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Why Berlin's parties are such hard work

Gero Schliess / alsSeptember 25, 2016

Party fun? Hardly! In Berlin, parties are all about power and money - especially the lobby events. See and be seen - that's what it's all about. DW columnist Gero Schliess learned just how stressful that can be.

Sebastian Frevel with Gero Schließ Copyright: DW/G. Schließ
Image: DW/G. Schließ

"Berlin is no world-class metropolis," I was astounded to read recently in "Cicero." The political magazine hit Berliners where it hurts the most - in their self-confidence at being the center of the universe.

"Cicero" made the claim based on Berliners' lack of effort. Money is not made in the capital city, but in Hamburg or Frankfurt, the magazine said. "Those who work doubly hard, have only half the fun. That's the complete opposite of how it is in Berlin," the magazine wrote.

Lobbing and political events in Berlin

Peer Steinbrück (l) and Gero Schließ, Copyright Konzerthaus Berlin
Peer Steinbrück (left) and Gero Schliess enjoyed the Konzerthaus season openingImage: Konzerthaus Berlin

Such jibes poke fun at Berlin's party image. But those like "Cicero" who get upset about such things do not realize what hard work attending parties in Berlin can be - especially the lobby and political events thrown by the industry, political parties, foundations and media.

And what makes the matter even more sweat-inducing is that you have to juggle both roles - hosting and being a guest.

One example is the "Seeheimer Kreis," or Seeheim Circle - an association within the Social Democratic Pary (SPD) that tends to represent more of the right wing of the party. The group invited people to a summer event which, to the untrained eye, would appear to have been a party.

But for Sebastian Frevel, managing director of the consulting company AdvicePartners, it's all in a day's work. He attends some 50 events a year, sometimes going to two or three on a given evening. Together with his colleagues, Frevel advises companies and helps them gain footing in political circles.

Making a mark and polishing one's image are key

Gero Schließ
Berlin 24/7: Correspondent Gero Schliess writes every week about life in Berlin

Even after a long day in the office, Frevel still jumps into the fray in the evening. The business of politics is a "total competition in gaining attention," he said, explaining why there are so many lobby events in Berlin. Beyond just getting one's foot in the door, the events "help to polish one's image," he said.

Frevel ends up spending several hours with the members of the Seeheim Circle. He wants the people to know that he "belongs to the club." Of course, he's also interested in gleaning information and meeting new people.

Just a few streets over, the nearly written-off Loewe, a German television manufacturing company, invites guests to the elegant spaces in the Unter den Linden 10 building. There, their posh, state-of-the-art televisions are on display, complemented by a live band and a host of celebrities, such as German-Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara. The message is clear: Loewe is alive and well.

Bavaria's state representative office in Berlin, however, doesn't even have to send such a message when it opens it doors for an Oktoberfest party. Here, one blusteringly offers up a healthy dose of Bavarian tradition. And, as the night rolls on, with beer stein in hand, one can say a thing or two about Chancellor Merkel and her refugee policies.

Kimberly Emerson, wife of the US Ambassador to Germany, with Schließ, Copyright: US Embassy
American fashion, German style: with Kimberly Emerson, wife of the US Ambassador to GermanyImage: US Botschaft

Events such as these happen all the time in Berlin, with the hosts aiming to appeal to their clientele. Marie Louise Berg's communications agency is one that helps them to that end. Her company computer system contains over 5,000 relevant addresses, with 2,000 of them being "regulars" on event lists. For the Loewe event, for instance, Berg was able to contribute appropriate contacts.

During the Berlin Fashion Week, she also assisted Kimberly Emerson, wife of the US Ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, with a presentation of young Berlin designers who offered up their own collection made from classic American denim. The signal was loud and clear here: American fashion can be "made in Germany."

Culture and fun are part of the game

One person that can, like none other, embody the city's interest-driven culture of fun, is Klaus Wowereit, former governing mayor of Berlin. I ran into him at the Association of Berlin Merchants and Industrialists' (VBKI) summer celebration at the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince's Palace). There he stood, happily and nonchalantly chatting away with everyone under the sun. Of course, as a member of the VBKI's board, he had to be there, he said almost apologetically.

Konzerthaus Berlin, Copyright: DW/G. Schließ
The atmosphere was lovely the night of the Konzerthaus Berlin season openingImage: DW/G. Schließ

You don't have to have a guilty conscience, though, when attending the season opening of the Konzerthaus Berlin at Gendarmenmarkt. After all, culture is except from suspicion and it's allowed to be fun, too. That is written all over the face of former minister of finance and former SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück when I run into him during the break.

As far as his musical taste goes, the Social Democrat admitted he's more of a conservative. After enduring cumbersome composer Hans Werner Henze, he was looking forward to hearing Anton Bruckner. Once conductor Iván Fischer and the Konzerthaus orchestra exited the stage following much ovation, one thing was evident in Steinbrück's enchanted expression: at least in terms of music, Berlin is a world-class metropolis.