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Waiting in line: Berlin’s most legendary queues

Queues are an important part of life in Berlin. For Berghain, for basic public services, to get a kebab or at the fall of the iron curtain, there is almost nothing we won't wait for.

Sparkasse Rosenthaler Straße on July 1, 1990. Photo: Imago/Rolf Zöllner

Berliners take pride in queueing. Queues for clubs, queues for apartments, at the Burgeramt, at BER. You might not know it, but these are all part of a storied tradition of waiting in line. For many Germans there is a particular queue that defines their generation: when the OG Tresor closed, when Moma came to Berlin, when the Wall fell. Here are Berlin’s best (or worst) queues of all time. 

Vaccine queues

Queuing at the Berlin vaccination bus in Lichtenberg. Photo: Imago/Jochen Eckel

Never have we ever been so grateful for the medical-industrial complex. When COVID broke out there was a very rapid turnaround. Scientists managed to go from identification to gene sequencing to vaccine development in a matter of months. Unfortunately, the logistics of delivering vaccines to the rest of the world turned out to be more complicated (or not profitable enough). 

Despite having access to these life saving medicines, the rollout took a while and Berliners (as well as everyone else) had to stand in some pretty crazy lines to get vaxxed. Worth it though! 

BER queues: brand new airport, same old problems

Main hall in BER, Terminal 1. Photo: Imago/Joko

Getting BER built was a nightmare. It was out of date before it even opened thanks to a series of very foreseeable fuck-ups. But now we are stuck with it, and it’s crazy queues.

You’d think that having all that corona down-time that they would have been able to prepare somewhat for the coming rush, but that would be expecting too much of Wowereit’s multi billion euro money-pit. The lines were out the door as soon as it opened, and in summer thousands were unable to collect their luggage because of a lack of staff. 

They could have at least done us the courtesy of making the building look nice, but no, instead we have this architectural sin to look at as we stand about in line waiting to clear (surprisingly lax) security. 

Election queues 

Queuing at the polling station in Friedrichshain on election day. You may have seen the woman with the eye-catching jacket before. Photo: Imago/Political Moments

Ahh, September 26, 2021. How naive we were. Someone in Berlin’s bureaucracy must have had an inflated opinion of themselves *cough GEISEL cough* and decided it was a good idea to run the Bundestag, House of Representatives and the BVV elections on the same day, PLUS the Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen referendum. Luckily they picked a quiet autumn weekend when Berliners wouldn’t have anything else on, EXCEPT ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS MARATHONS! 

The queues ran around the block, and many were stuck in line for hours (until after polling closed, making their votes invalid) and many stations ran out of ballot papers. It’s hard to say if running out of papers or not having the right ones in the first place is worse, but it’s kind of a moot point: both were a huge issue in this clusterfuck of an election. Luckily they are redoing it. 

Captive animal queues

Berlin’s favourite polar bear Knut, 2007. Photo: Imago/Sven Lambert

In December 2006, Knut became the first polar bear in 30 years to see the dim light of City West at the Berlin Zoo. Thus began the city’s short love affair with the Eisbär, but unfortunately it all came to a depressing, tragic end. Before Knut shuffled off this mortal coil, however, Berliners queued for hours to see the fluffy little guy (Leonardo DiCaprio was so impatient to see the bear he jumped the queue for a private photo shoot). 

The live shows with his animal keeper Thomas Dörflein attracted a total of one million visitors. And then the sad end: Dörflein died in 2008 from a heart attack, Knut in 2011 from a brain injury which led to him having a seizure and drowning. Both were way too young.

Club queues: final Tresor party edition 

Tresor, one last time. The legendary club on Leipziger Strasse, April 2005. Photo: imago / Christian Schroth

At some point, the line outside a club transitions from long-enough-that-it-must-be-good to not-fucking-worth-it. Or at least that’s the case for a regular evening. If it’s something special, like the final party of one of Berlin’s OG techno clubs… maybe you should make the effort? In any case, in April 2005, Dimitri Hegemann decided it was time for Tresor to move out of its original digs, the former Wertheim department store. If you can remember this last party, you certainly weren’t there.

If you can remember this last party, you certainly weren’t there.

That wasn’t the end for Tresor though (Tresor means vault, and the club is called that because Dimitri and Co broke into the dilapidated department store and started hosting illegal raves in the basement, which was fitted out as a kind of walk-in bank-sized safe) as they eventually found a new venue on Köpenicker Strasse and reopened in 2007. 

Art queues: MOMA comes to Berlin

When the MOMA came to the National Gallery. Photo: Imago/Schöning

When the New York Museum of Modern Art had to be closed for months for renovations, it showed more than 200 of its most famous masterpieces of the 20th century in Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie for eight months:  Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Kandinsky, Beckmann, Hopper and Pollock, all a short walk from Potsdamer Platz. 1.2 million visitors lined up from February 20th to September 19th. Worth it!

Money exchange queues: swapping out your East Marks

Sparkasse Rosenthaler Straße on July 1, 1990. Photo: Imago/Rolf Zöllner

There were some administrative things to get through when Germany reunified. A big issue was what to do about the different currencies. It was decided that East Germans could trade in their “East Marks” for West German Deutsche Marks (at a rate of 1:1 for the first 4000 and then worse rates for larger amounts). 

Many Ossis were hungover on the morning of July 1, 1990. East Germans had been told that they would be unable to exchange their coins, and so had no choice but to drink up all their spare change the night before. 

The fairness of the exchange rate – and the whole era – is debatable, but waiting in line for money isn’t all that bad, right? Definitely beats having your hard earned cash turned into useless paper. 

More club queuing: the infamous Berghain line

The most famous line in Berlin. Photo: Imago/imagebroker

This line is famous the world over. It might not be the longest, but it is infamously harsh. Many have written guides for how to get past Sven, ourselves included. Even app developers have tried to solve the mystery, but they failed like a drunken group of (male) tourists trying their luck at midnight on a Saturday.  

“The lizard man looks at them in silence. Then he nods as only the lizard man can.”

A few years ago, journalist Mark Fisher, (sadly now deceased) summed up the Berghain line and its iconic bouncer for “Dummy” magazine: “The lizard man looks at them in silence. Then he nods as only the lizard man can.”

Berlinale queues: the red carpet blues

Berlinale ticket queue at Potsdamer Platz Arcades. Photo: imago /Bernd Friedel

Our annual February pilgrimage and its associated ritual: standing in line on a red carpet for far too long, for tickets that are in the end, totally worth it. It’s a shame to have to spend so much time near Potsdamer Platz though. 

Weirdly, we are going to miss this. The tickets are reportedly going to be 100 percent online in 2023, but we’re sure you know how well you can trust Berlin and its digital promises. 

Reichstag queues

Reichstag, 2009. Photo: Imago/Xinhua

Although an already beautiful building, when Sir Norman Forster placed a curved glass dome on top of the Reichstag, symbolically if not practically making German politics more transparent, he turned an already popular tourist attraction into a huge money-magnet. 

A classic thing to do when your parents visit, the lines got insane for a bit when the world collectively freaked out about terrorism post 9/11. 

Between 2002 and 2018, the visitor service had almost 40 million visitors, and the Reichstag is considered the most visited parliament building in the world.

Food queues: Mustafa’s vegetable tourist trap

Queue at Mustafa on Mehringdamm, April 2018: The kebab shop had to be replaced after a fire in October 2019. Photo: Imago / Joko

Mustafa’s Kult-Imbiss used to have its stand right next to the U-Bahn entrance on Mehringdamm. This became super impractical as its fame grew as the rumoured ground zero for Germany’s favourite meal. It burned down in 2019, and was rebuilt on the other side of the footpath, and the flow of sneering locals is now uninterrupted by the tourists waiting for their overrated Gemüsekebap. The line is impressive though. 

The one queue to rule them all: Bornholmer Strasse, November 9, 1989

The Wall opens up on Bösebrücke, Bornholmer Straße. Photo: imago / Camera4

Every German knows where they were on November 9, 1989. That crazy evening in Berlin. Some were already in bed, but others stood on Bornholmer Strasse, waiting for a miracle.

Context: On November 9, 1989, in the early evening, Günter Schabowski was stumbling through a press conference that was pretty typical of the administration at the time, when a journalist asked a question about the new travel laws. Schabowski then wrote himself into the history books with a clumsy response: “As far as I know, this will happen immediately, without delay.”

At 8 pm the “Tagesschau” announced (only half-correctly): “DDR opens borders.” At a quarter to eleven, Hajo Friedrichs reports in the “Tagesthemen”: “Be careful when dealing with superlatives, they wear out easily. But tonight you can take a risk. This November 9th is a historic day.”

Without Western television, the Wall would not have come down that evening. 

East Berliners took Schabowski and Friedrichs at their word, and a crowd assembled on Bornholmer Strasse. And at 11:30 pm, the commander at the Bornholmer Strasse border crossing opened the barrier.

The rest is history.