The sounds of Berlin
Legendary techno clubs such as Tresor and Berghain have attracted countless fans of electronic music to Berlin since the 1990s, with techno defining the city's music scene for the past few decades. But what other sounds does the capital have to offer, and how does it preserve its renowned musical culture? Listen closely as we reveal how the city sounds in 2019.
A musical past
Berlin was not a new-comer to the music scene when techno took over in the 1990s. In the 1920s, Berlin Cabaret was famous the world over. With jazz and cabaret came the first sounds of Schlager, which originated as light-hearted, surreal songs and transformed over the years into the infamous sounds of German parties and beer festivals. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Berlin's pop, rock, and punk music scene attracted behemoth rock star legends like David Bowie and Iggy Pop. These pop stars called Berlin home for a number a years and wrote some of their hits in the German capital. Berlin's mix of rebellion and creativity fostered a space for techno to really take off in the 1990s.
The fact that Berlin is considered a pilgrimage site for electro music fans is widely known. You can dance to techno, house, and similar rhythms in unusual locations throughout Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. The list of Berlin electro clubs is almost endless and ranges from About Blank to Zur Wilden Renate. It’s not uncommon for Berlin clubs to open at midnight on Friday and to stay open throughout the weekend, closing Monday morning. Many party-goers will spend the whole weekend at clubs, finding escape from daily life between the deep bass and strobe lights. These clubs have earned Berlin’s party scene a legendary reputation beyond the borders of the city, Germany, and even Europe.
Diversity sets the tone
However, electronic music is not the only thing Berlin stands for. The classical music genre, for example, is masterfully represented by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which looks back on a long history and is one of the most highly regarded ensembles in the world. Just recently, the new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko was welcomed with a concert in front of the Brandenburger Tor, which attracted 35,000 visitors. Berlin is also known for its hugely influential role in German hip hop. Groups like Seeed, Aggro Berlin and K.I.Z. have transformed the Deutschrap scene, and every week clubs like Spindler and Klatt offer partygoers the chance to get down to the hottest beats from all over the world. If you prefer to dance to pop, rock, or indie, you might end up in the Lido or Musik und Frieden. Jazz lovers, on the other hand, will feel at home in A-Trane in Charlottenburg or in the Zig Zag Jazz Club in Schöneberg.
Liven it up
Even if tastes often differ, most people agree on one thing: Live is always better. Every day in Berlin you have the chance to marvel at a variety of live music, from concerts in front of 200 people in a private club to huge performances for an audience of 70,000 in the Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion). In summer, there are countless events and festivals that attract thousands of visitors every year, such as Fête de la Musique and the Carnival of Cultures, which flood the streets with the sounds of exotic music every year.
The musician's heart beats to the rhythm of the city
One of the reasons for Berlin's musical diversity is the fact that many national and international artists are attracted to the city itself. For example, David Bowie drew inspiration from his life in the city in the 70s, for his ‘Berlin trilogy’ of albums. Part of the allure is undoubtedly the aura of the city, as well as enticing factors such as various funding programmes and good development opportunities. The Musicboard Berlin, for instance, supports the capital’s pop music scene with the help of numerous initiatives. The city also takes great strides in preserving its musical culture. Recently the threatened Rockhaus in Lichtenberg, which serves as a rehearsal room complex for about 1,000 musicians, has been saved for the next 20 years.
Discover Berlin's music scene for yourself
If you want to see Berlin's musical side up close, why not take the Berlin Music Tour? Guided by a sound engineer-turned-rock music history buff, you can choose between the Berlin Bowie Walk, the bus tour, the Hansa Studio tour, or the East-Berlin Music Walk. You're sure to discover some fun facts about the debauchary of famous pop stars through the colourful streets of Schöneberg and beyond. If walking tours aren't your style, then you can browse through some of Berlin's many record stores. Space Hall in Kreuzberg, for example, is a gigantic building filled to the brim with classic vinyl hits as well as some rare gems, with selections from every genre of music. Hard Wax, also in Kreuzberg, has a back catalog of hard-to-find records from underground techno DJs and more.
Something for everyone
As in almost all cultural areas, Berlin is characterised by an extraordinary diversity. The city welcomes all genres and encourages musical creativity and innovation. The density of musicians also means that almost everyone knows someone who DJs regularly in the hottest clubs, plays bass guitar in a Rammstein cover band, or mixes the sound at big concerts. This is exactly what makes music so accessible and an essential part of Berlin culture.