[4 October 2011]
When Americans stereotype the German music scene, they think of techno and Berlin nightclubs. There is however, a much more extensive network of national clubs in Germany that hosts international indie bands. One club in the city of Dresden is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month—Beatpol concert hall is known for its ambitious approach, in terms of curating international music within the Dresden area. The venue has hosted hundreds of American indie bands since its opening in 1991. Names like The National, Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, and Death Cab For Cutie all toured through the 500-person capacity club during their early careers.
Tucked away in the outskirts of Dresden, Beatpol is housed in an old ballroom that the city has used for various forms of entertainment for over a century. “It’s a lone soldier in Dresden. The venue has a soul, and people notice that,” said Johannes Zink, Beatpol’s lighting technician.
Beatpol is a place where people come to experience live music exclusively. According to Beatpol manager Hans-Jürgen Lachotta, “Beatpol is located nowhere near the club/party scene. Whoever comes to Beatpol comes because he or she wants to hear his or her favorite music, or get to know new music”.
The city of Dresden houses most of its youth culture in the “Neustadt”, or the “new” part of the city. The area is on the north side of the city’s main river and is packed with bars and clubs. Beatpol however, is several tram stops away from the Neustadt, back on the other side of the river in an older neighborhood called Cotta. Surprisingly, the location has proved to be a more positive attribute, contributing to the venue’s purpose.
“In my opinion, if Beatpol were located more centrally in the city of Dresden, more people would come to the club—but Beatpol’s mentality is not about profit, but about organizing good shows with great bands”, explained Dresden student and Beatpol frequenter Jan Zscheile. “For this reason, Cotta is a perfect location… the audience consists of mostly concert-goers and music enthusiasts. With only occasional exceptions, there aren’t intoxicated, thoughtless people who just simply ‘go to the show’”.
What makes the venue unique as a whole is its ever-present philosophy of team management. Lachotta, a man who lived through World War II and was a citizen under Soviet Regime until the fall of the Berlin Wall, maintains the venue with positive notions retrieved from Soviet times: Not one staff member is more important than the other; at the end of the night, each concert is a success because of the entire team.
Beatpol’s personal chef Eric Spiegelhauer credits the venue’s success to Lachotta’s work philosophy, “Throughout the years, he’s never sacrificed or given up his strong ethical values. He’s never done the business just for himself, but for the sake of music—for the bands, for the club, for the staff, and for Dresden”.
Spiegelhauer, a hired chef for the touring bands and staff, is another part of what makes the venue so distinct. Before every show, Spiegelhauer prepares a number of traditional and non-traditional German dishes for everyone to enjoy in a family-style dining setting. When Iron and Wine toured through the venue this past summer and the band’s tour manager asked lead singer Samuel Beam what he should try from Spiegelhauer’s cuisine, Beam replied, “All of it. It’s all so good”.
These small, individual details that the Beatpol staff preserves are key to maintaining a long-term audience and a long list of bands that insist on coming back to the venue, even when they’re meant to play larger shows. The high standards are something for American venues to take note of, according to many American bands that pass through Beatpol, such as the Portland band The Thermals:
“You feel like a guest over here. They take putting on shows more seriously here. You show up to a club in the US and just the sound guy shows up, he just woke up, and he’s super bummed out and grumbling. Maybe the promoter comes to the show? But here, even with the lights and sound, they take everything more seriously, like, ‘we’re putting on a concert’. In the US, it’s just another show,” explained Thermals guitarist and singer Hutch Harris.
As for the future of Beatpol, Lachotta remains hopeful, “There have been music highlights on and off in Dresden, but they come and go. I’m proud that we have a place for people in Dresden, where they can come just for the music. Perhaps every band won’t be the taste of every audience member, but at least people can always expect high quality. We repeat good work and insist on high expectations. It’s an ideal location and venue. I hope the future will be long and bright”.
Jennifer Brown volunteers at and works as the American Translator for Beatpol. Her insight and access to this venue allowed her present the German (or perhaps European) take on the touring and venue system for bands.