It's windy and cold outside. It's warm inside a hotel in Berlin-Neukölln and the smell of goose leg and red cabbage beckons. Women in Christmas angel costumes distribute chocolate Santa Clauses, Berlin's mayor has an apron on and serves plates with the fragrant Christmas meal to the guests in the hall while flashing lights.
Only the initiator of the event, Frank Zander, is missing from the 29th edition of the Christmas party this Friday afternoon. The 81-year-old had to stay at home because he was still too weak after almost two weeks in the hospital. Evi Zander said the final word of power on Thursday evening, as her son Marcus Zander said on stage: "Mother said: He stays in bed. Period."
Only Frank Zander is missing from the Christmas party
Invited guests include Viola, Marie and Stephan. Children also run around. They are all Berliners, just without an apartment. Many of them will probably spend Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and all other days on the streets. Stephan Wallerstein, for example, is now attending Zander's fete for the second time; the last time was in 2016 or 2017, he says. One memory remains etched in his mind: "Frank Zander took me in his arms and gave me two Hertha tickets for the stadium. That was awesome," said the 50-year-old.
This year's Christmas party is smaller than usual. In the years before the corona pandemic, around 3,000 people in need were fed and given gifts. During the pandemic, the Zanders traveled with food trucks instead. “There were around 1,800 people there today,” said Marcus Zander on the sidelines of the event. The guests always want his attention. "It's nice to know that society can stick together and that we can achieve something together." In addition to a feast and gifts in kind, there was also entertainment for several hours - for example from the Blue Man Group and Mitch Keller.
Zander Jr.: "I'm not a politician who promises anything"
Zander Junior says he is sad that his father cannot be there. "But he's very proud of us for continuing this. And next time he'll be there again when he's feeling better." Would this festival be able to function in the long term without Frank Zander? "I'm not a politician who promises anything. Let's see. But it feels really good right now and I think it's right." He wants to do everything to ensure that this tradition continues in the future.
The issue of homelessness is serious, and even the colorful event cannot hide that fact. 18-year-old Marie has been living on the streets for a year and a half. As a woman, she probably has different experiences than men. "A lot of men want you to prostitute yourself," she said while standing in line for a free haircut. The lavishly costumed Dresden resident Viola Vogler (65) is having fun with the short-term escape from everyday life, but at the same time she is also thinking about the apartment that she could soon lose, as she told the German Press Agency. She is sure: "There is a place for every person in the world. And there is always a good future for life."
Around 140 volunteers walked around in red T-shirts. This also applies to colleagues Daniela Degen and Antje Spuderca, who arrived early in the morning from Uckermark and Dessau in Saxony-Anhalt, despite storm “Zoltan”. Spuderca is here for the first time, with the motivation to do something good for those in need "and to put a smile on their faces".
The Governing Mayor - alongside left-wing politician Gregor Gysi, Economics Senator Franziska Giffey (SPD) and Culture Senator Joe Chialo (CDU), among others - was not just out and about as a waiter. The issue of homelessness affects Wegner. “I think we have to make sure that we get more accommodation, that we get people off the streets, that we also offer more social work,” said the CDU politician. Homeless people don't just need an apartment - it's also about care and a return to a normal life, "because you have become very disconnected from normal life, because you have gone into hiding, because you also have fears and worries about not being seen want".
Christmas with Frank Zander