SKAnta Claus is Coming to Berlin

I can’t listen to revival ska with a straight face. It is, almost unquestionably, terrible. And yet, it’s so goofy that it’s fun? A love-hate relationship, to be sure. And one that drove me to attend “SKAnta Claus 13”, a ska night at an East Berlin club, last night. Not only was this #13, but the club had previously hosted other ska bands — most of the posters on the walls were for past ska acts that came through. Ska never died in Berlin, apparently. What a weird and wonderful surprise.

I’ve been in Berlin since Tuesday (November 28). I had originally only planned to stay for 3 days, then move on to Prague for another 3 days, before landing in Wroclaw for a workshop at the Grotowski Institute. But I liked Berlin too much, so I stayed. I am finding it more and more difficult to determine what makes me like a city. It’s 90% gut, honestly. I felt it in Belfast, first — a sudden, unprompted realization that “this is a cool place” — and now in Berlin, as well. I stepped out of the U-bahn onto the street in front of my hostel and immediately felt engaged and excited. I hadn’t seen any of the city except for this single block, and yet…

Berlin is often described as dirty or grungy, and I both agree and disagree with that. There is no specific reason for that impression — the streets are not covered with trash (in fact, it looks cleaner than Paris )— but the energy of the city is still a bit grimy. I like grimy.

Berlin is my favorite city I’ve visited so far (excluding London because of my difficulties finding things to do there). I’ve already ranked other major cities I’ve visited on whether I would choose to live there, and for the most part, they’ve come up short or just paled in comparison to NY. I would live in London; I would live in Edinburgh, perhaps surprisingly, since it doesn’t qualify as “major world city” (over a million people, international, cosmopolitan); and I would live in Berlin. I would need to learn German to fully experience the city, get a job, watch theater, etc. but otherwise it’s great here. It has good food, good public transportation, good bars, good arts community, interesting architecture, plenty of Russian speakers for me to practice with, even the best hostel I’ve stayed in so far. (It’s cheap, too.) And all that without really any skyscrapers.

I’m also obsessed with the Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkt). Augsburg had one, too, and I managed to see it before I left, but Berlin has more, so I’ve been able to really spend time browsing and soaking up the holiday spirit. Gluhwein (mulled wine) is delicious, as are some Stollen (fruit bread), and plenty of the cookies and sweets. You can get fruit bread and holiday cookies in the States, of course, and mulled wine if you look hard enough, but the proliferation here is higher and charming. I’m a sucker for the Holiday Season, and it’s great to be surrounded by it in all its delicious forms. I’ve been told the market in Wroclaw is also great, so I look forward to comparing it against its Berlin cousins.

Speaking of, I’m off to Wroclaw tomorrow to return to my theater journey, and then the plan is to visit Prague and Vienna on the way back towards Italy, but we’ll see. I’m looking for workstays and workshops, and who knows what opportunities will come my way.

For now:

Berlin: 9/10. Keep skanking.