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Music August 8, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian and I were, as ever, mooching lazily round the house. Me pretending to work. Him avoiding work. We thought we’d better go out on a non-errand to banish all nasty professional thoughts.

Our walks are normally a fraught affair. Perhaps this is the case with many couples, but I think we ought not to leave the house unless military-level plans have been laid out beforehand. What is our precise route going to be? What are the aims of this work-avoidance walk (in addition to work-avoidance)? Is it going to involve shopping? Is it going to entail eating? Booze? And, therefore, an index-linked, exponential number of fags?

We went out today without a plan.

Our bit of Berlin is nicely griddy. Nothing is old, so you can’t hope to get lost down some medieval side-street or take a surprisingly unfamiliar route. We live off a big street which has all the attractions within a couple-of-kilometre radius either on it or on streets off it or close by. We got to the critical Schönhauser Allee-Stargarderstr. junction/juncture. Heading south, as we were, you can either go left, and have a choice of two impossibly trendy squares at your disposal, with all the eating and drinking opportunities that provides – and we’d just had a good soljanka at home, and, anyway, the Russian worries, now that there’s a shadow of a spare ounce on one of his rippling muscles, that he has to live on a diet of soup and water (and vodka) for the foreseeable future. (Woe is me. He does the cooking round here. I’ll be gorging on Weetabix) – or you can go right, down Gleimstr., with a selection of homosexual establishments and few other delights but the scary knowledge that if you don’t slam on the brakes before you get to that bridge (that rather dashingly lights up as you walk under it, in a sort of Billy-Jean-video in reverse way), you’ll end up in the hellish west.

Now as anyone will know, Berliner or not, that bridge means this is where the border used to be. As such, there used to be a big, fuck-off wall there. Now it’s gone, but they’ve left the bit of desolate no-man’s-land to fester and called it the Mauerpark. And perfectly nice it is too, although I don’t think any French landscapers of the court of Louis XVI would be majorly impressed (although folk do play pétanque on a gravelly bit, which I think chapeau to them for for being resourceful). Normally, you are not allowed into the park unless you have a bongo, dreadlocks, haven’t washed for a goodly period or, horrors, plan to undertake some sporting activity. The Russian and I brazened our way round these obstacles and walked for all we were worth from one end of the park to the other.

As we approached the southern end, we could hear folk applauding. That end seems to be where the bongo-players congregate. I’ve heard Cubans belting out the odd tune there too in the past, although I think this was merely for their own entertainment as much as anyone else’s. My sneer was ready-prepared for whatever pus it was we were about to be accosted with. We arrived at the impromptu auditorium as the musicians were between numbers. I waited with trepidation and dread.

The musicians were much as you’d expect impromptu Berlin musicians to be. Three 30-something men and a 30-something woman. She did the vocals. They did the drum-kit, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. The acoustic man sad buddhistically under a tree, though it was a sapling if it was a day and that banished all thoughts of enlightenment from my mind fairly quickly. The gents were all carefully scruffy. Carefully scruffy hair and carefully tended-to scruffy beards. Their scruffy t-shirts were carefully creased. The drummer’s baseball-cap was pinned on scruffily. I thought they’d all have looked lovely if they had a nice shave, a hair-cut and put on some nice, sensible clothes and footwear. The lady was more naturally scruffy. She had more hair than face. And seemed to be clad in bits of old sari, though sari which had been fashioned into shirt, trousers and jacket. Her fat-free midriff was carefully exposed.

And, darlings, just as my disdain was about to get audible, they started up and were absolute heaven. Like unexpectedly good sex. She had the voice of an angel. Buddha played like a dream, and was utterly expressionless throughout. The other two had fun improvising against each other. As no-one who walks through the Mauerpark has a pfennig to their name, folk offered them alms in the form of beer and sweetmeats. I clapped longest when their first song, something about Schicksal (Fate), came to an end.

The Russian and I thought we’d better walk planlessly on, in case this enjoying-ourselves lark got a bit too much.

We ended up on the criminally fashionable Kastanienallee and plonked ourselves down in a way that had alcohol written all over it. Beer me. Bloody Mary the Russian (having weighed up whether Tabasco sauce – shouldn’t it have been Worcester? – was fattening). The street is a magnet for speed-accordionists and other travelling musicians. Occasionally, they’re not bad. But today’s were hopeless. First, an embryonically young child appeared with a thing you blow but that has a keyboard. I had one when I was 6. It might even have been it, as I have no idea where it’s got to. Barely bothering to blow, and giving the word nonchalance new meaning, he piped out a couple of seconds of Bésame Mucho before over-ambitiously approaching folk with a paper-cup. I think its weight remained unchanged pre- and post-transaction. He scampered off, dirty and unbothered. A grown-up appeared within seconds. He set down his tape-recorder, switched on, to my surprise, Living Next Door To Alice, and clarinetted along to it. Badly. Teeth-clenchingly badly. The whole world hoped he might be as brief as his embryonic predecessor, but he blew away like there was no tomorrow. Thankfully, Smokie and he both eventually shut up. Everyone clenched their wallets and did their best to look either deeply engaged in conversation, asleep or dead. To the whole world’s horror, Dancing Queen then began to wail dronily out of his tape-recorder. Again, he clarinetted along unspeakably poorly. Windows shattered and people flung themselves off top-floor balconies. The Russian and I regretted not having gone to a library.

We read some newly-purchased Kharms to each other to flush out the bad memories which had so nastily replaced the good ones of the scruffy musicians from earlier on. We thought we’d better have a beer to round off the evening-long walk. Everything seemed to have gone without a hitch. Could this herald something new? After over six years, we can go out without a plan and have a successful evening without a hint of disagreement? “Where to?” I asked, resplendent with willingness. “There’s this bar I went to once on K_Str. a hundred years ago.” We set off for K_Straße. The street got darker and grimmer. There were no signs of life. Nor of a bar. Once again, I had made the mistake of giving in to the Russian’s famously skewed sense of direction. We trudged home silently, defeated, lips pursed throughout.



1. chendaberry - August 8, 2006

“First, an embryonically young child appeared with a thing you blow but that has a keyboard.”

Haha, he came shuffling past while I was sitting outside last night having a spot of thai food. And was supremely unbothered about what he was playing (yep, the dreaded besamo mucho again), then broke off mid line and shuffled off again when it became clear that nobody wanted to give him any money. I was sitting outside for 1 hour and 3 different street ‘musicians’ in that time is just too much to bear. What is wrong with tuning your instruments these days?! And there must be more tunes out there than besame mucho, surely?

2. BiB - August 8, 2006

Gosh, he gets around that urchin, doesn’t he? Shouldn’t he be at school? Or, rather, doing his homework?

I did see two other oldish men musicians having a beer at the Imbiss under Eberswalderstr. U-Bahn after their hard day’s work, and that slightly made me want to slash my wrists, so grim did it look, in a way, but they looked vaguely OK.

I don’t think I’ve seen Roma anywhere in Berlin but for Kastanienallee. Where do they live? Do I need to adopt that urchin and get him into school or might he be being generously looked after by the state, or are Roma – presuming he’s Roma – in fact vaguely within the system here?

3. Wyndham - August 8, 2006

I envy you your razor-sharp observastion skills and ability to riff on everything you see, you always make Berlin, my 14th favourite city, seem hopelessly romantic, even when things don’t go to plan. I never thought, though, you were the military-plan type, because you go on a lot of walks. I’m a hopeless walker and will only leave the house if it entails a rock-solid destination – usually somewhere, alas, where my credit card is liable to suffer a good spanking.

4. BiB - August 8, 2006

Wynders, call me Mr. Asperger if you like, but wasn’t Berlin once your 8th favourite city? Which cities have since passed it in the chart? Not Southend, surely?

Berlin IS romantic. Not in a Paris, smoochy, tender, good-food-and-red-wine way. No, more in a drug-crazed, frantic, rough, group-sex, beer-and-hot-dog way. Anyway, there’s that international blog-meet you’re organising for May 2007 – Wyndham Global, wasn’t it? – so you’ll see for yourself then.

5. Wyndham - August 8, 2006

Bib, you’ve got me there. All I can say is my favourite cities fluctuate wildly from day to day, much like the world markets. Southend, I can assure you, is currently languishing at 1,102nd.

The international blog meet is looming. If I were you I’d start getting the booze in.

6. Ed Ward - August 8, 2006

You’re right: all the goddam street accordionists play “Besame Mucho.” It must be the tune they’re taught in beggar school, overseen by some Balkan Fagin. But they’re all over the place. The park near Marx-Engels-Platz has one on about every other bench. There’s a wretched-looking woman on the Friedrichstr. bridge over the Spree.

What I’m (not) missing is the fake Balkan wedding bands with the trumpet and saxophone who were all over town last year. Gaaaaah. One wonders if these folks pay the Russian Mafiya for performance permits (like all the subway buskers have to) or not.

7. BiB - August 8, 2006

Wynders, I’ll warn your other Berlin groupies and we’ll make sure we provide you with the Berlin equivalent of a good ol’ Cockney knees-up.

Ed, those buskers have to pay some oligarch for permission to perform? Actually, the tradition seems to have waned slightly, at least on the S-Bahn. Hopefully, a protest action against the racketeering.

8. Michael Scott Moore - August 8, 2006

Ed, if you want to hear a fake wedding band with a saxophone, just wander over the Helmholtzplatz on the next really warm evening. There’s a sax player here who knows exactly one riff. We’ll strangle him together.

9. BiB - August 8, 2006

You gents need to move to Pankow. You can guarantee total silence here. Occasionally, you might get a prim parent telling their child not to cross on red like the nasty foreigners have just done, but that’s as loud as it gets.

10. Pomgirl - August 9, 2006

When I suggest a walk my boy always agrees, which is nice, walks to the front door and waits for me. AS IF IT COULD EVER BE THAT SIMPLE. He never bothers with a jacket or scarf, never picks up the baccie, papers and filter tips. When I have gathered everything we might possibly need for any eventuality that might occur, and am wearing the appropriate clothing, I will join him. Then, and only then, he will decide to “pop to the loo”.

I will wait outside smoking a cigarette; when he then appears he will say “Oh you remembered the tobacco, great” and then want to smoke a cigarette too. But he will want coffee with his cigarette, which we go back inside to make. Approximately an hour after the initial suggestion we are ready to begin our walk, where he will then walk a couple of feet ahead of me THE ENTIRE TIME.

Apologies for the tediously long comment but at least you only have to read about it.

P.S. Tabasco AND Worcester sauce, maybe?

11. BiB - August 9, 2006

Pomgirl, darling, the longer the better as far as I’m concerned. Gosh, actually going back indoors for coffee? That is a diversion-and-a-half. The Russian and I sometimes struggle to maintain similar speeds too, especially if words have been exchanged. It’s all very difficult. It would be much easier if one of us could drive. And if we had a car. We’d have to stick together then.

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