September 24, 2018
“I knew when she laughed at my jokes. I knew I needed that in my life forever.”
- Ken on his wife Paula
Sister Amy, Berlin is cold this morning.
I’m standing alone in der biergarten beside Kopenicker Hof with my hands in my pockets and my shoulders bunched. There’s a wind. It kicks up leaves and the hair of people passing by on their way to work. I breathe. I listen. The sun plays peek-a-boo with the maple trees that line the sidewalk, appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing. I see a small trampoline. A plastic alligator slide. A metal fence. Across the street there is an electrical box covered in graffiti. Beyond it is a short slope fringed with tall, yellowing weeds. They stand silent guard over the train tracks that carry Berliners into the heart of the city. Just now a train whooshes by and then all is quiet again. I breathe deeply once more and think, “Tonight I’ll be on The Reeperbahn in Hamburg. I could make a lot of money there with a small trampoline and a plastic alligator slide.”
Ken got stung by a hornet.
The luxury about playing back-to-back shows in the same city is that you get a bit of time to look around. You have, at least temporarily, something of a home base at your hotel, so you can sleep in a bit, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and explore if you choose to do so. Normally we have to get up, eat, check out of our billet, and hit the road for the next city. We take what advantage we can when we can.
Yesterday morning after breakfast, Ken, Deni, and I set off for a stroll through the Kopenicker suburb of Berlin. Long-time readers won’t need me to tell them we were looking for coffee. This being Europe, we found a café not far from our hotel. There was a glass display case at the counter filled with the most tempting pastries. My bandmates don’t go for that kind of stuff, but this guy sure does. There was a hornet inside the display case, methodically poking at the glass and moving toward an opening at the top. Ken was watching it and, I suppose, committed some telepathic transgression that would come back to bite him later. Literally. I think it was probably a language issue. Ken wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a hornet.
As we were drinking our coffee, Ken suddenly grasped at his leg, and from his normally pious mouth issued a string of curses that would make Johnny Rotten blush. He jumped up, tearing at the tight fringe of his pantleg. Deni and I saw the offender fly away and eventually convinced Ken that it was gone too. A nasty welt almost immediately bubbled up from his calf and we wondered for a few moments whether he had inherited the allergy to bee stings that is found in some of his family members. Deni was prepared to suck out the venom. I was prepared to shoot video for posterity. You’ll be pleased to know that our bass player survived the ordeal.
But crikey, it looked painful.
After coffee we strolled back towards the hotel. Kopenicker is a pretty quiet suburb, and it was Sunday, so there wasn’t much for us to do or look at. We returned to the hotel to putter away the afternoon. I did a blog post. Deni napped. At 4:00 or so we went downstairs to set up for the night’s show. Once again we were supposed to play outside in der biergarten, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Instead we moved into the hotel restaurant, where they set up a stage for us. The inclination was to go acoustic, but Sarah decided we’d do the real show.
And what a show it was.
I’ve said before that a small room full of people can make a fun gig. So it proved last night. The little restaurant was packed out with superfans and some new listeners. They were with us right away. German crowds, man. We went at them loud and heavy, and the new stuff landed hard. The band is getting its mojo back. We never lost it, really, but we haven’t played together a lot as a unit since last November, and it takes a bit of time to find the groove again. I think we were on last night. The vibe was great, the people danced, the band had a ball. We did a bunch of encores and they were still shouting for more when Sarah finally set her guitar down. Then they wanted photos with the band, and God bless Angie from Texas, who is the first person in history to ask me for an autographed drum stick. Music is fun.
Seconds after the show ended, I looked up from the kit and was delighted to see a familiar face ascending the stage to greet me. I clasped hands with the great Kyle Piwowarczyk, former London Knight to many of you and occasional doubles tennis partner to me. Kyle’s been playing professional hockey in Germany for the past 11 years. He’s playing for a team in Berlin this season and was able to come and see part of the show. It’s always fun when people from back home turn up at gigs in Europe, but the context can be disorienting. As soon as I saw Kyle I wanted to apologize for flubbing another easy forehand winner at deuce.
Last night was an early show, which presented the rare opportunity to dig a little deeper into Berlin. A bunch of the superfans, plus Sarah’s friend Nelly, loaded us up for a trip downtown, where we got to see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. You know I’m a history person. You know how this stuff affects me. The Brandenburg Gate was the crossing between east and west Germany and is a symbol of German unity. You walk those streets and you walk history. When you visit these sites the stories become reality. You can picture things. You can feel things. You can watch Deni Gauthier sprint like a madman across your field of vision with the police keeping a wary eye.
We didn’t get to spend long at the sites, but that’s okay. You don’t expect to get to see anything when you’re on tour, so even those few minutes felt like a gift to me. Afterward we met a bunch of people at a pizza joint for great food and still more laughter. Always the laughter. I think we’re finally starting to get past the jet lag and feel normal and balanced and healthy again.
Just in time for our return to The Reeperbahn.