With bars, nightclubs and restaurants closed to slow the spread of Covid-19, nightlife in Berlin, was expected to come to a halt. But no, the beats are still thumping. The city’s premier “virtual club” is now in session.
United We Stream is a collaboration of about 40 clubs and several other nightlife businesses in Berlin. Every evening at 7pm (6pm UK time), DJ line-ups are live-streamed from the city’s nightclubs. And people worldwide are tuning in to get a taste of Berlin’s world-famous techno parties from their kitchens and living rooms.
The live gigs are dropping from quintessential venues that embody the city’s “anything goes” rave culture: Tresor, a techno forefather founded in an abandoned former East German department store; Griessmuehle, in a resurrected grain mill; and Sisyphos, a former dog food factory that became a hotspot for dusk-till-dawn open-airs.
While there are no over-the-top costumes, sweaty high-fives between strangers or sex by the dancefloor, there are a few perks to virtual clubbing: no long queues or bouncers denying entry.
In each United We Stream set, DJs play alone, illuminated by light projections against empty dancefloors. It’s a conscious decision to remind viewers that the streams aren’t a soundtrack for lockdown parties, but reflect how “critical, unbelievable and dramatic” the situation is, says Lutz Leichsenring, press spokesperson for the Club Commission, the non-profit organisation behind the initiative.
The Club Commission is requesting donations as it aims to raise €1m with United We Stream to support Berlin’s clubs. Around €320,000 has been donated already, with the money to be distributed later by a panel, according to financial need. A Club Commission study found that around 9,000 people are employed in the nightlife sector, and that in 2018 it generated turnover of €1.48bn, with one in three tourists going to Berlin to party. Despite their success, Berlin’s clubs were already facing a cocktail of challenges before the coronavirus crisis, including gentrification and speculative buying in a breakneck property market.
In the past few months alone, Griessmuehle’s location was set to be demolished to make way for a resort hotel, and the notorious fetish venue KitKatClub was faced with eviction. At least four more clubs could also be knocked down to make way for a motorway expansion.
“This pandemic will be exploited to cancel contracts and close clubs,” says DJ Mira, who recently played a United We Stream set for KaterBlau, a nightclub set in an urban village with techno-hippy roots. “Berlin has more money, more people, and is built more closely together than 10 years ago. If locations disappear, culture disappears, and things won’t ever be the same again.”
Pornceptual, a sex-positive party where clubbers get discounted admission for going naked, recently participated in United We Stream from Alte Münze, a venue in a former mint. Co-founder Raquel Fedato praises the initiative but says it would be better if queer party collectives were included. “It’s a reminder that the Berlin scene is united but [only] to a certain extent,” she says.
According to Leichsenring, United We Stream will keep broadcasting performances at least until 20 April, the earliest date Germany’s coronavirus restrictions could be eased, but probably even longer. “We suppose that clubs will be the last to reopen,” he says, “so we will do the streams as long as necessary.”
Ellen Allien, one of the world’s most famous techno DJs and a born-and-bred Berliner, describes United We Stream as important escapism during lockdown times, mirroring how Berlin’s nightlife itself also provides hedonistic R&R for all.
“We are still in the golden era [of Berlin clubs],” she explains. “There are so many rules in clubs overseas that we don’t have here – religion, the government, clubs having to close at 4am. Closing at 4am – that’s insane.”