HALF PAST seven on a cold Monday evening is barely prime time clubbing. However, on January 27, a formidable queue extended outside Griessmuehle, a grainy techno spot in the Berlin district of Neukölln, whose walls emanated from hearty 4/4 bass drum drums. The party had been going on since Sunday under the heading “Is it the end?” Because on February 3 Griessmuehle must close; the Austrian owners of the building wish to convert it into offices. The Clubs Commission, a lobby group, estimates that 24 Berlin clubs could be closed. Some, like KitKat, a favorite entry-level hangout in Mitte, are as much part of the fabric of the city as the Brandenburg Gate.
Hand spin Clubsterben (“Dying Clubs”) is nothing new in a growing city where the pressures of gentrification have long rubbed against the world of clubbing. Yet the threat to Griessmuehle struck a nerve, uniting ravers and politicians behind a #saveourspaces hashtag. Official support for an industry of 168 million euros ($ 185 million) that attracts tourists and investment is now compulsory in Berlin, which is hard-hit.
The gentrification in Berlin started late but now has a “sense of speed,” says Luis-Manuel Garcia of the University of Birmingham. The sparkling array of protections enjoyed by private tenants in Germany does not extend to businesses. Commercial owners can brutally increase rents or prevent club owners from suspending themselves on six-month contracts. What to do? “Frankly, we don’t have as many tools,” agrees Georg Kössler, a Green at the Berlin Parliament. Lutz Leichsenring of the Clubs Commission believes that the federal building law should recast clubs into “cultural institutions”, offering them the same benefits as theaters and galleries.
Yet “it would be difficult to pretend that the clubs are truly threatened,” says Will Lynch, editor-in-chief of Berlin. Resident advisor, a dance-music site. Besides the precipitous decline in cities like London, turnover in Berlin is more like a churn; around 90 clubs have closed since 2010 but 77 have opened.
Thrill seekers are rarely disappointed with Berlin’s many nighttime temptations, unless they are repelled by a grumpy bouncer. Some beloved institutions have disappeared; others have now become a little too smooth for the tastes of the ancients. But Berghain, the jewel in the Berlin nightclub crown without a curfew, is delirious, its future assured by the ownership of the building. Even Griessemuehle can find a new home elsewhere. The threats are real. But rumors of Clubsterben may have been overkill.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Strings of life”