THERE are three questions the human race has pondered since the dawn of time.
What is the meaning of life? Does God really exist?
And, most importantly, how does one get past Berghain’s picky bouncers?
Yes, I know. Articles about getting into Berlin’s most famous nightclub are about as fresh and edgy as its queue’s abundance of Doc Martens and desperate attempts to revive heroin chic.
But when I wrote a recent story detailing my 24 hours at Berghain, the main question I was asked in response (other than: “Did you pee on The Pee Guy?”) was how to get inside.
Berghain is arguably best-known for its marathon queue and picky bouncers. Google offers little help with the latter, because the advice is all contradictory — dress casual; dress weird; go with a German friend; go alone; speak German; say nothing; look angry; look bored; dress practical; dress like a sexy dead corpse.
I asked a bunch of local regulars for some tips. Here’s what I was told.
YOU DON’T NEED TO WEAR BLACK
Everyone swears by the “wear head-to-toe black” rule, but some Berghain regulars dismiss this as a tired cliché — symptomatic in itself of tourists who study too many articles like this one.
In the funeral parlour of a line, the majority are indeed identically decked out in black skinny jeans, black Doc Martens and a black shirt — plus a few pieces of chunky neo-goth statement jewellery for good measure. Yet many won’t make it past the bouncers.
Inside the actual club, fashion choices are more diverse; everything from leather harnesses to bright pastel colours, furry white vests and bizarre asymmetrical get-ups Lee Lin Chin herself would envy. Still, others just wear jeans and a T-shirt.
Think practical. Unlike Paris or Milan, Berlin prefers “street fashion” over chic, and those six-inch stilettos you’re tripping in will not get you through the door.
DON’T SHOW UP SLOSHED
Pre-drinking is as Australian as Golden Gaytimes and goon sacks. It’s cheap, convenient and you can usually breeze past the bouncers provided you can hold it together for 10 seconds. But the fact that drinking in public is legal in Germany is no excuse to go crazy, and unlike Australia’s problematic “macho” drinking culture, locals here don’t abuse the privilege.
This doesn’t just apply to Berghain. I once went to a similar venue in Berlin after six hours of dancing my face off — as you do on a random Tuesday morning. The bouncer there took one look at me — no doubt deeply aroused by my sweaty forehead, damp clothes and broken leather boots — and shook his head. “Guest list only. Sorry.”
Don’t act sober. Be sober. There’s plenty of time to drink when you’re inside.
GET YOUR TIMING RIGHT
The term “night-life” is technically a fallacy in Berlin, for partying hours are upside-down. At 1.30am in Sydney, you’re rushing to make it through the doors before the pitiful lockout kicks in. Here, that’s the earliest time you’d set your alarm to wake up.
Locals generally consider Friday and Saturday nights “tourist nights”, and for this reason, Sunday morning is said to be the most ideal time to go.
The best advice I got was from a German girl working in my hostel, who claimed she hits up Berghain every weekend and has never once been rejected: “Have a quiet night on Saturday.
“Wake up early on Sunday morning, grab a coffee and a banana, and get in line while you’re relaxed.
“But if you go looking like this,” — she smooshed her cheeks down with her hands to emulate someone who’d just dropped their third pill of the night — “you’re not getting in.”
DON’T PLAY THE IDENTITY CARD
Some tourists suggested I’d have a tougher time getting in with my dark skin and “IS chic” facial hair, but the crowd inside — at least from my experience — completely disproves this theory.
Berlin is often credited as one of Europe’s most tolerant, liberal, multicultural cities. Berghain’s mixed crowd — gay, straight, old, young, white, black — is evidence the bouncers do value diversity (if you’re a gay male over 50 you’re a shoe-in!) so getting rejected may simply be a case of evening out the numbers. Don’t take it personally; the club has a capacity of 1500, meaning they have to reject thousands of people every day.
IT MAY JUST COME DOWN TO LUCK
People often talk in hushed, reverent tones about how the bouncers can “look straight into your soul” and “pick out the worthy”, but whether intentional or not, the “mystery criteria” schtick makes for a great marketing strategy. In my humble opinion, it partly comes down to luck. After all, some clubgoers face the same bouncers two or three times in a day before getting in. No, seriously — there’s a large field around the corner, hidden from the entrance, where you can see people who’ve just been rejected hurriedly changing outfits, before re-entering — the line from the back.
Some rules are certainly clear-cut; a group of drunk stag party boys won’t have a shot in hell. But whether the more intricate criteria even exists is ultimately open for debate.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, HEAD ELSEWHERE
People aren’t exaggerating — Berghain makes for an incredible experience. But Berlin is home to a lot of other nearby venues where the vibe is similar, but the queues are shorter and the entry criteria less ruthless. If you don’t have the time or patience to brave a meaningless three-hour evaluation, simply go somewhere else. At the end of the day, it makes no difference: Berlin’s night-life still beats ours.