From punk photographer to Berghain bouncer

"Night is Life": so runs the title of a book to be published on Friday by Sven Marquardt, the merciless bouncer of Berlin's world-famous Berghain club. He may be hard to get past, but our German of the Week also has a sensitive side.

From punk photographer to Berghain bouncer
Sven Marquardt is Berghain's notoriously tough bouncer. Photo: DPA

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The real story, though, isn't about keeping the techno Mecca's club's clientele at the cutting edge. Marquardt offers readers a unique insight into punk and underground life in the former communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).

“I wanted to tell a story of Berlin,” the 52-year-old told news agency DPA. “I believe that my life stands for a bit of Berlin as it was then and Berlin as it is now – at least a tiny part.”

A sensitive and thoughtful man is revealed to lurk under the forbidding face tattoo and heavy nose and lip piercings. Born in East Berlin in 1962, a year after the Wall was built, Marquardt was a rebellious teenager, skipping school and drinking heavily.

The son of divorced parents, Marquardt writes that he tried to silence his longing for love and recognition by standing out and denying the conformity of the East German state.

He wandered the streets of Berlin's bohemian Prenzlauer Berg district in a Mohawk and leather jacket.

Marquardt was already involved in Berlin's gay scene in the GDR, saying that men “give me a feeling of power, because they want me”.

From punk to photography

His “spiritual” relationship with the son of famous photographer Helga Paris drew him into the early 80s artistic scene. He began to develop his own distinctive style as a photographer.

The encounter with the artist awoke a passion for image in Marquardt which his training as a cameraman at state television had left cold.

He went on to work for the GDR newspaper Sibylle as a fashion photographer as well as holding his own exhibitions.

In the late 1990s, Marquardt resumed his photography work, holding successful exhibitions, publishing books, and shooting an acclaimed photo series for jeans maker Heiland. Some of his work can be seen in the current exhibition to celebrate ten years of Berghain.

Marquardt was seduced by Berlin's exploding techno scene after reunification. “I just want one more: the next party, the next high,” he writes.

Finally in 1995 a friend found him work as a bouncer. After brief stints in fetish- and leather-themed gay clubs he finally ended up at Berghain.

“After about 20 years on the door I've got a good sense of who's going to bother people and make trouble,” Marquardt writes. But he doesn't offer any hot wardrobe tips for getting into Berghain, long bemoaned for its incomprehensible door policy.

Anything goes as long as he feels guests will contribute to “the right mixture” for the night.

For himself, the wild days are over. While on the job, which he's been doing for ten years, Marquardt sticks to crispbread, chocolate and bananas.

“Purged,” is how Marquardt describes his new lifestyle: no cigarettes, no drugs, and easy on the alcohol. “Some kind of inner escape hatch must have opened up inside me,” he said. “I can't explain any other way how I got out of all that.”

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