Berlin clubs stuck between a lockdown and a hard place

Times are tough for bars and clubs. We checked in with some Berlin nightlife people to gauge their mood.

Remember when this was legal?
Remember when this was legal?

Berlin-For most Berliners, lockdown comes with many consequences: setting up their office in their bedroom, avoiding gatherings, social distancing or, for the most cautious, avoiding leaving their homes altogether unless absolutely necessary. However, for arguably one of the hardest hit industries in the city, nightlife, the consequences of lockdown are far worse.

“My boss was crying when he had to tell people to leave at 11pm on the night of lockdown,” says Luis Habig, a waiter at Prinzknecht bar in Schönenberg. “It was very depressing having to tell people to leave at what otherwise would be the very peak of the night.”

Prinzknecht, like most bars and clubs in Berlin, had received substantial government support through the first lockdown in the spring, with a government aid programme covering 60 per cent of staff salaries. But given that workers in the nightlife industry are highly reliant on tips, it’s not nearly enough.

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“I was lucky as the owners offered to compensate us the remaining 40 per cent, and have managed to pay us full wages since the lockdown. However, my full wage amounts to like 50 per cent of my regular income if the bar was open [factoring tips in],” elaborates Luis.

All I can do now is cross my fingers, close my eyes and pray.

Ron Rineck

Much like elsewhere, Prinzknecht enacted a strict hygiene regiment, and the staff always kept an eye out to make sure the rules were followed, which proved to be a stressful process, made all the more frustrating following the news of a second lockdown. But Luis had seen it coming.

“If everybody had been following the rules, we wouldn’t need a second lockdown,” exclaims Luis. “I live in Neukölln, and when I go out on the street, it seems that people are in denial about Covid-19; not wearing masks and not keeping their distance. And now there’s an uptick in group house parties, so it just seems to me that some people are being very irresponsible.”

Confusion about rules

“Also, rules were changing fast, literally every week,” adds Louis. “It was very stressful and hard to keep up.”

The same sentiment is shared by Ron Rineck, owner of the iconic karaoke club in Friedrichshain, Monster Ronsons Ichiban Karaoke.

“I feel like, in the beginning of lockdown, all these rules came around and nothing was really enforced,” recounts Ron. “So instead of enforcing the old rules, they had to make more rules. I really feel like if they’d been strict from the beginning and enforced very simple rules, then everybody would have been on the same page. New rules don’t help if the old ones were never enforced.”

Monster Ronsons has been open only four months since March, and with karaoke deemed a high-risk activity, they’ve also had to adapt and halt all karaoke activities.

“I would be willing to do just about anything to figure out a way we can all sing together again. It’s really missing from my life and other people’s lives. Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it,” adds Ron.

Government assistance to the rescue

A silver lining, however, has been the government assistance to all nightlife venues in the city, compensating up to 60 per cent of staff salaries, among other assistance packages. Such assistance, Ron says, has helped him stay afloat, and he particularly praised government agencies for being very supportive and understanding.

“We have six assistance packages currently in effect for 2 to 3 months,” explains Lukz Leichfelreng, spokesperson for Berlin’s Clubcommission. “If lockdown continues until spring, we’ll make sure the assistance packages are also extended.”

A milestone for the Clubcommission this year has been the acknowledgment of clubs and nightlife venues as cultural entities, a legislative win which made them entitled to much more government assistance.

“Covid-19 did that. Before Covid-19, clubs weren’t considered as cultural facilities,” says Leichfelreng. “Now they are.”

Due to such measures and assistance, he says that officially there have been no club closures in Berlin this year due to the economic outfall caused by Covid-19. Throughout the whole of 2020, just one club was reported to have shut down permanently in Berlin, and it wasn’t due to Covid-19.

Lockdown until spring?

Though official statements on the matter are yet to be made, Leichfelreng doesn’t expect the lockdown to continue for that long.

“I will know for a fact in the next few days, but we do expect a loosening of restrictions around Christmas.”

“I feel like this time around we know much more about the virus than back in March, so there shouldn’t have been a need for a strict lockdown. We could enforce strict hygiene rules and make clubs and venues open again. Outdoor events also shouldn’t be a problem, since we had many such events in summer and there was no hike in infection numbers because of them.”

Until that happens, the only thing to do is “cross my fingers, close my eyes and pray,” concludes Ron Rineck.

If you own or work at a Berlin club and seeking information or assitance, get in touch with Clubcommission Berlin on 030 27 57 66 99 or via