Panoramabar: Berlin's Underworld
- Words: Vivian Host
It's noon on a sunny Sunday. While half of Berlin sits down to brunch, this is the first time some of these people have sat down all weekend. Six shirtless men who look like Russian G.I. Joe figures–matching boots, crew cuts, and grey acid-wash jeans–rest against one another; next to them, a group of exiled Detroit ravers share a cigarette and three German girls loll on perfectly manicured grass, laughing. The whole effect is one of falling down the rabbit hole, only to end up in an adult raver's paradise.
This courtyard is just one part of the grand, surreal labyrinth of one of the world's most amazing clubs, Panoramabar/Berghain. Built in an abandoned power station from the 1950s, its heavy concrete walls contain three floors of true mayhem. You enter to the pounding techno of the dark, brooding Berghain (so named because the building lies on the Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain border), then ascend a flight of stairs to Panoramabar, where seasoned clubbers break serious sweats to tweaky minimal and techy house, dancing underneath gigantic Wolfgang Tillmans genitalia photos and windows that look out over East Berlin. The hardcore descend from the already devious Berghain into The Laboratory, a gay sex club in the basement.
Panoramabar has a no-idiots door policy; other than that, it's utterly democratic: there's no special guestlist line, no VIP rooms, and no cameras are allowed. The idea is to create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable to do as they please. It's the mantra of the club's founders (who wish to remain nameless), one that has followed them from their start as gay fetish-party promoters through their heyday as the creators of Ostgut, a wildly popular East Berlin club that ran from 1995 through 1999.
Panoramabar may be a mega-club, but it doesn't act like one. It has no corporate sponsors, no logos, and it's hidden down an unmarked driveway. Though it's promoted, it still feels like a secret. Furthermore, its adventurous lineups have slotted dance-punk band The Gossip, grime DJ Skream, and Chicago stalwart DJ Traxx amongst regulars like Luciano, Khan, and Sammy Dee.
You can hear the club's sound via the club's new Ostgut label, but there's no substitute for experiencing Panoramabar yourself. "It's the most intense place I have ever played," says resident Prosumer. "The crowd is wild, open-minded, and willing to party. Sometimes, I am so moved spinning there that I get tears in my eyes."
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