And then I surprised myself by navigating the hitherto unexplored bowels of the S-Bahn and I didn’t even fuck up once. Arrived into the station I had been aiming for and instinct told me I was within walking distance of the venue. I found it within 15 minutes, nestled into a leafy side-street near the University. The place, a bar with two rooms, busy front room where the bar is located, quiet backroom where the gig is. Staff and patrons seemed to be nice folks. Introduced myself, met Davide a friendly German of Italian parentage, went for a walk. Got lost, and then got found and back at the Pony Bar I had a sandwich and sound checked. True to her word, the airport lady phoned and my lost luggage arrived and it arrived an hour earlier than promised, so fair play to you Air Berlin. The gig was as one would expect a Monday night gig to be. Afterwards Davide took me to my lodgings, dropped off the gear and we went down the road to a cool club called Astra Lube. Small, dark and packed. Junius from Boston ( or is it Philadelphia) were three quarters of their way through their set. They sounded great, a lot better than their records. Met them afterwards for a beer and a chat. Astra Tube is a famous club and has been here for decades, but not for much longer. Tucked away under a one hundred year old bridge its due for demolition as the bridge needs to be re-built. The dodgy techno club across the road and the Rasta joint down around the corner will have to re-locate too. Picked up a bottle of water in the nearby filling station and went for a lie down.
Tues Oct 20 Berlin…..Woke up in room with the stale smell of cigarettes, but it was too cold to open the window. Shower followed by vitamins and a bottle of water. Posters on the wall, tell tale signs of those who have slept here. Flo Fernandez, One For The Team from Chicago, garage outfit The Movements. Who’s been sleeping in my bed ? I was under instructions to go to a specific café for breakfast, paid for by the Pony Bar which doubles as a drop-off point for the keys to my crash pad. Went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Hamburg is a cool town , even at 1 o’ clock in the afternoon. Found the place for breakfast, staff are very friendly and helpful and this is all a pleasant surprise, but then I remember that I ALWAYS have a good time in Germany.
Made it to the train station, but figured out that it would probably be cheaper to take a bus to Berlin and this is the case. At the bus station I got the ticket and met a guy from Dublin I hadn’t seen in years. We both had time on our hands, Kevin had coffee, I had a beer and tales were told. He went one way, and I the other. Slept most of the journey down to Berlin, arriving after dark. A leggy blond lady of Scandinavian aspect helped me locate which train I should take and in a rush to get on, I forgot to get a ticket. I had been warned several times by several people to never try to travel without a ticket. I'm not sure what the consequences are, but getting caught isn’t a good thing. It’s a bad thing with a capital B. Onwards the train sped through station after station, and then on comes the controller. Gradually he was making his way towards me and I was the only spastic on the train without a ticket. I did my rooting through my pockets routine, trying to play the role of the stupid tourist while the guy was looking at me with one of those ‘ Ive got you now English man’ looks on his pinched law and order face. Just then a fight breaks out ! Two guys started punching the living daylights out of each other and then the train pulled into the station and the fight spilled out onto the platform. The ticket inspector reluctantly got off the train to try to break it up. But I could see he didn’t want to get involved and was out of his depth. Berlin is such a peaceful, safe city that this sort of thing is unheard of. The doors slid closed, the train took off again. My ticket problem vanished and I got off at the next stop.
East Of Eden is located up on Schreinerstrasse, a bookshop with a bar. Had dinner with Alan in the Thai place across the road. Sean and Orite drop in to say hello. The last time I saw them was in Quebec about two years ago. The gig was fun, with Anto showing up as well as Kevin and host of others.
Wed Oct 21 Leipzig…..On a morning ramble through Friedrichshain I found a middle eastern place, one of the few eating shops that were open. I needed food so rice wrapped in vine leaves, cous cous and various vegetables washed down with a fruit drink got me ready to face the day. And what a day it was, three hours spent trying to locate a cheap train in Lutherstadt Wittenberg station. When I found the ticket office I realized it wasn’t cheap at all. It had been too good to be true anyway. I took the S-Bahn to the bus station, but theres no bus to Leipzig, so I grabbed a taxi to Haoptbahnhof and got a train ticket and I badly needed a beer after all that riding around in circles . Made a phone call. A portly middle-aged man, arm in arm with his hefty rotund wife strolled by with the calm assurance of the wealthy and the arrogant. He was wearing a stars ‘n’ stripes jacket, evidently proud of his country.
The train was crowded, rush-hour stressville, folks take whatever seats are available, no time to pick and choose. A big blond woman sits across from me. Gives me a quick suspicious glance. Maybe I'm reading the signal wrong, maybe not. After a while she takes off her jacket. Tuns out shes a cop on her way home from work. She read her magazine, I read my book. Worlds apart.
Taxi driver in Leipzig got lost but after a while we located what we thought was the club. I opened the door and walked into what looked like a bicycle repair shop. I called out to see if anyone was there and a guy comes running out of a back room, dripping wet, towel thrown around him. ‘Your looking for Noch Besser Leben ? Its next door’ he says. I apologized for disturbing his evening shower. The phone rang and it was Thanos to see if I wanted to meet for a drink. Wrong country my Greek friend. I explained I was with the Germans. (He was in Sweden).
Noch Besser Leben is a cool club. A big enough place in a quiet run-down part of town, all high ceilings and dark wooden panelling. Dinner was a pizza, my room was off the venue, down a corridor, bathroom next door. The gig was enjoyable a small gathering of people who listened. Good response, very good response. Afterwards talking to Tom the barman I learnt he was the guitarist in a goth band whose name I cant recall as I type, but I had heard of them. He told me that he wasn’t the original guitarist, he’s only been in the band since 1986. I thought Tom was about 30 years old, turns out he’s 46. I told him he’s the Ronnie Wood of the goth world, still the new boy in the band after 23 years.
Dean is from New Zealand and was still wearing his cycling gear. He had cycled over 20 miles before he dropped in to the gig. He likes doing that sort of thing apparently. A nice guy is Dean, and he insisted on taking me to the ‘Secret Cinema Bar’. I’m all on for it. We walked down long lonesome streets lined with derelict factories, abandoned warehouses. Not a soul in sight. A spooky lane that runs parallel to the river lined with lime trees led us to what looked like a run-down farmhouse. It was difficult to see what was going on, there were no street lights. We were in somebody’s back yard. Passed by a sculptors workshop and found The Secret Cinema, a big barn with five or six cinema seats anchored to the concrete floor, a DIY silver screen and a few chairs scattered around.. Theres a pool table and a self service bar at the end of the room. The movie is over, but the vibe is good. Im introduced to the owner by Dean. Everybody seems to know everybody else, about 15 people present. Good vibe, laid back. Had a few drinks and somehow or other got playing pool. A few games of doubles. I won the first but the girl from Dresden won the second. Her friend Marcel told me I didn’t look Irish. I think he was being sarcastic. A friend of Deans, a tall man, long grey hair down to his waist pulled into a neat pony tail, beard down to his belly, gave me a lift in his car back to Noch Besser Leben. The cops pulled us over as we drove through the desolate streets. My friend, who hadn’t a word of English, had apparently been drinking only water all night, and his licence and tax was all in order so the cops let us go. Got into bed and had a long long sleep.
Thurs Oct 22 Leipzig….. Crossed over the majestic Weisse Elster River and made my way to the Sleepy Lion, checked in and left straight away. Downtown is full of people. Wandered the streets. I was a bit frightened by the Bundesverwaltungsgericht, which is the Federal Administrative Court of all Germany. The building is so big and imposing it looks like it must have been built by giant aliens from another reality. Or by madmen. It was cold and a light drizzle soon turned to rainfall. A dead pigeon lay on the footpath close to where two boys were trying to get a home-made boat, fashioned from a plastic bottle to float in the filthy waters of the river. Tourists looked lost and the trams whizzed by going to god knows where. Over in Mitte, the shopping district, I found an Asian cafe and had reis gebratener und tofu. Walking through the square and around by the Mädler-Passage, I felt I needed a cognac to settle my stomach. Sat in a low-lit bar, drained the glass, beer chaser.
Daylight was fading fast. I saw happy couple coming out of what looked like a Spanish bar. I asked them what the place was like and they smiled, recommended the bar and I thanked them and went inside. The place was hot and full of people, waitress’s running around, barmen busy and looking important and evidently they even liked their jobs. “Hey Eamonn” I heard someone call out. Down the room, sitting at the bar was Dean, my friend from last night. He was knocking back red wine with his friend Olga, a school teacher from Russia. The conversation eventually turned to the art world. Dean told me about a painting he had exhibited in New Zealand which dealt with his ex. He had taken what could be described as intimate photos of his lady on a daily basis, and these were arranged in neat rows on a large canvas measuring approximately seven by four feet square. At the opening of the exhibition this canvas of pussy shots was finally finished, when he stuck a syringe into his arm, drew back the plunger and with the barrel full of blood, he sprayed a huge ‘X’ across the canvas, thus completing the piece. Dramatic and inspired. The film footage in on youtube although I watched it on Dean’s mobile phone. The mans a genius.
Later it seemed like a good idea to lie down, read my book and get some sleep. Walking through reception I heard somebody call out my name. It was Marcel, my pool playing friend from the Secret Cinema. Turns out he’s the night porter. Time for a game of pool, and with bottles of beer at 1 euro a pop, it looked like it would be a late night.