IT IS HERE, AT SCHLESISCHES TOR – WHERE THE CITY’S OLDEST U-BAHN LINE STILL TOWERS OVER THE STREETS – THAT LIDO ESTABLISHED ITSELF IN 2006. THE U-BAHN STATION STRETCHES ACROSS THE RIVER SPREE, WHICH ONCE ACTED AS A NATURAL BARRIER SEPARATING THE FORMER WEST AND EAST HALVES, AND TO THE EAST SIDE GALLERY WHERE A SECTION OF THE WALL STILL STANDS, CONNECTING IT TO THE DEEPER DENIZENS OF BERLIN.
This area, well known for its musical heritage and current events, is now home to a cross-section of bars, clubs, galleries and other music-related venues that have come to form a community of counterculturalist escapism.
Lido has hosted all types of touring and local bands, and has had to work hard to earn its reputation as a leading concert hall by throwing intense and dazzling parties, shows and poetry slams. “Our main goal is to provide a stage for innovative artists, to enrich the Berlin cultural landscape and to provide great live experiences for our guests,” states Lido's Anne Miethe, when asked about the venue’s history. In a relatively short amount of time it has certainly achieved those goals, having played host to the commercial talents of Alt-J and Maximo Park, through to the more experimental offerings of recent bookings Beak> and Serpentwithfeet.
Established in a former 50s cinema, Lido opened its doors in 2006 after the current owner, Torsten Brandt, converted the space into what it is today. Due to its lack of exterior right angles, Lido is nicknamed “the house with the round corners”, and its façade still acknowledges the venue’s past. Outside, a vintage-style marquee lightbox advertises the night’s entertainment, and on entering you walk past the old-school, 60s cinema box office, where the seller still rolls out the evening tickets behind metal rails. The old foyer, where bands can often be found hawking their merchandise, has also been kept in prime condition, while in the main room the acts line up on the stage where the screen used to be, and Lido’s legendary disco ball – one of the biggest in the city – hangs from the ceiling.
"We are pleased to be able to provide a stage for newcomers and established artists," says Miethe, talking about the venue's approach to bookings. "We observe that some of these bands play in larger venues later due to their success, and there are some that always come back because they love the atmosphere of Lido." International superstars that went on to do much bigger things include MGMT, The xx, Maximo Park and many more, while the Stereophonics and, more recently, Panic! At the Disco, warmed up here before major tours. Even Alicia Keys chose Lido for a surprise intimate show back in 2016. It just goes to show that by having a medium-sized, intimate venue, with an ardent music-loving family behind the scenes, you can really achieve anything. In addition to the seasoned rock ’n’ rollers who traverse through the foyer, Lido has also become known for its weekend discos and party events, including indie night Kiss All Hipsters; headbangers’ paradise Paranoid and the city’s biggest Balkan disco, BalkanBeats.
"Lido was the original name of the venue in the 1950s and 1960s when it was still a movie theatre," states Miethe. "It means ‘movie theatre of the East’ because a lot of people from East Berlin had the chance to watch West movies here." During its former life, Lido was once known as a “Grenzkino”, where you would come out of the main doors and be able to see the city’s divide, just under 200 metres away. Today, there’s a huge development site outside, signifying how the neighbourhood is changing. With more offices and large firms moving into the area, the pressures from urban development, gentrification and rising costs are threats the music community will have to deal with further down the road. As a cinema, Lido’s existence was exceptionally short-lived: its attendance dwindled, forcing it to close in 1966.
"The legacy of the former cinema is very important because it had a great cultural significance for Berlin-Kreuzberg," says Miethe. "Anyone who wanted to see West movies at that time could not avoid Lido. We still see ourselves as an important cultural centre in Kreuzberg – but now mainly in the field of live music, rather than movies. That's why it was important for us to continue to remember the old cinema. In addition, the house brings a unique charm and a distinctive atmosphere with it," she continues.
As a neighbourhood, Kreuzberg's true identity has been defined by the reimagining and occupying of empty buildings such as Lido. This punk and radical approach to public spaces helped create Berlin's burgeoning and world-changing music scene. With many buildings left empty and neglected towards the late 70s, the locals of Kreuzberg began to take pragmatic steps, creating spaces for art and community to exist side by side. This was a period that saw more engagement in activism, and it is why this neighbourhood is still famed for its DIY, punk-rock, anything-goes attitude. Most Kreuzberg music venues were set up on limited (or no) budgets, hence the self-built bars and second-hand furniture, with sociopolitical messaging deeply embedded in their culture. This liberty and radicalism started to attract famous musicians from around the world, who made the neighbourhood their home. To this day, artists such as Peaches and Tricky, along with a plethora of electronic-music acts, can be found frequenting the cavernous, repurposed music venues, putting on new shows and events.
Since opening, Lido has become a lynchpin in the community, a place where local musicians have grown and music fans have seen some of the biggest acts around. Over the past ten years or so, the venue has had its fair share of rock ’n’ roll moments, whilst also ensuring that it gives back to the neighbourhood. “We regularly host DYNAMIT, a party tailored to those with disabilities, and are always open to charity events,” states Miethe. Sitting in the centre of an entertainment goldmine, where nightclubs, jazz bars and record stores are all found within a few kilometres of each other, Lido's importance to the Kreuzberg scene is indisputable. Spaces that are dependent on each other, which have helped cement Berlin’s musical lineage, are joining together to fight against rising rents and gentrification. “The neighbourhood has changed a lot in the past ten years, as has the whole of Berlin,” adds Miethe. “Kreuzberg is a popular area for many startup companies and construction projects, and running a venue is associated with a very high cost. It is not always easy to maintain existing prices.” The struggle in our modern times is something represented by its regular Kreuzberg Slam nights, an open floor for poets and rappers to show off their wares, contextualise the zeitgeist, and show there's more to Kreuzberg than just punk rock and cheap beers. Embracing a multiplicity of cultures and styles, Lido stands firm in the midst of a rapidly developing neighbourhood, its history displayed for all to see.