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With traditional venues shut, Berlin artists take to streets

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Otto Kuhnle from a group of independent artists known as Entenfuss Kultur, Duck's Foot Culture, performes at a so-called 'Show Windows' at the district Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. With theaters and concert halls shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some Berlin artists are taking their performances to the streets of the German capital in an effort to keep their edge during the pandemic and feed a population starved for cultural interaction. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN – With theaters and concert halls shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some Berlin artists are taking their performances to the streets of the German capital in an effort to keep their edge during the pandemic and entertain a population craving cultural interaction.

As Guenther Stolarz belts out the operas of Wagner and Mozart on a corner in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, walking around dramatically as if on stage in his tuxedo tails, passersby gather, leaning up against their bicycles and holding their children on their shoulders to listen to the baritone sing.

Accompanied by his partner Isabel Schumann on an electric piano or accordion, Stolarz also sings Spanish, Italian and Russian classical songs to the crowds that gather every Sunday.

“It's very lively to sing openly, and I can really feel how one can infect people with music,” says Stolarz, a Bavarian native who now lives in Berlin and has been performing in venues around Germany since 2006.

An elderly woman who looked on as Stolarz and Schumann performed outside the district's Gethsemane Church this past weekend said she was grateful to be able to hear live music again.

“It's so very beautiful,” she said. “We miss art and culture so much, it's so great that he comes here and sings with such passion for us.”

For Stolarz and Schumann, the performances help keep them fit and energized and donations help with the bills as they wait for more traditional venues to reopen.

They say a silver lining to the street performances has been the ability to get closer to their audiences.

“One gets direct feedback from the people that one doesn't in a large hall,” Schumann says.

Not far from where Stolarz and Schumann were set up, a group of artists have another take on street performances.

They've set up two so-called Show Windows where a wide variety of artists perform indoors to street audiences looking in.

There's hip-hop and rockabilly, puppets and cabaret, dancing and comedy and much more. The sounds are piped outside and onlookers are kept at a distance except to put contributions in a hat outside the window.

The concept was set up by a group of independent artists known as Entenfuss Kultur, or Duck's Foot Culture, which in non-pandemic times seeks to link up performers and organizers.

Entenfuss's Gerd Norman said his inspiration for the idea came from an installation he'd seen of an artist sleeping in a shop window, and that the concept has resonated with performers and audiences.

“It's been really positive. They hunger for culture, for music, for interaction," he said. “There's a lot of gratitude that they're able to get that.”

After wrapping up a cabaret set, Laura Dee said performing in the Show Window during the pandemic has given her new perspective, which will stay with her once things return to normal.

“I think in retrospect we will be more thankful for what we have, the possibilities we have with art, with culture — with life,” she said.

For Stolarz and Schumann, the street performances have also been a life lesson.

“I think the pandemic has taught us how important real human contact is, and of our desire toward closeness and contact,” Stolarz said. “These things collect and build and one treasures them much more than before.”

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David Rising contributed to this report.