When you think Berlin you think sleek, minimal, high tech. Or at the very least, industrial, urban, edgy. You know, the high gloss views from Watergate or the deep underground vibe of Berghain. You don't often think of people covered in confetti frolicking in old-fashioned circus tents next to a river. That is, unless you've had the good fortune to spend time at Bar 25 - possibly the most unique clubbing enclave in the whole music-riddled city.
Not so much a club as a lovingly crafted, uber-eccentric lifestyle choice, Bar 25 is - in addition to the titular bar - a restaurant, a performance space, a nightclub, a hotel. In fact, it takes rather seriously its role of being all things to all hip, open-minded, creative, hedonistic people. This is about the only thing, however, it takes seriously. As Christoph, founder, booking agent and all-around impresario of this three-ring circus explains, the ethos behind Bar 25 is to throw great parties. It just happens they understand a killer party isn't just about a few hours of music and dancing, it's about creating a whole alternative universe where people can immerse themselves not just for hours but for days….
How long has Bar 25 been open?
"Since 2004. We started out doing illegal events, open air parties around and outside Berlin. In the beginning of 2004 we found the premises where we are now, got a contract for the beginning of the summer and opened up in August. It was still half-illegal but we partied for six weeks solid. A lot of people would come by and hang out by the river. We had lots of DJs and artists coming by to play for free. It was a place people could party without spending too much money." After the Wall came down it was beautiful chaos, we could do everything we wanted.
"We were only using a tenth of the area we were able to, so we thought of doing a restaurant. A good friend of ours left his job at another place, so when we opened in 2005 we had a restaurant and a hostel, and a bar, and everything started to get a little bit more professional. The place grew over time. Now we have the restaurant, the bar, a theatre where we do movies during the week and on the weekends we have plays or dance troupes, and on Sunday we have an alternative party there - something like 80s or rock music. We have a swimming pool too… we do pool parties, all sorts of crazy stuff. We have sauna. We have everything we want."
How has the Berlin scene changed in the last few year?
"The city is growing, developing. After the Wall came down it was beautiful chaos, we could do everything we wanted. Now, 17 years later, it's getting harder and harder to open up spaces. We're going to have to close Bar 25 in the next year or so because we're on a development site and they want to build office buildings. We're fighting against it because it's not just us, it's the whole scene, the whole district, we don't want office buildings here. There're a lot of arguments right now."
Are you excited to pursue new projects or are you disappointed to see Bar 25 end?
"Both. Bar 25 has gotten so popular because it's about having fun in an alternative way, the idea is not to earn money but to have fun, to live out your dream. We built it ourselves and we are offering what we'd like to do. We're a group of 12 people living here all the time so for us it is a small village. It's not like you close the doors and the party is over, it's open permanently. You can hang out, go to dinner, go to the theatre. I'm going to miss living with these people, living my dreams. But I also know when this closes down we'll create something new. The space here is becoming normal, so it's time to do something new. But I'll be very sad when it shuts down."
What was the inspiration for its unique, rustic Americana-style artwork
"Wood is the easiest and cheapest thing to build with, so we looked up plans on the internet and we ended up with old wooden barns, like they had in America, and everything added up. We designed it into the structure of the area and worked with the land. We had a Western bar, so we started a new theme, the Circus, which is the theatre. We're always trying to do something new…"
Is it more a local or a tourist hang out?
"One Monday I got up early and looked around the dance floor and we had about 50% foreigners. I thought, 'what an amazing crowd'. I would say it's the most special crowd you can find. Everyone wants to present themselves in the best, craziest way. We have great friends in Berlin and really nice people from overseas and from Europe. We have a quite strict door. We can only fit 400-500 in the place and we have 2000 people trying to get in. We also do it because we want people who fit in. We want people who won't spoil the party. You really feel everybody [here] is in the same boat, nobody is aggressive, everyone is trying to entertain." The whole M_inus crew hangs out here they often come here at the end of the weekend and play a little...
The restaurant has been named one of the best in Berlin - what's the food and vibe like?
"The chef, my partner Juval is from Switzerland, he learned to cook there so it's old-style, rich food but mixed with international stuff. One of our specialities is an Argentine beef filet with potatoes. It's a little bit chi-chi but you're always stuffed when you finish!
One website notes your award-winning chef doesn't always make it to work on time after a heavy weekend - does your staff play as hard as they work?
"Definitely. That's what the whole place is about! We did it because we want to party. The parties always last till Monday night and the kitchen opens Tuesday morning so Tuesdays are hard."
Another visitor said they met "the hottest lover I've ever had" at Bar 25 - is it place for sex, a place for romance, or both?
"It's a place to hang loose, and if you hang loose you can meet people in a relaxed atmosphere. It's definitely a place for romance. Sometimes it's a special romance, or sometimes a crazy romance."
What's your music policy? What DJs have you invited recently?
"It changes: during the week we have everything - classical nights, 80s music, country nights, and at the weekends its pure electronica. We're known for minimal music. But I like it when people do something else, more housey or funky, but our residents, like Matt John, are very minimal. The whole M_inus crew hangs out here - because they want to not because we book them - they often come here at the end of the weekend and play a little bit."
Everyone seems to be moving to Berlin - are there too many DJs?
"Definitely not! The more creative people you have the higher the output. Everyone tries harder. On the weekends everyone is meeting and it's a pool of people you can exchange ideas with. It's definitely not oversaturated. There are so many clubs, I never hear of DJs who don't have anything to do. Now, it's quite hard to find an original Berliner here now. Out of our group of 80 [who work at Bar 25] only five are from Berlin!"
Next summer will may be our last here, everything from now is going to be special.
What's been your most memorable party?
"Last year's confetti party was amazing! We have this round area, about 10 metres across, and we filled it with 250kg of confetti. It lasted 24 hours and the confetti was always moving. It was amazing to see all these super cool people acting like kids in a playground, sitting on the floor, throwing the confetti around. Walking around trying to keep the confetti out of their drinks, or falling asleep in the middle of the confetti. It was playtime. How long did it take to clean up? It's still here! About 240kg got cleared up but about 10kg is still here… the confetti was spread all over the city. There were people at ATM machines two districts away who had confetti all over them… Everyone in Berlin was talking about it."
What are the plans for your next party?
"We're closed for the winter now, and re-opening 1 May 2008. We're going to have a five day party! We always invite all the DJs who kind of belong to the place, the main DJs, the best friends. It's about 45 DJs and they all get two hours playing so that's 100 hours…"
Can you please describe Bar 25 in one sentence?
"An entertainment park for grown-ups..."