By: Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Shanélle de Melo
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 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 on the cover of Playful Magazine is a smooth process. As a Playful reader and highly experienced photographer 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’s assistant and friend Hardy 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 still 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.”
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.”
”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.
”I watch less movies and more documentaries. Not about nature, more about fashion and art, or biographies of interesting people.”
”I’m missing my guest lectures in Florence these days, as well as Berghain and the unique energy there, the creative young people I meet who are fighting for freedom and to participate in that environment.”
Even if Sven loves to travel and to discover new places he never thought about leaving the city and moving elsewhere.
”In some ways it’s as if I still haven’t learnt that I’m free to go wherever I want now. It takes a lot of self-confidence to travel around and discover new places, and that has been something I’ve needed to learn and grow into. I guess it also has to do with the fact that we never learnt English in school.”
I have always studied people. Maybe that’s the connection between working by the door and as a photographer
The whole start of becoming a bouncer, was through his younger brother Oliver, who was part of Berlin’s electronic-music scene as a DJ and club organizer. As a young photographer, extra money can be needed and although Sven wasn’t very involved with what his brother organized at first, he agreed to work at the door for the club. Reading people and having a stomach feeling about them made him successful in creating the right environment.
”I have always studied people. Maybe that’s the connection between working by the door and as a photographer. Although the missions are completely different.”
At some point he started working for the gay fetish party OstGut, that later moved to the power station, where Panorama Bar was their first club space. As they grew they overtook the whole building and changed the club name to Berghain.
”A lot of people went to the new location and expected to find the same club that OstGut was and were disappointed. They told me ’It’s not like OstGut’ after entering the new place. And I replied, ’no, It’s Berghain, and today it’s 2004 and not 98 anymore, OstGut is over.’”, Sven laughs.
After the fall of the wall, Berlin started to attract people from the whole world as the city’s club scene started to blossom, with Berghain at its forefront, and the rumors that Berlin was freer and more liberated than the rest of Europe. Something that was in many ways thanks to the fight that the punk movement had been taking in the ’80s.
The city must maintain the spirit of Berlin, and we must do it together
What they fought for, is something that we are many people who have enjoyed to this day. Today the club scene is facing big challenges, something Sven points out. A new generation must fight to be able to let Berlin remain the city we wish it to be.
”The city must maintain the spirit of Berlin, and we must do it together. We must keep promoting diversity and freedom, even after the pandemic. The clubs have suffered before, and now they are suffering even more. It’s a good time for investors to ’clean up’, but we must work together to let Berlin remain Berlin, and to recreate it to enhance these values again.”
”Berlin is a city that has been growing constantly, and during the pandemic it just stopped, which is really heartbreaking. The club scene will need some time to recover and that will not be done in an instant. But in the end I believe that the energy will remain, if the new generation keeps on fighting for it, that is. Because it’s not just a natural thing that these values will last, it’s because people fought for it that we can enjoy it.”
”There’s always an opposite pole, and they’re probably not aware of it, but they wipe it out by not recognizing what they are doing.”
In the end, Sven wraps it up with;
”Every crisis contains a chance for positive change.”
What’s in Sven’s speakers:
– Ellen Allien
– Dr. Rubinstein
– Thom Yorke
– Patrick Mason