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How many times have I been to Berlin Carnival of Cultures now?  Well, this year was my 7th year of attending. Not consecutively, but definitively over the said years. Needless to say, I felt I needed a break from Berlin, as sometimes (only just sometimes) a carnival can suck you dry and leave you thinking, ‘I need to book somewhere else next year’.  Yes I said it, a break from carnival but not just all carnivals, just Berlin Carnival, which has grown significantly since I first attended in 2010.  Back then, it was just a couple of fetes and few London faces. Some 7 years later, it now commands over 9,000 visitors and approximately 4,000 people participate in the carnival season, demanding fete tickets and carnival mas costumes.

I have had the pleasure of watching this little golden, carnival nugget grow from a relatively small enjoyable carnival, to one that is seen to be oversold, over populated and now over hyped.  Is Berlin losing its crown or does it simply need to re-evaluate all aspects to accommodate the accumulative growth and interest? This year saw Berlin paying the price to its popularity, with a whole host of DJ’s and artists flying in around the world to entertain the mass of global feters. The resident fetes in Berlin have been Soca on de Beach, Fire Fete and Glow Fete, however these fetes have seen fierce competition from other promoters to draw the crowds, featuring bigger artists such as Bunji and Faye Ann Lyons.

Why the hype for Berlin Carnival now?

…because Berlin is easy to get to from London. Its cheap if you book well in advance. Easyjet do cheap flights if you book early enough to Schonefeld Airport, with direct trains from there to Alexanderplatz. The place to stay is at any hotel, on or near Alexanderplatz. I can recommend staying at the H2O Hotels, Park Inn Hotel, and Indigo. There locations are also perfect for getting out and about and in perfect walking distance for transportation links and the shopping centre. There are, indeed, many other hotels and apartments close by, but these are the hotels to be at for the full vibe and experience of the Berlin carnival.

The Berlin transportation system is excellent and is totally accessible by tram, train, bus and coach, so no need for taxis. All you need to do, is purchase the equivalent of a travel card and your good to go. You can get one of these travel cards at the station when you arrive at Schonefeld airport. Some people choose to take a chance and travel around without paying since inspectors are can be lax at certain times. However a warning, when travelling from the airport into central Berlin, ticket inspectors ALWAYS come on the train to check tickets, so ensure you have one for that journey. Taxis are also easy as they are around all the time, but the metro runs 24/7 (albeit a limited timetable in the early hours). It is inexpensive, but expensive if you have far to travel.  For example taxi from Schonefeld airport to Alexanderplatz is around 40 euros (as of June 17).  The Cuisine is up for debate, depending on tastes. If you like fast food, your in a good place, there are many places to choose from to eat. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, kebabs – the list is endless.  However,  if you have a palate like mine you’re in trouble. Germany is not for the fussy food eater or the vegetarian so be prepared. Drinking is something else that is easy to do and you don’t see many vagrants or drunkards either. Alcohol can be purchased at most places that are open on your way to and from events – even at the metro stations,  so you can carry on drinking!  Drinking is allowed on the transportation systems, so you do not have the drinking restrictions like London.  So in effect, Berlin comes truly alive during carnival and the best place to be for ultimate unrestricted feting.

The Weather

The weather can be a bit hit and miss for carnival. With temperatures ranging from hot, to overcast to rain. For the last few years, it has rained over the carnival weekend, but hey nothing stops the shorts or our outfits! Come rain, wind or shine, us bachannalists will wear feting clothing! Carnival always seems to work out in Berlin, as whilst it rained all morning this year, by late afternoon, the sun came out it all its glory and gave us time to fete without the rain.

The Kebab Shop Lime

Everyone who comes to Berlin carnival, knows about the kebab shop lime.  It is indeed a kebab shop that rooted its business to the carnival activity. What a decisive, money spinning idea. Bachannalists love soca no matter where it is playing, we love to party all night. Takeaway shops have a late license, this is also Berlin, merge up the three, soca, late license, food and bingo! Add to the fact that they can sell alcohol – all night. So what did the kebab shop do? They sold their kebabs to soca lovers! 🙂

In the earlier years, we used to go the said kebab shop after feting, for food, as their premises are based on the tip of Alexanderplatz. It is such a brilliant location, on the cornerstone and available en route to most hotels in its circumference.  The owners there, would play music on their little stereo system and we the, soca heads would yell, ‘play soca’. Thank god for iPods and phono jacks leads, as this is where it started.  Someone had a iPod and a fresh playlist and put up the volume and so the feting ensued.  You would go there after a rave, begging food and soca on demand, they would play little titbits of soca via an ipod. Thereafter, technology, time and the Berlin Carnival fever grew and the little titbit system, turned into an all out sound system – the place to be at after a fete. Appealing to the mass, they threw open their kebab shop doors, embraced soca and they are now a very profitable business during the carnival season. DJ’s now book to play there and the rest is history.

 ‘Soca on the beach’ Fete

I have never been – but I have heard about it.

Soca itself, is not for the faint hearted and this Berlin fete is all out war. No matter the weather people are feting in bikini wear, shorts or sleeveless t-shirts are standard. You would think you were on some Caribbean beach with the way the people pose, but no its Berlin with its up and down weather. Don’t come in jeans or a jumper as a you need to represent. So be prepared to sport. Soca on the beach is the annual fete to be at, work is forfeited for the most to be there; it gets packed and the queues are long to get it. I am told that the music quality is an issue, as there as parts on the beach were you simply could not hear or enjoy the music.

Carnival Fever and the t-shirtgate!

This band has long now been established as the main link for Berlin carnival. They have massively set themselves up monopolising the carnival. Previous carnivals have seen the purchase of tickets for events and the carnival t-shirts stress free, but this year – wow. This was something else. The demand for tickets and carnival Sunday tshirts was unprecedented. First, Carnival Fever released the fete tickets – ‘100 hours and you could purchase a Platinum, Gold or Bronze ticket. Platinum being the best ticket and entrances to all their promotions. The Bronze ticket (which I had) gave us 3 fetes – the ones we always wanted and attended. Glow, Fire and the BBQ Lime. We purchased our tickets early and of course the platinum sold out first.  However, there were many holding out for the Carnival Fever costumes.  Some weeks later, swathes of people started to almost chant  on Facebook demanding to know, “when are costumes and tshirts going on sale”? Once they did go on sale, I believe they sold out in minutes. I am not even sure anyone in London got a chance to purchase one. The furore that exploded after was a different experience. Arguments ranged from the pricing of the tshirts, the t-shirt carnival bundle price, to the quantity of tshirts available.  Arguments were raised  from both sides as to the disorganised or organised way it was handled.  When Hendrik finally unsilenced himself, it was a moment of pure settlement in his mind. A water tight defence. “We are bound by the rules of the committee and restricted in the number we can sell”. OK, so why not tell us that in advance? The hype is being created, the demand is there, people are ready, but you know the disappointment will be widespread. Why prolong the unnecessary wait to nothingness?

Fire Fete, Astra Kulturhaus, Revaler Str.99, 10245 Berlin

Wear red, that is the key.

The Fire fete has been going as long, if not longer than I have been going to Berlin carnival. A distinguished fete that can command the old and new skool carnival tourist. It is a fete that is  close to many hearts, that most of the “die-hard fans” go to.

So easy to get to by metro,  or if you prefer there are plenty of taxis that will take you there. Transportation is wicked in Berlin. You just can’t say “I couldn’t get home”. Ticket inspectors are not that plentiful on the trains (although they always turn up when you have not got a ticket), so try not to skip fares. You are spoilt for choice transportation wise to get to this venue. It’s never a problem to get into this fete and it had as always, kept to that standard that night. The only issue is that you cannot bring in your own alcohol. You have to drink it in advance, hide it and sneak it in, or bite the bullet and buy drinks at the bar.  Drinks are not that expensive in Berlin (only at UP rooftop club),so it is not that painful on the pocket.  Although I love this fete, there is an overall feeling that this fete is always a contention of unhappiness. You see the music system is somewhat… rubbish. We, the people, have pleaded but it seems to have fallen upon deaf ears, as we are continually plagued by ‘tinny’ music.  However, the vibe is undeniably still in tact, with the many usual suspects making a wuk up appearance. The Fire Fete is a place to sport and some people go all out with their attire. Red clothes, nails, accessories, footwear, luminous glow toys. I could go on but regardless, I always love this fete, for its my comfort blanket, my guaranteed good time with friends. So go with your posse  as you are sure to have fun.

Up Party – House of Weekend Club

rooftop berlin

Now this is the fete I always look forward to. UP, hosted at The House of Weekend Club,  has a spectacular roof top area and is situated around corner from Alexanderplatz. It’s in an ideal location, in that you do not have to veer far from your hotel. Tickets were sold on Eventbrite for this fete, or you could pay at the door – for £17 it was my highlight of the Berlin Carnival season. Upon entry, you just need to take a lift up to the top floor, where you enter straight into the dance floor and large bar area. One good thing about this fete – you could bring your own drinks in, no one checked or looked bothered to be honest. The bar prices are crazy anyway, so it worked for me and most others. In fact, a lot of people had gone back to their hotels to get their drinks!

Around 5pm, it literally is like a lime. Everyone is mostly on the rooftop swaying gently, wuking up to the mellow soca tunes, but be prepared, this is not how it is all night. At around 8pm, the dance floor wakes, livens up and draws the people. Music is pumped up and so the feting begins.  I don’t know whether it is a ploy by clubs or really there is no decent air conditioning? House of Weekend – where is it?  Whatever the case, it gets very hot in the dance floor area, it literally is a sweat box.  Luckily, the rooftop was a welcomed place to cool down with seating to just chill and chat. However, the downstairs dance floor area is the best place to be at.  It may be hot, but it is a whole lot of fun. The intensity of the dancing, the fever pitch vibes, the newbies that get lost in the realms of sweet soca, whether your wining pun a gyal or man.  We came out of there around 11pm, dripping wet.. skipping back to the hotel to get ready for the next fete…Glow.

Glow Fete, Astra Kulturhaus, Revaler Str.99, 10245 Berlin

What can I say. This event in my view, has subsided. Like fire fete, it grabs the crowd, but other fetes are now involved and drawing the bigger names. However, we had booked our 100 hours tickets and were destined to go to Glow. Destra actually seemed to be tired to me at Glow, but graced the stage with her voluptuous styles and routines. She still rocked the crowd with the tunes loved best by her fans and in usual style people were invited up to the stage to show us all they could wuk. DSL – the Dutch Soca league by far rule Berlin carnival, they come out every year in significant numbers and always with a newly designed t-shirt. I am told by a friend that they are supported and sponsored by the Dutch tourist board or some committee? If that is true, then no surprises why they can come out in such large numbers.

Why is then still a source of entertainment when white people wine up?  We always seem to get more fired up with our cheers when a heavy-set white girl comes up looking like a reject in Britain’s got talent and the expectation that she going to fail, but a resounding cheer when they exceed expectations.  Well this event always produces this scenario.  However, next, Destra called for a local boy and a slim white lad came on up the stage to rouse of applause.  You see it weren’t no ordinary white boy this was #whiteboywiner. Destra didn’t know and many of the crowd didn’t know that whiteboywiner is a champion (his words) winer and possibly could twist up a few people. Whilst, he can certainly wine up his waist, it feels like more theatrical than wining.  All this throwing up in the air and spinning to bounce, or jumping on my back would not cut it for me, so I clapped and cheered from the back of the fete.  Next was something no one could foresee happening. Since #whiteboywiner was doing so well at proving his wining skills, Destra decided to check out his catching skills. Now for those who have not met Destra before – she’s not a big girl, but she definitely is no small girl.  She is solid muscle and you need to ensure that you have adequately eaten and digested a sufficient amount of provisions for necessary sustenance.  Destra used the element of surprise on #whiteboywiner, but we all knew it was coming. For any self-respecting wineress will jump on you and they will wuk you down. Don’t play with them, you need to have a strong back. Unfortunately #whiteboywiner did not.  She took a few steps back, jettisoned on the spot, ran and leaped. Slow motion came in effect and you could almost see the shock, then horror in his face, at the prospect of knowing he was not going to catch her. Legs akimbo she came flying at him, solid muscle on 9st #whiteboywiner. Props to him though – he caught her. Could he sustain the hold? With bated breath we breathed in as she jumped and exhaled when they fell. I am surprised he didn’t crack his hips. It was like a slam dunk! Dazed and bruised they unfolded themselves from each other. Destra told him he must eat some more provisions before even attempting again. #Whiteboywiner had to go on Facebook to defend himself as the backlash of people saying his “back is not strong”! (oh dear)…  As a performer would say, the show must go on, but I am sure she hurt herself in that fall. Destra sang a few more tunes before hyping up the crowd and baying out gracefully as her set ended.

destra
This is Destra – you see, she ain’t no small girl!

Glow actually has two rooms that you can fete in; the main room obviously plays the soca and stages the artists. The second smaller room by the bar area plays a mix of bashment and soca and is always a packed and lively room. You could in fact fete in this room all night. I always leave Glow around 6am to get back to the hotel, but it by far has not finished at that time. Trains at that time run approx every half hour so if you miss one, it can be long cold wait.

Berlin Carnival of Cultures, Hermanstrasse

Oddly enough in Berlin, you don’t come out early like Nottinghill. The majority seem to saunter into the carnival around 4pm, so us leaving to go at 5pm was ideal (over the years we learnt that arriving anytime before 3pm was fruitless).  To get to carnival you just have to get the U8 metro to Hermannsplatz, once you get there, no need to ask for directions, you just follow the crowd.  The crowds will naturally bring you onto the carnival route and you just walk down and you spot the band you want to follow.

As I stated earlier, there was a limit on costumes and tshirts for this year’s carnival. We were told from the offset, “if you do not have a t-shirt or costume, you are not part of the band, you will be kicked out”, not in so many words but the intent was therein. True to their statement you could not get into that band’s restricted vicinity, if you didn’t have carnival fever emblazoned on a current t-shirt or sporting a costume. You were indeed escorted out. So we did what everyone else did, we wore our own t-shirts and went as our own individual posse’s. Whilst, we could not be in the band, we jammed by the side and had just as much fun. I actually hate being suffocated in the midst of heaving crowds, so being on the periphery was fine with me. What they did allow was for people to follow the truck after the roped area so you could be part of the vibe and hear the music. It attracted scores of people, who had flown from all over Europe to attend and was cited as the band to jump with. However, don’t get too excited by the Carnival Fever bandwagon, Carnival Explosion is another costume band too out there and establishing themselves as a competitor to Carnival Fever.

With the heightened threat of terrorism, I was thankful that the German government recognised the need to sufficiently protect the carnival and we saw the presence of armed police as well concrete barriers to the carnival route, so no trucks or vans could drive in. There was really no disruption and was pleased at the organisation that kept us safe at such a scary time.

Carnival was the same as every year, funtimes, drunk friends, crazy wuking up, lost shoes and phones, tears and the kebab  lime at the end.

Berlin carnival is now competitive, once ruled by Hendrik & Tate but now other promotions are now coming in and offering an alternative to the current annual madness. This year proved it, and so the competition begins.  Nevertheless Hendrik rules! and Berlin continues to be ruled by him.

Nevertheless, if you have not experienced Berlin carnival, you have to go. Especially us folks in Europe, as it is so easy to get to, inexpensive and full of vibes with the right friends and choice of fetes.

 

Links

Berlin Carnival of Cultures Website

Carnival Fever

Carnival Explosion

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