Berlin clubs move online with famed nightlife shuttered

Income from streaming will contribute to a relief fund for clubs, organisers and artistes. (Facebook pic/Watergate Club)

BERLIN: At the Watergate club on the Spree, where the old west and east Berlins meet, artistes like the four-person band GHEIST and Claptone, who performs in a gold-plated Black Death mask, played to an empty dance floor on Wednesday.

Their performance was instead watched by thousands of would-be clubbers logged on to a newly created streaming service, www.unitedwestream.berlin.

The event was the first attempt by Berlin’s famed nightclubs to keep the show going after the German capital’s coronavirus fight brought the shutters down last week on clubs, bars and pubs across the city.

“If you’re at home, under quarantine, you’re going to have a little bit of club culture in your living room,” Lutz Leichsenring, a board member for Berlin Clubcommission, an advocacy group for the city’s nightlife, said in an interview.

The shutdown threatens the club tourism sector that annually contributes €1.48 billion to Berlin’s economy. It also puts at risk the livelihoods of thousands of club employees and artists.

For the weeks ahead, the clubs and the Berlin Clubcommission are teaming up with broadcaster ARTE Concert to open their virtual doors daily, offering several hours of live DJ sets, music and performances. Visitors to the site will be asked for a donation and will get a “Virtual Club Ticket”.

“Watching the first broadcast gave me hope for the future in what has felt like a hopeless time,” said Ivy Rossiter, a music producer.

Income from the streaming will contribute to a relief fund that supports clubs, event organisers and artistes, the organisers said. In the first 24 hours, the platform raised €103,139 from over 3,000 donors.

The closing of the clubs, bars and pubs has left about 9,000 employees, as well as tens of thousands of artistes – singers, DJs, dancers, stand-up comics – without work and wages.

The clampdown was part of a broader plan to limit gatherings that had accelerated the spread of the virus in Germany, which has recorded about 13,900 confirmed cases and 43 deaths.

Some of the city’s clubs were linked to confirmed cases of the pathogen. Last week, Berlin health authorities said 17 people who were at the Trompete club later tested positive for the virus, while another venue, Kater Blau, asked those who were there on the first weekend of March to self-isolate themselves after one of their clients was found to have been infected.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel used a rare television address to urge Germans to abide by restrictions bringing social life to a standstill, calling the pandemic the country’s greatest challenge since World War II.

“This is serious – and you need to take it seriously,” she said.

“There has been no such challenge to our country since German reunification – no, since World War II.”

Despite the streaming service cushioning the blow to the nightclubs’ balance sheets, Leichsenring still expects the temporary shutdown to harm the industry. He called on the state to provide support.

“We have to prepare for longer than we expect … we need governmental support, (to avoid) bankruptcy in that time, and to stay liquid,” he said.