Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Every Day is Like Sunday // The Wall // Pornography

Sundays in Berlin have now settled into something of a routine. It is the big day for poker tournaments and generally I play around 15 of them in the evening, beginning at 6:45CET and often going on until four or five in the morning depending on how I do. There is generally a lot of money in play and it can be quite stressful. The day is usually one for a big win or a big loss, or most likely - scrambling to break even.

In contrast, Sunday daytimes in Berlin are a very laid back affair. Many shops and business are in Germany are closed, so the city has quite a sleepy vibe. People go out to have a big Sunday breakfast, read the papers and wander around.

I am currently living in the Prenzlauer Berg area of the city. It's a nice, if somewhat gentrified area - not as edgy and hip as Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, but certainly a very interesting part of the city to live in.

Our current apartment is on the fourth floor (no lift!) and is about 100 yards east from where the Berlin Wall used to stand. As a consequence, it is at something of a dead end. There is not much through traffic and it is very relaxed and quiet, but still near many things of interest. I like it a lot.

At the end of out street is Mauer Park. The Berlin Wall used to run straight through the park, bisecting it into two. Nowadays it is a focal point for life in Prenzlauer Berg and one of Berlin's biggest flea markets takes place there each Sunday. All in all it's quite a scene.

Bearpit Karaoke
The first time I visited the flea market, I became aware of what has become a phenomenon in Berlin. Each Sunday, two guys with soundsystems on bikes ride up to a dusty amphitheater in the middle of the park. They set up their speakers and people sing karaoke for the whole afternoon. But this isn't any ordinary karaoke!

A crowd of several hundred people gather on the steps and the grass bank to watch the performances. Slightly dodgy men sell beer and snacks from their carts to singers and spectators.

It's a uniformly positive experience. Each performer gets a huge round of applause at the end of their song. There is also what I like to call the 'Stars in Their Eyes moment' during each song, where after the first line is sang and it is clear what the track is, people woop and cheer in appreciation.

Last Sunday we were treated to the following:

-An old man in a brown leather jacket singing Wagnerian Opera.

-A drugged up hippie singing The Who's My Generation whilst his wife danced beside him and his long suffering son looked on in horror.

-A girl singing Elton John's Your Song in an extremely theatrical and emotional manner, clearly directed at someone in the audience. At the end of the song her girlfriend ran on for a big embrace and kiss, to a standing ovation from the crowd.

-Many of the songs were also accompanied by a very stoned and dishevelled middle aged man in a multicoloured jumper doing breakdancing. I didn't get a positive identification, but those who wonder what Bez from the Happy Mondays is up to these days need to visit Berlin to investigate.

Check out youtube clips of some of the singers

Bargain hunting
The market itself is great. For about 30 euros anyone can have a stall and people sell every kind of crap imaginable. It is mixed between the more professional stallholders who are there every week in the same spot and the car boot sale style people who are just selling a load of their random possessions. Some of my favourite stalls include the second hand dental equipment stall (sadly only seen once so far), the guy who sells rusty bike chains and tools and the crazy hippy women with her van full of tie-dye.

Lunch at the market is an exciting affair. This time, my partner in crime and I decided to get hot dogs. In Germany this means a cornucopia of choice.

"Let me introduce the sausages" said the charming hot dog vendor, before giving us a rundown of the various organic meats on his grill. We were overwhelmed with choice and he hadn't even gotten to telling us about the ten different types of mustard on offer. I went for the Berlin standard, the currywurst. My partner in crime plumped for the more standard Bratwurst, with a side helping of sauerkraut.

Appetites satisfied, we ventured back into the throng of the market. There’s one stall we noticed before but not fully investigated. It had such things as antique telephones, military paraphernalia and loads of old photos. Further investigation revealed that there were many old family photo albums on the stall. They were mostly black and white and seemed mainly East German. It was unclear who was in any of the photos or where they came from, but it was fascinating to flick through the pictures and speculate on the stories behind some of them.

Whilst going through one pile of photos we uncovered something unusual. Near the bottom of the pile, underneath several bleak, black and white landscape photos, were several pornographic images, seemingly dated from the 70s and 80s.

Looking up from the photos, not quite believing what we’d seen, we made eye contact with the stallholder who had a big smile on his face and had burst out laughing, as did we.

Jokingly he said something to us in German, which of course we didn’t understand. Instead he pointed to one of the photo albums, which we had not yet opened. As we finally got an idea of what he was pointing at, he again pointed at the album and then, with a smile on his face, pointed over the next stallholder, an unassuming, greying middle aged German gentleman.

Of course, the photo album he’d told us to look in, which was wedged in and buried beneath much of his other stock, contained hardcore 1980s East German pornographic photos. Let me tell you dear reader, there were mullets on some of the photos in parts of the body that I didn’t think possible!

Naturally we scrutinised the face of the next stallholder to see if he really was the mulleted lothario pictured in this homemade x rated photo album. Our stallholder roared with laughter, clearly this was the highlight of his day. Meanwhile the guy next door shook his head and smiled. Evidently this wasn’t the first time he’d been the subject of this joke.

We passed on the porn and wandered on through and out of the market, back on the route towards the apartment. On the other side of the park, intense looking people played boules, whilst a band who had hooked their gear up to a generator, delivered an impromptu concert in front of an adventure playground. Around us people carried their second hand furniture back to their cars and apartments, probably stopping on the way back for some fruhstuck at a nearby café.

So in conclusion, if you want to sing in front of several hundred enthusiastic people, have a mindboggling choice of hot dogs and mustard, or pick up some homemade East German porn - Mauer Park in Berlin on a Sunday afternoon is the place to be.

Tschuss!

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