In September 2021, when clubs in Berlin were allowed at least temporarily to reopen again, people waited patiently in long lines, not too worried about catching the coronavirus. Then the next wave hit Germany.
Clubs in the capital were allowed to stay open, but in December, the Berlin Senate imposed a controversial ban on dancing. According to a survey by Club commission, the network of Berlin’s clubs and cultural promoters, 80% of the 100 or so club operators and promoters questioned said they remained closed throughout.
Now, Berlin clubs are opening their doors again, at full capacity, without mask requirements or distancing rules. People only have to be vaccinated or recovered from Covid and present a fresh negative Covid test.
Unlike last time, the locations are reopening in spring, which should mean that they can stay open for a few months — previous experience having shown that the pandemic generally takes a turn for the worse during winter.
Under normal circumstances, reopening would be a reason to rejoice, but with war now raging in Ukraine, just a two-hour flight away, the longed-for return to normality seems untimely. “We waited two years to be able to open without restrictions, but all our eagerness ahead of the opening is gone,” Pamela Schobess, chairwoman of the Berlin Club commission, told DW.
“We are stunned and appalled, which is why preparing for the openings feel strange,” points out Schobess, who runs the Gretchen club in Berlin-Kreuzberg with her partner. Not opening Gretchen is not an option, she says, adding that her team is constantly assessing the situation. The club owner has no idea how many other clubs will reopen or potentially postpone their reopening because of the war in Ukraine.
A response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in the works, however, including a fundraising campaign. Under the motto “Club Culture United — Stand Up For Ukraine,” the clubs are planning to donate part of the entrance fees to various aid organizations.
Individual members of the club committee have already collected donations of food and clothes or travelled to Poland to help on the border with Ukraine.
Gretchen has mounted a banner with peace doves across its entrance area.
Feels ‘a bit weird to party’
The club scene nationwide was hard hit by Covid restrictions and, even if clubbing might seem out of place at the moment to some people, it does provide an outlet for people to escape the images of horror and the flood of news for a few hours.
“It’s a bit weird to party, knowing there’s war in your home country,” Ukrainian DJ Alis, whose real name is Alisa Chepel, said on Thursday night, during a set at the Anomalie Art Club’s “United x Ukraine” event. Donations from the event are to go to groups involved in the social and medical sectors.
“People in Berlin really missed clubbing, they really want to go clubbing. And why not combine clubbing with donations? It really motivates people to go somewhere and if they are doing it for a good purpose — why not?” adds the 25-year-old DJ, who has been living in Berlin for almost 7 years.
“Maybe it’s a good thing that we offer venues where people can come together,” Schobess agrees, emphasizing the bonding nature of club nights. Club culture, she says, is not just about letting off steam, but also about acting out emotions, exchanging ideas with others and not being alone. “Clubs are very important for democracy,” says Schobess.
A gathering of people from different cultures and backgrounds who would otherwise never meet — precisely the aspect that people in the culture sector have been pointing to for two years, ever since clubs were forced to shut down for extended periods.
The club scene is already looking far ahead, at next fall and winter, wondering what will happen if infection numbers rise or new virus variants hit a population without sufficient vaccination protection.
The special coronavirus financial support should continue, the chairwoman of the Berlin Club commission says, adding that thanks in part to those benefits, all members of the association have managed to keep their venues afloat.
Seeking staff, hoping for clubbers
Currently, the clubs face quite different challenges, including getting young people interested again who over the past two years have found alternatives to clubbing. Older audiences may have developed new routines and it is unclear whether they will return to the clubs.
In addition to problems with booking, the venues also desperately need staff as many left the scene and have found other jobs.
“We were the first to close and the last to reopen,” says Pamela Schobess about Germany’s clubs. People were given the impression that clubs and discos were very unsafe. “But people want and need security.” Many clubs, she says, are still in the preparation stage and will only open gradually.
Pamela Schobess says she can’t predict how crowded the clubs will be. “If it weren’t for the Russian war of aggression, I would have said people long for nightlife and they will come.” Today, that confidence is gone.