Friday 21st May, 2010. 1:46pm. Berlin.
Had about 3 hours sleep in the 48 prior to last night, and the lead in to that was pretty much a solid week of bad sleep anyway. Last night we shuttered all the windows, made the loft black as black, and passed out for nine hours. Woke feeling a bit drugged, but the foot-and-a-half of clouded remove that had settled on me was gone. The air was getting in and the sunlight was letting me see. Nice. Now I feel like I’ve arrived. Just in time to leave for four days, but we’ll be back in Berlin for five after that.
I learned more German in one day as a result of being put up by a man who speaks very little English than I would have in a six-week course I think. I’m still at the point were suddenly needing to use German results in me falling back on English, only to remember the German phrasing two seconds after doing so. But the fact that I managed to go from zero to semi-competent in one day on heavy exhaustion… not too shabby. J seems to think I’m picking it up really quickly, and I have to admit that navigating the place in German does leave me feeling all cosmopolitan and shit. It’s actually a really beautiful language, with a really lovely texture, that’s gotten something of a bad rap aesthetically.
I never before noticed the German habit of using ‘so’ as a thinking word. I’m hearing it about the place but Klaus did it all the time. His place is very quiet – it was just him while we were there as his wife was out of town – and I’d periodically hear this deep, stentorian and warm “Zzooohh…” roll out from some other room. Made me think of some likeable giant, the Rockbiter from Neverending Story or Ludo summoning the rocks. It was really quite a sweet thing to hear every now and then.
We’re getting a lift to Leipzig via the automotive equivalent of CouchSurfing. Klaus’ mysterious and absent daughter Daisy arranged it for us. And then we’re staying in a six-person sharehouse for Wave Gotik Treffen (hereafter referred to as WGT), which is going to be something of a party joint I think. I’m someone who needs a dose of space at least once a day usually, and all the gigs are at night, so as long as I remember to slow down a little when I can and then get into everything else when it happens I think I’ll wind up having a really good time. Much as I love learning a new language I’m hoping to meet some English speakers at WGT. My brain could use the break.
Dinner with Klaus last night at his favourite restaurant around the corner. Owner knows him. Had appetisers of fried sardines, veal in a cream sauce with capers and eggplant. I had the salmon with white asparagus. Amazingly good. Klaus had something more practical and traditional and I think J had the pasta. Toward the end of the meal Klaus’ friend Katja came in and joined us for a glass of wine. She hasn’t spoken English in a long time but does it well. Obviously nervous using it though. Ex-journalist, escaped from East Berlin when she was 17. Aside from a short stint living in scattered townships she’s been a Berliner all her life. She lives in the apartments right next door to Klaus’ shop. Hard not to imagine she secretly harbours feelings for him, given their close and affectionate friendship and the way she dotes on him, but that may just be me being obvious.
She told us about the family of swallows that nested in her eaves during winter, and on her balcony I think, in a pile of pine needles. Burrowed in. Would wake her every morning with birdsong, and when she opened her balcony doors she was greated with a great gusting cloud of swallows taking flight. She became quite attached to them. Says there are two she keeps an eye on, and named them both. Can’t remember the names, but they were aristocratic and sweet.
We wanted to pay, Klaus beat us to it.
Next morning we ate breakfast at a bookstore cafe. I understood enough of the menu to see all the breakfast stuff involved cheese, meat and bread. So it was pumpkin seed and white bread for me, with thin slices of hot spiced salami, good Swiss, cream cheese, proscuitto and black coffee. Surprisingly not heavy and kept me going most of the day.
After that we returned to Klaus’ apartments, J finished some work, I wrote an entry for this, we squared our gear and were farewelled at the door. Klaus shook my hand, kissed me once on each cheek and then we walked for the U-Bahn with our packs. Sad to think I probably won’t see him again, and wished yet again I’d spoken better German.
Three-lane highway in either direction. I’m in a van, headed toward Leipzig. Two hour drive. J took shotgun to keep the driver company, given she speaks the language. Turns out to have been unnecessary as it’s all happening in English. Deep, deep forests line the highway to either side. The occasional expansive green (or vivid yellow canola) field slides past. Techincolour beyond belief, even muted through the anti-UV tint.
The van has three rows of seating, I’m in the middle passenger-side. There is a Vietnamese couple behind me with a toddler in a capsule seat. She’s pregnant, he has the look of a man resigned to his fate and seeks solitude in his earphones, and the kid is a giggling screamer but she seems to have a handle on keeping him hushed.
J and the driver talk education, goths, the weekend, the social system. I join in briefly and occasionally but the sound of the engine makes it difficult to contribute or even follow sometimes. Glad she did though. Still not used to the driver being on the side opposite to what I’m used to. If I’d volunteered shotgun I would have definitely gone and climbed into the driver’s seat by mistake. Could have been hilarious. -ly awkward.
Wind farm up ahead.
So much hotter here than I expected.
Wind turbines widely spaced in a broad, deep field of green. Oversized. Like they’re the only real things in the picture and we’re all scale models down here. A dozen fans turn blades the length of lorries slowly and majestically in perfect, natural synch with one another. I think these things might just be the first manmade things I’ve seen in a long time that I consider to be both practical and truly beautiful. It’s like watching twelve collosal, peaceful… things… turn to face their God against a flawless blue sky. My brother told me a German company has been hired to install a windfarm just north of Cooktown on the windiest point in the country – an old lighthouse promontory that families have been going to for ages. Everyone’s angry it’s going to make the place ugly. I can’t imagine these things making anywhere ugly. I look at them and everything is suffused with “Its okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”
But yeah, it’s hot: 22 degrees C. Which is cold by Melbourne standards but it’s bright, and I’m sweating in my jacket. Gonna do this light.
New commando pants are serving well. Cash and receipts on left leg, phone and Moleskine and passport and map on right.
Passing Worlitz turnoff (how the hell do I get an umlaut on this thing?) God canola makes for a beautiful field, especially sectioned up by green bush and treelines half submerged in all that sunny Picasso-like colour.
Crossing the Elbe.
Random: a tiny, white, boxy, old-style two-floor house(?) overlooking a field by the river. Massive green plate, tiny white impractical folly feature. Narrow white bike trail running across the precarious-seeming top of the winding green ‘dam’ between the field and the river. Could look in the top floor of the ‘house’ from there.
Might visit Dresden before returning to Berlin. Klaus’ inspiration is the collection housed in the castle there. He showed us a thick Teschen hardcover of what the castle contains. Spoils of war for August the Strong I believe. And gifts. When I get internet connectivity I’ll see if I can find something online about it and post a link.
Invented a new word today: “Stahlbrotchen” (again, need extended character set): translates (I think, roughly) as “buns of steel.) We did a lot of walking yesterday, I did a lot of walking before that, and the apartment in Leipzig is at the top of five flights of winding stairs with no lift.
I can see a farmer alongside a field, driving a flat wagon pulled by a team of two horses.
Driver dropped us off at the carpark across from the magnificent train station. A line of goths qeueing to get their wristbands from a demountable office placed there.
Got that sorted then headed into the station. Needed a map to find the apartment.
The interior of the train station – the main space – is mostly a two-tier shopping mall with the trains on the top level. It is goddamned gorgeous. Vaulted, gothic, and I realised that stuff like this was going to be everywhere. Also, the place was filled with people in black, with neon extensions or fuzzed-out leg-warmers, or PVC whatever or facepaint or leather and studs. It was a mallpopulated by 50% regulars and 50% schwartzenkinder (I just made that up – probably ineptly.) It was actually really, really funny in a warm and fuzzy way. A mall half-full of stylish revenants doing really banal things, like buying pizza, recharging mobile phones, reading a paper, whatever. The locals are clearly used to it but still a bit amused. And a lot of the more mainstream stores have thei black stuff propped up in the windows.
Finally found a map by leaving the station and hitting the lobby of the Novotel across the street. Decided we need food. Had just sat down to get a plate of pasta and a glass of red when J’s mobile got a text: Marek (the guy we’re staying with) was leaving for his gig in 40 minutes. Reslung the packs, headed out, crossed the street, deciphered the tram network, and made it here just as he and his fellow musicians were leaving (Marek plays acoustic in a four-piece romanic folk outfit called Quellenthal.)
Marek on the left. Nowhere near as sombre in real life. Quite the opposite.
Morning of Saturday, 22nd May, 2010. Around 5:30am.
Walking from Statdtisches Kaufhaus near Augustusplatz in the centre of town to Kathe-Kolwitz-Strasse to catch a tram back to Marek’s.
Saturday, 22nd May, 2010.
Last night was spent down at the Felsenkeller. The linked website doesn’t do justice to the atmosphere of the place once kitted out with a stage, amps, lighting system and a shitload of discarded booze and trash at the front door.
We wound up seeing two bands, both perfectly terrible. It only got better from here.
After that we trammed it into the city, J and I had a couple of long coffees at a beautiful little place and then walked to the annual 3-night WGT club ‘When We Were Young.’
Walking in was a scene anyone who has ever watched a vampire film set in the modern day is familiar with. Arched doorway, dark inside. Eyes adjust to reds and blacks as the pound gets louder. Through another door, out onto a mezzanine, music deafening, and looking over the balcony a writhing and strobing dancefloor presents itself.
It was ludicrous just how quickly an idiot grin slapped itself on my face. It was exactly like stepping through from one side of the screen to the other.
In short: three levels, great music – all of it new – and the crowd had made an effort. A real effort. Trad punks, lingerie goths, candy ravers, angels of death, loose-clothed boys with backpacks, Russians dressed like sex assassins, the trenchcoat brigade, you name it. That’s the club we walked home from, mentioned in my ‘dawn’ assignment from the last post. I didnt take a camera to it though, alas.
Turns out the kebab joint down the street is entirely vegan. LOTS of goth traffic from the Felsenkeller venue across the street. J’s been speaking Deutsche to the owner – a skinny, bearded and likeable long- haired fellow – and I just worked out he’s Californian.
‘Ein currywurst mit frittes und ein schwartzkaffe, bitte.’
‘Sorry man, we’re totally out of frittes. They have a habit of running out. Can do you bread though.’
I pretty much laughed my arse off.
So breakfast that morning, however, was vegan curywurst and fries in a remoulade.
One thing J said that’s dead on: when the Germans do something they do it right, and they really do organic well. Nothing half-arsed. With an organic lemonade. Cheap too. 4.5 euro. They play Motorhead and Biohazard. The skinny guy spends all day dishing up plates of hot fake meat and rich red sauce, everyone likes him.
They have a thing they do in bars over here: you may a deposit on your glass. You get it back when you return it. Saves on cleaning. Smart.
Felsenkeller hosted most of the gigs we were after and it was only 2 blocks away. Beer very soapy, however.
We saw Twisted Nerve (really good, and I reckon the vocalist might like himself a little Grant Morrison)…
Bollock Brothers (not too bad in a scousy, middle-aged football hooligan-by-way-of-punk kinda way)…
Madre del Vizio (godawful), Bloody Dead and Sexy (I left halfway through, J bought their CD) and Sexgang Children (polished, arty up the wazoo, Andy Sexgang gets me wondering what Dmetri might be like after a lot of drugs and the removal of all quality control.)
Your mileage may vary.
Kebab joint working overtime at night as the street chokes with goths. Guys and girls in hoodies and kaffirs resting on longboard skateboards sit outside, on the sidewalk, eating massive pitabread falafel with both hands, laughing amongst themselves. One takes notes or sketches or something.
iPhone now keeping track of five timezones. Don’t want to text someone at 3am their time.
One thing I like about the UK and Europe: old ladies bring their dogs into pubs and cafes. Just feels comfortingly sane.
Nary a tram ride where I haven’t overheard the word ‘schwartz’ from a local.
We skipped the club, knowing we’d be wrecked for tomorrow.
Monday 24th, 2010. 2:23pm. Caffe Ritazza, Hauptbahnhof, Leipzig.
Marek doesn’t have any net connection whatsoever. Dunno if that’s a floor-height thing, a building thing or a Marek thing. Probably the latter.
Scanned the train station from the iPhone, found a few open connections, so bought a slice of landkuchen and a black coffee. Two old ladies sharing the bench with me, people-watching. Chuckling at the six foot bald guy in black plastic pants, furry jacket and Cleopatra makeup. Then the next, and the next. Kind-of sweet actually. After nineteen years I think the locals are finally beginning to enjoy having WGT here once a year.
Last night was the last night for me. I could go see Gitane Demone – she’s the only act left that’s really caught my eye – but we’ve got to be on a train for Dresden at 7am tomorrow morning. J’s off with Marek, Richard and co to check out some experimental stuff. I’ve got four days of backlog to clear, the editor at the Age to email, the website to update (way overdue), three days worth of photos to transfer and a city to wander around which I haven’t really had a chance to do yet.
So last night I was at Agra, about as far from the middle of Leipzig as you can get. Massive agricultural show area usually. Saw Faith and the Muse (very good)…
Diary of Dreams (absolute standout)…
Lacrimosa (showy, I left after two songs)
and Alien Sex Fiend (really very good, but they came on at 2am and we had to leave halfway through.)
If Bergman’s Death had an irritating younger brother that was half as healthy but twice as popular, he’d probably look a lot like Nik Fiend. The man dances like an old guy who thinks he just invented it. The chemistry between he and is wife was a joy to watch.
Diary of Dreams was absolutely the best though. That’s where I had my WGT experience, right there. Brilliant, just brilliant stuff.