Berlin's Mauerpark: A Paradise For Buskers

Jun 27, 2013

Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg is the only park in Berlin that has a Sunday flea market and the dubious legacy of being part of the former Berlin wall.

It's also the only park in Berlin where musicians can play amplified music without a permit. On sunny Sundays, the  park averages 40,000 visitors.

That’s good news for buskers, as they go where the people are.

Austrian Martin Talir has been busking in Berlin since the 1990s.  He says Mauerpark on Sundays is like paradise for buskers.

More young people are flocking to Berlin and the buskers are getting younger he says. Most are drawn to the creative, alternative scene in Prenzlauerberg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg as opposed to the quieter, western side of the city.

Areas like Charlottenburg are considered less lively, and less lively means less attractive to buskers.  But the preferred eastern districts don’t guarantee a problem-free day.

Donovan von Martens is part of the the Swedish klezmer band Flocken. Police told his band to stop playing at a Turkish Market in Kreuzberg.

“It felt so weird to be this very Swedish quintet who came here to play and have a good time, and we ended up with seven policemen. It felt like we were a big threat to the city of Berlin," von Martens said.

In spite of the incident, he and his colleague Anna Lund say Berlin has been wonderful compared to busking in Sweden and Copenhagen where people don’t stop to listen. Lund feels people in Berlin are more interested in music and more relaxed.

“The people are so supportive," von Marten says. "All the hundred people who were there started to take the conversation with the police for us.”

People just rush by at hubs like Alexanderplatz and Potsdamerplatz as well, say buskers Jaffe from Florida and Hudson from Australia.

Mauerpark offers an alternative.

“Being outside is so much better sometimes than being in a smoky, dingy pub. Most of the places here in Berlin are smoky and for singers that’s really hard," Hudson says.

Offering buskers a place to play is the concept of Friends of Mauerpark.  Alexander Puell, the chairman, says that noise complaints have increased as more people have moved near the park. Buskers who may not have been an issue for law enforcement before have become noticeable.

The organization wants to keep Mauerpark on the map as a living Volkspark.  Since the law doesn’t allow music, they decided to request an exception. Friends of Mauerpark met with government officials last year and drafted an agreement allowing music to be played within the park as long as the sound does not carry to the street. Puell says he hopes this will encourage other districts to follow suit. Whether other districts would like this much activity remains to be seen.

"Every day we have the police," says Daniel Raster from Switzerland. "Everyday. This is normal as a street musician with amplification, especially you always have a problem with the police.”

Raster says busking is becoming increasingly difficult in Europe. Typically it requires a permit, and permits are expensive and hard to get.  Mauerpark and some alternative corners may be the last bastion where both musicians and the public can enjoy the music.

“It takes a lot courage. Busking is a good school for any musician. It gives you a lot of experience in music and how to handle situations.”

In one hour, I heard an Australian songwriter, a Swedish balkan band, an Austrian blues guitarist, and West African fusion. It feels as if I just traveled the musical globe for free, and all I did was go to the park.