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It was back in 1996 that Berlin held its first Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures). Inspired by London’s and Rio de Janeiro’s famous annual parties, the festival took place over the Whitsun weekend and has been bringing the city’s streets to life in a four-day blaze of colour and music every year since.

These days, more than a million residents and visitors celebrate the free street festival and parade, which features around 5,000 professional and amateur performers of all ages and ethnicities, as well as bands and DJs.

Taking place from 17 to 20 May in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood’s Blücherplatz, the festival consists of four stages, each featuring music from a different part of the world. Head to Latinauta for samba, salsa, Caribbean beats and Latin rock; Bazaár features neo-genres like turkpop and dönerrock; Eurasia covers everything from Balkan to Indian ragas (melodic forms); and Farafina is Afro-focused with bands from Ghana and Senegal. About 400 stands around the square will sell edible treats and handmade art.

The festival peaks on Whitsunday (19 May) with a street parade, which features colourful dance groups from Korea and Japan, trucks blaring music from Brazil and Angola, plus Irish folk, Jamaican dancehall, Caribbean soca and more. The parade starts at Hermannplatz at noon (get there around 11 am to grab a decent spot) and snakes 4km towards Yorkstraße where it ends in the late afternoon.

Of course for many, this is when the real fun begins. As dusk descends on the city, the techno sound systems are wheeled out and the whole district parties on until the early hours.

Paul Sullivan is the Berlin Localite for BBC Travel. He also runs/writes slowtravelberlin.com

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