It’s sometimes difficult to imagine a space still removed from the omnipresence of social media and camera phones in modern society. Where a person’s actions aren’t instantly recordable and uploadable for the world to see, left instead behind closely guarded doors, shrouded in mystery.
But that’s a huge part of the allure of Berlin’s club scene, and what’s helped advance its mythos as an adult playground hidden from proper society, where people can be whoever or whatever they want to be. You can dance in Berghain to Wagnerian industrial techno while wearing latex and chains on Sunday evening, and return once again to your banking job on Monday morning. It’s an integral part of the Berlin clubbing experience.
“People are here to let go, not to take selfies,” says Sascha Disselkamp, founder of Berlin’s Clubcommission, and owner of Sage Club and Fiese Remise. “Sven—the bouncer at Berghain—if he sees people looking at their phone in line, and bragging about how close to they are to the door, and he tells them to go home to play on Facebook,” Disselkamp says.
It’s not just privacy that fuels suspicion of social media and camera phones throughout Berlin’s underground scene. Phones are a vibe killer, so totally unnecessary to the clubbing experience that many Berliners simply choose not to carry them on a night out. Switch it off, disconnect yourself from the outside world, and make some new friends. It’s an ethos many hold dear outside the clubs too, favoring human contact in bars, restaurants and even the streets, where pedestrians buried in their devices are an unusually rare sight. Which of course makes enforcing the rules that much easier.
"For us, it's a choice that we're making for the sake of our patrons,” says Julian Schulz, founder of Heideglühen and longtime metal worker. “If they think that they are being photographed in here, they won't come back. Privacy is a very important thing for us to maintain."
The decision to ban photos is an easy one for Schulz. His club’s reputation depends the trust he shares with his patrons. And while he admits a few mid-party photos would probably entice more customers, the control over who shows up would be out of his hands.
“It would be a different atmosphere and mood,” Schulz says. “It would bring people with other world views."
Namely, the type of people intent on experiencing their night through a small plastic screen, something Disselkamp has no time for. “It makes no fucking sense,” he says. “Why would I watch my phone when I could listen to the band? Who even looks at these terrible, low quality videos after the fact?”
High quality posterity is a hallmark of Berlin-based website Be-At.TV, a company that records and live-streams clubs and festivals around the world. Though as COO Ed Hill says, the city’s anti-photography stance doesn't exactly make things easier for him. Hill moved the company here about 16 months ago from London, where very few clubs have a no camera policy. His initial inroad to streaming in Berlin was in 2012, filming with local labels like mobilee and Upon You with little resistance. “But we hadn't really tried in many of the clubs,” he says.
Since relocating, clubs like Watergate, OHM, and Tresor have all said no to streams. “Berghain, we didn't even try,” he chuckles. Though they’ve also had plenty of successes, filming at venues like IPSE and Arena Club with outside promoters or while throwing their own events. More venues are beginning to warm to the idea of streaming, Hill says, but not during regular weekend parties that tend to carry on well into the next day. “They're very protective of their clientele.”
Ultimately, the fierce protection by promoters and punters of what’s considered sacred is exactly what makes Berlin one of the most renowned clubbing cities in the world. It fosters intimate connections rarely experienced in daily life, stripping away the ego’s need for self preservation.
“Clubs that protect guests' privacy by means of a strict photography prohibition ensure that the participants of the events show more openness and act without a façade,” says Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the Clubcommission and founder of Creative Footprint.
“Thus, the musical experience and the personal interaction with like-minded people is at the forefront.”
Despite the ubiquity of Berlin club culture’s anti-photography ethos, it’s remains difficult to pinpoint its history; why Berliners have always been so guarded against the influence of the outside world, and in some sense, technology. But there’s certainty in the results, which are undeniable: Partying is just more fun when nobody’s watching.