How Berlin's infamous Berghain nightclub has reimagined itself in 2020

In the wake of the pandemic, Berghain, Berlin’s notoriously selective nightclub, has reinvented itself as an art gallery. Plus, discover the three UK venues following its lead. 

By Sarah Barrell
Published 19 Nov 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 19 Nov 2020, 15:10 GMT
Interior of Berghain, Berlin.

Interior of Berghain, Berlin’s leading techno club. After being forced to close in March due to coronavirus restrictions, the venue has reopened as an arts space.

Photograph by Getty

It’s infamously tricky to get into Berghain — or, at least, it used to be. Like many venues across the world, Berlin’s leading techno club — a preserve of the patient and perseverant — was forced to close in March due to coronavirus restrictions, but the venue has since reopened as an arts space. A former power station, the almost 40,000sq ft club is currently hosting Studio Berlin, an exhibition of 115 Berlin-based artists, including Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson and Wolfgang Tillmans — but given how exclusive Berghain was in the past, its hallowed halls are likely to be as much of a headline spectacle as the works adorning them. It’s currently emblazoned with a banner created by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija that reads, in German, ‘Morgen ist die frage’ (‘tomorrow is the question’).

Visitors can book timed tickets for guided, socially distanced tours of the contemporary art show that takes in both the club’s dance floor and the legendary Panorama Bar. This is the venue’s latest instalment of an unexpected artistic programme for 2020, following DJ events in its adjacent beer garden this summer.

It’s a savvy move from the clubbing colossus, and one that other venues might be wise to copy. The recent report ‘Global Nighttime Recovery Plan’, by nightlife consultancy VibeLab and an international panel of night mayors, academics and music promoters, suggests that venues will have to find ‘creative business model pivots’ in order to survive during the pandemic. Berghain’s innovation may lead the dance into a new night-time normal.

Studio Berlin runs until December 2020, with permanent installations and further exhibitions ongoing. 

Eastgate Clock in Chester, where the High Street is currently being transformed into a buzzing arts space.

Photograph by Alamy

Three innovative UK venues
 

Chester
The city’s High Street is currently being transformed from commercial strip to buzzing arts space. New community initiative PACh (Place for the Arts in Chester) negotiates with local landlords to secure galleries and artist studios in vacant premises, with the aim of bringing locals and tourists back to the city’s handsome medieval centre. Landlords agree short-term, minimum- or zero-rent leases in return for their premises being well maintained, and available for reletting at notice. The first two PACh arts hubs are on Bridge Street and Northgate Street. 

Edinburgh
Inverleith House, longstanding home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, is rebranding itself as Climate House. The radical new plan will transform the 18th-century mansion house, most recently used as exhibition space for the Royal Botanic Gardens, into a climate crisis forum. With controversial plans to close the historic arts space in 2017 now abandoned, Inverleith will lead a three-year initiative to form a network of arts and science organisations, partnering with London’s Serpentine Gallery to explore ways to tackle climate crisis challenges.

Sunderland
Beleaguered by lockdown’s supply chain issues for vinyl, the ever-resourceful record store Pop Recs — founded by members of local indie band Frankie & The Heartstrings — has rolled with the punches, producing Sunderland-specific merchandise that celebrates local culture, artists and beloved Mackem phrases. Live music events are currently ruled out, but the venue holds regular workshops on everything from printmaking to photography.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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