Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...

15 August 2007

Escape from Berlin

On my last day in this incredible central European capital, I took advice from yesterday’s guide and ascended the Reichstag. For free entry it’s one of the best views of the centre of town – the dome was shut that morning but normally one can walk right to the top.

The city is known for it’s museums – the World Heritage-listed island full of them in the middle of town was my next stop, but waiting in the queue for the Pergamon, the one full of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, I realised that after Ludwig’s magnificent palaces and indeed most of Munich and Berlin, I’d seen enough imagery of antiquity for a while, and hopped the U-Bahn south to my plan B, the Jewish Museum.

Quite a recent addition to the city’s historical collection, it’s harsh, angular, metallic exterior houses a building of sloping walkways and empty concrete shafts spanning from basement to ceiling. An enduring motif here is emptiness, not only a reflection of Jewish history in this country, but also a stylistic feature of architect Daniel Liebeskind, in that the features of the building are left open to interpretation.
After a bilingual history of the Jews in Germany and various periods ranging between social acceptance and indiscriminate slaughter, the circuit ended with the Garden of Exile, similar to the memorial at the Tiergarten but set at a steeper slope, the vertical concrete blocks much closer together, more constrictive, unsettling.

Upon leaving, that larger question for me remained, of why such a learned, cultured people have been subject to endless persecution across the globe since ancient times. Some light was shed on various myths surrounding the Jews; for example, under the Holy Roman Empire, one of the only occupations through the Middle Ages allowed to Jews was money lending, creating a certain historical reputation. But that larger question still remained, for me, unanswered.

Before the late flight, I went back to Bergmanstrasse for my last meal. After a couple of miserable days, summer opened the skies back up again, inviting a quick scout around the neighbouring streets, some perfectly preserved in the style I’d seen in the north in Prenzlauer.

I learnt only later that in the West Berlin days, Kreuzberg was the hang of visiting rockers and artisans, an area worth checking on my next visit.

14 August 2007

Secret Berlin Tour

Oh how wonderful it is to be in a country where the weather changes naturally, gradually. Yesterday’s raininess was followed this morning by what? Oh my god, it’s a sunny day! And set to stay for most of the day. I was all fired up to hit the museums but two and a half years of vitamin D withdrawals commanded me from the sub-atomic level to stay outside as long as possible.
I found a secret Berlin walking tour (that is, of old secret stories in Berlin) and hooked up on that near Zoo station, the old hub of West Berlin, which basically looked like it hadn’t changed since the mid 60s. Our guide took us back and forth across town, including the Wall Memorial; a storeys-high platform looks down upon a recreated part of the original ‘death strip’, the space between the two walls. Just along is the newly built Church Of Reconciliaiton, a traditional looking church stuck in the death strip until 1985 when levelled by the GDR, replaced after 1990 with a small concrete and wood chapel.

In total contrast, the guide then took us to Karl Marx Allee, previously known as Stalin Allee, a good couple of kilometres of yellow and white tiled model apartment blocks in Stalinist style, still immaculately preserved, built in the early 50s to show the rest of the world the marvellous accommodation available for the workers of the GDR.

Not far further on the S Bahn was the Stasi headquarters, a bleak collection of office buildings, where the tour ended.
In all the stories told to us by the guide of ordinary people and officials bucking the various systems, a recurring theme was the ‘threshold’ – where was that space, that moment in time, what was that particular motivation, where citizens stopped being compliant and started resisting?
I guess this tied in with my own interest in the tour, in the society of Nazi Germany but also of the GDR. How did these people (indeed, how does any people anywhere) go around their business, in a relatively functioning society, with the daily knowledge that a massive secret police system, the Stasi, as well as a system of civilian informants (almost triple in number to the Stasi) was keeping an eye on their every move? How could you trust your neighbour, your family, indeed, anybody?
On this, my last night on the continent for a while, I took advice from the tour guide and walked about fifteen minutes south of my hostel to Bergmanstrasse, a gorgeous old suburban street lined with huge trees, full of cafes and restaurants.
In my role as travelling musician, I felt a little remiss at not having made more effort to check out the local scene, seek out some live music, but I was on holiday and I decided to do ordinary person things instead (like watching ‘The Simpsons’ movie at Potsdamer Platz last night – it was okay, but I liked ‘Transformers’ better)…

13 August 2007

A Work In Progress

I tripped back up to Prenzlauer for some breakfast, a little less successful this time. My two favourite cafes didn’t open until midday so I had to settle for one round the corner. Most of the museums are closed here in Berlin on Mondays, and since the weather opened up in the morning I decided to take a stroll through the Tiergarten, the huge tract of parkland west of the Brandenburg Gate.
Part of the way from Prenzlauer to Zoo stations was on the S-Bahn, the German equivalent of London’s ‘overland’ but is practically the same as the underground. Travelling east to west, across the river, the museum island and buildings north of Unter Den Linden, it’s another good aerial viewpoint of the city, a moving platform from which to observe a work in progress.
I came up to the Victoria statue atop the pedestal at Groser Stern and was impressed at the fact that it was bigger than I expected, probably due to the fact that it was bigger than the one I saw in Munich about a month ago. This Berlin one must be at least ten metres high, and one can walk right up the pedestal to its base. Taking a couple of grey landscape pics, wanting to beat the ensuing rush back down a tiny spiral staircase, I legged it over to the nearby café for a Schofferhoffer, a Wiener Schnitzel and a read of my current book, Hemingways ‘A Moveable Feast’, no mean feat itself sitting in front of six lanes of traffic with more than the occasional rain droplet leaking through the tree above.

12 August 2007

In Seventeen Years

I went back up to Prenzlauer for some afternoon breakfast, deciding on a corner café round the quieter end of Helmholtzplatz, devouring a tasty panini and trying not to stare at the model-looking friend of the waitresses who was sitting at the end of the bar. Still rubbish weather but it didn’t stop me taking the four o’clock free walking tour from Brandenburg Gate, including the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s bunker site, Checkpoint Charlie, the site of the 1933 bookburning and finishing up at the Museum on the island.
I’ve only been here two days, and walking amongst the streets I’m starting to find that the whole place looks, as our tour guide put it, like it’s still all under construction. Barely seventeen years after the wall came down, a random, broken-up feel pervades – turn a corner past some baroque magnificence and you’re at an old GDR apartment block, or an empty patch of land, or a really hip café. It’s all jumbled up, and as a result still open for change and development, which is of course a thrilling prospect. I’m trying to imagine what it’s all going to be like in another seventeen years.

11 August 2007

Prenzlauer Berg

You live in a four star hotel for three weeks with loads of friends and everything’s taken care of. You stay one day in a hastily booked hostel and it all comes apart. After a disastrous morning of practicality gone wrong, I finally get out into a decidedly miserable afternoon. From Alexanderplatz, tramming it to the northern reaches of Prenzlauer Berg, my roaming in search of some cool café was cut short by something I realised I hadn’t seen in years – a continued session of rain, strong and hard for a long time. As far as I can tell, there’s no drought in this country.
Stumbling across the Kulturebreweri, site of my gig here with Sophie Solomon in May 05, I picked up a nice little booklet which told me in English all about the neighbourhood, and so my afternoon was taken with revolving between the two squares of the area. The first I came across, Kolliwitzplatz, was billed as the more affluent, with an incredible market down one side. Wending my way through picture perfect period apartment buildings, I found the other, Helmholtzplatz, billed as the less affluent, to be more to my liking. This particular area, once on the borders of the city (a nearby park held Berlin’s first water tower), had a varied history as housing to the wave of immigration from the countryside during the Industrial Revolution. Narrowly escaping total demolition during the GDR, the area was now the hippest café scene in town, populated largely by the young and their families. Pulling up in one particular darkened cushioned place, my hunt for the best coffee remained unfulfilled.

10 August 2007

Escape To Berlin

On a last minute decision the night before, I decided to opt out of the return flight to Ol’ Blighty, and after clearing it with everyone concerned, I took a five hour train ride to Berlin to hang for a cuppla daze. The countryside became less picturesque and with progressively less sleep and more drinking over the past few days, I slept most of the way – after a bit of transport confusion, after check in to the hostel that I’d booked that morning, I was released on the town about 9pm.
Absolutely starving, I found that once I started walking and checking things out, the hunger subsided – wanderlust….wunderbar! From Hallesches Tor, the old southern gate of the city, a walk up Stresemanstrasse took me past the Holocaust Memorial to Potsdamer Platz. Previously a no mans wasteland during the Cold War, the spectacular new buildings on its borders were no more than seventeen years old, giving the place an exciting, forward-looking feel.
Wandering on past Brandenburg Gate and down Unter Den Linden, my hunt for a feed took me to Hackesher Market – gorgeous array of open air eating. After the meal, still exhausted from a week’s partying, I found the travel bug got the better of me and still kept walking – on a particularly touristy street, I got sucked down some sideways archway and into an array of hidden away bars, the alternative vibe, looking run down and retro but where drinks are all still the same price.
On trusted advice I made my way west up Oranienburger Strasse to an abandoned looking apartment building – once inside Tacheles, marvelling at the graffiti interior, I ascended the six storey staircase and wandered into various studios of artists who lived and worked in the building. Behind the building was a huge beer garden of sorts with numerous stalls, and a huge empty lot behind that surrounded by three massive walls, one entirely painted over with street art, one with a particular mural, one still an empty canvas.
Back up the street, past a couple of incredibly opulent looking Thai restaurants (umbrellas, open fires, couches), I managed to find a salsa bar right next to a shish bar. Open air dining and drinking is huge here; I managed to find a bench seat more or less between the two places, mixing salsa tunes floating through nearby from the dance room out the back with the various odours of flavoured tobacco and a couple of mellow mojitos to end an awesome eve.

08 August 2007


The post gig drink hunt on this particular eve took us into Marienplatz, the old town, to a couple of traditional stein-swilling taverns, and then a bout of intrepidity into something JM I think has pioneered – night tourism. Screw daylight man, just walk around and check it all out when there’s no-one around. Making our way past the Residence museum, traditional home of the Bavarian kings and electors at the end of the long avenue that runs north out of town, it wasn’t far to Koneigsplatz, and JM started reaming facts about it faster than I could keep up. Those Roman buildings on the first night we had seen had once bordered a square, forming part of the complex that was the original home of the Nazi party. I knew that Munich and Bavaria was where it had all started, but I had no idea that their base of operations was barely three blocks from our hotel.

06 August 2007


As the S-Bahn train hurtled through the picturesque countryside I thought to myself, we’re going to a palace on an island in the middle of a lake. A palace, for starters, amazing enough. But on an island? In a lake? Is this real?
Prien am Chiemsee was about a fifteen minute walk from the ferry. We alight from the train and Dave our crazy Scottish baritone sax player preceeded to have some sort of attack, aping about taking photos of everything and licking a nearby pole. Too much sunshine for him I guess.
It’s a ten minute ferry and then about a ten minute walk from the terminal to the palace on the other side of the island. We come out of the forest to immaculately manicured gardens leading up to no less than three fountains, one centre and two behind to either side, ancient Roman imagery in abundance.
Another smaller Versailles, this one featured a more direct influence, complete with Hall of Mirrors but slightly longer than the original. The whole place felt quite bizarre in a fashion – incomplete in various parts, the project bankrupted the Bavarian coffers, all for the fanciful notions of the last Bavarian king. It remains in immaculate condition because it was only ever lived in by one of them, Ludwig II, who ended up going mad, was transported to another palace for his own safety, and was discovered dead days later in a nearby lake.
Our ticket took us back on to the ferry and to a neighbouring island where real, alive people lived, and a quick circumnavigation was followed by a hearty Bavarian meal – pork knuckle, bratwurst, potatoes, and a stein of weiss (wheat) beer or helles (lager). Some incredible views of the German Alps were to be had from the ferry back, and on our return to the mainland, a quick radio control boat ride took us out on the water for the sunset, digital cameras ablaze with the magnificence of it all, so very pretty.
After two weeks of partying every night, the resulting increasing alcohol intake and decreasing lack of sleep was resulting in recurring bouts of déjà vu, nearly one a day. The one catch with staying in a four-star hotel was that we shared rooms, I with Damo, a single bed each, who became more and more agitated each day with my apparent snoring. By contrast, when asleep he just lay there, this guy twice my size, silent and motionless. So I wake up one morning in a disoriented haze and who’s the first thing I see? OH MY GOD! No no it’s all right, I remember now, who I am and what I’m doing here….phew…

05 August 2007

Unterfahrt Again

On entering the club I could tell it was a far different vibe from last week, more a free-for-all, which worked fine for us as we invaded the stage en masse. The assistant musical director within me suddenly sprang forth, and I’m sending orders to rhythm section while talking over heads with horn players and such. I think we managed about three songs which was fairly generous I thought, then the post-match banter. I somehow ended up talking to just about everyone. Then there was some drunken vain hunt for a beach party, yeah, like there’s gonna be a beach party on the Isa river at 5am…

04 August 2007


Former summer residence of the Bavarian kings, previously on the fringes of the city, Nymphenburg palace was a short tram ride away from Hauptbahnhof. Like a smaller version of Versailles which I had visited with my parents a year ago, suitably opulent, but this time with a Bavarian bent. Entrance hall in white, akin to some of the churches we had seen, there were two memorables from this particular trip. One was the furniture – incredible tables and dressers made of exotic woods, inlaid pearl and other such materials. The other one by far was the room of thirty-seven beauties, paintings commissioned by Ludwig I. Adorning the four walls of one particular high-ceilinged room, a few of them had stories, the most outstanding of which would have been that of Lola Montez, the Irish dancing girl pretending to be Spanish, who must have made an enormous move for the time to the court of Ludwig I who proceeded to bestow numerous royal honours upon her, resulting in the disgust of the people and his subsequent abdication.
Damo, JM and I took a stroll in the gardens, again like Versailles although on a much smaller, more manageable scale, passing various villas in groves and one of those rotunda thingys one would expect Pan to dance through playing pipes and such. The boys left me after a time and I preceded to the northern side, running past a monastery type building. Muncheners definitely used this public resource: joggers on a circuit, elderly couples on their favourite benches dotted throughout forest and field. I caught the tram back in a happy summer daze, no London edge here, more like some warm Australian autumn afternoon.
One thing I definitely wanted to find while I was here that wouldn’t have been on any tourist map was the factory where they built all the incredibly beautiful women littered amongst this city’s streets. I thought I had found it one morning at the bagel place (free wireless) just up from the hotel, just in front of an archway that obviously led to the courtyard of an apartment block. I swear, every ten minutes some gorgeous young thing in a big skirt would bicycle out like a production line.
But no, the place I was looking for was ‘P1’, only the most exclusive nightclub in town, situated under a museum on Printzregenstrasse. Ray, one of the singers, had somehow sweet-talked the door guy and so we skipped this massive queue into one of the nicest clubs I’ve ever seen. And the girls check you out too, as you pass them. Clubbing’s not usually my thing, but it had been a while and I was hanging with the cast for the first time and before I know it we’re all dancing our asses off.
We’re standing on the dancefloor eyeing off the scenery and before I know it I’m getting randomly massaged from one of the hottest blondes in the room in this black miniskirt. Wondering if she was trying to solicit some sort of business from me (or maybe just a free drink) I wandered off a little, but then a couple of minutes later when I gestured her to come dance, she turned slowly in disgust with her back to me. Ha! Like she had any idea what she was missing….

03 August 2007

Bye Victoria

I farewelled her on the train this morning. Such a chilled out girl. She laughed at all my dumb jokes (‘You finally found her!’ says Dave). Touring can be allowed to be quite lonely sometimes, and for a sweetener to come along like that was just something else....

01 August 2007

Olympic Village

Fending off the boys’ questions about my little rendezvous last night, a squad of us tripped out to the Olympic Village. While Dave and Andy peeled off to the BMW factory, Damo, JM and I wandered off into the the site of the 1972 games. An immaculately designed layout housed buildings still looking quite contemporary, forty years later. The various arenas surrounded a small lake, overlooked by a large hill, and so we hiked up the hill for some cool photos, as well as the telecommunications tower, back across the expressway, which gave the most amazing view of the city and surrounding Bavaria. BMW plant, Olympic village, expressway, urban planning to perfection.
I met her after the show again. Her name is Victoria and she lives near the palace so she must be a princess. And of course (in what appears to be a recurring theme in the love life of your correspondent) she’s leaving town on Friday for three weeks, back to her native Siberia. But it’s all right, it lends a sweetness to the amazing time I’m already having, and as much as I love sharing a room with my mate the Ginger Ninja, it’s nice to be out of the hotel and away from the bar and not drinking for a couple of nights…