Monday, May 23, 2011


So here's a little more about the busking I've been doing with Will from Scotland. We met nearly three weeks ago as he was playing guitar and singing in the subway station closest to my apartment. I don't normally ride the subway since I prefer to bike around usually, but on this day I was accompanying a friend to the station on her way home. I stopped to listen to Will and introduced myself when he finished his song, mentioning that I sing and play violin. He then started playing a tune that I also knew, "Last Chance with Mary Jane" by Tom Petty, and I spontaneously added some harmony vocals as he sang the chorus.We exchanged phone numbers. He called me two days later to ask if I wanted to meet up and jam in the park. After 1 hour of rehearsal, we had 4 songs that we could play all the way through together (including "Mary Jane") and they sounded quite good. He asked if I wanted to busk that evening and I agreed to it. We headed straight into Kreuzberg and started asking at bars if we could play for their patrons. I'm not sure how many bars we played that night, probably only three or maybe four, but I remember being amazed that this was me, I was doing this and it sounded good and people were giving me money (and beer) to do it.

Busking in bars is a very presumptuous business. You assume that people want to hear you play, or at least don't mind you playing in their vicinity, because they are trapped there with their drinks and once you start playing, they have no choice but to sit there and bear it. Sometimes you get to a place and you play your heart out, and no one is paying you the slightest shred of attention. Sometimes, it's way too loud for anyone to even hear you, even when you're playing your loudest, most raucous songs, usually the Irish drinking ones... And then there are bars, and these are my favorite, where you start playing and the whole place turns into the most rapt, adoring audience you've ever played for, and people are shushing each other so they can hear you better, and folks come up to you afterwards and thank you for coming and press Euro coins into your hands and ask for encores and email addresses and websites and make you feel like you're a famous person in a famous band and you just got done playing Wembley Stadium.

It's also a very emotional business, especially when it's more than one person. When you're working together, there's always the chance that one person won't have a good feeling about a place or a song and will refuse to play it, or you're trying to play pieces you think sound amazing and the audience doesn't react, or you get frustrated or angry with the other person. The emotional ante is upped when you start playing music you've written, because rejection from your partner or ambivalence from the audience hurts that much more.  I've enjoyed working with Will because he always says what he's thinking - there's no passive-aggressive behavior between us. If something needs to be said, it gets said right away rather than being left to fester.

Busking has been an enjoyable, challenging, eye-opening learning experience for me. I've carted my violin on my back around several neighborhoods in Berlin, playing on the street, in numerous bars, and a few times even on the subway, which provides the extra challenge of remaining upright and in tune while the train is motion. Through it I've met a ton of people and gotten much more familiar with the streets of this city. I've learned a lot in the last 2 weeks, and it's been great to use my musical talents to do something I love to do: perform for others. It's also been nice to earn a little money to live on. However, it does take up a lot of my time; out of the last 2 weeks' worth of evenings, Will and I busked approximately 90% of them. So I'm going to take a step back and not do as much of it in the coming weeks. I have some travel days on my train pass to use up before mid-June, so I need to focus on planning out those travels.

Here are some photos and videos from a gig we played last weekend at a wine/record shop. My friend Chi came to the show and took a few recordings. Will has done a lot of busking in Berlin during the past year and sometimes gets asked to play proper gigs - ones where the money is settled in advance, and you know people want to hear you play. He invited me along last weekend to accompany him on this gig, and we played a gig the night before in a little English pub in former West Berlin, where the proprietor immediately booked us for another show next month. At this point, I can play about a 1/3 of Will's entire repertoire, so I tend to join him on stage for a segment of each set and sit out the rest. In the videos, we perform 4 songs. The first one is one of Will's original pieces, called "The Clearances", which he wrote about the Scottish Highlands. The second is "Old Man Tucker", an American folk tune (I think it's actually Old Dan Tucker, but that's not how we sing it). The third video is us singing a song by the Kinks called "Waterloo Sunset", which we had rehearsed for literally the very first time that afternoon prior to the show. The last video is of me singing "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac; we normally don't mess up the instrumental part in the middle, so just try to pretend like that didn't happen. :)


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parks, not parking

The weather can be pretty good here depending on the day, and I'm hoping to spend some major time outdoors. Berlin is a city of parks, really big ones too, you can go in and walk for hours and only see people on foot or on bike. And people really flock to these places when the weather is good. I've heard that less than half of all Berliners own a car, and it makes sense: You don't really need one in this city. Most people prefer to travel by public transportation or bicycle here, simply because it's more pleasant to not have to worry about finding an elusive parking spot, paying for parking once you've finally found a place to park, paying for gasoline (which I just worked out using real math* to be $8.59/gallon over here!), et cetera. Walking is also incredibly pleasant, thanks to the relatively low number of automobiles, the presence of wide sidewalks, the blending of residential and commercial zones, and the fact that you are never the only person out on the street (try saying that about anywhere in Texas).
One of my personal goals during the next 2 months is to check out every significantly-sized park and spend at least a half day in each of them. A few of my favorites so far:

1. Mauerpark

This park, relatively normal during the week, turns into a veritable circus on Sundays. There is a massive flea market where you can find just about anything under the sun. People come here to browse, play music, drink drinks, and eat delicious street food. I have only been to the park once, on a Thursday, and there was nothing going on, so I am excited to visit it this Sunday with Erica to take in the madness. There is also something called Bearpit Karaoke that happens here on Sundays, which looks like this.Whoa.

2. Tempelhof

When you go to Tempelhof Park, you might see people flying model airplanes. This is a completely normal thing to do at a park, but people like to do it especially at Tempelhof because this park used to be an actual airport. Berlin had 3 airports at one point, with 2 of them being smack dab in the middle of the city. The government has decided to close the central ones and make the outlying airport the only airport; Tempelhof was closed in 2008, and Tegel should soon follow suit. When they reopened Tempelhof as a park in 2010, they had left everything as it was: runways, terminals, even the control tower. It's now Berlin's largest park, and has a lot of space for everything. The softball team I am considering joining practices at this park.

Former runway, now great for biking

Tempelhof terminals

3. Görlizter Park

 Affectionately known as Görli (to my American ears, it sounds like "girly"), this park is the closest of the three to my house. It used to be a train station, and is now a big wide open space. It's not the prettiest park, but it's a good place to BBQ or hang out in the sunshine.

 4. Volkspark Friedrichshain

Friedrichshain is the first park I visited when I got to Berlin this time around. It is giant and mostly known for beach volleyball and having a constant haze hanging over it from all the BBQing people do here during nice weather. In German, this phenomenon is referred to as a Grillwolke, or BBQ cloud. I tried to take some video footage while tooling around on my bike.

*Conversion rates for real math:
1.61 Euros per liter of unleaded gasoline
3.785 liters per gallon
1.41 dollars to the Euro

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I didn't think that any of this was possible. Jumping across the Atlantic just to see what Berlin could offer me. And here I am, connecting with people, offering myself up to the world, enjoying my time in Germany. Anybody could have told me that this would work, all I had to do was trust myself and be confident and not worry about what could go wrong. And yet I remember lying in bed at night in Seattle four months ago, staring at the ceiling, brimming with doubts about whether I could do it. Whether I wanted to do it. Now I'm here, and I ask myself what my reservations were. Obviously, leaving my friends and family behind was the hardest part, but at the time it didn't seem like that it would be. All I could think about was how difficult it would be to move out of my apartment and get a life set up in Germany. Turns out it's not as difficult as it sounds.

This song by Monsters of Folk sums up how I'm feeling about myself at the moment. It really resonates with me with lines like "I had shoes to fill/Walking barefoot now" and "Take a piece of the sunshine with me on a red-eye flight to another world/ It isn't any trouble if you want to come with me/ I know it's outta the question honey, but I sure could use the company/ And a place to be."

 It's an experience within itself just to leave everything at home as it is and try something completely different for a while. As familiar as I am with German culture and language, there are still things that are new and foreign to me and slogging through them can be simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. The funny part of all this to me is that I felt like before I left Seattle, I was really starting to come to grips with the person that I am, getting to know my character flaws and strengths and dreams and desires within the context of my life there, and learning how to work with them. Now I'm in a new environment and it's almost like I have to go through the whole self-discovery process again. It can be a real challenge to feel like you are "being yourself" in a foreign language, because it definitely does not feel natural by any means, not yet anyway, and how can you be yourself if it doesn't feel natural?

One thing that is typical of me is that I am constantly busy. Somehow, without really meaning to, I manage to keep myself booked most days and have very little downtime. Even though I am still new to Berlin and don't know many people yet, I still have trouble finding time to blog and write to people because of all the things I've been up to. Thus the lack of updates around here. It's about to get worse, too: a dear, dear friend of mine will arrive tomorrow from the States and we will be too busy giggling and hugging each other and biking around Berlin to be able to post any news. So here we go with some pictures.

Tacheles art house

Tacheles has been around for a few decades and is constantly being threatened by capitalism.

Viking head and me

Open Mic night

This sign combination confuses me. Should I turn or no? Is it a dead end if I turn, or if I go straight?

So meta.

Berlin underground tour

Berliner Dom at sunset

 So I played on a softball team for about a week. I might still join for good, I haven't decided yet. The team consists of a mix of Germans, Venezualans, and Japanese.  But my friend Johannes is the one who invited me. Here he is.


Johannes and I enjoying Brazilian coffee in Schöneberg

Some pics of me singing karaoke at Hafenbar

I realize this is completely narcissistic of me

But the folks at the Monkey will appreciate it

Let's do the time warp again

All right, enough of that

Travis' house

I was on my way to a baseball game

But I got lost

So I took pictures of these ruins instead

A good place to play a secret show

This is Berlin in cartoon form


Okay, so another thing I've been up to lately is playing a lot of music. I met a guy from Scotland who has been busking here for a year and we hit it off really well, so we've been playing some music together on the streets and in bars, and making a little bit of money and having a lot of fun. He is also a very good cook and has made a few curries for me that have been excellent - he knows as well as I do that Germans do not make spicy food, so it's up to us to do it.

Will from Scotland
Will + Guitar
Lentil curry about to happen
Will cooking curry

 I love riding bikes anywhere and Berlin is especially good for it. Here I am riding and photographing my shadow.

Erica will be here in about 5 hours, so I gotta get a nap in before that happens. Love to everyone at home!