Before finishing his law degree, Miguel Portero Sanz from Zaragoza, had an Erasmus year abroad to complete. And though a diligent student, he didn’t make his choice based on academic credentials nor language-learning potential. It was a much simpler matter of proximity to Berlin and its wild nights; something he had briefly tasted as an 18 year old.
Years later, memories of that first visit lingered long in his mind: “When I was in Berlin five years ago, I was like: What the fuck? We have great discos in Spain too but nothing like that. I knew I had to spend at least one year there.” As an electronic music aficionado, Miguel had grown tired of the lack of variety in Spanish clubs as well as an aggressive atmosphere, resulting from a higher ratio of what he refers to as “scumbags” at such events.
After securing a place at Potsdam University, within striking distance of the capital city, he had high expectations for what joys the Berlin night would bring, including of course Berghain. Yet after one year of trying at the famously strict door, Miguel had to leave without ever seeing the inside of the city’s most celebrated and notorious club: “That was my frustration this year, my only frustration, fucking Berghain.”
Not put off by failed attempts, Miguel remained resolute and adopted different strategies: once he went on a Wednesday night, another time on a Saturday morning, a third time on a Sunday afternoon, and on each occasion he met the same fate: “One time, I was dressed smart and the next time, with broken jeans and an old black sweater. What’s the problem? I was almost like a hobo…they have no code. I think they just don’t like my face and that’s the problem.” In total Miguel spent six hours waiting outside the fabled former power station: “After the last time I tried, I was like: fuck Panorama Bar, I can die without going! It’s pretty frustrating and not just ‘cos of the club, but the times I tried was because the line-up was awesome as well.”
It was an experience replicated in part all over the city. Miguel can list the clubs that rejected him and his friends: Wilde Renate, Kater Holzig, Golden Gate, Watergate, Club der Visionäre. But one particularly traumatic night sticks in his mind. It was a cold, February evening and after three rejections and some serious legwork up and down the Partymeile, his group settled for Fritz Club, a “shit place” he remembered from intro week at university. Even after downgrading all expectations, they still had no luck at the Fritz door. So frozen and fed up, they dragged their feet across the road to Yaam Club where they danced with the five other people inside before getting a long night train back to Potsdam: “It really fucks your night when you are waiting for two hours and they say no. Most of the time, you’re not drunk anymore and you just don’t feel like partying.”
Thankfully, the whole year was far from disastrous. Although Miguel said that his German skills actually deteriorated over the year due to his English and Spanish social circles, he did his fair share of stomping around Berlin’s less stringent clubs, as well as wintertime sessions in Watergate and Kater Holzig.
He said that he had no problems getting in all year up until June, when these two clubs – swelled by summer visitors – become more picky at the door. Desirable locations understandably prefer not to be overrun by drunken groups of out-of-touch tourists, and though Miguel was both a Berlin resident and musically in the know, he felt that during high-season, his Mediterranean complexion counted against him with the oft-Brandenburg-born bouncers.
Returning to his Berghain bete noir, Miguel said: “I do believe it’s amazing but I don’t believe there’s anywhere worth three hours wait and then a chance of no.” Yet to play devil’s advocate, you could say that sometimes it’s cruel and sometimes it’s unfair, but somehow the security staff must be smarter than they look. Berghain (and others) trade on being underground and alternative, which isn’t exactly congruent with every Tom, Dick and Heinrich knowing all about it. But in spite of this, the club has kept a raw edge through the years, so sometimes you can only submit to the omniscience of the gatekeepers to a special sort of promised land; part heaven/part hell. And here’s hoping that for Miguel, one day, his purgatory in the line outside will end with a yes.
1.© Peter Ulrich via Flickr 2.© Peter Ulrich via Flickr 3. & 4. Provided by Miguel