Welcome to Berlin. The counter-culture capital of Europe- and possibly the world. Weird is woven into the fabric of this city. When the Berlin wall that divided the city was up, West Germany implemented a series of incentives to draw citizens to live there that were attractive to many counter-culture types, such as draft/military service exemption. This created roots for the punk rock and electronic scene on both sides of the wall. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, two populations that had been divided for nearly three decades were facing an integration problem. As explained by Schofield and Rellensmann in their paper Underground Heritage: Berlin Techno and the Changing City: “Berlin’s renowned alternative scene…provided a mechanism for two separate communities of young people (the next generation of “Berliners”) to come together in a neutral environment…” Today this is evident in Berlin’s thriving electronic music and arts scene, but also in its diverse, international population. There is a grown-in “you-do-you” aspect of the culture. This was never more apparent to me than when I started dancing in public spaces. I immediately noticed people going out of their way to politely ignore me. They would look and then glance away as if attempting to provide me with privacy. This local sentiment was illustrated in an interaction I had one day with an older German man.
I was dancing in an U Bahn (subway) stop when I was approached this fellow. He came quite close and watched with an expression of enthusiasm on his face. Finally, he spoke in German and I stopped and apologized saying “mein Deutsch ist schlecht” (my German is bad.) He asked “is this ‘freestyle’?” We awkwardly muddled through the language barrier as I tried to explain what I was doing and another German man - who seemed to be a local from his attire and mannerisims- walked up and stood staring at the older fellow When the two of them spoke and it became clear that the younger man was concerned that the older fellow was crazy or harassing me. There was very much a sense that he came to tell the older fellow that he should leave the young lady alone to do her subway dancing in peace! Once that was sorted out, the older fellow managed to convey that he was asking permission to pay me a compliment. When I gave him a smile and a nod he said “you are FREE!!” with delight and waved me to go on with the dancing. The language barrier and the arrival of the train prohibited any further questions, but the lesson of the interaction was clear. This man was bold to approach me and other Berliners perceived his enthusiastic watching as an intrusion on my personal space.
In the video below you can see me dancing in an area of central Berlin by a canal. It is not an area with a great deal of tourists, but some do pass through. Off screen is a small group that is doing their best to act like they are not watching me, although one gentleman pulled out his phone and recorded for a minute before they moved on. The people who pass through the frame are typical of the passers-by in Berlin. Nothing to see here folks! Just people being people in Berlin :-)