Berlin’s digital streaming initiative to preserve its famous club culture during COVID-19 has turned into an international success, supporting artists and clubs around the world.
“The pandemic shut down the whole club culture from one day to another and that’s actually still the situation we are facing,” said Katharin Ahrend, spokesperson for United We Stream.
“There’s still no perspective on the horizon on when we can go back to normal or at least open up slightly.”
Credit: Jascha Müller-Guthof
The campaign was set up just five days after the announcement was made on March 13, 2020 that clubs had to close.
Ahrend said this was an extraordinary situation because it was the first time Germany was in lockdown.
“We kind of started an emergency call, united our power and said, okay, what can we do right now, when we are facing this situation. A lot of people put all of their time and energy into it.”
Clubs around Berlin featured different artists via livestream, bringing the dance party to the safety of people’s homes.
Ahrend says this was the first time club culture had been streamed over a public TV channel.
“This was a major step attention wise and we could reach even totally different people,” she said.
According to Lutz Leichsenring, spokesperson for Club Commission, there was also the opportunity to raise awareness about the pandemic itself.
“[United We Stream] is also something where we could always raise awareness about social distancing, wearing a mask and being a medium that is constantly informing this special type of group of young people.”
Credit: Jascha Müller-Guthof
Half a million euros were raised within six months by United We Stream to support Berlin’s clubs and artists.
Within two weeks United We Stream became an international solidarity campaign and now has over 100 different cities participating with more continuing to join.
Ahrend said she is still overwhelmed by the success of the campaign and the attention it has received.
“It’s so exciting to see all these club culture scenes and all these different spaces in the world and how unique they are.”
The United We Stream team in Berlin share their skills, resources and organisation structure to guide other cities who join the initiative.
“We want to empower them on creating their own unique United We Stream experience and community. So, we are there any time but we don’t rule them, we share. And I think that’s a very special, very successful thing,” Ahrend said.
For Nadine Hennig, a Berlin-based DJ, this feeling of staying connected is what United We Stream has achieved.
“It’s nice to see how many other artists, clubs, universes are in Berlin and the whole world. The feeling of ‘we are not alone’- this has always been a big part of nightlife for me. With this movement, it feels like there is a spark left of the club culture vibe,” she said.
Credit: Jascha Müller-Guthof
Hennig’s life as an artist has stood still since the pandemic began.
“It’s a really hard time since almost a year now because I’m still unable to work – so there’s a lack of income, not much to do and I wasn’t able to see the friendly faces you normally have around you when you play a show in the club.”
Credit: Nadine Hennig
Hennig recalled her experience when she was featured as a DJ on United We Stream at Silent Green, a former crematorium turned into a cultural event space.
“For me personally, it was an important way to still feel like a DJ after not playing for several months.”
Although Hennig was initially nervous, she prepared her set before to match the atmosphere of the venue and after two tracks, she was in the comfort of doing what she loves most.
“There was a very special vibe in this room,” she said.
“Together with the lights United We Stream prepared – and this may sound cheesy – it felt like a dream. After my set, I felt like I had to wake up. Crazy feeling!”
United We Stream has now featured over 2000 artists around the world.
“I think it’s important, especially during the lockdown times because as an artist you still have the stage and get in touch with your audience in a certain way and promote yourself,” said Leichsenring.
According to a study on Club Culture by Berlin’s Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises released in 2019, almost a quarter of tourists visit Berlin for its club culture which generated a total turnover of 168 million euros in 2017.
Leichsenring says that club culture “is one of the essential parts of the DNA of the city.”
“You can also see that club culture represents the way of life in Berlin a bit – kind of doing things unconventional, being a bit rebellious in a certain way but also being very artistic and very human centred,” he added.
The pandemic has disrupted the “whole ecosystem” of club culture, said Leichsenring.
“We’re totally out of work, the whole ecosystem from running a club to booking artists to night festivals – so basically everything has stopped.”
As club culture in Berlin was already threatened, Ahrend fears that the pandemic is speeding up the process.
“With every space, every club space we lose in this pandemic, it’s very likely that there won’t be a new club in this space after it, because it’s more likely that an investor will buy the space and make it profitable.”
Hennig really misses playing at clubs and hopes the government will provide enough support.
“There is a big danger that we lose big parts of our beloved scene here in Germany. The most important thing for me is that no more clubs will have to close- fingers crossed,” she said.
Although it is still uncertain as to when clubs can reopen their doors, Leichsenring remains hopeful.
“I can only say there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we can see that with rapid testing and vaccinations and also better weather conditions in Spring, I think we can still start to recover nightlife and get it going during this year, maybe not to the full extent but we’re working on it,” he said.
— Story by Tanna Nankivell