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Wolfgang Tillmans, “Outside Snax Club” (2001) (image by Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London)

Berlin nightclubs disappearing due to gentrification has become so common that Germans have come up with a word for the phenomenon: clubsterben, or “club death.” Pushed out by property developers and threatened by noise complaints from new residents, the venues that helped create Berlin’s world-famous nightlife are increasingly relegated to the city’s peripheries.

Last Wednesday, February 12, the nightclub advocacy group Clubcommission asked the German Parliament to protect the nation’s clubs from gentrification. If their request is granted, clubs in Germany will enjoy the same legal status as opera houses, theaters, and other cultural spaces.

The government currently classifies clubs as “entertainment venues,” along with brothels and casinos. But according to Pamela Schobeß, owner of Club Gretchen in Berlin, “the difference between an opera and a club is the style of music.”

“It is extremely unfair,” Schobeß, who chairs the Clubcommission and was present at Parliament, told InfoRadio. “And it does not do justice to what we do.”

Testifying before the Parliament’s committee for building, living, and urban development, Clubcommission described Berlin’s nightclubs as “the pulse of the city,” arguing that they are integral to the German capital’s cultural fabric and help shape the city’s urban development. They cited the cases of the Berlin clubs Farbfernseher, Rosis, and Stattbad, all forced out of their buildings after landlords refused to extend their rental contracts because of noise complaints.

Changing clubs’ legal status would mean investors and property owners would have to install noise barriers if their buildings are close to a nightclub.

Former nightclub owner Jakob Turur admonished that clubs “would fall victim to commercialization and mainstreaming” if the law is not changed.

“Already we’re seeing clubs pushed to the margins of cities because the rents are too high and investors don’t want to make long-term contracts. That is no recipe for a diverse cultural offering,” he told the Guardian.

According to Clubcommission’s research, around 100 clubs have closed in the last decade, but an estimated three million tourists come to Berlin every year specifically for its nightclubs. The group also found that clubs contributed €1.5 billion (~$1.6 billion) to the local economy in the past year.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the rise of the techno scene in Berlin helped breathe new life into the city’s architectural landscape. Formerly abandoned buildings and industrial factories suddenly pulsed with the bass of electronic music and welcomed some of the world’s most renowned DJs at the start of their careers, sparking a veritable cultural movement. Nightclubs also inspired a generation of rising artists across disciplines, such as the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, whose ethereal capture of the dimly-lit SNAX club in Berlin in 2001 has become iconic.

“For me, a club is a big abstraction machine that constantly produces pictures,” said Tillmans. “They’re often on the edge of the visible, when the fog rises and you look up toward the ceiling and watch the lights. Intangible things shimmer and flicker through there.”

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