Madrid’s iconic Café Berlín falls prey to real estate speculation

Indian investor pays €32 million for building that housed revered live music venue

Patricia Ortega Dolz
The last concert at Café Berlin on Sunday.
The last concert at Café Berlin on Sunday.Bernardo Pérez

Every city has its pilgrimage centers, which are imposed by religion, culture or history. And every city also has its spontaneous pilgrimage centers that rise silently out of the everyday hustle and bustle; places that connect the great figures of the cultural scene with the city’s anonymous crowds.

Or maybe it’s the other way around: it is the anonymous crowds that create great figures inside temples that trade chiefly in emotions. These places are symbols of an era, institutions that safeguard the soul of an entire people. Café Berlin represented all of these things.

But after livening up Madrid’s nightlife for 40 years, Café Berlin shut its doors forever on Sunday.

The Café Berlin building and the two adjoining ones will be converted into yet another tourist hotel

It took €23 million from an Indian entrepreneur to halt the flow of fans who would climb up that winding staircase that opened up into a paradise of irreverence, and was home to rock, folk, jazz, flamenco, pop, funk and tongue-in-cheek cabaret.

Located on the first floor of number 4, Jacometrezo street, Café Berlin’s small tables and red velvet couches allowed patrons to float until the early morning hours with the electronic beats of Redux Life or the jam sessions led by the likes of trumpet player Jerry González.

The musicians who played there were veterans of the Madrid nightclub scene, representing the perfect symbiosis in which an artist makes the space and the space makes the artist. Café Berlin became the launching pad of people like Mastretta, Diego Guerrero and La Shica.

Its demise was a death foretold, but nobody did anything about it. The Berlin is shutting down, just like Café Central seems set to shut down as well, and part of the Madrid nightlife will be mutilated, with a long line of souls roaming the streets in search of a new temple of music.

No option to negotiate

“There wasn’t even the option to negotiate,” says Ezequiel Brid, one of two Argentinean partners who took over the club four years ago and breathed new life into it. He and Andrés Almada changed the club’s skin but not its soul. They opened its doors to all types of night owls, from those wearing thick-rimmed glasses to those sporting leather and studs; sequins and fake mink furs, platform shoes, stilettos, or even whips.

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But then came the Mohinani Group with its deep pockets, and for €23 million the India-based company acquired the entire building with its pretty balconies, and both adjoining ones to boot. It was a sweet deal for a spot just a few meters off the popular Callao square. Their fate: being converted into yet another hotel for tourists.

For its last performance on Sunday, Café Berlin brought together some of its favorite musicians, including Jerry González and Javier Colina, as well as their friends and guests. But it wasn't the end of the Berlin: its soul and its fans have already begun their pilgrimage in search of a new temple of music to take its place near Callao.

English version by Susana Urra.

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