Ken Gutberlet

5/13/2003 - Berlin again

Berlin . . . I could live in Berlin. I find its expansive borders and cultures make it quite inviting. Or, maybe itīs the rock-n-roll lifestyle side of living that endears me to the city.

I wouldnīt be here but for the rock-n-roll. Hereīs the standard line: the giggingīs been fun. On first arrival, the pubīs big STRECKERīS lettering kinda made me squirm, but the managers (not called "inspectors" here) and staff are super-friendly and welcoming. The weekends bring plenty of folk for a little gullet washing. Weeknites have been dramatically emptier, but some fun folks have made for good times. Berliners seem to be very up front with what they feel and locals tell me that the pub is too expensive (€4 for a 1/2 liter (pint) of weizen). It is a tad pricier than other area hangs (late-nite Silberfisch asks €2.80 for a pint of pilsner); the sour De economy, this part of townīs heyday passing a few years ago, and the restaurantīs Tex-Mex theme being a little passé in Berlin add up to mostly tourists visiting the pub. But, itīs the atmosphere . . . . Speaking of ass-mosphere, I do the six-nite-a-week routine (all but Tues)- Fri and Sat from 22:00- 3:30 (5 x 45 mins sets . . . or something like that) and weeknites from 21:30- 1:30. They feed me once a day- Iīve eaten a half-dozen burritos- heavy on the diaphragm- but not as heavy as the cheeseburger (stick with the Tex-Mex) or the kangaroo (kangaroo? what, did the zoo put some of its herd on eBay to raise revenue? calorically speaking, one of those ingest-less-than-the-mastication-burns kinda dishes- chewiest meat Iīve had in a while) with a plate-full of German fries. If Iīm finished eating (or, if I stopped in to eat earlier and arrive) 20 min pre-gig, I can relaxedly gather my gear from the back office, set up, tune up, illuminate and start the mini disco balls spinning, tweak the stage lighting so that Iīm not blind, make sure I have plenty of H2O (good for the singer and helps dilute fry gluttony), fade the stereo, and strum on time. Of course, that doesnīt allow for any kind of socializing or beverage ordering; so, itīs often a rush to be strumming a min or two tardily. From there, itīs a feel-the-pulse thing as I try not to blast away the mellow early niters. So far, the police have only come in once to ask for the doors to be closed to reduce outside noise- funny, the mellowest nite Iīve had. The standard requests come in: "Hotel California" (most requested so far), "Wonderwall" (2nd most requested), "American Pie", . . . . I think Iīve played "Stairway to Heaven" more times in Berlin than during my whole existence outside the city. Thereīve only been a couple nites with the Radiohead to "Hotel Cali" to Dave Matthews to "American Pie" to Nirvana to Neil Young requesting (Dave Matthews? some US-ers in the pub)- tough to ride a groove going all those places. A bit of "Jailhouse Rock" and "Twist and Shout" gets the dancing kickinīup. That kinda research is invaluable.

When I arrived for my 2nd gig (a Fridee nite) Peter (asst mgr) told me that a big party was coming in and a stripper would be visiting. Ok. He told me to play some strippable music when she arrived. Ok. A tune or two into my 2nd set I cut short a "Leaving On a Jet Plane" request when the top-hatted tart gave the nod. I offered up a saucy medley of "Honkytonk Women", "Shook Me All Night Long", "The Joker", and "Fat-Bottomed Girls". I could hear cheers from the side room as the show got spicy (I imagine- out of my sight). Folks in the main pub area were grooving along too. Applause for the showīs end coincided with me popping my A string (sorry, life isnīt perfect enough for the G string to pop) near "FBG"īs end (no getting on bikes and riding). I paused to change my string and Tom Manhoff introduces himself to me as being from National Public Radio. Turns out heīs the classical music critic for "All Things Considered". He and his research partner Erik are in Berlin to cover the symphony and were wandering when they found Streckerīs in a somewhat frenzy. I thought I was just ruining another touristīs roll of film (or, memory card- Iīm so stuck in the 1900īs!) as he and/or Erik were snapping pics of me during the strip medley. Turns out heīs interested in doing a story about the pulse of Oranienburger Str (the street where Streckerīs sits). Do I have a card? Uhh . . . no. Do I have a CD? Uhh . . . not with me. (Dude, man, leave me alone! Iīm here to drink beer and play "Hotel California"! This ainīt some official pr trip!) He gives me an address to send a CD and says he wants to feature it on his website. Cool with me. The night goes on. Stefan (Streckerīs regular, reverse-goatee wearer, character) chastises me for doing a radio-friendly version of "Creep"- that means radio-friendly versions from now on. ABBA request for the 2nd straight nite (where have all the ABBA fans gone since?). A Queen request (only two times I played "FBG"). Sebastianīs a big Boss fan and we do a Springsteen review late-nite. My voice wasnīt ready for over four hours of mostly rockin (can you say "stupid"? I cranked up an "End of the World as we Know It" late-nite). Iīm offered to entertain at a wedding and company party later in the summer. I meet Jim, USAF, Bethesdian by upbringing, Floridinian by stationing, Euro-tourer by planeīs windshield damage ("I broke my plane"). Nice guy. We party early-morn at Silberfisch (closed the joint 2 of 3 morns- Berlin looks to me like a pint glass).

On Sat nite USAF Jimīs back. I give him a preview of what to do in Copenhagen- heīs heading there that nite. Tom from NPR comes back- I have a CD for him (learning curve!). He thinks thereīs a story here. He tells me about his internet project. He wants to get my CD on He wants to record some of toniteīs jam. He wants photos of the folks being all happy. He wants to capture the energy of the pub on a Sat nite. He likes the way people connect with me due to my singing. My empty-bellied (except for the Swiss Airlines chocolate medallion- knew I saved it for something!), alcohol-abused body wants something to eat before gigging. The kitchen is busy when I get a quick break from chatting. I finally get a burrito about 20 mins pre-gig and the refried beans feel good on the queasy belly. I save most of the chow for later. Considering the bodily abuse, kicking out the tunes comes easily- success by repetition? A young ladyīs BDay party in the booth right across from the stage gets an "HBD" sung. I also get a nice view of the gift opening- a pair of fine thong panties and our eyes meeting as she held them up bust up both of us- me mid-song. Oops. At my first break Tom tells me that he wants the joint jumping for the recording and photos. I can do (if I can get up from the chair). Thatīs where the research comes in. He puts his mic stand and mixing board on stage. When heīs ready, I warm up with a crowdly-familar "Mrs Robinson", then off we go: "Jailhouse Rock", "Twist and Shout", "Satisfaction", "Country Roads", "Sweet Home Alabama". Hello. Like the opening of a Hechtīs half-price sale, the dancers (led by the semi-risque BDay partyersī all-female review) swarm and shake it up. Tom and Erik light more flashes than Gary Williams saw as he hoisted the Sears Trophy (what a bad name- blah!). I finish the set and Tom tells me heīs got some really "hot" photos- canīt fake that kind of energy. He wants a better sound to match them. He repositions his mic so that itīs right next to my vocal, with the stand reducing my gitter zone and dance floor. How about taking out some bass? Take away my driver and the sound is thin. How ībout a ballad? Well, it kinda kills the groove, but, how about "Yesterday"? How about another ballad- the soundīs almost what I want. "Wonderful Tonite" takes the air out of the joint. A request for "Hit the Road Jack" from the BDay partiers. Uhh . . . ok. Seeing as Iīve never played the song before, that was an adventure in poor judgement with tape rolling. The partiers danced anyway. Tom had gotten enough sound for the moment. He was going outside to do some interviewing. I pumped a little more life back into the tunes (more bass, please!). I go out during my third break and Tomīs got a couple of the BDay partiers (the celebrated Alex and her main dance partner Alicia) out there and we have some light conversation and a quick question and answer and heīs not satisfied with the sound quality due to all the street noise. Back inside, he enthusiastically talks about the pics and the connection between the singer and the crowd. He wants to do more interviewing in a studio at a later time and make a really nice clip. Peter asks me to play some music- oops- a 35 min break- time rolls along when chattingīs going on. Back to the requests- dude gives me the business for not playing any Tom Jones or James Brown (shame on him, shame on me). I play a little past 3:30 and Peter gives me the cut sign. Cool īnuff. Iīm going home to finish my burrito.