AS a young punk rocker living in communist East Berlin, Sven Marquardt was forbidden by the police to show his face around Alexanderplatz or any other part of the central Mitte district intended as a showcase of socialism.
That same face, now heavily tattooed with winding vines, thorns and barbed wire, is one of the city’s most famous — and one of its unlikeliest symbols.
Mr. Marquardt is the doorman at Berghain, an abandoned thermal power station that is home to what many consider the greatest techno club in the world. Berghain is to electronic music fans in Germanywhat Bayreuth is to opera lovers, and Mr. Marquardt, 49, is the gatekeeper for the party that begins here Saturday nights and ends Monday mornings.
He was once among the most promising young photographers in East Berlin, and his life as East German artist, post-wall lost soul and present-day club celebrity traces the city’s arc over three decades. “In this time of upheaval, the mid-’90s, one somehow had to find oneself again,” Mr. Marquardt said.
No longer part of the counterculture, the city’s clubs have become a mainstream attraction in Berlin, drawing easyJet planeloads of young people from around Europe and beyond. Berghain, and Mr. Marquardt himself, are a major part of the draw.
Even the city’s tourism agency has trumpeted how at Berghain “people of all sexual orientations indulge in debauchery in the basement dark room,” but warned that “the face-tattooed bouncer, a bona fide local celebrity, commands what is reputed to be the hardest door in Berlin.”
Before his career as the Cerberus of Berlin nightlife, Mr. Marquardt exhibited his photographs in East German galleries and in fashion-magazine photo spreads. But not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he put down his camera for more than a decade, selling shoes during the day and dancing in the city’s semilegal underground clubs at night.
Now he is opening a second chapter in his photography career, having published two books in the past two years, in a return to the public eye that began with an exhibition of photos at the nightclub itself. “I think it was a good opening shot that the exhibition took place in the club that really embodies my life over many years,” Mr. Marquardt said.
His road to renown might have taken years to travel, but he never went far. Berghain is a short streetcar ride from the apprenticeship workshop on Rigaer Strasse here in the Friedrichshain neighborhood where he learned photography in the early 1980s. His style has not changed much either, with an exclusive focus on portraits and a visual language that he described as “very classic, analog, usually black and white and only with daylight.”
Mr. Marquardt was clearly exhausted after traveling to the former East German city of Halle last Friday to present his latest book and exhibit a selection of his photographs. He returned Saturday for his all-night shift at Berghain and was back in the club Monday as cleaners went through and workers took down an exhibition that included his large photograph of a couple costumed as satyrs, shot with prosthetics rather than digitally altered.
White streaks his beard and long hair now, but the grizzled quality adds to, rather than diminishes, the menacing edge to his appearance. In conversation, he is gentle and extremely thoughtful, protesting when told that his appearance had given a woman recurring nightmares.
Yet it could hardly come as such a surprise that he frightens some of the thousands of people who submit to his inspection at the club entrance each weekend. He wears a large metal skull ring on one hand, and one made of a mountain of tiny skulls on the other. His lower lip is pierced twice, and a pointed metal bar runs through his septum. His hands and throat are covered with tattoos, like his face, where if you look closely, a moth flutters among the thorns.
BORN in East Berlin the year after the Berlin Wall was built, Mr. Marquardt spent much of his childhood with his grandparents, who ran a bakery in Prenzlauer Berg. After his apprenticeship, he was mentored by a prominent but socially critical East German photographer, Helga Paris. With her son Robert, his best friend and also a photographer, he joined the punk scene, shaved the sides of his head and began wearing heavy black eye makeup.
This was more of a rebellion in East Germany than it might sound. To be labeled “asocial” was dangerous, and punks disappeared into the prisons of the Stasi, the East German secret police. “When I look back today at pictures from then, we looked so innocent in spite of our spiked-up hair,” Mr. Marquardt said.
He said he was picked up and taken to the police station numerous times, then let go because at least he had a job. But the prohibition from entering Mitte was a significant hurdle, with the artists’ association at Alexanderplatz and the fashion magazine Sibylle on Friedrichstrasse both downtown. He had to find back-alley paths or race from idling taxis to make it to his appointments.
But he was happy in the small underground scene, and chose not to stay in West Berlin when he received a coveted travel visa or leave after the wall fell, as most of his friends did. But his art fell victim to the overflow of change.
“At first I thought, ‘wow, I’ll have the freedom as a photographer to finally do everything that I couldn’t do before,’ ” Mr. Marquardt said. But he was not ready to work as an artist again.
“Friends said, ‘Oh God, poor Sven, he’s standing in a shoe store on Saturdays,’ but I didn’t see it that way,” Mr. Marquardt said. “I didn’t want to look backwards and mourn the time that was gone.”
Mr. Marquardt began in the ’90s to literally transform himself with tattoos. The first was a cross of thorns on his calf. He steeped himself in the techno culture of now-legendary clubs like E-Werk and Tresor.
His first job working the door at a club was for his brother Oliver, a D.J. He proved to have talent for picking partygoers who meshed well and didn’t start trouble, and he began working regularly, eventually ending up at the celebrated club Ostgut. That club was the forerunner of what became Berghain. After Ostgut closed, Mr. Marquardt thought he was done working as a doorman, but he felt the pull to return for this new enterprise in a remarkable space.
“It reminded me of a film set, something that unreal,” he said of the power station, and the soaring concrete ceilings of the former turbine hall in the postwar Stalinist building. With lights flashing, music blaring and dancers posing in their leather fetish gear, Berghain indeed has an otherworldly quality.
He does not like the term bouncer; curator would be more appropriate. He chooses an often surprising — those who are rejected say capricious — selection of people, old as well as young, eccentric as often as beautiful, helping to give the club its staying power.
IT was in 2007 that his exhibition at Berghain, with images based on the Rainer Werner Fassbinder film “In a Year With 13 Moons,” brought him back into the public eye as a photographer. His first book, published last year, was a retrospective of his works dating to 1984. The second volume, released in March, is called “Savior” and started as a project for the Levi’s jeans company. The growing public attention even landed him on a public television talk show this year, where several panelists indignantly grilled him over whether he would let them into Berghain.
Mr. Marquardt knows he cannot work the door forever, but he has no plans to stop, nor to take another break from photography. He is in the process of organizing an exhibition for next year in a space overlooking Alexanderplatz. He hopes to either hang or project giant photographs on the side of the building. If he pulls it off, the space once banned to him by the state would be watched over by his art.