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My Last Selfie with the Banned Street Performers in Berlin

Goodbye and auf wiedersehen to the fake soldiers, bears, Darth Vaders, Mickeys, and all the other street performers at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Wall, they’ve been forced out of the German landmark.
May 20, 2014, 12:45pm

Goodbye and auf wiedersehen to the fake soldiers, bears, Darth Vaders, Mickeys, and all the other street performers at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Wall, they’ve been forced out of the German landmark, which is patrolled by police called the somewhat Orwellian Ordnungsamt (the Office of Order).

You can find street artists are typically found posing for selfies in the majestic Pariser Platz, surrounded by embassies and tourists. Not the best combination, but smack dab in the middle is the epic, 18th century masterpiece, symbolizing the German reunification, the city recently claimed that the artists are tarnishing Berlin’s image, questioning the merit of their foam costumes.

While the CEO of VisitBerlin thinks it’s OK to use photos of street performers on their own Flickr site and their photo archive, he recently told the Berliner Zeitung that “We do not need Darth Vader and Mickey Mouse at Brandenburger Gate.”

I’m not sure if they just dislike anything to do with Disney or any other North American pop culture since most Germans didn’t grow up with it and have no nostalgia or attachment to cartoon mice, but for the tourists who come over here, the contrast is somewhat ironic. Not to mention that embassy land doesn’t hold a high appreciation for a Yoda walking with a battery-powered light sabre.

Berlin is said to be some sort of Euro Disney Berlin Wall Experience, or even the "Disneyfication" of a historic site, but it will never become Disneyland; I’m assuming rollercoasters near government buildings would mean the politicians would accomplish even less.

Chances are the people behind these masks are not German. They’re probably foreigners who can’t speak the language fluently and are scraping to get by. I went by Brandenburg Gate for potentially my last selfie with Berlin’s costumed street performers and chat to the street performers about their situation, while they dodged the police and the “Office of Order,” which fines them if they’re caught accepting coins.

A group of artists from Slovakia, including one face-painted magician and a bubble artist, are chilling in the newest spot for street performers, in the pathway named Simonsweg between Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

The Green Soldier is actually dressed to match the stomping quadriga of horses on top of the gate. His communist uniform is from 1989. There are many soldiers who have trotted the square, some of which have demanded money for photos, others who have not.

“A soldier is a piece of history from Berlin,” he said. “They say this is a place for tourists, not artists.”

Probably the most mind-blowing aspect of all of this is that the many performers who dress up as the Berlin Bear, the symbol found on the city’s coat of arms, has been banned, too. Strange, because the Berlin Bear has graced the first city seal from the 12th century seal of Berlin—a symbol of Berlin’s citizens—and yet, the bear cannot walk near a city monument.

I couldn’t find the Mickey or the Darth Vader, but I did find “Dream Bear” who still trots his way around the gate, fearlessly sporting a fanny pack filled with coins. He wouldn’t tell me his name, but he’s the 40-years-old artist has been posing on weekends for two years, mainly with children.

I asked him if he made any money, and he said artists are just not allowed to make commercial sales in the square. Many of the artists have been working without permits or business licenses.

“We’re forbidden because we charge,” Dream Bear told me. “But if people don’t pay it’s no problem. It’s art, not commerce.”

There you have it: You can actually live on art.

Follow Nadja Sayej on Twitter.