Saturday, May 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes At Karneval der Kulturen

Ever since I can remember I've loved flea markets and garage sales. When I was growing up in Tucson I would often "borrow" a handful of quarters out of the pocket of my dad's jeans as he took his Saturday late morning nap. I would then hit all of the garage sales in the neighborhood. For some reason, there were always a lot of them, often run by the same people, several of them giving me a massive discount for being such a great customer. Because of my inborn love I pretty much assumed I would also love the Strassenfeste (street fairs) they have here in Berlin in the spring and summer. It took me a few years of denial before I realized that, actually, I don't like them one bit.

Why? Because they are a cheap, greasy, outdoor equivalent of a mall. You might see the fancy, shiny sandstone bricks of some new mall and think "Geez, I'd like to go there." But when you do you find all of the same chain stores you find in every other mall in any other town. Strassenfeste are the same: though they might have a fancy name or theme, they are always basically stand after stand of people selling overpriced import/export jewelry, dried fruit and rastafarian wigs. Imbiss after imbiss busy themselves with dishing out greasy China Pfanne or Bratwurst or Crepes. The actual theme of the fair doesn't seem to matter one bit. Karneval der Kulturen is one of these Strassenfeste and is (literally) around the corner from our apartment.

A festival that is supposed to celebrate world cultures and how multi-cultural Berlin is, Karneval der Kulturen is basically an excuse for the yokels and hillbillies from the neighboring German states to come in by droves on the train so that they can get drunk on cheap Capirinihas while stumbling down the streets of Berlin. Every year, at the street festival and the big parade held on Sunday, they try to give us the feeling we are living in Rio with Bali just around the corner. The largest non-German ethnic groups in Berlin are Turks, Arabs, Russians, Poles and (in the East) Vietnamese. And yet I've never noticed any of these cultures being particularly celebrated at this supposed multi-cultural fest....Still, I did have fun strolling through Blücherstrasse (a street that is usually filled with speedy traffic) with Baby Li while the set up for the festival yesterday. No one was really there and not much was open for business yet, so it was truly a behind the scenes glimpse.

"And who knows?" I thought. "Maybe I'll take a quick stroll there tomorrow and pick up some Quarkbällchen."

I have a bit of a weakness for Quarkbällchen which are basically deep fried donut holes covered in powder sugar that are made of, you guessed it, Quark (Quark being a dairy product with an oddly science fiction-esque name that is like a thick sour cream/Greek yogurt and is used in casseroles, as a sauce, for dessert and cake, sometimes even for building. Quark. God bless ye...)

Or I could get some Dutch French Fries with spicy satay sauce. My ex-boyfriend was Dutch Indonesian. Once, he even talked me into eating Pommes Frites Orlog (French Fry War) which is French fries with satay sauce and mayonnaise. And I am NOT a mayonnaise person, not even on sandwiches really. But my first marriage had just ended badly and I was crazy in love and he probably could have even talked me into chopping off my little finger if he had wanted to (I was even going to move to New Jersey with him, of all places, because he wanted to go to grad school there...Thank god that didn't work out!) Anyway, our relationship didn't really end badly, it just sort of fizzled out after a couple of years. Still, I will never, ever eat mayonnaise on French fries again, even with satay sauce (though I do have to admit it wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be...).

I did take a quick stroll through KdK today but I left very quickly sans fried French or quark because, well, it was a total trashfest just as I knew it would be. But it was cool to take the little series of photos when it was still so new and unsoiled. And I won't be forgetting it soon....

...because they sprayed painted the names of the various vendors and stands in hot pink paint right on the asphalt of Blücherstrasse....


just something said...

I love the photo of the french fry man, I love that he's in mid chew with one eye closed, like really enjoying it. But he's made of french fries! I'm sure this statue would mortify any passing french fry person. But now he's my screensaver.

Karen/Small Earth Vintage said...

Sounds a lot like New York street fairs. The first one of the year might be great--good reason to get your sausage and peppers or elephant ear fix. But after that, they're all the same. I'm not a big fan of street fairs, carnivals, etc. anyway because they're usually during the summer and thus hot, and crowded. However, I am down with the Quark! That sounds really good to a Greek yogurt fan like me. (But I have to tell you, I *am* a fan of french fries with mayo!)

Schaufensterbabe said...

You would have a lot of company here in Europe since most people prefer mayo on French fries to ketchup. You are the first non-expat American I've ever heard of who likes it though. :)

Schaufensterbabe said...

Just something, thanks. Cool screensaver. ;)


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