There was glitter, there was music, there were decades of cultural identity development, and there was beer. One of Germany’s biggest festival’s and the capital’s largest moving theatrical platform, the Carnival of Cultures (Karneval der Kulturen)has hit its 20th year and has proudly represented the city’s diverse make-up via what Berlin does best - party.
Kreuzberg is no stranger to street parties and flamboyancy, it’s the epicenter for it, actually, but every year around the Pentecost, Berlin tries to outdo itself putting on the festival which hosts multiple musical stages, multi-national food booths, and the famed parade. Keeping in step with Berlin’s esoteric nature, the parade claims to “question everyday life and politics through art and celebration.”
The four-day festival has a strangely unique and slightly juxtapositional nature of pushing back against the internationalization of the city while simultaneously doing the same to nationalism and racism. The globalized world presents issues and confusion of personal and local identity, and Berlin seems to work as ground zero for how these can play out. In the current turbulence of national politics, populism, and nationalism around the world, Germany has been pushing itself to the front of the pack as a place of more acceptance and opportunity, and Berlin is functioning as the backbone of it all.
Berlin’s history with diversity and immigration and cosmopolitanism is long and complex, but for contemporary matters, we can trace it back to the 1970s and 1980s and the time of postwar division, radicalism, and guest workers. In an extremely short period of time Berlin went from a forced heterogeneous society to a bubbling cauldron of diversity, home to artists, free-thinkers, refugees, academics and everything in between. Each global and cosmopolitan city has dealt with the mix of cultures and backgrounds in its own way, but while New York created cultural quarters, Berlin has seemed to develop the equivalent to a queer identity. Berlin immigrants or those with backgrounds outside of Berlin are neither strictly German nor do they keep to their roots as just their heritage. That might sound obvious to anyone who has studied immigration and transnationality, but Berlin has never functioned as a perfunctory place, and its cultural dynamism is no different.
Cultural identities are almost like idiolects, every individual will carve out a very unique and personal creation, and the Carnival of Cultures touts itself as a place for self-(re)presentation and empowerment celebrating hybrid identities and plurality. The parade, while poorly organized, exemplified the multi-faceted, multi-representational possibilities as groups and individuals with perhaps the best performance being traditionally dressed Indian women dancing to Berlin’s beloved techno music. But such occurrences and symbols were the seed of the whole festival. All throughout the parade, onlookers were met with unexpected amalgamations of character and identification, many of which were perhaps indecipherable to those not part of the group. And while general society normally rejects such confusion, Berlin applauds it.
At the moment the world is wondering how to deal with transnationality and local identity. There is a fear of what social theorists call McDonaldization, the Western, commercial-dominated heterogeneous takeover of the world, and then there’s the troublesome backlash of extreme nationalism, neither of which present anything positive or sustainable. Berlin, though, has been growing and building its reputation as a place of acceptance, but more importantly it’s famed for having a very unique character - an endemic vibe that inherently pushes back against the fears of heterogeneity in a cosmopolitan city. Berlin is anything but beige so to speak, and its mix of cultures is not creating a melting pot of a singular identity, but a platform for limitless representational possibilities.
People might wring their hands about tradition and roots, but the world is chugging on undeterred, expanding its network and connections. Berlin is providing the positive preview to the manifestation of transnationality, and somewhere, consciously or unconsciously, the cosmopolitan city-dwellers know this and can feel its importance. So, ignoring the rain and grabbing their beers, Berlin’s global citizens packed the streets of Kreuzberg in solidarity to the growing form of the genius loci of the future.
In collaboration with Black Label Properties