Heaven and hell have many points in common. You don’t know if you’ll get in, when you’ll get out, nor what you’ll see inside . Berghain has the same qualities. And it also has its Cerberus : Sven Marquardt . He mercilessly rebukes tourists and gawkers who don’t appreciate the rounded and precise bass-lines that tap through the filthy and stained glass of the concrete block that once housed a Soviet power plant. All this to let through only those « through which he sees life,» i.e the craziest , most liberated and receptive public that I’ve ever come across. This wise watchdog is actually one of the major ingredients in the atmosphere of the club, giving it its reference status. But Sven is above all a talented photographer who has only recently started receiving the success he deserves . It’s while wandering through the corridors of Berghain that I stumbled upon his shots. The warden with the barbwire tattooed face agreed to drink a coffee with us .
Jacker / You were in Berlin and one of the rare punks in such a conservative scene. What made you move there ? Was there a particular influence or path towards the Berlin culture ?
Sven / Back in the days, Berlin was a segregated city, something that neither you’re generation or the one after mine can imagine. From Alexander Platz, going through Bradenburger and Unter den Linden, a wall separated German society. Even living through a dictatorship, we were envious; obtaining anything that would escape censorship. We organised illegal concerts and fashion shows, creating some sort of parallel world. Nothing was served on a silver plate and we had our imagination to survived Berlin’s grey day-to-day routine. Additionally, it was a very small scene. While we lived in a dictatorship, it was not so present in our minds.
J / We heard you were followed by the German secret services, the Stasi ?
S / There has been a movie on this underground scene. The producer did a lot of research in the archives and I received a document, which described my work and my photography. Back in those days, I used to hang out in a gay bar at Prenzlauer with my friends. We were punks in a gay atmosphere, so really we were the marginalized of the marginalized. We got on really well with the owner and I used to leave literally next-door. One time, I went home and I saw that a burglar had broken in, though 35 years later I learned it had been the Stasi. Luckily, nothing came out of that. My best friends started tagging with another friend in Schönhauser Allee, which was something really dangerous to do back then. They wrote « 20 Jahre Mauer, wir werden langsam Sauer », which means, «20 years walled begins to slowly feel sour» They got caught by the secret services and had to pay for all of it. Ultimately in the 6 months in jail, with the light always on, it really begins to take a toll on you when you never know if its day or night. It truly was a teenage thing, which in the midst of a dictatorship took a complicated political twist.
J / Your work is very dark and romantic, even melancholic. Are there any reasons why ?
S / I think it comes from my working method and my style. I know that my perception of life has ultimately changed ; nevertheless I am still the same person. I do hope to have developed myself in my work. I think it really comes from there, I know where I want to go, what i want to capture and how i want the result to be in the picture. Photographing DJs is something very similar to the clubbing culture of Berlin. Those years spent in the East, feel rather similar to those 25 years ago, was the time I spent working at the doors of clubs. A few years ago, someone said, «every picture of Marquardt celebrates autumn». I thought it was a beautiful statement. If that is the feeling portrayed in my pictures, I will take it as a compliment for myself. Yet, when I do shootings, I am not necessarily all gloomy and melancholic. When I am with the DJs after, I get spoilt as they know me and they obviously know the Berghain. When I meet them it usually goes really well as I’ve also worked with them. We tend to laugh a lot at the shootings, but there is always that moments when we have to trust one another let go and guide them. That moment, when in a snapshot, time gets frozen and that is the best time, but it is hard to come by.
J / Tell us about the fashion and punk scene in Berlin.
There were these guys who created entire clothing sets, created from in bed linen fabrics. They would draw up patterns from them, stick them to objects and then suddenly you would see them driving big cars. Punks would become little entrepreneurs ; there was absolutely nothing to buy, which would elevate fashion. Finally, you would also find people who fell deep down and lived like that, the type of people, which would bet all on one card.
J / Which cameras do you work with to capture these moments ?
S / I have some old Nikons, FM2. Helmut Newton has worked a lot with capturing incredible moments. I thought this was quite hilarious due to the complete generational differences. Otherwise I only work in silver, even though it can get quite tricky in certain shootings but I am not planning to change. I really don’t feel like taking 5000 pictures and discard 4995, despite the fact it’s getting more and more expensive. I do hope this will stick as an art form and that I will survive the digital era, like the vinyl for music. Lastly, I only work with day light and don’t use flash.
J / How’s the partying after work ?
S / Ever since the existence of Berghain, I have not gone to the dance floor. Though, whenever Len Faki is playing, I will take 15 minutes to go and get some goose bumps, smell the fog, sweat, alcohol, the partying, the drought and the smell of cigarette. I love Len Faki, although I have never really been into house and minimal.
J / In 2004, you started working as security for the Berghain. Tell us more.
S / Yeah I did. It really was a phase of mystery and works as we were all wondering where the new Ostgut was going to be. The last staff meeting of Ostgut, we were told that surely there would be something for all the staff. At first, they all did their own stuff, and then we began to have monthly meetings. Once the Berghain opened, even with the works ongoing, the warehouse had a real soul and everyone knew its history. Regarding the pictures, I would never really ask if I could take any due to the taboo, which is also an embedded history of the location. I have been provided with some places where I can work, though, when the club is not open. The Berghain really does reflect my feeling in life.