Category Archives: Travel

Mauerpark flea market and karaoke

I’ve been to flea markets before, but never one so festive and absolutely overflowing with stuff. I would describe Berlin’s Sunday Flohmarkt am Mauerpark as a weekly festival. As well as stalls which appear to go on forever, selling a wonderful mix of old and new goods, there are musicians performing in the open grassy area with people dancing and having picnics. And then there is the famous public karaoke amphitheatre where anyone, no matter what their skill level, can have a turn in the spotlight, singing to hundreds of supportive spectators.

History
Mauerpark literally means “Wall Park”, because it used to be part of the Death Strip – the no-man’s land of the Berlin Wall. When the wall fell in 1989, the area was designated as a public space and made into a park. A section of the graffiti-covered wall still stands in the park, one of many pieces of the wall around Berlin that serve as a reminder of the city’s history. The flea markets began in 2004 and the karaoke sessions began in 2009.

Markets
Walking through the endless stalls, I said to my fiancé “wow I really wish I could furnish and decorate a whole house just from these markets”. There was new and old furniture, light fittings, artwork, candelabras, pretty vintage china – you name it, you can find it. I also felt like if I lived in Berlin I would never need to go to a regular clothes shop ever again, as there really are stalls selling every type of dress, shoe, hat, jumper, trouser, warm coat etc that anyone could ever want. If I didn’t have tight luggage restrictions, I would have been tempted to buy a whole new (recycled) wardrobe of clothes (and maybe an actual wardrobe). Costumes abounded – I saw wigs, military uniforms, and dirndls. Other random things for sale included old car number plates, old street signs, bikes, a lot of vinyl records, and vintage costume jewellery. There were also some really cool craft stalls including hand-made jewellery and clothes.

Food
I think I could have spent the whole day at Mauerpark. Wandering around, there is always the smell of a food stall just around the corner. There were the staple Berlin currywurst sausage stalls and Turkish food stalls, as well as freshly baked pizza-like cheesy tarts, traditional German baked goods, and something new for us – quark. We saw people walking around with coloured layers of yummy-looking stuff in a cup with fruit on top and decided we needed to try it. We found the stall which looked like an ice cream stall, but instead of many flavours of ice cream, it had many flavours of quark. I chose coconut, banana and white chocolate, with fruit salad and white chocolate pieces on top. It was delicious. It kind of tasted like creamy thick Greek yoghurt, but less tangy. Wikipedia says it is made by heating soured milk until it starts to coagulate then straining out the liquid. I’ve seen plain quark used like sour cream on jacket potatoes. My fiancé also got a beer and we went to the karaoke amphitheatre to see who was singing.

Karaoke
Hundreds, maybe up to a thousand people were crammed into the stone amphitheatre seats watching brave contenders come out and sing live. The first girl we watched sang “Yellow” by Coldplay. She started off quite quiet, but the audience cheered her on and she gradually got more confident and started to really get into it, albeit a bit off-key. The audience just loved the next girl, Natalia, who strutted her stuff and moved her hips to “Toxic” by Britney Spears. She made a good go of singing it too. A suavely-dressed French guy was up next and sang “Life is Life” by Opus, a song popular at sports games. I’m thinking maybe next Sunday I might have a go myself!

Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is on Bernauer Straße 63-64 and is open every Sunday from 8am to 6pm. The closest station is Bernauer Straße on the U-8.

Oktoberfest 2013: My experience and tips

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My fiancé and me at Oktoberfest 2013

Wow. What I thought was going to be an over-hyped anti-climax was a fantastic weekend of close-to-civilised merriment, German culture, festive trachten (costumes) and, of course, delicious flowing beer. And that’s saying something, as I usually don’t drink beer. I also discovered there is a lot to know about and organise before you go, so I wanted to share my experience and tips to help out others.

What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich, Germany and millions of people come from around the world to dress up, dance and drink lots of beer in themed tents. It was first held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of a local prince and princess.

My Oktoberfest tips

  • Try and book a table in a tent. If you can’t book one on an official tent website, have a look on eBay. You may think it looks expensive to pay €400 for one table, but that is for 10 people and includes €30 worth of food and drink vouchers each. It means you can get there later, avoid queues, and sit in a nice area of the tent.
  • If you really don’t want to book a table, either go during the week, or get to your tent of choice at 6.30am or 7am to queue for a table on the weekend.
  • Drink Radler, a mix of lemonade and beer, if you’re not a big beer fan, or you don’t want to get too drunk. The only drawback is they cost the same as a full 1 litre beer (about €9), despite having less beer in them. Alcohol-free beer is also available.
  • If you don’t speak German, I suggest downloading a German dictionary app on your cellphone to look up food on the menus, or make some German friends to help you out!
  • As well as enjoying the beer tents, make sure you check out the awesome rides and games in the amusement park.
  • Take cash as you cannot use credit cards in the tents or at the stalls and amusement rides.
  • If you are buying your costumes, shop around for dirndls (women’s costumes) under €60 and lederhosen (men’s costumes) under €100. If you’re shopping in Munich, shops a bit further from the city centre are cheaper – I saw dirndls for about €40 on Haberlstraße near Goetheplatz.
  • Ladies – make sure you tie your apron strings to correspond with your relationship status. Front right means in a relationship, front left means single, and front centre means you’re a virgin. Tying it at the back means you’re a widow, or a beer server.

My experience
My fiancé and I were lucky enough to be invited to Munich by a lovely German friend we had met in Pisa, Italy (that’s another story) for the first weekend of Oktoberfest. She took us trachten shopping in Berlin a few days earlier, which was an awesome experience in itself. My friend and I had endless fun trying on various cuts of dirndl, until I found a vintage one with the perfect amount of cleavage at the reasonable price of €45. We were a bit shocked at the prices of the lederhosen, so my fiancé decided to just buy the h-shaped braces to attach to some other shorts.
Our journey to Munich began at 4.20am on Friday, when we hopped on the sumptuous ICE train with our bargain €26 tickets – more civilised times cost up to €125 each! We lounged and napped on the comfy leather chairs until 11.30am when we arrived in München (German word for Munich). As soon as we got off the train we saw people wearing dirndls and lederhosen, and every second shop was selling them, even though Oktoberfest didn’t officially begin until the next day. I realised I had got a good price for mine, as most of the dirndls were between €70 to €150.

Oktoberfest day 1
On Saturday we woke up to a beautiful morning, and a traditional Oktoberfest breakfast of beer and pretzels which our German hosts had prepared! The combination of strong coffee and beer first thing was dizzying but delicious! My friend and I spent an hour putting our hair into complicated traditional-style braids before everyone was ready to head for the Weisn (a nickname for the festival) grounds.
It was overwhelming arriving at the expansive area filled with enormous temporary fairground rides and giant beer tents and biergartens. We felt like we fit right in, seeing and smiling at all the other people in trachten. Arriving at midday as we did meant no chance of getting a table in one of the tents, but our German friends had plans to take us to a cute shady biergarten just outside the Weisn area. We met up with other New Zealand and German friends and got our first round of Maß – 1 litre jugs of beer. Or in my case I ordered Radler, a delicious mix of beer and lemonade popular with ladies and anyone who doesn’t want to get drunk too fast. All the beer served at Oktoberfest has to be between 6 and 8 percent alcohol so one Maß of beer is the equivalent of 5 or 6 New Zealand standard drinks or closer to eight UK drink units. I think I had three jugs of Radler on Saturday, which was a good amount spread out over about six hours. In the evening we explored the Weisn grounds – had a dance in a cocktail tent, went on the bumper cars, shot some targets and watched our friends do a vertical fear fall. After drinking all day everyone was keen to get home early-ish, have some food and go to bed.

Oktoberfest day 2
On Sunday our friends had reserved a table in Löwenbrauhaus tent. It was unbelievably awesome! We had to be there by midday to get the table, which was up on a raised area far away from the rowdy drunken tourists (mainly Australians and New Zealanders), and with a great view of the 20-something-piece live band/orchestra. I decided it was time I had a proper 1 litre of beer. It was actually really delicious and easy to drink. I think German beer must be especially good. And all the Oktoberfest beers are brewed in Bavaria – the region of Germany where Munich is.
I was feeling pretty tipsy after one full Maß, and really getting into the songs our German friends were teaching us. “Ein prosit, ein prosit, gemütlichkeit” was a favourite, meaning “a toast, a toast, a cosy time”. Another one was something about jumping and swimming and had an easy “la la la la la” part in it. After that I stuck to Radlers, but others who carried on with full beer felt the consequences!
We ended our day on the haunted house ride in the Oktoberfest grounds. It was cheesy but fun!