Berlin's Best Clubs for Dancing the Night Away
By Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Berlin Local Expert
Since the 90s, Berlin's dance floor action has reached near-mythical status and greatly influenced the city’s reputation as a capital of cool. It has incubated trends and sounds and launched the careers of some of the world's star DJs, including Paul van Dyk, Ricardo Villalobos, Ellen Allien and Paul Kalkbrenner. Every weekend, global hedonists invade town to bond with locals in their pursuit of good times. And with no official closing time for clubs and bars, the party often doesn’t peak until the wee hours and continues through mid-morning or beyond.
The biggest dance-a-thons are staged in the districts of Kreuzberg und Friedrichshain, whose edgy clubs prove that Berliners are geniuses when it comes to recycling venues. Two of the biggest hot spots - Berghain and Tresor – are ensconced in former power stations. Two more Prince Charles and Stattbad Berlin - have given old swimming pools a new lease on life.
While techno and the many subgenres of electronic music continue to define the Berlin sound, next-gen party people also embrace plenty of other beats like hip hop, dancehall and dubstep, which has given rise to clubs like Gretchen with its eclectic schedule and clientele. Riding the retro wave is Clärchen’s Ballhaus, where an all-ages crowd gets their groove on with tango, salsa and swing nightly. Also part of the nightlife spectrum are sizzling glamour pits like The Pearl which are popular with high-heeled hotties and deep-pocked VIP-booth jockeys.
Open since 2011, Gretchen has a solid track record for pulling in pretense-free music lovers with choice acts - both DJs and live - from the entire musical spectrum. Depending on the night, the line-up may skew towards electronica, drum'n'bass, funk, hip hop, jazz or even acoustic sessions. Behind the nondescript exterior awaits a cavernous space with a high cross-vaulted ceiling and slender columns remaining from the time when the stables of a 19th-century Prussian cavalry regiment were located here. The name Gretchen, by the way, was inspired by a character in Goethe's famous play, 'Faust'. (030-2592 2702)
Happy 36th Birthday, SO36! Berlin's bastion of subculture and alt-sounds in the heart of the vibrant Kreuzberg district can look back on a long and storied history. Founded in 1978 and at one point managed by the late conceptual artist Martin Kippenberger, this is where the Dead Kennedys and Die Toten Hosen cut their teeth and where Iggy Pop and David Bowie partied through the night. Named for a historic Kreuzberg postcode, it remains a seminal offbeat nighttime venue with a musical roster as eclectic as the crowd: hip hop, techno, drum'n'base, metal and, of course, good old-fashioned punk. Established touring bands hit the stage as much as upwardly hopeful talent. Panel discussions, public readings and political fundraisers are also part of the program, along with neighborhood bingo, karaoke nights, a nighttime flea market and GLBTIQ parties. (030-6140 1306)
Prince Charles, a stylish mix of club and bar, didn't need much time to get a foothold in the pantheon of top clubs in town. It's ensconced in a swimming pool for the employees of the piano factory once housed in the building. The bar itself is cleverly placed within the sunken pool and presided over by a kitschy-cute fish mural. There's electro, techno and house on the turntable every weekend, along with the occasional concert and guest events such as the gay 'Horse Meat Disco' and the 'Burgers & Hip Hop' street food fair. In summer, the action spills into the courtyard.
Deep in the bowels of a massive defunct power station lies Tresor, Berlin's techno mothership. Founded in 1991 in the eponymous vault of an abandoned department store near Potsdamer Platz, this club institution launched the careers of top DJ such as Tanith, Sven Väth, Paul van Dyk and Ellen Allien. Forced to abandon its original space in 2005, the megaboîte was rebooted only two years later in this raw industrial labyrinth. There are three separate but connected floors: Globus for house music, +4 for experimental electronic music and the main floor called Vault, where you can dance among the deposit boxes scavenged from the original location. (030-6953 7720)
A pioneering hub of creativity, Stattbad Berlin (formerly Stattbad Wedding) occupies a public swimming pool from 1907. Since the water was drained in 2001, the space has been reincarnated as a beehive for artists, musicians, designers and creative start-ups. New art exhibits open regularly but on weekends raucous parties draw the dance-obsessed from around town into the blue-and-white-tiled pool and various other nooks and crannies. Stattbad may not book the big-name DJs, but that just keeps prices low and the crowd relaxed. Foodies on a budget should check the website for the next date when the 'Lost in Wedding' crew prepares delicious three-course vegetarian menus for a mere 10 euros in Stattbad's cafe-bar.
This legendary Berlin dance hall celebrated its 100th anniversary in late 2013, perfect proof that good things never go out of fashion. Originally called Buehlers Ballhaus, it was renamed in the 1920s after Claerchen, one of its most beloved regulars. Today, the patina of yesteryear still hangs over the tinsel-decorated, high-ceilinged ballroom that draws dance-happy hipsters aged 20 to 80 with different sounds nightly. Salsa to tango, swing to waltz, cha cha to disco - anything goes (except techno and electro). The place gets especially jumping on Fridays and Saturdays when a live band strikes up after 11pm. Sturdy wooden tables ring the dance floor, and for sustenance there's pizza and German food. (030 282 9295)
Since opening in late 2013, this swank hot spot has injected a much needed dose of sass into Berlin's once fairly sleepy western city center. The club entrance sits at the bottom of a dramatic exterior cascade spilling into panoramic windows. A dolled-up crowd indulges in sipping, flirting, chatting and dancing until the wee hours on a dance floor lidded by a dazzling feathery LED ceiling installation. There's a different theme nightly. During Thursday popular after-work party professionals get to loosen their ties and libidos (half-price drinks until 9pm!). Fridays are big with wrinkle-free hip-hop and black music lovers, while weekend warriors invade on Saturdays for high-octane nights of electronic dance music. For relaxed imbibing, belly up to the circular bar (anchored by a sparkling chrome installation) in the front lounge. (030-3151 8890)
To electronic music lovers, Watergate is an essential destination thanks to a flawless booking policy that brings in cream-of-the-crop DJs from international labels every weekend. It also gets our vote for most beautiful club in Berlin and not just for its magical riverside location. This tricked-out techno-electro temple spreads over two floors; the main one featuring a head-spinning LED ceiling installation, and the water floor below. Both are fronted by floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows with a full-on view of the Universal Music HQ and the Oberbaumbruecke bridge with its fanciful towers and turrets. In summer you can dance under the stars on a pontoon anchored right in the river. (030-6128 0396)
Although it cut its illegal underground roots long ago, Ritter Butzke has hardly gone mainstream. Ensconced in an old factory with the requisite industrial decor, this party temple vibrates with techno, electro and minimal every weekend. Its solid roster of resident and regular DJs includes Aroma, David Dorad, Kotelett & Zadak and Jens Bond. Even such techno royalty as Apparat and M.A.N.D.Y. have graced the turntables. It's a huge, cavernous space consisting of three main floors as well as an outside area for catching some air. Lines can get crazy long but the door policy is pretty egalitarian. (030-322 970 107)
Oh, if the walls of this hardcore party chamber could talk... they'd shriek! The stories would certainly make tender souls blush, for hedonism rules with abandon in this dark, multi-floor labyrinth set amid the industrial rawness of a defunct power station. Only international superstar DJs get to helm the decks, making Berghain the Holy Grail among electronic music disciples. House dominates the upper Panorama Bar, while hard-edged minimal techno whips the crowd into a frenzy in the former turbine hall below. With beats continuing right through to Monday morning, this is a club for punters with stamina. A considerable tamer vibe rules next door in the affiliated Kantine am Berghain in the former power station cafeteria. In summer, a beer garden invites chilling. (030-2936 0210)
About Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Andrea has made a living as a travel writer and photographer for over 20 years, visiting some 70 countries in the process and authoring a similar number of guidebooks, mostly for Lonely Planet. Add to that hundreds of articles in print and online, magazine editing, travel consulting, developing content for travel apps, translating from German to English and vice versa... Andrea’s destination expertise is especially strong when it comes to her native Germany and especially to Berlin, where she makes her home. She also has extensive knowledge about Crete, Dubai and the UAE, California and various Caribbean islands.
Read more about Andrea Schulte-Peevers here.