Category Archives: Events & Festivals

Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

Sean from Poland sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Sean from Poland sings House of the Rising Sun at Bearpit Karaoke

Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark or Bearpit Karaoke as it is commonly known has grown from an innovative busking idea into an internationally known regular entertainment event and Berlin guidebook staple.

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke

It all started in 2009 when Joe Hatchiban (real name Gareth Lennon) rode around Berlin with some friends and a Karaoke machine.  One of the places they stopped was Mauerpark and the Bearpit Karaoke was born.

Rest assured the name Bearpit Karaoake isn’t a reference to the ferocity of the crowd but rather the stone amphitheatre in the former death strip at Mauerpark that hosts it.  In fact the crowd will always find some reason, whether it is a note perfect performance or an enthusiastic but tone deaf rendition, or maybe the singer’s obvious enthusiasm or shyness, to give very vocal support to those with the balls to perform.

For the thousands of people, tourists and Berliners alike, drawn to the regular Sunday flea market, Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, across the park, the Karaoke provides entertainment and a respite from the haggling hordes.

The crowd at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

If you’re lucky enough to find a spot on the steps of a sunny Sunday, you can rest your feet and enjoy a cold beer, whilst a parade of plucky would-be entertainers takes to the stage to belt out their favourite songs.

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke

A singer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

A singer performs Wish You Were Here at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday in the last weekend in September Steffi and I joined the gathered crowd and spent an hour or two enjoying the show.

Berlin Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

This being Berlin, sooner or later one of the local nut jobs gets on the stage looking for some attention, not wanting to sing but rather to detract from those people who have been patiently waiting their turn.

Joe, though, has seen it all before and finds a way to bring the attention back to the singers.  In fact, his rapport with those who put themselves out there is one of the charms of the event. Each, is introduced by name with a little info about where they’re from and what they are doing in Berlin.

The Sonntags Karaoke in Mauerpark is funded by donations and so Joe walks around the crowd from time to time with a tin collecting money.  There have been some difficulties in the past due to the availability of permits and increasing costs so it’s important that you give a little something if you enjoy the show and want it to continue.

There are a few enterprising individuals who have spotted the opportunity to make a few Euros from such a captive audience.  A couple of guys walk around the Bearpit selling beer – all I can say is that they must have ridiculously strong arms to carry the crates around for hours like they do.

Another set of enterprising Berliners collect the empty bottles to cash in for the Pfand – for those not familiar with the German system an 8c deposit is paid on each beer bottle to encourage recycling.

The added bonus of this is that one of the council’s potential issues with the continuation of the Karaoke is a perceived rubbish problem.  This along with Joe’s constant encouragement to the crowd to take any other items away with them ensures the area is kept relatively tidy.

A performer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Weather and permits allowing, Joe Hatchiban is at the Mauerpark with his Karaoke machine Sundays from 15:00 but best to check the Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark Facebook page to avoid a wasted trip.  Bearpit Karaoke really is a uniquely Berlin thing (as far as I’m aware) so whether you’re visiting the city for a weekend or are a permanent resident it is something you should experience at least once – whether you should sing or not, well that is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity)

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt

3 October 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the re-unification of Germany, celebrated each year with a public holiday for Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity).

Ask any non-German when the country was reunified and they will probably tell you 1989.  The images beamed around the world on 9 November 1989 of cars queuing at border crossing points and Germans celebrating on top of or attacking the wall with pick-axes are burned into the memories of many but East Germany didn’t cease to exist overnight.

There were of course many bureaucratic and organisational differences between East and West Germany – the two countries didn’t only have opposing political ideologies.  Preparations for the reunification of the country took some time so it wasn’t until 3 October 1990 that Germany was made whole again.

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt Former Inner German Border (Ehemalige innerdeutsche Grenze) SignErected at the site of the former inner German border at Helmstedt, the statue Die Wölbung der Hände (The Curvature of the Hands) or La voûte des mains, the title given to the piece by its creator José Castell, is one of the ways the German people have commemorated this important day.

Recognising the significance of the date, entry to the wonderful Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) is free on 3 October.

Reunification has on the whole been very successful and Germany is once more the economic powerhouse of Europe but even after 24 years there are still some obvious differences between the former East and West.

This graphic representation from Berliner Zeitung of the 2013 German Parliamentary Election (Bundestagswahl 2013) results in Berlin shows there are still political differences.

German Parliamentary Elections 2013 (Bundestagswahl) Results Map

Photo: B.Z.-Grafik

Commander Chris Hadfield, looking down on Berlin from the International Space Station observed the differences in the street lights between East and West – the yellow glow in the East is produced by Sodium-vapour lamps, the white in the West from mainly Fluorescent bulbs.

The East West Divide in Berlin Lights As Seen From the International Space Station

Photo: Commander Chris Hadfield

And it would seem that Ronny was a much more popular name in the East, as this illustration of the frequency of the name in every 10,000 Facebook users shows.

German Facebook Users Named Ronny

Photo: Zeit Online

There are plenty more interesting (and sometimes amusing) differences (auf Deutsch) in the article Das Geteilte Land on Zeit Online.

The official celebrations of Tag der Deutchen Einheit in Berlin centre around the Brandenburg Gate but perhaps more appropriately people all over the city will be enjoying the public holiday in their own way, celebrating their day of freedom from work.

The International Berlin Beer Festival – Craft Beer on the Biermeile

The crowd at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

It’s International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival) time in Berlin so this weekend is the perfect time to expand your drinking horizons whilst you catch some sun.

Karl-Marx-Allee during the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

Now in it’s 18th year, the festival takes over the 2.2km stretch of Karl-Marx-Allee from Strausberger Platz to Frankfurter Tor (the Biermeile) and 240 breweries from 87 countries are serving 2,400 different beers.

A Mobile Brewery at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival) Craft Beer Sign at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival) Englische Biere (English Beers) stand at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

The motto of the 2014 event is “craft-brewed beer specials”.  Craft beer is a real buzzword at the moment and there is a huge appetite in Berlin for beers that depart from the German tradition and the strict laws of the Rheinheitsgebot.

Störtebecker Strandkorb (Beach Basket) at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

Beer Contraption at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

Buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee during the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival) If you would like to sample a lot of different beers I would suggest that you buy a glass – €3.50 at one of the Information stalls.  A 0.2l refill at any of the beer stands will then cost you €2 and you don’t need to queue to get your Pfand (deposit) back.

Sunset at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

Beer fans should download Untappd to keep track of the beers they taste – the app allows you to rate and comment on the beer you drink, with the option to add photos to your ‘untaps’ and the usual social features.  If you’re on Untappd you can find me – andberlin.

Brauerei Zwönitzer India Pale Ale at the International Berlin Beer Festival (Internationales Berliner Bierfestival)

My beer recommendations? My favourite beer of the evening was the India Pale Ale from Brauerei Zwönitz – their stall is towards the Frankfurter Tor end of the Biermeile.  For fans of Weissbier, a friend told me (enthusiastically and repeatedly) that the Weisse from Hofbräuhaus Traunstein is the best in the world – you can find it at U-Bahnhof Strausberger Platz.

The eighteenth International Berlin Beer Festival (18. Internationales Berliner Bierfestival) is on from 1 to 3 August 2014.

Olympus OM-D Photography Playground Berlin 2014

3Destruct by ANTIVJ at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

The Olympus OM-D Photography Playground has made a welcome return to the Opernwerkstätten in Berlin.

Now in its second year the Photography Playground consists of a series of 9 installations from international artists that are intended to be both visually striking and interactive.

Epiphyte Membrane by Philip Beesley at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Transforma installation at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

AlexandLiane installation at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

My favourite installations were those that I thought encouraged the highest level of involvement from the visitors.

My first encounter with the work of Argentine artist Leandro Erlich was a write-up in the Evening Standard on his work in Dalston commissioned by the Barbican.

His work, Berlin Façade, is ideally suited to the Photography Playground and visitors were thrilled with the chance to seemingly defy gravity.

Close Up of Berlin Facade by Leandro Erlich at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Photo taken with Olympus EM-10

Berlin Facade by Leandro Erlich at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Photo taken with Olympus EM-10

The most fascinating work for me though was 3Destruct by ANTIVJ, an art collective comprised of Yannick Jacquet, Jeremie Peeters and Thomas Vaquié.

The installation uses strobe lighting to create an environment that is constantly changing.

3Destruct by ANTIVJ at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

A visitor poses in 3Destruct by ANTIVJ at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Bright Light of 3Destruct by ANTIVJ at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Surreal in 3Destruct by ANTIVJ at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Integral to the Photography Playground concept is the availability of cameras from the Olympus OM-D range for visitors to record their experiences.  The cameras have been moved to the ground floor in front of the entrance making this option much more obvious to the casual visitor.

The cameras are loaned out free of charge but those visitors who do not carry a National Identity card will need to hand over their Passport.  The memory card is yours to take away when you hand the camera back.

Last year, I didn’t have the proper identification so I missed out on the opportunity to try out a camera so this year I was determined to give it a go.

Along with details of the artists and a short explanation of the work there are suggested settings for the Olympus camera in front of each of the installations.

I got to walk around with an EM-10 and was impressed with the camera and the photos I was able to produce in the short time I had it.

Olympus OM-D EM-10

Olympus OM-D EM-10

Love for Transforma at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Photo taken with Olympus EM-10

Installation at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Photo taken with Olympus EM-10

AlexandLiane at Olympus Photography Playground Berlin

Photo taken with Olympus EM-10

I would be keen to try out the camera again and would particularly like to explore its WIFI capability, as this could be a great everyday camera for Intstagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Olympus OM-D Photography Playground Berlin is open daily 11:00 to 19:00 and entrance is free.  You can find more details at the Photography Playground website.

Berlin: Giant Bear Pole Dances Around Fernsehturm

Berlin Tanzt - Photo from YouTube video from Tanzbüro Berlin

Photo: Still from YouTube video by Tanzbüro Berlin

Let’s be honest, a dancing bear is bound to get your attention.  If you’ve been in Berlin over the last month or so you will have noticed the posters for Berlin Tanzt with a bear captured mid-leap in many of the U-Bahn stations.

But when that bear appears in a video and is as tall as the Kugel of the Fernsehturm and uses it to do a pole dance you’re hooked, right?

Well check out this genius advert for Berlin Tanzt from Tanzbüro Berlin on YouTube then:

tanzcard präsentiert: BERLIN TANZT. Auf 22 Bühnen.

Berlin Tanzt is a dance festival performing on 22 stages across Berlin from 29 January to 28 February 2014.  For more details check out the Tanzraum Berlin website.

Nit de San Joan in Palma de Mallorca – Drummers, Firewalkers and Fireworks

Nit de San Joan in Palma de Mallorca

If, like thousands of Germans, you decide to take your summer holidays in Mallorca (Majorca to the English) and happen to be there for Midsummer I would highly recommend the Nit de San Joan (St John’s Night) celebrations in Palma de Mallorca.

I was visiting friends in Can Pastilla when the event took place this year and this was one of my highlights of my holiday.

Nit de San Joan (St John’s Night) is a celebration of the summer solstice and particularly significant in Catalonian areas. Also known as Nit del Foc (Night of Fire), in Palma de Mallorca revellers gathered near the cathedral, La Seu, where ‘demons’ sent showers of sparks into the crowds.

If, like me, you want to get up close and personal with the action I would recommend wearing a long sleeved cotton top – the sparks sting a bit when they hit you.

If you can’t wait a year for the next Nit de San Joan celebration here’s a short video of my experience.

Nit de San Joan (St John’s Night) in Palma de Mallorca

Berlin Summer Rave 2013

Neon at Berlin Summer Rave 2013 at Tempelhof Airport

Last night I went to my first Berlin Summer Rave at the disused Tempelhof Airport – a great location despite the distinctly un-summer-y weather.

I went with Summer Rave veterans Steffi, Bine and Olli and after a few short queues in the Berlin rain we could feel the bass even before we entered the building.

After a quick look around we made our way to the Planet Bass Hangar to see Lady Waks followed by Westbam.

Lights at Berlin Summer Rave 2013 at Tempelhof Airport

Dancer at Berlin Summer Rave 2013 at Tempelhof Airport

Taking Photos at Berlin Summer Rave 2013 at Tempelhof Airport

Westbam as GIF (with a hard G)

http://picasion.com/i/1TFBQ/

And if you’re wondering what it all sounded like here’s a little taster of the Lady Waks set.

Lady Waks at Berlin Summer Rave 2013 at Tempelhof Airport

Olympus OM-D Photography Playground at the Opernwerkstätten Berlin

Jeongmoon Choi – Drawing in Space at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

An interactive exhibition is ideally suited to Berlin, a city overflowing with creative people, and that is what Olympus has created with the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground, which opened at the Opernwerkstätten last night.

The Opernwerkstätten, built between 1939 and 1941 with some involvement from Albert Speer, used to house the workshops of Berlin’s many opera companies.  It was here that the sets were built and costumes made.  Visiting during the installation of the new exhibition gave me the opportunity to appreciate the space.

The ceiling at the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

A hook at the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

Außer Betrieb - Fire Alarm at the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

Olympus turned over 7,000 m² of the building to a group of artists to create site-specific installations on the theme ‘Space and Art’.   Between them, Jeongmoon Choi, Martin Butler, Shan Blume, Starstyling, Numen / For Use, Julian Charrière, UnitedVisualArtists, Tim John and Sven Meyer & Kim Pörksen, Speech and Zimoun have created a stimulating playground for the senses.

Visitors are invited to explore the space and document their experiences with the Olympus OM-D camera which can be rented free of charge.  The memory card is removed from the camera when it is returned and can be taken home.

The Olympus OM-D system camera

Photo courtesy of Olympus

Warning: You will need ‘proper’ identification (for those without a National Identity Card, a passport) to borrow one of the cameras.

Unfortunately, my UK Drivers Licence wasn’t acceptable so I can’t tell you any more about the Olympus OM-D, except that it looks good.

It was clear that those people who did get their hands on the camera were enjoying the experience though – everywhere you went people were snapping away.

Visitors taking photos of the installation by Zimoun – Prepared dc-motors, cork balls, cardboard boxes at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

Visitors having fun with the installation by fashion designing duo Starstyling – Settings at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

A visitor taking photographs in the installation by SPEECH (Tchoban & Kuznetsov) – towninbox at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

And why wouldn’t they?  The installations have been cleverly conceived and constructed to play with light, sound and perception and make ideal subjects or backgrounds for photographs.

A visitor taking photographs in Shan Blume's OT_L_Space_01 at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

 

United Visual Artists – Vanishing point at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

Amongst my favourite installations was Drawing Space by Korean artist Jeongmoon Choi.  The simple but effective use of UV light and string created a myriad of geometric patterns that were visually striking and different from every angle.

Visitors interacting with the installation by Jeongmoon Choi - Drawing in Space at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

Another outstanding contribution was Tim John’s ‘Was war gestern’ (What was yesterday).  I spoke to the artist while he was creating the artwork and it was important for him to create an experience with his installation.  Echoing the building’s past he has created a stage and set, complete with audience in their boxes.  A number of ‘pointing fingers’ direct visitors to the interactive elements.  The crank of an old gramophone, for instance, must be turned to start the show.

Tim John – Was war gestern (What was yesterday) at the Olympus OM-D Photography Playground the Opernwerstätten in Berlin

A fun, interactive, sensory experience this is what all exhibitions should be.  The Olympus OM-D Photography Playground has returned in 2014 and is open daily 11:00 to 19:00 at the Opernwerkstätten, Zinnowitzer Strasse 9, Berlin until 25 May 2014 – entry is free.

Photos From My Phone – March

March in Berlin started with signs that spring might be on the way (though it turns out that winter wasn’t ready to hand over the baton) and I enjoyed a beer in the sun by the Spree.

San Miguel by the Spree - Berlin

White Trash Fast Food provided a couple of entertaining evenings.  First, Blog ‘n’ Burger a gathering of Berlin burger lovers expertly organised by Chris Lietze.

Chilli Cheeburger at White Trash Fast Food in Berlin

Then, later in the month Rock ‘n’ Roll Bingo.  I was even on stage for a tie-break for the final prize of €40 but couldn’t indentify Eminem quickly enough to bag the swag.

Rock n Roll Bingo Card at White Trash Fast Food in Berlin

I probably had the most surreal experience of my life this month when David Hasselhoff tweeted a link to my Ohrwurm: Looking For Freedom post, urging followers to sign the Save The East Side Gallery petition.  The Hoff even came to Berlin to show his support.  This KITT like car was at the East Side Gallery on the day.

KITT at East Side Gallery Berlin

If this is all news to you have a look at this great video from Luci of In a Berlin Minute, including the Hoff singing Looking For Freedom.

I saw lots of great Street Art, including these pieces by .FRA and Mein Lieber Prost – I just have to find time to post about it all.

Blue Slimer - Street Art by .FRA in Berlin

Bin Stolz Auf Dich - Street Art by Mein Lieber Prost in Berlin

I managed to snap a quick photo of this girl in Bowie face paint at the Tram stop at Eberswalder Strasse.  For more about Bowie’s association with Berlin have a look at Famous Berliners: David Bowie.

A girl with Bowie face paint at a tram stop in Berlin

My March round-up ends as it started with booze.  This time The Wild East cocktail from Stagger Lee (a great Berlin cocktail bar) – sehr lecker!

The Wild East cocktail at Stagger Lee in Berlin

You can follow my Berlin adventures on Instagram.

The East Side Gallery – “Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Dmitri Vrubel - Fraternal Kiss (Brezhnev and Honecker embrace) - one of the paintings on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions – a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall that stands as an ‘international memorial for freedom’.

The wall running along Mühlerstrasse near the banks of the River Spree was painted with over 100 murals by a group of international artists.

On 28 February 2013 my Twitter feed was abuzz with the news that a section of the wall was to be removed so that a developer could build a block of luxury flats on the land between the wall and the river.

People reacted strongly.

A protest was organised for the following day at the Wall and thanks to those protesters the removal was halted with just a small section gone.

A larger protest was organised on the Saturday morning.  Reports of the numbers present varied but official estimates put the turnout at 6,000.

A petition was started and thousands of signatures were quickly added.

On Monday morning events took a turn for the bizarre.

I woke up when my phone buzzed beside me.  I had a notification of a tweet from @HildaHoy.

I blinked a few times.  I pinched myself.  I wasn’t dreaming.

David Haselhoff had somehow read a post I had written on Sunday about his song Looking For Freedom, in which I had referred to the threat to the East Side Gallery and had tweeted about it.

Later that day, David Hasselhoff wrote his own blog post about the issue and urged his fans to sign the petition.

The Hoff’s involvement was widely reported – articles appeared on the websites of The Guardian, Berliner Morgenpost and Süddeutsche.  The Mädels with a Microphone made a great podcast about the protests.

And now to top it all off in an interview with HuffPost Live, David Hasselhoff has said that he would be willing to perform at the Wall to show his support.

Save East Side Gallery Petition - A computer generated image of flats at the Wall

Image: Change.org

The number of signatures on the petition to Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is now closing in on 75,000 – you can add your name to it on change.org.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous speech, delivered at the Berlin Wall in 1987, the message is:

“Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Work at the wall has been suspended until after the issue has been discussed at a meeting of the Berlin Senate on 18 March.

The developer has how said that the section of wall was being removed to give access to a new pedestrian bridge – a replacement for the Brommybrücke, which was blown up by the Nazis as the Soviets advanced on Berlin.  Klaus Wowereit has indicated that he thinks removal of the wall should be avoided if possible.  Early signs are good that a suitable compromise can be reached.

It would be incredible to see The Hoff perform at the Berlin Wall and if that happens, Gilly has to be there too.  And if it’s going to be perfect, we have to go to a bar on Hasselhoffstrasse (if the concert happens there has to be a street named after him) afterwards for beers, a burger and Vodka Ahojs – the man himself being present would be the icing on the cake.