Tony Paterson: The bratwurst is yet to come

Berlin Diary: Today sees the opening of the first of the 60 Christmas fairs that have mushroomed throughout the city
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The Independent Online

It takes no more than a trip to a run-of-the-mill Berlin supermarket to realise that the Teutonic Christmas machine has already been thrust into top gear in preparation for the big event. The shelves have suddenly begun bursting with Germany's famous Dresdner Stollen Christmas cake and hundreds of chocolate Father Christmases.

Today sees the opening of the first of the 60 Christmas fairs that have mushroomed throughout the city since it was reunified two decades ago. There are so many that the Berliners have started to get decidedly picky about them. So the fairs are fighting back with increasingly outlandish gimmicks in an attempt to retain their custom.

The one round the corner from where I live features live reindeer and fashion articles from Minsk – the capital of the last communist dictatorship in Europe, Belarus. Yet in order to ensure that the atmosphere remains genuinely "German", the organisers have instituted a blanket ban on the sale of chips, Turkish doner kebabs and Chinese stir-fry food. In a move that will no doubt be approved by the country's far-right, only traditional German sausage, above, is to be allowed.

Elsewhere, the festive spirit has degenerated into open warfare. The centre of downtown Berlin boasts the city's Gendarmenmarkt square, which is home to two immaculately restored early 18th-century churches. The festive fair brigade moved in some five years ago, started charging an entrance fee and began offering marketgoers exclusive wares such as hand-made porcelain, champagne by the glass and platefuls of lobster. This has now proved too much for a city that is proud to call itself "poor but sexy". Last week, a group of disgruntled stallholders staged angry protests and threatened to go on strike unless the entrance fee was dropped. The organisers have since been forced to back down. The size of the exclusive bit of the market with its entrance fee has been halved.

A seat near the back, please

Actors who spit and shout at the audience from the stage are poised to make a comeback in Berlin. The phenomenon was once considered unique to German theatres. But it divided critics and audiences to such an extent that even the most radical directors decided to drop the idea and it has fallen out of fashion.

The Berlin theatre director Frank Castorf, pictured, one of the enfants terribles of the German stage, has however launched a new spitting and shouting production at the city's famous Schaubühne theatre. His production is of a German expressionist play written in the 1920s called Ocean, which tells the story of a mutiny. The actors insult the audience, which is obliged to sit on sacks on the floor of the auditorium. "This is so far away from what is currently considered modern that in the end it will probably be thought of as modern," is Castorf's verdict.