Thursday, 4 February 2016

Busking in Berlin - Laws, Permits and Best Spots.

Of all the places we have busked in the world...Berlin is the best! People here really support and sustain the street music scene.  They love to buy CD's like nowhere else we have been and sit and listen and tell you how special it was to hear you play.  They pass you beers and joints and we really felt wanted.  We have sold hundreds of CD's and made such nice memories here and so I will share all the things we learned about Busking in Berlin.

In the Spring and Summer it was the markets that would keep us in  good coin.  Hackesher Market on Thursday's and Saturdays was a great place to play.  There are also buskers who play on the terraces of the restaurants but we found our best spot was just as you come out of the S Bahn the path that leads into the market.  It was by a restaurant also and they would always ask us to come and play in their terraces, which we would and then put the hat round.  Friday was not a market day but we would play and still do good there.

We went to Alexanderplatz a few times and never liked the cold atmosphere of the place.  People say it's the best spot...But for us, it was always a slow slug.  We stayed clear of that place after a few times trying it.  But if you have a big show and big sound I'm sure you can pull a crowd there and do good.  We hear mixed stories about the police giving out fines of 5000 and taking gear.  But you never know what to believe with those stories, you have to try it for yourself.

Warschauer Strasse was a strange one...It was the busking hq of Berlin and people were lined up to play an hour there.  It is a great meeting place, but busking spot I am not sure.  I would watch good artists with good sounds play for an hour to do nothing more than 10 - 20 euroes of slow drops.  It all depends if you can pull the constant flood of passing traffic into your music.  If you do, it's a big hat.  If you don't, you are just a background noise to an already noisy part of the city.

Schleiesches Tor is much better.  Perhaps because it is sheltered a little bit and the sound carries more.  It has a nice atmosphere to the place and I did very good there on my own - pulling a crowd and selling CD's and meeting people.  It has main roads all around and is quite noisy, but if you have a little street cube you can rise above it nicely.  You can get a lot of police and community police passing by, and if they are in that mood they can stop you, but it is well worth a try.

Of course there is Mauer Park on a Sunday it has a great big flea market and music every couple of meters.  You will need a big sound here though because the last time we were there bands were mic'ing up the drum kits and playing full shows with full PA systems.  Very loud.  We use to do our busking week at the markets then go to Maur Park just to enjoy the day and find so many great buskers.

There is a lovely terrace outside Wittenbergplatz by the fountain which is a great outdoor spot to play.  It has lovely fountains around and has a very nice atmosphere.  There is traffic around you, but not so loud so you can cut through with a cube nicely.

There are markets all over Berlin and most of them really appreciate music there.  Just find the market meister and ask if you can play for an hour.  Maybachufer market has a stage and you can put your name down to play and someone goes round with the hat.

Frankfurter Allee is another good spot even for acoustic.  It is where the S Bahn meets the U bahn and has a lot of passing people.

Rathaus Steglitz is another spot in the West where the S meets the U and between those two lines is a good spot for acoustic or with an amp.

When Autumn slowly turned to Winter it was too cold to play outdoors anymore.  The markets shrunk and became hard places to play.  I looked at getting a permit to play on the u-bahns and it turned out to be a great investment.  There are a few things you should know about how it works, but for the last 3 months it has kept us going in the cold Winter.

To get a permit to play in the U-bahns is a great way to put some structure into an otherwise random profession.  Instead of spending hours trying to find a spot and doing an hour here and there, you can buy a permit for a warm U-bahn station and spend the whole day playing as the trains pipe beautiful Berliners past you at regular intervals.   You are not supposed to use an amp, but if you keep it at low volume, it is OK.

You need to show up at Wittenbergplatz U-bahn every Wednesday morning at 06.30 am.  You will find a congregation of Russian accordionists and Singer Songer writers loitering about drinking a coffee.  You find the list where everyone puts their name and you put your name down.  At 06.45 the draw is made and everyone picks a number at random.  The number you pick is your place in the queue, so if you pick number 1, you get the choice of the prime stations.  If you get above 20, its can be a 4 hour wait and there are only the scraps left, but you can still find some good stations. 

Once your place in the queue is up you choose from a list of stations that they allow busking in.  It is a list of about 40 stations and the best ones are highlighted in blue.  They are Alexanderplatz, Stadtmitte and Hallesches Tor.  You can only pick one of these a week and then any number of the others.  Other great ones we have found were Templehof, Eisenacher Strasse, Bayerischerstr, Walter Schreiber Platz.  But it's nice to pick a station at random and see how it works for you.  If you get a good number it is wise to buy the week in advance.  Then you are always ahead of yourself.

It costs 7.50 a day and you can play there from 6am until 10pm.  The BVG cant stop you and it is much warmer than playing outdoors.  We made a very good living over the Winter playing in the U-bahns and I would highly reccomend it to any buskers coming here to try it.  It's great playing on the streets also, but the Ubahns are constantly piping people in and out of the city, so as always..If you can pull them into your music you can fill your hat and feel great about what you do.

Change your brown money – Like all buskers, I accrue a steady amount of brown geld and small coins.  There is a great service here where you can take all of your battered brown and small coins to the Bundesbank which is close to the station Deutsche Oper.  You climb the stairs of this church like financial building and press the button on the wall near to the door.  It will spit out a number which is your place in the queue.  Once your number is up you go through the doors into a room where through the bulletproof glass you see brand new minted monopoly money in vast amounts.  They pass you a box and you empty your geld into it.  A few moments later they return with freshly minted clean smelling money for you.  It is a great laundry service for the busker.

If this has helped in any way, it would be great if you could return the love and give me a little likey on Facey.  Danke :)

There are so many buskers and musicians here, it feels like home.  There are multiple open mics and jam sessions every night of the week.  You are never far away from any of them with the Ubahn.  It is such an alive and great city that it sometimes feels like what NYC must have been like in the 50s.  Full of art and different people all expressing themselves by playing on the streets or drawing on the wall.  I wish you the best of luck if you are heading there as a busker, and if you see us, then do say hello!

If ever you get stopped by the BVG, Police or Ordenaangsamft.  Smile and be nice as nice as you can from the first moment.  This helps to break through the uniform and disarm them a little.  If you are aggressive with them because you feel you “deserve” to be able to busk where you want – they will make an example of you and fine you and other nasty things.  A smile and a bit of charm helps you much more than getting angry with them.

Make a nice display case.  Don't just put a hat in front of you on the floor that people are going to walk past.  If you use your guitar case as a platform and then put a nice coloured scarf over it and then on top of that put a nice hat and your CD's and business cards about, it creates a focus point for people walking by.  When people use their hard cases as hats, I put money in and it bounces out.  So find a hat with a soft bottom and the geld will just drop in like a feather.


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