Berlin Tango Scene

7th May 2010

"Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin." ~ Hiroshi Motomura


They often say of Berlin that it has "the second most lively tango scene after Buenos Aires". A tempting proposition, then, and it has always been one of my aims to experience it.

I didn't really want to do this alone. I prefer to go to new cities with friends, and I suspected that in any case Berlin would have fewer "tango tourists" than say Buenos Aires. Fortunately I had heard of a group of people that was going out to Berlin. I joined this group, and went out with them for a long weekend. I was out there Wednesday through Sunday, and have just got back.

There was a lot of worry that we wouldn't be able to fly. What with the ash cloud grounding all European flights. Fortunately, we flew out just after the airlines were given the all clear. Otherwise our weekend would have turned to "ashes" (yes *groan* ).


The weekend we went there was a tango Marathon (a private tango dance party) going on in Berlin. Many of the local tango addicts went to this, rather than to the milongas. So we may not have seen Berlin tango at its finest.

That being said, we didn't notice too much of a vacuum effect. All but one of the venues were well attended. We were told our Saturday night venue (Balhaus Rixdorf) was much quieter than usual, but that was all.


Berlin is a big city, so it makes sense to stay close to the more popular tango venues. On most nights there is an "in" place. As far as I can tell, the list is as follows :

  • Monday: N/K
  • Tuesday Clarchens Balhaus (central)
  • Weds Roter Salon (central)
  • Thursday Villa Kreuzberg (Kreuzberg)
  • Friday Tango Tanzen Macht Schon (Kreuzberg)
  • Saturday Balhaus Rixdorf (Kreuzberg/Neukolln)
  • Sunday Tango Loft (Wedding district )

As you can see, most of these venues are in Kreuzberg, which is South of Centre. I would suggest that you book a hotel in the centre (Berlin Mitte), or in Kreuzberg itself.

The Tango Loft is an exception, and is to the North West of the centre.

There is a "Tango Map" that shows all of the main locations. However the version we found of this wasn't as useful as the version that one of the locals lent us! In the end we just marked a map with the venues ourselves.

On any given night, there are at least two venues worth going to. This is especially true in the summer, when a number of outdoor milongas take place. However, as we were only there for the short term, it made sense to focus on the most popular.

Finding the venues

During the Cold War West Berlin was an "island" in the middle of East Germany. It was surrounded by a wall. Berlin was therefore built upwards, rather than outwards. Even now most Berliners live in apartments, rather than houses.

These apartments are usually built as complexes, around a central courtyard. The front of the apartment block faces the street. Then there is an archway through to the rear apartments. The rear apartments are known as "hinterhausen" (lit. "behind" houses).

In many cases the hinterhausen have different zoning permissions to the front apartments. They can be converted for non industrial use. In some cases they have been converted to dance halls. These dance halls can be either at ground level, or several floors up.

As a consequence the venues can be difficult to find! You need to know the exact address, and sometimes will only hear music once you are within the right apartment block.

The good news (!) is that most venues are close to the excellent underground (the U-bahn).

The U-bahn is supplemented by a night bus that follows the same route as the underground. So even where the venue closes late you can easily get home.

At the milongas

Value for money?

Milongas are ridiculously good value in Berlin. They usually start at 9pm and go on through to 3am. At weekends they may go on to 5am. The most expensive venue we went to was 6 Euros for the night (and this included a performance!). The cheapest was 3 Euros.

Most venues have proper bars attached. These are also good value. A glass of wine might be 2 Euros 50. There is a wide range of both wine and soft drinks available.

Getting dances

The most common way to get a dance was to ask a woman directly, rather than via the cabaceo.

Most people at the milongas spoke at least some English. They were often pleasantly surprised to find English people at their events (!), suggesting that it is still not that common.

Numbers and Floorcraft

There are a lot of good dancers in Berlin. Some estimate that a couple of thousand people dance at least once a week. There is a hard core of maybe 300 who dance 4 times a week or more. Which is a lot!

There were often two lanes on the dance floor. If you stayed on the outer lane you were usually fine. Unfortunately there was often no distinct inner lane. Dancers on the inside merged with those couples who wanted to dance in the "middle" of the floor. The result was usually chaos.

Some leaders reported a lot of overtaking on their blind side (to their right).

Overall I would have said the floorcraft was better than most venues in London.


Berlin has a reputation for alternative/neo tango music. However in recent years many venues have swung back to a focus on traditional Golden Age tangos.

The most "alternative" venue we went to was the Tango Loft (Sunday). In general elsewhere the music was predominantly trad.

Reviews by venue

(for directions and further info see:

Wednesday:Mala Junta (H)

(H=Milonga in a Hinterhaus)

For various reasons we went to Mala Junta on our first night (and not Roter Salon). Mala Junta is a well known tango dance school.

The venue is difficult to find. It is some way off the tube system (unusually). Berlin street numbering can also be confusing, and the numbering on this street was more than usually so. Fortunately - in our case- we got a lift from a local.

The dance studio is up three or four flights of stairs. There are two rooms - a practice classroom, and the main salon. Both are large rooms , with beautiful sprung wooden floors.

Furnishing is sparse. The bar is by the entrance. Comfy chairs or sofas around the dance floor. A number of same sex couples dancing. Some good dancers.

It was a difficult place to find, but well worth doing so. A nice venue for our first night in Berlin.

Thursday: Villa Kreuzberg

This was a lovely venue. The Villa was just that - a Victorian villa style building, standing in its own grounds. Not a classic villa though. It was somehow "Germanized", by having steeply pitched gables and roofs.

The front of the building is a restaurant. You walk through to the back, where there is an adjoining barn. On the way there is a beautiful outdoor courtyard. It would make a lovely place to sit out in and enjoy a drink on a warm summer night.

The barn hosts the milonga. It is both long and tall, and has vaulted timber roof arches. A bar at one end, and a film screen at the other. The film screen had just still images - nothing to disturb the dancing. The bar was very stylish. There were tall lilies on the bar counter and a spotlighted painting behind (probably by Tamara de Lempicka). There was an immaculate sprung wooden floor.

Dancing was generally of a high standard. Many of the dancers going to the Tango Marathon came here for their "pre Marathon" evening.

The DJing was rather haphazard. There were no clear tandas, and sometimes the DJ would play 5 or 6 of a genre in a row. This could get tiring!

In general however it was a lovely evening.

Friday Tango Tanzen Macht Schon (H)

aka "Tango Tanzen"/TTMS.

Difficult to find for such a popular venue. You have to go through a couple of archways to find it. Fortunately the milonga is on the ground floor. The entrance is to the left of the tradesman's lift.

A very large room. Not as stylish a venue as the night before. Walls bare and whitewashed, but lighting softens the effect. Good wooden floor.

The bar is at the far end of the room, which can cause traffic flow problems.

Dancing here was of a lower standard than the night before. This was probably because the Marathon dancers had left for their own event. Many of our own group were arriving that evening, so I danced more with them than with the locals.

Saturday: Bebop Cafe (H)

Goldener Saal

This was a Saturday afternoon dance we went to (from 4pm to 8). Sparsely attended. A shame really, as the venue was lovely. First rate parquet dance floor. Golden furnishings and golden walls, lots of baroque touches.

A lot of floor space to play in!

Saturday: Balhaus Rixdorf (H)

The Balhaus was the only venue we went to with a sign on the street outside! Having said which, the sign wasn't lit up, so it would have been easy to miss. Again to find the venue you had to go through an archway, and into a hinterhaus. The venue is on the second floor.There was a hand made sign suggesting that there is a cocktail bar upstairs, though none of us ventured that far.

This was the largest venue we went to. An old dance hall, which would easily host live music/ a concert performance. There is a balcony above. The balcony wasnt open to the public on the night we went, so you didn't have the feeling of being overlooked. Bar was on far side of the room (not a problem given the size of the venue).

The floor was boards over sprung joists. Off the dance floor it felt incredibly slippy, and we worried about losing our footing. On the dance floor it was a lot better.

There were large seating areas around three sides of the dance floor , and a stage on the fourth. Not as busy as it could be - people blamed this on the Marathon. The layout did mean that men could cabaceo across the room. Some of the ladies in our group felt that the room was too big for this, and got up to ask men directly.

There was some overtaking here on the leader's outside. Possibly those who did the overtaking felt they could because of the size of the floor.

Generally I had some lovely dances. We left fairly early (about 2am) to get a lift back to our lodgings.

Sunday: Tango Loft (H)

As obscure a location as the rest! But in this case definitely a hidden gem...

This is the nicest venue I have ever danced in. Period. Worth finding images of it on the Internet.

What is so nice? Well first of all it has a lovely boho feel . Black and white photos of tango musicians on the walls. Comfy old chairs to sit in. A grand piano sitting in the middle of the (wooden) dance floor.

Then there is the way the light streams into the venue. One wall is all window, with coloured gel squares over the individual window panes. These gel squares leave patches of light on the dance floor. You dance through the patches.

You can also dance around the piano in the middle of the floor. There were lilies on top of the piano, and as you passed you got a waft of their scent.

As far as the dancing goes, people are not afraid to experiment. As one local put it, "nothing [there] is impossible". People looked in short like they were having fun!

Music was great too. Eclectic mix, with some really good alternative dance tunes.

I can honestly find nothing bad to say about this venue. Just a shame I couldn't stay longer. As it was they had to drag me away to the airport

Final Comments

It took us a while to get oriented in Berlin. It's a big city. If you are going just for tango then Weds through Sunday was about right. But for tourism as well I would allow about 7-10 days. There's a lot to see.

Berlin hosts a lot of tango events (marathons/festivals etc). If you want to dance with the "best" dancers it is worth building your trip around one of them. However it is equally a big city. Not everyone has time to go to these events. You can have a perfectly great time without booking on one of them (and probably a more varied holiday!).

Definitely worth going to, and cheaper than I expected. So do yourself a favour. Buy a ticket and get over there!!

~ Captain Jep, 7th May 2010