A birthday to remember

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May 24th 2009
Published: May 27th 2009
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The first thing we noticed as we pulled into Berlin the other day were the posters and ads everywhere announcing that Germany is celebrating its 60th year of existence on 23rd May, yesterday. This might sound a bit odd given the land and its civilisation is age old, but the actual nation as it stands today was formed only 60 years ago in 1949, a few years after the end of WW2.

Cool, we think. Wie passend! What a coincidence. The three german gals are home for a party. We decide then and there that we will skip the classical choir concert in the Berliner Dom and check out the festivities instead.

Around 6pm, we catch the S Bahn, the tram, from Checkpoint Charlie, the former US operated border crossing from West Berlin into the Russian held East Berlin, to Frederickstrasse. Once again, its packed and there are tourists everywhere with maps and entirely anti-trendy backpacks. I feel like less of a loser, less out of place, even nearly like a local as I'm starting to know my way around a little. We head boldly out of the station; there's a party going on just a bit further along.

As we alight, we are surrounded, again, by history. Everywhere you turn or head in Berlin, there is past, present, future. Wonderful. And it all blends so well. We walk past the Bundestag, parliament, and along the river Spree towards the tree lined allee of the 17th June that runs through the Tiergarten, Berlin's version of Central Park.

Its packed. There are people eating Bratwurst and drinking beer by the half litre; kids run around with German flags, and balloons sporting their state or city. The trees stand tall and green, and the air is balmy on this perfect Spring afternoon.

We grab a program and decide to head towards the main stage in the hope of catching some of the entertainment. On the menu are Udo Juergens and Otto Walkes, two famous personalities in this part of the world. We inch closer and closer to the front until we are only 10 metres away.

Around us, people are getting comfortable in their chosen spots, adjusting from left leg to right leg and back again. Young and old, tall and short (though lots of tall people, I notice). The women are showing off the typical Ellen Degeneras short cut or 80s perm again, though there are also plenty of 'abnormal' hair cuts around - must be a lot of gay hair dressers with good taste in Berlin.

Everyone is dressed casually and comfortably; one guy next to mum even has his bike with him in the midst of all these people. Again, there's beer flowing freely with no restrictions on where you can and can't drink it. Whatever tickles your fancy; standing, sitting, in a bar, on the street, in the U Bahn. There's remarkably few drunks however, something I have to confirm even as the night progresses on.

Then the music begins. First up is Udo Juergens, an over-60 pop icon of the German music scene, and a big hit with the ladies. Everyone up the front is screeching and jumping as the host announces the greying man with a rose in his coat pocket. He punches out some dreadfully-lyriced tunes, all in German of course, followed by a few Schlager, hits, that even I remember. The crowd loves him and everyone is existed and happy to be here. They sing loudly, badly and uninhibitedly... "Aber bitte mit Sahne", but please with cream.

We are having a great old time. There's nothing better and more enjoyable than unexpected fun; who would have thought the Buergerfest, citizens fete, would have turned out to be such a hit? I realise its Berlin, but nevertheless, its a government organised event that by right should be more or less boring. No way, not here. We Germans know how to party, mum says as she bops around to the cringe worthy beats. She's right; the festival was expected to pull in 100,000 people - they had 600,000 throughout the day.

Next up is Otto Walkes. I remember him from the day as a comedian, but judging from the mic in his hand and the band behind him on stage, he has expanded into the musical sphere. Just like Delta Goodrem, I think to myself. Multitasking. But then he's joking around already, and the crowd loves it. I love it. He tells us he has hired the best, the finest, the most famous musicians for his special performance on Germany's 60th birthday... but they couldn't make it, and now he has this lot. Everyone is smiling, grinning.

He hits off with a Sting song; everyone knows the melody, but when I start singing the words, I realise he has made up his own - German - version. And its hilarious. Before long, we know the chorus and are singing loudly with everyone around us.

There's lots of smiles and acknowledging looks; people are happy to be here. They are proud and emotional. I hear someone behind me say that its just like after the wall came down. That's something, alright; I'm looking up at the beautifully lit up Brandenburgertor, the gates to the city, and I realise that this really is something special. Its been a turbulent past, lots of war and death, people were desperate, scared and often alone. The wall stood between me and the Brandenburgertor just a few years ago. I couldn't have walked through the gates. Now I can. What a wonderful night.



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