On the evening of 26th April 2014, Stephanie and I were in Berlin to perform extracts from our novels at The Ramones Museum, Krausnikstraße. We did the five hour train journey from Bremen and all went as smooth as a silk-flavoured smoothie. We arrived in good time at Berlin Central Station, passing through Berlin Spandau on the way that made me almost hum a Spandau Ballet song, if I was feeling reckless, which I wasn’t, so I didn’t. We grabbed some grub, greasy, tasty sweet and sour noodles with spring rolls from the small Japanese food shack out the back of the station, if you must know (you’re a bit nosy, aren’t you?!), then hopped on and off a couple of Straßenbahn trams to get to our destination, The Ramones Museum, just off Oranienstraße. We were early by an hour, so went on a short stroll around the area, spotting a sign that pointed towards the famous playwright Bertolt Brecht’s house a mere 700 metres away. We traipsed jauntily up Oranienstraße, passing some familiar buildings that we remembered we’d seen on a previous visit to Berlin, my first time, including the impressive New Synagogue, then spotting some familiar graffiti about being bugged by the government, ironic with the latest N.S.A. revelations that they’d been listening to Chancellor Merkel, as well as seeing the excellent Tom’s Fritten, which is a hilarious pun that sounds a bit like ‘pommes fritten’, the German term for chips. We wandered past Dada Falafel, then hiked a right, as the street signs advised, carrying on a considerable time without finding or spotting anything, and saw no signs around. Time was short, so we headed back. We thought that it might be worth checking the street signs on the other side of the street that we’d come up on, further away from the direction that we’d been directed in, but still with possible indications of which way to go. We noticed one solitary sign at a crossroads, tucked away from view of the main street, which pointed back across to the street that we had already walked up. Why it wasn’t on the side that we had been on, we didn’t know, but perhaps the Berlin Tourist Board wants people to discover new places by getting lost or backtracking? We just couldn’t say. The side path that we were now pointed down led back virtually in the exact direction that we had started in. We still couldn’t find the house, so made our way back to The Ramones Museum, as it was almost time to check in to sort out the show.
We made ourselves known to the person at the counter. I asked the lady there if she was Flo, the person I had been in contact with about performing. She looked at me strangely, and said, “No, he is not here at the moment, he’s just getting something to eat.” I had forgotten that Flo could be a man’s name in Germany, short for Florian, but I don’t think she was too offended. The place had a really casual feel, a great, buzzing atmosphere, helped by the punk songs blaring out of the speakers, which I liked a lot. The walls were covered in photos of visitors and graffiti from previous bands that had been there, giving it a real rock and roll ambience. The venue owners cared, but like people to relax, which was great. We got a Becks Lemon beer, not too strong so I could stay on top of things (punk rocker, that I am – not!), and waited in the corner. Stephanie’s friend Inka showed up, ever cheerful and pleased to see us, then Flo arrived and suggested how we’d do things – just start in about a quarter of an hour and see how it goes. Chilled and cheerful, just how we like it.
The show began with a friendly introduction and a welcoming crowd. I felt that the reading was a decent rendition. I did mostly Ramones sections, but they featured the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned and Stranglers too, so was a good spread of groups. More people came in to the museum and stopped by to listen. Stephanie read a snippet from her novel, which was well received, and I finished with the Phil Spector episode, which is a corker. The stories were well-received, with different saying people saying that they took different things from them, always good to hear, as it means that the book connects with newbies and punk stalwarts alike, which was the intention from the start. The next day Legs McNeil would be reading from his book about Danny Fields, the manager of The Ramones, as well as The Doors and many others, so we felt in good company.
Stephanie and Inka’s good friend Kersten turned up, and I read a bit more of the book to the people who were still hanging around, some more of the Sex Pistols and their early antics. We had another couple of beers, said our goodbyes, and then went to eat in a falafel shop in the bursting heart of the city.
After this, we headed to another bar, the Alt Berlin, a place where Brecht used to drink while he worked at the Berliner Ensemble, and where he had his own bar stool. It was decked out all in dark wood panelling, and a tragedy that the very next day it was going to be ripped down, probably to build luxury flats, a new gym or a chain supermarket or coffee store. We sat on the step outside as the place was so packed, then ventured inside later on when it had quietened down and people had moved on. The atmosphere was vibrant, there were a group from South Korea who we chatted to as Inka had visited for a while and knew the territory. The other side there was a Rastafari guy and his friends, and an assortment of various European and global residents mixing up, just as Brecht would’ve loved it. As it was tightly packed, I tried not to go to the toilet too often, as it was awkward getting through, so had to rely on my bladder holding out against the quantities of alcohol being drunk. Eventually, I had to admit defeat and went for a whizz, negotiating the gabbling crowd, who were very polite, but so crammed in that it was a human labyrinth to navigate around. I made it to the toilet, but the door was tricky to open without hitting anyone who was coming out the other side. I fortunately didn’t slam it into anyone to send them sprawling into a urinal, and entered inside, making my way to the pisser, and micturating as rapidly as possible so as not to cause a log jam of people, which is not what anybody wants, especially in the seated cubicle. The taps were used, and hands dried, then back, avoiding anyone coming in the door on the way back. As I passed the ladies, there was a crash, as the door fell off, a similar problem occurring there it seemed. It didn’t matter too much, as the whole place was coming down in the morning, so that was just an early start.
The bar was a haven of cosmopolitan chic and gorgeous Germanic design. People were laughing and regaling each other with amusing tales, the whole place rocked, so was a terrible shame to think that this was being destroyed the next day. It seemed to be an all too wretched symbol of the state of Europe as it stands, the lost, or at least fading, world of jovial eccentricity being lost to corporate interests, and soulless gentrification. We need more places that enrich the social community, rather than the bland establishments that seem to be sucking its life force away. We would leave Germany a few days later, with a slightly hollow feeling that things were closing, but with many warm, affectionate memories and groovy times.
Be excellent to one another, and party on, dudes,
Tom and Stephanie
On the train back to Norwich from London, a conversation was overheard that went exactly as follows.
“I love prawns.”
“Me too. They get in your teeth though.”
“I like those jumbo ones.”
“They’re called King Prawns, aren’t they?”
“Oh, I don’t know about those.”
I knew that I was home. (Tom)
You can pick up a copy of our books at the following links –
Berlintoxication – A Gaslight Fantasy is available here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/429230
Needles & Pins – A Punk Novel is available here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/438673
Hope you enjoy them!