In Pictures: Berlin’s Ever-Thriving Club Scene

From day-long raves to queer events, how photographers such as Wolfgang Tillmans captured the city’s nightlife

BY Kadish Morris in Culture Digest | 19 SEP 19

After the Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago in 1989, the empty buildings and factories of the East soon became occupied by bars, galleries and clubs. A generation of young people voracious for change, and charged with a newfound sense of freedom, was empowered to overcome years of division and tension to entertain its own political, ideological and cultural agendas. This ushered in a wave of Techno parties, day-long raves and queer events that set the city’s nightlife alight, transforming it into a defiantly boundary-free and internationally renowned club scene. A newly opened exhibition at C/O Berlin, ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, charts life in and around the German capital’s clubs and takes its name from the city’s venues’ strict camera bans. 

DJ Keokie, 1991, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: DJ Keokie

The show features a wide selection of images that capture the hedonistic spirit for which Berlin’s thriving nightlife is infamous. Photographers Camille Blake and George Nebieridze documented queer events like Herrensauna, Trade and Pornceptual, while legendary Berghain doorman Sven Marquardt, took black-and-white portraits of bouncers at the former East German power station turned club.

Insel Der Jugend, Zeitmaschine, 1991, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: Insel Der Jugend

Jenny Schlenzka writes about her first time at Berghain in a fan letter published in frieze’s 200th issue — ‘you don’t go out at night to learn; you go out to have new experiences,’ also adding that ‘contemporary art institutions should stop looking to museums or theatres as role models and, instead, learn from nightclubs.’

Sven Vath, Love Parade, 1992, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: Sven Vath

In 1992, Wolfgang Tillmans captured a group of friends outside of Planet, a club which operated illegally at the beginning of its two-year run. He also captures an orange-lit queue outside SNAX club in 2002. Tillmans says of capturing these moments: ‘For me, a club is a big abstraction machine that constantly produces pictures. They’re often on the edge of the visible, when the fog rises and you look up toward the ceiling and watch the lights. Intangible things shimmer and flicker through there.’

Martin Eberle, Peaches, 2004, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: Martin Eberle

While today it might seem alien to imagine a night out without a slew of selfies bombarding social media feeds, the candid images in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’ provide rare documentation of an important cultural moment in history, and its evolution over the decades.

Giovanna Silva, ​Stadtbad Wedding, 2014, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: Giovanna Silva

These photographs are a testament to how young people have always created, and will forever continue to construct, the kinds of environments in which they want to dance and let loose – those that promote self-expression, pleasure-seeking and autonomy from the state.

‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’ is on view at C/O Berlin, Germany, until 30 November 2019.

Main image: Wolfgang Tillmans, Outside Snax Club (detail), 2001, included in ‘No Photos on the Dance Floor!’, C/O Berlin. Courtesy: Wolfgang Tillmans

Kadish Morris is editorial assistant and staff writer of frieze, based in London, UK.