The party city grows up: how Berlin’s clubbers built their own urban village

What if a city allowed regeneration to be resulted , not by property developers, but by the club owners who put on the best parties in township?

For the first decade of the 21 st century, the industrial wasteland between Berlins Ostbahnhof station and the river Spree was earmarked for a huge urban regeneration project one that would show that the German capital could keep up with London and New York. Where flowing water had once marked the divide between socialist and capitalist spheres of influence were to be a phalanx of high-rise blocks made of shiny glass, some of them 80 metres high, containing luxury apartments, hotels and offices.

But tomorrow, that same 12,000 m 2 patch of land will open with an altogether different look: an urban village made of recycled windows, secondhand bricks and scrap timber, containing among other things a studio for circus acrobats, a childrens theatre, a cake shop and a nursery where mothers can drop off their children while they run clubbing next door. Theres even a landing stage for beavers.

The Holzmarkt development is the result of an unprecedented experimentation in a major world capital: what if a city permitted a new quarter to be built not by the highest bidding real estate developers or the urban planners with the highest honors, but the nightclub owners who put on the best parties in township?

Juval Dieziger, 42, and Christoph Klenzendorf, 43, used to run Bar2 5, an institution which started as a silver 68 Nagetusch trailer serving up whisky and techno and grew into a nightclub in the style of a Western barroom underneath the old Jannowitzbrcke station.

Along with nearby Berghain, Bar2 5 was one of the legendary venues that fostered post-millennial Berlins status as a party capital. With the site due to be regenerated by holding company SpreeUrban, Bar2 5 shut its doorways with a five-day party in 2010.

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A a cooperative founded by Bar2 5 regulars leases the land for the Holzmarkt development. Photo: Christian Jungeblodt for the Guardian

But when talks between SpreeUrban and investors collapsed two years later and the plot of land was put out for tender, Dieziger and Klenzendorf spotted an opportunity to reclaim their old stomping ground.

A Swiss pension fund called Abendrot, which had been born out of the anti-nuclear motion, beat off competition from hedge fund and bought the site for over 10 m (8. 5m ), then leasing it back to a cooperative founded by Bar2 5 regulars.

Dieziger and his co-conspirators had been part of the protest motion against the original schemes on the sunny northern side of the river, which culminated in locals blocking a boat tour for investors with an armada of rubber dinghies. But he felt simply being against gentrification wasnt enough.

We were different. We had attitude, he told, strolling across the building site a few days before its grand opening. If your position is that you are always against everything that is changing in this city, then youll eventually get overrun and left behind. You have to learn to use the system to your advantage.

The aim was create a self-sustaining microcosm: if one of the acrobats injures her back while trained in the studio, she can drop off her children at the nursery and visit a chiropractor one floor up. In return, her troupe are required to host all their premiers at the events venue or the KaterHolzig nightclub on the site, thus creating cash that feeds back into the collective system.

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The Pampa beach bar at the Holzmarkt site in 2015. Photo: Christian Jungeblodt for the Guardian

The canteen, which serves a lunch menu for 6 to the approximately 300 people working on the site during the day, doubles up as an upmarket restaurant in the evening, serving expensive wines and a seven-course menu conceived by a Noma-trained chef.

We wanted to disable the mechanisms of the race-to-the-bottom economy and create as many synergies as possible, told Dieziger. We didnt want to build the kind of market economy where those offering the cheapest products for the cheapest conditions win out. If one of the businesses here battles, then the others may have to help out.

Not all of the teams original vision has survived four years of planning applications. Bread is baked on-site, though a plan to grow the restaurants vegetables in allotments by the river Spree fell pollutes of hygiene regulations. A 24 -hour-nursery for mothers who worked night shift turned out to be too complicated to organise; a proposal for 12 -floor high-rise buildings constructed solely out of timber sent health-and-safety officers into fits.

It was a learning curve for us: we had to learn to heed the rules we used to ignore, told Dieziger after over 80 visits to the Berlin building authorities. If I had known eight years ago how much work this would require, I wouldnt have done it.

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The Fame restaurant on site features food by a Noma-trained chef. Photo: Christian Jungeblodt for the Guardian

The projects ambition, to show that a city can grow up without losing its soul, also required a number of self-inflicted commercial restraints: neither the cooperative nor the Abendrot foundation are contractually allowed to sell the property for their own profit. According to Dieziger, the value of properties in the area has risen ten-fold in the four years since the first cut of the spade.

In the Bar2 5 days most of the staff lives in self-made shacks and caravans next to the club, but in its reincarnation the site doesnt contain any permanent housing. Eleven refugees are currently sheltered on the site, and there are plans for temporary student accommodation and a guest house, but none of the person or persons behind the project live on the site.

If we had decided to live here as well, then everyone would have wanted to live here, told Dieziger. So we had to say no. Owning a home can build people very selfish.

In contrast to Berghain, housed in an austere former power plant, Bar2 5 are applied to pride itself on its openness. Door policy was as strict and unfathomable as anywhere in Berlin clubland, but parties at Dieziger and Klenzendorfs venue, which opened only during the summer months, took place as much outside as indoors. Less testosterone and more love, was the owners motto.

In a village with four entrances and no gates, such attitudes could pose a potential problem. The nearby RAW complex another jumble of derelict houses turned creative hub and party mile has in recent years begun to draw stag-dos and tourists, who in turn have attracted drug dealer and pickpockets.

Holzmarkts management are not planning advertise or marketplace the development in a conventional way word of mouth, they hope, will act as a natural filter for the kind of people their experiment attracts. The villages layout may also act as a natural hurdle to it being overrun: without a central thoroughfare and merely a meander cycling path along the river, its the kind of place you can amble around but not race through.

The challenge in the first few months will be whether Holzmarkt can recreate the Bar2 5 experience without bringing in a bouncer or some sort of village police. If their experiment succeeds, they could attain something that Berlin under the old SpreeUrban schemes would have never even imagined: not to catch up with London and New York, but to build a new model for other major cities to follow.

Everyone is welcome, but of course we hope that people show some respect, told Dieziger. Over the years, even Berlins veteran hedonists have learned to appreciate that excess is defined by limits. The people living in the apartments across the river from their club had his personal mobile number, he told. That style they didnt have to call the police when the music got too loud.

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