Fall of the wall, rise of the rave – how Berlin redefined raving

Articles // Tue 31 Aug 2021 - 11:48am

On November 9th 1989, after over 28 years, the Berlin Wall finally fell and united the East and West of the city. With celebration from citizens across the city, Berlin looked forward to a new era. One that turned out to be dominated by subcultures.

After the collapse of industry in the East and defectors escaping to the West, buildings all over the East of Berlin were abandoned. With little enforcement of laws, these buildings were easy to seize. Squatters occupied buildings for whatever purpose they desired.

The rise of the rave

The celebration of freedom flourished coming into the 90s, many buildings became makeshift clubs and bars. Squatters would seize any building they liked, ranging from abandoned flats to warehouses and railway depots left behind by industry. While many genres blossomed now the east had access to the rest of the world, one sound emerging from Detroit defined the new era of the city. Techno.

Buildings in eastern Berlin, gritty architecture.

Many clubs and bars were temporary, with organisers moving on whenever they got bored or found a new, better venue. Some, however, had the staying power to become staples of the city. Tresor, located in an abandoned vault, became one of the world’s most historically significant clubs. The club worked to bring many of Detroit’s best techno DJs to Berlin including the likes of Jeff Mills.

Freedom to experiment

Before 1989, residents of East Berlin lived limited in regards to expression of self. Newfound freedoms brought an explosion in experimentation and hedonism amongst those stifled before the fall of the wall. With this including a flourishing LGBT scene within the city, safe spaces for experimentation were in demand. The strict door and no-photo policies, still seen to this day, can be traced back to this.

This celebration of expression was perfectly encapsulated by Dr Motte’s Love Parade. Celebrating both the scenes and music at the core of the new Berlin – the parade sported a motto of ‘peace, joy and pancakes’.

At this time, Berlin and Techno were hitting the world stage. Commercial viability had become a reality for DJs, producers and promoters in the scene, with many having to make a difficult decision: Stay loyal to the underground or make the jump for mainstream success.

First threats to the scene

While property and land values in the city were low, it was inevitable that property developers would sweep in. They picked up properties while they were cheap and began building land value. With this surge in interest in the city centre, land values soared and finding spaces for raves and clubs became increasingly harder, threatening the scene supporting the beating-heart of the city.

Police van, authority in Berlin

One councillor had other ideas

Jutta Weitz, responsible for space allocation in Berlin Mitte, had a particular affinity for the hedonists. Due to developments killing opportunities of squatting, the councillor worked to create temporary letting opportunities within the area, allowing clubs and art spaces to survive.

Then the bubble burst…

At the end of the 90’s, the property bubble in Berlin burst and the techno bubble followed suit. A depression set in across the city with the collapse of any remaining industry. With no new businesses and a decreasing population, the future looked bleak moving into the new millennium.

An unforeseen savour

The mainstream attention disappearing was forecast to kill the rave scene in the city. Luckily, it brought some much-needed reprieve to the underground, allowing for recouperation and rebuilding in a more sustainable response to the previous decade.

Property development in the city stagnated, allowing promoters to set up more permanent clubs on land not yet renovated. From this, the city saw the birth of many clubs that are still present today, creating the current club mile on the border between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.

With a more savvy approach to promotion, clubs harnessed the rising popularity of the internet. In combination with the increase in low-cost airfares, this helped nightlife tourism become the saviour-of-the-city. The clubs provided much-needed release and supported the desperate economy of the city.

In its time of need, Berlin wasn’t a city saved by businesses, bureaucracy and politicians.

It was the underground that kept the beating heart alive. Today the Mitte area of Berlin may have lost the gritty edge it once had during the heights of the squatting raves. Yet, true city spirit is still seen and felt throughout the club mile and expansive metropolitan area.