A Carnival of Cultures | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.06.2003
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A Carnival of Cultures

One million people gather in Berlin for a four-day cultural festival that puts the spotlight on the city's diversity. Now in its eighth year, the fest includes a parade with over a 100 floats from 80 countries.


Berlin's Carnival of Cultures sizzles.

Berlin's Carnival of Cultures, taking place this weekend in the capital city, is part of a growing trend of multicultural carnivals in major cities across Europe. Events inspired by the Notting Hill Carnival in London and Rotterdam Summer Carnival are now popping up in bastions of diverse culture across the continent.

But Berlin's event is unique largely due to to the number of nationalities participating in the four-day event. In 1993, the "Workshop of Cultures" began in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood. The project was conceived to encourage a dialogue between people of different nationalities, religions and culture in the city. The result is the pinnacle of the capital's cultural events: the Carnival of Cultures.

Karneval der Kulturen in Berlin, Gruppe Amasonia

During the event, residents and guests in Berlin are treated to an broad cultural program featuring 4,000 artists from all around the world, though most are immigrants who have long lived in Germany. The high point of the festival is on Whit Sunday (June 8), when a parade featuring 105 floats from 80 different countries winds its way through the city's Kreuzberg neighborhood, long home to the city's Turkish community and bohemians.

Tolerance and diversity

"The Carnival of Cultures reporesents a tolerant and, above all, diverse Berlin at its most beautiful and colorful," said Marie-Luise Beck, the federal government's commissioner for foreigners' affairs, who has participated in the event for years.

Among the highlights of the street festival are music, dance and theater programs including a Romany theater group, Pralipe -- the Romany word for "brotherhood" -- which is going to be performing a play called "Scheherezade." The piece was the result of a collaboration with a theater in Spain and has also been staged in Seville. Theater Pralipe's director, Michael Krone, has put together an ensemble that includes artists from seven countries and five different faiths. They will perform the piece in Romany, the mother tongue of the gypsies. "But don't worry," Krone told Deutsche Welle, "People have no trouble understanding it because Romany is a very visual language and the actors seek to express it through gesticulations."

A growing audience

For Berlin, and especially the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain neighborhoods, the event is more than mere cultural politics: It's also an economic opportunity. The event's more than 1 million visitors spend considerable sums at the cities hotels and restaurants. Last year, 500,000 people attended the parade alone; this year organizers are anticipating 800,000.

Barbara John, the former commissioner for foreigners' affairs in the city-state of Berlin, is serving this year as the guest of honor at the event. John praised the work of the organizers, which is led mainly by volunteers. "Without them, the money the groups need for their floats and costumes wouldn't come through," she said. "These people are (volunteering) because of the joy it brings them ... It's a huge gift for the immigrants as well as locals in our city."