Club culture plays a vital role in cities as it creates jobs for music enthusiasts, provides a platform for people to build relationships, and gives individuals of different identities and communities access to spaces where they feel safer and more comfortable. Unfortunately, many iconic clubs in Berlin are forced to close their doors. Closures are a threat to the city's unique cultural identity and to the communities that call these clubs their home. In this article, we want to discuss the importance of cultural spaces and what can be done to protect them.
Maintaining and protecting cultural spaces
Cities are creative and cultural hubs that attract people from all walks of life and places across the world. They are crucial for locals and creatives as they offer different opportunities to express oneself, progress in one’s career, build communities, and network with industry professionals. At the same time, they allow art and culture enthusiasts to explore and experience music, fashion, and other art forms live and in person.
What sounds vibrant and exciting in theory is unfortunately becoming increasingly inaccessible in practice. Socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues such as gentrification, the cost of living crisis, or the prioritization of big business all contribute to the decline in cultural spaces. This is especially visible in cities that are developing and changing rapidly: Berlin, the capital of club culture and Techno music, is a textbook example of this issue.
Berlin club culture: threatened to disappear
Over recent years, the city has experienced an enormous influx of people and an increasingly difficult-to-manage housing crisis, limiting access to affordable spaces for its inhabitants and creative collectives alike. The many different political, economic, and spatial challenges strongly impact its world-famous club culture, as many venues have to close their doors only to be replaced by offices or commercial event locations. The Clubmap documents how many Berlin clubs had to close over the years, proving how unpredictable the developments truly are.
The city's music scene continues to fight for recognition and protection, and when one venue is closed down, its management frequently seeks a different location to settle in. One example is the world-famous club Tresor, which was forced to relocate after the original venue was demolished and replaced by an office building. Similarly, the club RE:MISE will be forced to relocate after the rent contract did not get renewed.
Another example is the collective that operates Mensch Meier which is currently looking for someone to take over the club management. Groove Magazine spoke to the Berlin collective, which will end its work at the club for financial reasons. The team explains that because of the inflation and economic situation, it has “reached the point where our employees would not go to our parties because they are too expensive. This is not acceptable for us and a reason why we don't want to continue.”
Unfortunately, due to administrative restrictions placed on clubs, changing locations or the management is rarely an easy process. On top of that, decisions made by the government about infrastructure and space rarely benefit Berlin's cultural scene. The most recent example is the planned extension of the highway A100, an expensive investment in a city that already faces a shortage of affordable housing and in a time in which the climate crisis cannot be ignored much longer.
The construction of A100 will force many significant clubs and venues to close their doors, including Club Ost, Oxi, Wilde Renate, or ://about blank. So far, no alternative locations or solutions have been proposed. Despite the ongoing protests, many politicians continue to support the plans to extend the highway with no concrete solutions for the venues.
How and why do closures impact the local music scene and culture industry?
Closures significantly impact the art and cultural sector which is vital to the city's economy: In a 2019 study conducted by Clubcomission, which examines Berlin’s club landscape, 79% of respondents said that club culture is an economic factor and that it attracts tourists. 72% said it creates new jobs. When venues close, employees lose their jobs while artists, curators, and event organizers lose a valuable space that allows them to make a living.
With fewer venues available, renting them becomes more expensive. Creative collectives have to pay higher rents, which, in turn, increases the costs for entries and beverages. As a result, art and club culture become less accessible for the same people who, more often than not, shape it from the bottom up. This increases the divide between affluent and non-affluent members of society on yet another level. And since 76% of visitors and 98% of club owners and organizers consider it a cultural asset, everyone should be able to have access to it.
While closures disadvantage people on an economic level, they also contribute to the decline of community. Clubs and cultural venues allow people to meet and mingle and frequently open new doors for friendships, relationships, and collaborations among creatives. According to the study, 69% of clubgoers say that they go to clubs to meet their friends.
In an article with taz, Karo from the collective that runs Mensch Meier explains that partying is not just fun, but also means "being open to new people, other realities of life, new artistic impressions." In digitized, productivity-centered societies, clubs are important places for people to unwind, disconnect, and have fun, which is essential for people’s mental health.
Furthermore, they are crucial for members of various communities, such as the LGBTQIA+ community or communities related to different nationalities and ethnicities. According to the study by Clubcomission, 86% of club owners/event organizers say that club culture stands for diversity while 92% say they are politically active. Meanwhile, 88% of clubgoers at least partly agree that the Berlin club scene is particularly diverse. The more venues disappear, the less access people have to spaces that allow them to connect with those they can relate to and who they feel safe around.
Conclusion: What can we do to protect cultural venues in cities?
Regardless of whether you live in Berlin or a different city with a vibrant club culture, much can be done to safeguard your local venues. The first step is to increase awareness in real life and online by informing others about the situation in your city. Secondly, you can vote for the right candidates committed to promoting diversity, art, community, and culture.
If you have enough time, you can try joining groups and organizations that aim to protect local venues and make art and culture accessible to everyone. You can volunteer, attend local protests, or sign petitions such as the one on Campact against the extension of A100. If possible, you can also support local cultural businesses, artists, and collectives by donating money or showing up at their events.
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