Green wasted youth

Does Berlin’s new “sustainable nightlife” really make a difference, or is it just another party gimmick?

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Photo by Benjamin Pritzkuleit

He’s sweating and he hasn’t even danced yet. Sven looks like a jogger, standing there breathless in Treptower Park in cycling shorts and tennis shoes, and not like most of the other party guests with their glitter and neon outfits. But as a matter of fact, 32-year-old Sven has just come prepared to the Open-Air-Party that began an hour ago and that would actually not be happening if it weren’t for Sven. Or one of the other volunteers who are sitting on fixed bikes, pedalling like maniacs to generate the energy that the DJ needs to spin his records. “I don’t know if this actually has any notable effect on the environment at all,” Sven says shrugging, “but it’s definitely a lot of fun and more exhausting than I thought.”

The event is called “Fahrrad Disko” and was organized by the Green Music Initiative. The objective behind it: to party eco-friendly. Sustainability is something Berlin’s party organizers and club owners (rather than the party-goers themselves) seem to have discovered recently.

When Fahrrad Disko took place at Treptower Park, the hundred-some people who came were there first and foremost because it was co-organized by Bar25, and because everybody is always looking for something out of the ordinary. The party being “green” seemed to be a nice side-effect, but not so much the main reason for being part of it. “This is not gonna work as soon as the alcohol level has reached a certain point,” Sven is convinced.

So it’s coming from above: the party makers are setting the agenda by looking for eco-friendly concepts. Berlin Music Week had all kinds of little green projects, from solar-powered shuttles to surveys to find out where its visitors come from so that more sustainable transportation can be arranged next year. Tresor boss Dimitri Hegemann is again using rainwater as part of the water supply at his club. “I’m not a do-gooder,” he says, “but I want to at least make a start.”

Even the government has discovered “green” nightlife: the Bundesumweltministerium just acted as a patron of Berlin’s “First Green Clubbing Night” in June with Kaffee Burger, Grüner Salon, Tresor and Fate Club.

And it’s about time something is done. The Green Music Initiative has got the numbers: according to the University of Oxford, in Great Britain the music and entertainment industry produced 540,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2007 (from things like transportation, energy, garbage), which is equivalent to the yearly emissions of a small town or of 180,000 cars, and Green Music Initiative claims the numbers are even higher for Germany.

And while one way is to try to save energy wherever possible before it gets wasted, another is to hire someone like Dennis Teufert. About two years ago, he founded the agency High Voltage, which offers a carbon-neutral scheme to any event, from congress to party. Teufert initiated his own High Voltage party series, which takes place a couple of times a year at Tresor, and recently also at Maria. In June, he was hired to make the Berlin Summer Rave at Tempelhof carbon-neutral.

The way Teufert’s services work has often been looked upon suspiciously by overeager critics: Teufert calculates the emissions of the event and then gives a proportionate sum of money to ClimatePartner, an agency based in Munich that sponsors environmental projects around the globe, the idea being that if carbon dioxide is emitted somewhere but saved somewhere else, the balance is zero – meaning climate neutral.

“Sale of indulgences” is a description that comes to mind, but in the end, Teufert is doing something, and it’s he who pays the price: his parties cost the usual €10 at the door for a DJ line-up that can easily compete with any other quality booking in the city. And he also works on all kinds of other projects to save the environment while partying: park-and-rail concepts, mobile solar stations for festivals.

But all that is pie in the sky as long as the partygoers don’t really care. Most of the people who come to High Voltage parties are not, Teufert has to admit, doing so because of the label “climate neutral”. He sounds a little bit weary when saying so. And he knows that the 100-200 tons of CO2 emissions from one of his parties are ridiculously small compared to the billions of tons of carbon dioxide produced in Germany each year. But what he and the Green Music Initiative are aiming for is the multiplicatory potential that lies within the music industry, and the club scene in particular: showing people how easy it is to do something, and getting the idea of climate protection into their heads, even subconsciously.

Because whether the future is going to be manpower like Fahrrad Disko’s, or whether it will follow the example set by that club in Rotterdam with the moving dance floor (the motions of the dancers provide energy for the club), or whether every club will someday have an energy consultant sponsored by Bundesumweltministerium – what has to come first is an awareness on the part of club-goers. Only when party organizers feel that a “green” party draws more attention will more than a few idealistic pioneers jump on the bandwagon.

Luckily, green parties are just as much fun as every other kind. When the power sporadically went out at Fahrrad Disko, the crowd just started singing to fill the gap.