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Cocktail D’Amore at Griessmuehle 5
Cocktail D’Amore: 10 – 10 years of music, friendships, flirts, and fun (2019)Photography Victor Luque

Griessmuehle: Berlin mourns the loss of yet another club

Ahead of the venue’s final party this weekend, protesters, organisers, and activists reflect on its legacy and the future of the city’s nightlife

Arguably nowhere in the world is more renowned for its wild and liberating nightlife scene than Berlin, but over the last decade, approximately 100 clubs have closed, irreversibly altering the landscape of the city.

The latest victim is Neukölln’s grain-mill-turned-nightclub, Griessmuehle – a concrete square with two dance floors, an after-hours area, and a sprawling garden looking out onto the canal. Griessmuehle is being evicted from its coveted spot because its new owners plan to redevelop the site. Despite a recent study revealing that Berlin’s party scene brings three million people a year to the city, with club visitors spending just under €1.5 billion (£1.26 billion) in 2018 alone, Griessmuehle’s new owners allegedly plan to open offices on the site. As a petition to save the club almost hits its €50,000 (£42k) target, the club has announced that it will operate from temporary venues until it can formulate a more permanent plan.

Since its opening eight years ago, the club has become a central part of Berlin’s nightlife, hosting weekend-long parties, including the illustrious and hedonistic queer night, Cocktail D’Amore.

“It’s been the location for Cocktail for the past five years,” the night’s organisers Giacomo Garavelloni and Giovanni Turco tell Dazed, “so in a way it feels like being evicted from your own home.” 

Cocktail D’Amore will close the club this weekend, with an event called “The Last Cocktail”, set to run from Friday night (January 31) to Monday morning (February 3). “To be honest, even we don’t know what to expect!” Garavelloni and Turco say. “There will be three dance floors throughout three nights and days, with 28 secret DJs for a total of 56 hours of music – and apparently all the partygoers are bringing their mums and dads!”

Though this final party gives Griessmuehle regulars a chance to say goodbye, it marks another farewell in a long line of devastating closures. “I’ve been in Berlin for eight years,” says Danilo Sierra, who attended a protest last week against Griessmuehle’s closing, “and the club scene is definitely being killed, despite it bringing in an insane amount of tourism, money, and jobs.”

According to Berlin’s Club Commission – an organisation dedicated to protecting the city’s nightlife – around 15 clubs are currently under threat. There’s even a German word for it: clubsterben (‘club dying’). “The reasons are individual to each venue,” the group’s spokesperson, Lutz Leichsenring, explains, “but most of it is because they have issues with neighbours complaining, with authorities and their licenses, or issues with the owner.”

“People are helpless, because they see that (the city is losing) its identity and heartbeat when a club like this closes” – Lutz Leichsenring

Following the club closure announcement at the end of last year, protesters took to the streets last week to challenge the order, calling for action to be taken against the destruction of the city’s nightlife more widely. Leichsenring says these protests also aim to raise awareness about the importance of these types of venues, especially to developers. “They probably think this is just a shitty, rundown venue that has no relevance for the city,” he explains, “so by organising these protests, they see (the club’s importance to people).”

Although the people who run and attend events – who made up the majority of Wednesday’s (January 22) crowd – have the most invested in these clubs, they have little power when they come under threat. “People are helpless,” admits Leichsenring, “because they see that (the city is losing) its identity and heartbeat when a club like this closes. It’s a private owner, so there’s a limit to even what politicians can do – maybe they should have done something years ago, but they didn’t. It’s hurtful, but hopefully (the government will) learn for the future. Though I’ve been organising these kinds of protests for ten years now and I haven’t seen much of a learning curve.”

This observation is mirrored by Sierra. “The demonstration was very lovingly organised,” he tells Dazed, “and there were local council representatives there listening (to what protesters had to say), but there was no mention of how the Berlin government plans to dedicate a space to culture.”

In November 2018, local governments did show their support for the city’s nightlife, freeing up €1 million (£842k) to help soundproof clubs to minimise the conflict between late-night venues and residential areas nearby. Regardless of this, many clubs are still at risk. KitKatClub – one of the city’s notorious fetish clubs – announced in December that it might be forced to close, with its lease not yet renewed despite it set to expire in June this year. Also under threat from a controversial motorway extension are ://about blank, Salon Zur Wilden Renate, Else, and Polygon – four iconic Berlin venues.

Leichsenring asserts that the Club Commission has a list of actions to protect the city’s nightlife, including developing and supporting small businesses – especially cultural ones – investing in infrastructure, “which helps us to experiment more in music”, and introducing an ‘agent of change’, which would force new buildings to develop sound proofing in order to protect long-standing nearby clubs. Leichsenring also wants clubs to be recognised as cultural venues, as opposed to entertainment or amusement venues, “because right now we’re in the same category as casinos”. 

“Clubbing can lead to revolutionary ideas in infinite forms. Partying was, is, and will always be political” – Giacomo Garavelloni and Giovanni Turco, Cocktail D’Amore

Although clubs are continuing to close in the city, Berlin’s protection of its nightlife is lightyears ahead of action taken by the UK government. Since London appointed a night czar three years ago – who’s paid £35,000 a year for 2.5 days a week – at least eight clubs have closed. As journalist Clive Martin wrote for Dazed in 2018: “The capital’s nightlife has been altered beyond recognition. The dominant culture has gone from shots and sleaze to mimosas and wellness; pints to pintxos; dubstep to dust.”

“Gentrification is spreading quickly,” Garavelloni and Turco say of Berlin. “This is affecting so many things about the city and its residents, but also club culture, its places, and the communities behind and within the scene. Clubbing is not only about frivolities, often a party is so much more than just a ‘party’. It can change people’s lives, it can change – in a direct and indirect way – society at large, or at least create communities so out-of-the-ordinary that they free individuals from the oppressive barriers that mainstream society is made up of.”

“Clubbing can lead to revolutionary ideas in infinite forms,” the pair conclude. “Partying was, is, and will always be political. It’s time for regulators, politicians, and local authorities to pay the industry its due respect. Recognition, support, protection, and real help are now priorities – we must save club culture.”

The Last Cocktail starts tonight (January 31) at Griessmuehle