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Berlin’s techno clubs could soon be awarded Unesco World Heritage status

A group of DJs known as Rave the Planet is fighting to protect the city’s venues from gentrification

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Next time you’re in one of Berlin's magnificent techno clubs, earth-rumbling beats pounding your bones, thick smoke and beaming strobes filling the room, there’s a chance you might be enjoying something that is technically as high-brow as any opera. Something that could soon be of Unesco World Heritage levels of cultural importance. Hell yeah.

That, anyway, is the grand plan of Rave the Planet, a crew of Berlin-based DJs, artists and industry officials who want Unesco to grant heritage status to the German capital’s techno scene.

So, how might the thumping, four-to-the-floor industrial might of Berlin techno qualify for revered Unesco status? Well, not all world heritage sites are physical places. Many come under the banner of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, which can be anything from food and events to certain styles of dancing and singing. The likes of Jamaican reggae, Argentinian tango and Finnish sauna culture are all already recognised by Unesco as things of cultural importance that are worthy of preservation.

By those measures, you’d think that Berlin’s techno scene would certainly qualify for official protection. Techno was born in Detroit in the 1980s, and it came to Berlin after German reunification in 1990, finding a home in the city’s old industrial power plants and factories. It was the soundtrack to the creative explosion that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Over the past three decades, Berlin has become a techno haven, with clubs like Berghain and Tresor now properly synonymous with a wild and debauched night out. But in recent years, the city’s venues have found themselves increasingly under threat from gentrification. Unesco status would grant greater protection to clubs from property developers, and could open up more government subsidies and funding.

It’s worth noting that Unesco recognition hasn’t always halted gentrification in its tracks. Earlier this year, Liverpool had its Unesco status revoked for allowing years of development to blight its Victorian docks.

But what’s happened in Liverpool is by no means a prediction for the future of Berlin techno. Though it hasn’t funded or protected techno clubs as much as it could, Germany already taken steps to protect the scene. In 2020 the German high court ruled that techno is a genre of music (thus qualifying techno clubs for lockdown funding), and in 2016 Berghain won a court case to have itself designated as a ‘high art’ venue.

Rave the Planet’s application is only in the initial stages, so it could be between two and ten years before it’s successful. But if it is, there’s a chance that Berlin techno could be cemented as a truly vital part of cultural history – which is a very cool prospect indeed.

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