On Sunday I returned to the Philharmonie, but this time as a performer! Interestingly, the Philharmonie seemed much smaller from the stage, but I think it is just because you cannot see all of the seats. It’s a wonderful hall to play in – excellent acoustic. I was performing as part of the Junges Ensemble Berlin Sinfonieorchester
It was a fun programme for a summer afternoon – Maurice Ravel’s ‘La Valse’, Zoltán Kodály’s ‘Dances from Galánta’, Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”‘ and Arturo Márquez’ ‘Danzón’. The Bernstein wins the prize for the most exotic instruments – cowbells, bongos and a policeman’s whistle play particularly important roles. We certainly had fun, and I think the audience did too.
As well as it being my debut in the Philharmonie, it was also my debut as official-post-concert-flower-presenter. It’s taken me about 12 years playing in orchestras to achieve this honour, and it is a role that brings with it significant challenges: the worry of tripping over in front of a full house, or leaning to the wrong side when kissing the recipient, mistiming your entrance and finding the soloist has left the stage or not managing to make your way off and back onto the stage through the obstacle course of harps, piano, percussion and music stands. Being in Germany presented me with an additional dilemma; which way up should I carry the flowers?! (for context see this post). Also, the flowers had to be thoroughly dried with a towel before the doormen would let me onto the stage! I think in the end I did ok, but I am still waiting for my performance review.
Unfortunately the after-party boat cruise had to be cancelled due to adverse weather in Berlin, but all wasn’t lost as we found a rather nice pizzeria in Emils Biergarten instead, l’Antica Dogana. I’m already looking forward to the next JEB concert – watch this space!
If you’ve read my previous post about the Bamberg Symphony orchestra, you might remember that their chief conductor is called Jakub Hrůša. I’ve seen him in concert on a couple of occasions in Bamberg. Well, this evening I got to experience him from the orchestra; well, almost. I decided on a whim to try and get last-minute tickets for a concert at the Berlin Philharmonie – I arrived with only half an hour to spare, and managed to secure a ticket in the front row of the Podium, the section of audience that sits behind the orchestra, for the grand total of 8 EUR -thank you, ClassicCard! (This is a scheme that enables under-30s to get last-minute tickets an hour before a performance for only 8 EUR (concert) or 10 EUR (opera), and you get whichever seats haven’t been sold, often resulting in being allocated one of the best seats in the house!)
The man at the ticket booth automatically offered me a ticket facing the stage, but I specifically asked if I could sit behind the orchestra. If you have never experienced a concert from behind the performers, I would thoroughly recommend it. Not only do you really feel part of the action, but you get a great view of the conductor – his facial expressions, his mouthed comments to the players, his smile or inside joke – and if you’re wondering how much time is left before you can get your interval ice cream (or Brezel, given my location) and you have good eyesight, you can follow the notes. (There are also much shorter queues for the toilets…)
With only 5 minutes to go, the auditorium was only about 1/3 full, and unfortunately those final 300 seconds didn’t bring many more listeners. This time it was not the Bamberg Symphony playing, but the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (Radio Symphony Orchestra). Having been astonished by the lack of women when I saw the Berlin Philharmonic in concert in November, I tried to count the female members of the RSO. I must have tried about 6 times and never once got the same answer, however, I believe it was between 29 and 34 out of an orchestra of about 100. I kept being distracted by a large fly that kept swooping into view – fairly topical, given I had just seen this excellent BBC clip featuring David Dimbleby vs. The Fly.
Unfortunately I’ve left my notes behind so the rest of this post will follow shortly…
Today was a first for me – my first Norwegian church service! This may seem like a somewhat random thing to do in Berlin, but to put it in context, a Norwegian friend of mine was having her baby baptised. It was an interesting experience; I didn’t understand much of the spoken Norwegian, but combining my knowledge of German and of the Church of England order of service, I didn’t do too badly with the service booklet. It was interesting to see the connections between German and Norwegian. I’d actually be quite keen to learn a Scandinavian language; it’s just a shame there isn’t much opportunity to speak one, without moving to Scandinavia.
I felt a little like an imposter as the church service segued into a parade, ahead of the Norwegian National Day on May 17th, complete with national anthem and flag waving. I tagged along anyway and I think I got away with it – no one stopped me at the cake table anyway 😉
Due to the celebratory occasion, there were several fine examples of the Norwegian traditional dress, otherwise known as the Bunad. This isn’t unlike the German dirndl and lederhosen, with women wearing beautifully embroidered long dresses and shawls, and men wearing knee-length trousers, long socks, jackets and waistcoats. My pew neighbour explained that there are around 20 different traditional bunad patterns, and the one you wear depends on where your family is from.
Norwegians have bunads, Bavarians (and English tourists on stag-dos in Berlin, as I’ve found out) have Lederhosen, Scots have kilts, the Welsh have wonderful hats; why don’t the English have a national dress? It could solve so many problems – away the embarrassment of turning up in the same dress as another guest – that’s the point; gone the trouble of deciding which dress to wear; no more trying to remember at which wedding you last wore a particular dress / whether the people present will have already seen you in this outfit. And they look so elegant.
After some delicious cake, I left Norway behind and headed into the Berlin kiez of Schöneberg. A lovely stroll took me through parks, past picnickers (some complete with folding tables and chairs – how efficient!), via sunny benches, and then headlong into a street party. I jostled my way through the stalls along with hundreds of others, sampling the various jams, cheeses, and cordials (I declined the inevitable sausages), and then sought refuge from the crowds in a quiet Mediterranean cafe.
Walking through the streets I was again struck by the bizarre mix of architecture to be found in Berlin – ornate facades side by side with grey, uninspiring blocks of flats. Also, the prevalence of graffiti, even in smart residential areas, and the poor state of repair of many buildings.
Puzzle of the day: today was Muttertag (Mothers’ Day) in Germany. The increase in floral advertising and the subsequent response of many Berlin citizens over the past week has made me revisit a question that has been puzzling me for a while – why do Germans carry bunches of flowers upside down?
As far as I am aware, when one buys flowers in the UK one then proceeds to carry them home as one would if presenting them to the recipient, i.e. stalks downwards, proudly displaying the wonderful colours of the petals. Yet here, bunches of flowers are wrapped up and then always carried heads downwards, almost condescendingly. I’m sure it really doesn’t matter, but it is something which has stood out to me nonetheless.
[A quick Google consultation suggests that it could be so that the water stays in the blooms, however, surely one could argue that the petals / flower heads are also more likely to fall off…?]
Na ja, another thing to add to the “curious German habits” list.
I’m confused. We seem to have gone from Easter to Halloween in the space of two weeks. Brightly painted hard-boiled eggs have been replaced by witches’ hats; bunnies by bats.
There is a kindergarten / family centre behind my flat (where I have, incidentally, never seen any children). On Sunday evening the yard was full of mini witches dancing on a stage adorned with paper bats to top quality German tunes (!) whilst parents looked on from the bonfire; various stalls catered for face painting, broomstick making and bratwurst (of course!) I thought if I went into the yard I would stand out, being neither under the age of 10, nor in the company of someone under the age of 10, nor showing even any sign of Halloween regalia. Instead I went on my way and consulted Google on my return.
Turns out that the 30th April is Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night. This is the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess who was sent to Germany to set up churches. In Germany, it is also called Hexennacht, or “witches’ night”, as according to German folklore it is the night that witches reputably meet on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains in central Germany.
That made the witches and bats make slightly more sense. Although dancing around bonfires in May in broad daylight and shining sun? I’m not yet convinced.
Two weeks ago, the Stimmung was quite different. Supermarkets were full of egg-painting kits (this seems to be a traditional Easter Sunday family activity and can get quite competitive, judging from the tales of fellow choir members) as well as wicker baskets complete with yellow straw. Forget shelf upon shelf of brightly-packaged and overpriced Cadburys and Nestle Easter Eggs – here it is all elegant Lindt bunnies and small packets of mini, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
Living in a foreign country and speaking a different language often makes you question things that you take for granted when at home; for example, why we choose to give things certain names. Chatting with some members of the congregation after church one Sunday, it became clear that many of them didn’t know why particular days in the lead up to Easter had certain names.
In Great Britain, Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter and commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples, which Christians consider the institution of Holy Eucharist or Communion. Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means “commandment”. It refers to Jesus’ commandment to the disciples the night before he died to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The German equivalent, Gründonnerstag, or Green Thursday, derives from an old German word meaning to wail, to mourn.
Duden, Germany’s OED equivalent, says the origin of the word is unclear, but possibly comes from the fact that one used to eat green vegetables on that day…..
Good Friday, which always seems like a somewhat incongruous name, is called Karfreitag in Germany. Kar- comes from an old German word meaning grief or pain. For those of you wondering: Christians do not think that the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified was a “good” day. It is thought that “good” here is meant in the sense of “holy”, so Holy Friday. Other views are that it comes from “God’s Friday”.
So, there’s some Easter trivia for you. I would wish you a Happy Easter, or at least say that I hope you had a lovely time over Easter, but I was reprimanded at work for wishing a journalist Happy Easter on Easter Tuesday – “once it’s over, it’s over”. Still, celebrating Halloween in the sun still seems a little bizarre.
1. All Berliners wear black coats. Occasionally I’ve spotted a brown or grey coat thrown in, and I did think I saw a deep red one once, but I think it was probably just the light. I am a fan of colour. Not in a crazy way; I just think it brightens up the day. When I arrived in Berlin at the end of September I was wearing my bright purple coat. When it got to about November I moved into my slightly warmer bright blue coat with a rather jazzy lining. Waiting on train or U-Bahn platforms, I did feel rather conspicuous among the sea of black, but I pretended not to notice the (disapproving or just bemused?) stares. I thought they didn’t bother me. However, at the beginning of February something odd happened, something out of character: on an impulse I bought a long black coat. I know. Perhaps it was the effect of too much time among Germans. Perhaps it was the influence of my mother, who was staying at the time and has a penchant for wearing coats resembling duvets. Perhaps it was simply brain freeze, given it felt about -20 degrees on the day in question. Who knows? But I reluctantly have to admit that I am secretly rather glad I did. Berlin winters are hard. And long.
2. Germans stare. A lot. It’s normal to look up at someone when they sit down opposite you on the bus, but that embarrassed, quickly-look-away reaction that British people have when said passenger realises you are looking is not to be found here. Sometimes I’ve looked up and entered into the staring competition, but I never do very well; it just feels too uncomfortable. Children do it too, which is almost more unnerving – they obviously haven’t been taught “it’s rude to stare”.
3. Rush hour is easy. Give me Alexanderplatz at 6pm over Tottenham Court Road any day. Berliners often lament about how busy their public transport system is, but if you’ve ever experienced Victoria Station on a strike day, or stood under somebody’s armpit on the Circle Line, or had to watch three Tubes drive past before it’s worth even considering trying to squeeze yourself in, then it’s hard to drum up much sympathy. I do admit that the below photo was not taken on Berlin’s busiest stretch of the public transport network, but this is a fairly full carriage on my typical “rush hour” train home:
4. In winter, children wear snowsuits, regardless of whether or not there is snow. I’m still not really sure why. There must be some really logical explanation (we are talking Germans after all), but I am yet to work it out. Surely it must be a pain when you’re having to constantly change nappies or take them to the toilet? I’ll admit that it does look really cute when you walk along the street and see a rainbow of tightly packed-up children waddling about as best as they are able in their super insulation suits, (now that I think about it, children can dress as brightly as they like; the general rule seems to be ‘the brighter, the better’ – I wonder when one has to make the transition into the world of black….) but it seems a bit over the top. I’ve witnessed brightly coloured bundles on the U-Bahn identifiable as a mini-human only by the tiny bright pink face sticking out that looks like it would do anything to be wearing about three layers less. Maybe by next winter I’ll have worked this one out.
5. Supermarkets don’t do discounts. I always found it extremely satisfying if I was passing a Tescos just before closing time to be able to grab a couple of “expiring today” products for under a pound. Even more satisfying if it happened to be an M&S. Food items here have a price. And unless it is the deal of the week, in which case it may have a few cents knocked off, it is always that price. Goodbye to late-night “let’s quickly pop in and have a look just in case ” food wins.
6. Berlin doesn’t have a city centre. Well obviously it does geographically, but its geographical centre doesn’t really mean anything. The phrase “going into town” doesn’t really work. Berlin is all about the “Kiez”. Every Berliner lives in a Kiez (there are 23 in Berlin), every Kiez has a different culture and atmosphere, and every Berliner believes that their Kiez is the best. “Kiez” can be translated as neighbourhood, but use it outside of Berlin and you will get funny looks.
Tip: from a visitor’s point of view, Mitte is probably the most “central” area, as this is where most of Berlin’s famous Tourist landmarks are – Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral, Brandenburg Gate, to name but a few. However, you’re unlikely to find Berliners hanging out here in their spare time
There are between 400 and 600 museums and art galleries in Berlin. These range from large, state-run National Gallery or Natural History Museum equivalents, to small private collections. I decided to invest in a Museums Card, which for €50 allows me unlimited access to the permanent exhibitions in all state-run museums and art galleries in Berlin for a year. Given that entry to some of popular ones, like the Alte Nationalgalerie or the Neues Museum costs €10 or more a time, I thought that was a pretty good deal. Also, what I liked about all the free museums and galleries in London was that you didn’t feel you had to spend all day there to get the most out of your ticket – you could just pop in and visit one floor, or one exhibition if you wanted to. As much as I love visiting museums and galleries, I can only cope with so much in one day.
Last weekend I took advantage of a colleague from the London office being over and went with her to the Hamburger Bahnhof. No, this is not a train station in Hamburg (sorry for those of you who were feeling proud of your German translation abilities) but rather a huge contemporary art gallery. It gets its name from the fact that it used to be the rail station for trains running between Berlin and the hanseatic city of Hamburg. Today it houses works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Roy Lichtenstein, and many other major figures in art since the 1960s.
The Rules of the Game
My colleague and I chose to participate in one of the installations – “The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3” by Adrian Piper aims to explore how trust is formed and the role of trust in society: gallery visitors can sign a contract, voluntarily committing to align their future deeds with ethical principles like honesty and reliability. At the end of the exhibition, all of the data will be collected into a registry, which will be sent to all participants, and will supposedly represent a community of people who are likely to be trustworthy in the future. So, who knows who might get in touch with me in a few months time?!
“Moving is in every direction” was the title of the major temporary exhibition, and it traced the history of installation art from the 1960s until today, focusing on narrative structures, through a wide variety of large walk-in “environments” and video and sound installations. I felt very British as we joined a queue without any real idea of what we were queuing for; one by one, the people ahead of us went up a short flight of stairs, went through a door, and then….well that would spoil it! Here is a taste of some of the other installations:
Bunny Rogers – Mandy’s Piano Solo in Columbine Cafeteria
Pipilotti Rist – Remake of the Weekend
Qin Yufen – Making Paradise
Edward Kienholz – Volksempfängers
Joseph Beuys – Capri-Batterie
Susan Philipsz – War Damaged Musical Instruments (Shellac)
Thomas Schütte – The Laundry
A few weeks ago I went to a very different gallery, one which I would probably never have come across had it not been suggested by my university friend Luba, who is very clued up on contemporary art and happened to be over in Berlin for an Artificial Intelligence conference (yes, modern language degrees really can lead to anything…) Hidden behind a rather inconspicuous front door in between a wine shop and a restaurant near Potsdamer Platz was one of the smallest lifts I have ever been in, which would supposedly take us to the Daimler Contemporary art gallery. As the lift doors opened, I had the impression that we had in fact just arrived at Gringotts Bank (Harry Potter reference, for those of you who are none the wiser…) – see photo.
The title of the current exhibition will give you an idea as to the weird and wonderful things that can be found there: “On the Subject of the Ready-Made or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board”. Welsh conceptual Artist Bethan Huws had curated an exhibition featuring about 120 artworks from the Daimler Art Collection, elaborating on Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the “ready-made”. I’m still not sure I completely understood the concept, despite the surely-far-too-fancy-to-be-free exhibition guide, but it made for interesting viewing. I am not going to try and impart any impressive sounding commentary on the significance of particular exhibits; instead, I will just share a few photos:
That’s enough art for one day. Now I’m going to watch Call the Midwife!
Having spent a year studying at Würzburg University in Franconia, northern Bavaria, it is always a pleasure to return to the south of Germany. And so being sent by work to Bamberg, another lovely Franconian town about 100km east of Würzburg and 4.5 train hours from Berlin, seemed like a pretty good deal.
A city of 70,000 inhabitants, Bamberg is spread over seven hills, which has led to it being nicknamed the “Franconian Rome”. Much of the historic centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and under beautiful blue skies, shining sun and a crisp carpet of snow, it was definitely not leaving any room for doubt of its worthiness of such a tag. Klein Venedig (“Little Venice”) is particularly attractive, a row of half-timbered fishermen’s houses from the 19th century along one bank of the river Regnitz. I also like story of the Altes Rathaus: legend has it that the bishop didn’t grant the citizens of Bamberg any land for the construction of a town hall. This prompted the townspeople to ram huge wooden beams into the bed and build their town hall there, creating an artificial island. The Old Town Hall is painted with really impressive frescoes and 3D trompe d’oeil effects – unfortunately I didn’t take any photos so you will just have to take my word for it.
“Little Venice” – once fishermen’s houses
The Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)
On the Obere Brücke overlooking the river Regnitz
One of the things that Bambergers are extremely proud of is their resident orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony. This is proven by the fact that an impressive 10% of the city’s population have a subscription to the orchestra’s local concert series! Far from being a mere provincial ensemble, the Bamberg Symphony is one of the most-travelled orchestras in Germany. Their recent tour to the USA reminded me of the Jesus College Cambridge Chapel Choir trip a few years ago, where the choristers nearly didn’t make it back in time for Christmas due to uncooperative weather. I missed out on this tour as I was…on my year abroad in Würzburg.
The Bamberg Symphony also founded the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition, the first winner of which was the then-unknown Gustavo Dudamel in 2004, now world-famous, not least for his involvement with the Venezuelan music education programme El Sistema. He is also the Music Director of the LA Philharmonic and on 1st January 2017 was the youngest-ever conductor to lead the Vienna Philharmonic’s famous New Year’s Day Concert (he is 35).
The Bamberg Symphony also has a young conductor: in September 2016, 35-year-old Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša took over the position of Chief Conductor from Jonathan Nott. Consequently, the orchestra has been celebrating a return to its Czech roots: the orchestra was formed in 1946, mainly from Germans who had been expelled from Czechoslovakia, previously members of the German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague. Over the years, the Bamberg Symphony has often been recognised for its “Bohemian sound”. Perhaps fittingly, their first recording with Jakub Hrůša is a (superb) interpretation of Smetana’s Má Vlast.
Some of you may be interested in reading this Q&A with Jakub Hrůša, recently published by The Arts Desk.
The concert on Saturday evening was fantastic, but to avoid boring those of you who have already found this post too long, there will be more on that later. Sunday featured a guided tour of the town, a long-overdue catch up with one of my Cambridge contemporaries, who is currently studying a Masters degree at Bamberg University, and a long train journey back to Berlin after a lovely weekend.
My employer has a holiday house in the mountains in Austria. Lucky thing. As a sort of Christmas gift, she invites WildKat employees to join her there for a few days each January. Lucky WildKats. Now that I have been with WildKat for over a year, I was allowed to join the 2017 trip, and set off for four days in Ehrwald.
It was wonderful to escape the city for a few days, get up into the mountains and enjoy some fresh air. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – blue skies and sunshine throughout – and it was lovely to spend time with colleagues away from the office. I think the photos say more than anything I write would, so here are a few to tell the story (you can hover over or click on them for captions):
Ehrwalder Almsee – frozen over
Looking down onto Ehrwald town from the Ehrwalder Alm
Sankt Anna Kapelle
The Ehrwald equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster?
Inside the Sankt Anna Kapelle
An amazing painted ceiling in the local church, Unserer Lieben Frau Mariä Heimsuchung (The Visitation of our Blessed Maria)
Happy New Year! Or as the Germans would say, I hope you had a good slide (into the New Year). I have been back in Berlin for a week now, although somehow it feels much longer. Berlin is looking very white at the moment – there has been lots of snow. My bike has been relegated to the cellar, yet I’ve been surprised at the number of people who are still cycling. It has also been very cold – which makes my pre-Christmas-indulgence in a pair of warm, red, lace-up winter boots feel more than justified. Today it was -8°C, and gosh my fingers knew it. As much as I can never wait to get to work, approaching the exit staircase of the tube station aka icy wind tunnel is really not at all pleasant. Still, it makes the hot cup of tea on arrival at work taste even better.
I met this chap on the way back from the supermarket today:
Lebkuchen and Spekulatius biscuits are nearly all but gone from the supermarket aisles. I imagine they will be quickly replaced by Fasching (carnival) costumes.
Silvester, or New Year’s Eve, is meant to be quite an experience in Berlin. As I spent New Year in England (Alnwick to be precise), the only evidence I have to go on is the detritus now left half-buried on the snowy streets, which certainly implies great celebration took place. I’ve heard tales likening it to a war zone, with rockets and bombs exploding erratically on all sides. Maybe next year I should stay here to witness it myself – the general advice seems to be avoid the streets between 8pm-3am and seek refuge on a roof-top balcony, from where you can admire the firework displays but are less likely to come face to face with a ferocious firecracker.
Today ended up being a bit of a Christmas market bonanza. First on the programme was a tiny arts and crafts fair being run by the Franco-German Youth Office, an organisation that works to strengthen relationships between French and German young people. There were just three rooms with a handful of stalls selling different handmade crafts, as well as the obligatory Glühwein and Kinderpunsch (“children’s punch” i.e. non-alcoholic). I went at the invitation of a colleague, who had a friend there selling beautiful paper, covered books, stationary etc. On the next-door stall, a small boy was meticulously crafting some sort of stick man out of old corks and pipe cleaners, under the watchful eye of ?Grandpa – after a bit of research, I can tell you that this is not just some kind of rite-of-passage German childhood activity, but that I was actually in the presence (and blissfully unaware of it) of an extremely famous Berlin street artist. In 2009 the natural health practitioner and yoga teacher Josepf Foos began creating tiny cork beings demonstrating different Hatha yoga positions – Yogis – and displaying them around Berlin, most notably on top of street signs. His aim was to try and encourage people to experience the peace and balance that yoga brings, to pause and appreciate their surroundings, rather than be swept along by the tide of every-day life in Berlin. Foos was inspired by the London street artist Slinkachu , who places his own small figures around the streets of London. I haven’t yet spotted any either in London or Berlin, but I will have to keep my eyes peeled. Or start yoga…
There was also a stall selling all manner of things hemp-related: hemp seeds, hemp flour, hemp biscuits, hemp chocolate brownie, hemp crêpes….Although hemp is a natural plant, it felt “wrong” given its association to cannabis, which got me thinking: when does a plant become a drug? It turns out that although hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, hemp contains much lower levels (less than 1%) of THC, the substance that gives cannabis its psychoactive properties. Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants, and hemp seeds are actually incredibly nutritious; hemp is a superfood.
Next on the programme was the Christmas bazaar at the Foreign Office.It was a bit more like a flea market to be honest, but it was worth it to see inside the building; one of these large buildings with a huge central glass atrium, off which multiple offices branch. For those offices without windows looking to the outside world, the atrium even had trees and a water feature. As we approached an airport-style security station, I was a bit worried that my bottle of water might be confiscated, but luckily it made it through; there are only so many mugs of over-priced hot juice that one wants to buy in one day. We had a dutiful quick whizz around the stalls and then headed back out into the cold.
I then headed off for the highlight of the day – Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmen Markt. This “Christmas Magic” market is considered to be the most beautiful and popular Christmas markets in Berlin, attracting more than 600,000 visitors every year. Its location certainly helps – sandwiched between the matching French and German churches, with the Konzerthaus behind it, it takes some beating.
Controversially, you actually have to pay an entry fee to this Christmas market, but I felt I could stretch to €1. If one really objects, it is possible to visit between 11:00-14:00 on weekdays for free. We spent two and a half happy hours browsing the high-quality crafts stalls – Christmas decorations, pottery, leatherware, earrings (guess where temptation caught up with me…), candles, clothing etc.
There was also live music and dancing – I particularly enjoyed the young ballerinas, dancing to excerpts from The Nutcracker. I was struck by the fact that the lead ballerina was black – the fact that this even stood out was interesting; it made me realise that you don’t see many coloured ballerinas.
I decided that three Christmas markets was probably enough for one day, although when you consider that there are over 100 Christmas markets in and around Berlin, I’d have my work cut out to visit them all, even if I do stay here another 10 years. However, there was still room for more cultural activity, so next stop was a small community centre, where a presentation was being given on the world of Geishas. Apart from having seen the film Memoirs of a Geisha, this is a topic I know very little about, so I was intrigued to find out more. The speaker had prepared a really old school PowerPoint display, complete with sound effects and slides whizzing in at different angles. It took me back to the ICT room in secondary school. Still, her knowledge on the topic was impressive – she had clearly done her research. After highlighting various aspects of the different stages of a Geisha’s training (it takes 5 years to become a fully-fledged Geisha), their work, clothing and common misconceptions, we were introduced to the Japanese dancer Chihoco Yanagi, who treated us to some traditional Japanese dance, followed by a display of Kimonos. A someone unexpected but very enjoyable evening.