The History of Berlin Techno – Part 1 – Books and Documentaries
In the past, the history of more than three eras of Berlin Techno culture has been reported on in a very original and authentic way. DJs, photographers, VJs, club organizers and contemporary witnesses have been telling well-founded stories from the wild year of the beginning in 1989 up to the present days – starting from the emergence and further developments, continuing to the challenges of commercialization, gentrification and COVID-19, and arriving finally at considerations of how Techno in Berlin could once again achieve a more positive direction. The history of Berlin club culture can be relayed through a selection of well-founded books, documentaries and music compilations. These include documentaries, which are now freely available via YouTube, and detailed coffee-table books, which are available in well-assorted bookstores. The electronic music itself, exquisitely assembled in the compilation of „No Photos on the Dance Floor!„, also guides through the history of Berlin Techno club culture, as well as the very recent release for the thirty-year anniversary of the club Tresor. Sensations become present which are characterized by booming basses, pulsating bodies and condensed sweat dripping from the ceilings – the perception of the experience cannot become more intense. The realization is revealed that all of it has really taken place and that it will hopefully soon find its way back into the clubs in a new quality – the experience of being able to look enthusiastically into the unveiled face of your counterpart, so that you can once again read emotions in the faces of the dancers and enjoy them.
„The sense of historical uniqueness“ and the memories of the indescribable moments in the turmoil of a Techno night are transforming the experiences in the thoughts in the here and now.
„The sense of historical uniqueness.“No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989—Today“ – Wolfgang Tillmans
The experience of the very first Techno night for today’s generation can be as exciting, as free and unique as the innumerable night for the contemporaries who have been dancing in the clubs for a long time. The legacy of the city of Berlin, its Techno culture, is currently undergoing its acid test. Every new variant of the virus and every new increase in infections also leads to drastic developments in the G-rules from week to week. In the last months of 2021, before 8th of December when the clubs had to shut down again, glimpses of a renewed club scene began to appear (ironically in compliance with strict admission regulations as well as the proven procedure of testing and registration). It was a brief new beginning to keep the fire of Berlin Techno alive. Before that, art installations in venues had been the only way during the pandemic to enter a club and marvel at the inside – but in the long run, this less-than-ideal solution cannot be the fulfillment. Even if it is a different approach for artists to present their works to a wider audience which does not only consist of typical clubheads, the concept of art in the club rather triggered a kind of irritation, perplexity and nostalgia. The Techno club is a retreating space, a place for mutual respectful celebration, the place for intense encounters – for ecstasy and the pleasures to the music.
Beginnings after the fall of the Berlin Wall
Resurrected out of ruins, as an early EP from the Techno club Tresor was called, the new center of the city offered a great variety of locations of different quality and size after the fall of the Wall. Locations which provided the right setting for the Techno sound from Detroit, House Music from Chicago, the Belgian-Dutch New Beat or the sound from the UK – and the reason for celebrating hedonism and the new freedom in unity, just like the Berliners do.
As Heiko Hoffmann describes in „No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989—Today„, the birth of DJ culture took place in clubs such as Paradise Garage (New York 1976-1987) or Warehouse, later Music Box (Chicago, 1977-1987). In the second „Summer of Love“, the newly developing phenomenon of Rave made its way from Ibiza to London and Manchester, subsequently unfolding in the Berlin nightlife. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, events such as Tekknozid or clubs such as Ufo, Tresor and Planet were the starting point of the first mutual party culture for East and West – and an important trailblazer for one of the most important European youth cultures which currently exists.
The book The Sound of the Family – Berlin, Techno and the Turn, named after the Techno track of the same name by 3 Phase feat. Dr. Motte, describes the events of the Berlin Techno scene from 1989 to 1999 in a very sensitive and realistic manner.
With the very authentic and lively nature of the stories by important protagonists and contemporaries, stories by important protagonists and contemporaries, The Sound of the Family is one of the most intense depictions of this era of Berlin nightlife culture. The book by the two authors Sven von Thülen and Felix Denk has been adapted as a video documentary called Party on the Death Strip, and those who have read the book (also available in translation into several languages) will find the filmic contribution to be an excellent addition as well as a journey back in time to the years of departure!
For Felix Denk, Techno strengthened the sense of freedom at the time of the reunification, and nowhere does the awareness of unlimited possibilities seem more concentrated to him than in Berlin. At the rapid pace of Techno music, the film „Party on the Death Strip“ combines historical shots and recordings of parties and locations with the memories of DJs as Laurent Garnier, Tanith and Marc Redder, cultural managers as Dimitri Hegemann or Johnnie Stieler orrevelers of the night and musicians. The film depicts the anarchy of the first phase of the Berlin Techno scene as well as the fusion of East and West. Techno not only characterizes the zeitgeist of the reunification years, but it is also the driving force behind the first youth movement of a reunified Germany, even though there is no connection at all between the emergence of the new machine music and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In East Berlin, the regime collapses, and the former capital city of the GDR turns into a „Temporary Autonomous Zone„. And all of a sudden, there are all these new spaces to discover: cellars in the wasteland of the border strips or a bunker from the Second World War. Illegal celebrations are held in abandoned factory halls, to electronic music with almost no lyrics, and above all in a fast rhythm: the music is completely new for the youth of East and West. In addition, there are the unimagined possibilities of political upheaval. In the ruins, a formative youth culture of the 1990s is emerging. In the developingTechno scene, contrasts between cultures no longer play a role for a while.
With the documentary We Call It Techno! from 2008, Maren Sextro and Holger Wick also offer a well-founded insight into the early German Techno scene and its culture to which Berlin could contribute considerably through its regained freedom. The two contemporary witnesses of the anticipated reunification of East and West in Berlin Techno clubs show the beginnings of Techno culture beyond the city borders and describe the evolution of electronic music culture in Germany (beginning around 1987). From the founding of the first Techno clubs and labels in Frankfurt am Main to the influence of the new Berlin club scene on electronic music culture, We Call It Techno! uses numerous interviews with club operators, DJs, journalists and publishers of newspapers to show in unique film material how Techno in Germany could develop into a new youth culture.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the new sound, the latest technologies of sound generation and the political and social developments of the time are forming the inspiration for anemerging scene culture in Germany which celebrates the euphoric beginnings of a new era. The activists in the German metropolises are creating a club culture which is centered aroundTechno and House. At the Berlin Love Parade in 1991, the local scenes from Germany meet for the first time. A movement emerges which changes life directions or sets careers in motion. Experiments, transgressions of limits andDIYrepresent the „Techno principle“. Fans become DJs or party organizers, start labels or open record shops. The scene expands into its own cosmos. The networks are formed beyond the existing structures. The possibilities seem endless.
The feminist perspective of Berlin Techno:
The book The Cheerful Art of Rebellion by Danielle de Picciotto
In her fourth book „The Cheerful Art of Rebellion„, Danielle de Picciotto lovingly and in detail tells how she brought her joy of living and her visions to life in Berlin from 1987 to 1994 with various ventures such as fashion, club culture and live music – in a time of groundbreaking transformations which spread from this spot and changed the world.
Cultural ambassador Danielle de Picciotto is part of the women’s movement in Berlin’s electronic music and club scene which gained strength in the mid90s. She came to Berlin from New York in 1987, and she works as interdisciplinary musician, artist and author. She is cooperating with international centres of the Goethe Institute as well as with the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. With her former partner Matthias „Dr. Motte“ Roeingh, she initiated the first Love Parade in Berlin on the 1st of July 1989.
Her story brings images to life not only in the mind, but also in the heart. In an impressive manner, she describes, also through her drawings, how she experienced the intense time after her move from New York to Berlin. It is striking that the nutrient medium of art – free thinking as well as developing and executing ideas which follow a consistent course and are not in line with the hierarchies of machismo and patriarchy – was one of the important characteristics of a young new woman who has conquered Berlin for herself.
New beginnings and the pilgrimage of the masses
The next era of Berlin Techno culture from 1999 to 2009 is characterized by closures due to gentrification, by impressive new beginnings and the strong impact of the Easyjetset tourism on Berlin club life.
After Techno in Berlin obviously had lost some of its significance at the end of the 90s, it was already rumbling in the underground again. In the years from 2000 to 2005, one could only sense a vague and fading afterglow of the wild euphoric Techno times of the 90s in the Tresor. The negative events in connection with the door mafia or regular raids due to the overly obvious drug consumption and trafficking brought the era of Tresor at Leipziger Straße to a somewhat abrupt end. Nevertheless, the closure of the club on 16th of April 2005 gave rise to the hope of a reunion, and after some „Tresor in Exile“ parties in the premises of Maria am Ostbahnhof or SO36, the Tresor opened in 2007 in the Heating plant at Köpenicker Straße 70. These new spaces in purist industrial style plus the usual wooden Globus floor provided the clear and unaltered Techno sound of the city with a new area of activity, alongside Berghain. Due to its architectural qualities and its location, the new Tresor seemed to be made for the next chapter of Techno history under the influence of the Easyjetset tourism.
LOST AND SOUND. Berlin, Techno and the Easyjetset by Tobias Rapp
LOST AND SOUNDvividly depicts Berlin Techno club culture in the era from 2000 to 2009. Berlin rapidly evolved from an underground spot to a Techno megacity for clubbers from all over the world. When the new British airline Ryanair presented its offers far below the usual price, service and comfort of other airlines and Berlin hotel keepers or private hosts offered inexpensive hotel rooms and apartments at the same time, this inevitably led to an increase in tourism until its excessive boom before the pandemic.
A new generation of Techno club collectives captured a loyal audience and celebrated in abandoned apartment buildings, on old industrial wastelands or on premises directly by the Spree river. The popularity of Berlin Techno slowly gained momentum again after the first boom in the mid90s and the stagnation at the end of the 90s.
Some of the clubbers arrived on Saturday morning by plane and flew back home on Monday morning with the first plane or simply stayed in the city. The Techno scene met in new clubs at the East Side Gallery and on the river banks of the Spree. In clubs such as Ostgut (the forerunner of Berghain), Maria, Watergate, Bar 25 (now Kater Blau), Casino (now Suicide Club) and in Berlin Mitte at Cookies, WMF or Pfefferberg. At the same time, especially on Sundays, parties were held in changing locations. Beat Street, Electronic Love Lounge (now Club Beate Uwe) and Anna Bar were the IT-parties of the Techno scene of the time. A new phase of Techno culture was ushering in and immersed the dance floors of the city in Electroclash, Minimal Techno and Techhouse.
The Ostgut resided from 1998 to 2002 in an old warehouse not far from the area of today’s Mercedes-Benz Arena and was located near the Ostbahnhof on the holding sidings of the former freight traffic. In 2004, the Ostgut opened the Berghain with the Panoramabar and two years later the Berghainfloor.
„Techno is dead, at least officially. In reality, electronic music and the nocturnal subculture of going out – beyond social utopias and Love Parade – have never been more creative and interesting than they are today. And never so concentrated in one place: Every weekend, young people from all over Europe populate a few kilometers on the banks of the river Spree in Berlin; they come with low-cost airlines and often stay until, days later, the last afterhour almost leads back into the next weekend …“
„Lost And Sound“ – Tobias Rapp
Tobias Rapp, journalist and an intimate connoisseur of the scene, portrays the most fascinating, excessive and secretly influential capital city culture and its protagonists: dancers and DJs, music producers and urban planners. Clubs like Bar 25, with a built-in decibel killer, could not play extreme kick-bass-based electronic music, since the small wooden hut with an open character to the outside and plenty of outdoor space did not allow for perfect soundproofing. In places like this, the sound of Techno therefore developed into a playful lighter facet of electronic club music which rather allowed a comparison to the sound played in Ibiza in lively beach bars in 2000. Still, it was on the musical level and in the spirit of Berlin DJs and producers. Its definition includes less BPM, but more intricate and melodious Techno sounds. Hippieesque Techno or Circus Disco, these popularly ennobled terms only apply to a superficial view of this further development of Techno – vagabond-like alliances that have established themselves especially in the Friedrichshain district at Ostkreuz near the river Spree. With its concept, Bar 25 established the further development of Berlin’s club archetypes, on a wasteland not far from the Ostbahnhof with direct access to the Spree, and numerous new clubs with related ideology emerged from this era. In the new clubs, an open-minded curious generation danced and celebrated. Open to challenging the limits of hedonism in new quality and quantity.
Techno Culture – Dissolution of boundaries, a sense of togetherness and ecstasy
The film „Celebrating – Don’t Forget To Go Home“ (2006) by Maja Classen tells of the special moment, the alliance of euphoria and ecstasy which the Techno crowd creates to the music of the DJ. Only here, in this magical zone of togetherness, dissolution of boundaries and liberation from everyday life, can one find the indescribable sense of being at the right place now and here. Serotonins and endorphins have the purpose in the human body, among other things, of transmitting signals or serve as messengers of happiness, as they are released during sexual activity or joy. Through the influence of XTC or other drugs, this effect can be enhanced and prolonged. „Celebrating“ depicts the desire for escape from everyday life in a seductive way. Through the stories of the protagonists of this time like DJs and DJanes, ravers, bar women, producers and journalists, the different perspectives and aspirations in regard to celebrating are uncovered.
In „Celebrating – Don’t Forget To Go Home“, Berlin once again becomes a place of longing, where you can admire all those who are „bound and determined“. „Celebrating“ shows partying and sweating, the turmoil and the enchantments. It tells the story of people who dedicate themselves and their lives to music, clubs and drugs. These are stories about demolished existences or about intense experiences of tenderness. Everyone talks about finding happiness: the time of shared ecstasy, the right soundtrack at the right time, an hour-long conversation with the stranger who becomes a friend overnight, or the feeling in the darkroom of being nothing more than purely physical sensations of fused bodies. In the sum of the conversations, „Celebrating“ becomes a family picture, a melancholic homage to a special part of society that celebrates until a cough turns into pneumonia and a blackout into psychosis. London DJ and producer Ewan Pearson smiles and gives his Berlin friends one piece of advice: Don’t forget to go home. But if they haven’t left, they are still celebrating (happily ever after).
Berlin Techno History at the Art Gallery
No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989—Today
„The tradition of celebrating together in a space where you are not only lose yourself in music – lost in music – but in which you can feel free and cared for. Free from surveillance. Free from the consequences and judgment of the world out there.“„No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989—Today“– Jan Kedves
Thirty years of electronic club culture from Berlin, profoundly curated, investigated and summarized by Heiko Hoffmann and Felix Hoffmann. The exhibition „No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989—Today“ in the C|O Gallery captured electronic music and club culture under its most important aspects.
Numerous essays and interviews with contemporary witnesses, the initiators of the exhibition, artists, VJs and journalists are supplemented by photographs, video stills and flyers. On this basis, the connections between club and art, the hardware of club life, the contrasting club aesthetics, the background of the “No photography policy” in clubs as well as the emergence of club culture and its relations to the LGBTQ+ community are mapped out in detail.
The connections between art and club culture, the development of visual aspects, the medium of the flyer or the meaning of the VJ are vividly explained. Romuald Karmakar describes the development of the VJ and explains why in the 90s the visual representation in form of video or slide projections was an integral part of the electronic music club alongside the DJ. From the new millennium onwards, lighting design in the club context is of a more minimal orientation, thus loosening up the alliance of sound and moving image which had been cultivated until then. Lighting accentuations that attracted too much attention no longer met the definition of the club at the turn of the millennium. Nevertheless, the work of the VJ is firmly anchored at present in the areas of concerts, art and festivals.
Despite the photo ban in many Berlin clubs, impressive photographs have always been taken from the point of view of a member of the community. In the context of the exhibition and the content of the catalogue, the idea and origin behind the photographs is discussed from the social and artistic standpoints. Among them are Sven Marquardt, photographer and countenance of the club Berghain, Ben De Biel, former club operator of the Eimer and the Maria, the photographer Carolin Saage, then in-house photographer of Bar 25, Tilman Brembs, contemporary witness and photographer of the club culture of the 90s, and Wolfgang Tillmans. They shed light on the club culture from the position of their participation and exhibit its places, protagonists, special moments and scenes of a night.
Former Groove Magazine journalist Thilo Schneider provides the exhibition with his relation to the basic facts which refer to the beginning and the development phases of club culture. From station to station, such as the Weimar Republic in the Twenties, first clubs such as the Metropol at Nollendorfplatz, Techno of the early 90s and Ostgut with its follow-ups, Schneider highlights historically relevant stages of Berlin’s dance and club culture and their importance as a social space of freedom.
„Berlin has managed to position itself internationally as a place of freedom without a curfew, with a traditionally uninhibited relationship to sexuality, a lax drug policy and a basic attitude which views capitalism critically. The fact that a large part of Berlin’s nightlife never wanted to bow completely to a neoliberal logic of exploitation, but remained creative, dynamic and unreasonable, is probably a credit to the LGBTQ+ communities.“„No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989 —Today“ – Thilo Schneider
Martin Eberle and Philipp Sherburne write about the hardware of club life and the contrasting club aesthetics:
The elegant industrial design is just one aspect of many. A very different aesthetic can be found in clubs such as the former Bar 25, the Kater Holzig which is now closed as well, but also in the Kater Blau, the Salon zur wilden Renate and the Club der Visionäre – these locations present a simple retro look in the spirit of anarchy and bohemian style or settings reminiscent of the classic LSD visions of the first Techno club interiors in San Francisco. Here, the nocturnal life sentiment is not characterized by the strict coolness of the industrial style, but by warmth, cheerfulness and coziness.
The basic requirements for spaces and the configurations of the club situation – Eberle, himself a club operator at the time, explains the hardware of club life, the archetypes, their concept, their contrasting spatial forms and the locations where club life could be intensively experienced in numerous illegal niches or on speculation areas of manifold construction types. It was a basic attitude of the time to make use of what was available for one’s ideas.
In the last era from 2010 to 2021, Berlin probably achieved the highest density of venues where Techno, Electro or House Music was celebrated. New electronic clubs also emerged from the districts of Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Wedding. At Kottbusser Tor, the Monarch and the Paloma Bar opened, as well as the Ritter Butzke in the Ritterstraße nearby. At the end of Sonnenallee at the S-Bahn, the Griessmühle (today Revier Südost in Treptow) took the zeitgeist of its time to a new level, together with additional organizers such as Slave To The Rave and Cocktail d’Amore. Through organizers such as WolleXDP, Tekknozist or Stefan Schwanke with Back to Basics, the euphoria from the founding times was re-emerging in the melting pot of a Three-era Techno generation which consisted of contemporary witnesses and the ravekids of the present.
13th of March 2020
HUSH – Berlin Club Culture in a Time of Silence
Marie Staggat and Timo Stein
The book project HUSH by Marie Staggat and Timo Stein which has a social background makes an extensive statement on the Corona crisis and its effects on Berlin club culture. More than forty-two clubs have participated in the project. Since the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the entire cultural scene on 13th of March 2020 with the measures to contain the spread of the virus, all Berlin clubs have been closed (as of January 2022). Through the interviews and stories with the main but also secondary characters (club owners, artists, counter staff, toilet men, bouncers or janitors) as well as the photographic representation of clubs emptied by people, the extent of the temporary shut-downs – an intense thoughtful memorial – is placed in the curriculum vitae of Berlin club history. But the book is not only dealing with the operators’ fears of closures and the forecasts considering negative developments in club culture, no, HUSH also tells us of the opportunities which can develop from the crisis.
„I believe that this moment that we are living through will last for one year or two. Perhaps some people may be able to learn something from this situation, somethingwhich cannot be estimated today becauseit is hurting at this moment.Perhapsit may turn out later that processes have been initiated or ideas and new creative concepts have been developed which would not have existed without the crisis.“HUSH – Tim Leginski, Prince Charles
HUSH reveals the social qualities of Berlin club culture: Versatility and solidarity of the scene, the origin of the storytellers, their personal developments in the club context and the strengthening of numerous projects such as crowdfunding, podcasts or United We Stream, which brought donations for the clubs, its employees and artists to pay the running costs. Club culture is system-relevant – the all-encompassing master keyword. HUSH also emphasizes the tireless and indispensable commitment of the Berlin Club Commission against anti-democratic currents in Techno culture.
HUSH depicts the visions propelled by the pioneering spirit and the ability of club operators to deal with unfavourable circumstances, such as fighting through the bureaucratic jungle to apply for state aid. The continued existence of the club is the primary goal. What comes into play as well is the track record of clubs such as Humboldthain or Anita Berber, which have developed into known quantities in Wedding (a district once unsuitable for parties).
The Corona crisis also shows that club managers can also be crisis managers. Above all, optimism includes the hope that the culture of music and dance clubs will power up again, so that possibilities will once again be unlimited and the infinite ecstasy will return to the dance floor. Protagonists like Finn Johannsen (Power House, Paloma Bar) announce that they will then “pull out all the stops“.
However, the pandemic is not having a completely negative impact, as it also stimulates reflection on the condition of present-day society. Especially the influence of the recent turbo-tourism-capitalism on club life was not entirely positive. Therefore, notions of new ideas and changes also find approval as well as some rethinking and reflecting – what can we learn from the crisis and do better in the future? Important aspects are waiting in the wings, such as more environmental awareness, green clubbing, the use of our city’s own artistic resources. Benedikt Bogenberger, resident DJ and spokesman for Wilde Renate, envisions as a possible positive effect of the crisis that the scene will become more local again so that DJs are not constantly being sent around the world.
Since 8th of December 8 2021, Berlin’s club culture is in lockdown again due to Corona. New events, which were announced by the clubs shortly before, had to be cancelled again. The clubcommission is pugnacious – arguing that the clubs cannot simply be labeled by politicians as the drivers of the pandemic. But how can an effective protest in the city be formed? No matter how things may develop in the near future – Berlin Techno culture will continue to exist and rise like a phoenix from the ashes, according to the principle: To be continued …