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CULTURE

The Best of Berlin in September

Exberliner, Berlin's leading English-language magazine, in September goes the distance at the Marathon, finds creative wood furniture, and joins the cult of multiculti broadcasting.

The Best of Berlin in September

Born to run

The Persians are lucky that Haile Gebrselassie wasn’t Greek (or alive at a probably fictitious historical event, for that matter) because they wouldn’t have even had a chance to start counting their losses by the time the news would have arrived in Athens. Gebrselassie’s world record for the 26-odd miles of the marathon – set, naturally, in Berlin (in 2008) – stands at a touch over two hours. To be exact: two hours, three minutes and 59 seconds! Berlin, you see, is perfect for athletics’ most gruelling event – a runner’s dream being a flat city with reasonable autumn temperatures. Its ideal conditions make the city the world’s fastest marathon course; for its 37th edition on September 26, the million or so attendees that will line Berlin’s streets will be expecting pace, and a lot of it… from wheels as well as (some 40,000) legs, since both wheelchair users and inline skaters can participate in the two-day (Sep 25-26) programme of events. On the day of the main event, the vociferous morning crowds will also be participating in some partisan cheering as Germany’s Irina Mikitenko attempts to defend last year’s women’s title. Gebrselassie will be merely trying for his fifth in a row. But really, it’s not just the pace that matters. In 1990 – 20 years ago this year – the runners streamed through the Brandenburg Gate like the tears streaming down their faces, as they finished the marathon for the first time in a reunified Germany: this history is yet another reason why the Berlin Marathon is one of the most beloved in the world./JS

BERLIN MARATHON, Sep 26 | The race begins at 9:00 on Straße des 17. Juni at Kleiner Stern (Tiergarten, S-Bhf Bellevue) and ends on the same street, near the Soviet Memorial (Mitte, U-Bhf Brandenburger Tor). The awards ceremony takes place at 14:00, at the Brandenburg Gate. For a map and a complete schedule of events, visit www.real-berlin-marathon.com

Wood works…

The sound of sawing draws you into Not A Wooden Spoon, whose calm white shop front’s simplicity reflects that of the work done inside. When owner Michael Ferguson steps out of his sawdust-strewn workshop at the back to greet his frequent customers, he stands alongside giant floorboards stacked ceiling-high: the ingredients of his impending masterpieces. Consciously or not, the London-born carpenter, who lived for 10 years in Sydney before coming to Berlin, is a pioneer in eco-furnishings. Using raw materials from a variety of sources – rubbish skips, renovated houses and specialist salvage yards – he creates utterly unique pieces of furniture, from mirrors and lamps to drawers, chairs and beds. There is something wonderfully solid and charismatic about his furniture. You learn its origins from the price tags: the blue-and-red painted wood of one chair was taken from a flat down the road, on Prenzlauer Allee. Due to the high demand for Not A Wooden Spoon’s wares, there are often only a few items on display, but you can walk into the shop at any time and place an order for a piece made from scratch. The furniture is not cheap – a large chair costs about €200 – but, when faced with the soulful yet solid grace of the final product, you will think every cent is worth it. A charming café next to the shop, itself a former furniture shop and thus rather confusingly entitled “Möbel”, contributes to a nice afternoon’s pottering./PRC

NOT A WOODEN SPOON | Oderberger Str. 2, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Eberswalder Str., Mon-Sat 11-18 (except when Michael’s off making a delivery), [email protected]

Return of the Kult

At one time, had you removed the international music section from any given record store (for those of you who still visit those old museums), a small horde of concerned fans would have decried the loss of an important slice of musical culture. This is what happened when Radio Multikulti disappeared in 2008. And now Berlin’s one and only authentic forum for “world music” – by now an expletive that doesn’t do justice to a vibrant, internationally minded local music scene that thrives off small clubs, alternative DJs and underground bands – is back in the form of the privately funded “Radio Multicult”. For 14 years Multikulti, which was run by public broadcaster RBB, provided an essential service in that it supported myriad subcultures ignored by mainstream Berlin stations. Still, despite widespread protest and petitions from the likes of CDU MP Rita Süssmuth and famed Russendisko DJ/author Wladimir Kaminer, the plug was pulled on the station, whose market share had dropped to a mere 0.8 percent and 38,000 listeners a day: the cash-strapped RBB had decided Radio Multikulti didn’t have a big enough audience base. Multikulti’s Berlin frequency was taken over by Funkhaus Europa, a quality world music station from Cologne – with great programming, but entirely lacking a connection to the Berlin scene. Why revive Multikulti as Multicult now, after ‘failure’ in 2008? Clemens Grün, music director of the new station, just feels that Berlin needs something like this: an arbiter of Balkan wave, Cuban, Latino, afrobeat and other international sounds to make the city’s multikulti claims truly valid./RR, WC

Radio Multicult starts broadcasting on September 1 over 88.4 and 90.7 FM – together, these two frequencies cover all of Berlin. For more info and to listen online, visit www.multicult20.de

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CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

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“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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