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Bar25: Shots from a legendary party spot

Even though it was closed down in 2010, Bar25 is burned into the collective memory of Berlin’s party culture.

The legendary nightspot, which helped cement the German capital’s reputation as an after-hours destination, is the subject of a novel and a documentary.

It is also the subject of a new photography book by Carolin Saage called “25/7.”

Saage is the only photographer who was given unrestricted access to the freewheeling club, which made way for a development project in September 2010. She said Bar25 embodied a spirit special to Berlin.

“It stood for everything that made Berlin a bit different,” she said. “The celebration of an endless moment became a completely new dimension. Nothing lasts forever, but this day will never end. No dress code, but an attitude. And anything can be improvised. ... There's a happy end for all of us.”

Saage said she initially turned down the invitation to document the bar, thinking that “party photos” would not be challenging for her. She changed her mind a year later as the bar’s scene became more colorful and sophisticated.

In 2007, she began a project that would last for years. For one summer, she even lived full time in a van on site.

She shot using a modest 35 mm camera, and she mostly used a 50 mm lens that allowed for a certain amount of intimacy. She did not go with the “the big guns”, as she put it in an interview with SoSo magazine.

Saage was simply a part of the scene, and because people did not feel the need to perform or hide from her camera, she was able to capture moments naturally.

Bar25 started out as little more than a shack next to the river Spree, and it evolved over the years to a series of bigger structures and outdoor spaces, including a circus tent and a giant sculpture of a human baby on the roof.

“It all started with a rotten and forgotten place down by the river,” Saage said. “The first year, there was just a saloon-like barn. The second year, the restaurant joined that simple roof with a bar. Next came the circus and so on. ...

“Since the (Berlin) Wall came down, Berlin was always the place for alternative solutions that came out of nothing.”

Saage said the bar was a place where everything seemed to be happening at once.

“Cultural content like theater pieces and dancing came so close together and took place at the same time,” she recalled. “Imagine a woman that is playing piano for almost 40 hours to refresh the official world record in marathon piano playing, while a big party takes place around her. … You leave a dance floor or the pool area, go to the theater and find her still playing there.”

The bar’s somewhat isolated location gave it the feeling of an oasis – and it came to resemble one as the cement areas eventually gave way to tree plantings and landscaping.

The physical structure of the bar happened organically. It also had some more hidden areas backstage, including a little bed-and-breakfast spot and a little village of small wooden houses and caravans where people lived. These were outside of the official bar areas, which included dance floors, terraces, bars and a spa and pool area.

“All in all, it was like a garden with lots of hidden small planets of its own,” Saage said.

Saage has since moved on to portrait and fashion photography, but she still knows what makes a good party. Above all, there is the important distinction between play and display, between participating and observing.

While there were outrageous costumes at Bar25, they were in the spirit of collective play and goofing, not ego, Saage said.

“You didn’t expect attention for your own, but for the claim of the night you supported,” Saage said. “Making a fool out of yourself was more common than stupid and boring games of vanity, so the peer group felt always more like family. Stardom sucks, to be honest, and honesty was the most sexy thing to discover.”

- Rebecca Horne, Special to CNN