For members


Techno, Testing and Tanzverbot: What it’s like to go to Berlin’s clubs under Covid rules

As public life in Germany opens up more, our social lives are starting to feel a bit closer to normal. Here's what it's like to visit a Berlin club after the capital’s famous party scene was allowed to reopen (with restrictions) after the shutdown.

Techno, Testing and Tanzverbot: What it’s like to go to Berlin’s clubs under Covid rules
People queueing at a club in Berlin on Friday June 19th when clubs were allowed to open. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

Last Friday night, a friend and I dug out our ‘going out-out’ clothes from the back of our wardrobes and – dressed in the Berlin uniform of black-on-black – we braved the stormy weather and headed to Friedrichshain. 

The area around Warschauer Straße station is a bit of a hotbed for electronic and techno clubs in Berlin. With Berghain, the city’s most famous club, just around the corner, the streets are usually swarming with slightly intimidating looking Berliners during the weekend. It has been strange to walk here over the last year – an area that is usually vibrating with music has been silenced, and has looked almost deserted each time I’ve passed. 

My first post-lockdown experience of the party scene was, I must admit, fairly surreal. Our hopes for the night were dampened early on, and not only by the torrential rain that started pouring as we got off the U-Bahn. The club we had set our sights on appeared to have refashioned itself as a beer garden for the evening, and the atmosphere was a lot more civilised than we had been expecting. 

READ ALSO: Berlin dancing ban ends: What you need to know

Reorienting ourselves and our expectations for the night, we dutifully joined the queue that stretched from the door of the club opposite, which was about 60 people strong. There is still a limit on how many people clubs can let in, so don’t expect to waltz straight inside and start dancing – queuing times can be up to a few hours at the most popular bars. 

Sophie (in the middle) with two friends on a recent night out in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Sophie Shanahan.

Entry requirements have stepped up a notch from the last time I remember queueing for a club. It’s not just your ID and five euro note you need to remember now, but also your mask, proof of a negative Covid-19 test or vaccination, and often a pre-bought ticket. Luckily at the club we chose, there was a pop-up testing station right next to the queue, meaning you could get your test and then have your result by the time you made it to the door. 

READ ALSO: Berlin to relax more Covid-19 rules from Saturday

The spontaneity of a night out has definitely been lost amongst these new rules. Gone are the days when you could decide you fancied going out at midnight, meet your friend an hour later and march straight through the doors of your favourite club, the bouncer barely glancing at your ID. With most testing stations closing at eight or nine, you now have to start preparing a lot earlier in the day, and organisation is not necessarily something that lends itself naturally to the party mentality. 

Dancing is not allowed…

Once my friend and I made it into the hallowed techno halls, we were told that under no circumstances would we be allowed to dance inside. Despite the music blaring so loudly we had to scream into each other’s ears all night – leaving me with that strained throat feeling I had long forgotten – if we even dared to move rhythmically to the music, we were swiftly confronted by a masked bouncer. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Tanzverbot

The rules seemed to be that you could stand and chat on the dance floor, as long as you were wearing a mask but, if your movements started to resemble anything close to dancing, your fun would be halted pretty quickly by the hawk-eyed staff. 

It was a very strange sight to see the clubs resurrected and pulsing with life, but this time with everyone’s main accessory being an FFP2 medical mask – mostly in black so as not to clash with people’s carefully chosen outfits.

I couldn’t help thinking how odd this would have seemed to us a year and a half ago, and I expect the sight would have looked fairly dystopian. This far into the pandemic, though, seeing everyone in masks simply made the experience feel that little bit safer. I know that, personally, I am not quite ready to return to the close, sweaty feeling of a pre-pandemic night out. 

Berghain recently opened its garden for clubbers. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

Despite the restrictions, our night was actually pretty enjoyable, and we were still able to be social until the (not so) early hours of the morning, making friends on the sofas and tables that now filled half of the dance floor. 

Though this is definitely not a return to normal, I actually enjoyed some elements of the restrictions. Being able to take a rest by lounging around on the sofas, instead of tiring yourself out dancing all night, added a more social element to the experience. 

My friend and I laughed afterwards that we had probably spoken more German over the course of that night than we had in the last few days combined. Almost everyone we met was local to Berlin and the conversations we had gave us a great opportunity to practice our language skills – this added an educational element to the night that we had not definitely not banked on. 

It is still hard to say when the capital’s famous clubs will begin to feel ‘normal’ again but, for now, this reimagined version of a night out is definitely filling the Berghain shaped hole in many Berlin partygoers’ hearts.

READ ALSO: What it’s like to study abroad in Germany during a pandemic

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For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.