With the imminent closing of beloved Neukölln nightclub Griessmuehle coming up soon, the oldest cinema of Berlin, Moviemento, fighting for its survival and the iconic Clärchens Ballhaus already shut down the current mood of the city is pretty much set. Is the Berlin that we know and love gradually going to shut down now? Did the commercial powers that be finally win and swallow the alternative, untamable, free-spirited Berlin? I’m not gonna blame you if this is how you feel.
As someone who has been observing Berlin for 20 years now, I have seen many cherished clubs and cultural places go, some are even dearly missed today. The division of the city, the unwanted and abandoned places, relics of the industrialization, they all offered so much space for the underground and nightlife scenes to develop and thrive, especially since the wall came down. It created an ever thirsty and unflinching spirit to re-invent, re-purpose and experiment with spaces, objects, ideas. It created a city that turned its lack of pompous sights into a virtue and made its lifestyle into the magnetic quality that brought countless people here over the past couple of decades.
The city offered an alternative to the overcrowded, overpriced, high-pressure metropolises of the world by changing the common status symbols from wealth and fame to creativity and freedom. Historically, this has always been a factor in Berlin, even in eras far further back than the reunited 90s. Once again it became the magic recipe that made people fall in love with the city. But of course, every recipe needs its ingredients. And we have to ask ourselves today: are we running out of these?
As the lifespan of famed clubs goes, there are three options: You are one day forced to close which makes you a legend of nightlife history, you gradually transition into a mainstream tourist hotspot, or you are Berghain. In the case of Berlin, there seems to be no other known outcome. And of course, it’s the first option that hits us the most. When a place you’ve grown fond of has to close, there is always an outrage, disappointment, the end of an era and fear for the future.
I’ve gone through this more times than I could wish for since I came to Berlin. My first heartbreak was the closing of the KOSMOS cinema which I really loved. What followed was an almost countless amount of clubs: Casino, Ostgut, Maria, Pfefferberg, ZMF, WMF, Bar 25, Icon, Rio, Scala, Picknick, Cookies, HBC, White Trash, Farbfernseher. The list goes on. And the stories are always the same: A rental contract was not renewed, buildings were torn down, one neighbor complained about the noise. It feels the clubs always have something to battle and they often exist on borrowed time.
Maybe it’s this state of uncertainty that contributes to the excitement. You never know when a place will unexpectedly close down, so you better make the most of it while it lasts. I remember Scala being such an influential place for me, but it actually only lasted about a year.
I’ve also noticed some nightlife places being very resistant to their displacement. The legendary KitKat club that is also under threat these days, has actually been pushed out of their spaces multiple times in its long history. From a small bar to the glamorous Metropol, and the industrial halls of the Malzfabrik they have had many homes until they found their current one sharing a roof with the once legendary Sage Club. With this in mind, I was less worried about its future when the news spread some months ago, that the rental contract with Sage was canceled. But as it turned out later, KitKat had its individual contract that – so far – is not affected.
Bar25 had a whole different kind of survival story that set new standards, even for Berlin. Much like most of these types of places that were “in-between” solutions for the owners of the properties their rents came on a year-to-year basis. As the iconic open-air club that pretty much defined the post-millennium party era of Berlin finished their season before their rental contract was extended or not they actually had to celebrate their final closing multiple times in a row because they never knew if they would be able to re-open again next year. Even when they finally had to close, they soon began a new life on the other side of the Spree at Kater Holzig which became almost equally iconic. And once that place was turned into luxury apartments, they opened once again on the original side of the Spree as Kater Blau.
But of course, not every club is as resilient or lucky. In a recent interview with tagesschau the Clubcommission Berlin counted 100 clubs that had to close in the last 10 years. That is much more than even I was aware of.
The story of Griessmuehle is also far from over. And it also reaches further back than those 9 years this place has existed in Neukölln. For me, their story began as “ZMF”, a small charming cellar club in a backyard on Brunnenstraße near the subway stop Rosenthaler Platz. I adored this place and I was sad when it closed after only a few years. But they continued their parties in other locations as “ZMF in Exile” and even found a new space which they had for a while further up the street called Brunnen70. After this one closed, their next stop was the Griessmuehle in Neukölln.
With their latest press release, they announced that the closing by the end of the month could at least be extended for a few days so that the beloved queer party Cocktail D’Amour could have a final dance at the beginning of February. But after that, the doors at this space near Sonnenallee will have to close. Luckily they found two clubs that will borrow their spaces so they can continue their scheduled program: Alte Münze in Mitte (the current home of Pornceptual), and Polygon Club in Lichtenberg near Ostkreuz. A return to Sonnenallee at a later point is sounding super likely, but it’s apparently not completely off the table as negotiations between the club and the property owner continue under the mediation of the Clubcommission Berlin with support by the Berlin senate.
While I also feel alarmed by the high number of closings of clubs and other subculture and underground places in recent years, I feel that the recent outpour of support for the case of Griessmuehle not only by party goers but also by politicians sets a new precedent that might ring in a new era for Berlin. You could say that the years-long efforts by the Clubcommission Berlin have finally come to fruition when even conservative politicians from the CDU now finally want to preserve the clubs of Berlin. The response to this case from the international press was spectacular. This, of course, helps the development by creating awareness by the people in power that might have turned a blind for too long. Especially property developers will have received some kind of warning that they can’t just continue to bulldoze down the club infrastructure of the city with a complete disregard of the accomplishments and importance of these places.
While we might still have some empty and abandoned corners left in the city where new clubs and projects could develop we can’t just continue to rely on the regenerative powers of Berlin, we have to start protecting the existing spaces from being erased if we want to stop the closing of Berlin as we know and love it now.