Saving Berlin's clubs from corona

Forty clubs are coming together on Saturday with a programme of events to mark Club Culture Day and prove their valuable role in Berlin's cultural life. 

Berlin culture minister Klaus Lederer (second left) with curators of Saturday's Club Culture Day.<br>
Berlin culture minister Klaus Lederer (second left) with curators of Saturday's Club Culture Day.
DAVIDS/Sven Darmer

Berlin-Love it or hate it, Berlin’s club scene is the city’s trademark and attracts party-goers from around the world. This Saturday, 40 clubs are coming together to celebrate the city's distinctive club culture - and raise awareness about the existential threat they face during the corona crisis.

The venues taking part in the Tag der Clubkultur range from world-renowned institutions to hidden spots serving a niche audience. For many, they are safe spaces where people can live out their fetishes, passions and intoxications away from the public eye.

This anonymity is perhaps responsible for some of the prejudices clubs have to battle with, such as a reputation for being little more than “dark and dirty”. But they need public awareness than ever before. Their very survival during the corona crisis depends on it.

The whole thing is being promoted and supported by the city’s culture minister, Klaus Lederer (Linke), who has aligned the day with a range of measures to ensure the survival of the sector’s establishments – for example, the extension of emergency support for clubs with fewer than 10 employees.

The day is also intended to demonstrate that clubs are an essential part of this city’s culture. In contrast to museums and theatres, clubs have been affected by the social restrictions brought by corona “in a very particular way”, the minister says.

Their survival can only work under certain conditions – some of them have now transformed their outside spaces into beer gardens. Put simply, partying as we knew it before is, according to Lederer, “not compatible” with current hygiene rules.

Lederer says the clubs belong to Berlin’s cultural infrastructure, and that they have a role to play in confronting exclusion and discrimination. He believes the city can’t abandon them “now things are getting messy”. The 40 clubs and collectives taking part on Saturday were all successful in a call for tenders from club association Clubcommission, pop culture funding body Musicboard and the Senat department for culture and Europe, each receiving €10,000.

To receive this extra portion of emergency funding, applicants had to be able to meet a number of criteria, explains Katharina Ahrend, one of the curators of “Club Culture Day”. They had to outline how they had contributed to the city’s cultural life up until this point, as well as submitting three exemplary event plans as well as a hygiene plan. The five-person curatorial board picked out 40 successful candidates from a pool of 90 submissions.

“Variety and diversity” are most prominently featured in the selection, curator Lewamm “Lu” Ghebremariam explains. This is supposed to make sure the programme isn’t just dominated by established clubbing spots. Younger and smaller collectives that have been engaged in promoting “the visibility of marginalised groups over the last few years” have also been given a boost, she says. Making the selection was “hard – because everyone needed it.”

That’s why the project’s initiators are hoping the Berlin Senat and national government will also release more funds to the club scene in the future. Old issues like industry safeguarding and the long-term demise of the club scene or Clubsterben – which remain ongoing problems – can’t just be solved through that alone, says Ghebremariam, who is responsible for diversity and awareness at Clubcommission. That means “an awareness that clubs are cultural locations” needs to be emphasised in the long term – a signal that Saturday’s events intend to send out.

Artist Sanni Est, one of the curators of Club Culture Day.<br>
Artist Sanni Est, one of the curators of Club Culture Day.
Gerd Engelsmann

The curators’ emphasis on diversity is reflected in the day’s programme, incorporating dance events and concerts, panels, readings, performances and installations. Ghebremariam says this will be an “inclusive day”, as demonstrated by the music on the day – which will offer more than just the electronic – and also by the fact that many of the events will start during the day.

But besides the focus on a diverse programme, there is also criticism of the mainstream club scene. Another of the day’s curators, trans*feminist artist Sanni Est, says “white, cis male, heterosexual” power structures are dominant there too, and are “not welcoming” for marginalised groups. That’s why Est sees both the standstill brought by the pandemic and Saturday’s events as a chance to work on the fundamental structures in place within Berlin’s club scene.

Is an event like Club Culture Day the right thing to do at a time when Berlin’s corona monitoring “traffic light” system has one category on red? “It’s not about opening the clubs,” Lederer says. The aim is “to show that club culture, despite the disappearance of a lot of the things that make it what it is”, is still dealing with the situation responsibly.

Tag der Clubkultur (Club Culture Day) is taking place on Saturday, 3 October at locations across Berlin. Visit for full programme details.

This article was adapted from the original German for the English edition by Elizabeth Rushton.