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Berghain Bouncer Sven Marquardt: "We were young punks who fought for change"

By: Amanda Sandström Beijer

Photos: Shanélle de Melo

Sven Marquardt Berghain Bouncer in Playful Magazine
Sven Marquardt: Famous for his photography and work as a selector at Berghain.

Sven Marquardt is probably the biggest international Berlin icon on the underground scene. Born and raised in the city, the photographer and Berghain bouncer talks in this interview about why it’s the joint responsibility of all Berliners to rebuild the culture – since the entertainment scene have lost force during the pandemic.

Getting Sven Marquardt on the cover of Playful Magazine is a smooth process. As a Playful reader and highly experienced photographer (see his work at Marquardt Photography) he’s been emailing with the team the weeks before the photoshoot. It’s easy to imagine that he wants to be portrayed in black and white as he is on the many pictures you’ll get when you google him, but no. Sven wants the cover to pop, Playful style.

Sven Marquardt's assistant and friend Hardy Paetke is arriving together with the well–dressed Berlin legend to help out with translating German into English. When he’s not busy translating during our session (which is not too often since Sven’s English is not bad) he’s keeping track of the 30 glasses that Sven has brought for the shoot, as well as keeping an eye on the clothes so that no cat hair gets stuck on his suit.

We put Peanut, the cat, in his arms and it gets comfortable right away. Not nervous or eager to leave, but indulgently cuddles in his arms.

”I used to have cats before. I’m more of a cat person than a dog person, but I like the Greyhound’s, they are somehow different”, he says. ”But no one would expect me with a Greyhound”, he laughs.

Of course, since the city was divided, you knew that some relatives lived on the other side of the wall and that you couldn’t visit them, but not really why.

Sven Marquardt lives in East Berlin - Mitte/ Prenzlauer Berg/ Friedrichshain, the area that has always been his home, as well as the location of Berghain.

”As a child, you’re not really aware of what ’the rest of the world’ looks like. I didn’t question that we couldn’t travel since we were in the Democratic Republic. Of course, since the city was divided, you knew that some relatives lived on the other side of the wall and that you couldn’t visit them, but not really why. Sometimes they shipped over presents in nice boxes and these stuff. Overall, it was a peaceful place to be brought up in.”

Growing up, he describes himself as a shy boy. Although during his teenage years, the Punk era began to make itself felt in Prenzlauer Berg in the ’80s.

”Everyone always said, ’He looks sweet and he’s so lovely.’ But that changed when I became a teenager and broke with all those constructions.”

Sven Marquardt for Playful Magazine
Sven Marquardt

The new-wave people dressed differently and opposed the government. They wanted a change, just like the rest of the world did, just in a smaller community - in the Soviet sector of Berlin.

We were young and proud punks who fought for a change. What’s going on today here is in some way a remake of that

”Sometimes I meet people in Berlin nowadays, who have a vision and want to change something in their life – or in the world. That could be as a DJ, music label, fashion label or as any young creative basically - it reminds me of what I did when I was young.”

”Since Berlin is very international, people come here with visions and ideas to create and build something, and it was the same here in the ’80s. We were young and proud punks who fought for a change. What’s going on today here is in some way a remake of that. Same characters but different people.”

Like what you're reading? Get the Playful print magazine here.

”A problem when growing up was to understand that we really weren't free. That we were forbidden to go anywhere. That didn’t bother us as children when we had no idea about the size of the world, but when we grew up we understood more and decided that, if we're not allowed to go to New York, we shall bring what we want to discover, here instead.”

This is also when Sven started taking pictures. It started as a way to express the spirit of life.

”And it still is to this day.”

Just like back then, when it was very expensive to get films in color, Sven still shoots his photos in black and white and analogue. This may sound as if he’s a nostalgic person, a quality that often can be associated with photographers in general. But that’s not the case with Sven.

”No, I’m not nostalgic in the way that I wish the old days back. Quite the opposite. But when it comes to my photography, I still do it analogue as well as black and white, but that’s it. As a person I’m driven by the new, I’m even seeking for it. New projects and ideas, like Playful for example. But also, when it comes to fashion or even when going to galleries.”

Hardy compares his own way of dressing with Sven’s sense of style and laughs.

”You see, like now for example he’s wearing neon colors. He’s always keeping up with new trends and does his own take on them. When we meet up, he can sometimes ask why I don’t”, Hardy says.

”I always look for the feel of something new - a new perspective, a new idea or a new way of lifting and meeting something that is old. Not the same old thing in a frame, it may be classic, but I would never do it for my own exhibition. I need to bring something more to the observer’s eyes when it comes to showing my work.”

During the pandemic Sven hasn’t felt very inspired within his artform, although he did a short film and had his photography exhibition ”Stageless” shown in the Friedrichstadt-Palats. But what normally inspires him is people and energies, something that’s hard to capture during a pandemic.

”The shoot we did today with Playful is something that excites me. I have missed this. But in my everyday life I get inspired by meeting everyone outside Berghain and the kind of positive stress and action that comes from meeting new people in this specific environment. No actual movement is quite the opposite of inspiring.”

Normally Sven has a busy schedule with appointments in all corners of the world, combined with trying to get home in time to work at Berghain on the weekends as well as to realize his local, creative projects.

These days Sven knows his schedule by heart and spends time to gain inspiration through virtual fashion shows and video clips instead.

”Music videos and magazines are consumed in an unbelievable quantity”, Hardy adds.