As you can probably tell from reading my blog, I love carnival and the fun, energy, dancing, mix of cultures and positive vibes that always come with it, and I want to go to as many carnivals in the world as possible in my life. I’d already been to a couple of different ones in England, and the one in Panama while I was living there, but when I saw an advert for Berlin Carnival pop up on a Caribbean website I was on, around January this year, I made the spontaneous decision that very day to pay a deposit for a costume (very typical of me to set my mind on something within 2 minutes of hearing about it and decide it must happen without really thinking about it much).
From what I could see online, there were two bands (carnival groups that follow a truck) going from England and the rest would be from Germany so I could only choose from those two, whereas for Notting Hill Carnival there are about 50 bands to choose from, all with different costumes. I decided my favourite costume for Berlin was the yellow one from Mas With A Difference who would be part of the big Carnival Fever band. The costumes for Notting Hill are about £200 and they include things like 2 meals and unlimited alcohol throughout the day, but this one was about £120 and didn’t include those things.
I had assumed someone would probably decide to come with me, maybe Hellen (my German friend who I met in Panama) or my sister, but as the weeks/months went by, I accepted that this was not going to happen and I would be doing it by myself. Obviously it’s not very normal to do carnival by yourself but I wasn’t worried or anything because I do quite a lot by myself and always seem to meet some people to hang out with, so I booked a 1-person hostel room at St Christoper’s Inn 5 minutes walk from Alexanderplatz, where I’d been told by the head of Mas With A Difference is where all the English carnival people stay.
The costumes were available to be picked up from Flora (the head of Mas With A Difference)’s house in good time, about a week before the carnival, and she was really friendly and said I should call her when I’m in Berlin if I want to go to any of the parties with her because I’d mentioned that I’d be by myself.
Obviously I’d chosen to fly with the cheapest airline, Easyjet, which meant that I could only carry hand baggage if I didn’t want to pay extra (which clearly I didn’t, I’m a student). Fitting enough clothes in for the pre-carnival events (beach bbq etc which I’ll talk about in a minute) AND the feathery costume was challenging, and the woman who searched my bag at security was a bit confused by the feathers, but I arrived fine in Berlin at about 8pm on Thursday and managed to figure out their weird train system to get me to Alexanderplatz station.
Obviously I was anticipating a 5 minute walk, and I’d drawn myself a map (something I’ve been doing since I was about 16 when I didn’t have Google Maps on my phone so had no other choice) which never fails, but this time it definitely failed. I was walking around getting all sweaty and stressed out and annoyed that I don’t speak German, for about half an hour. Eventually I found this hostel and I was really not in the mood to find out that it’s actually attached to a Belushi’s bar full of noisy backpackers and the “reception” is at one end of the bar. To be fair, my room was REALLY nice for a hostel and you couldn’t hear the party from there.
The first event on the Berlin Carnival schedule was a Yaad party (Yaad is some kind of German brand which makes clothes and events themed around Caribbean music), but I was too tired so just went to bed.
Normally when it’s carnival, God or whoever controls the weather obviously gets in the spirit because it’s almost always sunny, and it was no different here, so on Friday morning I put on a bikini and shorts and a vest top for Soca On The Beach, an event run by Carnival Fever. (Soca is music that comes from Trinidad and the other Caribbean islands and it’s what you hear at carnival). The trains weren’t so confusing by now and I found it fine (all the info was on the Facebook event) but when I walked in I did kind of think “hmm maybe I should have come with someone” because everyone was drinking with their friends and I wasn’t really sure what to do.
Entry was 8 euros and there were actually a lot of members of the public there too, who had no idea about soca, to use the swimming pool in the lake, which I thought was a very cool idea and we should have one on the River Thames!
On my right from where I was standing to take this photo was a sand area with a bar and a DJ booth.
After about half an hour I got talking to two girls who immediately adopted me when they found out I was there by myself. They’re from Manchester and their parents are from Montserrat in the Caribbean. One of them, Condicia, was happy they’d found me because I was happy to go swimming with her when her friend didn’t want to.
We left at about 8pm after dancing a bit and just relaxing in the sun listening to the music, and the plan was for us to go back to our hostels and have a nap, have dinner etc and then meet up later for the after-party, but (I think I’m a granny) the thought of my bed after being at Soca On The Beach all day was too appealing so I didn’t go out again that night.
On Saturday there was a similar event, a bbq also run by Carnival Fever in an outdoor area they’d hired. This time entry was free but they charged quite a lot for the drinks. I chilled with Flora from Mas With A Difference for a bit and then met up with the Manchester girls:
We left at the end so there were 100s of soca fans all going to the station at the same time, and a lot of alcohol had been consumed (not by me) so I guess it was going to be a funny journey. On our carriage there was a hen party of German white girls, and one soca girl asked them who the bride is, and said to her “come here, I have a present for you” so she came over and the soca girl told her that her friend sitting next to her (a soca guy) is an English stripper. Basically this resulted in some very sexual dancing involving the bride-to-be and the guy from London and we were singing and shouting etc as this was happening. The normal people on the carriage must have been very confused.
I was determined not to have a nap in case I didn’t wake up, because that night there was going to be a party/concert in a giant venue (2000 people apparently) with a performance by Machel Montano who is basically the undisputed king of soca who’s been making hits since before I was born.
We’d heard there was going to be a big queue so I met up with the Manchester girls at the venue at 11 and we headed straight for the front, by the stage, when we got in so that we’d be in the best place when Machel came on. Before he came on it was a regular soca club night but everyone was in a better mood than normal because it was carnival weekend. Eventually he came on at about 2am and, as expected, everyone was squashed onto each other trying to get as close to the front as possible. He was one of the best performers I’ve ever seen and his energy was amazing, jumping up and down on the stage, dancing and waving his Trinidad flag, and his personality was funny too.
It was so hot in there and there were so many people that half way through his performance I noticed that my fingers had gone wrinkly because of dehydration, and I thought that was probably a sign that I should drink some water, so I managed to push my way out of the jumping crowd to the bar, where I found Nicole, who I’ve known since I was about 14 and is one of those people I’d call a big sister. She’s about 10 years older than me and used to give me advice about boys etc when I was younger. It’s so weird for both of us that we now are sometimes in the same parties, and she’s always like “go to bed, what are you doing here?” etc, but anyway I danced with her and her friends for the rest of the night:
I fitted in about 5 hours of sleep (normally not enough for me but somehow carnival is different, I think the music keeps me awake) and walked out of the hostel and to the train station in my feather costume. The carnival isn’t as well known here as Notting Hill Carnival is in London, so I think a lot of people had no idea where I might have been going, and they were definitely talking about me in German, but I don’t really care.
I bumped into some other Carnival Fever people when I was trying to find the truck (Flora had told me it’s the last truck so you just have to walk down the line of trucks until the end) and we waited in the shade together because the truck hadn’t actually arrived yet (in typical Caribbean style of being late for everything).
I think the truck arrived at about 1.30pm (we arrived at midday) and by this time there were a lot of people from the band there. My Manchester friends weren’t playing mas (that means going in costume) so I had to find some new friends. The truck wasn’t moving yet because we had to wait for the truck in front to go, so everyone was just taking photos and talking and drinking etc. I spotted two girls with different costumes from everyone else, and they looked quite nice so I decided to make conversation with them about their costumes.
They said they decided to pay for a tshirt (basically you pay 20 euros for a Carnival Fever tshirt which gives you permission to come behind the truck all day) and make their own costume, which took them about 100 hours so they said. They were really friendly and said this was their first time at a carnival. One of them is a fan of dancehall and soca music but where she lives (somewhere in the North of Germany) there aren’t many parties for that, and her friend came with her because she liked the idea of the costume etc:
I was with Tanja and Anne for the whole time on the road and we had loads of fun together. The spectators were having a great time too and joining in however possible (one of the reasons why I love carnival). For example, it was obvious that we were all hot and sweaty (it was 30 degrees that day) so people were throwing water on us from their balconies:
I drank about 3.5 litres of water and didn’t even need the toilet the whole day because I was sweating so much (lovely I know). I have absolutely no idea how people were drinking alcohol. As we passed the tiered seating area (maybe for important people, or maybe for judging, I’m not sure), they all stood up and danced and clapped and waved, which I thought was so nice. It’s cool how the fact that we were all going crazy and having fun and waving our flags could kind of spread happiness to other people.
The usual carnival antics went down (naughty dancing between girls and guys etc) and by the end (8.30pm) my feet felt like they were about to fall off. I hadn’t eaten all day (precautionary carnival measure taken every time to make sure I don’t need the toilet on the road) so we made a very good group decision to go to the nearest pizza restaurant. It was quite posh so I’m not sure what they thought about our costumes, but pizza was the only thing that mattered at that moment:
The train journey home was a bit of a nightmare because we had to change trains loads of times, but Tanja and Anne were really sweet and decided to come with me all the way to my hostel to make sure I got there safely and then go back to their friend’s house where they were staying. I don’t think I even need to state that I didn’t go to the after party.
Overall it was a great weekend and I’ll probably come again next year if I have time/money, and if you think it sounds fun but you don’t know about soca, I would suggest that you start listening to soca mixes on Youtube now to prepare yourself for next year and make sure you come 😀