I’ve just woken up in Berlin. It’s four in the afternoon. It’s already dark outside and then I remember that it is November after all. I arrived into the city last night. I’m staying at a hotel in Kreuzberg. It is nice to be away. The last few weeks have taken its toll on me. I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of the studio working on the new album. I was working right up until the departure lounge of Manchester Airport. I’ve not even managed to keep a diary of the recording sessions as I have been far too immersed in the songs. I’ve been totally focused on making music. My only relief has come by the way of watching a handful of episodes of ‘Trailer Park Boys’ each night before I go to sleep. I intend to write an entry covering the first few recording sessions once I start to feel myself again.
I’ve been nursing a headache today. I can’t decide if it’s a hangover or not … it could be? I only had a few beers though. I haven’t been drinking much of late so maybe it is. The beer out here is great. I love German beer. As soon as I checked into my hotel yesterday I dropped my things and headed out into the cool evening. The weather is lovely and mild. I walked over the river Spree. I like a good river. Most of my favourite cities have a great river. I think of my hometown Leeds, then Nijmegen, Amsterdam, Rome, and even London. I notice that I’m a little hungry so I dive into a mini restaurant chain called ‘Que Pasa’ who seem to have acquired many street corners around this vast city. I’ve frequented a couple of them over the years. It is nothing fancy but they are reliable and the beer/cocktails are pretty cheap. It will do for now until I get my bearings.
On the way I noticed a number of bars that I thought I might check out over the coming days. After eating I headed back over the river to stretch my legs. My knee is hurting after travelling all day. I pass Warschaur Strasse Station and I notice some street sellers and buskers. I am reminded of when I bought a printed vest from a street seller called Jesus a few years ago. That vest went on to inspire the ones that I design to wear on stage. The original vest was great. It was red, white, and black and had some printed symbols. Amongst them was a symbol from the Native American culture which suggested there were more than two genders. Jesus took the time to explain the shirt and symbols behind it. I still have it somewhere. I wonder where he is now. I hope he is well.
I carry on walking past the S-bahn station where there is a little urban wasteland which I later learn is called Urban Spree, and it is filled with outdoor bars and food stalls. I remember being here a few years ago. I loved it. I remember dancing on a hot summers evening. I did attempt to find this place on my last visit here but it had eluded me. I am pleased to have found it again. Maybe I’ll come back here after the Lykke Li concert tomorrow but for now its pretty desolate at 7pm. With all the walking and the food settling I decide to head back to the vicinity of my hotel and try one of the bars that I had spotted earlier. I notice some pink lighting and cool photography on the wall of this bar called ‘Barbie Deinhoff’. I also hear what sounds like Television pumping out on the stereo inside. I enter the bar and order a drink. I also enquire about the music “This is Talking Heads” the barman informs me. Television-Talking Heads close enough I thought. I inspect the décor as I take a seat. There are some signs on the wall ‘I like penetration’ and ‘Masculinity is Dead’. I’ve been in a few Gay bars over the years but this by far and away the coolest. It is not overtly camp or stereotypical. It’s evidently run on the ethos of just being you. The barman switches the music to some obscure Patti Smith records. This pleases me. I explain to him that I was at her concert at the Zitadelle Spandau in Berlin, he tells me that he was there too and that this playlist is the set list from that night. I order more beer and we talk music for a while. After the fifteen or so Patti Smith songs he switches to some 80’s European electronica, which I learn is a French artist called Martin Dupont. I stay for one more beer.
I call in the night shop on the way back to my hotel to stock up on snacks and another beer. I call Dave when I get back and we talk about Berlin and the plan for when we meet up on Sunday for the IDLES gig. After the phone call I try log into the hotel Wi-Fi on my laptop to see if I can watch an episode of ‘Trailer Park Boys’ but the signal isn’t strong enough. I give it up as a bad job and fall asleep instead.
I woke early the next morning. About 8am. I feel like I slept well. I had some strange dreams. They were quite vivid in fact. In them I was talking to Patti Smith and Brigitte Bardot. I remember talking to them about the lyrics I had been writing for the new Yallas album. I wonder if Brigitte Bardot or Patti Smith had a dream last night in which they were talking to some drunken Yorkshire man rambling on about his new songs. I have a little chuckle to myself. I get dressed and showered. I have a mission today before I do anything. I need to find a supermarket to buy my toiletries. It’s the first thing I do in any city. I refuse to sign up to the silly airport rules ‘You can only bring 100ml bottles placed in a silly clear bag’. The shops know about this rule and charge you the same amount for a tiny 100ml airplane safe bottle. I’m not fucking doing it. I instead travel without any liquids and buy all my shit upon arrival. Ok I never use all my stuff but I try leaving things behind at the various hostels hoping they will find some weary traveller with little funds or a cleaner wishing to stock up on their toiletries.
After shopping at LIDL I find a café and order a mint tea with a pain-au-chocolate before walking towards the Berlin wall. I have brought my camera and spend some time taking photographs of the graffiti artwork. I’m equally fascinated with the large art pieces as I am with the simple scrawls of “Jon woz ere 2008”. The weather is lovely and I really enjoy the walk back along the river. I’m suitably worn out and the hangover is kicking in. I most certainly woke up too early. I go back to my hotel room and sleep a little more.
I woke from my afternoon nap, got dressed, and went for something to eat. I found a takeaway near the river. I grab a beer and ordered a pizza. It is such a joy to be able to sit in a takeaway with a bottle of booze. If only we could be trusted with such a privilege back home. I somehow end up talking with a Swedish lady about the joys of tantra. She tells me that I have a wonderful energy. I like the openness of people in this city.
I finish my pizza and take my beer with me as I walk up to the Astra Kulturhaus to see Lykke Li who is one of my favourite artists right now. The venue is wonderful and it somehow manages to give you a feeling of being at an outdoor festival yet you are indoors. There are many lounge areas where you can sit and enjoy a pre-gig beer. Our O2 Academies back home have a lot to learn. It is rare for me but I am early into the venue and I manage to catch the support act Vacation Forever. The lead singer is Lykke’s little brother and I thoroughly enjoy their four-song set. One song in particular stood out to me ‘Kamikaze Love’. I manage to briefly chat to the singer Zach after the set. He seems like a nice fellow and is extremely proud to be supporting his sister on tour. Lykke Li’s set was outstanding. It’s nice to see a pop act on stage with a beer and even smoking some weed going against the uber-professional convention of the current scene. Despite the pop aesthetic to her songs there is a lot of darkness within them. She is clearly a troubled soul.
After the concert I set off on a thirty-minute walk to the Franken bar. Earlier in the day I had arranged to meet a fellow musician by the name of Tim Holehouse. He was playing a show in the bar but unfortunately I don’t make it in time to see him play. Though I do manage to catch him for some birthday drinks. He turned 42 years old at midnight. Tim ever the gentleman introduces me to his friends and the venue staff. He even recommends that I perform there. I talk with Tim about the music scene and what has happened in our lives since we last bumped into each other in Dublin a couple of years earlier.
Drinks are flowing well at our table and one of the members of the group tells me that they are Serbian but live in a small region of Germany. I drunkenly try to explain where in the world Leeds is. Someone compliments my English and that they prefer my accent to Tim’s southern accent, which gives us a laugh. Later whilst talking to a lady called Stefi about fashion, a magician from Poland interrupts us. The Serbs are skeptical of him and I plead, “Give him a chance”. Most of his tricks are aimed at Stefi and myself. In one of the tricks he puts a single little rabbit figure into my hand and asks me to close my hand. He tapped me with his wand and when I reopened my hand there was two rabbits. How so???? I don’t wish to know. I love that about magicians. I don’t need to know how they did it. I love the wonder. I explain that I am too trusting of others and that I’m always being deceived. Stefi asked, “Who deceives you?” “Beautiful women” I jokingly respond. Drinks keep being brought to the table and it is nearly three am. I am enjoying the company but I do have to factor in a thirty-minute walk back to my hotel in a strange city. Hopefully there is something to eat on the way home.
As I walk through a very peaceful sleepy Berlin I notice that everywhere is closed. Except for the Pizza store I had visited earlier. I may as well bookend the evening with more Pizza. I also notice that the night shop is still open. I bought another beer, which I never opened, and a huge bag of Doritos that I will hate in the morning.