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la società contemporanea / Re-thinking the quality of public space (I)

Public Spaces as Homophilic Spaces

Belonging and Accessibility in Berlin’s Club Culture
Séverine Marguin e Vivien Sommer
p. 77-95


Our research project on homophilic spaces in Berlin’s club culture is based on the cooperation with the French artist Julie Chovin. Through her work of more than 220 photos of club entrances in Berlin we were able to grasp the qualities of the Berlin clubs. We made the observations of a heterogeneous landscape yet hosting respectively homogeneous audiences. In order to understand the constitution of such homophilic communities, we focussed our sociospatial investigation on the threshold space of Berlin club. Based on a comprehensive review and analysis of visual representations of club doors, qualitative interviews with bouncers, mental maps, and ethnographic multimodal field notes, our research reconstructs – in a first step – the spatial arrangement of Berlin’s club threshold at the interplay between the gate, the queue, and the selection practices of the bouncers. In a second step, we analyse the audience curation along three dimensions generative of public spaces: firstly, the affective dimension that refers to the emotional state of the guests and their collective contribution to atmosphere making; secondly, the imaginative dimension about the meaning of the exclusiveness and distinction of a typical club in Berlin; and thirdly, the technological dimension in terms of media technology and their absence to create a non-mediatized space.

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1. Introduction

1Our project on Berlin club cultures started in spring 2020 in the deepest lockdown at the start of the Corona Pandemic, when Berlin nights were no longer wild and loud for months. Encounters outside of an everyday life within specific club spaces and a particular bodiliness as a collective aesthetic experience were no longer possible at that time (Lee, Kao, 2021, 36; Sierzputowski, 2021; Vandeberg et al., 2021, 142). This period at the beginning of the pandemic also marked the start of our collaboration with the French artist Julie Chovin. In her artwork “The Place to Be” she photographed over eight years all dance venues existing in Berlin, with a focus on their entrance situation, displaying the variety of architecture and neighbourhood atmosphere (Chovin, 2021).

III: 1: Work of the artist Julie Chovin, «The Place to Be» (2021)

III: 1: Work of the artist Julie Chovin, «The Place to Be» (2021)

2The more than 220 photos of deserted entrances provide a pathos-free effect that forms an intriguing contrast against the myth that encompasses Berlin’s club culture (Ludewig, 2020; Grésillon, 2021; Zitzelsberger, 2021). For us, the sociospatial qualities of the Berlin clubs become obvious through this collection: the first observation was the heterogeneity of the club landscape; the second observation was an immediate shared associative assignation of the different clubs to specific social milieux. Indeed, in this great variety of clubs, we could immediately tell from the facade, i.e. the architectural shape, which clubs we belong to and which remain quite alien to us. This was the starting point of our reflections: How are such public spaces constituted as homophilic? What are the qualities that make them socially distinctive?

3In sociological literature about music and celebration, cultural homophily is related mostly to the preferred musical genre (Coulangeon, 2003) put in correlation to the social origin of the audience (Bourdieu, 1979; 1980). With homophilic space we refer to the gathering of a socially-homogeneous dancing community, that guarantees a familiar, attractive, safe club space for the respective groups. In this paper, in order to deconstruct this homogeneity of the audience, we decided to put the focus on the regulation of the audience composition: who is getting in, how and why? We investigated from a sociospatial perspective the constitution of the club threshold, i.e. this peculiar situation of strictly regulated and controlled accessibility: How is this border spatialised and materialised? How is the crossing regulated? We did not take into account the non-public of the clubs or the public’s self-selection mechanisms – i.e., which clubs one decides to go or not to go to. Much more we were interested in the process of spatial regulation between the outside and the inside at work at the club’s door.

4Based on a rich empirical data, including Chovin’s large photo database of the entrances of 220 clubs, ethnographic observations in clubs as well as mental maps and qualitative interviews with bouncers, we reconstruct – in a first step – the spatial arrangement of Berlins’ clubs threshold: The empirical material shows that the gate, the queue, and the selection practices of the bouncers contribute to regulate the visitors flows in order to form a homogeneous public. Remarkably, the curation of the inside space has proved to be a driven force in the selection process. That’s why we analyse – in a second step – this curation of distinctive spatial qualities along three dimensions: firstly, the affective dimension that refers to the emotional state of the guests and their collective contribution to atmosphere making; secondly, the imaginative dimension about the meaning of the exclusiveness and distinction of a typical club in Berlin; and thirdly, the technological dimension in terms of media technology and their absence to create a non-mediatized space guaranteeing a certain type of high quality of a party.

5In this paper, we discuss how a sociospatial analysis of the club’s threshold allows us to understand differentiating patterns in the constitution of public spaces of celebration. By examining the relationship between accessibility and belonging, we can work out the link between the heterogeneous landscape and its respective homogeneous audience in the Berlin club scene.

2. Sociospatial Investigation of Berlin’s Clubs

6We follow a sociospatial approach (Jessop et al., 2008; Christmann, Ibert, 2012; Baxter et al., 2021; Marguin, Pelger, 2023), grounded in relational space theory (Löw, 2001), that allows us to analyse the situation of selection at the door of the clubs from processual, socio-material, and discursive perspectives. We think of space in a trans-scalar way, that is we think of the innerspace of the club; embedded in a building complex; itself grounded in the urban fabric of a neighbourhood; itself a specific part of the moving club landscape in the big city of Berlin.

2.1 Berlin and its Heterogeneous Clubs’ Landscape

7The development of Berlin’s club culture is closely linked to the history of the city. In the 1990s, a diverse, differentiated club scene emerged in Berlin, also due to the many inner-city vacant lots and ruins of the previously divided city (Denk, von Thülen, 2014, 9; Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 25; Kühn, 2017, 135). In this newly forming club scene in the post-reunification period, the scene of Berlin squatters merged with the techno scene (Farkas et al., 2013, 128). In the mid-1990s, a professionalisation and institutionalisation of the club landscape began. The formerly mostly illegally run locations were brought into regular rental contracts and clubs had to be officially registered (Kühn, 2017, 69; Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 69). The large number of people moving into the city and real estate speculation have led to a shortage of space and to major price increases (ivi, 70; Robin, 2021, 33; Marguin, Pelger, 2023). But the clubbing scene in Berlin is still diverse and can be found in a range of urban structures, presenting itself in many different forms that extend beyond the typical portrayal in the media of old, worn-out industrial buildings covered in graffiti and posters (Robin, 2021, 33). Julie Chovin’s image collection offers a diverse representation of dance architecture (Chovin, 2021). The uniqueness of this project lies in Chovin’s use of the “official” list of dance venues provided by the Berlin Senate on the city’s information portal, which includes not only the city’s trendy clubs but also venues catering to all generations, social backgrounds, and musical tastes. This database spans from teenage clubs to retirement dance halls and caters to the European easyjet-set, academic hipster arty, as well as the middle and working classes, and features avant-garde electronic music, rock, world music, and techno. While dancing and partying connect these places, their architecture is distinct. Chovin’s image collection creates a comprehensive visual database that follows a rigorous system, capturing each club from the outside and the front, on a winter’s day, without any human presence, providing a clean sociological perspective (Marguin, 2021). Our sociospatial analysis of Berlin’s club culture started with an observation: It is characterised by a very heterogeneous club landscape that is simultaneously hosting respectively homogeneous audiences. Indeed, clubs serve as places where people come together to celebrate, socialise, and engage in leisure and cultural activities. These spaces operate on a principle of social distinction by catering to specific socio-cultural affiliations based on factors such as age, gender, sexual orientation, origin, and social class. The music played at clubs serves as a signal of taste and is a central element in the symbolic struggle between different social backgrounds, according to Bourdieu (1979; 1980).

2.2 Who Comes In? A Sociospatial Approach to Clubs’ Accessibility

8We believe that a focus on space can enable a complex and accurate analysis of the social. Therefore, we follow Löw’s theory of relational space, in which spaces are understood as relational arrangements of objects and people in places (cf. Löw, 2001, 159). However, it is not only a question of topographical relations (spacing), but also of people’s meaningful understanding of them (synthesis) (ibidem). A central element of a club event is the space, in the sense of a relationship between interactions at a specific place within a time period. The concrete starting point for this relationship is always the space and the respective components of this space such as spatial design and music (Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 87). Another important element is the audience, without dancing members the club does not exist in its function. The club is thus constituted by the connection between the designed space, the event, and the actors involved (ivi, 89, 95; Lugo-Elías, Cardoso, 2022).

9The crucial aspect is that the club space is intentionally carefully designed, playing with the question of distinction and belonging. Several assumptions are made in the literature that we would like to question with our investigation:

  1. The semi-public club space has to guarantee a high degree of intimacy – that is the security to be among one’s peers, where rules of behaviour are shared (Garcia, 2013). It’s about the same lifestyle. Guests who endanger the atmosphere of the community and thus the safe space should be kept out – like tourists (Rapp, 2009, 49).

  2. The club space is distinctive, not everyone gets access to it, only the elected ones. The regulation of the door plays a key part in the ‘club myth’ and in Berlin’s club culture in general (Rodgers, 2018). The reduced possibility of membership to a club increases its attractiveness (Kühn, 2017, 176; Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 35).

  3. The club space is (seemingly) class-less. Part of the Berlin myth about club culture is that class differences fade into the background in favour of subcultural capital (Robin, 2021, 25). Although other authors are putting this class-less assumption into question, pointing out that the high entrance fees alone, sometimes 20 euros, lead to exclusion (Picaud, 2019; Ludewig, 2020). In his study of the Berghain’s regular audience, Robin notes, for example, that people with jobs that do not require qualifications or non-academic professionals are strongly underrepresented in this club (Robin, 2021, 26).

10We claim that our sociospatial perspective can shed a new light on this relationship between inclusion and exclusion (see also Biehl-Missal, 2019), by working out the social-distinctive mechanisms at work regulated through the border-like dispositive at the entrance of the club.

2.3 Sample and Research Design

11Our empirical investigation is focused on a famous club route in Berlin, that follows the metro line U8. This route crosses Berlin from the north to the south, passing over Alexanderplatz, the former centre of East-Berlin. As public transport in Berlin runs all night through the weekend, this north-south connection between different attractive going-out neighbourhoods (Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Kreuzberg, Neukölln) is highly frequented. Unlike other major cities, Berlin does not have a geographically specific nightlife district. Rather, its many clubs are spread throughout the urban space. The U8 is of central importance here, as it connects many different parts of the city. It runs through neighbourhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. It connects these neighbourhoods with other popular party areas like Kreuzberg and Neukölln. In Chovin’s sample we could identify more than 20 clubs accessible via the metro U8 (see illustration 2).

III. 2: Sampling of the clubs along the metro line (Sampling by the authors, photograph Chovin, 2021)

III. 2: Sampling of the clubs along the metro line (Sampling by the authors, photograph Chovin, 2021)

12We selected four case studies within this group of clubs close to metro stations of the U8 that we describe shortly in the following. The comparison is based on contrasts along different types of audience (upper class/middle class); along different sizes of the location (small/medium/big); along different degrees of professionalisation (informal; formal); and also along different types of music and party events (rock; pop; techno; electro; sex positive party):

  • King Size Bar (2010-2015, 2016-2017): King Size was founded in 2010 in a former gay bar at Friedrichstraße. It was a small club (max. 30 sqm), hosted on the ground floor of a building from the Gründerjahre in Mitte, which was supposed to be demolished. It was located in the renovated former east district of Mitte, which has been rapidly gentrified since the beginning of the 2000’s. The King Size Bar attracted mainly an upper-class audience, consisting of start-up-owners, politicians, actors. The music that was played was a mixture of pop and electro.

13The three other case studies are located in the former No Man’s land between East and West Berlin, where after the reunification some clubs and bars settled down (Denk, von Thülen, 2014). We chose clubs in a close geographical proximity to each other, with the idea to closely observe how the audience gets distributed over the three clubs, without much hesitation.

  • Sage (1997-): It has been above the Heinrich-Heine-Straße underground station since 1997 and mainly offers rock music parties and live concerts. For a while, the club was open five days a week with several dance floors. Nowadays, it is only open once a week on Thursday for rock night. The location is shared with the KitKatClub, which has existed since 2007.

  • KitKatClub (1994-): It is a venue where guests are permitted to engage in open sexual activities while following the club’s motto of staying in communication. The club caters to a diverse clientele, including members of the LGBT+ community and heterosexuals. A strict dress code is enforced at the door, with a requirement for fetish, leather, latex, high style, kinky, and glamour clothing. Although the club initially focused on classical and goa trance music, it has expanded its electronic music selection over time. KitKatClub has moved three times since its establishment in 1994, most recently to Mitte district’s SageClub in 2007.

  • Tresor (1991-): It has been around since 1991, initially located in a former department stores’ and then, from 2007 onwards, in a former heating and power unit in Berlin Mitte. A prominent venue of Berlin’s techno scene, it has an international reputation. The vault floor in the basement offers familiar solid concrete walls and a high ceiling. The dance floor is approximately 300 sqm and with a 5 m high ceiling.

14We applied a mixed-methods approach for our investigation: firstly, we analysed the photo-database of Julie Chovin consisting of the photos of the facades of the clubs; secondly, we made ethnographic observations in the club and of the queue in the four venues of our sample during several months, taking ethnographic notes and photos. These two datasets constitute our main data corpus. Additionally, we conducted mental maps interviews with bouncers and selectors of our sample (n = 4) as well as with guests who are part of a vulnerable group, i.e. that has a particularly hard time getting into Berlin clubs (n = 4) (see 4.1). On the basis of a grounded theory approach (Strauss, Corbin, 1997) we analysed these collected data, coding and sketching them in view of the analysis.

3. Spatial Arrangement of the Threshold of Berlin’s Clubs: Towards a Professionalisation?

15In a relational spatial perspective, the first ethnographic observation is that the club space stretches beyond the four walls of the dancing room toward the outdoor situation. It is constituted by two main areas, following a territorial logic: the waiting area outside, and the dancing area inside, clearly separated from each other. For our qualitative analysis of the constitution of homophilic space, examining the entanglement between accessibility and belonging at play in the Berlin’s club’s scene, we focus on the elements of the threshold of the club’s space: They form a central spatial arrangement, insofar as they are where social and physical accessibility are negotiated.

3.1 The Spacing Element of a Club’s Threshold

16The door of the clubroom is the central spacing element: It is a materialised gate, controlled by a group of actors, the bouncers. The doors take different materialised shapes: as the door of a shop on the ground floor (like for Neue Odessa Bar), the gate of the metro station (like for Sage, see illustration 3), the gate toward a parking slot (like for KitKat, see illustration 5) or the gated fence into a former industrial area (like for Tresor, see illustration 4). As a vanishing point of the threshold space, the position and materialisation of the door structure the way the threshold space with its border dispositive and the long queues of visitors unfolds: overhanging the road, occupying the pavement or spreading over private areas belonging to the club (see illustration 6).

17The bouncers occupy a powerful position at the door, regulating the opening and closing system (Rigakos, 2008; see also Liempt, Aalst, 2015; Robin, 2021, 35). In several of our interviews, we observed a merging between the materiality of the door and the person of the bouncer, when the bouncer self-identifies as “I am the door”. In bigger clubs, the group of bouncers is divided into security and selectors. The latter are those who select from the queue of waiting for people who will enter the club. The security is then primarily responsible for carrying out this selection process, in certain cases also by physical action. In our study, we talked mainly to the selectors. We spoke with both women and men who work or have worked as bouncers. Thus, it seems that in each case they are also gender-specific role expectations specifically used for the door. Women as selectors are said to have primarily a de-escalating effect, while men are also said to be intimidating in their role as bouncers.

III. 3: Entrance Sage (Chovin, 2021)

III. 3: Entrance Sage (Chovin, 2021)

III. 4: Entrance Tresor (Chovin, 2021)

III. 4: Entrance Tresor (Chovin, 2021)

III. 5: Entrance KitKatClub (Chovin, 2021)

III. 5: Entrance KitKatClub (Chovin, 2021)

III. 6: The queue waiting for KitKatClub on a Saturday night (own source)

III. 6: The queue waiting for KitKatClub on a Saturday night (own source)

18The mental maps realised with selectors show how they see their role in regulating circulation of flows – the other relevant actors of this threshold space (see illustrations 7 and 8). One selector in an interview of a medium size club told us that she passes reviews of at least 2000 people in a single night. The regulation of flows is indeed central to their activity. Three different flows of audience can be identified, each evolving in the threshold space very differently.

  • The first flow is composed by the unknown potential club visitor, the one who is composing the (massive) queue.

  • The second flow is composed by invited club visitors, who are registered on the guest list and can take a quick lane to the door

  • The third flow is composed by familiar regular club visitors, who don’t need to wait (see also 4.3 in this paper): identified as a friend, they go straight to the door, embrace the bouncers and get waved in.

19Our ethnographic observations make clear that the behaviour during waiting in the queue is usually determined by implicitly applied rules, that might facilitate the election at the door to get in: One should not be too loud, not to be recognisable as a large group or to drink a lot during and/or take drugs during the sometimes hours-long waiting time (Robin, 2021, 35). In the interviews, bouncers and selectors said that they have an eye on the queue, potentially already sorting out the people not respecting the rules at all while waiting in lane. By checking the queue from time to time during a night, bouncers are also getting an idea of the potential visitors and their emotional state before they reach the entrance of the club.

3.2 Fortification and professionalisation

20The comparative ethnographic analysis of different clubs’ thresholds shows a variation as a more or less fortified border post. In the rather small configuration, the gate is only a membrane, bouncers are on the verge of it, they can just turn on himself to have a look inside to decide how to choose outside, like in King Size Bar. In bigger configurations, the gate is an avant-poste, followed by several small rooms (like the cash desk, the cloakroom, and only then comes the dance room). Furthermore, we distinguish ethnographically three different formations of the queue (see illustration 9): the pulk; the ordered queue; up to a formation and guidance of the waiting people, as it is a common phenomenon at the airport – which is mostly the case on private ground, not on the street, like in the clubs Tresor or Berghain.

III. 7: Mental Map of a selector (2021)

III. 7: Mental Map of a selector (2021)

III. 8: Mental Map of a selector (2021)

III. 8: Mental Map of a selector (2021)

21In an interview, a bouncer relates the configuration of the queue to the grade of professionalisation of the clubs: the more professionalised the Berlin clubs became, the more ordered queues and airport formations determined the semi-public space in front of the club. We set here the hypothesis that this fortification of the club borders is a sign for a refiguration of the Berlin clubs’ culture since the fall of the wall. The queue is shaped according to the existing infrastructures and urban furniture: the KitKatClub is a good example, as the queue mobilises the pavement leading to the club, which is clearly demarcated from the road by a barrier. The pavement is no longer passable for passers-by (see illustration 7). Formation of the airport queue, which shows a high degree of professionalisation, is mainly found outdoors of clubs that have a large area in front of the entrance. This formation guarantees the greatest possible overview, i.e. the best possible control for the bouncers. Moreover, the queue formation of the line and queue as airport formation makes it difficult for rejected individuals to get back in the queue. The only way to get back in the queue in case of doubt is to go back to the end of the queue and start again. With the formation of the bulk, it is easier to go directly back into the crowd and hope that the bouncer has already forgotten them.

III. 9: Threshold as membrane or as avant-poste and variations of queue formations (own source)

III. 9: Threshold as membrane or as avant-poste and variations of queue formations (own source)

4. Curating Spatial Qualities

22Selectors plus bouncers construct the quality of the club space anew every night. By selecting people, a group is formed for one evening, whose members should ideally complement each other as a temporary collective. The idea is not that everyone in this collective is the same, but that they are contributing together to its atmosphere. One interviewee explained his practices of curation as making a “social sculpture” (Interview with bouncer 1). In order to address our research questions about homophilic club spaces and, relatedly, the quality of these club spaces, we focus in the following on the practices of selecting and being selected that take place at the threshold of clubs, that is on the practices of inclusion and exclusion (ibidem, 449).

23As curating actors, the bouncers and selectors participate in the discourse on Berlin’s most unique club culture. A club promises, as a special space, a suspension of normality, a shared abandonment (Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 20) and consequently are often understood as free spaces for non-conformist practices and styles (Vogt, 2005; Andersson, 2023). A claim and a promise that doormen have to fulfil in their curation of the door. But what is to be offered as an experience away from the normality in the clubs is not objectively determinable. In our ethnographic observations as in our interviews it was yet incredibly difficult to elicit the selection criteria: the bouncers said mostly that they rely on their “gut instincts” for curating a high quality of the club space. We followed the dimensions for the quality of public space, as stated in this issue (Fassari et al., 2023), i.e. affective, imaginative and technological, as they proved to be very helpful for the deconstruction of these shared yet unverbalised feelings.

4.1 Affective Dimension

24The curation of the club space is an affect-based process, renewed every night. The bouncers let the first people in and then construct their social sculpture in accordance with the people they know inside: as an incremental process, everything is building up on the first guests. In this sense – according to all our interview partners – the first half an hour is decisive. The objective is to create a safe, free, exciting space where one can experience intensely expressfull and excessive moments of life. Bouncers explained that they look for glowing, happy, relaxed, and open people standing out in a positive way and radiating a desire for excess. They want people who come with their own idea of the evening and the energy to make it happen in the club. That is the emotional state the visitors should have, in order to get selected. That is exactly what the bouncers and selectors try to grasp in a matter of seconds, determining whether or not someone can contribute to the specific atmosphere of the club. In our ethnographic observations, there are standard questions asked by the bouncers: “How are you doing tonight? How many are you? Have you been here before? Do you know who is playing tonight?”. The bouncers use these very short interactions to “feel” their guests – and if they don’t match these criteria, they get rejected. Guests who are too aggressive, too horny, too high or too drunk get excluded. The bouncers talk about the fine affective ponderation of letting in people desiring excess without being at the edge of getting destructive for the atmosphere i.e. dangerous for themselves or other guests. With such assessments bouncers refer mostly to heterosexual men. What was surprising in the investigation, is the clear gender distinction between men and women at the door. Despite a certain awareness about the fluidity of gender among the selectors, they hold a count between men and women, trying to aim for slightly more women and selecting hardly men according to their sub-mentioned criteria.

25The incremental building of an appealing dancing community is therefore a balancing act between homogeneity and heterogeneity: the bouncers do not seek the same people for the club, but they do search for people who fit together. That is why pre-existing groups are on principle excluded: the group, by taking too much space in the club, would disrupt the bouncers’ social curation and lead to a (mostly spatial and fatal) fragmentation of the community. It is to be noticed that the gender dimension reinforces the group exclusion: a large group of men is immediately rejected, and a mixed group or a woman group might go through. Following an intersectional perspective, we asked the selectors for further criteria for the people not fitting at all. All agreed: social background or sexual orientation does not play a role. But race does – even if nobody talks about it openly.

26In all of the interviews, we were told that people read as Arabic men were usually turned down at the door. This matches our ethnographic observations as well. The justification advanced by the bouncers for them not “fitting in” was their seemingly recurrent experience of aggressiveness. Two discursive legitimation strategies were deployed by the bouncers to explain this racial profiling: they claimed that a) the security staff, who often belongs to the same racial group, is supporting this racialised exclusion – implicating a moral endorsement from the community itself; b) we as researcher can relay to the common shared assumption of structural racism that there is always trouble with guests read as Arabic men. This racist category is a blind spot in the myth around Berlin’s club culture. Beyond all propagated openness towards marginalised groups like queer and the LBTQ community, there is a very concrete exclusion of the men read as Arabic – much more prominent than in other German cities as interview partners reported to us. In fact, we conducted a couple of interviews with male clubbers identifying themselves as Arabic – one of whom has also worked as a security guard in clubs from time to time. They confirmed the latent structural racism at the main club doors, all resulting in an ultimate avoidance after experience of rejections and insults. Their coping strategies with the racial discriminations are multiple: a) they privilege a very small minority of clubs with an open-door-policy – like the bar al hamra or the parties of the non-profit association oyoun in various locations – where they don’t get “any stress at the door”; b) they bypass the door by entering the club through the back entrance for them to party with their non-Arabic friends; c) they adapt their appearance by dressing as “non-Arabic”.

4.2 Imaginative Dimension

27Besides the affective dimension for the curation of the audience, the investigation shows the importance of an imaginative dimension, which refers primarily to the meaning attributed to the club space: a good club space in Berlin is distinctive and contains a certain form of coolness. Difficult to pin down to material things, the constructed representation of “coolness” shares common properties according to our interview partners as avant-garde, i.e. alternative to a certain mainstream. This this is reflected in the fact that unlike in other club scenes in other countries, economic capital doesn’t play any role. One of our interviewees attributes this to the heritage of the GDR back in the 1990s. Cool East Berliners were not cool because they had power or money, but because they had a certain independence from the norm. The Berlin club culture established itself in the vacant spaces in the east of the city and this as a basis and starting point possibly explains the still present imaginative dimension of a cool club space in the city (cf. Schofield, Rellensmann, 2015; Wilson, 2020). This dimension of imagination is comparable to Sarah Thornton’s concept of subculture ideologies. Based on her study of British club culture, she refers to the imagination of how members of a specific club culture imagine their own in distinction to other groups, defining this as an ideology with a «specific cultural agenda» (Thornton, 1995, 201). Through Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital Thompson analysis “hipness” as a form of subcultural capital (ivi, 202). Whereas the “ideology of coolness” in Berlin´s club culture produces a specific subcultural capital.

28This imaginative dimension plays a big role in the regulation of a specific flow of visitors: the tourists. The tourists are jeopardising the alternativeness of the clubs, by only “consuming” the club space without contributing to it (Nofre, 2021). There is an irony to the situation, that the myth about Berlin’s club culture attracts tourists from all over the world, while club tourism itself is viewed rather critically by the local club culture (Eldridge, 2019; Novy, 2016). The negotiation of massive tourist flows since the 2000s has resulted in a hard door strategy in order to maintain the myth of a distinctive and authentic club culture (Kühn, 2017, 150; Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 71). Nevertheless, tourism is a necessary evil for the club landscape. Tourists are an important economic factor for clubs. In an ethnographic encounter, the doorman of the Odessa Bar, for example, told us that he let all the tourists in today because the turnover was not right the night before. There are not so many clubs, which can afford to turn down every tourist: it is then the responsibility of the bouncers to provide for a sustainable mix between tourists and local customers.

4.3 Technological Dimension

29The last dimension we want to discuss is the technological dimension. The club space is constructed through a set of practices as a protected space. In Berlin clubs, it has largely become accepted that photography should not be taken there, or in some clubs it is even strictly forbidden to take photographs like in Berghain (Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 106; Andersson, 2022). On its Instagram profile, the club has posted only one photo of the prohibition sign with the phrase «Taking photos is not allowed» in several languages. In clubs and bars where photography is prohibited, a coloured sticker is usually put on the camera of the smartphone at the entrance. In some clubs, there are also so-called photo hunters. They move around the club and prevent the guests from taking photos by specifically addressing them.

30The photography ban prevents the well-protected club spaces from being made visible on social media (Robin, 2021, 18). This pictorial ban reinforces the myth surrounding Berlin’s club culture. Because guests can then talk about this space without having to provide evidence of an ecstatic night. This completed non-mediatized space that this creates for those celebrating thus serves two functions: First, since there can be no visual evidence, the club itself can be used for even more uninhibited partying. Inside, the club is shielded from the public, allowing the people to engage in excess without producing a particular self-presentation for social media. Secondly, this also makes clubs specific safe spaces. People partying does not have to worry about being secretly photographed or filmed without their consent. Technically, this creates a non-mediatized container space that guarantees more freedom for guests and forms a radical public space that has no direct connection to other mediatized public spaces.

5. Conclusion: Homophilic Club Spaces

31Berlin as a free space still lives from the myth of being a hedonistic playground for non-conformist free spirits. The myth of Berlin’s club landscape with its promise of freedom is part of this. Processes of social distinction initially seem to contradict the self-image of the nightlife scene in Berlin. And yet the Berlin club door as the threshold between the hedonistic radical space inside and the public space with the queues in front of it is a determining spatial arrangement for specific selection mechanisms that produce homophilic spaces. What can be summarised, it is always about balance: balance between excessive and respectful; balance between homogeneity and heterogeneity; balance between alternative and economically sustainable. This balance is negotiated at the club door, every night again. And still there are clear exclusion mechanisms, that all refer to some fully outdated “territorial” allegiances: the local guest is more desirable than the national or international tourist; and among the locals, it should be only the white fellows to get in. These chauvinist discriminatory practices are still part of Berlin’s club culture. This calls for a necessary upcoming change for clubs towards the theme of awareness (Damm, Drevenstedt, 2020, 107).

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Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo III: 1: Work of the artist Julie Chovin, «The Place to Be» (2021)
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Titolo III. 2: Sampling of the clubs along the metro line (Sampling by the authors, photograph Chovin, 2021)
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Titolo III. 3: Entrance Sage (Chovin, 2021)
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Titolo III. 4: Entrance Tresor (Chovin, 2021)
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Titolo III. 5: Entrance KitKatClub (Chovin, 2021)
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Titolo III. 6: The queue waiting for KitKatClub on a Saturday night (own source)
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Titolo III. 7: Mental Map of a selector (2021)
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Titolo III. 8: Mental Map of a selector (2021)
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Titolo III. 9: Threshold as membrane or as avant-poste and variations of queue formations (own source)
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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Séverine Marguin e Vivien Sommer, «Public Spaces as Homophilic Spaces»Quaderni di Sociologia, 91 - LXVII | 2023, 77-95.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Séverine Marguin e Vivien Sommer, «Public Spaces as Homophilic Spaces»Quaderni di Sociologia [Online], 91 - LXVII | 2023, online dal 01 avril 2024, consultato il 20 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Séverine Marguin

Technische Universität Berlin

Vivien Sommer

IRS Erkner

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