Dancing to throbbing techno beats amidst a throng of other sweaty ravers in post-industrial spaces is a Berlin ritual. Every weekend thousands of tourists and locals alike hit legendary clubs such as Berghain, Weekend or Watergate to party into the small hours.
Those days of hedonistic clubbing could, however, be numbered. The city’s clubs say they are facing annihilation if a new set of music royalty payments come into force.
Gema, Germany‘s powerful collections agency, which represents 65,000 artists, is changing the structure of the fees it charges for performances and recorded music. From 1 January 2013 the agency will introduce a fee system to be based on a percentage of the ticket prices and size of the venue, with a 50% surcharge for events that last more than five hours and a similar increase after another three hours.
The agency claims that 60% of establishments will not see their payments increase at all, and may even see them reduced. It also argues that most clubs should be able to afford to pay 10% of the ticket price.
Many clubs, which are often open for well in excess of 10 hours, say they face annual payments that are five to 10 times the flat rate they currently pay.
The Club Commission, which represents Berlin’s nightlife industry, says that an average-sized club that now pays €28,000 (£22,456) a year would face a bill of €180,000. “The clubs are fearful for their existence,” said Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the Club Commission. A campaign against Gema’s move has already collected more than 200,000 signatures and 5,000 people demonstrated on 25 June outside the collections agency’s summer party in Berlin. On 30 June, more than 2,000 clubs across Germany halted the decks for five minutes to demonstrate their opposition to the changed royalties.
The German patent office is assessing the legality of the new fee structure, but its decision is expected to take at least a year, which may be too late for many clubs.
Berghain, which has staged events lasting more than 48 hours and which faces a 1,400% increase in fees, said that a New Year’s Eve event would be its last. Watergate boss Steffen Hacks, who faces a bill of €200,000 instead of €10,000, says he will also be forced to shut. “How is one supposed to operate as a free entrepreneur under these kinds of conditions?” he told Die Tageszeitung newspaper.
If the clubs start to disappear then Berlin’s economy is bound to suffer. More than 10,000 visitors come to the city every weekend and 35% of tourists cite Berlin’s nightlife as a big draw.
“It’s dangerous not only for the clubs but for the whole of tourism, hotels, taxis, and whoever has something to do with the party industry,” said Ingo Damm, who runs regular trance nights at the KitKat Club. “It’s definitely a disaster for Berlin.”