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EXBERLINER MAGAZINE

CULTURE

The best of Berlin in June

In June, Exberliner, Berlin’s leading English-language magazine, discovers a multitasking café, tries on some communistic clothing and explores a new English-language bookstore.

The best of Berlin in June
Photo: Exberliner

Heroic multicafé

Quirky Mary Ocher, disco-synther Miss le Bomb and new wavers Trike! have all taken to the little stage in the back. The walls are covered with monthly-rotating works by local artists, and a whiff of freshly made coffee blends with the sharp scent of goat cheese from the quiches baked on site. Neukölln café-of-all-trades Heroes is a little bit of everything. French-American owner Caroline Burnett originally wanted to open up a full-fledged music venue, but since opening in 2009, Heroes has evolved into a sort of melting pot of food, music, films, books and art, housing a weekly film night (Tuesdays at 9 pm, always in OV and following a monthly theme) that moves outdoors in the summer. It’s a place where the back room is known to play host to an impromptu poetry session, a dance party or an exhibition. And it’s all accompanied by food deriving from Burnett’s dual national origin: French and American-style Sunday brunches (from €3.50), quiches and crêpes in various varieties, all of which can always be washed down with a €2.10 Picon bière (beer + orange liqueur – it’s a French thing). Everything is wrapped up in Ziggy Stardust-esque stripes, painted playfully across the walls of the front room, paying colourful tribute to Mr. Bowie, who’s also the inspiration for the place’s name (taken from his 1977 Berlin-trilogy album). The décor – which includes items like a dummy torso and a birdcage left behind by a friend who decamped to Switzerland – is as schizophrenic as the cultural offerings – but all in the usual playful-eclectic Berlin way. Don’t miss the sonic summer fun when Heroes helps turns Friedelstraße into a outdoor fest on June 21 at Fête de la Musique. A full programme can be found on www.heroesberlin.com or www.48-stunden-neukoelln.de.

HEROES | Friedelstr. 49, Neukölln, U-Bhf Hermannplatz, Tue-Sun 12-20 (or later when there are events)

Venture communism

A spectre is haunting Prenzlauer Berg designer clothing outlets: communism. Schivelbeiner is small and stays stays open for barely half the week, but what it lacks in size and availability, it makes up for in revolutionary ambition. For it’s not only a slightly anaemic mixture of Kneipe and Teehaus; Schivelbeiner is also the new retail home of the world’s first apparently-socialist designer clothing brand, OCA. The founders, Lisa and Iain Ross (from Bavaria and Scotland, respectively), wouldn’t really fit in with the crust punks one normally associates with leftist activism in Berlin – they are soft-spoken and polite, conservatively dressed. They opened Schivelbeiner in May after six months of painting, sewing and fomenting. Lisa’s hand-painted faux-wallpaper patterns march rigidly across the wall until suddenly dissolving into noodly civil war near the back corners. In what might be called the “Teach-A- Man-To-Fish Business Plan,” Lisa and Iain are selling kits, not clothes. With OCA, Lisa and Iain intend to smash the branded establishment and encourage consumers to seize the means of production. The kits sell for the (decidedly un-proletariat-friendly) sum of around €100 and come with everything you need to make your own garment: fabric, needles, thread, plan and even a label tag certifying its authenticity. More adventurous/broke comrades can opt to buy the plans without the materials for around €15, and shameless bourgeois pigs can buy the finished clothing with price tags ranging upwards of €300. If you’re politically confused, well, you can just have a Beck’s.

OCA IM SCHIVELBEINER | Schivelbeiner Str. 7, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Schönhauser Allee, Sun-Wed 11-22

On the Czechlist

Roman Kratochvila, the soft-spoken Czech that owns Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin’s brand new English language bookstore, seems oddly noncommittal about his new Prenzlauer Berg home. “I was told here or Kreuzberg,” he says. Some benevolent wind guided him, together with his business partner Radin and wife Laurel, when they parachuted in from Prague last month, seemingly with nothing more than the shirts on their backs and the business experience that comes from 10 years of running Prague’s most successful English-language bookstore. Shakespeare & Sons is your inner-bookworm’s paradise and a perfect fit for the Helmholtzkiez: Sunlight shines through the big, street-facing windows onto houseplants in cute porcelain tubs and rows of lineographed dust jackets. By now you’re thinking, “Finally I can buy a graphic novel and satisfy my curiosity about home cheese-making in the same place,” but it’s more than that. The plan is to stock one-third used, two-thirds new English-language books, as well as a small French section and an extensive selection of children’s books. Penguin Classics reissues and basically anything with muted blues or a bird on the cover line the walls (including a comic section that holds a Prenzlauer Berg graphic novel!), and there are a few comfortable armchairs tucked into the corners, their upholstery matched to the green-stained hardwood floors. The proximity of the venerable and respected St. George’s, a mere two blocks south, would be daunting to most aspiring booksellers. But judging by the crowd of multilingual Prenzlauer Berger swarming in the street outside, there’s more than enough demand to go around. Tip: Prices are based on current exchange rates, so books imported from America will save you some money.

SHAKESPEARE & SONS | Raumerstr. 36, Prenzlauer Berg, S-Bhf Prenzlauer Allee

Bubble trouble

At BoboQ, Berlin’s first dedicated bubble tea house, the crowd is loud, numerous and principally Asian, a good sign one might think. Done well, bubble tea – the Taiwanese iced tea typically made with balls of tapioca, milk and flavouring – can be the perfect summer drink. Unfortunately, the slimy texture of the tapioca and the artificial, overly sweet taste spoils the fun. To get a good version of the drink, book a flight to Taipei – or at least Los Angeles. Drinks range from €2.80 to €3.50.

BOBOQ | Marburger Str. 17, Charlottenburg, U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz

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OPINION & ANALYISIS

What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”

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