Berlin's Mauerpark Flea Market: A real day in the park

I didn't come to Berlin with the intention of buying a Batmobile and James Bond's Aston Martin. But there they were, two vintage 1960s toys in good condition, sitting on the first table I saw at the legendary Mauerpark Flea Market. How could I say "nein"?

The gruff old woman running the stall told me they were €15 each. I got her down to €20 for the two. My Sunday in the park was off to a flying start.

Mauerpark translates as "wall park" in English. The reason for the name is a stretch of the original Berlin Wall, which now serves as a constantly evolving canvas for spraycan artists and a colourful backdrop for the hive of activity that takes place here each weekend. It's ironic that in the old divided city this space used to be part of the "death strip", a no-man's land between the east and west that was dotted with guard towers, lit up with bright lights and patrolled by armed soldiers with dogs.

It's a major draw for Berliners and tourists, who hang out and picnic on the grassy hill above the biggest "flohmarkt" in the city. Stall after stall is a mix of trash and treasure, including knick-knacks, T-shirts, shoes, art prints, records, furniture, gadgets, musical instruments, toys and cards.

I meet Marta and Nick because of the handmade sign above their stall: Wedding Fund – We Are Getting Married Next Year. She's from Bulgaria. He's from Scotland. They met here seven years ago and decided to stay.

Nearby, a couple of Japanese guys are selling rock T-shirts bearing images of David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Has Bowie's death earlier this year meant his image has sold more?

"Oh yes, 10 times as much as before," says the guy wearing round John Lennon-style sunglasses. "I'm sorry he died, but it's been good for our business."

"Next we should work on Paul McCartney!" says his friend, laughing.

In the middle of the market is a beer garden and food stalls selling empanadas, hot dogs, crepes, Japanese noodles, pulled pork burgers, handmade pasta, burritos, Italian street food, Argentinian beef sandwiches, granita and coffee.

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I buy a vegan gyro and a beer and sit under some trees watching one of the many musical acts busking around the area. They're a rock band called The Sun Pilots and it turns out they're from Sydney. In their break I talk to Raj, their frontman.

"We've lived here on and off for over five years," he says. "It's an amazing city for artists and musicians. Living in Berlin is all about doing what you want to do, even if that means playing to 20 people and couch surfing."

From up on the hill, there's a mighty roar. The bearpit karaoke is starting. Since 2009, Irish expat Joe Hatchiban has been pedalling here on his bike with a battery-operated sound system, setting up on the circular stone stage in the amphitheatre cut into the hill above the park. The action kicks off at 3pm and within an hour there are up to a couple of thousand people wildly cheering on the singers.

Fred and Christiane are a German couple in their late 60s. He's dressed like Johnny Cash. She looks like she's been gardening.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" Fred says. "What time is it? Country time!"

They do Jackson and miss every note that Johnny and June ever hit.

The crowd goes wild. An old guy in suspenders arrives with bags of groceries. Apparently, he's here every week. And he always performs the same song – My Way, in German. It leans more towards the Sid Vicious version than Sinatra's.

The crowd goes wild. A procession of contenders walks up to take the challenge – a sassy London girl does Son of a Preacher Man, a lanky dude from Alabama does Sweet Home Alabama, a stocky Canadian in a baseball cap takes on Kings of Leon's Use Somebody.

Then comes Marcus from San Francisco. He's a black guy who is built like a mountain but sings in a remarkable falsetto to Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

The crowd goes wild. And this time they really mean it.

Afterwards, I walk back to the U-Bahn station with my ears ringing, a smile on my face, a belly full of beer and a Batmobile and an Aston Martin in my backpack. It's been a real day in the park.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitberlin.de/en

germany.travel

GETTING THERE

Lufthansa operates flights from Australia to gateways in Asia on partner airlines, then daily connecting flights from Asia to Berlin via Frankfurt or Munich. See lufthansa.com/au

STAYING THERE

25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is a hip, modernist hotel that overlooks Berlin Zoo in Charlottenburg. See 25hours-hotels.com

Arte Luise Kunsthotel is a quirky boutique hotel in Mitte, where each room is designed by a local artist. See luise-berlin.com

VISITING THERE

Mauerpark is at Bernauer Strasse 63-64. On Sundays the flea market runs from 9am to 6pm. Bearpit karaoke starts at 3pm.

Barry Divola was a guest of Visit Berlin, Lufthansa, 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin and Art Luise Kunsthotel.

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