Nearly a century after Weimar-era Berlin redefined the meanings of decadence and excess, the city is still pulsing at pretty much all hours of the night. Berlin nightlife still pushes boundaries and takes risks. In fact, to non-Berliners who aren’t used to it, some of the clubs and bars here can appear to be operating far out of the boundaries of decency—or even the law.
Many Berlin bars will often open as cafés in the afternoon, slowly getting darker and smokier as the hours wear on and the coffee and tea turns into beer and wine. In Germany the term Kneipen is used for down-to-earth bars that are comparable to English pubs. These places are pretty simple and laid-back; you probably shouldn't try to order a three-ingredient cocktail at one unless you spot a lengthy drinks menu. If you're looking for something more upscale, elegant bars and lounges can be found in Mitte’s Scheunenviertel, in Charlottenburg, and in Berlin’s five-star hotels, and new cocktail bars are cropping up in unexpected places, like Kreuzberg, Schöneberg, and even Neukölln.
The best and most notorious clubs in Berlin occupy old industrial buildings in formerly shabby, alternative neighborhoods like Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. As with bars, the snazziest clubs and lounges can be found near high-end hotels in Mitte around Unter den Linden and Gendarmenmarkt, or in Charlottenburg. Clubs are notorious for getting a shockingly late (or should we say early?) start: many don’t open until midnight, and aren’t worth visiting before 2 or 3 in the morning. Happily, the club scene is far less snooty and self-absorbed than in other major cities: for the most part, you’ll encounter lax door policies and casually dressed revelers. Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has become a mecca for electronica, and that means club goers take dancing as seriously as partying. Prepare to be swept up in waves of endless, exuberant movement, much of it—especially in the case of Berlin’s most popular techno club Berghain—fueled by drug use. If that’s not your thing, though, don’t worry: there’s something for everyone in the city these days, especially now that the landscape has gone a bit more upscale. Note that clubs often switch the music they play nightly so the crowds and popularity can vary widely. Though club nights are driven by the DJ name, the music genres are written in English in listing magazines.
Berlin is unmistakably Germany's gay capital, and many Europeans come to partake in the diverse scene, which concentrates on Schöneberg (around Nollendorfplatz) and Kreuzberg. Check out the magazines Siegessäule (includes English-language listings and articles), (030), and blu.
You might not know to look at it, but Berlin is a veritable jazz destination. Home to one of Germany’s earliest programs of jazz study (at the Üniversitat der Kunste or University of the Arts) Berlin attracts serious jazz musicians from around the world, and nurtures its own homegrown talents. Aside from the large, long-running clubs focusing on international acts, smaller, cozier jazz clubs, barely larger than living rooms, are sprinkled throughout the city. The Berlin Jazz Festival takes place every November, uniting many of them.