With the fall of the Berlin Wall came huge cultural upheaval, with underground clubs springing up across a city once divided. And while the calling cards of Berlin nightlife remain the same – namely techno and Berghain – a new generation of clubs offers a more global perspective. Recent years have seen the rise of hip hop and R&B club nights, as well as a peppering of cosier spaces that offer a throwback to squat raves and bar parties.
Come as you are: Berlin clubs have a reputation for tight door policies, but relaxed dress codes. And in keeping with the city’s hedonistic ethos, straight and queer nights are often indistinguishable. Just be ready for a long one – it’s easy to stay out until noon when parties run from Friday night to Monday morning.
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Best clubs in Berlin
Easily the city’s most famous club – and some would say the world’s best – Berghain is not just for world-class techno: it’s a way of life for many of the tireless regulars who call it a ‘church’. Housed within an imposing former power station, it emerged in 2004 from the ashes of its legendary gay predecessor, Ostgut, which had fallen victim to the city’s massive infrastructure projects. Even ‘non-club’ people will be intoxicated by the open atmosphere, liberal attitudes, eccentric characters, the carefully preserved industrial fabric of the building and, of course, the gargantuan sound system.
It’s open, complete with dark rooms, from Friday midnight until well into Monday morning. The club’s reputation for a difficult and random door policy is not entirely undeserved: doorman Sven (recognisable by his facial tattoos) looms large all night with a seemingly haphazard attitude to who gets in. At peak times on a Saturday, only a third of the people in the queue will get past him – you’ll know you’re in if he nods; if he points to his left, hard luck. Don’t argue the toss, even if you’re feeling brave. We recommend that you be calm, sober and respectful in the queue; it goes without saying that drunken stag dos aren’t welcome.
Once inside, a zero-tolerance camera ban is enforced – expect to be immediately ejected if you flout the rules. Other than that, you can go wild, safe in the knowledge that nothing you get up to will ever return to haunt you on social media. Panorama Bar, up a flight of stairs from Berghain, is a smaller dancefloor that plays old-school house and features outsize artworks by Wolfgang Tillmans. Go there when the shutters open just after sunrise for one of the most climactic moments of the weekend.
One of Berlin’s longest-running dance institutions, SchwuZ moved into the old Kindl brewery in 2013. A variety of mainstream and more underground events take place throughout the week, attracting a mixed and ready-to-mingle crowd who take full advantage of the warehouse.
Come for the clubbing, and stay for the art: Anomalie Art Club is home to some of the most spectacular visual design on Berlin’s club scene. Over the past two years, this place has played host to techno DJs from around the world, alongside artists working in sound, light and installation. Anomalie also hosts film screenings, art exhibitions and open-air raves.
This legendary sex and techno club for all is a labyrinthine complex of half a dozen dancefloors, a dubious swimming pool and a grimy mock-operating room. Saturday nights feature the club’s flagship CarneBall Bizarre, with an after-hours event that runs through Sunday. For pure polysexual hedonism, look out for cult party Gegen every two months. Most nights have a fetish dress code – except Electric Mondays – so if you arrive wearing jeans you’ll have to leave them in the cloakroom and dance in your knickers.
Chalet was opened by some of the late, great Bar 25 crew – and these guys know a thing or two about getting their groove on. Located in a grand, 150-year-old townhouse, it has multiple levels and rooms to explore, as well as a large, luscious garden in which to shoot the breeze when the beats get too much. An altogether stylish and sultry club with a party pretty much every night; more local on weekdays, more touristy at weekends.
One of the first and best, this summer-only canal-side club is nestled under an enormous weeping willow. There’s a small indoor dance floor and a rickety open-air wood-deck terrace with a large jetty stretching out across the water. You can drop in during the week for a beer, but the place comes to life at the weekend, filling up with an after-hours crowd, happy to chill, drink and dance the day away. Winter parties are now held in the nearby Hoppetosse boat at Arena Berlin.
Yet another victim of Berlin’s Mediaspree development, YAAM was forcibly evicted from its previous home – but you can’t keep a good reggae club down. It quickly found another riverside spot, so it’s business as usual for this legendary beach bar and cultural centre. By day, there might be kids playing a laid-back game of volleyball, with a jerk chicken stall on the side. Then, as the light fades, things keep up a leisurely pace with concerts and parties bouncing to an Afro-Caribbean beat.
Particularly famed for its open-air parties, this club near Ostkreuz station is a favourite with the city’s more adventurous hedonists – not least for its monthly blowout Buttons (formerly Homopatik).
Bordered by KitKat Club, Tresor and Kraftwerk, OHM holds a highly sought-after spot on the frontier between Kreuzberg and Mitte. It’s a relatively new club, but one that carved out its niche in record time: the pint-sized venue is home to experimental electronic music, trendy nights like TRADE, and a noticeably younger crowd than other spots in the area.
You don’t make the trek out to Sisyphos just for a snoop and a couple of beers. It’s an ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ sort of place, where the party begins on Friday and trundles on non-stop until Monday. Vast indoor and outdoor spaces at this former dog biscuit factory help create a festival-like atmosphere that’s pitch-perfect for sunny weekends. Music ranges from pumping techno inside to more house-y tunes out by the ‘lake’ – more of a scummy pond, really. Crowd-wise, expect it all: fresh-faced student revellers and wizened ravers of a dreadlocked persuasion are among the regulars.
Decadent and trashy in equal measures, this ruin-esque former brothel attracts both glitter punks and health goths, who sway to experimental electronic music, down cheap beers and soak up the laid-back vibes.
This is the X-rated part of the expansive, family-friendly Holzmarkt development. With a moored boat, a roaring fire at night and many hammock-like features, the potential for alfresco relaxing is high. Meanwhile, a fine roster of electronic DJs spin away unendingly – sometimes for four days straight. The vibe is more crusty than chic, and increasingly so as the weekend unravels. If you have the stamina (and courage) to last well into Monday afternoon, expect to encounter some of Berlin’s strangest creatures.
This knackered old house was perennially at risk of being torn down and turned into – of course – trendy apartments. Once-sporadic parties follow a regular weekend rhythm these days, usually running till the last man stands. Students and wasted ravers press up against expats from Mitte in the reliably crowded rooms, which are still set up like the flats they once were – complete with the odd bed. On languid summer afternoons, the club hops across the river to an intimate open-air wonderland called Else.
Abandoned silos, treehouses, bonfires and beaten-up old cars litter this almost derelict club. Needless to say, it’s the ideal ramshackle setting for weekend-long, open-air Berlin-style partying, with DJs playing the usual techno. The toilets are perhaps the grimmest in Berlin, which is really saying something.
Berlin’s original techno club is housed in what was formerly the main central-heating power station for East Berlin. The colossal location is breathtaking, but only a tiny portion of the vast space is in use; plans to create a huge centre of alternative art and culture have so far resulted in the OHM performance space next door and large-scale experimental music festivals, such as Berlin Atonal. You won’t forget your experience in the basement, a black hole occasionally punctuated by flashing strobes with some of the loudest, harshest techno it’s humanly possible to hear.
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 bang 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 atmosphere is extremely relaxed and positive, staying true to the Berlin party ethos of egalitarian fun with no fashion police or posing allowed.
With a name meaning ‘yesterday was sweet’, the 1970s-style décor comes as no surprise. What is a surprise is the free entrance and cheap beers. There are three areas for dancing, drinking and hanging out, with each room playing a different genre of music, from conventional techno to novelty hip hop.
While electronic music stole the show in the German capital for years, St Georg has made its name with a hip-swinging blend of R&B, hip hop and pop. The space is surprisingly large, but retains the energy of a house party. Finding the entrance can be a trip in its own right – the club is literally underground.
Walking down the concrete underpass to the entrance, it feels more like the approach to a car park than a trendy club. The Prince Charles is situated in a former swimming pool, and the tiled walls and soft lighting create an intimate atmosphere. Artfully dishevelled young things bop along to the house-heavy soundtrack, pausing for a breather outside on the extremely lounge-worthy wooden decking.
This enormous old factory has become a party hotspot thanks to its imaginative décor and reliable booking policy; events include the hedonistic GMF party series and other techno-centric offerings. Ritter Butzke held illegal parties for years but has now gone legit and even allows its parties to be promoted in listings mags from time to time. It’s the antithesis of Berghain, with crowds of locals and amiable bouncers who are occasionally dressed as knights (Ritter means ‘knight’). Brace yourself for a massive queue if you arrive between 1am and 3:30am.
This slick two-floor club was a driving force behind the rise of minimal techno in mid-2000s Berlin, as well as the first to invest in 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 on to the Spree, and a floating deck terrace for watching the sunrise over Kreuzberg. It can feel too touristy at weekends – increasingly populist bookings don’t help – but pick the right night, and you’ll still feel the original magic.
For a taste of Berlin nightlife from 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’s had its fair share of ups and downs, but one thing has stayed constant – 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 band performing to the mixed crowd.
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