November is always a difficult month; the awkward limbo between October, which gets by on its autumnal charm, and December when it finally becomes socially acceptable to adorn the flat with all things sparkly and drink hot wine at eleven o’clock in the morning. November is cold and wet and dark and generally a bother for everyone involved. It’s also the month of my birthday, which meant this year, I would be turning twenty-one in Berlin. The past few birthdays I’ve celebrated have been fairly horrendous, but this one, largely due to a combination of brilliant friends, delicious Italian food and cheap beer in a bar aptly named Drama, the big 2-1 went excellently.
In attempts to appreciate more that Berlin has to offer than restaurants and bars, I’ve got out and about this month. First on the list were concerts; The National and Arctic Monkeys. Coming from Sheffield I’ve always felt strongly invested in their progress, and being surrounded by an equally enthusiastic German crowd in a surprisingly tiny venue brought back memories of home. The National’s sold out gig at one of Berlin’s biggest stadiums was much more surreal; no dancing, just a lot of people nodding their heads.
I also visited the Dali museum, which was interesting, if not slightly overpriced. I did acquire a wall clock in the style of The Persistence of Memory- my flat has never looked so classy. Following this we made our first foray into the Berlin theatre scene to attend a ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s life. This was a real treat, particularly since none of us had a clue what to expect and the programmes were in German. What started off as a relatively tame first act featuring dancing swans and sugar plum fairies quickly descended to an apparent orgy on a massive poker table. It was brilliant at any rate, and the Germans really seem to take the ballet seriously, as I noticed most of the other customers were dressed to impress, even at six pm on a Sunday. My only issue was that during the interval there was no lovely old lady waiting by the doors to sell me a small tub of ice cream, which really would have tied the evening up with a bow.
But on to the main event: Weihnachten!
Christmas display at KaDeWe
The annual Berlin Christmas Lights turn on is November 25th, when the city is transformed by fairy lights and the sudden presence of little wooden stalls all around the city. Of course there are similarities with the British interpretation of ‘German Christmas Markets’ but this is the real deal, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so festive. On Monday night a group of us ventured over to arguably Berlin’s most picturesque market, Gendarmenmarkt, situated between two churches in Friedrichshain. The food was hearty, the mulled wine not hideously overpriced, but most importantly, everyone was in the spirit.
The tree at Gendarmenmarkt
Unlike the British tradition of reeling out a Z-list celebrity to do the honours, Berlin opted for the city mayor’s presence, though that’s not to say the entertainment wasn’t slightly baffling at times. Five men dressed apparently as Christmas elves performed a strange slapstick comedy set whilst incorporating juggling fire and extreme hoola-hooping. I can’t decide what my favourite thing was about their performance: the fact it went on far longer than it should have, or that one of the elves was sporting a blonde wig which gave him a strong resemblance WikiLeaks persona non grata Julian Assange. His special talent, by the way, was doing a painfully bad rendition of the robot to woo the woman apparently dressed as a princess. But maybe that’s some sort of customary German ritual.3
It’s safe to say the countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun, and even for the hardiest Scrooge out there, there’s something intoxicating about the smell of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts that fills the air. Forget John Lewis- no one does Christmas quite as well as the Germans.
Julian Assange is that you?