How To Not Get Into Berghain
“What is the title of the second track in the DJ’s third EP?”
I stood there, stunned. I didn’t know who was playing the venue.
Truth be told, the bouncer didn’t have to ask such a complicated question. A simple, “What is the name of this club?” or, “What does ‘DJ’ stand for?” or even, “Which way is north?” could have had me equally stumped.
It was two in the morning when we joined a sea of drunken Europeans, all waiting to get into a club in Berlin. It was a balmy summer night, and after following vague directions from a friend, we found ourselves standing on the gravel road of a discreet alley, boxed in by graffiti-ridden concrete walls enveloped in flowering vines.
Berlin is notorious for exclusive techno clubs and difficult door policies. The internet is flooded with articles, websites, interactive video training and even apps – all with the aim of guiding the clueless through getting around hard-nosed Berlin bouncers, particularly those who guard the doors of Berghain. Its head bouncer, Sven Marquardt, has even published a memoir of his time acting as the St. Peter of Berghain. His philosophy is all about ensuring the crowd is a “right mix”, which means even celebrities do not get preferential treatment.
Britney Spears was once allegedly turned away from Berghain for not wearing the right outfit. Whilst filming ‘Conan Without Borders: Berlin’, Conan O’ Brien didn’t even make it to the door. He was rejected on a late Sunday morning 100 metres away. If anyone were to get in, it’d be Felix da Housecat, a DJ hailed as an eccentric risk taker within the techno scene of Chicago since the mid-80s. And even he was denied entry.
To prevent getting rejected on sight, there are a few basic ground rules to follow.
The general dress code is all-black casual.
I was clad in a loose, nondescript black T-shirt, black culottes, and a pair of black well-worn Nike sneakers. My friend, however, did not get the homeless-Kanye/funeral-chic memo, and rocked up in a dorky University of Melbourne hoodie.
“What were you thinking?” we hissed, chastising him on his daft apparel choice.
“It was the only black clothing I owned,” he whined as he inverted the hoodie, with only the plain black fleece showing and a bunch of tags jutting out from the sides.
Try not to go in big groups.
We were a caucus of eight, spilling clumsily across the sidewalk.
Try not to appear too drunk, smile, or laugh when in line.
Having blitzed through one-too-many rounds of drinking games beforehand, we giggled incessantly.
Try to look like you belong in Berlin.
As an ethnically diverse bunch, we looked like the front cover of every university brochure ever. This made it especially hard to blend in with the local German crowd, so we came up with a strategic plan. We broke into small groups of two or three, and each non-European-looking person had to stick with someone with European features.
I was at the back of our group. Having downed about half a litre of social lubricant in the form of a €6 bottle of vodka, I turned around and sparked a conversation with the three strangers behind me. If there was a shade darker than black, they were wearing it. One had wire-rimmed glasses and a studded leather jacket on. The other donned a skinny scarf around his neck and a knitted beanie. Sandwiched in the middle was a girl in a long-sleeved mesh dress.
They were French, and they worked for a start-up company based in Berlin. After almost an hour of baring our souls to one another, I felt like I had found a new family. I imagined laughter and spilt wine on a Parisian balcony, dancing in the pale moonlight to soft faints of ‘La Vie En Rose’ playing on a scratchy record. Maybe Skinny Scarf could even teach me how to weave. We could be Skinny Scarf soulmates together.
A gruff voice rumbled from the front, and our conversation came to a screeching halt. There stood a bouncer, a heavily tattooed hunk of meat on steroids.
“Try not to say anything in English; just nod your head and look bored,” Skinny Scarf whispered in my ear. He then fell back into a brooding silence with the other two.
The first representative of our group was our best bet – a guy of German heritage. He looked like he ate sauerkraut and spaetzle for breakfast on the regular. If anyone were going to get us in, it’d be him. The bouncer asked him a question in German, to which he replied in a broad Australian accent,
“Sorry mate, whad’ya say?”
It turned out he was more of a Weet-bix kid. We were off to a promising start.
The bouncer sighed, “I said, are you 21?”
“Yeah, here’s my ID”.
The bouncer peered at his Australian passport, unimpressed.
“Name three DJs playing this venue tonight.”
Weet-bix Kid stared at him blankly.
“You cannot name any? Not even one?” the bouncer sneered. “No entry, next!”
The next girl shuffled ahead. “I’m 21 but I don’t have any ID with me,” she said shakily.
She did have her passport with her, but it would give away the fact that she, like me, was a few months shy from being that arbitrary legal age of 21. And just like that, a torrent of memories came flooding in – I was 16 again, a bundle of nerves armed with a fake ID, trying to get into the character of a worldly ‘94 Gemini who had an address far too complicated for my tequila-soaked brain to memorise.
“No ID, no entry!”
The next guy was still frantically searching up the name of the DJs when he was bumped to the front of the line. His face, covered in peach fuzz and illuminated by the bright screen of his phone, read sheer trepidation. The bouncer leaned over, took one look at the search results and dismissed him.
One by one, the bouncer crossed us off after we failed to answer his impossible questions. If this security gig ever gets too stale for him, he should try his hand at hosting trivia nights.
I turned around and the Croissant Crew has taken not one, not two, but three very big steps away from me, as if I was Patient Zero. Unspoken words and diverted glances hung across the deep rift between us like cobwebs. Betrayal etched her name on the soft insides of my throat and the pain blossomed with each gulp of air. We broke baguette and shared our life-stories with one another. Did that not mean anything? Is nothing sacred in this world anymore?
Crestfallen, our ragtag group of club rejects headed towards a more tourist-friendly venue, leaving behind the sweet sounds of muffled beats, spun by a DJ whose name we will never know.
Coming full circle, in mid-November last year, Sven Marquardt was refused entry from a nightclub in Sydney. I guess that’s what you get when you wrong the princess of pop. Karma has a name, and it’s Britney, bitch.
Cover by Kevin Grieve