Clubsterben: Berlin’s Deadly Nightlife Disease

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‘Clubsterben’ is a compounded German word that translates broadly (and rather dramatically) to the “death of clubs”. You won’t find it in the German dictionary, but it’s been in use across the country since the late 90s relating to the growing threat of gentrification that’s impacting the nightclub scene.

#clubsterben is a word that holds particular resonance in Berlin, not only because the German capital has one of the world’s most celebrated clubbing cultures, but also because that culture came to life in very particular political, social and economic conditions. Its clubs have been famously defined by their creative use of the space that was left unoccupied after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Except of course, Berlin is no longer the same city that it was in the 90s.

“Like a ghost in the night, the term ‘Clubsterben’ has returned from time to time to haunt Berlin nightlife,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung last month, the city’s main broadsheet daily newspaper.   “A city without glamor, without joy after 8 o’clock in the evening, without dance… this was the unanimous forecast from participants in the Berlin nightlife. What has become of it?”

The #clubsterben discussion has picked up heat this year both on Twitter and within the German media, stirred by the permanent closure of clubs like Stattbad Wedding and Neue Heimat on Friedrichshain’s controversial clubbing mile, as well as the temporary closure of venues like Sisyphos and [ipse]. Add to that a growing shift in how authorities treat clubbing culture, and you have a simmering perception the Berlin clubbing scene is in real danger.

“There are too many clubs in Berlin. The opposite of Clubsterben is the case”

“I think a lot has to do with the political climate in Berlin at the moment,” Michail Stangl from Boiler Room told THUMP in September. “The past weeks have seen a lot of media attention for some of the unpleasant sides of Berlin’s night life – especially some of the violence and crime that happens at night and is quite often aimed at tourists in the city’s hot spots…. the recent national coverage might have shifted some politicians’ attention towards Berlin’s night life.”

But how dire can it really be in a city with a scene as vibrant as Berlin? Can you talk about the death of clubbing when there are as many as 80 or so venues open during any one weekend, or when authorities and politicians allow so many clubs to operate outside the boundaries of the law in their makeshift industrial locations?

When the musically adventurous Horst Krzbrg closed in 2013, its former owner Johnnie Stieler expressed his scepticism to Berlin paper Die Tageszeitung over the concept of #clubsterben. “There are too many clubs in Berlin. The opposite of Clubsterben is the case,” he said. “When we started five years ago with the club, in Berlin on a Friday or Saturday there were perhaps 30 to 40 parties. This has doubled easily…. There are ten times as many locations as in London.”

Avoiding Deadly Pitfalls
Last year DJBroadcast spoke with Watergate co-founder and booker Uli Wombacher on the topic of impermanence in clubbing, and he offered his own mediation on some of the pitfalls that can lead to #clubsterben.

“If you want to stay in a place for a long time, you must be part of the community”

“When promoters rent places planned to be refurbished in three or four years, they cannot complain if they have to leave at some point. If it was a temporary location, then you don’t have the right to insist on keeping it. Some feel something is being taken away from them, but it was never meant to be a lifetime thing. That is something people sometimes tend to forget.” It turns out that avoiding #clubsterben is a matter of the clubs coming out of the shadows and entering a dialogue with the establishment, as well as becoming a part of it, in order to survive.