2016 Highlights Reel
Friends and whanau,
So everyone is looking back at 2016 like it was some kind of waterfall of catastrophe, starting with Bowie and working it's way down the line. I'm certainly not saying that isn't the case; but I've been pretty fortunate overt he past 12 months. There've been a lot of challenges in setting myself up in Berlin, some struggles from day to day, but I've felt like there's been enough keeping me going here that the grey winter days we're having now seem like a perfectly reasonable payment to make for living in this pretty exceptional place.
As an Easter Egg, there are links scattered all over this letter, which may lead you to some of the best music, art and other endeavours that you've seen all year. Just sayin'.
January - I landed in Berlin in December, not having made up my mind to stay, but also not planning to leave in a hurry. Subletting a friends' apartment while they went back to NZ for two months, I had a moment to locate some German lessons, try to start my journey through German Bureaucracy, and shake the Post Tour blues. I had plans of recording and writing, but needing to earn some money without any mastery of German, I started busking in Subway stations around Berlin (which requires a complex, early morning entry into a lottery system once a week to get the correct permits in order), and the combination of cold and recycled subway air and super-strong European germs meant that I spent a good portion of the winter with varying intensities of cold and flu. I lost my voice for a good week, which was a slightly terrifying experience, but it did come back, eventually.
February - The end of my sublet came around much quicker than I had expected. Two months seemed to stretch ahead of me unendingly when I first moved into the apartment in Wedding, but then all of a sudden I needed to find a new place, a much harder task in Berlin than it apparently used to be. I found myself bouncing between a couple of friends' apartments, carrying all of my things with me. One of those apartments was in the far north of Berlin near the old Tegel airport - an airport that should have been closed many years ago, but when the electrical and alarm systems in the new airport were built without a permit (sorry, did you say something about German efficiency?) Tegel's been continuing to operate many years longer than it was supposed to. I spent February learning German (hard), trying to find an apartment (hard), trying to deal with paperwork (hard) and being sick from busking in the subway (also hard).
March - After answering many 'WG Gesucht' (apartment wanted) ads, I made myself a personal profile on one of the apartment search websites, and within a few days I'd received a number of responses. Some were less attractive than others (one man wanted pretty much a live-in Nanny for his daughter), but one was very promising - a room in a very central suburb with a German fellow working in IT research for EU environmental and humanitarian projects. I went to meet him and we spent a hour chatting about music and films and Berlin, but I didn't have high hopes; as a street musician without any paperwork or solid employment, I didn't expect him to take a gamble on having me as a flatmate. Much to my delight though, the next day he called me and invited me to move in. We sorted out the paperwork over drinks at a local bar the next night; after which the landlords tried to kick us out, citing the need to renovate the (perfect-condition) apartment. I moved in regardless and Matthias has been in a fight with the landlord ever since, as they try to raise the rent far more than is legal. Matthias is very patient and with a dogged sense of social justice, plus his ability to speak German is very helpful in these situations. And he's basically the best flatmate. We have a super good time living together, the apartment is beautiful, and central, and I count my lucky stars every day. The neighbourhood is great - filled with graffiti, street art, a huge mix of cultures, Turkish and German, African, lots of immigrants from all over.
April - I didn't have so many concerts, but I was settling into some sort of Berlin routine quite happily. I ended up in the newspaper for playing in the U-Bahn, and was relieved that the days were getting longer and sunnier. My friend Tilman, who I'd met in Bielefeld last year, had moved to Berlin and was also busking to make a living; we made a trip to West Germany together to play at a little festival. Also, German lessons German lessons German lessons. Deutsche Sprache, schwerer Sprache.
May - May 1st is a HUGE party in Berlin. It used to be a day of protest, but when the car burnings and property destruction frustrated the city officials too much, they decided to flood the streets with a street party instead, reasoning that it's much harder to riot when you're surrounded by a whole lot of happy people dancing. It's a slightly controversial situation, with the old activists feeling the street party detracts from the messages of worker's rights and civil disobedience; I can certainly sympathise. But that didn't stop me from going out and getting glittered up and having a merry old time. May's the time that Berlin comes out of hibernation, with the park down the road filled with people grilling and getting some Vitamin D after 6 months of sunlight deprivation.
I also brought 5 months of training to a head and did my first Half Marathon. It was a goal I'd set myself for April, but due to illness had to push back to another event. It had been a relief to have a non-music-related goal for a time, something that was easily measurable and not contingent on other people's expectations or judgements. I managed to run the entire way, without stopping to walk, and managed a very respectable time for my first ever event. The Big Berlin race starts and finishes at the Olympic Stadium, designed before 1933 but completed by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, so it's quite the location.
June - Summer, thank god. Mathias and I frequented many bars, played a lot of ping pong, (tisch-tennis), and I started playing a few more concerts that I'd booked through the spring. The (horrifying) day after Brexit, a man put a £5 note in my guitar case as I busked - a sure sign of a currency sinking like a stone.
July - I traveled for a single show in July in Oldenburg; went to the lakes for swims with friends; went to the gay pride parade. My old flatmate Holly from New Zealand moved to Berlin so we spent some time hanging out together as well. I was finally starting to get a bit more of a social network around me. It takes a long time to make friends in Berlin, because everyone is busy and moving around and has a dozen projects on the go.
August - Visited by some NZ friends of mine, Joseph and Maia. They took me out busking with their little busking amp, and they made a lovely little film of me playing one of my songs at Warschauer Str. Things were starting to take shape for the summer; I was booked to play a little festival in Berlin, which led to this profile on a Berlin Music and Culture website, LOLA.
Love to everyone, and may 2017 not bring the four horses of the apocalypse down upon our heads. x