I Fell Off The Face Of The Earth And Landed In The USA: From DE to DE

I have not posted in a while because I have been incredibly busy with this or that. And I’m also no longer in Germany, so here’s why. Continue reading “I Fell Off The Face Of The Earth And Landed In The USA: From DE to DE”


Goethe Galore

As an experienced language learner and an avid reader, I find I learn the most quickly by reading as much as possible in the target language. After my first year of French, I studied ahead a bit and read L’étranger and a few other books. With Russian, I read tons of short stories. With German, for some reason, I thought I could read Faust by Goethe. Continue reading “Goethe Galore”

How To Win Friends And Wear Eyeliner, Also Philosophers’ Graves

Meeting people in Berlin has been a challenge since I arrived. I already discussed at one point that Germans are very closed off, and that it is hard to find friends when you’re already alone. To qualify this statement, even a Frenchman from Paris, whom I met on Wednesday, said Germans are cold. A guy from Paris said that people in Germany are colder than in Paris.

Continue reading “How To Win Friends And Wear Eyeliner, Also Philosophers’ Graves”

Hitler’s Bunker And The Altes Museum: Now Featuring ~Instagram~ #nofilter

Today was a typically hazy day, in which it is impossible to see more than a kilometre in every direction. I had the day off from playing in the U-Bahn, so I decided to make use of the beautiful, ‘diesig’ day to have a look round. Continue reading “Hitler’s Bunker And The Altes Museum: Now Featuring ~Instagram~ #nofilter”

Eugene Onegin, Tango, And Japanese Fusion Jazz

I am fairly certain the only time any of these words has been together is in the title.

This weekend I had the chance to go to the opera with my flatmate, or rather, I dragged her to the opera because there were cheap tickets for limited visibility. The opera Eugene Onegin, by Pjotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, is a personal favourite of mine. Tchaikovsky appeals to me personally for his ability to take Russian folk melodies and tunes and give them an inspired touch, to make simple melodies from the Russian flatlands into music that astounds the listener in terms of harmonic complexity. From the very first bar of the overture of this opera, I am utterly attentive. Something about the overture’s melancholic feeling and the first aria’s constant arpeggios (I think that’s technically what they are) in the woodwinds gives it a very airy and flowing feel. Furthermore, listening to the subtleties of the harmonies and chord progressions during each bit of the opera is a thrilling experience, as, being a Romantic composer, Tchaikovsky took every opportunity to add complex harmonies for a much deeper structure of a tune.

The music aside, the set design of this particular opera was ingenious. Rather than the typical settings, inside provincial homes and ballrooms of said homes, the entire stage was covered by grass and trees. The centre of the grassy area rotated as well, adding an extra visual intrigue. When the serfs (who in this case were very skinny, well-dressed, and dandyish, not at all like real Russian serfs with beards to their nipples) in the first scene come singing “My legs are tired”, they were also spun round while feasting.

The story of the opera is taken in episodic bits from the eponymous poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, and Tchaikovsky only reluctantly condensed the poem by cutting about ninety per cent of it away to make a three-hour opera. Quick synopsis: In Act I, Tatiana et al. are very rich and well off but are bored, Lenskij gets creepy with Olga, and Onegin is a dick, Tatiana spends about five years writing a letter to Onegin; in Act II, Onegin is still a dick and he kills Lenskij in a duel after basically telling Tatiana he’s just out of her league; in Act III, Onegin is still a dick who only selfishly wants to amend his wrongs, and Tatiana tells him to GTFO after he comes to his senses (oh yeah right). I am sorry to admit that I admire greatly with Onegin and what he says throughout the opera.

I would also like to put in a plug from the base masculine side of me here, by saying that Olga and Tatiana in this rendition, played by Karolina Gumos and Nadja Mchantaf respectively, were freaking hot in addition to being very talented. It had to be said. I am but a man, and I notice these things and it adds to the experience.

Overall, a wonderful performance of the opera. As I could only see about 5% of stage right, it provided me with a wonderful chance to focus on the actual music, which is always much more impressive when heard in person and you don’t have to worry about waking up the neighbours. The opera house was also surprisingly casual, with many people wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, and nothing else. Berlin is an oddly informal city.
The night before the opera, I went to a second Milonga in Berlin (for those of you who don’t understand the term, please refer to my former article on Tango at your own risk). This Milonga occurs every Saturday night and I am not sure if I was underdressed, as the venue was very chic. It appeared to be a nice bar that during the week happens to host ballroom classes and during the weekend has social dances. The building was an old warehouse, so it seems, by Platz der Luftbrücke, and was very pleasant. There was a small duo and trio, a bandoneon, piano, and sometimes guitar, who played tango pieces very well. I myself have dreamed one day of owning a club that resembles those in old films, a swanky night club with live performances that are slightly on the ‘camp’ side, and with a large floor on which people do ballroom dances and don’t just hump each other in the dark. Though that is fun as well, and for that Berlin has techno.
The people attending this event were surprisingly social. I carry my notebook everywhere, in case I am struck by inspiration, and a few people came up asking why I had it. Each time, I assured them I wasn’t Stasi or something. People also began conversations for no apparent reason, about the music, or about a random question they had, just for the sake of talking. Which is odd for Germans, but was nice, as at the other Milonga I was de facto sequestered from everyone. They were also very young. There were people as old as ninety (or at least they looked like it) down to early twenties, and everyone was very, very good-looking.
After an hour of social anxiety and making very awkward eye contact with a woman who was near my age (!) because I don’t know how to respond to smiling faces when I don’t know the person, I asked her to dance and proceeded to spend the next three songs stepping all over her. Then I asked another, and simply moving on the floor brought back much of my technique and it went much more smoothly, though we were doing nothing difficult or showy.
I think it helped that everyone seemed to be three or four beers in by the time I got up the gumption to ask someone to dance.
And now for the Japanese Fusion Jazz. As I’m writing this, I discovered entirely by accident on YouTube a man named Minoru Muraoka, who plays a traditional Japanese flute, called the shakuhachi, commonly used by Fuke Zen Buddhist monks for meditation. While playing, they don woven basket hats, much like an earlier and much more spiritual BucketHead, in order to remove their ego as a function of playing and existing. This particular flautist (yes, that is the word) decided he should mix traditional Japanese music and instruments with jazz. The result is addictive, and reminds me very much of what Quentin Tarantino’s films soundtracks sound like, with those 1970’s era bandido-type songs that play as a bloody antihero rides into the sunset. This particular album, Bamboo, includes “House of the Rising Sun” played on koto, organ, shakuhachi, drums, etc.
YouTube only suggests such strange and wonderful things to me because, on the one hand, I am strange and wonderful, and because, on the other, my searches are very strange and sometimes end up being wonderful.
In conclusion, give Bamboo a try, and Onegin’s a dick.

Drunk Thoughts In A Stream Of Consciousness

I’m currently waiting for my flatmate to tell me what club we’re going to in Berlin. So why not write down all my interesting thoughts and what I’ve been doing while drinking alone waiting for her response?

First I made dinner, schnitzel sandwiches and rice.

Then I walked into my room and Tindered for a bit. Honestly, I cannot explain how much European women get me going. They’re just far and above better looking and more interesting than North American women in general, sorry not sorry to say that.

I’ve spent the last twenty minutes occasionally thinking of a clever way to translate the beer brand “Berliner Kindl”. It means “Little Berliner Kid”, but is there a better way? “Berliner Kidlet”? “Berliner Kiddie”? Yet another reason I don’t want children: it’s difficult to drink beer out of a bottle with a kid’s face staring right at you.

I read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses just now, because I just realise I’ve never read them. It’s helpful to remember that he was a Catholic, and that all he wanted was to reform Catholicism before the whole operation got way out of hand, resulting in devastating religious wars, witch hunts, and, perhaps worst of all, Calvinism.

In case you’re wondering what my pump-it-up music is, it’s metal. Currently listening to ABBA covers by Swedish death metal bands and I’m now switching to metal covers of pop/metal classics.

Fun fact: A few years ago, my sister got the Mamma Mia soundtrack for Christmas and listened to it constantly. I realised at one point that all of the songs on the CD were performed by the same band, ABBA. So I looked at my Mum and asked, “Why did ABBA cover all the songs from Mamma Mia?” Go ahead. Laugh.

I made €30 playing accordion today.

As of today, the country I am in is the leader of the free world.

I wonder if I qualify for German citizenship based on blood? Citizenship in German is “Staatsangehörigkeit”, literally “belonging-to-the-state-hood”. And no, I don’t.

Coasting through Reddit is always a good idea.

Did you know Australia has a larger surface area than the Moon? Now you do.

In most European countries, the person most often searched on Google was Donald Trump. In France, it was Céline Dion. But they always have Greece to make them look good.

I’ve been meaning to shave for three days now, and the shaving cream is sitting on my dresser two feet away. But this bed is really comfy and it makes me look more European.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asked at least once every day for directions by tourists and Germans, which I see as a result of mixing in successfully.

Hi Seiko, you just sent me a Facebook message.

I wonder why the Holocaust Memorial was designed the way it was?

That place is justifiably the most terrifying place I have ever been. It makes you feel as if you’ve sunk into the depths of humanity’s worst, and as if you’re walking in a graveyard and you yourself are responsible for the headstones that loom over you.

And then some frickin’ twelve-year-old girl on study abroad is taking a selfie like it’s no big deal, just some random stones sticking up out of the ground for no reason.

On that note, great article: http://www.euronews.com/2017/01/19/yolocaust-a-satirist-s-challenge-to-holocaust-tourist-behaviour

So the idea of the concrete blocks was to create an uneasy atmosphere in which reason has lost touch with reality, according to Wikipedia.

On a lighter note, Lake Powell in Utah has a longer coastline than the Pacific United States.

Also I just realised I’m that guy who writes a blog.

Highway to Hell is about life on tour, not about what might be obvious.

Some Swedish guy is being sued for copyright infringement for writing a children’s book that steals elements from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and 2001: Space Odyssey. How does one make a child’s version of either of those? And what could possibly be useful in either one for a children’s book? “And then the big bad computer said, ‘Oh gee I’m sorry but I can’t let you do that eh?'”

Or a girl asking her dad while he’s reading it, “Daddy, why does man have to progress to the next level of evolution with the help of the monolith somewhere on Jupiter?” “Well, sweetie, I’ll tell you when you’re older!”

As I wrote that I imagined Hal the Computer having a Minnesota accent and actually sounding sorry and concerned.

I thought that was one of the best movies I had ever seen, and I asked my dad the next day if he had seen it and he instantly says, “Just a bunch of evolutionist BS.” And that ended that.

I also just realised my pseudo-job as a street/metro musician is entirely pointless, in that people pay me for having entertained them for about ten seconds at most.

I found out today that Jägermeister was originally a whisky for old men, and that only in the past few years has it become popular in Germany for young kids to drink it. Yes, you read that correctly.

I’ve been drinking at least one beer per day here since it’s cheaper than water. Halfway decent beer costs €1/litre, whereas water costs €1,25/litre. Everything is cheap here, including women.

What? What did he say? I didn’t say anything!

And Trump is now the President. I’m  in the country that is currently the leader of the free world.

Today I had a meeting/interview with the Director of the DDR Museum about a job, and at the end he gave me his business card. So I reached for my wallet to give him mine. Not only did I almost hand him the condom that was in my wallet instead of a business card, but the business card has my American and not German phone number on it, so it’s useless since he already has my email.

I was on the bus today and when I’m on public transportation, if there aren’t any seats, I lean on something. Plus I was carrying my fifty-pound accordion so I needed to lean anyway. So I’m leaning next to the exit of the bus. We come to a stop, and we stay at the stop an awfully long time. About a minute in, I begin looking round to see what is the matter. Nothing seems to be amiss. Someone says across the bus “You’re leaning on the door button”, and I looked round me thinking, “Gee, what idiot is leaning on the button that keeps the doors wide open?” Eventually, more people look at me, so I turn round and realise my butt is pressing the button. I’ve held us up for what seems like forever, so I freak out and jump away. But I lost my balance and hit the button again. So I say in my very suave manner, “Oh my gosh so sorry Entschuldigung ich hab’ es nicht geseh’n like omg I’m sehr sorry OMG” and got off at the next stop since I was so embarrassed, happy to walk the eighteen minutes it takes instead of spending five minutes more with all of them judging me.

OK I’m done doing this, time to get pumped for the club with naked people strapped to the walls, because Berlin.


I Play The Accordion, And I’m Sorry

“Ich spiele das Akkordeon, und es tut mir Leid!”

I wrote that on a sign that hung from my accordion case as I played in the U-Bahn for the first time today. The act of playing music in public for money is called “busking”, or in German, “musizieren” (literally, ‘to music’ or ‘musicking’).

In order to begin, I heaved myself out of bed at 5.10 this morning. Those of you who know me personally are very well aware that the two things I resist most in life are going to bed and getting out of bed. I absolutely hate it, and I’m a little biyatch for about an hour after I wake up. Therefore, getting up before the sun is anywhere near the horizon is quite a struggle for me. But I did it.

The way you play music in Montréal is interesting and pretty logical: In the metro, you go to the station you want to play at the morning of, usually at 5.30, and write your name on a piece of paper where the spots are; you get two hours after the time you have signed up for; you must do this every day you play. For outside, it’s slightly different: You go to the Ministry of Culture of Québec (I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing) and sign up for an audition, because, obviously, nobody wants Cirque de Soleil to happen a second time; you do your audition; if they approve you, meaning you aren’t terrible, you pay $120 CAD for your permit that lets you play outside all year in a certain large area of the city. Efficient and easy.

The German way is so very stereotypically German that it’s almost a caricature of the country. Here, to play in the U-Bahn stations, you must only wake up early on Wednesday (which is very nice, especially in contrast to Montréal). You go to Leopoldplatz Station by 6.25, and write your name on a list that one of the Russians is holding. Oh, by the way, they’re all Russians. I was one of two or three musicians who wasn’t from a former Soviet Republic. So once your name is written, you wait a bit. One of the Russians has a bag with a bunch of number balls like in BINGO, each ball having one number. You all draw lots in the order you wrote your name on the first sheet of paper. I was called and pulled the number eight, so they put me eighth on the new list.

OK so now that you are on the second list in an order determined by chance, you get in line at the U-Bahn information desk. There is a man whose job every Wednesday is to hand out permits. He waits for us to get the order of the line from that second sheet. So I was eighth in line now. This man takes us one by one, and we select which days and stations we want to play for the remainder of the week and the entirety of next week. You get the whole station for the whole day, and there’s a piece of paper to prove it. Every day you take costs you €7,50. So the first guy goes up and selects the stations and days he wants. On and on until we’re all done. I was number eight, and I ended up leaving at 8.30. I selected five days, and paid my €38,50.

Therefore very organised, very bureaucratic, but very convenient.

I began with Rathaus Steglitz since it’s relatively close to where I live and I needed to test out stations anyway. I played four hours and my entire body aches. But I can’t complain €66,20 later, net profit, tax-free, at a quieter station during low-traffic hours. That’s €16/hour, which is a decent amount of cash. If nothing else, I can pay myself back for all the museums I went to.

The people here were also very nice. The odd thing about accordion which I notice everywhere I have played is that two very specific types of people give me money most often: old people, and punks. I have no idea why the latter give me anything. You would think they see that as a totally like old school thing dude but I guess these pink-haired persons see it as some sort of rebellion.

Also, I got sexy-stared by a lot more fine young ladies than I ever was in Canada, so I’m not going to complain about that either.

The U-Bahn police come by every so often and ensure you have a permit. These two come up to me, I hand over my permit, which has my passport country and number on it, and she looks at me and says, “Oh thank God, someone who’s not Russian! Keep playing. We need more Americans.” I was surprised Germans made comments like that.

A few people were very taken aback that I’d apologise for playing the accordion. They all looked at me in a very concerned way and said things to the effect of, “Oh, please please, don’t be sorry! You play beautifully!” as if it were a political issue like homosexuality and they were reassuring me that my life choices were acceptable to society. I’ll ask someone if what I wrote has the same ring to it in German as in English, because my humour involves quite a bit of self-deprecation, in case you couldn’t tell, and I’m not sure how it came off.

Bonus story: The most Norwegian encounter I have ever had occurred today. One of the musicians was from Norway, and we were chatting when I said, “Ah, Norway! Land of Dahl and Munch and Ibsen!” (Ibsen is generally regarded as a better playwright than Shakespeare) He laughs once I list these names, and relates a very funny story: “So, not to brag, but I have a great story about Ibsen. Ibsen’s buried somewhere in Oslo in this graveyard. And one time, this chick and I were drinking and stuff in this graveyard, and we got it on on top of Ibsen’s grave.” Ah, those liberated Scandinavians.

In conclusion, it’s a great opportunity to play in the U-Bahn if you’re good. And remember to smile. Germans really appreciate the smiling, more than they did in Canada, it seems.