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A100 Wegbassen
Courtesy of A100 Wegbassen

Why 20,000 ravers are protesting Berlin’s A100 motorway expansion

‘We dance together, we fight together’

Around 3PM on Saturday afternoon (September 2) a parade of people on bikes, e-scooters, and mopeds headed down Schlesischesstraße in Berlin. Some had speakers strapped to their backs, blasting bass-heavy techno, others rode side by side with their primary school-aged children. Every now and then a cop would ride by, clearing the streets to make room for the influx of people joining the demonstration. In spite of it being a protest, the spirits of the bikers felt almost celebratory as they danced and laughed to music blasting out of the backpacks of fellow riders. 

The bike demo was only one part of the string of city-wide protests against the A100 motorway expansion that took place and culminated, at the end of the night, into a multi-venue rave – true to the spirit of Berlin. Among the clubs involved include ://about blank, Club OST, Renate, and Else, who came together with community organisers and DJ activists to host a protest rave. These clubs, of course, were not just blindly opening their doors to protestors. The venues mentioned above are only a few of the cultural spaces that will either be decimated or irrevocably altered by the construction of the motorway.

The A100 autobahn, which began construction in the 1950s, is set to implement its 16th and 17th phases of construction beginning in the next three years. The motorway currently runs from Wedding all the way down through parts of Charlottenburg and Templehof to Neukölln. Planned expansions will bring the motorway to the east, through Treptower Park and Spree River all the way up to Friedrichshain, cutting through Berlin’s club-heavy districts and, understandably, causing an uproar in the local community for various reasons most commonly concerning its affect on cultural erosion and the climate crises along with its estimated cost of €1.5 billion, “making it the most expensive road construction project in Germany,” according to musician Nina Berg

“The politicians are saying Germany and the people need to change because of the climate crisis but then they want to build an unnecessary highway – that’s [a] paradox,” says Sylvie Maziarz who DJ’ed at ://about blank this past weekend. Not to mention the “hundreds of workers in clubs [who] will lose their jobs”.

Concerns about the highway expansion have united club-goers and climate activists in their efforts through a common agenda. Not only will the expansion of the motorway heavily impact the urban layout of the city, having significant and consequential effects on daily life, it will also bring about quietly insidious side effects, including heavy contribution to air pollution in Berlin, as well as an increased carbon footprint through the encouraged use of cars. It seems contradictory for Germany, a country which has pledged to lower carbon emissions. “A freeway in times of climate change is crazy,” agrees Berlin DJ Punktmidi, who played at Club OST on Saturday night.

While the transport ministry has regarded the project as a necessity to ease the management of traffic, many Berliners are quick to harp on the one-sidedness of that argument. Social efficiency is a necessary byproduct of a growing city, but Berlin, at its core, is still a city built around livability and quality of life. Dj Skankstasy, one of the creators of the collective Lecken, who booked and played the Club OST party, reiterated that Berlin’s legacy includes “living beyond the 9-5 and enjoying non-productive pleasures”. She continues that “the onslaught of neoliberalism erases the radicalness of the city”, which was once famous for being a home to artists, squatters, and outsiders. 

Skankstasy and her fellow collaborators at BUTTONS collective took the stage together to b2b at OST this past Saturday. Both are queer and migrant-heavy collectives that focus on giving voice to POC and immigrant artists in a scene where the demographic still leans relatively white and German. “It’s important to get these other groups involved – and the clubs want it too,” she adds, mentioning OST had specifically asked their collective to curate a lineup for the protest rave. 

Outside of Berlin, the A100 motorway project has garnered national attention, bringing with it a barrage of support for the protesters. The hashtag #clubsAREculture started trending, as more international publications have also opted to cover stories regarding the movement in Berlin. Much of the support comes from those who note that the highway is a utility relic of the past. It’s “a project from the past and completely out of time. The plan to bury an entire neighbourhood and its culture under asphalt is insane,” notes ://about blank’s DJ Ciko

“Berlin needs to stay unfinished. It’s part of what draws future generations into the city“ – Lutz Leichsenring, Clubcomission Berlin

Lutz Leichsenring, spokesperson for Clubcomission Berlin, pointed to the Creative Footprint study he and a fellow colleague had developed to measure the creative output and appeal of cities. He cited Berlin as having a score of eight out of ten right now, making it highly appealing to artists. “Berlin needs to stay unfinished,” he says. “It’s part of what draws future generations into the city. It’s what makes Berlin. They want to feel like they have a part in the creation process of the city. [Innovation] shouldn’t have to happen this fast.” Leichsenring acknowledges that while times change and progress often comes at a cost, “city development [still] needs to rethink if this is actually the right thing to do”.

As the evening drew on, protestors continued walking, biking, and raving their way to the respective parties. The community support was outpouring, describes musician Hang Aoki. “Späti venders updated their signs if they had ‘cold beers‘ or only ‘beers‘. Even Lidl had a wall of canned beer in the store and emptied the antipasti section in their fridge to make room to cool the beers [for protestors],” she says. 

The antics of that night stretched into the morning hours, as is common in Berlin rave scenes, which are united by their love of dancing and good techno. Many are still hopeful that the protests will force policy-makers to rethink their decisions. As Skankstasy puts it: “We dance together, we fight together.”