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Scene in Berlin

Nights are long in event-happy Berlin

For better or for worse the heady days of 1920s decadence made Berlin synonymous with excessive nightlife. But as Tamsin Walker finds out, there is more to an evening's entertainment than drink, song and dance.

Scene in Berlin

I have it on teenage authority that there's no point in going out in Berlin before midnight. Apparently there's nothing happening. But then, there's going out, and there's going out. And evidently those two things are worlds apart.

I read yesterday that more than 50 percent of foreign visitors come to the German capital in anticipation of wild evening entertainment, and I find it hard to believe that they all sit in their hotel bedrooms waiting for the clock to strike 12, donning their gladrags.

Fact is, there is an unfathomable amount that goes on here once the sun has dipped below the horizon. Besides the bars, restaurants, clubs, parties and excessive cultural repertoire, Berlin also serves up an innovative, if baffling, number of what it aptly terms Lange Nächte (Long Nights).

There are long nights of science, which see dozens of institutes open their doors to visitors from late afternoon until one o'clock in the morning, long nights of opera and theater, and others given over entirely to choral music, swimming, diving, church, piano, further education, human rights films, reading and the list goes on. And on.

Out of the ordinary

A museum lit up in pink

A Berlin museum: Bright lights of nightlife

What strikes me about these events is not so much that they exist, although they do feel a bit like a fad that refuses to fizzle out, but that they are such crowd-pullers. The Lange Nacht der Museen, which recently opened the 2011 season of long nights, attracted some 30,000 people, many of whom are already regular museum-goers.

Braving the sub-zero temperatures of a habitual Berlin January evening in order to look at pictures and artifacts they have likely enough seen before and could see again any old day of the week, evidently holds some appeal that is lost on me. Not that I don't like museums, because I do, but I don't think they gain much just because it is dark outside.

One woman I spoke to said I was wrong. There is nothing special about any old day of the week, she told me, whereas a long night is an opportunity to meet friends and look at beautiful things together. What she particularly liked was the fact that it is "an event." Others clearly share her enthusiasm for that word and what it appears to represent.

Addicted to events?

This May will Berlin will celebrate its first-ever long night of the family. Using 1001 Nights as a vague template, the idea was to get a modest 101 family-friendly venues to keep their doors open until the wee hours.

A shop front lit up from inside, people walking past

The long night of shopping wasn't a hit among Berliners

As it turns out, there have been so many applications from businesses, organizations and charities wishing to take part, that the planners will probably have to rethink their concept. And four months before the big night, families are already registering to take part.

Apart from the obvious attraction for kids who get to stay up late doing things and going places that would ordinarily be off limits, the organizers say it is the "event character" of their project that appeals.

So there we have it: Berliners love events. Maybe that is a throw-back to the fall of the Berlin Wall, or maybe it's just because they quite like the idea of someone else laying on a program of activities which span the entire evening.

I confess it's not really my bag. My visit to the long night of the busy museums left me vowing not to repeat the experience, but to visit them when they are quiet, which on Berlin's clock, is first thing in the morning. So I left - around midnight - and on my way home I saw a many a fresh-faced teenager for whom the night was still plenty young.

Author: Tamsin Walker

Editor: Kate Bowen

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