Music & Nightlife

Discover the best Berlin clubs, cabaret and places to see live music

Nightlife

The 10 best Berlin club nights

Gothic raves and pop-up hip hop: the coolest club nights in the city (and the world?)

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Berlin's best clubs

Clubs

Watergate

This slick club was one of the driving forces behind the rise of minimal techno in mid-2000s Berlin, as well as the first to feature a ceiling-mounted responsive LED lighting system, now copied all around the world. The downstairs Water Floor is particularly impressive with its panorama windows looking directly out onto the Spree, as well as a floating deck terrace for watching the sunrise over Kreuzberg. Occasionally it can feel a little overrun with tourists on the weekends, and its increasingly populist bookings don’t help, but pick the right night and you’ll still feel its original magic. Wednesday nights are for the professional ravers, just downstairs open, and there’s few places where you can party well into a weekday morning with such a fine central view of the city. The music is usually some form of tech-house, Watergate doing a lot to support smaller local labels like Keinemusik and Souvenir, and they often have legends like Kerri Chandler playing too.

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Clubs

SO36

Named after its postcode (and neighbourhood shorthand) this legendary punk club dates back to Kreuzberg’s now-distant past as centre to West Berlin’s anarchist squat scene. The wild-child artist Martin Kippenberger took over management in 1979, attracting experimental musicians such as Throbbing Gristle and Suicide. Still going strong, and with no sign of betraying its highly-politicized origins, SO36 is suitably scummy inside, with decades of sweat, beer and blood ingrained into the woodwork. While plenty of touring punk and hardcore bands grace their black stage, they embrace all forms of alternative lifestyle, hosting the long-running gay and lesbian Turkish night, Gayhane, which plays its own distinctive blend of middle-eastern dance pop and electronic classics.Oranienstrasse 190, Kreuzberg (tickets 6110 1313, 6140 1306, www.so36.de).

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Clubs

Salon Zur Wilden Renate

As the controversial Media Spree development rapidly spreads down the riversides, gobbling up many of the city’s club spaces, the nightlife action is being pushed ever eastwards. One loosely knit party collective started throwing semi-legal irregular parties in a multi-storied old apartment block. Referred to more commonly as Renate, the club has now carved out a mini-empire down the bottom of Stralauer Allee: there’s an outdoor garden area (with paddling pool), a labyrinth installation, café and most recently, a large open-air venue just across the other side of the Spree. Although international visitors increasingly outnumber locals, the original club still offers a slice of that semi-underground experience with a music policy that leans towards the more hedonistic side of disco house. Depending on the night, one or all of the floors might be open, each decorated in a typically haphazard fashion with rickety bunk seating and ladders running around it. There’s even a secret mini-club in the attic area. Expect long queues between 1am and 3am but once inside, you can run wild, like kids in an adventure playground, exploring the multitude of rooms, corridors and hidden corners.

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Clubs

Golden Gate

Housed in a ramshackle former bike shop beneath the S-Bahn railway arches, Golden Gate’s popularity is enjoying something of an upswing these days. Once home to a rather hit-and-miss music policy, with the occasional live show, this grimy little club has now settled firmly into a series of all-weekend techno parties. Its location – smack dab in the middle of a motorway – means it has no issue with noise. The Thursday night parties are particularly raucous, with the club carrying on until pretty much Monday afternoon. The dancefloor manages to ram a deceptive number of people in a Tardis-like feat; the crowd a mixture of hedonistic locals and an overspill of those who’ve fallen victim to the tough Berghain door policy. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed and positive, staying true to the Berlin party ethos of egalitarian fun with no fashion police or posing allowed. People mingle in the outdoor ‘garden’ space, really a small grimy patch with battered sofas – in winter covered by marquee – that is comically visible to passers-by on the street.

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Clubs

Tresor

Housed in what was formerly the main central-heating power station for East Berlin, the colossal location is breathtaking, and since only a tiny portion of its 28,000sq m (300,000sq ft) is in use, there's plenty of room for future development in what is intended to be not just a club, but a huge centre of alternative art and culture. The basement floor is an experience you'll not forget; a black hole occasionally punctuated by flashing strobes with some of the loudest, hardest techno you are likely to hear.

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Where to see live music in Berlin

Theatre

HAU

An excellent example of the way Germany deals with bridging the gap between state-subsidized high culture and its underground performance scene. Hebbel am Ufer is actually a fusion of three different theatres in Kreuzberg, providing a space for younger, more experimental work ranging from drama, music, dance, talks and a strong cultural outreach programme. It provides facilities of international standards to travelling artists who in other cities might otherwise have to make do in low budget surroundings, and is testament to Germany’s extremely generous dedication to arts funding at all levels. Popular global projects like the Complaints Choir, which brings together a city’s local residents to vocalize their irks, find their home here, as well as concerts by indie tastemakers like Destroyer and Zola Jesus. Other locations: HAU1, Stresemannstrasse 29; HAU3, Tempelhofer Ufer 10.

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Clubs

Clärchens Ballhaus

For a taste of Berlin nightlife of a different era, head to this wonderfully original dance hall located in the middle of Mitte’s smart gallery district. In operation since 1913, it has had its fair share of ups and downs, but one thing has stayed constant on its floor – the familiar tappety-tap of a ballroom quick step or foxtrot. The Ballhaus actually has two ballrooms: the vast ground-floor space is lined with silver tinsel streamers and a spacious dance floor is ringed by wooden tables bedecked with white tablecloths and candles, a huge disco ball spinning overhead. Upstairs is another room that never fails to elicit gasps of awe from first-time visitors. Smaller but with high ceilings and a fin-de-siècle vibe, the chandeliered Mirror Salon has huge cracked mirrors, ornate moulding work and candlelight, transporting guests straight back to the 1920s. There’s a full roster of events throughout the week with lessons available, tango on Tuesdays or waltz on a Wednesday, while weekend evenings descend into more of a free-for-all with a live dance band performing to the mixed crowd.

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Museums

Lido

A true Kreuzberg institution, this indie concert venue was a cinema in the 1950s and retains its curved bar and neon signage. Iggy Pop and David Bowie went on to produce some of their best work after shacking up together here in the late '70s and since then the rock and indie scene has been somewhat in the shadow of the never-ending techno party. Karrera Klub, usually on Saturdays at Lido, has championed guitar-driven music in the city for over a decade now, always featuring a live gig and then going all night with DJs playing indie dance classics. Otherwise, there is a regular programme of live music with all types of acts, from the avant-garde like Laibach and Lydia Lunch to more contemporary bands like Kurt Vile and These New Puritans.

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Music

Deutsche Oper

Posters on the U-bahn proclaim Berlin Opernhauptstadt (opera capital) – and with reason. Not only does Germany have one-seventh of the world’s opera houses, but Berlin itself can count on three state-subsidised opera houses – a record not even matched by Italy. This cultural richness is not only a legacy of the city’s long artistic heritage but also of its Cold War division. East and West Berlin were both awash with state subsidies in a bid to demonstrate the cultural supremacy of communist and capitalist philosophy. After reunification there was twice the amount of everything, and, as a result, Berlin now boasts enough classical music for two (or maybe three) cities. The austere concrete Deutsche Oper building contains a stark modernist interior built in 1961 by Fritz Bornemann. Under the current directorship of Scotsman Donald Runnicles, the repertory combines visually striking adaptations of classics like Don Giovanni and Rigoletto with modern works by Benjamin Britten. Cheaper tickets usually sell out in advance but it’s worth arriving an hour early to try for returns.

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Music

Urban Spree

This new arts centre is doing much to revive the somewhat moribund area by Revaler Strasse in Friederichschain known as the ‘clubbing mile’. The re-purposed industrial buildings are something of an adult playground, with clubs, concert venues, bars and even an outdoor climbing wall on offer, but has seen its popularity wane in recent years. Urban Spree, the new project from the French crew behind the much-missed HBC, houses an art gallery, concert hall, studio spaces and Bunsmobile food truck, with an emphasis on the experimental and DIY. There are frequent performances and concerts, ranging from freeform jazz, to acid-folk and improvised instrumental noise. Look out for gigs by far-out noiseniks Psychic Ills and ex-Can frontman Damo Suzuki, as well as the occasional curveball like hip-hop mega-producer Swizz Beatz.

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Berlin's best cabaret and alternative nightlife

Restaurants

Neues Ufer

Established in the early 1970s, this is one of the city’s oldest gay cafés and is located off the beaten Schoneberg track. The former name Anderes Ufer (‘The Other Side’) was changed to Neues Ufer (‘The New Side’), symbolising a new beginning. A favourite hangout of David Bowie’s, during his late-1970s Berlin exile (he lived a few doors down on Hauptstrasse). Relaxed daytime scene.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Theatre

Admiralspalast

One of the only original Weimar revue theatres left in Berlin, Admiralspalast was home to the GDR Berlin State Opera during the post-war years. It was also popular with the Nazi government during WWII, it attempted to set the record straight in 2009 by becoming the first venue in Germany to stage Mel Brook’s Nazi-lampooning 'The Producers'. After being threatened with demolition in the late 1990s, it was restored and reopened in 2006 and when it isn’t hosting theatre or cabaret, the Admiralspalst has sell-out gigs by the likes of PJ Harvey and James Blake. You’ll find it right next to Friedrichstrasse station, the classy-but-cool venue of choice for big names who want to keep an atmospheric vibe and good acoustic.

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Nightlife

Chamäleon

This beautiful old cabaret theatre with a whiff of decadence about it is located in the famous courtyards of the Hackesche Höfe. The focus is on stunning acrobats combined with music theatre. It attracts a diverse audience and is Berlin's most comfortable and affordable revue house.

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Berlin's best LGBT clubs

Clubs

Berghain/Panorama Bar

The hippest and hardest electronic music club in Berlin, if not Europe. The building is a Communist- era power station transformed into a concrete cathedral of techno on two floors, with the mixed Panorama Bar upstairs and Berghain below. Saturday nights see Berghain awash with pumped-up, shirtless gay men sweating it out on the dance-floor (or in the darkroom at the back) well into Sunday afternoon. In summer, the party pours over into the garden chill-out area, bar and dance floor. Arrive after 6am to avoid the massive queues. Once on Am Wriezener Bahnhof, just follow the stream of taxis to reach the door. Cameras are prohibited and taken at the door and returned later. But you won’t need photos to remember it.

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LGBT

Südblock

A former beer-slinger from Möbel-Olfe opened this bar for Kreuzberg’s increasingly large gay population in 2010. Located under the round- about housing development at Kottbusser Tor, the mixed (but girl-heavy) crowd enjoy nightly drinks and dancing, as well as many one-off rock parties. The Kottywood party is a popular go-to for gays and lesbians looking to cap a Friday night grinding to Latin, retro and pop music. Südblock also serves food, ranging from breakfast to midnight snacks.

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Nightlife

Schwuz

Thirty years old, this bar/cafe/club recently moved from its Kreuzberg home to a new location at Rollbergstrasse 26 in Neukolln, with a 25-hour opening night party that saw 56 DJs across three dancefloors, pumping out the signature Schwuz mix of indie, pop, retro-kitsch and electro). But Schwuz is not just about hands-in-the-air, this is where you come for art installations, LGBT-friendly talks and presentations, live music, food and coffee, gossip and a warm welcome every time. Look out for the regular ‘London Calling’ Britpop indie nights as well as the ‘Madonnamania’ (self-explanatory) parties.

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Bars and pubs

Monster Ronson's Ichiban Karaoke

In 1999, Monster Ronson – aka Ron Rineck – moved to Berlin from Salt Lake City with $7,000 in his pocket. As his savings dwindled, he began sleeping in his car, bought a second-hand karaoke machine, and soon was driving to squat houses all over Europe, throwing karaoke parties and getting paid to do it. Eventually, he saved up enough to open his very own karaoke bar and today Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke is packed out most nights of the week. Aspiring divas can belt out songs in one of several different karaoke booths, some small and intimate, others complete with their own stage area where transsexual hosts often compete on weekends.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Classical music venues

Music

Konzerthaus

Formerly the Schauspielhaus am Gendarmenmarkt, this 1821 architectural gem by Schinkel was all but destroyed in the war. Lovingly restored, it was reopened in 1984 with three main spaces for concerts. Organ recitals in the large concert hall are a treat, played on the massive Jehmlich organ at the back of the stage. The Konzerthausorchester is based here, presenting a healthy mixture of the classic, the new and the rediscovered, and the Rundfunk- Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Staatskapelle Berlin also feature.

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Theatre

HAU

An excellent example of the way Germany deals with bridging the gap between state-subsidized high culture and its underground performance scene. Hebbel am Ufer is actually a fusion of three different theatres in Kreuzberg, providing a space for younger, more experimental work ranging from drama, music, dance, talks and a strong cultural outreach programme. It provides facilities of international standards to travelling artists who in other cities might otherwise have to make do in low budget surroundings, and is testament to Germany’s extremely generous dedication to arts funding at all levels. Popular global projects like the Complaints Choir, which brings together a city’s local residents to vocalize their irks, find their home here, as well as concerts by indie tastemakers like Destroyer and Zola Jesus. Other locations: HAU1, Stresemannstrasse 29; HAU3, Tempelhofer Ufer 10.

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Music

Philharmonie

Berlin’s most famous concert hall, home to the world-renowned orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, is also its most architecturally daring; a marvellous, puckish piece of organic modernism with superb acoustics. The hall, with its golden vaulting roof, was designed by Hans Scharoun and opened in 1963. Over its 120-year history, the Berliner Philharmoniker has been conducted by such figures as Peter Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler – all elected democratically by the orchestra members. Its greatest fame came under the baton of Herbert von Karajan, who led the orchestra between 1955 and 1989, and was succeeded by Claudio Abbado. Since 2002, it has been under the leadership of Sir Simon Rattle. The Berlin Phil gives about 100 performances in the city during its August to June season, and puts on another 20 to 30 concerts around the world. Some tickets are available at a discount immediately before performances.

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Theatre

Admiralspalast

One of the only original Weimar revue theatres left in Berlin, Admiralspalast was home to the GDR Berlin State Opera during the post-war years. It was also popular with the Nazi government during WWII, it attempted to set the record straight in 2009 by becoming the first venue in Germany to stage Mel Brook’s Nazi-lampooning 'The Producers'. After being threatened with demolition in the late 1990s, it was restored and reopened in 2006 and when it isn’t hosting theatre or cabaret, the Admiralspalst has sell-out gigs by the likes of PJ Harvey and James Blake. You’ll find it right next to Friedrichstrasse station, the classy-but-cool venue of choice for big names who want to keep an atmospheric vibe and good acoustic.

Read more
Music

Deutsche Oper

Posters on the U-bahn proclaim Berlin Opernhauptstadt (opera capital) – and with reason. Not only does Germany have one-seventh of the world’s opera houses, but Berlin itself can count on three state-subsidised opera houses – a record not even matched by Italy. This cultural richness is not only a legacy of the city’s long artistic heritage but also of its Cold War division. East and West Berlin were both awash with state subsidies in a bid to demonstrate the cultural supremacy of communist and capitalist philosophy. After reunification there was twice the amount of everything, and, as a result, Berlin now boasts enough classical music for two (or maybe three) cities. The austere concrete Deutsche Oper building contains a stark modernist interior built in 1961 by Fritz Bornemann. Under the current directorship of Scotsman Donald Runnicles, the repertory combines visually striking adaptations of classics like Don Giovanni and Rigoletto with modern works by Benjamin Britten. Cheaper tickets usually sell out in advance but it’s worth arriving an hour early to try for returns.

Read more
SEE MORE CLASSICAL MUSIC VENUES in Berlin