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Alarm bells over Germany’s struggling small venues

Many of Germany’s club venues are on an “extremely precarious” economic footing, a leading industry association has warned, squeezed by excessive taxation, restrictive licensing conditions and a lack of investment from local and federal authorities.

At its annual meeting last month, LiveMusikKommission (LiveKomm) – which represents more than 400 German venues – called on political parties to commit to greater support for small and medium-sized venues ahead of May’s general election, outlining a set of ‘election touchstones’ it says are necessary to avert a grassroots-venues crisis, as has been seen in London, Toronto and Austin, Texas.

“The small venue scene in Germany has many problems,” LiveKomm policy spokesman Olaf Möller tells IQ, saying licensing red tape and gentrification are leading to an increasing number of closures.

Möller says a rise in demand for city centre property – and, predictably, a concurrent rise in noise complaints – is further compounding problems: “People want to have [music venues] in cities,” he explains, “and it’s a huge problem that one person can take them to court because of noise – regardless of how long they’ve been living there or how popular the venue is.”

“It’s a huge problem that one person can take venues to court because of noise, regardless of how long they’ve been living there”

Among LiveKomm’s demands are for a separate Kulturgebiet (‘cultural area’) category in building regulations, providing a legal framework for music (at a maximum noise level of 70 dBA) to be allowed to continue after 10pm; €30 million in funding, modelled on public subsidies for film producers; and a reduction in venues’ tax burden via a reduction in value-added tax (VAT).

On the final point, Möller notes that “many businesses in Germany have the 7% rate of VAT, including [collection society] GEMA. We found out in 2015 that live venues have an average sales volume of 106%, so they earn 6% profit. With VAT at 7%, the venues are paying money to work! It needs to change.”

Möller says an increase in, and easier access to, public funding is essential if Germany’s small venues are to survive. “Right now, it’s hardly possible for [them] to exist,” he comments, “and in many places the people working there are volunteers…

“Governments shouldn’t only fund with ‘high’ culture – pop culture matters, too!”


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