A carnival of cultures

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Berlin does not celebrate Fashingl, at least not when everyone else does. Around Ash Wednesday it is surprisingly quiet in town, no Kamelle[1], no cut off ties on Women’s Carnival Day –  unlike in other parts of Germany and the world.In exchange, Berlin uses the Pentecost weekend to be colourful. The Karnveval der Kulturen is a street festival, celebrated for over 20 years, and a peaceful demonstration in support of the world. It celebrates diversity, very colourfully and very loudly. The festival was founded in 1996, as an response to the rampages of Rostock-Lichtenhagen, which were the first big racist attacks in Germany since the Second World War where a residential home for Vietnamese asylum seekers was set on fire with Molotov-Cocktails. Today, the carnival should still be seen as a demonstration, as peaceful and cheerful debate of political and social topics, but also meant to be fun and at the same time highlight the cultural diversity of Berlin. Pentecost is used every year to create a space for associations and communities based in Berlin in order for them to express themselves, talk about relevant topics and draw attention to themselves. The carnival is a festival for “everybody, no matter what age, or cultural background or where they live in Berlin, and gives them the opportunity to be visible to the world” (karneval-berlin.de).  


The four days of Whit weekend were used as excessively this year as in the years before. In 2018, there were again different locations with a large variety of performances. The peak was as usual the carnival procession between 12:30pm and 9pm on Whitsunday, which this year partied along the three kilometres between Yorckstraße/Großbeerenstraße and Hermannplatz in Kreuzberg in bright sunshine. Sapucaiu no Samba, a German-Brazilian Samba society opened the festivities with 300 dancers and musicians. A total of over 4000 performers in 66 carnival floats faced the warm weather and attracted attention through music and dancing. The carnival was announced as a round-the-world trip through music and it sure was. Designing their carnival floats and performances however they liked, participants are able to express and address what they want; and while the general focus was on human diversity and so contemporary themes such as globalisation or the ongoing refugee crisis where automatically included in the dialogue, there were also groups who explicitly advocated politically charged issues. A total of thirteen floats this year discussed themes such as solidarity with Nicaragua, women’s rights or freedom of speech, and cuts in the youth field through their staging. Besides political and cultural exchange, groups were also encouraged to talk about anything important to them or for what they stand; as an example, the group Love Korea! tried to incorporate different generations into their performance and Carnival Explosion introduced what is called Steel Pans used in Trinidad and Tobago, instruments built in the 1930s using disused oildrums, which are used in competitions made of entire steel pan orchestras today.

The carnival is also an opportunity to encourage and celebrate those who have been culturally and integratively involved throughout the year, and to value their hard work. Since there is no entry fee, everyone is allowed to participate; this year 600 000 people watched the parade and nearly one million people visited the festival between Thursday and Sunday. For that matter, the festival is now also financially secure through financial aid from the senate who has granted the carnival a budget item as of this year and supplied €830 000 for its realisation. This secures a continued existence in the years to come. The parade is also assessed by a jury and acknowledged through awards in seven categories: those categories are sustainability, best dance and/or best music, best children- and youth-group, best overall formation, best costume, props, and figures, best theme, best realisation, and best float-construction.

Apart from the parade, numerous other programme took place on and around Blücherplatz. In the Heilig-Kreuz Kirche, music from all over the world was played and different Pentecost-services were held, there were different locations which offered a wide range concerts, street theatres or parties. A children’s carnival, which is connected to the Karneval der Kulturen but organised independently, dealt with pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder under the motto “Tell me where the bees are, where do they stay?”. A total of 300 booths sold food or craftwork from all over the work, and an area called “The Green Zone” organised workshops and information booths from organisations dealing with sustainability, and climate and environmental protection.

According to Berlin police and fire brigade, which were operating on a large scale, the mood was cheerful and stayed peaceful apart from a few smaller disputes, with a lot of painted and dressed up viewers that celebrated the days together and had a good time.

Lea Hüntemann

[1] German slang word for sweets, used in the Middle and Lower Rhine area


Foto: © Kirsten Hermann & Julia Grass 2018; © Anna Bahcivanoglu 2018


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