Event 43: Carnival of Culture…what a weekend of cultural diversity and lots of feathers and noise!

This was more than a parade. More than trying international cuisine. More than drinking on the street. Carnival of Culture is the reinforcement of what culture is around the world by communities from Berlin. It is a weekend of exposure for cultures to demonstrate what their culture is all about. Whether its with our ears to listen to Russian guitarists or with our taste buds to taste Ghanaian food. Welcome to my weekend of culture overload…

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What was the event?

Carnival of Culture is an annual event that occurs every June in Berlin to coincide with Pentecost Sunday. The event welcomes over 1 million people to the event, which is based in central Berlin. The dates of the event were between 7th – 10th of June. The weather was glorious and the event was packed. Are you ready for the brightest, most cultural blog I have ever written…

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What happened at the event?

I arrived first thing on Friday morning and arrived straight to site with the first day of Carnival of Culture beginning on Friday at 4pm. I was met with stalls lining street after street. I started to see zones appear and before I know it I was beginning to realize this event was bigger than I thought. Friday, Saturday and Monday are the days were stages and music zones allow cultures to get a flavor of traditions and allow spectators to immerse into a cultural spectacle. Bright colours, smells of food and music from all genres were what met my senses on the Friday evening. This was more than culture. This was the biggest educational and stand for cultural appreciation that I have been part of. I was walking through an absolute gem of an event.

Culture is not just about the packaged elements. It is about behavior. It is about interaction. I watched Turkish men kiss each other on the cheeks and I watched a group of Indian men hold hands and laugh for 10 minutes while I was sitting eating some food. That is how they behave and for them it is normal. Sometimes we think culture is, due to the way we are educated about culture, is just the foods, music, clothing – but really its everything that makes a person from a certain area of a country and even a city.

Now I could talk about the buzz, the crowds and everything that goes. But on the Saturday evening at 5:15pm I was honoured to meet the organisers of the festival. With over 500,000 coming through the gates (that’s not including the parade on the Sunday) they took 2 and a half hours out and we spoke about everything that makes the event. It was amazing to be able to understand from the mind of the organisers the vision. The conclusion was – give culture the space to allow them to enjoy, escape and share moments together. I get it. And as I walked about it the large groups of every diverse community that Berlin had were evident…however I was not ready for the next day (in a good way – apart from my feet – they were sore). Again thank you to Nadja, Stephanie and Michael for the hospitality and the absolute openness regarding everything to do with the event. But also the excitement you have for my adventure.

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In terms of the next day – where to start. Put it this way – there was not a person who was staying in my hostel who was not going to the Carnival. It pushed up the prices of all accommodation by double in some respects. Like every big event this is what happens. Transport was being pushed to its capacity. And on the Sunday I saw why everything was being pushed. Streets full of dots – thousands on my horizon by 12pm. I had been around the area since 10am and was able to see the excitement building. I could tell that everyone that had been working on all of this for a year were determined to make it work. All of the floats, over 70 of them, had been visions for groups from around Berlin. Yes that’s right – this is a community event – but has an audience of 1 million people. The roots are there. The purpose is about celebrating cultures of the different communities represented in Berlin.

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Colour began to overpower my eyes. Feathers galore at 11am. Final touches of gold paint being applied to the bodies of artists who were Italian Statues. A Rock band sound checking like they were the warm up act for Guns and Roses. And then the Scottish group. I walked up to a gentleman in a kilt where I said “I hope you are a true Scotsman” he looked at me laughing and I thought point I realized – he was not Scottish. Briefly this story goes – the group were called the “Islaylanders”. They were all German. Some had never been to Scotland. Together they celebrate the St Andrew saltire of Scotland and Jamaica and the links – by basically drinking whisky and rum. Yes. I was standing at a float which included 2 pipe bands and Jamaican dancers who danced somehow to Scotland the Brave – I loved it. I actually was in my element and adopted by them. Sebastian thank you once again for the gift and the chat – you all were brilliant to meet! This gives you a flavor then that the parade was. Its about diversity and its about celebration.

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I witnessed Albanian dancing, Indian dancing, I saw the traditions of Turkistan and everything in between. Each culture has a story to tell. Each float was a chapter and each chapter was fascinating to witness. The images speak for themselves because if I did I would here for days. The parade lasted for 8 hours…and the energy never dipped. The crowd bought into everything. The mix of genres made it diverse but exciting because I never knew what was coming next. Apart from the music it was an opportunity to give a statement. Whether it was just cultural display or a political statement – this was the platform that that type of thing was allowed. It was a safe space. And you know what I LOVED THAT! Its about getting the balance but I saw all types of messages on the floats and it was the perfect place to do it.

Each float had energy. Each float had personality. Of course this is not an easy event to organise. But the one thing that the event has is the buy in of the community. Those that participate need this event. It needs to be in central Berlin event to get the message of there culture across and up to now it works. The city needs to continue to supporting what this event can do and bring to the city. Its not just about cultural growth its about the world descending to celebrate Berlin’s communities.

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One thing to take away…

Passion. The passion that comes from the floats. The groups participating. The 4,400 performers but importantly Nadja who is the head of the event. Her passion is without a doubt the reason it has became such a thing. So congratulations on taking the vision to make it work so well…

 

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