Berlin: Euro Tour Update #6, the final chapter

I have hesitated to write this final tour blog. I’ve been home for one week, officially, and with my life in its former rhythm, my time in Europe seems like a dream.

I remember when my “normal life” was the road blur: town after town, new group of people after new group of people, consistency found only in the van’s interior or the nightly set-up on stage. In those days, my most solid relationships were with the musicians I played with—closer than relationships with members of my own biological family! In effect, what made my life clear was the road blur; it was what I understood best.

But, let’s rewind:

I left for Berlin from Biglen, Switzerland in the darkness of an early dawn farewell and I arrived in Berlin when night had already fallen. Part of the reason for that was getting off at the wrong stop for my transfer in Hanover. I exited the train at Hanover West Station (I think) and didn’t discover I was at the wrong stop until my recovery option train had sped past me. (Note: being able to read German would be very helpful in these moments.) When I finally got to the main Hanover station, my connection had already left. I had to wait an extra hour to connect with another train heading for Berlin. Oops. It’s fine, though. I found some decent lunch. The pigeons who had flown inside the station from the chilly indoors were very entertaining. They mercilessly fought over bits of food dropped by travellers rushing for connections. Fearless feathers.

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Theo—the lovely man I met in Holland who helped me book two of my Netherlands shows—had already given me many amazing tips about Berlin including a fabulous walking map (above).  Thanks to his suggestions I booked a hotel in a hip and happening area to the southeast of downtown. Here (and just about everywhere in Berlin), the dazzling graffiti lines the entire lengths of streets along the lower level of the buildings like they’ve been clothed in a lively bed skirt of colour. At first, it was surprising. Graffiti is rarely seen in China. But I quickly got used to the constant spray paint on everything, a continual reminder that art is expression and people need to express publicly, especially in Berlin, where years of silencing perhaps rendered the population all the more eager to colourfully air their views for all to witness.

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My 1999 release, Permanent Marker, was all about this… graffiti and tattoos as metaphors. And yes, my mother hated that cover shot picture. It was on purpose, though. “Don’t make that face or it might stay that way!” Remember when the adults used to say that to us as kids? At the time, this album was a rumination on permanence and urban scars, both internal and external. I couldn’t help thinking about this concept while in Berlin…

A friend of mine met me there for one day and it was a treat to be greeted with a welcome smile from someone happy to share a meal with me. (Aside: travelling alone means often eating alone—it’s one of my least favourite things. Sometimes not eating is preferable to eating alone!) And, it was Saturday, so despite my absolute exhaustion from the day of travel, after our amazing meal at a vegan Vietnamese restaurant nearby (delicious!), we went “out on the town.” Our gallivanting took us to several interesting clubs until the wee hours of the morning. In fact, when we left the last club, there was still a line-up around the block at nearly 4am.

Summary: Berlin doesn’t sleep.

Ho hum, I am not much of a partier anymore. The next day, after my friend left, I was quite happy to sleep as much as possible, hang out in my hotel room, do a small loop of my neighbourhood for a nice dinner meal (yes, alone, but I’d run out of snacks to fill my belly) and then I went to bed nice and early and woke on Monday ready to conquer the city as a tourist.

That day, I walked 15.5kms and followed the route that Theo had shown me from the west side of the river all the way downtown and beyond. He had also told me about the amazing guerilla gardener who built the An der Maurer Treehouse in an unclaimed section of land after the wall was constructed. I was inspired by the story so much that I sought it out right away.

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Walking the path of the wall reminded me of walking along the Great Wall of China. Certainly different in scope, each wall was once a method of keeping people out, but of course, it also kept people in; walls both trap and restrict entry simultaneously. And, I’d argue, that no wall actually accomplishes its ultimate goal, which is usually to preserve a way of thinking or a set of political beliefs in a segment of the population. As we’ve seen throughout history, walls are more likely to inspire the opposite: a revolution against those exact philosophies. And when it’s forced upon a populace, people naturally want to pull physical walls down, brick by brick, either to escape or invade. It’s inevitable. Now if only we could analyze psychological walls with the same mindset…

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I was also very happy to veer off and take in the Jewish Museum, whose design caught me off guard (its intention) and inspired tears and anxiety, respect and wonder. I left that space feeling humbly human; a huge sense of gratitude for the privileges that I have in this lifetime, including the timing of my birth; and it reinforced my sense of connection to Jewish culture that I’ve always felt.

IMG_3962The Jewish History Museum pamphlet showing the incredible design of the structure

Then I went to Checkpoint Charlie, The Berlin Wall Monument, and the Topography of Terror reading the historical information on the walls and feeling a heaviness around me like the clouds had descended to my shoulders, the weight of too many cruel years.

There has been such sadness. I know that sentence could be written about almost anywhere, but I really felt it in Berlin. When I walked through those East Berlin streets, I was navigating a thick fog of regret and fear. It seeped up into my feet from the earth and tingled into my scalp like drips falling from the sky. But I wasn’t upset, just pensive. I took it in. I held it as best I could. We must remember.

IMG_3871The Berlin Wall Memorial, just in front of the The Topography of Terror

It was my last day in Europe and I am so glad I spent it alone. I needed the quiet. Berlin needed me to be quiet. To listen.

I ended it by picking up some snacks and returning to my hotel room by subway to sort out my bags. I had a car arriving at 6:30 the next morning to take me to the airport and I needed to be rested.

And, yes, I’d already called the airline and booked an extra spot for my extra bag, aka: my guitar. I’d even paid for it over the phone. If Swiss Airlines was going to give me a hassle (like Austrian Airlines had) for the “odd-shape” of the guitar case, I was prepared to argue. I arrived at the airport an hour before even the desk was open. I was first in line. But…. they didn’t bat an eye. I was checked in promptly and all was fine. Phew.

You may find it especially humorous that I discovered that I’d forgotten to finish my Amsterdam space cakes at the airport. Geez! I’m not that crazy to transport anything like that into CHINA! So, I quickly gobbled the crusty leftovers down and settled in for a lovely long-haul flight. Several movies later, I discovered I’d floated back to Beijing.

It was a Wednesday early morning when we touched down and the kids only go to Kindergarten for half days on Wednesdays so, I’d already requested that they be kept back from school. My father-in-law surprised me in the stairwell to help me with my bags (having seen me through the kitchen window rolling my stuff through the compound). When I got to the top of the stairs, it was first Paz who greeted me with a huge hug at my knees and then Echo bounded over to the entrance way and nearly knocked me down jumping into my arms. The whole day was spent playing with them and reveling in the smell of their hair and the feel of their bodies cuddling into mine. A divine homecoming.

Now I’m one week into my “normal life,” and I am reflecting on the clarity that I choose for myself now, at this stage in my life, during which the blur is not a travelling road but instead the speedy growth of my two babies. In just three weeks, their faces had changed. Just slightly, perhaps, but enough to notice.

This video was shot on December 1st, 2017 at my in-law’s apartment… Pure joy.

So, I elect to aim my primary focus on these two perfect humans. My rhythms are built around their school schedule. My freelance work and upcoming rehearsal & performance schedules are all planned around leisure time with them. Until the next tour, I will be happy here. They’re what I understand best.

Good news! Several of the venues and presenters have asked me to return to Europe in June.

Of course, the answer is YES!

~es

Switzerland & Madison Violet: Euro Tour Update #5

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