Monday, May 10, 2010

Sundays in Berlin

And on the seventh day Berliners woke up hungover; and they partook of Frühstück, for much Aqua vitae had been consumed and their bodies were much fatigued by the songs of DJ David. And lo behold, the gates of Mauerpark flea market were flung back; and the people rejoiced, for the market was filled with many cheap things. And they saw that it was good.


Berliners are not known for their religious fervour and are, like most capital people, fairly tolerant of other people’s beliefs. It was, after all, Friedrich the Great who said  “everyone should be saved according to their own fashion”. He incidentally also famously exclaimed “A German singer! I should as soon expect to get pleasure from the neighing of my horse!”, yet Germans apparently still think he’s great. They are a very forgiving people, those Teutons. Maybe this  is why they prefer progressive house. Devout they are not though, and yet they keep their Frühstück appointment with pious punctuality. This is partly because Sunday is a day of rest, as most shops are closed, and partly, I suspect, because a ton of toasty Brotchen drenched in enough butter helps soothe the previous night’s excesses.

“Frühstück”, literally “early piece”, is what Germans call breakfast, although at weekends - and reflecting the capital’s nocturnal inclinations - it can be anything from brunch to an early dinner. On Fridays and Saturdays, Berliners’ habits come to resemble those of a vampire, not coming out until Cinderella and other pumpkins are safely tucked in, and consequently most establishments serve breakfast until late afternoon. And for those committed clubers that no longer inhabit our time zone, the Schwarzes Café, a former anarchist haunt, serves breakfast 24 hours a day. 

A “Frühstück” is traditionally a spread consisting of cold cuts, cheese, jam and other additions worthy of a Wind in the Willows picnic extravaganza. Often they carry national themes, so that a French one will contain croissant and some Camembert and an Italian will feature mozzarella and tomato salad, and perhaps some proscuitto or mortadella. Entweder Oder, a favourite establishment, reflects more faithfully Italian customs by offering instead an espresso, a glass of water and a cigarette. This variation is also known as the “Existentialist Breakfast” in other cafés.

You will have plenty of opportunities to dabble in ontological arguments and indulge in some dominical ennui, as the average Frühstück lasts around 3 hours. Add two hours if it is somewhere popular ( i.e. anywhere in Berlin). And another two if it’s outside, just to remind you that yes, it is the temperate climate, not the tropical. After you have finally managed to harpoon the waiter in the sea of fellow brunchers  - setting yourself on fire does not always work - you can then proceed to the second stage of the Berlin ritual - the flea market.

The Flohmarket or flea market’s place in the Berliner psyche deserves a blog on its own. That the burghers of this fair city like flea markets is a bit of an understatement, like claiming that Gollum was quite fond of jewellery or that Tiger Woods has a soft spot for cocktail waitresses. Berliners, perennial part-time hippies that they are, never really bought into Capitalism, but are more than happy to grasp the invisible hand as long as it has been through a couple of hands already. Boy do Berliners like second-hand. And on Sundays, when all first hand shops are closed, they will flock to the seemingly unending array of Flohmärkte that sprout round the city. They spring up everywhere there is flat bit of concrete for stalls. In my previous flat I came back one day to discover that the tenement’s square had been taken over by one of these enterprises. Next it will be my balcony. I will open it one day only to discover that it’s now covered in GDR relics and kitsch copies of David Hasselhoff singles. Germans have yet to discover that the Hoff is immune to irony.

It would not surprise me, as I happen to live next door to one of the biggest and busiest flea markets in Berlin. Flohmarkt am Mauerpark offers everything from pirated CDs to the omnipresent Hoff, from raffish paraphernalia to boxes of nails. Boxes of rusty nails. Although no hammers, presumably so as to not give potential buyers any ideas. There is even a permanent stand that houses trifles of all sorts, a mausoleum for discarded trinkets and also, it seems, a final resting place for discarded mementoes. Cheap photo albums are on offer if you don’t feel uncomfortable at being confronted with the images of its previous owners. In my case it is enough to make me want to order the Existential breakfast.