Author Stuart Braun Illustration Graham Roumieu
Strolling through Mauer Park, a stretch of green space built in the footprint of the Berlin Wall, there are many things you expect to see: graffiti artists practicing their trade on a remaining stretch of Communist-era concrete, for instance, or tourists quietly contemplating the weight of history. What you don’t expect is a mob of thousands of karaoke enthusiasts cheering and singing along to Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All.”
And yet, there they are. Welcome to the Bearpit, a stone amphitheater set along a once-dangerous strip of the wall that now hosts the city’s massively popular Sunday afternoon karaoke party. Every week, up to 2,000 people of all ages come together here to perform rowdy renditions of everything from Elvis Presley to Puccini.
When Chris from Stuttgart finishes his take on the Keating tune, the MC, an Irish expat who goes by the name of Joe Hatchiban, whose mobile karaoke rig consists of a laptop and two speakers transported via bicycle, takes the mic. “Beautiful,” he opines, over the raucous applause. “Sung from the heart!”
In early 2009, Lennon started bringing karaoke to the people, biking around the city and setting up his equipment at different monuments. One day, a curious crowd formed in Mauer Park, and his act was on its way to becoming a Berlin institution. “It beats working in a call center,” Lennon says, waving a donation tin among the revelers. “And it’s a lot of fun.”
Lauren, an Australian, is sitting on one of the Bearpit’s granite seats. “It was moving to see the wall for the first time, and kind of weird to see this huge celebration next to it,” she says. “It shows how the people and the city have moved on.”