Berlin Stories: Johnnie Stieler’s 10 Club Commandments

In conjunction with RBMA Radio’s September pop-up station in Berlin, this month we’re taking a deep dive into German music history. Last week, the Sick Girls’ Alex Dröner talked about Berlin’s growing non-four-to-the-floor scene for electronic music. Today, Johnnie Stieler, the former head of the sadly defunct Horst Krzbrg – one of Berlin’s most forward-thinking clubs over the past decade – offers up ten commandments for those thinking about opening up a club in Berlin.

Looking back at the very beginning of Horst Krzbrg it seems to me that we were living in another age and in another universe. Berghain was no name to impress your friends in an American hillbilly village, Watergate was more a scandal back in the ’70s than a club in Kreuzberg and what really moved people from not ending up as couch potatoes on a Saturday night was a fresh generation of party promoters that more or less squatted or invented new places like the famous Mondhügel at Görlitzer Park. The building of mobile sound systems that could be easily carried was the main topic. Or the best way to throw a Hit & Run party in a public place.

One day a friend came along with a location that we should definitely see. You have to understand that an invitation like that is, to me, like a blood bottle to a vampire.

You could count the official venues on two hands. Guerillas didn’t have the means to open up new venues – so we decided to squat empty places or unusual venues for a day or simply to stay outside in the parks of Berlin. Friedrichshain was a dirty and ugly part of Berlin. And we loved it that way. “We” – my girlfriend, friends from an underground dance forum which (still) has the look of the last flyer of Ostgut with some flying ravens and stuff and myself – were quite active in exploring new places.

Parties never used to be at the same place every weekend. But every time we went home our ears bleeped, our knees hurt from standing around for ages and our clothes smelled (of course) like we had been partying in a crypt. The consequence: An ongoing discussion about what a good location would be, what kind of beer or booze should be served or why, how to construct a perfect sound system, lights, doors...

I don’t think anybody else understood the concept of Horst Krzbrg quite like the Wax Treatment crew and vice versa.

One day a friend came along with a location that we should definitely see. You have to understand that an invitation like that is, to me, like a blood bottle to a vampire. A healed vampire that didn’t feel ever doing a club again. Back in the day it was Dimitri Hegemann, Achim Kohlberger and me that opened up Tresor. After four years I left, disappointed and exhausted. I wasn’t even 25 years old by then. But Tresor had turned into something that I didn't feel anymore. And so I stumbled back into the daylight and swore to never do a club again.

So we went to this place, and it was a bit like God had somehow figured out a room structure that could fit everything we had been discussing. It took some minutes to throw my vow overboard. A serious new infection. The first person I called was Mark Ernestus. Through the grapevine I’d heard that he and some people from the Hard Wax crew were interested in doing a regular night once in a while on the legendary Killasan sound system. Although I hadn’t seen him for ages he had the same mobile number. And that is something that characterizes Mark Ernestus quite well: You call the same number and it’s like you met yesterday. I don’t think anybody else understood the concept of Horst Krzbrg quite like the Wax Treatment crew and vice versa. But I am not going to share this secret with you. Period.

 

 

Four years later we found ourselves being eaten up by a rampant monstrous nightlife plant. Our musical and DJ discoveries were swallowed by impertinent booking agencies that sent 30-page contracts to book people that live just a short taxi drive away. It seems that the people that have been shaken off the music industry now sit on artists like flies on the remains of a good dog meal: Bookers, artists managers, travel managers – what the hell is going on? And what makes this generation of musicians so interesting for agencies that represent people in rock, Hollywood and baseball?

The still rising number of new venues and clubs in Berlin that struggle with you for the same 50 artists have now created a situation where you have to decide on a booking up to 12 months in advance to find the one date that your good friend might be available. Ridiculous fees are getting paid and promoters spend most of their time bootlicking people they don't like, filling in forms and headhunting for artists.

If you, dear reader, have it in your mind to come to Berlin to open up something like a venue, club or gallery: Please read these ten club commandments.

1. Don’t do it.

Every day at Tegel and Schönefeld airport a dozen people arrive with radiant eyes. They have left behind their girlfriend, work or school, and have taken all the money from their bank account.


2. Don’t think you have a unique concept.
If you’re fierce enough to accept commandment #1, forget that you have a brilliant new idea. In the last ten years, hundreds of young people have come to Berlin and left after the first winter after finding out that there’s an army of similar people with the same idea or concept.


3. Do not spend your – and your friend’s – money unless you don’t ever need it back.

Money – thrown into the Berlin nightlife – is nothing more than a lubricant to keep the machine going. It comes in small crinkled bank notes out of the trousers of a Low Budget Jet Set and you will just bring it to the bank. That’s it. You won’t see it again.


4. Consider a day job to finance your life. 

You will need something other than the beer that you take home from the club to fill the fridge. And even this beer isn’t “for free.”


5. Mind the authorities.

Yes. Unbelievable. Berlin has authorities. Although it seems like nobody pays tax or cares about a liquor license: The piles on the tables of the Berlin administrations are immense – but one fine day your pile will be in the hands of somebody. A lot of people return home when this happens.


6. Pace yourself.

Yes. It’s possible to party seven days a week and, in the beginning, you might be able to cope with both partying and your personal commitment to the Berlin nightlife. But it will chew you up.


7. Prepare for Berlin winter depression.

From spring to autumn it seems like Berlin is a huge Haight-Ashbury. From one day to the next it will be the most unfriendly, unsexy and depressing city in the world.


8. Seriously. Consider a day job to finance your life.
It’s possible to get along with 20 € and a bicycle for a week. And, yes, a döner a day might help you keep your figure, but it also decreases the amount of friends that may want to talk to you. Especially girls.


9. Flats just aren’t what they used to be.

Reconcile with the idea that, today, a tiny room in a shared apartment costs as much as a flat a few years ago.


10. Meet some Berliners.

Besides all these awesome people from Newark, Milton Keynes, Vancouver, Torino, Vigo or Pinzano Al Tagliamento, there are still some Berliners around. You will need them as friends in winter.

 

Images: pixlsys.com

 

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