Day Off – Now we’re well and truly starting to feel at home in the land of Schnitzel and Wurst. The Weissbier is going down pretty well too. What to do on a day off in Berlin? Well, quite a lot really. This city is crammed with amazing architecture, historical stories, fab food, beautiful and scary places and over 500 museums. Laurie being here for the weekend, we opted for the lot. Now this is one big town so we started off at a few places near the Hotel du Rome which overlooks the Babelplatz, site of the memorial by Micha Ullman consisting of a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookcases which commemorates the book burning that took place here on May 10th 1933. The infamous Nazi book burning ceremony held in the evening of May 10, 1933. The Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler burned around 20,000 books, including works by Thoms Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and many other authors. We rounded the corner and found the tiny Deutsch Guggenheim museum which was showing live performance and sculpture sessions by contemporary Polish sculptor Pawel Althamer. If you hung around in there long enough, he would take a mould of your face and immortalize you in one of his sculptures which in this exhibit were being crafted from freshly made PVC tubing, still super hot and playable. Laurie being a full time art student wanted to get in on the action but with limited time we simply had to move on.
Just round a few corners, the contemporary fine arts gallery was showing works by local Berlin artist Norbert Schwontkowski. His work is striking, cartoonish and melancholy, and his use of hand-ground pigments and paints, into which he mixed various materials to yield different textures is to me extraordinary. Google Images doesn’t do justice to his amazing body of work as when they are in front of you, as with all art really, they come alive….but to get a flavour, click here.
From there we headed off to Auguststrasse and a street loaded with small galleries to numerous to mention, some of which were pretty hidden away. On Oranienburger strasse we popped in to a building called Kunsthaus Tacheles, formerly a department store in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, next to the synagogue, was originally called Friedrichsstadtpassagen. After serving as a Nazi prison, the building was taken over by artists, who called it “Tacheles,” Yiddish for “straight talking. Threatened by demolition, the building now houses a young artists collective. Some ‘interesting’ stuff in there.
Time for food and we looked and looked for a typical German restaurant but could only find Indian, Thai, Italian, Japanese etc. Patience paid off in the end as we came across a very old little cafe with a fabulous old wooden bar and a very elaborate old till. As Berlin is now such a tourist destination, an English menu (pdf download) was forthcoming and the young waitresses were very helpful.
The Schnitzel, Bratwurst and Weissbier were absolutely delicious. The restaurant was called Gambrinus and in 1882 was the first to offer beer and schnapps with a hearty “Bulette” (an genuine Berlin hamburger). The rest of the afternoon was spent meandering slowly back in the general direction of the hotel, dropping into small galleries. The evening was upon us and word was that the guys were heading out for a beer. Surprise surprise. Laurie and I headed out a little later and it wasn’t long before we came across a restaurant called simply Augustiner. I guessed that Richard might be inside, if not everyone. We had a drink at the bar and waited for a table. I couldn’t see the guys so a nice dinner for two was on the cards. When a table finally came up, we followed the waiter (after having at first lost him) into a private room at the back where lo and behold, everyone in the band plus Peter and Tim were sitting in front of huge 2 pint steins full of Augustiner beer. We joined them for an incredible German dining experience. I had the best Goulash I’ve ever eaten.
Show Day – A bit more leg work to be done and a few more museums to see. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to see even a fraction of what should be seen in this remarkable city. Each time I come to Berlin, I think it needs revisiting. All aboard the mid-afternoon bus to the venue, the huge O2 World Berlin. Built on what was no-man’s land before 1989, the gargantuan multi-purpose arena was opened in September 2008. There appears to be a relatively new construction grid on the facade of the arena which is apparently equipped with more than 300,000 LED clusters. I’m sure that wasn’t here last time. When we arrived at the venue, Bob and band were onstage but not making any noise, obviously they were discussing arrangements…for quite a while. In fact, whatever they were doing ended up allowing us very little time for our sound-check, no problem though as the powers that be held the doors for ten minutes to allow us to complete it. With doors open it was time to grab the banjo and see if I could find Donny for lesson no.1. Donny was easy to find, clearly audible in the corridors picking away at his banjo. Richard, Donny and I retired to their dressing room and sat down. Donny showed us the rudimentary ‘claw’ stroke which must be practiced until it becomes second nature. This is where the anti-social aspect of banjo training becomes apparent. The relentless ‘boinging’ is enough to drive any sane musician round the bend. Thankfully there are none of those around these parts and most are more than willing to put up with these dulcet tones…for now. With right hand now bent into a permanent claw shape it was off to catering for a selection of goodies…not too much, just enough as showtime swiftly approached once more. We were on stage again no sooner than you could say “Why Aye Man” and another classic German audience were clearly captivated from the first note. An absolutely fabulous show, charged once again from a day off, we’re getting used to these, and a miraculous response and applause that continued for an age after every tune. There was a lot more energy up on stage tonight and I can only assume it has something to do with our recent high-carb/cholesterol diets we’ve all adopted specially for Germany! Schnitzel logic.
We were off stage after 74 or so minutes and by the time we’d changed out of our stage gear and sat down for ten minutes, Mark was readied for his second appearance of the evening…another four songs with Bob. Once again, Bob seemingly relishing playing with Mark as they traded guitar licks more than once. With restrictions governing driver hours and bus locations, we were shepherded back to the hotel in mini buses and it was mutually agreed that a few more beers would be a good idea to round off our visit to beautiful Berlin. No prizes for guessing where we ended up..yes, Augustiner. Since it was still early (only 10:30) and we were a bit peckish after our evening endeavors, we ordered more food, you know the type of thing…Schnitzel, Curry wurst, chips, sausages etc. etc. all washed down with sumptuous Augustiner draught lager bier.
Sleep was not an issue.