Berlin's town hall ensures clubbers can party on down

AFP
In Berlin, known for its nightlife and understated cool, the town hall is stepping in to defend its legendary techno scene.
AFP

It’s a familiar story across the Western world: A heated property market and complaints from the neighbors are squeezing nightlife in the big city.

But in Berlin, known for its nightlife and understated cool, the town hall is stepping in to defend its legendary techno scene.

“Techno culture has given so much to Berlin, using some taxpayers money to support it is the least we can do,” said local Greens party lawmaker Georg Koessler.

City representatives are set to approve a million-euro (US$1.2 million) fund to cover soundproofing and additional staff to cool partygoers’ exuberance, a big gesture for the indebted administration. They hope the cash can help brake a wave of closures in recent years.

Since 2011, 170 clubs have shut down their lasers, sound systems and smoke machines for good. That leaves some 500 for the 3.5 million people of Germany’s largest city and the armies of tourists disgorged from trains, planes and buses each weekend — more than 12.7 million in 2016 according to official statistics.

“Politicians used to talk about Berlin clubs as something nice on the fringes,” 32-year-old Koessler said, a clubber. “But very surprisingly, even our opponents in the (conservative) CDU are suddenly very passionate about this subject, which they call the ‘night economy’.”

Many clubs sprang up in derelict or abandoned industrial spaces after German reunification in 1990. Now with 30 years of experience, club owners won’t limit themselves to waiting around for one-off handouts from city authorities.

“We’re aware of the power we have, so we press home the benefit the city draws from us, from tourism to the property market to startups,” said Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the “Club Commission” which has 220 of the city’s best-known bars in its ranks.

The latest campaign is for recognition as artistic venues, which could grant techno havens a 7 percent VAT rate rather than the 19 percent paid by bars and restaurants. Such cash incentives underpin noble sentiments about keeping the sacred techno flame alight.

“We want to stay on the sharp edge of contemporary music culture,” said Leichsenring. “If you’re offering ‘free entry for ladies’ or ‘buy one get one free’ on beer, we’re (Club Commission) not going to spring to your defense.”

Techno pilgrimage site Berghain was the first to talk its tax rate down in 2016, convincing the state that clubgoers came for its line-ups of star DJs rather than booze, sex and drugs. But Leichsenring argues that securing a tax break would be even more important for smaller venues without thousands besieging their doors each weekend.

Both supply and demand for world-class nightlife remain in abundance in the city on the river Spree for now. The Club Commission worries that mass party tourism, insistent noise complaints and inexorably rising rents will push the city past its peak and into terminal decline. But politicians should remember the economic contribution partying makes to the cash-strapped capital.


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