It was past midnight. I should have been in bed, but there I was, stepping out of the U-Bahn stop at Warschauer Strae. I trekked through the snow, the dark, empty streets reminding me that I was alone. I approached an expanse of barbed wire and empty footpath, littered with broken glass. I looked up to see a large concrete building contrasted against the night sky: I had arrived at the Berghain.
Upon coming to Berlin, I had inevitably heard about the famous club Berghain. My faint idea of it was that it was some sort of techno mecca that seems to be as hard to get into as college and threw wild parties that lasted for days at a time. I became intrigued by its exclusivity and dreamed of what lay behind its thick iron doors. I sifted through the countless guides online that claim to know something (or nothing) about how to get in.
I had discovered that there exists an online training site that takes you through the Berghain bouncer experience virtually, it?s called Berghain Trainer. Its welcoming mobile icon displays the words ?Only 2/10 get in.? The trainer tracks your body language and emotions while you answer 3 questions in German at the ?door.? It?s startlingly realistic, and pretty nerve-wracking. I learned about it only after I got in, but it would?ve been good practice. Try for yourself if you?d like: Berghain Trainer. It?s quite awesome technology, but the fact that it even exists is slightly ridiculous.
Since I always love a challenge (and a good party), I decided to give Berghain a try. I spent almost an hour reading up on tips and reviews, and came to a conclusion that improving your chances of admission came down to: dressing in all black, not speaking English/speaking at all in the queue, and coming in small groups. I had also heard from locals that Sunday morning was the best time to go, because the lines are shorter then.
One Sunday morning, I (uncharacteristically and completely arbitrarily) woke up at 7:30 a.m. with a strong urge to go to Berghain. Like it was summoning me. Ignoring how I could?ve slept in for 4 more hours, I put on my black jeans, black Timberland boots, and black turtleneck and raced out the door, ready for Berghain to accept me.
I had read cheesy posts about how if you were meant to go to Berghain, they would let you in. I felt like I was on my way to a homecoming of sorts. In my head, I practiced my German, especially answers to questions I saw the bouncers typically ask, such as ?Are you alone??, ?Who are you here to see??, and ?Is it your first time here?? I could feel my heart rate quicken with anticipation and excitement.
By the time I got there, it was around 9 a.m. It was quite a cold trek to Berghain from the train station, and after walking almost a mile, I stumbled upon a rectangular, greyish building. Makes sense, considering the club was a power plant in its past life. There were probably only about 5 people in line, to my surprise and relief. I watched a loud group of 4 wearing cheetah print and a slew of colors strut past me. I rolled my eyes. However, they apparently were on the guest list, so they skipped the line and got right in.
I queued up, listening to the music coming from inside. A particular line from a past Berghain-goer?s advice stuck in my head: ?they decide for you even before you get to the door.? I was so close. I saw the bouncer wave in a group of two young-looking boys in Adidas drawstring bags in few people in front of me after asking how many were in their group. ?Zwei,? they said. I raised my eyebrows. He then proceeded to turn away a very cool looking single girl and a group of two 20-something-year-old men in front of me.
My heart started skipping beats. Out of either overconfidence or my being scared sh*tless, I rolled up to the bouncer and said ?Eins,? meaning ?one?. He told me to wait, then after 30 seconds or so, he looked me in the eye, and, almost sincerely, said ?Sorry,? and proceeded to wave me to the side.
It hurt. I had given up sleeping in on a Sunday morning to travel an hour to this place, only to be turned away without any reasoning. I was pissed. Why couldn?t they see that I would belong there? My wardrobe is all black, I love electronic music, and I?m even an electronic DJ myself. I read more stories about famous musicians not being let in to ameliorate the pang of disappointment I felt.
Of course, nobody likes rejection. To me though, this felt personal. Even though I had not heard of anyone getting in, even my local friends, I had held out a hope that somehow I would, with no concrete justification aside from a feeling, maybe of self-righteousness or of clairvoyance, I couldn?t be certain. I took this up as a new challenge for myself. I give up on a lot of things, but this, somehow, I couldn?t let go of.
However disappointed I was, I didn?t near defeat. I was determined to try again. My time would come; I knew it.
After giving it more thought, reading more club reviews, and learning more German, I decided I knew what I did wrong.
- Apparently, Sundays are more for locals, so it?s harder for foreigners or tourists to get in then.
- I took a few missteps trying to find the right queue/the front entrance, and since the line was so short, the bouncers were 100% judging my lack of navigational knowledge early on.
- Why did I say ?Eins?!? No one says that. ?Nur ich? (only me) is the right way to say that you?re here alone.
- And why did I say that without the bouncer even asking me anything? I was too nervous, and came off as way too eager (and potentially bad at German, too)
- I looked to clean cut, and I was being someone I wasn?t. I wore an expensive black coat (a gift from my mother) that I would never have gotten on my own. Waist up, I looked like I could?ve been going to a business dinner. Not good. This is not the place to look clean and fancy.
Fast forward two weeks, I was tired as hell, but for some reason again got a strong urge to try my luck at Berghain. No amount of sleep deprivation or exhaustion was going to stop me.
I felt more comfortable this time, knowing what to expect. At around 11 p.m. on Friday, I suited up into one of my favorite outfits: black Kappa crop top, Adidas track pants, black beanie, black fanny pack, and my black Timberland boots. I added a sterling silver chain around my neck as a special touch. This time around, I left my fancy jacket at home in favor of a simpler one. Berghain was worth freezing for. A splash of black eyeliner and a rushed black manicure later, I was out the door.
Again, I made my trek, still alone, but this time not as lonely since it wasn?t excruciatingly early on a Sunday. The queue was a lot longer than last time, probably over 100 people, but it was better than the 4-something hour long lines I?ve heard horror stories about. I swaggered to the back of the line, making sure the bouncers saw me walking with attitude.
In line, I met a English-speaking girl with colored hair and lipstick with whom I bonded after a group of four frilly, loud girls cut the line in front of us. They were taking Snapchats and talking up a storm, doing everything every Berghain tip said not to do. My line-mates and I were certain they wouldn?t get in. I stopped being annoyed at the line-cutters for a minute to glance up into the tall, narrow windows above and saw flashing red lights and what appeared to be a fantastic party. The promised land. I felt nothing but anticipation and nerves.
The temperature felt like it dropped to sub-30 degrees Fahrenheit. My thin down jacket wasn?t doing me any favors, and I struggled to stop my body from shivering. Much to my chagrin, my body continued convulsing and I knew I couldn?t do much about it except try to ignore it.
Around 45 minutes later (almost 1 a.m.), I reached the front of the line. The group of girls got in, somehow. Then it was my turn to face my fate. This time around, my heart wasn?t beating out of my chest. I was just shivering uncontrollably and hoping that they wouldn?t think I was having a seizure. With a stoic look on my face (my actual resting face), I stood still and silent, barely making eye contact, waiting to be judged.
Time froze, though probably only 7 seconds passed. The bouncer ushered me in with his right hand without gibing me a second glance. Finally. Acceptance. I felt the overwhelming sense of relief, approval, and euphoria wash over me. I hadn?t felt this way since I?d been accepted into my dream college.
I was part euphoric and part relieved that I wouldn?t have to brave the cold for longer. And also so my hours of traveling and waiting weren?t for nothing. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my veins I couldn?t focus on the lady checking ID and she had to ask me a few times, in German, to see mine.
I had my ID checked, my body patted down, and three stickers placed over my phone cameras.
?No Fotos, ja?? the security lady said sternly.
?Ja,? I replied. I knew the rules.
Then I paid the 18? cover to get in. A stamp on my right hand, and I was ready to roll.
I walked up the stairs into the main room, and was greeted by very loud trance-like music flowing from every entrance and exit that was the labyrinth of the dark Berghain corridors.
What I read a lot online and heard from local club-goers was the Berghain?s sound system was the best of the best, but I honestly just think it was super loud, nothing too crazy. Good thing I had earplugs.
The inside was pretty much exactly as you?d imagine an old, concrete ex-power plant would look like. Lots of grey, with tall windows decorating the far wall. The ceilings were super high, and the whole place felt very hollow. The acoustics were good. I made my way upstairs to check out Panorama Bar.
Upstairs, the ceiling was decorated with white rectangular fixtures amongst pulsating colored lights, flashing red and blue. There was a different DJ here playing experimental techno. It was captivating. For me, music is my life force, and the music here kept me going longer than a 5-hour energy could have. This upstairs DJ was incredible. And the sound was actually impeccable quality. I felt liberated, and I wish that I could?ve danced until sunrise.
Now, at this point, I?d decided that Berghain as a club was a bit overrated. Yeah, the venue is quite cool, but nothing that different that deserved all of the hype. However, what really set it apart and made it worth the wait was the music. The DJs at Berghain are talented.
Yes, the strict door policy is so that supposedly only the people who vibe with the place get in, in attempt to eliminate the chance that anyone would feel awkward or judged inside. And sure, everyone was dancing freely and dressed however they wanted. But this seems to be the case at most other techno clubs here that also tape up your phone cameras (they take this very seriously, so people can be their true selves inside without reservation). The debauchery that has been said to happen inside was quite tame this night, and can probably be found more consistently at a place like Kit Kat. Maybe I only said this because I didn?t get a chance to venture into the basement.
I did, however, appreciate its unspoken culture of diversity, respect, and acceptance. Inside, I found people of all races, sexual orientations, ages, and backgrounds, each with their own style. I met a man wearing who looked to be about 70 years old inside, ordering a coffee at the bar, who had the most wonderful spirit and smile. The DJ that came on at around 3 a.m. was also definitely over 65. That was really cool to see?there?s no reason to stop doing what you love. The people I talked to were also all very kind. No one was acting pretentious or being sexually forward, as I?ve experienced at clubs elsewhere in the world. Everyone was just minding their own business and enjoying the music.
All in all, I had a positive experience. The staff was a bit stern, the queueing experience was a bit much, even for Berlin, and I found myself missing the clubs in L.A. or Mykonos, where getting in isn?t such a hassle. However, I?m glad I was fortunate enough to experience it, and I recommend that if it sounds like it?s for you, that you definitely pay it a visit and experience it for yourself .
As you probably know, Berghain is not a standard club. It?s so far removed from posh, elegant venues where you can get tables and bottle service. It?s a place to be yourself, dress humbly and cool, and respect what Berghain is all about.
No one really knows what it takes to get in, and it very well might be completely random. I?ve heard tips like ?look less gay? or ?look more gay? that don?t make much sense, but here?s some tips that I?ve pieced together from observation that may be different from what?s online. At the end of the day, it?s up to the bouncer, but what?s important is to give off the impression that you understand and respect the club?s roots and what it stands for.
- Going in pairs or alone is best, but in the end it doesn?t really matter that much what your group size is as long as it?s not over 4.
- You don?t necessarily have to wear all black. I saw a couple wearing literally all white inside, looking fabulous. Express your unique style, and don?t look like you?re only dressed a certain way because TripAdvisor told you to.
- Talking in line is not forbidden. Most people were talking in line up until the very, very front. Just don?t be obnoxiously loud; use your common sense.
- I?ve heard things about how the bouncers won?t let you in if they let the people in front of you in. Not a thing. I saw them reject maybe 4 groups in a row but also let up to 6?8 people in in a row. Don?t stress too much about that.
- I noticed the staff and bouncers here really like Carhartt and Adidas. Throw on some 90s clubwear or some military style camo pants and boots. (not sponsored by Adidas)
- Don?t speak to the bouncer first. If he does ask you something, answer with a nod/shake of the head or a ?ja? or ?nein?. Look very serious and not eager.
- Learn as much German as you can and work on your pronunciations and colloquialisms.
- Take a deep breath, and just be yourself. If you don?t get in the first time around, try again. Statistically speaking, you?re bound to get in after a few tries.