I’ll be writing about our recent tour of Europe in several parts. This is part 2.
The Lonely Accordion
The next morning we packed up our things, loaded them into Nina’s car, and headed back to Hannover’s central train station. We had a few hours to spare before we needed to hit the tracks, so we decided to visit Nina’s place of employment, Staatstheater Hannover. Getting a first hand tour of a beautiful opera house is a breathtaking thing, and while it’s not a stage I am likely ever to cross with guitar in hand, I still enjoyed getting a glimpse into the inner workings of a musical company. The building was an interesting mix of classical architecture and post-war reconstruction (at least to my highly untrained eye… that’s the way it felt to me) and I enjoyed the chance to look around. After the tour, Nina took us to the station and walked us to our platform. We said our goodbyes, and she headed back to her office leaving three American vagabonds feeling as if they got a one of a kind look into the city she calls home. She’s a truly special friend that (at this point) I only get to see every 10 years or so. I hoped the next few shows would go well, if only for the fact that we could book more dates in Germany, and we could hang out with Nina again. Our train pulled into the station, we stepped on, grabbed a seat, and set out for Hamburg.
Train- Riding backwards- strange. Neck hurts.
Seems I’d rather see what’s coming than
I would what I’ve already passed.
Hamburg is a vibrant port city situated on the Elbe River. The centerpiece of its downtown area, the Town Hall of Hamburg (Hamburger Rathaus), is an elegant neo-renaissance style building with a copper roof that has been stained green with the oxidization of time. The courtyard in front of the building plays host to a number of merchants peddling art, jewelry, food, and drink. Street musicians dot the area, playing for tips. One particular woman, a slight blond playing the accordion, caught our attention. The square was sunny—full of people of every shape and size creating a happy mix of pedestrian traffic. Her music, however, was an interesting contrast to the visual scene. It was hauntingly lonesome and beautiful. Dressed elegantly with black pants, a flowing lacy shirt, and black high heels, she wore dark sunglasses that added to the mystery of her music. I thought it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. It made me sad, and it made me thoughtful. More importantly to her (I assume), it made me reach into my pocket and toss some coins into her accordion case.
Holly, Rodney and I sat on steps leading down to the river, watching swans and ducks dart to and from breadcrumbs tossed into the water. The afternoon sun sank lower behind the tall steeple of a nearby church, and we walked through town, heading back to our hotel, stopping at the local fish market for a drink. A band was playing nearby, and as we got closer, we recognized the unmistakable sounds of a Billy Ray Cyrus song. We stopped and listened—a look of confused amusement on our faces. It seemed, as the lone Americans in the area, that we were the only ones that found the performance to be humorous. Perhaps this boded well for our style of music finding a home in Germany, since the people around us seemed to genuinely like the song… Then again, perhaps it didn’t.
Back at the hotel, we showered and changed. I found the address of the venue we were playing that night in the phone book and gave it to a taxi driver that was waiting for us at the bottom of the hotel steps. He dropped us off 20 minutes later at the club, but something seemed wrong… surely, this wasn’t the spot. We walked inside, and asked if there was live music being played here tonight. The woman behind the bar told us in broken English that there wasn’t. Puzzled, I asked the lone man inside of the building if this was Astra Stube. He spoke no English, but seemed to understand what we were asking. He said that it wasn’t, but held out his finger in a universal symbol that said, “wait a minute.” Pulling out his cell phone, he called several friends, none of whom could offer us any assistance. We were at the wrong club, in an unfamiliar city, with no idea of where to go. Just as we were trying to formulate a game plan, a man walked in. The helpful German asked him a question, and he looked up at us, saying, “you’re looking for Astra Stube?”
“Yes,” I said, “do you know where it is?”
“It’s a very famous music place. If you have patience, I will be back with my car in 10 minutes and I will take you there.”
Crisis averted. The man, who later told us he worked in the international shipping business, and had lived for several years in the United States, loaded us into his car, gave us a quick tour of the area, and dropped us off in front of Astra Stube. We thanked him and invited him to come to the show. He said he would try and make it, and bid us farewell.
Inside of the venue, we were relieved to find our international team of musicians starting sound check and drinking beer. They were happy that we had made it, and we talked about the previous nights show, as well as the crowd we were hoping to see that night. Astra Stube is a small room, located directly beneath a train overpass on the corner of two busy streets. It made me feel as if I was in Chicago (a German speaking Chicago, anyway) and I liked the vibe of the place. As show time neared, the room began to fill up. By the time I hit the stage at 10:30, it was completely packed. I played my set, and each song was met with the same attentiveness that I had experienced the night before. I felt completely gratified as I walked off of the stage. Surprisingly, the first person I saw by the bar was the friendly stranger that had given us a ride earlier that afternoon. He complimented the set and bought us each a drink. An hour later, Rodney played a great set, the other artists finished out the night, and we took a cab back to our hotel—this time without ending up at the wrong place. Two shows down, two resounding successes.
The next morning we awoke, and headed out to find some lunch. We were in the mood for some traditional German fare, and we thankfully found it a mile away from our hotel. The meal was perfect, and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown Hamburg. That night, we managed to find our next venue, Freundlich + Kompitent without incident. We sound checked, ate dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant down the street, and talked about our day. A couple sat down at the table next to us sporting cowboy hats, so we introduced ourselves. They lived in town and had come to see our show. We quickly made friends with the pair, and spent the rest of the night talking about music. Its universal language had again come through, and we had once more found common conversational ground 5,000 miles from home. The show wrapped up, and we said goodbye to the other musicians. It was our last performance with them before we headed to Italy the next day. We all traded cd’s and wished each other well. Our new cowboy-hat-wearing friends loaded us into their car and dropped us off in front of our hotel. With a heartfelt “yee haw,” they left us standing on the curb and sped away into the early morning hours of the Hamburg night. We retired to our beds, and I closed my eyes, thankful for all of the friends we had made so far on our adventure. And with the beautifully lonely sound of the accordion player from the square waltzing through my head, I closed my eyes on our last night in Germany.