In February this year, Berlin’s U-Bahn stations were quiet no more – at least in principle. The BVG once again allowed street musicians to perform throughout the city’s stations, lifting one of the last Covid restrictions in Berlin and giving out official licences again.
Permits cost €10 and can only be acquired from the BVG customer office on Wednesday mornings
But as anyone who’s been outside in the past three years can attest, the streets and subways have been far from quiet. At the end of almost every night out, I am greeted by the sounds of street musicians injecting some much needed life into the newly (and quite blandly) refitted Warschauer Straße S-Bahnhof. On the bridge, above the staircase or next to the station, crowds gather around MCs, guitarists, singers, percussionists… you name it. It’s a diverse cast of musical actors painting the station in kaleidoscopic tones.
Warschauer Brücke and its paired stations have always been a veritable hotbed of musical talent. The Texan freestyling rap talent INFIDELIX aka Bryan Rodecker, whose video of him busking in the U-Bahn racked up over 15 million views on YouTube, pretty much made this corner his home. It’s also where South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou kicked off her international career. Now you’re more likely to see her playing the likes of Columbiahalle. Berlin’s very own representative at the World Busker’s Cup in South Korea (yes, that really is a thing), Laura Hoo aka HAGNÄS, also cut her teeth performing between the two stations.
Throughout the capital, from station to station, the city is abuzz with spirit and fine tunes.
This cacophony of street music is not just limited to Friedrichshain. Throughout the capital, from station to station, the city is abuzz with spirit and fine tunes. But performing on the streets of Berlin as a busker is no easy feat. As with most things in Germany, permits are needed, and the rules and regulations differ per district. To play in the U-Bahn stations, an artist needs a licence from the BVG, and only 38 are issued per week – one per authorised station. These permits cost €10 and can only be acquired from the BVG customer office on Wednesday mornings between the hours of 7-11 am. It’s quite the lottery for those wanting a subway stage.
It’s a diverse cast of musical actors painting the station in kaleidoscopic tones.
There’s also – unsurprisingly – a litany of regulations that must be adhered to. For instance, loudspeakers are not allowed. So, if you’re a beatboxer, play electric guitar or any other electronic instrument (and it is the 21st century, remember), this could be problematic. Oh, and brass instruments are also banned.
I am in no way proposing that the rules should be flouted, but with so many frustrating barriers in place, it’s easy to see why musicians would feel moved to perform regardless of the rules. So if you see someone playing music in the subway or on the sidewalk, take a moment to show your support and thank them for giving us something to enjoy during our daily grind.
- For further information about the rules on busking in Berlin, please refer to the Music Pool website. Daily permits for performing on the BVG can be purchased from the BVG customer office at An der Michaelbrücke.