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Impressions by Sampath G
One event that made a big impression on me was the annual Carnival of Cultures in Berlin, which I was lucky to catch during my visit to Germany in the summer of 2016.
The general stereotype about Germans is that they are uptight, disciplined, and sticklers for rules. But on this particular Sunday, I got to see the other side of the national stereotype, so to speak, as the streets turned into a festive space. People were singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and generally having a party time with their friends and family, without a care in the world. This reclamation of urban city space by the common people is such a rare sight in today’s world – especially in India – and so liberating, I thought it was brilliant. This was a celebration not only of cultural diversity, with cuisines and music from different parts of the world, but also of the spirit of camaraderie and public togetherness that is often the first casualty of the competitive, individualistic mindset that the market society fosters in everyone.
I found it strange to have random strangers (and otherwise reserved Germans) come up to me and initiate flirtatious conversation. Also, you cannot drink on the streets in India, both legally and culturally. So it was astonishing to find people not only drinking and snacking as they paraded on the streets to loud music, but also not thinking twice about littering the pavements with empty beer cans. For an Indian, the streets in German cities would qualify as ‘deserted’ when compared to the scene back home. But the carnival was one time when the city streets were truly overcrowded, and thankfully, not by vehicular traffic but with people. That was an unusual sight too.
Well, this was Germany after all, and 24 hours later, the streets were clear, both of people and litter. A city that appreciates the carnivalesque, the value of multi-cultural diversity, and also civic efficiency is truly a great city, and I admire its residents and officials for keeping it that way.