Selling whistles to German ravers

Perhaps to escape from our current alarming situation, I’ve found myself reliving a time in my life which was as different to the reality of these past months as it is possible to be.

It involves travel, massive crowds, sharing whistles and no hand sanitizer.

Berlin, 1998 (Wikimedia Commons). Count the whistles.

In the carefree 1990s, I was coming to the end of a year backpacking and working around Europe and extremely low on funds.

As summer approached, I was enjoying my life in Berlin so much that I failed to pay sufficient attention to the fact that two of my casual jobs were suddenly about to finish.

The family which employed me as a babysitter was leaving for an extended holiday-without me.

Also  the art college where I worked as a life model was about to break for summer- as they did every year.

Luckily I still had one source of income available, and that was selling whistles to German ravers!

I’d met an American who’d stocked up on Taiwanese metal whistles with fluorescent pink, orange or green ribbons, and I joined his team twirling ‘trillerpfeifen’ at festivals and parades.

It was surprisingly lucrative. Apparently, at least back then, Germans really loved their whistles.

I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin for the peak day in the whistle retail world for that year, or possibly any year: July 11, 1998.

Held annually, the Love Paradefor those who don’t know, was one of the biggest music parades that has ever existed, attracting around one million ravers.

And that year drowning out the techno beats with the brain-piercing, monotone din of whistles was all the rage.

As I flogged those annoying things up and down the street, I tried to keep moving, as about one in every ten trillerpfeife was kaputt.

If anyone with a broken whistle found me again, I just swapped it for another one and sold the defective one to the next wide-eyed party kid.

This is the sharing whistles part of the story. Hygiene standards were different back then.

Just to be perfectly clear, I despised those whistles, but a girl’s gotta eat.

Karma’s a bitch though and that was the day when I began to suspect that surrendering your integrity to make a buck was not worth it.

I was having a fine old time until I heard a roar above the music, looked up and was immediately drenched in rain. The excitement of the crowd elevated to the next level as people shrieked and ran for cover.

I was swept along with everyone else until I found myself under a bridge with what seemed like about 5000 other humans.

selling whistles
1998 Love Parade (Wikimedia Commons)

As soon as we were out of the rain most people decided that this was the right moment to grab those fluorescent ribbons,

shove that metal in their mouths and blast the air apart with a noise straight from the lungs of Satan. Nobody could move, children screamed in terror and my ears felt as though they were being stabbed with chopsticks.

The worst part was that I knew it was all my fault.

Eventually the horrific episode passed, as the shower stopped and the ravers all returned to watch the music floats. I hadn’t learned the lesson yet though.

I continued to sell whistles all day, making enough money to think I could travel around a bit more until my flight home departed from London in a few weeks’ time.

After the success of the Love Parade, the American guy convinced me that if I bought a stash of whistles from him,

I could sell them on the road and use the profits to fund my travels. Unluckily for me, it turned out that the German love of whistles was not always shared in other countries.

My plan was to head to Amsterdam for the Gay Games, then on to London where I could stay with friends and maybe try the Edinburgh Festival if I had any whistles left by then.

Surely, the sports fans at the Gay Games would love my whistles? Well they might have, except I had to compete with the official souvenir editions being sold on every corner.

Who would want my cheap crap when you could buy a fancy whistle which had an inscription on the ribbon and also actually worked?

Not only could I not make enough money for accommodation, even if I’d had the cash the rooms were all booked out anyway. 

I had the number of someone who lived in Amsterdam, whom I’d met previously on my trip. Unfortunately this was before everyone owned a mobile phone, and my one-armed, Irish photographer friend (not a joke) was not answering my calls.

So, I spent one night at the train station getting kicked awake by security guards every time I closed my eyes, one night in the doorway of a public building and one particularly tense night in the bushes in a park,

while managing in the daytime to scrape together just enough for the ferry to England.

selling whistles
Kinda like the ones I sold (Wikimedia Commons)

My friends in London kindly fed me up and took care of me for a couple of days while I tried my luck at various markets and fairs,

but the English seemed to be even less interested in whistles than the Dutch.

Desperate, I caught the bus to Scotland where I discovered that the Edinburgh Festival was not that kind of festival. 

By this time my whistle-selling had become more like begging, and the few sales I made were motivated by pity rather than any desire to shatter the peace with unpleasant noise.

I’m not exactly sure how I did it, but somehow I stayed alive until my scheduled flight and returned to Australia with a bag full of mostly nonfunctional whistles.

Ever since then, I’m happy to say that while I’ve tried a variety of jobs, I’ve always strived to make my living doing something which makes the world a better place instead of making it worse.

In summary, whistles are bad.

A guest blog by Emma Briggs

2 thoughts on “Selling whistles to German ravers

    1. Ummm, I’m not sure. I probably threw away the broken ones, then gave some others away. I was sure I still had at least one, but when I wanted to photograph it for the story, it was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it was all a dream?

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