The entire nightclub industry will have to reconstruct itself due to the pandemic as Berlin's clubs have been shut for nearly a year.

When the coronavirus first appeared in Berlin, its spread was hastened through revellers at most of the city's famous night clubs, which were the first to be shut down. Berlin has since done well in containing the virus, and many of its nightclubs are on a government-run financial support programme. But its unique culture is what's really suffering.

"I laugh not in despair but in resignation now, there's no motivation, no drive, I get my money every month yes, but I question why should I make any more music and for who?", says 47-year-old Luis.

"Music isn't just my profession, it's my passion too, and now it's very very hard. Sometimes I feel isolated. It's the uncertainty which makes it really difficult to find a sense of purpose", says Luis, one of Berlin's top DJs, who has played live sets at the city's top night clubs.

To understand Berlin's night entertainment, cast your mind back to the legendary New York nightclub, Studio 54, in the late 1970s and early 80s. The only difference is, Berlin is less glamour and more dive and grit, basically less bourgeois, more socialist.

Many of Berlin's clubs are world famous, attracting thousands of revellers and aficionados from as far as North and South America, China and Australia. For many the party starts Friday night and easily stretches into Sunday evening.

Berlin's nightlife history goes back several decades to the city's divided legacy, the East is where hedonism and guilty pleasures weren't guilty any more – this attracted the lost souls from across Germany but also the envy of West Germany.

Berlin's club culture has long provided a place for drifters to gather. On the whole, Germany is a fairly conservative country with the largest church attendance in Europe after Italy – those of a more eccentric mindset or taste were often shunned by conservative communities only to find solace in the cocoon that was Berlin.

'HEUTE NICHT'

Staying true to the traditional theme of sex, drugs and rock&roll/techno/house or whatever floats your boat, Berlin's clubs also offer a window into the past, strict admission policy based on whoever the bouncer thinks would better suit or fit the mood of the club. 

'Heute Nicht' or 'not today' are the now two most dreaded words for any club goer in Berlin, bouncers or security guards at the club door often use this term to reject entrance to several people every night. Groups on social media list in detail, for the rookie, a 'how to' guide for getting into one of Berlin's famous clubs – apparently wearing black is key. 

"I was very nervous when I was booked for my first session at the Berghain almost 10 years ago," forlornly reminisces Luis, who has now played the Berghain more times than he can remember. 

Luis spends a few hours in the studio everyday, the routine he says keeps him sane.
Luis spends a few hours in the studio everyday, the routine he says keeps him sane. (Salman Ahmed / TRTWorld)

Housed in an old railway repair works building, Berghain which opened in 2004 has unofficially become the 'world capital of Techno' music. It was awarded a cultural status by the German government marking the club a symbol of cultural value.

"But now everything is changing, everyone I know is reconstructing their relationship with music and their previous way of life. With me there isn't much depression but anxiety, yes, I guess we all just have to adapt," says Luis, with signs of resignation on his face.

'ECONOMIC RUINS'

And there's an entire industry which might have to reconstruct itself due to the coronavirus. Clubs like Sisyphos, Kater blau, and Berghain, and many more have been shut for nearly a year, and the ruins of that economic heap run into the millions of Euros. They are currently on a financial support programme which helps them pay rent and a living wage for their employees.

Konstantin Krex of Kater Blau says, "well we have zero income but a large part of our expenditure is still on-going.... This is the case with every business which is now virtually banned from working due to Corona. The help from the federal government covers part of the costs, nevertheless, the debts are piling up. That does something to you. You know that at some point you will have to repay. And as a cultural company, you have few opportunities to easily increase your income."

Lutz Leichsenring, who is the spokesperson for the Club Commission, says, "we're heavily dependent on public money, every few months our members have to apply, and there's uncertainty. There is no special help for artists, or booking agents".

"The uncertainty is making it difficult to plan for the future, when will the clubs open again, what will be the rules, how will it be regulated, will there still be financial help from the government?" Lutz says, echoing the questions that give many club owners sleepless nights.

From a cultural perspective he adds, "the damage has already been done, a lot of people from the industry have moved on and found other jobs, so a huge amount of talent has moved away and 30 percent of our visitors are tourists so they aren't here".

"Many of the industry staff have reported mental health issues, depression, anxiety, loss of income", adds Lutz.

The Club Commission is a membership led advocacy group, bringing clubs and those in the entertainment business under one umbrella and providing essential advisory and legal support.

Luis sitting in his kitchen, Corona and the ensuing lockdowns means he cannot venture out too far away from home
Luis sitting in his kitchen, Corona and the ensuing lockdowns means he cannot venture out too far away from home (Salman Ahmed / TRTWorld)

For Luis financial support isn't the top concern, "my cheque comes in from the government, so I'm financially secure, but how long will this go on? I'm making music now but for who?"

'MY BEDROOM IS MY CLUB'

But for 39 year old Brit Rich, closure of the clubs has been disastrous.

"Monday to Friday I work for a language learning app, that's my job, yes I like it, it's not bad, but my other life is on the weekends in the clubs and that spark is gone, and now it's affecting my work, I cannot concentrate properly", says Rich.

Rich with his friends at a festival in happier times.
Rich with his friends at a festival in happier times. (TRTWorld)

Rich hit the club scene soon after arriving in Germany nearly 10 years ago, he speaks about a time of his life which shaped him. He often flips through the photographs on his phone which act as a reminder of what he's missing out.

"Initially it was very tough, lots of anxiety, my whole social circle was based around clubbing, it's not just about getting drunk and dancing, I used to meet friends there, make new ones – the weekends were a huge part of my life which re-energised me", reminisces Rich. 

Rich's  bedroom resembles the generic club atmosphere.
Rich's bedroom resembles the generic club atmosphere. (Salman Ahmed / TRTWorld)

"Im a fairly positive person, but now Im not doing so well, I've heard some people have even committed suicide, imagine if you already had mental health issues and now your life has completely changed, what would happen to you"'

"Since I started clubbing I realised that I am an artistic person, it's sort of invigorated this creativity within me – so when it all stopped I had to do something just to stop myself from going mad and that's when I decided to convert my bedroom into a sort of a disco", he says. 

Rich's bedroom looks like some sort of a disco mashup, complete with turntables, fancy lights and disco ball.

Rich juggles LED balls while an assortment of lights and projections flash on his walls – Rich has found his escape.
Rich juggles LED balls while an assortment of lights and projections flash on his walls – Rich has found his escape. (Salman Ahmed / TRTWorld)

Rich lives in a big house with six other people, he works on his computer from his kitchen but when the work ends he moves to his room, switches on the lights, the music and sometimes the smoke machine and with all that he slowly floats away into a different reality.  

Luis has taken up a bit of DIY, 'I've put up some more shelves in the kitchen, my girlfriend painted one of the walls, I completely re-tiled the bathroom, so I've kept myself busy'. 

"Not sure what comes next, time I suppose is a way out. Perhaps also herd immunity, but I'm just keeping myself entertained with all the conspiracy theories going on around the world, it's like we're losing perspective of who we are, the strength of our character is being questioned", says a reflective Luis.

While Luis sits in his kitchen and Rich cracks a few moves in his bedroom, the elephant in the room is the question 'what comes next'? 

Source: TRT World