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Unseen photographs capturing the ‘big bang’ of Berlin techno

A new photobook, Tresor: True Stories, celebrates an institution that spearheaded the sound and scene that has since come to define club culture in the German capital

In a dank corner of a former Berlin power station lies a techno goldmine. The concrete vault – a hidden room nestled in the Tresor-Kraftwerk complex – is brimming with boxes, photographs, folders, hard drives and floppy disks that make up over three decades’ worth of “detritus” associated with the club that sparked the big bang of Berlin techno.

This autumn, an amalgamation of its fragments have been dusted off to become Tresor: True Stories – the encyclopaedic photobook celebrating an institution that spearheaded the sound and scene that has since come to define club culture in the German capital. Comprising more than 350 pages of never-before-seen photographs, party posters, magazine clippings and clubbing memorabilia, Tresor: True Stories returns to the hedonistic heyday of Berlin techno, paying homage to the scene’s counter-cultural origins. It tells the story of Tresor through personal anecdotes – whispers in the powder room, smoky exchanges at the bar – memorialising the essence of its atmosphere: an “air blended of acrid mold, cigarette smoke, beer and sweat” (according to writer Bill Cunningham), where 800 Berliners danced through the night to the “jackhammer beat of techno music”.

In 1991 – less than two years after the fall of the wall that had divided the city during the Cold War – Tresor opened its doors in the centre of former East Berlin, on Leipziger Straße next to Potsdamer Platz. The club found its first home in the basement of an abandoned department store, or as writer Paul Hockenos remembers it “a monumental, gothic-style redbrick building [...] with 15 football fields of floor space,” inside of which East German officials had constructed “an inelegant shoebox of a building: a lookout post for the Stasi badly dressed up as a travel büro." Behind a “hulking, five-tonne cast-iron door”, Tresor (the German word for “vault”) lived up to its name.

Though its legacy is often overshadowed by the folkloric reputation of Berghain (and its hotly debated door policy) Tresor’s role was monumental – not only for Berlin, but in catapulting techno to a global stage. With Dimitri Hegemann at its helm, Tresor bridged the gap between Berlin and techno’s forefathers in Detroit, and cemented the so-called “alien techno alliance” that had been established by the Interfisch record label some years earlier. “It was one of the key ingredients that gave Tresor this special, mythical aura,” the book’s editors attest. Both scenes were hedonistic escapes from the socio-political struggles of their respective hometowns; the crumbling Fordian capital on one side, and a Wende-era Berlin on the other.

In Detroit, Jeff Mills and Mad Mike formed the enterprising Underground Resistance to provide opportunity and possibility to Black youth in a city experiencing economic decline; when the wall fell in Berlin, young people from the East and West were meeting for the first time in their lives on DIY dance-floors.

“Parties were places free from the kind of prejudices and resentments that the wider German public struggled with for years, if not decades, afterwards,” Tresor’s editors explain. “In this newfound freedom, with all these new spaces you could occupy, this new hypnotic music, the new drugs, differences didn’t matter, because this emerging culture was new for everyone, East or West – and you wanted to be part of it above all else.”

Peppered among the book’s pages are quotes from the techno legends that graced Tresor’s four walls – from Jeff Mills and Blake Baxter to Thomas Fehlmann and Ellen Allien – and articles describing the “Raveolution” of Love Parade, and the “electrically charged” club kids “jumping, grooving and stomping to the wildest, freaked, metallic techno on the planet”.

But, Tresor’s editors attest, “from today’s perspective, the craziest story is that all of this actually happened.” Over thirty years later, with techno so ingrained in Berlin’s cultural fabric, it’s easy to take the scene for granted. Tresor: True Stories opens the vault to give flowers to its forefathers, and immortalise the historical, cultural and interpersonal impact of the club that changed Berlin forever.

Pre-order a copy of Tresor: True Stories here