A Night at the Ballet

After a year living in the cultural city of Berlin, I’ve finally been to the ballet. Last night I went to the Deutsche Oper to see a performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Staatsballett Berlin.

Photo: Bernd Uhlig

I turned up in time for the pre-performance-introduction, offered before most concerts and performances here. I find them particularly helpful before operas, when you realise on entering the building that you forgot to read a quick plot summary before setting off and now face several hours of guesswork (although to be honest, love-betrayal-revenge-death normally covers it). However, often I can’t help feeling like I could be listening to a university seminar presentation. The speaker simply stands up, reassures the audience that there will still be time to buy drinks and food from the bar even if they stay until the end of the talk (a mixture of bribery and not-so-subtle flogging their wares me thinks), reads their speech from a sheet, before thanking the audience for listening and leaving the podium.  What they say is undoubtedly well-researched, but there is no audience interaction or opportunity to ask questions, and one gets the feeling anybody could have written it; there is no personal touch. But this seems in-keeping with the general formality of the music industry here in Germany.

Whatever you may have thought about ballet up until now, please indulge me for a moment. I decided last night that ballet really does provide something that will appeal to most people’s interests. For example:

Music – two and a half hours of wonderful orchestral music by Tchaikovsky
Costumes – incredible works of art – glittery, imaginative, detailed, bedecked with jewels.
Choreography – the fancy footwork was the work of Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato (Nacho being a shortening of Ignacio, which, incidentally, was the name of the chef that invented the famous Tex-Mex dish Nachos when hungry guests turned up after closing time leading him to improvise…)
Drama – dangerous spindles, wicked fairy godmothers, curses, vying suitors, the kiss of life…
Magic – I don’t want to give anything away, but the entrance of wicked fairy godmother Carabosse was impressive to say the least, aided by her Wizard-of-Oz-style creepy monkey sidekicks
Cross-dressing – the wicked fairy godmother is in fact…a man!
Staging/scenery – the set took us from a brilliant ballroom, into the woods, on a gondola, to the peacock-adorned palace.
People watching – the foyer is a fascinating place during the intervals, and the size of the auditorium means there is always lots of action just before the lights go down. I spent quite a while trying to work out whether one particular lady was wearing a hat, or whether it was actually her hair. And if the latter, how much hairspray had she needed to make it stay like that?!
Quiet time – even if it’s no more than an excuse to sit quietly in the dark for a while – one parent recently admitted to me that she actually quite enjoyed taking her children to see Captain Underpants at the cinema for that very reason – when else would she get an hour and a half undisturbed in the middle of the day during school holidays where she could just sit and relax or have a nap?
Wine – much is on offer and there is even more than one interval in which to enjoy it
Languages – there may not have been any speech during the performance itself (save one dancer commanding “Maestro”, which was totally unnecessary in my opinion) but around the building I heard at least German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and other languages non-identified (by me at least).

Convinced yet?

In an attempt to encourage younger audiences, last night was one of the “family performances”. Apart from the fact that I believe children’s tickets were markedly reduced for that performance, I don’t really see what else made it especially child-friendly. It still started at 7.30pm and didn’t finish until about 10.15pm – surely a matinee would have been more suitable? I think there was a special children’s workshop earlier in the day; highly commendable, but surely a further guarantee that the children will not last until the end of the ballet? It felt like a late night for me, let alone a six-year-old. The three children in front of me did very well, but were fast asleep by the second interval (luckily they didn’t snore).

Fazit: I came out smiling. I could have sat through it all again. Go tutu the ballet!

Iana Salenko c_Yan_Revazov-
Photo: Yan Revazov

Easter eggs and witches’ hats

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.


Los Geht’s!

Here we go!

I am currently sitting in a café at Stansted Airport, eating what will probably be my last scone in a while.  After 32 hours of travelling yesterday (more on that later) , I am feeling a little worse for wear, but also excited about the adventure that lies ahead.

Ever since I returned from Germany in 2011 after a year studying at Würzburg University, I have felt a desire to return.  I wasn’t quite sure if, how or when this might happen, or why I felt such a strong connection with Germany, but the pull in my stomach never went away.

Wind forward four and a half years to January 2016 and I am in London, starting a new job with WildKat PR, a PR agency that specialises in classical music.  This was quite a change after having been organising concert and educational tours for Club Europe Group Travel for two and a half years, but it was exciting to be working with professional musicians, getting an insight into the press and media industries, and facing new challenges.

At the end of June, I was asked if I’d be interested in transferring to our Berlin office  (WildKat have offices in London, Berlin and New York).  I hadn’t been expecting the opportunity to come so soon after having joined the company, if at all, but I immediately said, Ja!  It was initially suggested I might like to move over at the end of July, but, enthusiastic as I was, that did seem rather soon. I also had various client projects over the summer with which I was keen to stay involved, and also attend. This brings us back to the 32-hour journey.  The way things worked out, I was away working for a week in Devon at the Dartington International Summer School and Festival (check it out – it’s amazing!), then had one week left to finish up in the London office as well as move out of my flat, and then I would have moved across to Berlin had I not, many months earlier, booked a fortnight’s holiday to Croatia and Slovenia for two weeks, blissfully unaware I would end up having to move countries less than 24 hours after having returned on a coach, sleep-deprived, flat-less, and with a case of dirty washing.

Still, this scone is definitely helping.  I’ll be in touch again once I have settled in a bit and have hopefully managed to navigate my way through some of the German bureaucracy that is bound to lie ahead.  I envisage lots of form-filling, queues, and, to use a German stereotype, vigorous stamping of forms by authoritative looking officials…

In the meantime, here are a few snaps from my holiday (click on the photos for captions).  My camera is currently packed somewhere in my luggage, but I couldn’t tell you where, and these are much nicer than shots of Stansted Airport would be anyway: