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Death by Popularity: What Griessmuehle’s Closure Signifies for All Berlin Clubs

Drawing in tourists and developers alike, the nightlife capital’s hedonistic appeal is part of its own demise.

Words by Laura Box
Photos by Griessmuehle
Published on February 3, 2020 17:58 Berlin Time

This morning, Griessmuehle revellers said their goodbyes at the venue’s last event, Cocktail D’Amore. Now that the party is finally over, it’s time to question why this city’s clubs, which have proven such culturally and economically significant spaces, still don’t feel secure on their premises. 

These nightlife environments not only incubate creativity, but are also responsible for activating and sustaining urban prosperity. Three-quarters of Berlin’s visitors say the club scene is a reason to visit the city. Almost half of Berliners say it’s a reason to stay. Because of the Berlin Clubcommission and their work advocating for the local club and party culture, politicians are now acutely aware of the importance of nighttime economies. Every fourth tourist visiting the city comes for the clubs, which led to a €1.5 billion turnover in 2018. 

Three-quarters of Berlin’s visitors say the club scene is a reason to visit the city.

Griessmuehle’s recent upheaval is a reminder that the city has been burdened with an unhappy paradox. Berlin’s bacchanalian clubs are a defining characteristic of the city, drawing in significant tourists and influencing residents to stay, yet its marketable appeal also unforgivingly draws in the property developers. Seeing the city’s appeal, these speculators swoop in to buy zones with “potential”–like the one Griessmuehle occupies–forcing out the very reason for the city’s allure.

Today, the once abundant industrial and abandoned spaces that defined Berlin’s freewheeling, post-Mauerfall past have all but disappeared, ultimately leaving the city’s nightlife scene with nowhere to retreat. At this point, KitKat‘s and Sage’s lease is up in June of this year and may be forced to close. Venues ://about blank, Else, and Salon Zur Wilden Renate are currently under threat from the A100 autobahn construction. The list of shuttered venues in Berlin is seemingly endless: Bar 25 due to property developments, Knaack closed after six decades due to noise complaints from new chic neighboring apartments, and Farbfernseher due to high rental costs.

This story is dangerously familiar. For decades, gentrification in New York and London have forced clubs into the city outskirts–meaning that this displacement process doesn’t only involve individuals and housing. Phillip L. Clay, a Professor at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, detailed the four cycles of gentrification in his 1979 book Neighborhood Renewal. In the first phase, lower-income artists, bohemians, and members of marginalized communities, such as those identifying as LGBTQ+, initially settle into divested neighborhoods. In the second phase, sensationalized media coverage of these milieus lure in the middle class, who then expel these original “pioneers” into adjacent neighborhoods. Large-scale investment by public and private firms ushers in the third phase, and the fourth phase is when the neighborhood becomes entirely upper class. 

Griessmuehle’s closure, in this case, not only represents the third stage advancement of gentrification, taking down a beloved safe haven of the city’s creative class and one of Berlin’s top tier nightlife institutions. It also introduces an alarming trend: the very venues pioneering derelict areas are later pushed out as a result of their own success. 

It also introduces an alarming trend: the very venues pioneering derelict areas are later pushed out as a result of their own success. 

Nightlife expresses the distinct cultural milieu of a city by providing a setting to cultivate experimental forms of music, fashion, and art. For Berlin, Griessmuehle has been an essential contributor to this arena, both helping to shape, and being shaped by the city’s creativity. Host to the likes of Mother’s Finest and Cocktail d’Amore, the venue was synonymous with some of the most exalted and musically adventurous parties in the city.

Franklin De Costa, the organizer of six-year-old party Mother’s Finest, says Griessmuehle began as a space that encouraged an open-minded crowd, allowing experimentation with diverse sounds beyond the basic straight techno, house, and disco that permeated the scene in 2014.

Although they had known for a few years that the club’s situation was precarious, says De Costa, the speed with which the developers made decisions without room for negotiation left the party organizers without a place to go.

“Ideally, we would have been given another half a year to organize a proper send off and find an alternative location,” says De Costa. “But now, even though the politicians are helping, the city is full. In Berlin clubs have always come and gone, but the city has changed so fast and property developers have taken over, so there’s less space for us. We don’t want to move out to a remote corner of the city.” 

There’s less space for us. We don’t want to move out to a remote corner of the city

For patrons of Cocktail, Griessmuehle’s space was also more than just a dance floor. For 10 years, the venue has provided a crucial queer hub that is at once well connected to the city, yet surrounded by industrial zoning, making it easy to disconnect from the outside world.  

Cocktail d’Amore has inhabited a range of venues–and this won’t be the first time they’re forced to move as a result of corporate real estate investments. For parties like this, the effort of establishing connections and rapport with the clubs they inhabit, as well as finding spaces that can offer the right atmosphere are crucial. How many times will a party like Cocktail have to move before the organizers and the patrons become exhausted?

SIAG Property, also known as S IMMO AG, is an Austrian real estate company focused on property development, asset and portfolio management, and property-based services, with an interest in “opportunistische Zukäufe” (opportunistic acquisitions). According to their 2018 report, they have a real estate portfolio of over 200 properties, 42% of which was in Germany. This isn’t the first Neukolln property they’ve invested in

It appears unlikely that SIAG had the intention of redeveloping the site, rather, their goal was to obtain building approval so that buyer interest would increase, consequently pushing up the property value. Some reports say the value has increased by as much as ten times. For a developer to be able to purchase land that houses one of Berlin’s most culturally significant sites with the intention of jeopardizing its future is demoralizing.

While SIAG’s motives are ethically questionable, the hard truth is that companies like these are working within the rules that they’ve been given. Griessmuehle’s closure acts as an urgent reminder of Berlin’s unstable and constantly evolving nature. It’s easy to say that clubs have always moved and changed, but there are progressively less accessible and affordable spaces for clubs to move into, even though the city’s main attraction remains its nightlife industry. The closure of this venue is a pivotal moment to address this alarming disparity. 

There are progressively less accessible and affordable spaces for clubs to move into, even though the city’s main attraction remains its nightlife industry.

While the Neukölln venue has closed its doors, its spirit lives on elsewhere as a series of roving events titled ‘Griessmuehle in Exile.’ From February 7th onwards, their weekend programming will be given a temporary home in Mitte’s Alte Münze, while their Wednesday and Thursday events will move to Lichtenberg’s Polygon Club

Despite the alternate temporary locations for the club’s program, “not everything has been achieved,” says the Griessmuehle team. “The fundamental problem of the lack of protection of cultural sites remains the main cause of displacement.”

Laura Box is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. She writes about technological ethics, politics and culture, with a focus on queer identities.

Follow the hashtag #saveourspaces to stay on top of the club protection campaign.

Additional graphic design by Ekaterina Kachavina.