Berlin Juggling Convention, 2018

Directions to BJC were easy to follow and as I neared the site, I saw stenciled clubs pointing me in the right direction. I arrived just as they were opening the gates. They give everyone a temporary pass which you can only upgrade to a proper pass if you do volunteer work. I took the first shift of badge control in the gym and sat and talked with Martin while pretty much nobody entered during that first hour (people went to set up tents and all first).

In the first hours, I saw a lot of faces I recognized from EJCs and even met an Israeli, Yoav, who I didn’t really know. Andy Frasier, whom I met first at the Bristol Juggling Convention in 1998, is a veteran at BJC and showed me around and found me a good place to set up my tent under a tree.

Then I headed to the gym for some throwing and catching. Among the sites in the gym were Julia doing crazy foot catches and throws, James from UK and Lisa from Austria (and others) doing complicated passing patterns, and a couple guys doing tricks with 4 and 5 diabolos. Not a bad standard for a local convention.

I worked on the same old tricks I’ve been working on for years (improvements are slow when you only juggle twice/year at conventions). But I’m still having fun trying to get to the next level and sometimes even make some tiny improvements. Some tricks I worked on were 5551 with backcrosses and 4 clubs with a balance (getting reasonably solid). Also, some 5 ball siteswaps and some unusual 3 club patterns.

In came Aleksandra Sobolieva from Kiev. One of my favorite jugglers to watch, she built up slowly (in typical Eastern European style) but was soon filling the air with her hoops juggled to precision and skimming the ceiling. 5 hula hoop pancakes, 7 large hoops, 9 smaller hoops (but still much larger than juggling rings), and combinations like standing on one foot hooping around the knee, spinning another on the other leg behind her, balancing a hoop, and juggling 5 more full-sized hula hoops. And she holds it super solid. She’s one of the best jugglers I’ve ever seen.

I chatted with Aleksandra a bit and was surprised that she mostly teaches and works occasionally as a barista because she doesn’t get so many gigs. I’ve seen her outstanding act a couple times and I can’t believe she’s not working full-time in a circus or on the variety circuit. Her juggling skills are world-class, but her business skills obviously suck. I hope she finds an agent or someone who can help her find success on the stage.

Later, I helped another Israel, Eran, set up camp and then we waited in line for nearly an hour for pizza. The only on-site food vendor was obviously unprepared for the masses of hungry jugglers, but everyone was happy to be there, hanging out and socializing in line. Note: if you order pepperoni pizza in Germany, you’re going to get spicy peppers, not meat. It was good, though not what I had expected.

After dinner, we went back to the gym for more fun. Christian Hauschild was rocking 5 club backcrosses and then did his super solid 7 clubs with occasional behind the back throws (see video below at 2:09). I watched with Luke Burrage while he filmed. Luke put his camera away when Christian moved down to only 6 clubs, but he actually missed Christian kicking up from 6 clubs to 7.

Shortly after, Luke played 2 on 2 team combat with Jochen, Alex, and Andreas. This is a super spectator sport that’s almost as much fun to watch as to play. A lot of the watching was in 3D as they came lunging into nearby jugglers and spectators (or high thrown clubs rained down on our heads).

I did more club work with 3, 4, and 5, but then went to bed moderately early.

I woke at 6am for an early morning run. The lucsious forests and super flat trails surrounding the site were amazing compared to what I’m used to. During my 13km run, I PRed on the 10k.

Since I was up early, I helped the org team set up for breakfast. A great feature of BJC is the free breakfast every day from 9-2. The offered lots of fruit, breads with various spreads, cheeses, sliced meats, cereals, hot beverages, and more. There were also pancakes, fried eggs, and fruit shakes.

Then I went to the gym and might have fallen asleep for a couple hours.

I watched a great middle-aged juggler (that’s what I call my generation, though some might just say old) doing 5 club tricks quite a bit better than what I do. In the picture below, you can see a guy standing with his arms crossed – he’s actually balancing a pencil on his nose easily without moving his feet, and later I saw him juggling 3 clubs with the pencil balance.

Lauge came in late the previous night and I enjoyed watching his hot moves with 4 and 5 balls. Hard to describe but lots of super fast siteswaps with 1s, claws, multiplexes, and more. He told me that his journey from Denmark took about 24 hours because he slept through his train stop. He recently quit his job as wine sommelier because after years of training and then working, he realized it’s not as great as he had hoped (though he still absolutely loves good wine). So, we’ll get to see a lot more of Lauge on the juggling scene.

Friday night was the open stage (photos below courtesy of Luke Burrage).

The first act was Adi doing diabolo with spoken comedy I didn’t understand but it was still interesting.

Second was emcee Cotton McAloon who is originally from NYC, but has been in Berlin for decades so spoke mostly in German. He did various impressions with 3 balls.

Coco is an adept hula hooper with a big smile and positive energy. She started with one around all parts of her body and worked her way up to 4.

Cotton returned with frisbees that he used to interact with the audience.

Hektor Savage came on looking uninspired, but then inhaled some hairspray and went wild with highly spastic 3 ball juggling. He inhaled some more and did some 5 ball tricks. He then sprayed the hairspray in his eyes and juggled 7 balls like a madman.

Cotton came back with his frisbee and did some solo freestyle tricks: spinning on his finger, taps, kicks, and behind the back catches.

Chris and Melanie are Duo Akrobatik, and they did tons of lifts and poses. I liked the precarious leaning counter-balances and powerful one-handed lifts.

Ariane danced with 3 balls. She did statue poses with balls perched on her feet and around her body. She also did a body roll to foot stall which got a big applause.

Mattis List was a forlorn clown with 3 clubs and loud spoken comedy. He did 3 and 4 clubs with pirouettes and behind the knee catches. Then he brought on 3 kids for some comedy and then did a comic buildup to 5 clubs. I didn’t understand the comedy but a German friend told me it was brilliant.

Elena from Karlsruhe did contact poi. She did the usual synchronized shapes and choreographed really well with the music.

Stanislav Vysotskyi from Ukraine came on in a striped prison outfit with his hands roped together. He performed to Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” while juggling with his feet. He did acrobatic kicks from foot to foot around his various appendages and also did 2 balls on one foot. He ended by juggling 3 just with his feet.

Between the last few acts, Cotton did jokes and impressions (in the local tongue) with clubs and yo-yos.

The finale was Vanessa Lee, a hat juggler. Starting with 1, she did a lot of head and foot catches. she did 3 while lying on her back and catching on her feet and flipping them back. While standing, she caught her hat blindly on her heel. Her tricks were visually aesthetic and obviously technically demanding.

Good show, though I didn’t understand the many spoken acts and emceeing. But the response was very good.

Saturday night they opened the Olympic-sized pool for free so I got really wet.

I tried to stay up for 1am fight night but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. No matter, I knew Luke would put it online, and so he did: and videos of the semifinals here and here.

I took it slow on Saturday morning with a nice social breakfast and then off to the gym for juggling. Then I went back to the free “breakfast” and had lunch.

I watched Markus Furtner and gave him some challenging devilstick ideas which he gamely attempted. He also convinced me to learn the Japanese game of Go, which he and his brother make available during the mornings, so I joined him for some games the following morning (and have since ordered a set online).

I worked more on my 4 clubs with a balance and had a lot of success doing 20 or so throws before dropping in to 5 – quite often really smooth without moving my feet. I’m that good.

All day was volleyclub prelims, but I came for the finals at the end of the day. There were some great diving saves and tricky fake throws and other good strategic tactics.

Saturday night was the Gala, in a beautiful on-site theater (photos below courtesy of Luke Burrage).

Natalie Reckert, the emcee, started her handstand routine with spastic legs to the rhythm of trance music. She also showed solid one-handed handstands on both sides.

Guillaume Karpowicz is a diaboloist like no other. None of the usual loops and throws, but rather sudden movements and sharp shapes to the pulse of the music. Very clever and probably my favorite act of the night.

The second act was Julietta Birkeland from Stockholm. She did classic moves with 3 balls and a Charlie Chaplin-esque character. She threw 3 high and picked up 2 more to do 5 balls with assorted tricks. She ended with a short run of 7 balls.

The emcee returned and went crazy with inflatable alligators, sharks, lobster, and banana.

Next was a teeter board act by Geschwister Sprung, Dana and Kyra. Lots of full layout flips and other acrobatic and gymnastic moves on and off the board.

Francesca Poppi Mari rolled around the stage and specialized in catching clubs on the soles of her feet. She danced to tinny ragtime piano music and did a some amazing leg and foot manipulations.

Francesco Caspani is a bucket stacker from Italy. He creates sculptures to classical music and does the occasional over-sized shaker cup moves. For the finale, he taps one of the setup buckets which sets of a domino effect to the other sculptures dynamically dropping them into their places.

Natalie came on and did handstands on her fingertips with eggs under her palms to make sure she didn’t cheat.

After intermission, a male/female pole act come out. Kira Pass and Anders Kallesoe Jensen didn’t do the usual pole tricks, but was more of a  horizontal acrobalance extending out from the pole. Their act was classy and got a small standing ovation for their skills.

Arttu Lahtinen juggled large rings with flipping body rolls and body placements. He ended with a super long run of 7 rings.

Anni Küpper and Malte Peter shared 3 clubs while rolling around each others’ bodies.

Aleksandra closed the show with her extraordinary hoop routine. 3 hoops with a balance and half pirouettes under the static hoop. She juggled 5 big hoops with ease and did her combo I mentioned her doing in the gym the other day. She juggled 7 smaller hoops and her finale trick was starting with a pile of hoops on the ground, she kicked them up her body two at a time to body hooping around her outstretched arm, neck, hips, and knees.

The emcee returned to do a one-handed handstand while using a fan to blow purple rain confetti. And then the artists came out for a final bow.

Sunday morning, I did another early morning run, then napped, had breakfast, and watched sadly as people started to pack.

I attended the Juxirkus show which is all about fun and youth performing without pressure. They had a trio of ball passers moving around a lot between lines, feeds, and side-by-side-by-side juggling. 6 acro girls did poses and combinations in pairs or as a full troupe. The yo-yo routine was fast and slick with good tricks, interesting stage movement, a big smile, and strong stage presence. Then 3 unicycling girls danced around in formations. The finale had 10 club passers filling the stage with lots of formations and synchronized routines.

The convention ended with the games. My friend Eran won the handstand endurance (which looked painful on pebbly asphalt), but the big winner of the day was Tom Whitfield who won 5 and 6 ball endurance and also huggling. There was a toss up and then I went for a brief swim in the lake before heading to the airport home.

Luke Burrage captured a lot of the action in his vlog (and I have a cameo at 2:18):

Show photos courtesy of Luke Burrage. Other photos by the author.

Scott Seltzer

Scott Seltzer has been very active in the IJA and the juggling world for a very long time. He co-founded the IJDb, was a member of the JISCON, is on the team of IJC, and is involved in other acronyms with I's and J's in them. Scott is a semi-professional performer and lives in Israel with his two awesome daughters.

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