I stand alone, holding a half drunken margarita in one hand, and a microphone in the other. A cold rain splatters against my face, sending shivers down my spine. Was that shiver caused by the brisk Berlin air or by my nerves finally acknowledging that I’m about to perform karaoke to a crowd of a thousand foreign faces? I have yet to decide.
Not knowing much about the German capital outside of the usual tourist clichés, I’d been urged by a friend to visit Mauerpark on a Sunday for an unforgettable experience: public karaoke. Held at 3pm in the Bearpit, this public display of entertainment is managed by local icon Joe Hatchiban who provides a portable karaoke system to willing participants to perform to crowds in the thousands. I am shocked to see that on this day, even with the light shower of rain, the outdoor amphitheater is almost at max capacity.
We’d been warned by our AirBnB host to arrive early to find appropriate seating, and unfortunately the extra 30 minutes we allowed ourselves didn’t appear to have been enough. The place was overflowing! After painstakingly finding a seat, I spot a man stumbling through the crowd selling jars of what appears to be homemade margarita. Now, usually I wouldn’t advocate day drinking, but I know that without copious amounts of liquid courage, my vocal chords will refuse to cooperate. So, I order that copious amount of liquid courage.
“Drei, bitte!” I yell in broken accented German over the sounds of communal singsong.
I take the three plastic cups of alcohol in exchange for what I deem to be an inordinate amount of change, and down the drinks in quick succession, recoiling ever-so-slightly more with every passing sip.
As I begin to watch my competition, I take note of the diverse crowd this spectacle has attracted. A Norwegian mother operatically dedicates Happy Birthday to her daughter. An elderly man delivers an overconfident rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way in a mixture of German and broken English. Two young girls belt Uptown Funk, despite not knowing any lyrics other than the chorus. It brings together people who would otherwise have little in common: a bonding through music and shared humiliation.
My hand stiffens like a board after the final note of each performance, waving like a madman, trying to signal to Joe that I am ready to bare my soul, but I am now running out of time. The rain began to intensify and I can sense that the crowds were ready to disperse, until finally, our eyes meet. I have been summoned. Struggling to push through the mass of bodies, I wonder if it is too early to crowd surf. Definitely. Save for that after the performance.
Joe and I quickly exchange pleasantries as he sets up the equipment. I get the impression that Joe is not a local resident. He has no accent and little regard for the German language, so I attempt to bond over our shared foreignism. I tell him I am Australian, causing someone in the crowd to woo. I yell out “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”, if only to reinforce the stereotype that Australians are incredibly irritating tourists, and there are a few scattered “Oi, Oi, Oi” within the response. Excellent.
I take the microphone and scroll down to The Beatles on the portable karaoke system and pray that my ‘go-to’ is available. I select my song of choice, and the familiar sounds of “Twist and Shout” fill the arena. Nervous though I initially was, I am instantly instilled with a ‘Ferris Bueller-esque’ sense of confidence.
I’ve rehearsed this moment a thousand times. Every late night Singstar marathon, every drunken night out, every solo concert I’ve performed in my car. I have a carefully choreographed routine at this point. I thrash around, contorting my body whilst thrusting my hips. Every lyric is memorised, every high note is hit, every scream is replicated. I even encourage the audience to join in, and create a four-part harmony during the bridge.
We build towards the finale together, all screaming along in the rain, all drunk on alcohol or adrenaline or, dare I say it, admiration. I finish the song with a victorious fist in the sky, and a thunderous applause ensues. The King of Karaoke has claimed his throne.
We visited Mauerpark on May 14th, 2017. The Karaoke, as mentioned, was on at 3pm on a Sunday, but there’s plenty to do there any given day of the week! There were people playing basketball, soccer, and ultimate frisbee, street vendors selling food and drinks, proper clothing boutiques stalls stocking imported leather jackets and purses. There was even a flea market set up! I myself was able to buy an Iggy Pop vinyl AND a faux fur coat within a few minutes of each other!
The park itself is massive, and you could easily spend a few hours of your day wandering around. If you’re not game enough to try the street food, they have actual established cafes in the centre of the park, where you can grab a mini pizza and just lounge around on the grass. We were fortunate enough to be there on an incredibly sunny day, and we took the time to rest up and watch people play basketball for 30 minutes before making our way to the Bearpit.
The Bearpit also offers a lot of entertainment. Before the karaoke got set up, a magician was performing street magic there to a large group of people, so definitely get there slightly earlier if you can.
All in all, Mauerpark is a fantastic way to spend a Sunday in Berlin. It’s also fairly central. As I recall it was only about a 2 kilometre walk from the Memorial of the Berlin Wall, so we were able to visit both of them within the one day.
COMING SOON: FOOTAGE OF ME SINGING KARAOKE… I just have to find it first.
All photography courtesy of Ruby Clark, as always.