In Berlin, A Beat That Bloomed From Rubble Today Berlin is a techno hot spot. The scene has its roots in the fall of the Berlin Wall, when young people from East and West got together in abandoned buildings to dance and celebrate together.
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In Berlin, A Beat That Bloomed From Rubble

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In Berlin, A Beat That Bloomed From Rubble

In Berlin, A Beat That Bloomed From Rubble

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KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Today, Germany remembered the day 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall came down. Berlin now is known for its thriving electronic music and club scene. Young professionals from Rome, Paris and London fly in on a Friday night, hit world-renowned party venues and don't see the light of day until Sunday afternoon. Then they return to their perfectly respectable jobs on Monday morning.

As Esme Nicholson reports, this scene has its roots in the days that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and in the spaces where techno boomed across makeshift dance floors.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: It's just after 10 on a Saturday morning and at a defunct power station here in central Berlin, revelers reluctantly leave a club buried in its basement.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey man, you there, you know a good place to party now?

NICHOLSON: Standing in the morning sunshine at a sober distance from the adrenaline and substance-fueled clubbers is 60-year-old Dimitri Hegemann, the owner of the club. Clutching a cup of coffee and the morning paper, he leads me to a dark, cavernous chamber above the club. Hegemann calls himself a space pioneer.

DIMITRI HEGEMANN: You know, my mission is to transfer industrial ruins into cultural spaces.

NICHOLSON: Hegemann uses this space for pop-up art projects. But he also rents it out as a venue for commercial events that provide the funds for renovation.

It's in disused buildings like this that Berlin's techno scene emerged 25 years ago.


NICHOLSON: When the Wall fell, it left vast, empty spaces in its wake. The no-man's land of what was called the "death strip," where armed guards roamed along the city's concrete border, had suddenly become accessible.

HEGEMANN: Gorbachev is guilty for the techno movement, you know. When the Wall came down, there was an incredible euphoria in the city and optimism.


NICHOLSON: Hegemann was among artists, punks and squatters who saw the potential in abandoned buildings. He opened his first club in the vaults of a bombed-out department store directly on the East-West border. It had remained untouched since World War II.

HEGEMANN: It was so dark. Old air, you know - it was a bit, you know, scary. It was like opening a pyramid, you know? It was magic.


NICHOLSON: The spaces were key, says DJ Tanith, another one of the city's founding techno fathers, as he stands outside the building that used to be his studio. It's now a boutique hotel.

DJ TANITH: It blossoms in the right architecture. You have to experience it there to understand it, and then you can take it home with you. For me it's like jazz. It starts with boom-boom-boom. It goes to boom-chuck. It spreads out in so many colors and perceptions and even ideologies.

NICHOLSON: The city spawned its own sound, says music producer Sven von Thuelen, who's just written a book about the techno scene.

SVEN VON THUELEN: Berlin was always known for kind of hard, raw, muscular techno, basically, you know, and not so much, for instance, for house music.


NICHOLSON: Would you say that the architect plays - and the spaces play - a role in the development of the sound in Berlin?

VON THUELEN: The spaces were kind of - became the stars of the whole thing, you know? It wasn't about the DJ, at least not at the beginning. It was about all these crazy locations you could find.


NICHOLSON: Techno saw East and West Berliners reunite well before the rest of Germany. Forget The Scorpions' power ballad "Wind Of Change." Forget David Hasselhoff's Schlager-inspired "Looking For Freedom." While the Hoff was gyrating at the Brandenburg gate, the real party was happening on ad hoc dance floors in derelict factories, bunkers, squats, subway stations, even in public lavatories. The real sound of freedom was techno.


NICHOLSON: The track "Der Klang Der Familie," meaning the sound of the family, became an anthem for the times. Journalist Felix Denk is von Thuelen's co-author.

FELIX DENK: This was the spirit of the time, you know? It's this sort of feeling of togetherness. We belonged together, although we are from the East and from the West, although some are gay, some are football hooligans, although some are squatters, some are English soldiers or American expats. It was an incredibly strange mix of people who came together to these first parties. But they saw themselves as a family, at least for a certain while.

NICHOLSON: The colors and ethos of this big, happy techno family reached its zenith with the first Loveparade after the fall of the Wall. The massive, all-day, outdoor party saw clubbers emerging from underground bunkers and taking to the streets, says DJ Tanith.

TANITH: It was like the Wall crashed and the sounds crashed. And it was like the perfect soundtrack for it. And we were lucky that it all came together.

NICHOLSON: A quarter of a century on, techno is still going strong. Like its founders, the club scene has matured. It's no longer a subculture, but a fully-fledged commercial industry. Today, the clubs are listed in tourist guidebooks. The inclusive family it once was now practices a selective door policy.

But some, like Dimitri Hegemann, hold on to the spirit of the early '90s, when anything was possible. Hegemann is in Detroit right now, where he hopes to revive that city's ailing economy and some of its abandoned spaces.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.


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