Party Capital Sees Nightlife at Risk: Berlin Clubbers Protest Rising Music Fees

Thousands of Berliners demonstrated on Monday night against a planned increase in music performance fees that the club community says could sound the death knell for many nightclubs in the city. The charges could further damage one of Berlin's main attractions -- its nightlife, already under threat from relentless gentrification.

Protestors demonstrating against planned increases in music performance fees in Berlin on Monday evening. Zoom
DPA

Protestors demonstrating against planned increases in music performance fees in Berlin on Monday evening.

Some 5,000 people demonstrated in Berlin on Monday night against a planned increase in music performance fees that locals say threatens to kill off the city's famous nightclub scene.

Schönhauser Allee, a main thoroughfare in Berlin's trendy Prenzlauer Berg district, was turned into an impromptu dance floor with music thumping out of giant loudspeakers. The DJs who turned up included Dr. Motte, the founder of the Love Parade.

They had come to protest against a new pricing structure being introduced by GEMA, a German performance rights organization that collects fees for public music performances and reproduction. GEMA says its new system will mean lower fees for 60 percent of users, but Berlin clubs say they will face increases as much as fivefold that will force them to shut down.

"I think this is a great event. Something has to be done against GEMA's totally abstract pricing reform," Sebastian Kleber, 29, who organizes parties in clubs, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "I definitely won't be able to afford the new prices."

A Fresh Blow to Berlin's Nightlife

The changes are due to come into force in 2013. From then on, the 11 different current fee structures are to be replaced by just two, and they will be charged as a percentage of the ticket price and the size of the venue, with a 50 percent surcharge if an events last longer than five hours.

For an average Berlin club with 410 square meters of space, charging €8 ($10)entrance and running two events per week from 10 p.m. until 5. a.m, the price paid to GEMA will rise from the current €14,500 to some €95,000 -- an increase of 560 percent that DJs and venue managers say will be another nail in the coffin for the city's nightlife, already under threat from creeping gentrification.

Residents and property developers are already enforcing night-time noise restrictions and rent increases that have forced some major clubs to relocate or close in recent years.

Some 156,000 people have signed a petition against GEMA's pricing reform. "We call on all parties of creative industries, tourism, catering, club owners, promoters and artists, as well as on all the cultural events to join our protest," the protestors wrote on their Facebook page. "We demand a fair and equitable interpretation and enforcement of existing copyright law in Germany!"

'They've Been Paying Far Too Little'

GEMA, which represents over 64,000 artists, has denied that its new tariffs will bring the clubs to their knees and cause the death of the clubs, or Diskothekensterben, as Germans are calling it. GEMA regional manager Lorenz Schmid said charging 10 percent of the ticket price was an approporiate payment to music authors. "The way I see it, they've been paying far too little in the past," said Schmid. "I see no problem for a club manager if he has to pay €1.20 out of €12." He said he didn't see why that level would force a club to shut down.

Club representatives complain that ticket prices will no longer be affordable, and that Berlin will become unattractive for the thousands of tourists who come to savor its nightlife.

Under the present system, a club that organizes 15 events a months pays the same lump sum fee as one that runs just two. "That's not fair," said GEMA's Schmid.

cro -- with wire reports

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