I arrived in Berlin after midnight, arriving at my hostel around 1:30 in the morning. The train ride from Munich had been over 5 hours long, but the alcohol in my system had put me soundly to sleep for several hours. Generator Hostel. That’s where I was staying… and this place looked like almost as though it could have been old communist housing. There were 8 floors, easily accommodating hundreds, probably over a thousand people.
I had returned to Berlin very specifically for Die Riesen Kommen, translated: The Giants Arrive, a show being put on in the streets of Berlin by a French puppet company called Royal De Luxe. OK, so unless you know exactly what I’m talking about, you’re probably thinking “a puppet company??? Seriously??” But this isn’t an ordinary puppet company; their puppets are GIANT… the two that were being used for this performance were 25 and 40 feet tall.
Several years ago I stumbled across a video of a performance that they did in London, while looking for a music video, if I remember correctly. I looked at their website, hoping to find information about future performances, only to find that it hadn’t been updated in a great deal of time. In the spring of this year, I was looking at a news article online, and at the bottom of the page was one of those links saying “This week in pictures around the world” or something to that effect, and THERE WAS ONE OF THE PUPPETS!!! I couldn’t believe it, so once again, I looked for their website, to find that it still hadn’t been updated since I had looked the last time. Now, fast-forward to the train ride from Prague to Berlin, back at the beginning of August. Some of the trains have brochures about the train ride, that tell you what time you arrive in each city, how far you travel, services offered on your ride, etc. Well, on the back of this brochure, was the face of the Little Giant Girl staring back at me, and upon seeing her, I gasped. Frenzied, I read that they would be performing in Berlin, October 1st through 4th. I would not be missing this.
So, back to me in Berlin. I had traveled on the 30th, getting into Berlin in the middle of the night on Thursday the 1st. I looked at the program for the event online and it said that on Thursday, they wouldn’t be walking the puppets, but Berlin would see the first signs of the giants’ arrival.
I woke up rather late on Thursday, and eventually got dressed and took myself off to go and see the signs of the giants’ arrival. The first was on Museum Island, and it was a giant hole in the ground that periodically would produce a huge spout of water… a sign of the little girl, I think. From there, I walked down to the Brandendurger Tor, where there was a giant anchor that sat on the ground: definitely a sign of the Scaphandrier.
Before I go on, I’ll describe to you the story being told with the performance. This piece was part of the Tag der Deutshcen Einheit, the German reunification day, celebration. This year was the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. East and West Germany were officially reunified on October 3rd, in 1989. The two puppets are the “Little Giant Girl” and the “Scaphandrier.” Scaphandrier is the French word for a diver, in one of the old diving costumes, the kind worn back way back when. The Scaphandrier is the Little Giant Girl’s Uncle, and they have been separated. Now the wall has fallen, and they walk Berlin, searching for another. On the 3rd, they find each other at the Brandenburger Tor, and on the 4th, they walk the city, and ride away together on a boat.
So, on the 1st, there were only the signs of the giants; no puppets to see just yet. After finding these artifacts, I returned to my hostel because I was feeling quite tired and didn’t feel like doing much. The rest of the day, I occupied myself by reading and internetting.
The next morning, I woke up and despite the first performance of the day beginning at 10AM, I was lagging, and took my time leaving the hostel. On this day, only the girl was scheduled to move through the city. Though I knew the path that she was due to take, I had no idea how long each part of the performance would take. When I arrived, she was done walking, and they had put her to rest in a chair. At the end of each part of the performance, they put the giants to sleep, where they rest until the next act begins. I found her where she was sleeping, and was overjoyed to be able to see her. Just to stand close to her, I was overjoyed and felt indescribably lucky.
I lingered around where she lay until 3PM when she was due to wake up and walk some more. She was beautiful. It is an astonishing sight to see a giant mannequin whose expressions look so wholly genuine, and filled with emotion. She woke to the music of a band who were also part of the performance. She looked around at the horde of people, all waiting for her next move. She stood, and began her move through the streets. The puppets have their own custom rigs in order for the crews of puppeteers to be able to control them. It was nearly impossible to move because of all of the people trying to move in the same direction with the common goal of watching this beautiful girl. Instead of trying to move with the current of people, I left the crowd and ran ahead a couple of streets in order to have a good view when she would pass a few minutes later.
Some of the puppeteers interact with the puppet, telling her what to do. At one point, she did a sort of step dance. They stop her and change her outfit sometimes, or give her things to interact with. Before she left my sight, they had given her a scooter to ride. Again, trying to remain standing in the midst of the throng of people, I looked at my map and decided to move ahead to another spot where she would later pass. Later, she indeed, pass by, but I really should have gone to see her earlier on in the route. She had been changed into a yellow rain-coat, and when I saw her, she was being lifted by crane into her boat, that was waiting for her. Once in the boat (which was on the back of a truck), she was driven away for the night.
At this point, it was about 5:00 PM, and I headed for the metro because I was due to meet Ben Marx at a sushi restaurant at 5:30. Ben decided to come and meet me in Berlin, so we could go to the See Spot show! Ben was running late, so I sought protection from the torrential rain and stayed in the station while I waited for him to arrive. Once Ben had arrived, we went to the restaurant, and sure enough, it was delicious. Afterwards, we went to get coffee at a place called Fatima’s hand, where Ben used to work. He walked in with his guitar and sang a song to his old boss, Fatima, who is one of the most delightful, beautiful souls I have ever met… a feeling that was only further proven with time. She offered us both a place to stay for as long as we wanted, so we decided to take her up on this offer for the night. After coffee, we drove to my hostel so that I could pack up my things and check out. We then headed to Fatima’s place so we could leave our things there. Shortly thereafter we were out the door once more and took the metro to go to the show. I can’t remember the name of the venue… it was kind of run down looking, but who minds? We thought we would be late, but apparently nothing in Berlin ever starts on time, so we got there before the opening band went on. The openers were a German rockabilly band called A Pony Named Olga, who were very energetic and a lot of fun. Next up were See Spot. Funny how I go to Germany, and see a band from California, huh? I didn’t know any of the songs, because it’s been ages since I had listened to them, and they were never a band that I listened to often. This didn’t matter though, because it was good dance-inducing fun. A couple of hours, a couple of beers, and a shot of Jaeger later, we left and headed in search of more beer. But first, we were in serious need of kebaps. After eating our messy, but delicious kebaps, we ended up at a squat.
The way that squats have been explained to me is as follows: These old buildings were part of old housing before the fall of the wall, and they should have been demolished, but before they could be torn down, communities of artists moved in. This is completely illegal, but entirely tolerated, so communities or artists live in these places, and you can go and look at the walls, which are ever changing with new graffiti and other art. They throw small shows, and there was one going on the night that we were there, but we decided we didn’t want to pay to get in… because that was precious beer money that we were dealing with. We drank a couple of beers here and decided to head for home. On the way we got coffee and then took photo booths! We didn’t get back to Fatima’s until 5 or so in the morning, and when we got there, she was still awake! We stayed up talking to her, and at 6:30 in the morning, I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, so I went to bed. Ben stayed up talking with her for another half an hour.
We were crazy to do this, really, because we were waking up at 9:00, to go and see the giants. The alarms went off, and Ben was actually the one to convince me to get up; I am TERRIBLE in the morning. Despite my morning lethargy, we made very good time and were off to see the giants! We found the girl first; she was awake when we found her, and had begun her walk down Unter den Linden, over by Museum Island. We followed her for a while, then walked briskly to the Reichstag, to see the Scaphandrier. Although we didn’t catch the beginning of this part of the performance, I know that they lifted him out of the river via crane, then transferred him over to his rig. We watched him walk down the street, sit down and take off his helmet (aided by the Lilliputians). Oh yes, all of the puppeteers who work with the giants are called Lilliputians, you know, like the tiny people in Gulliver’s Travels! After removing his mask, he listened to some music and fell asleep.
The crowds dispersed… very very slowly… we had quite a time leaving! It was about noon at this time, and the giants were due to move again starting at 3PM. I needed to leave to catch the metro for the Berlin Hauptbanhof at 4PM, so that I could catch my train to Frankfurt at 4:30. In the three hours we had before returning to see more of the giants, we went to the train station so that I could buy another rail pass, then went to lunch at a nice Indian food restaurant. After lunch, we said we needed to take more photo booth pictures, and after that, we went back to Fatima’s to get my bags. We were a little late leaving again, but we got back into central Berlin around 3:40. This part of the performance would be the giant’s meeting, where the little girl and her uncle are reunited after their long separation! I so dearly wanted to see them meet, but here we encountered some trouble. For one, it was nearly impossible to move! It was as though every building in the city had coughed up all of the people that they contained so that they spilled forth into the streets. Once we had a view of the girl, we were surprised to see that she was still asleep; she was due to wake and start moving at 3! What happened, from what we overheard, was that there were so many people in the streets that the Scaphandrier couldn’t move along his path, so they had to keep the girl sleeping while they moved him towards the Brandenburger Tor, their meeting place. We weaved through people, trying to get to the metro stop, only to find that they stop we wanted had been closed off during the performance! I started to get worried, thinking that I would miss my train, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem, but today it would have been. I was heading to Frankfurt for the night to stay with a friend of my mother’s, and as it was, I wasn’t going to arrive until about 9 at night and they were postponing dinner for my arrival. If it were my plans that were changed, it wouldn’t have been a problem; by now I am quite used to having to adjust my plans when things don’t go according to plan. However, when other peoples’ plans are involved, I really don’t like this… so as I said, I was getting quite antsy, worrying that I wouldn’t make my train. All was well, though, and I made it to the station with nearly 20 minutes to spare!
Ben and I said our goodbyes, and I said that I would try and make it back to Germany in the spring… and then, off I was. The train ride was uneventful, and five hours later, I arrived in Frankfurt. Brigitte, my mother’s friend, and her husband Uwe, were at the end of the platform to meet me. We drove back to their house and ate shortly after my arrival. Brigitte and Uwe have three children, two sons and one daughter. Their daughter is living in Munich now, one of their sons is still going to school, so is still at home, and their other son has just joined the German army, but he was home for the weekend, although he wasn’t home for dinner. Dinner was amazing and the company was superb. Later, Brigitte showed me pictures of she and my mother, back when they had met in their youth. I got to see pictures of my mother in her teens; she was (and still is!!) absolutely beautiful! I have never seen many pictures of my mother from when she was younger, so this was such a treat. Before long, it was time for bed.
We woke and all ate breakfast together; Brigitte insisted that I make myself some sandwiches for the trains, as I had a long journey to Madrid ahead of me– all by train! I made my food and repacked my bags, and luckily, we were able to talk to my mum on Skype! This was nice because it’s been years since my mum and Brigitte have seen each other, so video chatting is a nice substitute. I had a train to catch, so Brigitte drove me to the station, and we made plans for me to return in February. I caught the train to Frankfurt Hauptbanhof, and the connecting train to Cologne. Once in Cologne, I needed to reserve the next train in my journey, and this is where I started to run into problems. The train I wanted was full, and the other options that were left all involved spending in the order of 80 Euros for a bed on a night train. This “option” is automatically not an option… I didn’t spend money on a rail pass to encounter that sort of cost when taking trains. After trying to continue on my way that night, I gave up and walked into town, checking in at the first hostel I saw. I spent the next few hours figuring out my plans, and eventually had a plan established.
I woke up at 5:30 the next morning, packed, and headed once again for the train station. The first of a series of six trains that I needed to take to get to Paris was leaving at 6:30AM, and the ticket office opened at 6:00. I needed to make a reservation for the train from Paris to Madrid, but when I got there, the ticketing agent said that he was having trouble with the computer, and the French system wasn’t letting him make the reservation… I would have to make the reservation later in the day.
Four trains later and I was in Luxembourg with an hour before my connection, so I went to reserve a spot, and guess what? I ran into trouble again. The train that I wanted to take was yet another that had filled up, and would cost me an ungodly amount if I wanted to take it… so after some discussion, I had another route sorted out, and I was due to arrive in Madrid at 2PM the next day, on Tuesday, October 6th. I got into Paris without trouble, and had six hours to spend between my arrival in and departure from Paris. Unfortunately, my bag was tremendously heavy by this point, so leaving the station to walk around was out of the question, but eventually, it was time to board my night train to Irun, a town on the Spanish border. About an hour after arriving in Irun, it was time to take the last train in the journey from hell and get to my final destination… and that’s where the next entry will begin.
If you read this whole entry, you are an angel. Thank you.
Without further ado… pictures. I only semi apologize for the large number of pictures. They are primarily of the giants, but they were too amazing and too expressive not to take masses of pictures.
The first sign of the Scaphandrier
The first sign of the Little Giant Girl
The Little Giant Girl’s boat
Let sleeping giants lie. That’s how the phrase goes, right?
Liz and the giant. Sounds like the title for an award winning children’s book. I’ll get started on this yesterday.
She wakes up!
She’s amazing, non?
Off she goes, riding her scooter
Being moved by crane from her rig to her boat
This brave Lilliputian makes sure all is well
They have a moving cordon so that she’s able to walk through the streets
In her boat!
The start of her walk, day 2!
This is the crew of Lilliputians that control her legs movements.
First sight of the Scaphandrier!
To move his leg, a team of two Lilliputians have to jump down on a rope. There are 5 groups of these teams per leg who have a steady rotation of turns. This means there are 20 Lilliputians for the sole purpose of controlling the leg movements!!! All in all, I counted a crew of 35 Lilliputians for the Scaphandrier… so there were at least that many… I certainly could have missed some!
The white balance is all screwed up, but you can see the Lilliputians controlling the legs. They must have insane amounts of energy!
The Lilliputians rapel down the giant to help him remove his mask
He is listening to music at the moment
And now he has fallen asleep! He will sleep until it’s time for him to walk later in the day
Ben Marx! Photobooth! Two wonderful things!!
The cathedral in Cologne
Couchettes in the night train to Irun!
Ooph. That was one hell of an update. Madrid is up next, and Lisbon after that… Lisbon is going to be another giant post. And speaking of giants, here is a link to some really incredible photographs taken of the whole event. It shows their meeting too, which I am so sad I missed. Seeing the pictures made me tear up a bit! OK. Onto the next post.