Last weekend I braved the night train to Berlin!
When you book a couchette on the night train, you get to sleep in a triple decker bunk. Well, “sleep”. I didn’t do too badly – I was really glad to be in the top bunk, and got a solid 4 or 5 hours sleep on the 10 hour journey.
The best thing about the night train is how early you get into the city – I was at Berlin Central Station by 7am! I certainly saw a different side of the city as a result. Walking through the Tiergarten at sunrise was a great experience. The holocaust memorials feel completely different when you visit them alone, rather than when they’re surrounded by tourists.
I’m the first to admit that my history knowledge isn’t the greatest, and in Berlin there are remnants of the city’s past everywhere you look; The Komponistendenkmal is still scarred by WW2 bullets (despite much reconstruction). There are pieces of the wall throughout the city, and Checkpoint Charlie is a major tourist attraction.
During the day, I managed to make it around a lot of the traditional tourist sights (The Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and Tiergarten, among others). I took some time to look around the Jewish Museum too, which is not only historically interesting, but is also a beautiful piece of architecture by Daniel Libeskind.
As any regular readers will know, I will take any excuse to go gallivanting off to a new city. The excuse on this particular occasion was a Father John Misty show at Heimathafen in Neuköln (an apparently trendy area of Berlin which is the title of a Bowie song) and it was 100% worth the journey.
I’ve been listening to his new album I Love You Honeybear on repeat lately, so when I found out he was coming to Berlin I had to go. The atmosphere was great – the gig took place in the Rixdorfer Ballroom, a beautiful old hall with an elaborate moulded ceiling, and a theatrical stage set quite low. Low enough, infact, that a number of young women had climbed up onto it while waiting for the show to start. A member of staff came to shoo them away, “you don’t want to be sat there when he comes out girls, he’ll be in your laps.” at which they retreated, giggling. It was a fair warning though – Father John Misty is certainly not shy…
The set was long and full of energy. Many tracks – notably True Affection – seemed to make a lot more sense live, while old favourites like I’m Writing A Novel had the whole room moving. His stage persona is part cabaret act, part Mick Jagger; he climbed on top of the drum kit three times that evening (I counted.)
It’s become a running joke between me and my housemates that I am the “artsy” one – cemented last week when I convinced two of them to accompany me to see Birdman at the cinema. I’d like to think I enjoyed it enough for all three of us? I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join me to see The Tiger Lillies this week at Kaserne, but in retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have helped my reputation..
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be coming to town, the name rang a bell – the Peacock & Gamble podcast used to use their music, so I’d heard bits and pieces. The bio for the band on the Kaserne website was in German, and running it through google translate gives possibly the best description of them you could write:
“the lyrics are not for the value Conservatives and wherever there is objectionable, they put it provocatively another. Bandleader Martyn Jacques sings about whores, junkies, pickpockets, murder, the common man’s life and all the smoke died sparkled figures in the world”
So there’s that.
I’ve decided I’m a big fan of going to gigs alone – go can stand where you want, show up when you want, and you don’t need to fight your way back to exactly where you left everyone if you want to go to the bar. Kaserne has a bit of a weird layout, and kept the audience in what I can only describe as a holding room until about 15 minutes before the band took the stage. In this time, I was approached by a guy from the local tv news who was covering the gig. I quickly gave up on trying to talk to him in German (I really haven’t made much progress) but he was undeterred and pressed on in English. The outcome of this is that there is now footage out there somewhere of me like a rabbit in the headlights (quite literally; Kaserne has pretty low lighting, so the camera had a huge lamp strapped on the front) mumbling about how I was excited to be there. The world is a strange place.
Tiger Lillies took to the stage and were faced with perhaps the most unusual audience I’ve been a part of at a gig. People drink WINE at gigs here – I can’t imagine ordering a glass of red wine at a gig in Birmingham. And right down the front was a kid with his parents who couldn’t have been much older than ten. Now seems like a good time to point out that a LOT of The Tiger Lillies’ songs are about drug abuse, prostitutes, and dead babies. This is not an exaggeration:
I don’t know how much English your average swiss ten-year-old has under his belt, but I’m pretty sure he got the jist.
No one in the audience seemed the slightest bit phased by the content of their songs, though. The Tiger Lillies have been gigging hard for a pretty long time, and it shows – they are a really tight band live, and use everything at their disposal to give a great performance. (Think props, masks, and the occasional over-enthusiastic audience member). They mix up the instruments a fair bit too – they’re a three piece band, but the stage was full of instruments, including a piano, drums, double bass, guitar, accordion, ukelele, theremin and musical saw. The latter was a highlight for me.
Perhaps down to the diverse audience and unpredictable performance, but the atmosphere was fantastic. Basel is gearing up for Fasnacht right now, so Tiger Lillies with all their greasepaint and circus vibes seemed to fit right in. After a brilliant (and long!) evening, the band were hanging out right outside, and were kind enough to pose for a photo:
Second from the left in this picture is Kimmy, who isn’t in the band – we met in the audience! She’s staying in Alsace on study abroad from university in DC, and heard my English accent a mile off. Just shows how international Basel can be.
In a few weeks I’ll be off to Berlin to see Father John Misty – any suggestions for what I should do while I’m there?