Art & Culture

Delve into 30 years of Berlin’s hedonistic techno scene

Goldie, WMF, 1997 © Tilman Brembs

From memories of the East/West divide to snaps of the city's first Love Parade rave, "No Photos on the Dance Floor: Berlin 1989 - Today" provides the kind of insider knowledge that might just get you into Berghain.

For techno fans, visiting Berlin has become something of a spiritual pilgrimage — but the nightlife isn’t restricted to musical purists. Everyone knows that Berghain’s wraparound queues are half-comprised of tourists who can only guess that Panorama Bar is at the top of Alexanderplatz’s TV Tower. For those rejected on sight from the newly minted cultural institution, there are less exclusive joys to be found in the thumping industrial of Tresor or the so-bad-its-good fetish dress code at KitKat. But, how did Berlin become Europe’s ultimate party city? 

No Photos on the Dancefloor: Berlin 1989 – Today, currently on show at C/O Berlin is looking to answer that question. Emerging as part of a trend of exhibitions — such as group show Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today or Eddie Peake’s Concrete Pitch — that bring frenetic club energy to the static gallery space, it traces the nightlife from countercultural beginnings to the increasingly commercialised current day. Paying homage to the main players in the scene, be they bouncers or internationally-renowned DJs, it’s a love letter to the ephemeral community and ecstasy that can only be found on the club floor. HUNGER spoke to C/O’s Chief Curator, Felix Hoffmann, to find out more. 

The exhibition’s focus begins in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. How did the East/West divide impact Berlin’s techno scene?

Due to the wall, the centre of Berlin was completely empty. The young music and art scene tried to take over these spaces, these old, empty basements buildings. [People] thought; “why don’t we play music here and invite friends?” Some people established clubs or bars there. It’s the complete opposite idea to what we have now in the club scene. Clubs are now for machines: to hire DJs, to involve a specific music system, to hire visual artists to create projections. There was a completely different feel in the ‘90s when it seemed like young people wanted to do something with the city. Now you have a more commercial side establishing [itself]. 

Clubs have a very particular energy, one that’s very different from the atmosphere of a gallery. Did this feed into your curatorial decisions?

For us, it was important for us to show that people are emotionally connected in clubs, even if they may never meet again. The biggest problem for us at the beginning [of planning the exhibition] was bringing the frozen image of photography together with music. Then we came up with the idea of integrating club nights in the exhibition. We have prominent DJs for these nights, playing music in the exhibition with a whole bar and a VJ.

The exhibition title riffs off of the no photography policy in Berlin’s clubs. Why is it that the club owners in the city are so averse to people taking photos?

 In other countries taking photos in clubs is very important but for us, it was important that the dance floor was a secret in a way. It’s a special moment where people meet, where they have emotions and where they are not observed by a camera. We don’t want to give people the feeling that they are being surveilled in a moment where the music [takes them to] an inner world. So…no photos on the dance floor.


The exhibition features photography from Sven Marquardt, Berlin’s most famous bouncer, who works at Berghain. What is the significance of his work within the show?

His work in the exhibition was done alongside Marcel Dettmann and depicts his colleagues (the DJs, the VJs, other door-keepers). These portraits show the inner world of Berghain in a way, without showing what happens in the night club. He captures what we tried to do with the show, which was to circle around the heart of the club — the people.

In recent years here in the UK, we’ve seen entertainment take a nostalgic backwards glance at rave culture. Was No Photos on the Dance Floor! motivated by a similar sense of longing for the club culture of the past?

A lot of people work artistically in and around the club scene in Berlin. We thought it would be nice to have an overview of the last 30 years, so it’s not just what happens now. It’s also not going down the nostalgic route of looking exclusively at Berlin of the ‘90s. The show has this nostalgic flair but it tries to show the development of what people did in the field. 

One important piece in the exhibition is “We Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” by Wolfgang Tillmans. He made a site-specific collage with pictures from the early ‘90s when he came to Berlin for the first time, showing the first raves in the Love Parade and then the more recent images are from last year. It gives a bit of an overview, showing how he has dealt with club culture and techno music on the one hand and, on the other, shows that he, as the title explains, hasn’t stopped dancing yet. This word “yet” here is so important for this generation that was once young [and enjoying the techno scene] and is now a little older. 

27 September 2019