Thu, Jul 05, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Collections agency puts up wall for Berlin clubs scene

PENALTY FOR PARTIES:Nightclubs say tourism is under threat from a charge that takes effect next year for clubs that stay open for more than five hours

The Guardian, BERLIN

Dancing to throbbing techno beats amid a throng of sweaty ravers in post-industrial spaces is a Berlin ritual. Every weekend thousands of tourists and locals alike hit legendary clubs such as Berghain, Weekend or Watergate to party into the small hours.

However, the days of hedonistic clubbing could be numbered. The city’s clubs say they are facing annihilation if a new set of music royalty payments come into force.

GEMA, Germany’s powerful collections agency, which represents 65,000 artists, is changing the structure of the fees it charges for performances and recorded music. From Jan. 1 next year, the agency will introduce a fee system to be based on a percentage of the ticket prices and size of the venue, with a 50 percent surcharge for events that last more than five hours and a similar increase after another three hours.

The agency says that 60 percent of establishments will not see their payments increase at all, and may even see them reduced. It also says that most clubs should be able to afford to pay 10 percent of the ticket price.

Many clubs, which are often open for well in excess of 10 hours, say they face annual payments that are five to 10 times the flat rate they currently pay.

The Club Commission, which represents Berlin’s nightlife industry, says that an average-sized club that now pays 28,000 euros (US$35,230) a year would face a bill of 180,000 euros.

“The clubs are fearful for their existence,” commission spokesman Lutz Leichsenring said.

A campaign against GEMA’s move has already collected more than 200,000 signatures and 5,000 people demonstrated last Monday outside the collections agency’s summer party in Berlin. On Saturday night, more than 2,000 clubs across Germany halted the decks for five minutes to demonstrate their opposition to the changed royalties.

The German patent office is assessing the legality of the new fee structure, but its decision is expected to take at least a year, which may be too late for many clubs.

Berghain, which has staged events lasting more than 48 hours and which faces a 1,400 percent increase in fees, said that its New Year’s Eve event this year would be its last. Watergate boss Steffen Hacks, who faces a bill of 200,000 euros instead of 10,000 euros, said he will also be forced to shut.

“How is one supposed to operate as a free entrepreneur under these kinds of conditions?” he told Die Tageszeitung newspaper.

If the clubs start to disappear then Berlin’s economy is bound to suffer. More than 10,000 visitors come to the city every weekend and 35 oercent of tourists cite Berlin’s nightlife as a big draw.

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