Else Open Air in Berlin

  • Techno, club edits and apocalyptic scenes defined one of Berlin's newly-legal open-airs.
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  • On Saturday at Else, Salon zur Wilden Renate's Spree-side open-air venue, a crowd gathered for one of the few legal parties recently authorized by city officials. Berlin has been experiencing an uptick in illegal parties since March 13th, when the city's clubs closed their doors to curb the spread of COVID-19. As a compromise, local government thought it would be a smart move to allow some early-start open-airs with contact tracing and hygiene regulations in place, in the hopes of curbing attendance at illegal events without any sanitation measures. As I arrived outside the venue, fluorescent pink lines on the ground immediately caught my eye, encouraging guests to keep a healthy distance from one another. The spaced-out queue moved fluidly, a rarity in Berlin. To protect both partygoers and staff, wearing a mask when not seated at a table and keeping a distance of 1.5 metres was mandatory. These policies were enforced by two club employees called "the rangers," who wore white shirts with Else's logo on them and walked around reminding people to respect the safety requirements. There was a disinfectant dispenser at the door, and throughout the night they ensured the toilets were always supplied with soap, making me question why simple hygiene measures like this weren't already the norm in Berlin's clubs. Sebastian Voigt, an Else resident, was on warm-up duty for the afternoon. A dozen guests danced apart from one another underneath a canopy of gently swaying trees as the E-missions affiliate slowly blended Heiko Laux's acid techno hitter "Onyx" into Neil Landstrumm's remix of Voigt's "Sequential." Oozing calmness and confidence, False Witness accelerated the evening, bringing his set to its peak with a club remix of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's recent hit "WAP." Dopplereffekt's "Porno Actress" also had the audience dancing in sync, a synergy which carried through to the end of the next track, DJ Sliink's "Put Cha Back In It." At the beginning of the event, people were respectful of the social distancing rules, but as the day went on, I eventually had someone so close to me they were stomping on my heels. Enforcing strict hygiene rules in a club setting is challenging. The more intoxicated people got, the harder it became for the club's two-person awareness team to keep people in line. "It's about mitigating risk, trying to reduce the activities which might spread the virus and knowing that you can't totally stop going out or seeing people as it's tough on mental health if you are totally secluded," one Berliner told me as Juliana Huxtable hit cue on Tama Gucci's "Thotiana" remix, leading into a set that interlaced raw stabby techno with rap vocals and Jersey club edits. The words stuck with me as it started to rain and I looked upon this strangely beautiful scene of soaking wet mask-clad partygoers dancing through the shower, losing their minds to the roaring chainsaw synth of a punchy rave track. The venue felt almost at capacity around 8:30 PM. (I later learned that approximately 300 people attended throughout the night.) JASSS started with INVT's bass-heavy-hitter "4PLAY," which led to a set loaded with plenty of jungle and other bass-heavy UK tunes. Matrixxman, up next, went straight in with a selection of stripped-down techno weapons. It was clear he meant business as arpeggios tumbled over a horizon of vast and heavy kicks. The situation I saw at Else was definitely safer than the videos of "plague raves" you might've seen circulating online in recent weeks. Attendees wore masks and tried to socially distance when possible. But this doesn't mean it's not a gamble. People have to weigh the risks they're exposing themselves and others to by attending in the first place and going about their daily life in the weeks after. I spoke with a group from Spain, for instance, who to my surprise had flown in last week to Berlin to visit a friend, then proceeded to come to the party. A quick check on Spain's COVID-19 numbers can tell you how irresponsible that was. We won't be entirely safe until there's a vaccine or effective treatment found. In the meantime, government officials and industry figures have to grapple with tremendous economic and peer pressure to re-open clubs and host festivals. People are impatient to go out, and if they can't find a party that takes the guest's safety into account, they are willing to go to a health-hazardous event or illegal open-airs. While Else managed hygiene measures pretty well with the staff showing professionalism and taking things seriously, that may not be true for other promoters and clubs, or their attendees. Even in the case of the most vigilant venues, there are only so many things organizers can control, making it a huge challenge to minimise the risks for partygoers.