Berlin Stories: Coffee, condoms, cuddle parties... all part of the city's charm offensive

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Berliners are famous for their "schnauze" - their ability to be almost unbearably rude. So, with less than a year to go until the German capital hosts the World Cup final, the city has decided: everyone is to get a lesson in being extra nice.

Berliners are famous for their "schnauze" - their ability to be almost unbearably rude. So, with less than a year to go until the German capital hosts the World Cup final, the city has decided: everyone is to get a lesson in being extra nice.

The press is having great fun with Berlin's "behaviour course", the new €3m "service and friendliness campaign" launched last week by Fifa and the Berlin Tourism Board. Measures to prove to the world that Germans don't bite include teaching the notoriously grouchy street cleaners to smile more; instructing waiters to stop slapping down plates in front of diners they decide they don't like, and sending bus and taxi drivers to night school to learn "football English".

In fact, the only service industry workers who apparently don't need any charm training are the 40,000 prostitutes reportedly due to invade Berlin next summer. The city's concern is that sex workers, legal in Germany, are already a bit too friendly. So they have an initiative specially designed for them, "World Cup Two Thousand and Sex".

Part of the plan is to hand out 100,000 free condoms at the Olympic Stadium, where the World Cup final will be played. The more controversial suggestion, however, is that Berlin erects special "bird houses", garage-like buildings, already used in Cologne and Dortmund, for professional drive-in sex.

Berliners are divided on the idea. "Maybe we could start serving caffè lattes with condoms instead of cake," mused one business-minded café owner. But others are angry. "I want to be able to enjoy having breakfast on my terrace without hearing constant moaning noises, please," stormed an estate agent. Not so charming, I thought. But at least he said "please".

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The word on the street has it that Berlin is now so cool it is "Europe's New York". It's even starting to adopt Manhattan-style social activities. The latest craze is to attend a "kuschel party", Berlin's version of the New York "cuddle party", born last year. Taking place in mattress-filled lofts and meditation centres, they are billed as the best medicine for the modern stressed-out soul. Cuddling strangers apparently releases hormones that make you happier and have the added benefit of supporting your immune system.

From my recent limited experience of this, I can only say the Berlin "kuschel party" scene doesn't seem to differ much from a regular orgy, despite banning nudity, alcohol, drugs and full sex.

But with Berlin still the lonely hearts capital of Europe, and at around €10 for a few hours of uninhibited cuddling, it's no surprise that a "kuschel" event seems to pop up each week.

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Long gone are the days of the famous "Loveparade", cancelled for the past two years because the city ruled the cost of the techno street party was getting out of control.

There's no sign of a reprieve this year, either. "Project X" (which basically had all the same lorries, techno trance music and drugs as Loveparade, just under a different name) was due to take place next month, but organisers admit they just don't have enough cash. The main cost is paying Berlin's orange-uniformed dustmen - who from this summer have to smile while they do their job - to clear up after a million over-excited ravers. The only thing that might yet placate music fans is that Berlin, together with London, Philadelphia, Paris and Rome, will host its own Live8 concert.

But the ageing Norwegian rockers A-Ha are about the biggest act due to perform in front of the Brandenburg Gate on 2 July, and the German capital is feeling more than a little snubbed.

"So, Bob Geldof," sniffed the Berlin tabloidBZ last week. "Think you're going to send us all the B-list stars, do you?" Pre-World Cup Berlin might have given up being rude, but it still knows how to sulk.

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