Over the last thirty years, Berlin has become internationally recognized for its uniquely vibrant club culture. For many years if you said you were moving to Berlin you would be asked; “so are you a DJ or an artist?” The DJs might tell you they are both, and once you get to know Berlin’s techno scene, you will agree. Beloved, notorious, fantastical and scandalous, Berlin’s club culture is such a singular feature of the city’s character that there is even a movement evolving to have Berlin’s techno culture recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage. With their close connection to the city culture and history in mind, here is a list of some of the best nightclubs not only in Berlin, but in the entire world.
Even those with no interest in the scene know that when it comes to clubbing in Berlin, Berghain is king. Rumors run wild of what goes on behind the harsh, concrete walls of this former heat and power plant. Whereas Berghain is famously secretive about the goings-on within its walls (what happens in Berghain stays in Berghain), you can be sure to find some of the best electronic music you’ll hear even in the world’s techno capital. Secrets are secrets for a reason though, so as you can imagine that means they have some of the toughest bouncers you’ll find anywhere. And if you want to make the expedition, you had best be ready to accept being turned away at the door even if you dress up for the scene (black, leather and risqué is advised). Even veterans of Berlin’s club scene will tell you there’s no shame in being rebuffed by a Berghain bouncer. Though you can never entirely eliminate the risk of being turned away, it helps to know that the bouncers are seeking a clientele that is relatively sober, experienced, respectful and acknowledging of Berghain’s roots as a queer space. If you keep this in mind you will be in with a chance to make it through the doors of Berlin’s most infamous club!
Founded in March 1991, Tresor claims the esteemed title of Berlin’s first techno club. Having been founded in the vaults of a former department store, Tresor found a new home in a former East German thermal power plant on Köpenicker Straße in Kreuzberg in 2007. It built its reputation by engaging the best DJs from throughout Germany as well as some of the greats of Detroit and Chicago. Even today the roster of DJs that visit its halls, now coming from all corners of the world, are often the best of the best. Tresor certainly has a more relaxed door policy than Berghain and caters more to visitors and new Berliners. That being said, you would be well advised to turn up sober and in small numbers. There’s not a club in Berlin that will be happy to see you arrive with your entire posse. Twos and threes are always favored.
3. Wilde Renate
Formerly the Salon zur Wilden Renate, this peculiar club opens into a number of small floors and lounge rooms with a curious yet comfortable atmosphere. Unique even amongst the many techno clubs and bars in Berlin, it has a reputation for wild theme parties including such popular events as Paradise Garage and House of Lunacy. Though inside its halls are tight and intimate, a legacy of the building’s past as a tenement house, the open beer garden blooms with life in summer, so that you can burst out into a dynamic garden party if you’ve had enough of raving in the dark. Tucked away behind Ostkreuz train station, Wilde Renate is the kind of place you might visit out of sheer curiosity and not leave until the following afternoon, when sleep finally calls you home.
4. ://about blank
A neighbor to Renate, ://about blank has, since it opened in 2010, built a strong following amongst Berlin’s techno party scene, though on weekdays it also functions as a subcultural space with a surprisingly peaceful atmosphere. The club emphasizes its feminist and staunchly left-wing orientation, reflected in both the collectivist manner the club is run and in the atmosphere of the club. Obscured behind dilapidated walls you can find two dance floors inside, beyond which there is a charming outside garden space, all of which feature both established artists and rising stars from near and far. Although it may not look like it from the outside, the venue has a great sound system and hosts some of the best techno parties in Berlin. The door policy is generally fairly casual, though as with most clubs, you have to be aware of the events that are on when you go, which may cater to particular musical tastes or communities, or have eccentric themes to dress for.
Watergate offers two main dance floors with modern furnishings and lighting systems, an impressive river view and overall a swankier appearance than most clubs tend to favor in Berlin. (Shabby is the city’s chic after all). There is also a riverside terrace on the banks of the Spree overlooking the Oberbaum Bridge, where you can watch the morning traffic pick up and wonder if you should, perhaps, go home and sleep. Techno and house music is the club’s main purview, and since it opened in 2002, Watergate has helped to foster the careers of some of those genre’s big name DJs from Berlin and further afield. Today it regularly books world-class artists to match their top-notch sound system. The door policy is relatively relaxed, though the dress code is perhaps a touch fancier than is usual. Also, be sure to know who’s playing when you get to the front of the line because the bouncer might well grill you about the night’s lineup.
Berlin: Techno Capital
Once you have chosen your club of choice and you’re dressed up for a long night out, be aware that while the many diverse clubs of Berlin are fun, playful and energetic, this spirit is rooted in a strong foundation of respect and community. Don’t worry if a bouncer tells you that you “don’t fit the vibe tonight.” There’s no shortage of other places where you can find the perfect night out for you. Berlin, throughout the eras of cabaret, jazz, swing, punk and now EDM, continues to be a city where the whole world can dance.
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.