A former employee of Berlin club Salon zur Wilden Renate, also known as Wilde Renate and sister club to the Else outdoor space, has opened up about racism he was subjected to by colleagues while working at the club.
Karim Molyneux-Berry, who set up and managed the club’s PR department from April 2017 to November 2019, has revealed he experienced racist harassment from the club’s resident DJ duo Peak & Swift, real names Jan Kähler and Benedict Bogenberger.
Karim Molyneux-Berry revealed the duo repeatedly used the N-word towards him, including Kähler, while he was working as Molyneux-Berry’s boss, saying: “You’re my n****r, and I’m your master. Say it Karim, ‘I’m your master’.”
In text screenshots seen by Mixmag between Molyneux-Berry and Kähler discussing the incident in June this year Kähler writes: “I gave you my deepest apologies about this and I tried to explain to you that it wasn’t meant in any racist way. Just a [dumb] joke to hit you where it hurts. I deeply regret my acting and I thought you did forgive me this but obviously not. If it makes you feeling better to keep this hate… do it!”
The conversation was initiated by Molyneux-Berry reminding Kähler of the incident in response to hearing Kähler would be attending a Black Lives Matter protest in Berlin. In the message, Kähler also writes: “Yes I will go there tomorrow… We will demonstrate against all kind of hate in this world, for true humanity and with a big warm heart”.
Molyneux-Berry also revealed that upon returning to work in early 2019 after a New Year’s Eve event he found Bogenberger had written the N-word on a pad of paper desk, which Bogenberger admitted to doing in their work group chat.
In messages seen by Mixmag, Molyneux-Berry sent a photo of the racist word written on his desk on January 4, 2019, and asks: “You guys don’t think this is a little too much? Oh and good morning.”
In response, Bogenberger says: “Welcome back” alongside a partying face emoji. He then adds: “And sorry … actually not funny at all”.
As well as regularly DJing at the club, Peak & Swift worked in the club’s offices in the booking department: Kähler worked as its Chief Booker until August 2019, and when Mixmag contacted Bogenberger about this article, he said he resigned from his position as a booker on September 16, 2020, citing learnings from “anti-racism training” as one of his reasons for stepping aside.
Karim Molyneux-Berry, who was born in London to an English father and Egyptian mother, has also accused Kähler and Bogenberger of regularly referencing and mocking his African heritage. This includes Kähler and Bogenberger waving their hands in the air and babbling in ‘fake Arabic’ while Molyneux-Berry was speaking Arabic on the phone to an Egyptian DJ; Kähler explaining why he makes jokes about Molyneux-Berry’s African heritage by saying: “Well at least you're not Turkish” and “I say you’re from Africa so people don't think you're Turkish"; and Bogenberger calling Molyneux-Berry “milk chocolate” and asking “Karim are you trying to white wash yourself?” when Molyneux-Berry came into the office wearing white shorts, white shoes and a white t-shirt.
Karim Molyneux-Berry emailed Wilde Renate’s senior management Tony Ettelt and Sebastian Heil detailing his experiences on June 19, 2019. In the email he expressed how much he enjoyed his role working at the club but that he couldn’t put up with the continued racism.
In the email, Molyneux-Berry wrote: “I have reached my limit. There are many other incidents, but what I have listed above is enough. It’s even too much.
“I really love Renate. I love the people from the bouncers to bar staff, and I also love how open and ready to grow you are as the owners. Every time I came to you with reasonable observations you agreed as management.
“As it stands these are the main reasons why I am still in the company, however it can not continue like this. I feel that the racism is not on the surface, as I know they like me, but a deep rooted prejudice. I honestly do not think it will stop, if as it stands they haven’t stopped after over a year of me telling them both to stop. It seems that when things get back to normal and we are working well, it's taken as a green light to resume a sense of humour that is lacking in any sense of the sensitivity that should be basic to two young international people living in Berlin in 2019.”
In the email Molyneux-Berry expressed he was contemplating resigning despite this going against his career goals and desire for job security.
After sending the email, Molyneux-Berry was moved into the Heil and Ettelt’s separate offices to work away from Kähler and Bogenberger.
On November 14, 2019, Molyneux-Berry says he was told by the Wilde Renate’s management that they don’t like his PR style or the fact he can’t speak German, which he says was the first time he was told this since starting working at a club in the spring of 2017, and that his contract to work at the company would not be renewed. He left the company upon the end of his contract that month.
Molyneux-Berry had no contact with anyone he knew from Wilde Renate until the text conversation referenced above with Kähler before the Black Lives Matter protest in June this year.
After the protest, Molyneux-Berry made a Facebook status writing the quote: “It’s so bad, even the privileged came out”.
Following this post, Heil contacted Molyneux-Berry with a screenshot of the post and a message saying: “Seriously?”. An hour later he followed up this message apologising and that he had misunderstood the post’s meaning.
Molyneux-Berry says a former white boss of his contacting him out of the blue and taking issue with a private post about a Black Lives Matter protest stirred up a lot of the unresolved issues he had relating to his experiences at Wilde Renate.
He went to the Berlin Club Commission in June, who planned to initiate a mediation between himself and the club. Molyneux-Berry says when it came to the attention of Wilde Renate employees and residents that he had told the BCC and was making his experiences public, he began receiving messages of harassment from people connected to the club and decided against the mediation.
Tony Ettelt and Sebastian Heil left Wilde Renate in July 2020.
Wilde Renate has sent a statement to Mixmag addressing the incidents of racism, apologising to Molyneux-Berry and announcing plans the club has implemented in response. The statement has also been posted on Facebook.
Wilde Renate said: “This is a statement to address incidents of racism that occurred at Wilde Renate in 2019. Discussing this publicly allows us to openly apologise to the affected person, take ownership of our mistakes as a company, communicate the actions we have taken since then and continue to take towards anti-racism and anti-discrimination practices within our organisation.
“We are deeply sorry for what happened and for the hurt that was caused. We have been taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen again within our team, club or event space moving forward.
A former employee of Wilde Renate (who was working with us from April 2017 to October 2019) was subject to racist incidents within the company involving two other staff members in 2019. The management were made aware of the incidents at the time and they were discussed in depth between all parties involved. At that time we believed the matter had been amicably resolved between all parties.
“In July 2020 talks related to this incident were reopened. As soon as it became clear there were unresolved issues related to the incidents mentioned we have been active in attempting their resolve including actively seeking mediation by a third party. We understand more must be done including a public apology and outlining our commitment to anti-racism as an organization.
“Apology to our former employee:
To our former employee, the management of Wilde Renate are deeply sorry for not taking more direct and clear action in response to the racism you faced while employed within our organization. We see now how offering more options to support you in the investigation and mediation with these racist incidents were necessary to their proper resolve. We are also sorry that so much time has passed between these conversations, it is disappointing for everyone involved.
“What We Are Doing:
As a result of the incidents that took place at Wilde Renate and the BLM movement we have begun to understand our personal privileges and responsibilities and are implementing necessary organisational structures to prevent similar incidents happening in the future, and if they should happen, how to deal with them in a clear and urgent manner. We recognize there is an immediate need to improve our practices as a company.
“Here are some of the things we have been doing:
On 6 August of this year we started anti-racism training for the entire team, the next session will happen on 20 October. Topics covered: understanding white privilege, how to become actively anti-racist, how to respond in situations involving racism.
"A company wide anti-discrimination policy was implemented. This includes improving our HR processes for dealing with staff discrimination and dismissals.
"We have appointed two Awareness Managers. They are the first point of contact for staff and guests to interface between management and staff for incidents. They are in charge of internal mediation as well as input regarding the diversity of our bookings and HR. They will hold regular meetings ensuring diversity standards and accountability for the company are met. They will also coordinate workshops and learning resources for the staff.
"Starting in November our security staff will undergo separate anti-racist / anti-discrimination training, which will be provided by the Berlin Club Commission.
"Our booking team have an ongoing commitment to diversity on our line ups and are working to develop this further.
"Continuing to host a workshop series in the Wilde Renate garden: Open Culture Lab - free music workshops committed to supporting and the inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers, female identified, non-binary and LGBTQI+, and people of color.
"From 2018 - 2020 we have supported Kuniri, which hosted sewing workshops for refugees to prepare them for future jobs and design for the fashion label itself.
"A small anti-racist library in the Wilde Renate beer garden was set up in May for our guests and team to read. All resident DJs also agreed to reading and sharing books on the subject between themselves and continuing to discuss how to actively be anti-racist in the club, and in their lives.
"Our priority is to listen, learn and develop further this plan of action with clear targets and a timeline for accountability. We will continue to update this list on our website. More plans are also in discussion but cannot be implemented immediately due to the ongoing pandemic and its effects on our daily business. We are committed to this work.
We hope that positive change will come from this and will encourage a wider discussion around how clubs can make the necessary steps to become more inclusive and to challenge discrimination in all its forms within our institutions. We are committed to diversifying our team and seek to employ more people in key positions (including bookers and resident DJs) that offer a better representation of our community, and the wider history of dance music culture.
“In addition it is our responsibility to protect the livelihood of our staff and those who were indirectly involved as a result of the mentioned incidents and the subsequent actions by management. Ultimately we want our patrons, guest DJs, resident DJs and staff to feel that Wilde Renate is a safe place for them.
“We are open to receive feedback from the community and to have meaningful and constructive discussions around these topics. If you or a friend has ever felt unsafe or experienced anything untoward by a staff member or patron then we want to hear from you: email@example.com”.
Mixmag has contacted Jan Kähler and has not yet received a public statement.
In a statement sent to Mixmag, Benedikt Bogenberger said: “With this statement I want to apologise publicly and address the racists incidents that occurred between Karim Molyneux-Berry and me in 2019 during our time together at Wilde Renate.
"Karim, I’m deeply sorry for my racist behaviour towards you - it was incredibly wrong of me to act the way I did. I understand you must have felt really upset, angry and hurt by my actions and hope this apology will help you find closure.
"It all started as mutual jokes and, close friends teasing each other, while working together every day and partying together every weekend, not understanding how deeply this would hurt you - probably even more because we were so close. I genuinely apologised immediately and later realised the gravity of what I had done, also because of several talks until August 2020 with you where we discussed what had happened between us. After this talks and because you still wanted to be a resident at one of my parties from March 2019 until you left the company I thought you did forgive me. It seems now that was not the case.
"After the incidents I started to read and discuss a lot about racism in all its forms, participated in Renate’s anti-racism training and seriously reflected on my behaviour and for the first time realised how deeply racism is still implemented in our society and my behaviour. This is also one of the reasons I resigned from being a booker to make space for someone that’s diversifying our team. (unfortunately during the current pandemic this will take a while to happen.)
"Since then I have been making great efforts to become more aware and to educate myself and I’ve been holding myself accountable ever since. I will listen and learn and try to be a better person and hope this is just the start of a discussion helping Karim to heal and doesn’t damage the jobs and lives of people indirectly involved."
In a statement to Mixmag about his experiences and decision to make them public, Karim Molyneux-Berry said: “Feeling under attack for your sexuality and your colour; two things out of your control can drive you mad. I became angry. Which started to affect my career even more. I even lost very high profile clients directly due to my attitude which is not my normal. I was bitter. The club commission in Berlin helped me lay it out. Understand the process and gave me tools to get better. But I still see you booking the racists. Opening your season with them. Having them at your biergarten all throughout the summer. When they’re friends see me they look at me with anger and a coldness. I’m the one who overreacted. ‘Come on he’s not racist! He’s been with a black girl I saw it!’.
“This whole experience shaped me more than I care to let on. At the same time being blamed for ‘holding on’ and a ‘war’ against certain racist and sociopathic individuals, held me down. I am aware, I am empathetic. I do fucking care!
“I tried to let go. It festered. I tried reconciliation, I couldn’t because things stayed the same. I tried to leave it all behind me. But the lack of remorse, accountability and awareness is overwhelming.
“I don’t think a witch hunt will help. I don’t think a boycott will either as there are many many many amazing people who work there. But I can’t do this on my own anymore. I can’t have people think I got someone fired anymore. I’m not spiteful nor do I seek revenge. That’s you not me. You did this. Don’t blame me for this. You still don’t get it. You still gaslight me. You still refer to me as a [N-word]. People still ask me for guestlist and contacts. I’m tired of getting upset and having to either lie or explain.
"It's upsetting that I reached out many times for over a year while working there and no one took me seriously. I went to the Club Commission before going public. Wilde Renate only fully addressed the situation when approached by the press. I was never directly offered a formal apology from the company or my colleagues for the racism."
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter