Your Night Out in Berlin

In Berlin, 4. Genius Loci, The Art of Travel by Gillian1 Comment

You’re walking along an empty street in Berlin with a few of your friends around 1 or 2 in the morning. You might see a döner kebab place, maybe an u-bahn station. It’s chilly, slightly wet from the rain earlier. You see a crowd of people dressed comfortably in all black hanging around in front of some sort of gate a little further down the road, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, casually chatting in German. That’s when you begin to hear it. Actually, that’s when you begin to feel it in your ears and in your chest.

((Uns uns uns uns))

It’s the beat thumping from the techno music blasting at the club.

I don’t consider myself a club rat, but clubbing in Berlin has no comparison. That is not to say that it is exceedingly better or worse, simply that it is truly unlike anywhere else. To me, Berlin nightlife fully encapsulates the spirit of Berlin.

You must wear black, without exception. I learned this lesson the hard way when I wore a dark blue and white striped shirt on my first night out. I got many stares. This social pressure also focused on my skirt. Berlinerins (female Berliners, for lack of a more gender-neutral term in a gendered language) wear only pants to the club. Not dresses, not skirts. Pants. Black pants. Anything else almost looks strange. I can’t even begin explain this phenomenon. In a way, I appreciate it; those who identify as women are put under absolutely no pressure to wear any body-conforming or “revealing” clothing. On the other hand, if you did want to wear something along those lines, as many people do, you would undoubtedly stick out like a sore thumb. The pressure, then, works somehow the opposite way: you must look casual. You must appear not to really care what you put on, but you must still look good. In other words, you must adhere to Berlin fashion.

If you want to get into a club, it’s best to speak German, or at least go with someone who speaks German. The bouncers will not ask, “How many are you?” or “where are you from?” but rather, “wie viele seid ihr?” or “woher kommt ihr?” Especially if you’re going to break the all-black rule, you ought to know how to respond.

Once you’ve entered what’s sure to be a poorly lit repurposed abandoned building with smoke machines firing from all directions, a guard stops you to put stickers on your phone cameras. If you’re caught taking photos or recording a video, you’ll be thrown out. In our technological world where social media rules, this idea is baffling. Yet, it’s the norm in Berlin clubs. What does it matter that other people know you’re there if you’re not really present? Prohibiting visual documentation of a night out is equal parts sensical and disarming, and overall very Berlin.

If you order a drink and they give you a bottle, you can (and should) return the bottle to the bartender to get money back. Berliners are all about recycling, even in the club.

Berlin has a thriving music scene, characterized by a particular fascination with techno music. You will hear only techno at the club. There will be no top 40, no classic bangers, just techno. Berliners are the masters of creating art from nothing; it innovated architecturally when the city was completely decimated after the second world war, and graffiti and street art became a popular means of expression while the iron curtain was up. Now, clubs host and hire DJs to create layers of beats and riff on them. Perhaps Berliners love techno because creation excites them, it resonates with them. You also can’t sing along to techno, you have to feel it. You either feel it, or you don’t. You have to lose yourself in it, allow it to take over your body and flood your mind. You can try to fake it, but the fact of the matter is that in Berlin clubs, everyone is very much about themselves–there’s not a ton of socializing. If you aren’t into the music, no one knows or cares but you. You’re forced to face yourself, which sentiment also very much reflects Berlin.

The nightlife in Berlin is not for everyone, but neither is Berlin.

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(Image: The Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz; Source: Gillian)


  1. I thought your post was very enjoyable to read. I just went to Berlin earlier this year connected with many aspects of your post like the dressing in black. I think it is funny that while night life is very much Berlin it is only a certain type of night life (Techno). While my visit was short I found it funny that you never know if you are in a sketchy area because it all seems sorta sketchy with graffiti everywhere and clubs being at the end of an alleyway or in an obscure basement. What I find sketchy in NYC is just part of the spirt there.

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