19 September 2011

Berlin, I love you! Will you marry me?

Where to start?  On Wednesday when I landed in Berlin I knew two people.  One I had only corresponded with over email.  The other I had not seen in four years.  It is now the 19th of September.  I have been here five days and belong to an international community of artists.  I am in love with EVERYONE!  My head swims with possibility.  My heart opens with gratitude.

Kruezberg across the Spree River
But I guess I should start at the beginning, Saturday, when I stopped fretting in my giant room on Hermannstrasse and got on the underground to go to my first gig, ZirCouplet at the Shake! tent at Ostbanhof.  My tech was at 4:20, I was supposed to be there at 4.  It looked like it would take about half an hour to get to the station and then 5 minutes of walking.  I left the apartment at 3 pm, just to be on the safe side.  A transfer point at Jannowitzebrücke station to the S-bahn (there are two inner-city rail systems in Berlin, the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn) caught me up.  For some reason, my train wasn't coming, had been cancelled.  Of course, I could find no information in English.  At 3:40, I started to panic.  My first gig in Berlin and I was going to be late?  Not going to happen.  I ran downstairs to try to find the 248 Bus stop, but could not figure out which direction I had to take it.  I hailed a cab.  The driver spoke no English but understood Ostbanhof, which is a major train station.  Giving the driver 6 Euro, I hit the ground running toward the only red and yellow-striped tent in sight, which, to my relief, was the Shake! tent.  I got there at 3:55.  A tall, thin man with glasses, a green t-shirt that said Zirkus Zack, and wavy salt-and-pepper hair stood outside.  He waved at me.
"Ja, Harvey.  I recognize you from zie photo."  His smile is warm.  I feel immediately at ease.  Every stereotype I have ever heard or felt about Germans is, at this point, bogus.  Berliners are a diverse and relaxed bunch. 
"The S-Bahn wasn't running.  I hope I'm not late."
"Oh, relax.  You are fine." he says, showing me inside the tent.  An aerialist, whose name I will learn is Daniel (pronounced Daniél) is doing his tech on the stage.  We will become instant friends.  But more about him in a moment.
The seating is 3/4 round bleachers, the floor wooden.  Tobias, (pronounced Tobías) escorts me to one of the dressing rooms.  "You can put your things here and we vill be ready for you in about 20 minutes, is okay." 
"Ja," I smile and nod, already high off the energy of the place.  "I just need to put my puppet together.  I am sorry for not speaking German."
"We are very international cast.  You are not the only one.  English is no problem."
He leaves me to put my cake puppet together and soon it is my turn to tech.  There are two stage hands to help me but I have nothing for them to do!  Clowns, we do it all ourselves!  At least, that's how I think of it. 
After my tech, I learn that there will be a dvd made of the nights performance.  Wow!
I go to change, do makeup, and stretch.  Daniel introduces himself.  He is from Israel, flamboyant and flirtatious.  We clique immediately.  Others begin to arrive.  A german dance/gymnastics troupe, a sideshow freak named Roc It, an eccentric performer who sings and plays the musical saw from Spain. This is varieté!  I feel like Sally Bowles but more DIY.  There is German being spoken all around me and I am impressed with myself that I can pick up one word every third or fourth sentence.  This is a new phenomenon.  I am getting over my cultureshock and beginning to relate.
At 7:30, we all meet in a circle onstage.  Jana (pronounced Yanna) translates to English for the 3 of us (Daniel, Mara and myself) who don't speak German.  Tobias gives directions, explains how the evening will go, thanks us all for being here, and than has us do a group warm up.  Some things are the same no matter where you are from.  We all make noise, wiggle around and then run to the middle of the circle, put our hands in and go, "Wooooo!" in an ascending scale.  Performance is a universal language.  I am home.

The cakedance, my first act, is new, not as polished as the second.  It doesn't suck, but, well, it's still a baby.  It goes okay.  The second piece I have been working on for 9 months.  I could do it in my sleep.  It is a piece of gold.  The audience eats it up.  They will not stop laughing!  Unfortunately, my light cue at the end comes too quickly, before I finish.  I think I had a language barrier with Markus, the lighting technician.  No big deal.  We will fix it tomorrow.
At the end of the show is a finale.  We are called out to the stage individually and then take a group bow.  Upon exiting, the audience is still going crazy.  Something is said in German and lots of people run back on stage.  Daniel, Mara and I don't know what is happening.  Jana yells, "Now, now!  Everyone onstage!"  Daniel goes, Mara looks confused.  I grab her hand.  "Ahora, ahora!"  We run back onstage.
As I am changing back into my street clothes, Tobias knocks.  "Ja!  Come in!"
"People to see you!" He is all smiles.  I believe I have impressed!  In walk Julika and Neo.  I can't believe they have come.  I am elated.  I take off my makeup, use my drink ticket, have a Beck's.  We stand and talk outside.  Julika and Jana are old friends.  I get the feeling it is a small and close world of artists here.
Around 11:30 pm, we all part ways.  "Tomorrow!  Tchuss!" I wave and I literally skip to the train station.

Something is going on.  Polizei (police) are swarming the station.  I push terror down inside of me.  Berlin seems such a tolerant place, but programming is hard to overcome.  I see police or large groups of German people singing in the street or at the station and well- I don't even want to say where my mind goes.  I am a Jew.  Let's leave it at that.  I am not proud to have these thoughts.  They are something that I must overcome.  But the thoughts are there and I might as well be honest about them. 
It is illegal in Germany to have anything to do with Hitler, to say his name silences a room.  I have heard that in other parts of Germany, Stüttgart, Kastle, folks will flat out apologize and buy you a meal if you tell them you are Jewish, such is the shame of their past here.
I get to my platform and it is empty.  I am on the wrong side, but on the platform across from me, lots of cops are surrounding a group of men. The men are singing, shaking their fists in the air.  A knot of distress ties itself in my stomach.  What to do?  I get myself on the correct platform as far away form the men's song and the polizei as possible.  What is going on?  My train comes quickly and I transfer to the underground at the next station.  There is no trouble here.  Relief washes over me and the high of the show comes back.  On the underground platform, I spot my first butch-femme lesbian couple.  They are young, cute.  I approach them.  "Spriechen zie Englisch?"
"Ja," the femme, who looks of Persian descent, nods.
"I perform at the KingKongKlub in Mitte on Wednesday.  I am clown and do queer and gender performance."  I give them my card.  They smile.
"Cool!" The femme says.  "We have not been there yet.  We will try to come!"
My train comes. "Tchuss!" I wave goodbye.
Upon my arrival home, I see that someone from the ZirCouplet staff has not only friended me but also suggested that I contact a person name Viehölala for future gigs.  I message Viehölala right away.

On Sunday I wake too early.  It is raining in Berlin.  I bum around the apartment, take a long shower, try to go to the grocery store and I discover that everything in my neighborhood except the Vietnamese restaurant is closed on Sunday.  I have chicken curry and rice for 3,50 Euro, do the dishes in the kitchen, drink more kaffee, and decide to hop the train to Ostbanhof at 4 pm.  Call isn't until 7.  I am meeting Jana at 6 so she can help me fix my light cue by translating for me.  I want to check out the area around the Ostbanhof station.  Rain or not, part of the wall and what looks like a beautiful park is there. 
Leaving the station, I cross the street and head into the park, which is actually a small river bank along the Spree.  I discover a place called Yaam.  Entering the gate, I am in agiant green field with fruit trees and a little shelter, outside of which sits a man with skin the color of pitch.  Am I supposed to be here?  He motions for me to come.  I do. 
"Hallo!"  I say, smiling.
"How are you?" he says.  By his accent, I know he is from somewhere in Africa.
"English!"  I exclaim.  "I am good!  What is this place?"
"This is Yaam!  We are international.  It is a place people meet, hang out, through there," he points to another gate, "there are stands.  You can buy food and drink."
He tells me that he is from Gambia and I say I am from California.  I invite him to ZirCouplet and promise to come back another time, but now I must wander by the river.

I walk along the Spree, see Kruezberg on the other side.  It is hard to know if I am in East or West Berlin, the wall is such a wiggly line.  For me it does not matter, but for some people every time you pass from one side to the other without conflict, you exhale with relief.  Soon it is 5:15.  I am ansty, want to get to the tent.  I go and it is open.  Daniel, who is staying for the moment in a small trailer on the circus grounds, greets me warmly.  He is with his friend Sharon (Sharón) who is also Israeli, a juggler and clown and will be the last act of the night.  Sharon saw my act last night and says, "I don't know what I am doing yet.  Will you watch?"  Of course!
We go into a small studio space.  Stilts and other circus apparatus hang on the wall.  The place smells like a gym.  Again, I have the feeling of home.  Sharon shows me some stuff he is working on.
"Your technique is good."  I tell him, "But I can see you thinking.  You are not really looking at me.  I need to know that you see me.  That you are vulnerable.  You need to breathe onstage."  We try again.  It is better, but there is something missing.  I approach him.  "Everything you do and feel, I need to see happen here."  I touch his spine.  And again, but there is still too much thought and I have 15 minutes before I meet Jana in the tent. 
"Okay, we need to play a short game."  He protests.  I can tell he is nervous, too in his head.  "It won't take long."  We chase each other, make eye contact, shock each other with imaginary lightning bolts that shoot across the room from our fingertips.  After 5 minutes, we are both out of breath.  "Again!"
And he nails his piece, makes me laugh. 

At 6:30, Tobias comes to the dressing room.  "You need anything?" 
"Nope.  Everything is great."  I am beaming.
The Cakedance went better last night.  I got a little feedback form Sharon and tried it.  The second piece was okay.  The audience was more aghast, less open, but they definitely laughed.  After the show I am changing and taking my makeup off.  Tobias comes in.  "Someone to see you!"  He says.  "They are in the tent."
"Really?" I am surprised.  I button my pants and go out to see who could be there.  A tall man with dark hair and glasses introduces himself as Viehölala.  I cannot believe it.  His facebook picture is a fabulous dragqueen.  We talk extensively.  He want to find me work, offers two gigs but they are for nights Eve and I are already booked.  He says he has some more information and will email me.  We talk about the Cakedance.  He has some wonderful ideas.  He asks about the puppet and I bring him back to the dressing room to show him the construction.  We hang out a bit, then he is off and then I get PAID!  40 Euro! 
The Israelis and I hang out.  Sharon has to go and Daniel invites me to his caravan (synonomous with trailer.)  We hang out and talk.  Apparently, if I sign up for German language school, I can get a Visa for up to one year.  That information is a little overwhelming, but is definitely something to think about.  Funny, the immediate reason I think I shouldn't do it is I miss my mom.  Daniel says he has rehearsal space during the day and will workshop the cakedance with me on Tuesday.  Great! 

I leave at midnight and there is no trouble at the station.  I come home walking on air.  Today (Monday) I wake at 11 am, make kaffe and eggs, write this.  Now it's time to shower, dress and go to Kaiser's (Safeway-esque supermarket.)
TV Tower

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