The prince of Neukölln
When the sun goes down, 26-year-old Fletcher Mills enchants the Weserkiez with his balcony concerts.
Berlin-A 1,000-watt smile, upright posture, his movements dynamic, head gently bobbing to the chill house coming out of the speakers. The guy behind the coffee machine is cranking latte macchiatos at a blistering pace. His upbeat mood and the level of joy displayed while working in the service sector is too perfect for Berlin. At least the outfit fits: black shirt with cut-off sleeves, black shorts, gold chain and grey Nike sneakers. The uniform of the fashionable under-30s in slightly underdressed Berlin. Lucky you, Fletcher Mills. Or maybe it's other way around? Should the city consider itself lucky that he moved to Neukölln from New Zealand three years ago and now enriches the neighbourhood with his presence? Most certainly.
Fletcher was born in 1995 in New Zealand's capital Wellington, where he grew up in a large family together with his five siblings. Even as a young boy, he loved music. As a 17-year-old, he was cast for New Zealand's X-Factor and and came in tenth place. A bad experience, he says: "I was young and wanted to play my music. But they wanted to do a TV show, of course. I was only allowed to sing covers. My own compositions weren't allowed and you were never good enough." As a result, he stopped writing music for four years, but studied classical piano and finance - an unusual combination in Germany - but two subjects you can combine in New Zealand, apparently.
He visited Neukölln while on a trip through Europe after graduating. Like a lot of young people from all over the world, it was immediately clear to him that he wanted to live and party here. His friends in New Zealand all had office jobs, and Fletcher was also employed at a government ministry at the time. But he wanted to make music again and the free spirit of that distant German capital felt much closer to him than the conservative attitudes of his compatriots.
"In Berlin people live in the now. In my home country everyone is always investing in the future," he says. "That's the biggest difference between Wellington and Berlin." So he moved to Neukölln in 2018, along with his savings. Despite his university education, he's worked as a barista at Café Dots on Weserstraße for two years. His choice to come to Berlin was also a choice to get back into music. "This job allows me to put all my creative energy into music," says Fletcher. He's still searching for his sound, but the mixture of indie, electronic, dance and slightly melancholic vocals is already worth listening to.
With the advent of the lockdown, Fletcher was inspired by images from southern Europe, where people sang and played music on balconies. He began giving concerts from the window of his first-floor flat on Weserstraße directly opposite Café Dots. The neighbourhood was delighted, especially since he always strictly observed German noise regulations.
Up to once a week, Fletcher would step up to his window, sing and play the keyboard.
At some point, he moved the equipment to his flatmate's balcony. "I always have to clear off his girlfriend's plants so I can put the equipment on the balustrade," he says. "Afterwards, I put all the pots back." Before lockdown he played in front of audiences far less often. This has allowed him to build a solid fan base in the Neukölln microcosm over the past few months. "In Berlin, it doesn't matter how many people you play concerts in front of, but where," he says.
The fact that Fletcher is now so popular in the neighbourhood is not only due to his musical talent, but also to his friendly personality - and his outspokenness, something Germans often lack. Sacrificing your privacy, being spoken to or even visited by your neighbours every day - you've got to like that. It's exactly this that has created a family vibe on this section of Weserstraße, from which not only Fletcher but also other residents benefit.
It's people like him who make Berlin better because they just laugh and sing away the local grouchiness. They see the potential of creative bubbles that can arise in the middle of a big city like Berlin and bring people together as if they were in a village.
Even though the neighbours love Fletcher's performances, the police have been less enthusiastic. Which is why he'll be playing his last balcony show for the time being on 27 August. There are updates on his performances on his Instagram account.
We met Fletcher during the photo shoot for our series Berlin Street Style in Weserstraße.