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Getting in, getting friends in: Two nights at Berghain / Panorama Bar

July 16, 2010

At this point, those of you who’ve read my previous mini-profile of Berghain already know that getting in can be complicated; there’s severe selection at the door, and yet the door policy is never fully revealed or explained, and so any night out here is accompanied by a flurry of analysis and strategizing. As readers of my previous blog, Luis in Paris, will remember, I’m also interested in the rather fluid ethical component of this process (something I’ve called liquidarity in my work): who goes in with whom and who vouches for whom, based on differences in access, appearance, “coolness,” familiarity with the bouncers, and so on. Last Friday and Saturday comprised my “homecoming” to Berghain / Panorama Bar, and both evenings provided rich examples of how contingent and complex entry into a nightclub can be.

Friday, July 9th

I was joined this weekend by Bob and Donna, two French friends living in London, who come to Berlin nearly every three weeks to party. They’ve been devoted fans of Panorama Bar for years, and the staff have come to recognize them, such that they no longer have to worry about being refused at the door. Sometime last winter, during one of their “sessions” in Berlin, they chatted up a bouncer, who we’ll call “Ned,” for simplicity’s sake.

You see, I had started talking to Ned back in the summer of 2008, when I noticed that he spoke English with an American accent. I saw him working the door at the Berghain Kantine (a Biergarten and mini-club next to Berghain) on a Wednesday and chatted him up, and he eventually became more friendly to me as he saw me more often. By the time I left Berlin at the end of that summer, he would occasionally pull me out of line and take me directly into the club (which is valuable when the line can sometimes take more than an hour).

And so, Ned recognized Bob and Donna from having seen them partying with me so frequently through 2008 and 2009. He told them that, the next time they come to the club, they should walk past the line and head straight to the door (which is a privilege reserved for “regulars” here). He practically scolded them for wasting so many nights in line. The next night, they came by and Ned wasn’t at the door, but Sven—the “hardest bouncer in Berlin”—recognized them and waved them in, no questions asked. Interestingly enough, while they needed prompting from Ned to approach the door, they actually didn’t even need his presence at the door to get in; the rest of the staff had already quietly conferred the status of “regular” upon them.

All of this is to say that, by last Friday night, Bob and Donna had been bypassing the line and getting waved in every time they came here. I, on the other hand, had been absent from Berlin for nearly a year, and I had no idea whether Ned or any of the other bouncers would recognize me.

So it’s Friday night and I get to Berghain ridiculously early (1am!) to catch one of the early acts, John Osborn. My friend Janine is with me; she isn’t going to go into the club with me, but since she lives next door, she decided to keep me company while I waited. The lineup is moderately long—there’s maybe 150 people ahead of us—but I was just waiting for Bob and Donna to show up, so I could head to the door with them. In the meanwhile, Janine and I entertain ourselves by watching the door and trying to guess who gets refused and who gets let in. Tonight is a special label party for Sub:stance, which is primarily a dubstep label, so the door policy seemed to have been extended to allow younger people and larger groups. More than once, Janine and I were sure that someone was going to get turned away, and instead they were let it. Perhaps it was also the fact that they were opening the Berghain room in addition to the Panorama Bar room tonight, which means that they need to get an additional 1000 people in here tonight.

Bob and Donna eventually arrived by the time that I had gotten to the part of the line where we enter a zigzagging corral of metal stanchions. They arrived with a third person, though, and so my plan to follow them into the club was suddenly put into question. They could certainly bring a third person in with them, but it wasn’t clear that the bouncers would like it if they brought two “unknown” people with them to the front of the line. I was already close to the front of the line anyway—maybe 20 minutes away—and I was unlikely to get turned away as a lone partygoer, so I told Bob and Donna that I would meet them inside. They were obviously uneasy about leaving me there while they went straight inside, but I was sympathetic, having been in a similar situation before. Janine, however, felt that I should’ve gone with them.

In any case, Bob and Donna and their friend headed in and Janine headed home, so I was left alone in line for a while. When I got to the front of the line, I saw the two men in front of me get turned away. Wisely, they didn’t argue with the bouncer but instead nodded and walked off (rule #1 of getting into any club in Berlin: don’t make yourself memorable for the wrong reasons). When I approached the door, the bouncer gestured to me and the two men behind me and started ask if we were a group of three. Halfway through his sentence, he stopped, seemed to recognize me, and then waved me in without another word. I said, “Danke,” and headed in.

As I turned the corner into the vestibule, I saw Ned working the bag search / frisking area. As soon as he saw me coming in, he recognized me, putting out his hand for a firm hand shake and back-slapping man-hug (you know the kind: shoulder-to-shoulder, no contact between torsos). “How’ve you been?” I said, “It’s been a year since I’ve been here!” He laughed, said it was good to see me, and then waved me through without taking more than a token glimpse at my bag. Yay, I’m back and they remember me!

The rest of the night involved a lot of recognition: visiting the woman who tends the bar near the toilets in Panorama Bar, seeing the other bouncers, seeing Berlin-based acquaintances that I hadn’t seen in a year, exchanging awkward glances with guys that I may or may not have made out with… A few hours later, while watching MJ Cole spin with Bob and Donna, I see Ned drop by with a beer in hand, apparently on break. Bob and Donna had been telling me all night that I should try walking straight to the door tomorrow, but I was hesitant; so I walk over to Ned and chat him up. After a bit of small talk, I say, “Look, I’ll be coming from another event tomorrow night and getting here at ‘rush hour.’ Do you think it would be OK for me to go straight to the door?”

“Of course,” he said. “You come straight to the door. If I see you, I’ll wave you in no problem. If not, just tell them that you’re on Ned’s guest-list.” I thank him profusely and let him get back to enjoying the music.

Shortly thereafter, Ned approaches me and says, “Hey, in fact, do you have my number? Let me give you my number, and then you can call me or text me if you have any problems in line. You shouldn’t have any problems, but I can always come out and find you and bring you in.” Again, I heap thanks upon him. In response, he gestures at me and at Bob and Donna, “It’s regulars like you that pay my rent, let me take care of my family, give me my food money, my drinking money, my weed money…I gotta give something back.”

A bit later, I send him a text message thanking him for helping me out for tomorrow. An hour or so later, he sees me on the dancefloor and says, “I got your message,” and nods to me.

And so the night ends with my sense of belonging at Berghain / Panorama Bar higher than it ever has been.

Saturday, July 10th

After seeing a friend for dinner to celebrate her birthday, I head over to Kreuzberg to have a drink with my friend, Janine. After going to Club der Visionäre and seeing it overstuffed with people from Fashion Week, we end up heading to Möbel Olfe for a brief drink. By 0:18, we hop the night bus back to Ostbahnhof. There’s a French DJ named Brawther playing the opening set, and I was curious to see him spin (verdict: moderate to good track selection, rough mixing, mostly house). Janine and I are standing on the Straße der Pariser Commune—which is the street parallel to Berghain—saying our goodbyes as she prepares to go home and get some sleep.

As we had been coming up the street earlier, we had seen a group of teenaged boys, clearly very drunk, slamming each other into the plexiglass wall of a bus-stop shelter and laughing uproariously. Now, one of them—the least drunk of them—interrupts our conversation to ask in broken French where Berghain is. I switch into English and give him directions. Two other boys approach and join the conversation, saying that they had been turned back from the last club they went to because it was apparently a gay night. At the back of my mind, I wonder if they hadn’t just been turned away from Berghain already, but I’m mostly interested in ending this conversation before the more violent part of this group arrives, so I just give them directions.

Janine pipes up, saying, “A bit of advice: don’t speak English near the door and don’t go as a large group.” “How many of you are there?” I ask. “Ten.” “Oh, then you should break up your group.” “Like, five and five?” “No, more like couples or trios.” “Oh, OK.”

And so off they go. But not for long. About ten minutes later, while I’m still chatting with Janine, I see the ten British lads come sprinting back from Berghain at full speed, as if they were being chased by a wild animal. They’re laughing but also clearly terrified of something, as they yell at each other to keep running and to dodge between trees and cars. As their noise recedes to a distant echo, Janine and I exchange concerned looks.

“You better be getting home. Be careful.”

“And you better get into Berghain. Have fun.”

I arrive in front of the club and the line is already nearly back to the line of taxis on the street. In my head, I practice saying “I’m on Ned’s guest-list” in German as I begin to walk past the people in line. Near the front, I overhear a French girl commenting resentfully that some people (i.e., me) are bypassing the line. I get to the door just as one of the bouncers is repeating his refusal to a group of young German boys. Sven, standing in the doorway, sees me over the other bouncer’s shoulder and waves for me to come in. Like Bob and Donna earlier, I didn’t even need to drop Ned’s name at the door.

Ned isn’t working in the vestibule, so another bouncer searches me and waves me through. On a hunch, I tell the woman at the box office that I should be on Ned’s guest-list. I was prepared to pay the entry fee (and thus appear gracious and low-drama) rather than try to talk my way in, but I was surprised to find that Ned had actually put me on his personal guest-list—and with a “+1,” even! So, off I go, once again suffused with the sense of belonging and acceptance.

An hour or so later, Bob and Donna make their appearance. They’re happy to see me, but they both seem a bit off. Bob tells me that they’ve had a weird experience at the door. They approached the door and Sven had challenged them hostilely, asking, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you standing in line?” Bob said that they were on the guestlist for the Secret Sundaze label (who had some of their DJs spinning tonight), and Sven demanded their names and then checked with the box office before letting them in.

This was perplexing for all of us, because Ned had explicitly told them to stop waiting in line and to always come straight to the door. Furthermore, they had done just that with a third person in tow the night before and Sven had waved them in without comment. Both Bob and Donna are disturbed and confused by this, especially so because they both identify strongly with Panorama Bar as their “second home.” More than any other club in Berlin the pain of being rejected (or at least challenged) cut very deep. In fact, a few hours later, Bob suddenly decided that he would never return to Panorama Bar, Berghain, or even Berlin. Not this weekend, not ever. Thankfully, he walked back from that ledge over the course of the morning, but it just goes to show how violent this encounter felt to them.

I urged Bob to talk to Ned and ask him what had happened. If Sven thought that they were abusing their privilege or something, Ned needed to explain to them how the system worked. If it was something else, they needed to know. Once Bob approached him, Ned said that he didn’t quite know what was going on in Sven’s head tonight, but he’d been in a foul mood. Apparently, a group of ten young British boys had started a fight with the bouncers.

Oh, I thought to myself, I probably shouldn’t have told those boys how to get to Berghain.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Joy permalink
    July 18, 2010 12:58

    LMGM, what an intriguing dissertation. Just read your most recent posts about Berghain/Pbar, and I must say that this some of the most on-point writing on the subject I’ve stumbled upon yet. (Even these excerpts sum up so many “The thing about this place is…” chats I’ve had on the dancefloors and beyond them. Do you have a mailing list for the book availability? Looking forward to seeing the work in full as well as shuffling through the blog’s archives. Danke 🙂

    • July 19, 2010 02:09

      Thanks, Sarah! I appreciate the kind words, and I always love to hear from other folks who’ve been to the same cities / clubs that they recognize something in what I’ve written. Were you in Berlin this weekend? I was at Berghain/Pano this weekend and will have lots of amusing/interesting things to post about in the next few days. I don’t know where I’ll be this coming weekend, but I’ll almost certainly be back in Berghain for the last weekend of the month.

    • July 19, 2010 12:57

      Oh, and re: the book. It’ll be at least a few months before it’s ready for press, but I’ll post an announcement here as soon as it is!

      • Sarah Joy permalink
        July 20, 2010 14:21

        Word, I look forward to reading it. And as a matter of fact I was a Pbar/Bhain this past Sunday morning (Nico to Dinky) and for the Secretsundaze set the previous weekend as well. In fact, I was rather tickled to read the story of Bob and Donna on the previous post, as Bob told me the story in the garten last afternoon (he had calmed down a bit by then).

        So are you living in Berlin for the summer while classes are out? Hope to see you around. Some raucous weekends coming up in the next few weeks 🙂 Good luck with the writing and thanks for the follow.

  2. July 20, 2010 14:48

    Hey Sarah,
    (apparently, I can’t reply to a reply-of-a-reply-of-a-reply, so this is a brand new comment thread)

    Glad to see you were out and about, too! I got there just before Monsieur Jaar (more to come on his performance), and stuck around until 7pm (after Galluzzi had finished and Dinky started a second set). It’s crazy that you also know Bob & Donna! Did you just meet them last week, or have you known them for a while?

    Anyway, I have friends in town who want to check out PBar, so we’re almost certainly going to be there on Friday for the all-vinyl night. Saturday, we’ll be checking out Señor Villalobos at Arena for the Chilean Independance Day party. If you see me, say hi!

    (p.s. yup, I’m in town until the end of August, then back to U of Chicago for year of dissertation-finishing. Are you more or less permanently in Berlin, then?)

    • Sarah Joy permalink
      July 20, 2010 15:12

      To answer your questions in MORE than 140 characters:

      Yes, here til they kick me out I suppose 🙂 I actually know Bob and Donna from Pbar… specifically via the Pbar Music facebook group, lol. I’ve actually met tons of amazing people simply from seeing their posts in the that group or seeing them over and over again on Sunday mornings. Friday looks fun but I think we’ll be taking a break from the temple this weekend (though Harvey in the garten sure seems enticing Sunday evening).

      I think we’ll be doing Chile by day since we’ll be seeing RV next weekend for New Kids on Acid. Might stop in to Wgate (first time I’ve been since we first visited Berlin in 2007) for Thesongsays night on Saturday.

      Ultimately… you never know what’s going to happen. Have to follow your heart (and your dancing feet) once the weekend finally arrives. Have a good one, I’ll speak to you on Twittah!

  3. Maddy permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:08

    Great post on getting past the bouncers in Berghain…they do have an eye for keeping the riff raff out and I was fortunate to be let in every time, but on one occasion the sight of seeing four hot chicks being rejected blew me away. I guess good looking dudes are preferred *ahem*.

    • August 26, 2010 13:48

      yes, erm, being a pretty girl doesn’t have quite the same currency at Berghain as it might have somewhere else. Mind you, I’m not even sure if they select for good looking dudes, either. I think they select for queer-looking, freaky folks of various sorts…as well as the more “straight” folks who look like they could handle seeing two guys fingerblasting each other at the bar (speaking from experience, here).

  4. August 28, 2010 09:15

    Great post about enter in Berghain, and the anecdotes are very good. I see that you are an expert about Berghain and i want to ask you, because i will be at September in Berlin, if it’s very difficult go to the line alone and get in . . . because i will go alone and i don’t know to speak german :S

  5. September 4, 2010 16:28

    hi luis, i have fun reading your story… it was very graphic! i could “see” all.

    and it was good because i’m going to berlin next november and now i’m terrified with the door policy, hahaha! i didn’t know that it’d be so complicated… it scares me (can’t get in…)

    anyways, i’m very exciting about the trip, i’m from argentina, first time in berlin, so i guess gettin’ in will not be the most important thing to do there, i’ll have fun anyway, anywhere there…

    saludos!!!

  6. tiddlerz permalink
    September 7, 2010 12:52

    if you meet a fool point him in the wrong direction!

    and yeah, Ned is one cool MF.

    i pulled a queue jump recently and thankfully it worked!

    dutch courage!!!

    • September 7, 2010 13:40

      Good on ya, tiddlerz! Hope the rest of your weekend in Berlin was fun. And I hope that amazing ermine jacket survived the rain…

  7. September 7, 2010 15:22

    The last 04 Saturday night . . . . first, try first fail. I went alone and i met one german man at the queue, and didn’t work . . . .

    • September 7, 2010 17:12

      oh no! I’m sorry to hear that, iZ. It can sometimes be difficult to get in to Berghain, and sometimes it comes down to luck. Will you be in Berlin for next weekend? If so, you should try going much later in the morning (i.e., 6am, 7am). Also, you should try getting in on Friday (either very early or around 5 or 6am); even if you don’t get in on Friday, the bouncers will remember you on Saturday and might be more inclined to let you in.

      Good luck! There are lots of other clubs in Berlin, though…

  8. steptoe permalink
    January 8, 2012 21:34

    Hi, firstly i have to say great blog you have here, i have found it really interesting.

    I will be going to berlin in a few months for the first time, would you say its easier to get into berghain/pan bar on a Friday rather than a Saturday? Would you say it looks alot better if you que with a female (me being male) or does that not matter? I am English spoken, is it better learning german?

    Thank you & keep up the great work.

    • January 9, 2012 03:54

      Hi, thanks for the compliments! As for getting in:

      The Friday v. Saturday question isn’t always easy to answer. Since Pannebar is the only space open on Friday, they don’t need as many people to fill out the space and they probably feel less need to let in tourists and other unfamiliar faces. On the other hand, since it’s the less busy night, they might also be more open if attendance inside is still low. For Saturday, they have to fill more space and make more money, so they might be more lenient at first, but usually so many people show up there, that they still end up turning a lot of people away. In any case, my suggestion is to try Friday and Saturday. If you don’t get in on Friday, just try again the next day. If you don’t get in Saturday, go party somewhere else, and try again 6-8 hours later.

      As for having a woman with you, keep in mind that Berghain was originally (and still is, predominantly) a gay club. Women do not get in any easier than men, and a group of girls will have as much trouble as a group of guys (never go to B’hain in a group larger than 3…at least until you’re a regular patron). Generally speaking, queer folks of either gender have an easier time getting in than straight folks, but trying to “act gay” will always be transparent and offensive to the bouncers, so it’s best just to go alone and be natural.

      Indeed, German is better than English, and being able to answer the question “Wie viel sind Sie?” (How many are you?) is always good. Even if you can’t accomplish a full conversation in German, making the attempt is usually appreciated. Since it’s kind of impossible to avoid looking a bit like a tourist, you want to make sure you look like the right kind of tourist: respectful of the local language and customs, well-informed about what Berghain is all about, likely to contribute to the atmosphere inside, and not likely to freak out if s/he sees two men fucking in a corner.

  9. Mai permalink
    March 6, 2012 20:18

    Hey, it was really interesting to read all your article! Actually I make some researchs because I’m kind of “usual” people from Berghain since 2-3 months now and last week was the first that one of the bouncer come to pick me and my friends in the queue. Was really impressive and i dont know if its kind of sign that means that now i can go directly to the entrance without queue… what do you think? its also now 2-3 weeks i made some try to get in with people who just get refuse everytime and they really dont care with who I come, they dont take even a look on my friends. But actually im just a little bit afraid, to try next week to come directly to the entry and then a guy told me that i have to make the queue, or to make the queue and the guy just realise that i m a very stupid girl who didnt understand that i can go directly…. pfff… not easy :))

    • March 7, 2012 03:25

      Hey Mai,

      Yes, it can be pretty confusing, especially when you just begin to be recognized as a “regular” there. Here’s what I’d suggest for the next time that you go:
      – if the same bouncer is at the door when you go, go straight to the front and stand near the door. Make eye contact with him, and just say something like “Darf ich?” / “May I?” He should probably let you in. If he says no, just smile, say OK, and go wait in the queue.
      – if the bouncer at the door is NOT the same one that let you in, just wait in the queue.
      – if the line is really short (like, 10 or 20 people), just wait in queue anyway. I think that they appreciate it when regular patrons don’t over-use their privileges.
      – if you do get to pass the queue, take note of any other bouncers who were at the door. The next time, they will know to let you in as well.

  10. dave permalink
    June 11, 2012 14:02

    Hey
    Pretty interesting read. Just in Berlin ATM and went to Berghain for our first night out. There was a group of three of us, we lined up but went in as singles. Using the onlyy german I knew I said “Nuh ein” which the bouncer found quite amusing. Only one my mates and i got in, as the other was rejected. We had had an agreement that if you didny get in we would just meet you later so was all good and we stayed there most if sunday. We are here for another week and will try again on Saturday. He looks a little younger so any advice on getting him in?
    Cheers

    • June 12, 2012 13:57

      Hey Dave,

      Welcome to Berlin! I’m glad two of the three of you managed to get in, and it was a good idea for you all to have an agreement in place before hitting the door. If you do present yourselves as singles in the future, make sure that you arrive to the queue separately and avoid talking to each other in line. The bouncers have CCTV screens at the entrance that show them the entire line, so they do keep an eye on people’s behaviour as they wait in line.

      Having said that, if two of you made it in last time, you might considering having the third friend go in with one of you as a pair. Mind you, avoid the temptation to present yourself as a gay couple (I’ve seen guys try this trick, thinking that a gay club will always let in gay couples). While there is certainly preference given to gay/queer/etc patrons at the door, the bouncers always see through this sort of thing and tend to take it very badly. In any case, look respectful, relaxed and (most importantly) sober. That already goes a long way.

      best of luck!

  11. September 21, 2012 05:58

    an excellent understanding into Berlin nightlife culture and Berghain, 100% my favourite nightclub in the entire world. getting into berghain is amazing – but developing a rapport with the bouncers is a serious achievement. check out my thoughts about Berlin here toberlinornottoberlin.wordpress.com

  12. Steven permalink
    April 5, 2013 19:59

    Hey enjoyed reading that! I am going to berlin in july, with my girlfriend and another couple. We are from England. Would you say we should queue up separately, is getting in as boyfriend and girlfriend easy in most places? Thanks for sharing knowledge

    • April 5, 2013 20:07

      Glad to see you enjoyed reading it! I’d say you’re generally fine as a lone couple in most places. As always in Berlin, one can’t entirely predict how things will turn out at the door, but the simple fact of not being a large, loud, drunk/high single-sex group is already several points in your favour. It’s always a good idea to show up relatively early in the night (once you pay and get your stamp, you can leave and come back later without queueing). Showing up early usually means a long queue, but on the other hand showing up very late sometimes means that the club is full enough that they’re only letting in regulars / guest-list.

  13. Steven permalink
    April 5, 2013 22:24

    Thanks alot, thats pretty reassuring.. Fingers crossed anyway!

  14. OIRH permalink
    April 28, 2013 21:28

    What an amazing blog you’re keeping over here.. Probably the most exciting, detailed and proper writing regarding Berlin, Techno and Berghain that I know of.

    Are you going to celebrate the night of 30 april -> 1st of may in the Berghain? I’m currently in Berlin and i’m in doubt if I should go after spending some time at the Arena Club. Would love to hear more stories of you, also regarding the 1st of May demonstrations etc.

    Greetings from Holland!

  15. Mr L permalink
    August 20, 2015 17:11

    Hi – my friend who I run a label with is playing at Panorama Bar in September and is going to put me on his guestlist – do I queue as normal or walk straight to the door? I am English, and was turned away on my last visit to Berghain in 2009, despite being sober and quiet in the queue, but this was when the doors first opened on Saturday. I would be so disappointed to miss my friends debut gig!

    • August 21, 2015 01:03

      If you’re on the guestlist, you walk straight up to the door on the right-hand side of the queue. This is true if you are 1) on the guestlist, or 2) returning from a previous visit on the same night (i.e., you already have a stamp from earlier that night/day). When you approach the bouncer, immediately say that you’re on the guestlist (and whose guestlist you’re on). They’ll check you on a list that they have outside, and then you’ll be checked off a second list at the box office, inside the building.

      PROTIP: be very, very polite throughout the whole transaction. It is not unheard of for bouncers to refuse entry if they think that you’re too high, too rude, potentially violent, etc. In other words: a guestlist spot helps you get in, but it’s possible to screw it up if you’re not mindful.

      PROTIP: the guestlist is maintained in German (obviously), which means that the alphabetization can sometimes be counter-intuitive for artist names. E.g., names that start with “The” are frequently sorted under “T”, French names that start with “la” or “le” are more often sorted under “L”, etc. If the bouncer can’t find your name or the name of your artist friend, be patient and suggest alternate spellings and alphabetizations.

      PROTIP: Due to these potential issues at the door, it’s best to show up well before your friend starts spinning (at least 30 minutes beforehand), so that you can ask for his/her help if there’s a problem at the door. Once your friend is playing, there’s nothing s/he can do to help you get in.

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  1. Sightings on the dancefloor « LMGM, The Blog
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