Sex, Drugs And Techno: Is Berlin's Party Scene Self-Destructive Or Just Free?
We ask some Berliners for their thoughts.
Berlin is like no place on Earth – for parties, at least. The German capital has long attracted revelers from across the globe to indulge in its unique nightlife culture: one that was born out of the unifying force of techno after the fall of the Wall and has grown into world renown for its no-holds-barred liberalism and egalitarian values (once you get past the strict door policies, that is). The nightlife culture permeates the whole city. No longer the reserve of abandoned warehouse buildings or niche clubs, techno is everywhere: from piled-up club posters on lampposts to (legally-dubious) open-air parties in the park; from the cafe soundtrack to your morning coffee to, well, the sound of the U-Bahn. Berlin is techno. I mean, even techno cathedral, Berghain – as famous for its sexually permissive “dark room” as it is for top-notch techno – has received high culture status from the German court.
Although I'm a techno head, it wasn't the music that first attracted me to the city: the music was rather the cherry on top of the giant freedom confection which is Berlin. You only have to visit once to be sold on the city's laid-back vibe, where you can drink beers on public transport and chill out on a dinghy boat on the canal. As someone from the United Kingdom of political correctness, this was refreshing to say the least. But becoming more deeply engrossed in my favorite genre, and gradually finding my way through Berlin's innumerable techno clubs, I realized more than ever how polarizing the scene can be. On the one hand, you could see the underground scene as a gigantic adult playground – a safe place to express yourself, free of judgment – on the other, a well-oiled German-engineered self-destruction machine.
Of course, partying anywhere has its ups and downs – when sex, drugs and alcohol are involved, what doesn't? – but when the city itself is the manifestation of the frenetic party lifestyle, the debate becomes infinitely more loaded. I ask some of my favorite Berlin faces for their answer to the question: Is Berlin's party scene self-destructive or just free?
“If I compare the nightlife scene in Amsterdam to Berlin, where the 24-hour culture is more developed, I see more social control and less drugged-out people. In my opinion that's because the clubs have spaces to chill out, food etc. and people basically don’t feel the need to consume everything within six hours. It’s just more relaxed.”
Calum McDonald AKA Hc Kurtz
Berlin-based minimal/techno producer and DJ
“In my opinion, whether the Berlin party scene is 'self destructive or just free,' as with most things in life, comes down to balance. Berlin has something for everyone, and one can immerse oneself in so many aspects of the city including the deeply varied club culture. In order to experience life in Berlin one must find a balance between daily life and the hugely magnetic party scene. Having spent a long time here I’ve seen both the light and dark sides to night life.
Whatever you are into is catered for here and not everything is for everyone. Pick your party. One of the things that makes Berlin such a party Mecca is the freedom of choice, and with many choices also comes personal responsibility. When given the freedom to frequent clubs whenever you like, party all night and never sleep, personal destruction is always going to be a factor. You choose how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.”
Frank R. Schröder
Founder of iHeartBerlin
“As with many things in Berlin it really is what you make of the party scene. There are so many different niches in the nightlife, some are more hedonistic and excessive than others. Maybe some people get lost in there, but in general I would say people are having a good time and just are who they want to be.”
Founder of Festival-Traveller
“I am in two minds as to whether the Berlin nightlife scene is self-destructive or free; some of the best nights out of my life have been in this city, and I’ve experienced moments of genuine (drug-free) euphoria, but on the other hand, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve left a club feeling miserable and alone. When I see the way people dance here, like it’s their last day on the planet, that fills me with joy, as the energy on the dance floors in Berlin is incomparable to anywhere else I’ve been, and I love the fact that people simply don’t let vanity or self-consciousness hold them back.
What upsets me though is often I don’t feel I can connect to people on nights out, usually because they’re too far gone in one way or another. Naturally, it’s great to have the freedom to take drugs without being scorned or judged, or to have sex in the middle of the dance floor without anyone batting an eyelid, but when this is taken to the extreme, is it truly liberating, or is it in fact the complete opposite? I remember seeing a girl in Arena, walking around alone, topless, talking to the walls, and then there was a girl in Berghain who kept mistaking me for a surface to put her glass down on, and tried grabbing me ‘down there’ several times. On another night, I witnessed a five-person orgy take place in KitKat, which wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest, if it wasn’t for the fact that those taking part looked so dead-eyed and weary of life.
If you feel you have to behave in this way to feel free, simply because Berlin nightlife condones it, then it seems like a bit of a shame to me. I don’t look down upon anyone in this state – I’ve been there before myself, many times – but you can’t deny that this behavior is indeed self-destructive and, just because so many others are acting in the same way, it doesn’t make it okay if it’s not making YOU okay.
After all is said and done though, I still love partying in Berlin more than anywhere else in Europe, if not the world, and I’m not ready to give it up any time soon!”
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Photography: Al Browne