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Berlin's Government Considers Safe Ways To Reopen Nightclubs

NOEL KING, HOST:

Berlin's club culture used to bring in people from all over the world, but the clubs have been closed for about 18 months. They're one of the last parts of the German economy to stay locked down because of the pandemic. Now Berlin's city government is trying to find ways to let them reopen safely. Here's Emma Hurt in Berlin.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Outside Berlin's famous KitKatClub, a line snakes down the sidewalk. And this is a big deal. Indoor dancing has been banned here since last March.

NICO LA MATINA: I'm super excited. I was ready at 8. I knew what I was going to wear and whatever.

HURT: Nico La Matina is one of the lucky 2,000 participating in the Berlin government's latest effort to fully reopen the clubs. He has a vision about how the night may go.

LA MATINA: We're going to get STDs, but not corona.

(LAUGHTER)

HURT: Everyone in line had to have a negative coronavirus test. That was their ticket to six Berlin clubs last weekend. A week later, they'll get PCR tested again. Because of the COVID variants, proof of vaccination isn't enough. Florian Kainzinger runs the company managing the testing.

FLORIAN KAINZINGER: We've been working on this project for quite some months. This is the only way how to open safely in this pandemic times.

HURT: Indoors.

KAINZINGER: Indoors. Indoors, clubs - no masks, no distancing - so club nights in Berlin like they have been two years ago.

HURT: The project is designed to see whether a PCR-tested pool like this can go clubbing safely. Winter will soon disrupt the city's limited outdoor club options, so there's hope that testing could pave the way for indoor dancing. And the Berlin government is paying for the experiment to the tune of 40,000 euros. Why? Berlin Senator Klaus Lederer.

KLAUS LEDERER: It also costs a lot of money to support closed clubs, so it's better to support open clubs.

HURT: All of Berlin's clubs have survived the pandemic thanks to government help. That's according to the Clubcommission, the industry's association. They estimate clubs employ more than 9,000 people and have a roughly 1.5 billion euro economic impact. But Jeff Mannes isn't sure many will be able to survive being closed much longer. He was also in line at KitKat.

JEFF MANNES: But we will have to see. It's getting tight now for many, many clubs. And that's also why there's so much hope for this event here.

HURT: Mannes leads tours on what he calls the history of sex in Berlin. He says the clubs are more than just dance venues.

MANNES: Berlin clubs are important for many marginalized communities, many queer communities. They are safe spaces for them. Them being closed now for a year and a half is devastating for many people. And, of course, they were closed for a good reason, but I think this experiment is very important for many marginalized folks in the city.

HURT: Outside Festsaal Kreuzberg, another Berlin club, Anais Dukunze is dressed up and waiting. She's refreshing her email, hoping for a negative test result to arrive so she can go inside.

ANAIS DUKUNZE: The way that I'm reloading this page, I think my phone's going to ask me if I was pirated or something.

HURT: But to her, the inconvenience is worth it. She finally got in at 2 a.m.

DUKUNZE: I can take an extra hour or two to get tested and to make sure that the fun that I'm having is safe fun so next week, next month, next year, I'm still having a good time.

HURT: Dukunze says in Berlin, clubs are a part of the city's culture, like museums. Senator Klaus Lederer agrees. And without them, he says, the city isn't itself.

LEDERER: It's unbelievable. It's not Berlin (laughter).

HURT: The initial results of what the government calls its Clubculture Reboot project are expected Saturday. If it fails, the scientists who designed it don't have a plan B.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MODESELEKTOR'S "OHM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.