservative decade for Berlin, owners Michael Teufele and Norbert Thormann rebelliously produced a traveling underground party called “Snax.” Snax was equal parts Sodom and Gomorrah, highlighting cutting-edge techno music in congruence with the taboo that is gay sexual liberation. In 1998, Teufele and Thormann were offered a permanent spot at a new club called Ostgut — an immediate success. The pair expanded Ostgut by adding Panorama Bar, which attracted a more mainstream crowd and focused on House music. To balance that out they created Lab.oratory, a room dedicated to gay sex parties, where men could fulfill their deepest, no-limits desires with one another. In 2003, the construction of a new events arena pushed the owners out of Ostgut with seemingly nowhere to go. This would become a blessing in disguise, however, as it only pushed them right into a nearby abandoned 1950s power plant, then owned by power company Vattenfall. The owners made the tough (but great) decision to finally leave the underground behind and give themselves a permanent home in the building now known as Berghain. Things have never been the same.

The entrance/rejection rate has garnered such lore that one can’t digest any content regarding Berghain without being bombarded by countless details on how to get inside. There’s even an interactive door simulator called BerghainTrainer, which helps the ultra-desperate-to-attend prepare for their arrival, as if getting passed by the bouncer is a skill to be crafted and honed.

GQ once asked iconic Berghain doorman Sven Marquardt (who’s lived in East Berlin since the early ‘80s) what rules one should follow to get inside. His advice? “Go early. Don’t try to cut the line. Know who’s DJ-ing that night. Dress casually — jeans and a T-shirt is best. Don’t go in a big group. Don’t be too young. Don’t joke or laugh in line. Don’t speak in the line. Or if you must, speak German.”

And, finally, I enter. Just after the privilege of hearing Sven tell me “willkommen.” I felt an immediate sense of approval.

I get my bags checked by security and pay 20 euros at the box office. The man behind the glass stamps my inner wrist and puts a bracelet around my wrist. Now I can stay from Friday evening to Monday morning, coming and going as I please, as long as I have another five euros for the re-entry fee. I have a theory that the use of a stamp for re-entry is why some of the partygoers at Berghain are known to smell so bad — they’re afraid they’ll accidentally wash their stamps off if they shower, leaving them without a place to party. That’s me giving them the benefit of the doubt, though, as it’s probably just poor hygiene practices.

The club’s party schedule is not for the faint of heart. Berghain is closed during the week and opens at 11:59 PM on Friday evening until 8-ish Saturday morning. Then, after a swift cleanup of the venue and a staff-wide cat nap, the club reopens 11:59 PM Saturday and stays packed until 8 or 9 AM Monday morning. It is not uncommon for one to get there at midnight on Saturday, go home and nap for a few hours and return to stay the rest of the weekend’s remaining 36 hours. Or, even wilder: marathon through the entire weekend.

Mask and gloves: Vex, Dress: SKNDLSS, Choker and necklace: CHRISHABANA, Bracelet: Tiffany & Co., Boots and bodysuit: Purple Passion, Purse: Balenciaga

The weekend I chose to lose my Berghain virginity was extremely fitting, as many New York locals were in town playing DJ sets there. New York’s Volvox actually headlined the weekend, a major honor in the music and nightlife industry. Headlining DJs at Berghain play in the main room and close out the entire weekend, spinning from late Sunday evening until early Monday morning. This wasn’t Volvox’s first time headlining, either, which only goes to show the immense talent and skill she carries, as well as the respect the legendary club has for her techno DJ sets.

The plan for the weekend would go as follows: Volvox would guide me through my first Berghain experience sonically, as her longtime partner Seva Granik (producer and founder of New York’s premiere underground techno party Unter) and some other regulars I knew would guide me physically. This was a party-going recipe any coming-of-age raver would be blessed to have.

The energy one feels after entering Berghain is the nightlife version of young children first entering Disneyland or semi-famous influencers first entering Coachella. Whoever you are, if you’ve made it this far you will undeniably be met with a thrilling sense of excitement, a tiny pinch of fear and endless routes towards pleasure.

No amount of coaching or research can prepare you for just how big this club is. Ceilings in any room span upwards of 40 feet, long hallways windingly oxbow and countless staircases bring you to entirely new worlds. To put it simply: You will get lost. And that’s the fun part.

Bodice and shoulder pads: Selfhood, Trench: Stylist's own, Thigh-highs: Wolford, Boots: Purple Passion, Purse: Balenciaga, Sunglasses and necklace: CHRISHABANA

A Berghain regular told me that, even after years of attending, they still uncover new passageways and sections of the club each time they return. With the large interior architecture comes an enormous volume of attendees. Countless people from all walks of life, countries of origins, tax brackets and sexual orientations come to this techno center of the universe with one common attribute: coolness.

There’s a conservative argument that Berghain is nothing more than an Eastern European drug den. And although there are plenty of drugs swimming around the building, you will never once see them being done with your own eyes. Berghain has a strict no-drug policy. Unlike nearly any bar or club in New York, anyone caught doing or possessing illegal substances will be immediately ejected from the club and emblazoned with the dreaded “Verboten.” Berghain attendees that use party drugs constantly live in a state of fear due to the three-month-long ban, which is strictly enforced.

If someone does seek to take a pill, do a dose or sniff a powder, all their needs can be met in the watering hole of Berghain: the toilettes. Even with more than five bathrooms in the building, lines to secure a stall could run you 30 minutes of waiting time. For it is inside the bathroom stall that you can — in theory — do the deed. Also unlike New York, there’s no limit to how many people can occupy a stall at one time. In some stalls there aren’t even toilettes, just benches to sit. In my two nights at Berghain I squeezed into a 4’x4’ bathroom stall with seven people — multiple times. Two of my bathroom buddies spoke only French and the other two only German. And as a group of varying tongues we still shared a common language spoken only with our noses. After my first visit to the toilettes, I learned just how easy it was to accidentally spend half an hour “going to the bathroom.”Berghain’s illicit substance policy reverberates the overall tone of the club’s unwritten mission statement: You can take a shit in our house and even eat it if you want to — just don’t do it in the living room.

But you don’t need drugs to get you high; the energy within Berghain will do that all on its own. I tried to experience as many areas of Berghain as possible during my extended stay there and created a cheat sheet for you:

Mask and gloves: Vex, Dress: SKNDLSS, Choker and necklace: CHRISHABANA, Bracelet: Tiffany & Co., Boots and bodysuit: Purple Passion, Purse: Balenciaga

  • If you’re peaking and want to get lost in the music: choose the center dance floor in the main room right before the wooden benches. The music hits the hardest there and that’s where the A/C blasts down, too.
  • If you’re peaking but still want to be seen and feel cunt: dance front-center or front-left in front of the DJ booth. You can leave your beverage on the shelf in front of the DJ booth if you don’t want to hold it.
  • If you’re one of those annoying people who go to Berghain to network (me!): spend your time in the front-right of the DJ booth, as that’s where the DJ’s friends and more industry people are. That said, if you notice you’re talking to someone more than they’re talking to you, leave them alone. They are most likely trying to enjoy the music and don’t want to be blabbed at all evening.
  • If you’re tired of techno and want to feel sexy (or just need lighter vibes) then head to Panorama Bar. The lighting is immaculate and that’s where people can actually see who they’re trying to pick up. Great place to find a man.
  • If you need to chill out and be alone, there’s a hallway leading up to Panorama Bar that has little cubbies you can lie in. Nobody will bother you.
  • If you need to chill out but still want to be social, there’s a cooly lit lounge area just above the main techno room. If you came to Berghain alone, I recommend starting here, as everyone is super friendly, and you will make friends in no time.
  • If you need a cigarette, pull one out and smoke on the dance floor. Leave the outdoor area for when it’s truly the vibe during early Sunday morning to Sunday afternoon, when they have DJs in the garden.
  • If you’re hungry or craving something sweet, go to the ice cream parlor on the top floor. The ice cream is delish, the perfect way to break up your evening. This could also be a cute junkie-date idea in the midst of all the chaos with whichever German hotties you’ve linked with thus far.
  • If you want to pee in someone’s mouth, use the urinal. Literally so many people will cruise you begging for a taste of your Molly piss.
  • If you need a good refresh, go to the sinks in one of the bathrooms and splash water on your face. If you stink, grab a lemon from the bar and squeeze it on your armpits. Then go to Panorama Bar and order an espresso martini. They are Berghain’s best-kept secret and will even be given to you in a glam martini glass! I did this around 6 AM Monday morning, and it was honestly iconic. The juxtaposition was camp.
  • If you’re starting to look crazy by Monday morning, stay in the main room. The Panorama Bar does let in sunlight and it is far from flattering.
  • If you’re feeling horny, go to the dark rooms of Lab.oratory. Leave the bathroom stalls for what they’re actually meant for.
  • Bring a Sharpie with you. On your way out, there’s a multi-story lit stairwell in the back of the building that goes through the entire club. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of signatures. Be a part of history and sign yours as well. (I don’t know, that was sentimental one for the kids!)
  • Also bring gum, a lighter, and a full pack of cigarettes. This is highly favored currency at Berghain. It’ll come in handy for both you and anyone you are trying to impress.
  • And most importantly: do not wear heels, do not take pictures, stay off your phone and do not buy drugs from strangers! Oh, and drink water.

For my one weekend in Germany, I ended up spending a full 36 hours in that nightclub. Throughout those 36 hours I saw God on the dance floor countless times, a feeling nightlife-addicts like myself spend lifetimes trying to find. I made new friends from all over the world (if they remember me, that is!) I can now say I danced on the bar of Berghain at 9am on a Monday morning, holding a martini glass, while a New York techno legend (and now close friend) held the keys to the CDJ Castle.

On my flight back from Berlin, a heartbreaking rumor began swirling around the internet: Berghain may be on its way out. According to several inside sources, the club may not even stay open past 2023. If this is case (and I certainly hope it’s not!) then I, along with plenty others who’ve shared the privilege, am eternally grateful to have experienced it. Even after just one weekend there, I strongly co-sign all the good press it’s received over the past two decades.

Hopefully, for culture’s sake, Berghain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If you, reading this right now and haven’t already — get on a damn flight, train or bus to Berlin as fast as you fucking can. As we’ve learned first-hand time and time again in nightlife history: Even the greatest party on Earth must end eventually.

Photography and styling: Airik Prince
Art direction: Chris Correa
Photography assistant: David Alcocer

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