As party-tourism to Berlin has intensified, so has the pressure on nightclubs to preserve the atmosphere and maintain the right mix of people inside of their clubs. Hausrecht, which translates to ´right of the house´ allows private spaces like clubs to decide on who gains access and who gets denied. This has caused for a sequence of complaints as people feel they aren’t declined on a random basis, but on basis of race or sexual orientation. I spoke with electronic music researcher Luis-Manuel Garcia, organizer of Pornceptual party, Chris Phillips and Celine Barry of the Anti Discriminatory Network Berlin.
Berlin’s nightlife is known for its hour long queues, difficult to get into clubs and notorious bouncers. Getting into these spaces, isn’t always as easy. From a legal perspective, clubs are allowed to deny people on four bases: age, behaviour in queues, capacity and for the sake of the ‘concept’. The latter one revolves around the people it wishes to attract and the atmosphere it tries to create. Easy to comprehend, as these spaces are known for having the most energetic, interesting and diverse crowds. One where all are different, but unite as one on the dance floor. This makes it almost impossible to not grasp why it has to be selective on who to give access to maintain the incomparable existing atmosphere inside Berlin’s techno clubs.
In any case, bouncers are not allowed to deny people on bases of ethnicity or race. The General Law of Equal Treatment (AGG) is a law created in 2006 to protect people against discrimination on bases of ethnic background, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
In spite of this law being active, immigrants and people with diverse ethnic backgrounds unfortunately still face racial discrimination in Berlin’s nightlife on a daily basis. I spoke with ADNB’s (Anti Discriminatory Network Berlin) representative and project manager Celine Barry – who has grown up in Berlin and has been actively part of the electronic music scene in Berlin – about the current situation.
‘A small group of people is on its way to the club. The entire group is allowed to enter the club however, the one with a Turkish ethnic background isn’t. We did some tests with groups of people with a Turkish or Arabic ethnic background. It’s simple. On a regular basis these people of the same social class and same age but with a different ethnic background – went to different clubs and faced rejection after rejection.’
Celine explains that present-day topics like IS terrorism and recent occurrences like the group rape of women by men with a North-African and Arabic ethnic background during New Years Eve in Cologne in 2016, have intensified security and safety measures nationwide. ‘This whole idea of discourse and ethnic background is making things really problematic right now for people of colour in Germany.’
‘Inside of these spaces there is an atmosphere of equality and acceptance, but outside you can clearly see how people are divided.’
This is where it gets tricky and the basis of ‘for the sake of the concept’ get’s challenged. It’s difficult to find out if one has been rejected because of not fitting in with the concept or whether it is a case of racial discrimination. ‘It’s always the question of what the invisible norm is.’
Electronic music researcher and professor Luis-Manuel Garcia speaks up about the issue. ‘This whole Hausrecht system, it provides as a convenient cover for racism. It allows bouncers to not having to think about racism, painting islam as misogynistic homophobes. It’s so deeply ingrained in European thoughts of integration and cultural citizenship. It is still very pervasive. People aren’t thinking about it.´ Garcia explains.
Having diversity and a few people of colour inside of these clubs doesn’t mean that there is no racial discrimination present. ‘Racism is only there for people who experience it’ says Celine.
Another existing process that elicits disconnection to these spaces is self-segregation. ‘On the one hand, for people of colour – just as for queer people – there is hyper-vigilance.’ Garcia explains. ‘This means that in some degree you are hypersensitive to potential danger. Can I walk through this part of the city at night or go to a certain club, without being harassed? It distorts your perception of reality, and this sort of works both ways.’
Because these groups of people face rejection, they are less inclined to involve themselves with a scene where they feel unwelcome. Fortunately there are pioneers in addressing the issue in question. Take for example the organisation Room4Resistance, who have their own parties at About Blank://. This party promotes itself as one for refugees, queer, women, trans and other minorities.
‘The importance in promoting a concept is that if a club doesn’t make it very clear in how it advertises the party and how it phrases it and who is booked, people who are used to be marginalised, won’t come if they don’t feel spoken to. They assume they will be excluded and don’t want to face micro-aggression.
What happens when the ADNB receives a report?
‘First of all we want to find out proof. Then we try to find out, how do we measure this? What was the behaviour of this person, did he fit in with the concept irregardless of ethnic background? We need to know all the details. Thirdly we ask what the victim of this problem wants out of it. Does one want to tell a story, does this person want a compensation or gather information? Sometimes we also publish the report. In any case, we would like to take upon a legal strategy and get compensation. Some clubs also don’t want to go to court, because they don’t want to have a bad image.’
‘We can only battle racial discrimination by conducting tests on a regular basis and gathering enough proof to step to court.’ says Celine. Unfortunately, often it is very difficult to prove that it revolves around racial discrimination.
Discrimination and sexual orientation
Racial discrimination is not the only form present in the scene. Chris Phillips, organizer of Pornceptual, criticises the fact that there is still some sort of discrimination present against straight men. ‘It’s an obverse world,’ Chris says. ‘Often queer people are discriminated, but in queues for a techno club, it’s the other way around.’
‘It’s weird to live in one of the most free cities in the world where boundaries within sexuality have become blurred but where sexual orientation is still so important to getting into clubs.’
According to Luis-Manuel Garcia this problem is in direct relation with minorities like LGBTQI+ and women that come to these spaces. To avoid possible intimidation and harassment from straight men they would face in some clubs. ‘When a lot of straight men gain access, a lot changes. You have to dose it.’ Garcia says.
Respectively, it can be said that it’s difficult to create a space where everyone is treated equally. This shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to encourage conversations about what decisions to make to create safe spaces for everyone with the goal of improving inclusiveness.
The only way to prevent discrimination and racism, is by sticking to letting people in on basis of ‘for the sake of the concept.’ This means an increase in effort of bouncers questioning people they doubt to get an impression whether these people are visiting these spaces for the right reasons.