(Ruth Bender’s article appeared in the Walls Street Journal, 6/13; Photo: MARZENA SKUBATZ FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.)
Berlin’s legendary club scene has gone quiet. Some fear the party could be over for good.
BERLIN—The saying goes that in Berlin’s nightclubs, you can be or do whatever you want, as long as you don’t put anyone in danger.
In a pandemic, that’s a problem.
Paris has the Louvre, London its royal palaces and Berlin its nightclubs. Rooting back to the years after the fall of the Wall, when wild, improvised parties took place in abandoned industrial buildings, legendary techno club Tresor, rival Berghain and the city’s myriad other dance spots form a wild party scene that caters to all tastes—in music, drugs or sex.
Clubs are among the biggest draws for the 13 million visitors who flock to the laid-back German capital each year and a prime reason young talent moves here to work in one of Europe’s largest startup scenes.
But while Germany’s coronavirus lockdown is now largely history, the thumping bass remains silent and the city fears there might not be a future for its vibrant nightlife economy, at least not until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid-19. Almost four months since the virus arrived in Europe, the scene is teetering between melancholic resignation, denial and growing fears it may be gone for good.
“Berlin without clubs is like soup without salt,” said Dimitri Hegemann, owner of Tresor, which he founded in 1991. “If the soup isn’t tasty then the young people also won’t come.”
To DJ Ian Pooley, who spent 14 years in Berlin and has played in clubs the world over, club operators have fallen into a “silent depressive mood” about a situation they feel they can’t change.
Berlin’s clubs are facing an extreme version of what many German businesses have encountered. Government aid and donations from partygoers have put off bankruptcy, for now. Beyond Berlin state aid, the federal government’s latest stimulus package lists clubs as eligible for a €25 billion ($28 billion) aid program that can cover up to 80% of operating expenses through August for medium-size businesses that suffer sharp revenue losses due to government restrictions.