I feel so sad to be away from that incredible city.. Amstrerdam feels a little dead in comparison. Berlin is like one big festival, music everywhere, a Berliner Pilsener and falafel are never more than 100 metres away. You just find a busker you like and sit and listen and meet people. Amsterdam has no real street music scene, and it is strange playing here after feeling so proud and welcomed to play on the streets in Berlin. Niz said to me, “The reason I love Berlin so much is that I feel proud to play on the streets with all these great musicians” Not only that, but the German people really appreciate it and sit and listen and buy up all your CD’s, we sold around a hundred in just over 2 months!
We managed to jump the Metro’s most of the time, but also paid a little for a monthly ticket and that was our main transport. We wished we had bikes because it is a very bike friendly city, but would have been hard to ride with all the stuff and go all the way from the West to the East. But when we come back we will have bikes for sure. I was caught without a ticket once, and managed to charm my way out of a fine, but usually they are very strict and there is no way to know when they are going to get on the train. They were plain clothes, around 3 of them get on and wait for the doors to close and then say “Fahrkarten Bitte!”
The city was just so welcoming and warm to us, like we have never experienced in any city before. We were staying with the most beautiful family and we were truly a part of their family. Anja is an incredible woman; a natural and wise loving mother with a strong German heart and way of getting things done that need to be done. Her daughter Leyla is a child genius in languages and art. She is teaching herself Japanese and drawing all the time perfect faces and people and all kinds.
The two boys Lada and Bada were my best buddies while I was there; they just really seemed to love me. As soon as they would get home from Kindergarten they would shout ‘uncle!’ and come looking for me. They are very beautiful boys, like Indian princes, Lada is the very smart one, is almost fluent in English at 5 and asks very deep questions about the origin of life and all kinds, that I would always do my best to answer to which he would think for a few seconds and then say in a very agreeable way “Ahaaa”. Bada is the very sensitive and adorable one, he has a heart melting way of asking things in a beautiful half English half german crackly voice, sometimes when he was tired or just waking up he would sit and stare and look like he was thinking so deeply about the wonders of the world.
One morning they came into see us and wake us up and we spent 2 hours just talking about an imaginary castle we would make, with all the guards and dragons and all kinds what food we would need. For weeks after they would say “Uncle, speak von da Castle!” And we would talk more about all the stuff we would make there. They are such imaginative children, they love to play with Lego and build things. They are allowed to blossom so freely and creatively by their ever-loving mother.
Anja asked if we would help them learn how to ride their bikes, so we took them out one day and started to help them ride. We would hold them at first and then let go and then catch them again till they could go half way round on their own. They were so excited and filled with determination to do it. Lada learned first being a little older and could push himself and start on his own. Bada, being a little younger couldn’t reach the floor all the way so I would have to push him. Seeing Lada doing it without help made him so proud and determined to do it on his own himself.
After a few weeks of me pushing him, he said “Uncle, you not help me today, OK?” in his adorable crackly voice. I said “OK, mate..Let’s do it!” He picked up his bike and got on, he could only reach the floor with his tip toes and would push a little and then fall. He did this for around ten minutes pushing himself and falling and getting back up, and I was saying “Come on baddy! You can do it mate!” The he tilted the bike a little bit so he could get his feet down further, gave himself a big push and almost started peddling. I was shouting “Yes! Come on Badaaa! You can do it bud” The bike shook a little but he steadied it and then he was in flight peddling away with the biggest, most satisfied smile I have ever seen. That’s the great thing about them boys, they really push eachother. They are very competitive lads, and that is great for them in many ways.
Nizha would sing with Leyla, they would do the Indian scales and practice harmonies and it always sounded so beautiful. Leyla is an amazing girl, wise beyond her years and a real ability for teaching herself languages. Anja, being the mother of these amazing kids is no less wonderous herself. She knows the value of the saying “If you want a job doing right, do it yourself” She singlehandedly found and started to contract the building of a new kindergarten, organizing a massive one day festival of multi culturism in Berlin, doing a diploma course in creative writing, working freelance doing a companies paperwork and all in between running and maintaining a very beautiful home with 3 kids and Niz and I. This two months staying with Anja and the kids made us feel like part of the family and bonded us with them very closely, and we will always be thinking of them and missing them.
Warschauer Strasse was the main place to be for the buskers, it isn’t a great spot really. It’s very noisy and has a lot of traffic of all kinds, but if you can draw a crowd from it you can fill your hat. But 80% of the buskers never really drew a crowd there, and made between 10 and 15 euroes in an hour. We played there a few times and did OK, first time 25 euroes in half an hour, and then the next time just as we were drawing a crowd the police came and stopped us. It’s very sad to see the police stopping musicians because that is what makes the city so great.
We found that playing the markets was the best for us, especially one market in particular was always so warm and welcoming to us. We would make between 80 and 140 euroes in an hour. Hackesher market was also very good for us, but we had to compete with a lot of other buskers, but we found a good routine, we would let the girl who played the restaurants do half an hour then we would do half an hour to an hour. We would be happy with taking home around a hundred after 3 sets. The guy at the restaurant behind us was very welcoming also, our first busk there he brought us some coffee and said you can plug in your amp here if you like.
That was the beauty of the city, music on the streets and public places was mostly welcomed with open arms. You would get a few people who would grumble, but if there was a building with 100 people in and 1 person complained, they would carry out the wishes of that one person and not the majority of the people who don’t mind it and enjoy it. We always stepped lightly though, we didn’t overdo a spot and always kept it quiet when we needed to.
There was this one guy at Schleisches Tor who had just set up everything, his percussion, guitar pedals, amp, an array of other instruments, it wasn’t just a basic set up he had spent nearly an hour setting it all up. He had just put his sign out and was about to switch on his amp when the police said he couldn’t play there. He looked devastated and gave them a sad look, and then slowly started to pack all his gear away.
Where is the crime? How can street music be a crime, if the majority of people enjoy it and feel it is an important part of the city, why should they stop it? But it’s not just the streets that are filled with music, the bars in the city all have live music also, we went to see a lot of gigs there and they were all very intimate, they would put the hat round at the end, and it would be a very cosy atmosphere, there was a piano in all of them. The East was the best place, it was just so alive.
On one of our first days there we were trying to find an old bridge where we had played when we were here the year before, we found it and as we approached I seen a familiar face. Dave Gaffney who I knew a little from busking in Liverpool and the Lomax was there. We exchanged greetings and reasons for loving Berlin and said we will meet up for ‘ein Berliner Pilsener’ soon. Dave became a good mate during our Berlin adventure and it wouldn’t have been the same without him. He took us to some great bars, introduced us to all the buskers and was just a great positive energy to be around. We went a little further up the bridge and there was another guy playing, this guy was from Crewe, so we set up a little further down and realised that the whole bridge was held by English buskers!
Warschauer was my favourite place to be though, we went past there on our first night and seen a row of buskers lining up to play so we knew it was one of the top spots. Most nights after we had busked in the day I would take the bronze money, head so excitedly on the U-Bahn to Warschauer. When I got off I was almost running to see who was playing and what was happening there. I would get a beer, take my favourite seat on the steps and wait for someone to light a joint and share it with. Spend the night listening to great music, meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life and feeling like I was at the best party in town.
I just really loved the German people, language, patience and everything. Especially the beer! One day when we were busking at our favourite market a guy came up and said he had a bar in the West and would we like to come and play there that night. We said sure thing! And that night went to the very cosy and beautiful Casablanca Bar. Alex welcomed us like stars, would not let our glasses go empty had got all his friends to come to the bar that night. It was only a tiny place and not many people would come, but he made us feel like we were playing to a full house. One of his friends came who was a TV producer for a channel, he really loved us and took us out afterwards. We went to a whisky bar in Schoneberg and drunk until sunrise with many beautiful people, who just all seemed to love us and welcome us .
One night I set out to Warschauer as usual and seen that the brilliant Alice Phoebe Lou was waiting to go on, it was quite windy but I was sharing a joint with a funny German guy and talking about life, waiting for the Phoebe Lou to start what was always an incredible set. The Germans all seemed to love my accent and whenever I was talking people would turn round and start talking to me. This guy came past me once, and said “You know, the weather will be getting very hot in the next few days, the Northern air is meeting the continental air (or something scientific like that)” I said, “Nice, I will be looking forward to that” He then just went and a couple of minutes later he came back and gave me some more random information about the weather, he did this again and on the fourth time round he tells me he is an artist, and if he could show me his work’ I said sure thing buddy!
He takes out all these canvases and they are really good! He says hes selling them for ten euroes. I say I only got about 3 euroes to me name. He says I can have one for that, so I happily take one. And then this triggers another guy to buy one for ten! He seemed very honoured that I bought one and he says I am going to get a couch and a joint and when I come back we smoke a joint together, I say sure thing, buddy. After half an hour Alice Phoebe Lou is just starting to set up and the main event begins at Warschauer. Just as she started the artist came back carrying a couch and a joint! We set the couch up right in front of Alice Phoebe Lou, smoked a joint and listened to her wonderful set with the best seats in the house!
Another night at Warschauer there was this girl playing the piano, it was quite sad and a little low in volume and was struggling against the traffic, then all of a sudden techno music started blasting out from the bridge beneath us! I went down to investigate and it was a very cool van set up as a DJ booth, with loudspeakers and the works. I thought ‘Yesss’ and started dancing the old faithful Birkenhead 2-Step. After an hour the police sadly came and shut it down. Again, it was in the middle of a place where no one could possibly complain, there was no harm being done just people having a nice time and they came and pissed on that bonfire.
After nearly 3 months in Berlin we were getting ready to depart. It was hard because on one of our last nights at Warschauer Alice Hills was playing, my buddy Dave was there and there was this van of Becks Beer giving away free beer all night. It was like a promotional thing for trying all different types of brews. We had empty crates to sit on, and free beer and great music all through the night. We knew we were going to miss the place, the people, the music, and especially our dear Anja, Leyla and they boys. But after such an intense, wonderful experience we were excited to spend 10 days in a candlelit garden house in Amsterdam before we set off to Galway and the next part of our adventure.
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