Sing-along Berlin! | Scene in Berlin | DW | 19.11.2010
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Scene in Berlin

Sing-along Berlin!

Is Berlin's status as Europe's unofficial Capital of Cool under threat as the city rides an enthusiastic wave of karaoke fever? DW's Gavin Blackburn and the rest of the city certainly don't think so.

Scene in Berlin

Karaoke has been around for a long time and, for many, doesn't figure too highly on the list of Credible Pastimes. The craze for singing badly to your favorite pop songs started in Japan, spread throughout Europe in the early 1990s and has been pretty much a drunken joke ever since.

In the UK, where I come from, karaoke was one of those things you always went to but never participated in. Some balding, middle-aged, former cruise ship entertainer would set up his TV screen and piffling speakers and stumble through a couple of Tom Jones numbers until the tipsy housewives were brave enough to teeter to the stage and warble their way through "I Will Survive." Woeful in the extreme.

However, in the last year or so, Berliners have rediscovered and reinvented karaoke to the extent that it is rapidly gaining legendary status as a credible and fun way to spend an evening. While its popularity may surprise many, given the city's reputation for being three-quarters full with po-faced hipsters who try to out-bore each other at parties, it's not all that much of a shock to me. I have seen the cool facade before.

Every now and again, the real personality of Berliners flashes through.

The fall of the cool facade

I recall being at a see-and-be-seen party a couple of years back where all those who weren't making some token effort to vaguely sway to the monotonous pseudo-techno music, were standing around the fringes like mourners at a state funeral.

The DJ decided, for reasons unknown even to eminent scientists, to play "I've Had the Time of my Life" from "Dirty Dancing." It was as if the entire club had received a massive electric shock. The zombified clubbers on the dance floor suddenly sprang to life, while those morose shop-window dummies around the edges leapt onto the dance floor like someone had just whacked them on the bottom with a spade. I myself stood nodding sagely in the corner, safe in the knowledge that Berliners aren't really as cool as they would have us all think.

Therefore karaoke's success here is scarcely surprising. In the summer months, locals amass in Prenzlauer Berg's Mauerpark in their thousands to take part in the daytime open-air karaoke, which has now taken on stadium-like proportions. Dedicated karaoke bars - bars which run regular karaoke nights - are springing up in numbers which could even rival the dog piles on the city's streets.

Bill Kaulitz from Tokio Hotel

Fancy yourself as the next Tokio Hotel? At a karaoke bar, you can be your favorite star - at least for a night

The moment of conversion

"Come on, it'll be fun. It's like being a pop star for a night!" enthused a pal of mine, eagerly trying to convince me to join her at one of Berlin's most popular karaoke hang-outs, Monster Ronsons. It was Sunday night and at this time, as an alternative to hiring a private karaoke cabin, you can also sing on stage. So, I went along not expecting very much and came away a 100-percent karaoke convert.

The only song I know I can sing reasonably well is "Mack the Knife" by Bobby Darin and, figuring that if I were to go on the stage at all, I might as well not make a spectacle of myself.

"Given that you're wearing a sailor shirt and knickerbockers, some might argue it's already too late for that," quipped my friend shortly before mysteriously acquiring something vaguely resembling a black eye.

Finally, after about 14 bracing beers and what seemed like an eternity, my name was called and away I went. Standing there under the spotlights, clicking my fingers and occasionally swinging my hips, I might well have been in the Rat Pack. I didn't need the lyrics; the stage - and the song - were all mine.

As I hit the big finish high note at the end of the song, to say the applause was rapturous would have been an understatement. I never heard such whooping and cheering for anything I'd done since the day I threw a tennis ball at Mrs. Murphy in seventh grade French class.

The Berlin touch

And this is where karaoke differs in Berlin: Whether you can sing or barely croak through your song of choice, the assembled audience will clap and cheer and dance along to your efforts, so even those with the most miserable of singing voices needn't feel embarrassed to have a go.

It's just typical of Berlin to take something tatty and turn it into something quite wonderful. Now if only they could work the same magic on "Dirty Dancing."

Gavin's dreams of a career change were dashed when a talent agent advised him that touring a one-man show was fine, but touring with only one song would be unwise.

Editor: Kate Bowen

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