Can Unesco save Berlin’s seedy techno dens?


Thousands of years ago, druids would gather at Stonehenge for wild all-night celebrations. Today similar rituals unfold at nightclubs across the world, with pagan rites replaced by the euphoric throb of trance and techno. And now the night-time industry in global clubbing hotspot Berlin is seeking a Unesco World Heritage status similar to that bestowed on Stonehenge. Can Berlin – famed for such temples to hedonism as Tresor and Berghain – rave its way into Unesco’s power rankings?

The prospect of clubbing receiving a stamp of official respectability is, on the face of it, absurd. The techno scene originally represented an act of cultural rebellion against the status quo – as demonstrated by the early Nineties moral panic in Britain over illegal raves (culminating in the quasi-outlawing of “repetitive beats” under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act).

Given that relatively recent infamy it seems bonkers that techno should wish to join polite society. Where will it end? Firestarter by Prodigy playing at Last Night at the Proms? Paul Oakenfold on a five pound note? Altern-8 invited to play for the Queen? Stranger things have happened – for instance, Brian May rocking out on the roof of Buckingham Palace in 2002. If the guy who helped co-write Fat Bottomed Girls can noodle for royalty surrounded by drain-pipes and scaffolding, anything is possible.

Behind the Berlin campaign for Unesco “Intangible Cultural Heritage” status is a concern that gentrification may sound a death-knell for a clubbing tradition that has become the city’s calling card. With some 100 clubs and venues estimated to have shuttered in the German capital amid spiralling property prices in the past 10 years these fears are undoubtedly valid. “If we don’t do something now and let the whole scene be recognised just on commercial and entertainment aspects, it will be taken over by whoever has more money,” Tomasz Guiddo of pressure group Rave the Planet told DJ Mag.

Berlin is certainly a special case. Since the fall of the Wall, Germany has reinvented itself as an artisanal motherlode – the home of Kraftwerk becoming the home of craft beards and a place of cheap rents and a destination for artists priced out of London and New York. It has also given the world its most famous and notorious club in Berghain – a 1,500 capacity venue located on an industrial estate in East Berlin and with an infamously selective (some would say capricious) door policy.


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