It is not often you see a super hero wearing rubber gloves, a gas mask, and carrying a bin liner full of half eaten burgers. He passes the uneaten whoppers to his accomplice, who operates a giant catapult that will “whopper” the said burgers over a teeming crowd of food fighting warriors. They bear helmets, goggles, and rubber sticks and all are smeared in rotten food that varies from mushy tomatoes to soggy gherkins. The crowd faces off in the middle of a city bridge in Berlin and chants and screams before unleashing every type of wet and slicky substance imaginable, including rotten fish and dirty diapers. Gunk and slime cover everything and soon it looks like a medieval battle in a landfill site with everybody whacking each other with foam sticks and shields fashioned from garbage can lids and hubcaps. Is it any wonder the event known as the Wasserschlacts is sponsored by a waste disposal company?
The event is all the more bizarre for its setting. The ornate Oberbaumbrucke bridge is a city landmark designed in a German gothic style with red brick arches, two pointy towers, and cross vaults. It is more used to genteel tourists strolling its two-deck structure than a thousand food anarchists clashing on the ramparts. Indeed as the food fight descends into a chaos of airborne liquid, spray, and screaming maniacs, tourists float down the river Spree below on day cruisers, taking photos of the carnage above and perhaps getting hit by the occasional stray water balloon.
The bridge is a shining symbol of unity, which is all the more ironic as the street fight is a grubby emblem of disunity. It connects the two districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, which were separated for half a century by the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the authorities thought it prudent and right that both districts should be joined. However, they never discussed it with the residents, who resented assimilation with the other. In 1998 the first crowds gathered on the bridge to taunt and challenge the other side. The idea was to conquer, not unite, and people from Kreuzberg referred to Friedrichshain mockingly as East Kreuzberg and in turn Kreuzberg was referred to its opponents as Lower Friedrichshain. What began as a simple water and flour fight evolved into an elaborate free for all, with some years seeing near riots with cars set alight and buildings damaged. Police frequently step in to stop the event and it was cancelled in 2006 and 2007. In 2003 an angry mob turned on the intervening police and pelted them with stockpiled fruit and eggs.
The whole chaotic event has a leftwing, punkish, anarchic air with more than a few participants sporting mohawks and tattoos. Gangs are formed with names such as the Cynical Offensive Brigade and they gather shopping carts, homemade water cannon, and scaffold attack towers. The only rule is that no fresh food can be used and the event is open to anybody brave enough to face the fray. If you do decide to go to battle, join the Kreuzberg crew. They have never won a battle yet as they are heavily outnumbered by much larger Friedrichshain. They desperately need your help and all your rubbish.
When to go: July.
$$ Adina Apartment Hotel Checkpoint Charlie, Krausenstrasse 35–36 ( 49/30/2007670; www.adina.eu). $$ Mercure Hotel Checkpoint Charlie, Schützenstrasse 11( 49/30 206320; www.accorhotels.com).