May 26

Having a quiet start, I picked up some cakes and headed to G and K’s and found them in the shop with a friend.  We settled down with some tea and caught up on the past handful of days – it was good to be back on the old Friedelstrasse!

They had some photographers coming in soon, so I picked up my bike which had been stewing the past few weeks in the courtyard and went for a spin.  Tonight one of my favourite bands from Canada was playing here in Berlin, so I went to a copy shop and made up some flyers to distribute.  Bored hostel days saw me designing some possibilities and they turned out pretty well in the en masse production.

So the vaguely sunny afternoon was spent taping and decorating posts and giving energetic thumbs up to the curious onlookers.  I don’t know if postering is allowed here, so at one point when the polizei stopped at a red light and looked over, I put away the tape I had been unrolling and quickly disappeared down some side streets. Funnily enough, I used to find the German police quite scary looking, and the sight of them would set my heart skittering, but that has passed.  Maybe it was the rifle-toting officers of Istanbul.

Finding the canal bridge that’s nice for hanging out, I lingered and spotted a banjoist with a huge beard aplayin away.  I requested Cripple Creek and My Grandfather’s Clock to which he obliged.  He then played some Pete Seeger and showed me some different styles and techniques that he’s picked up.  It was a nice intermission, but I was on a mission and soon set off again with my papers.

That evening I biked over to the show, which was at Schokoladen, a venue I had been wanting to check out but hadn’t found my way to yet.  It a was pretty nice and cozy venue, somehow small… yet possessing the feeling of a barn or gymnasium auditorium.  Strange! The first set was played by some folks from Italy, they were interesting but I felt they needed some work yet.  R, a designer friend of G and K’s showed up between sets, and it was good to have a buddy to watch the show with.  Next up was the Wax Man and he lit the stage with his energy.  Playing new tunes and somehow more happy and coherent than what I’m used to, it was a bit of a different show. 

Afterwards, I found R also lived in the same neighbourhood as my hostel, so we biked back together.  I found out he also makes some music, which is pretty cool.  People have so many facets.

May 25

When my alarm for 6am went off, I decided to sleep in and catch the afternoon bus to Berlin.  AH was in town again as well, and I thought we might run into each other, but it didn’t happen.  Luckily I had a few Koruna left from last trip, so I grabbed some lunch groceries and hit up that pastry shop by the market that I liked.  Outside the shop, all the seats were takes so I settled into a table beside them.  Soon I heard shouting and looked up to see an enraged woman at the shop across the way shouting a blue streak at me in Czech!   Getting the picture, I moved to a different table and she soon came out with a cloth and heartily wiped down the seat where I’d just been, still yelling her heart out.  Giving the rag a final distaining flick, she rambled back to her shop, muttering all the while.  Some Czech men looked simultaneously surprised and amused and laughed at the scene… I don’t know who or what she thought I was, but what a nasty response!  Some time after a yound fellow sat down there with his laptop, and not a word was said….

From there I made my way to the bus depot, got my ticket and awaited the bus.  The ride over to Berlin was easy and quick.  Back in town, I again found the Regenbogen Fabrik hostel that I liked, and settled in for the night.

May 24

Trying to wake early, I missed the first bus out to Prague with the Canadian saxophist.  So I sat with JT, sipping coffee and talking awhile, then he blissed out on the keyboard.  I set to requesting this or that, Angel Eyes, Skylark… to which he gladly obliged when he knew the tune.  When it was time to set off he played a parting song for me, Bonnie Raitt’s  “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”   It’s crazy who you meet when you travel, and to think he’s played keys for her as well.   Art really levels things out.  J got up in time to bid farewell, and I hit the road for Prague.

In town I arrived in time for the hugest rainshower and got quite soaked on my way to the hostel.  It was literally hard to walk forward on account of the wind, and thunder shook the air.  Feeling bedraggled, I signed into St.Toby’s Hostel and had an easy night!

May 23

This morn I found out the reservation at the hostel in Munich I’d tried to book the night before didn’t actually work.. So I cancelled the rideshare I planned and decided to trek it out in Vienna one more day.

These long weekends in the high season don’t leave a lot of room for spontanaity! (Now Budapest was still calling, I’ve heard it’s setting up to be ‘the next Berlin’, and I found an inexpensive busline to Dusseldorf as well, but didn’t have time for such excursions… thay’ll have to wait for next time!) Plunking myself down at the piano a bit, I picked out some classical pieces and JT came along and had a listen. By now I figured out my day, and decided to head down to the Belvedere Art Museum and see some of the Klimt and Shiele works they had up there.

Modern Art probably has my favourite styles in art. I can look at Modern Art museums over and over, through and through. The Belvedere was pretty good, but needed a bit of an update in its curatorial style. It was still leaning towards the sentimental and over-contextualized the pieces, not necessarily letting them stand on their own two feet. There was also an -what can now be seen as trite and self-conscious- additional collection of African masks in the basement, with a write-up on how they influenced the style of the times with excerpts of Sigmund Freud.. Animalism, the unconscious, etc..

I was really blown away with the work of one artist though, Albin Egger-Lienz.. I’d previously seen his work in textbooks and not thought much of it, but seeing the brushworks in the flesh – what a change!

He worked with Social Realism, depicting anonymous figures of workers and farmers in almost expressionist landscapes. Very earthy colours, beautiful brushstrokes, and high attention to form and shadow… The hands of his figures are astounding… Earlier works of soldiers laying in the field of WWI are among the best I’ve seen for, well, getting the point across. Some later images are religious depictions of christ and the like.

Outside the museum, I got out in time for a rainshower. Not wanting to get my feet wet, I spent the next 20 mins running a hugging path along the walls of Mariahilferstrasse – stepping lightly as I could in the small dry avenue afforded by the walls and awnings of the shops.

Back at the hostel J had emerged and was settled down with a coffee, working on some new songs. I plunked down with him and did some painting and it was a pleasant hour or so. The song he was writing was really beautiful, and it made a natural atmosphere for art! JT came along and they were off with his son to the Prater amusement park, and I stayed back for some time on Skype. At the net cafe, some sort of cafuffle occured, and a man was forcibly ejected from the space, amidst some thrown words and shoving. It was all in another tongue, so I don’t know what it was all about.

When I left, I headed over to the amusement park to see if I’d run into the crew, but it was getting on late so I just roamed and took in the surreal atmosphere and funky rides. Many people said the Prater Park was a must-see in Vienna, and I’d have to agree. It made me think of the history of these places of entertainment and pleasure… it would have been amazing to see Coney Island back in the day…

Back at the Ruthensteiner my buds were just arriving back when I did and I believe from there we just went ahead and had another jam. Later on L. the djembist joined in and swooped J and JT off to a party of some sort. I stayed up and talked to another Canadian, then went about travel arrangements for the next day. By now I had decided I would have to give up the stream and continue from plans, back to the everyday reality. These journeys are always much more difficult – imagine paddling upstream a river instead of floating down it! So I decided to save a few dollars and bus back up through Prague back to Berlin.

May 22

When you start to follow the stream, you never know where it’ll take you. When you give that kind of trust to fate – it sort of rises up to meet your challenge and never disappoints. It’s kind of like nature in that respect.

So from Berlin I followed my nose to Prague – experienced the most ridiculous chances, and then was called to Vienna. At this point my attempts to get over to Munich were consistently derailed by this or that, so this morning I woke to meet the next step.

After my morning porridge, I made ready to check out and leaving the kitchen, when I heard the most mad ragtime being played on the piano. Looking over, I saw a figure playing who from afar appeared to be a woman which I was surprised at given the style of playing. Upon walking closer, I saw this was in fact a man, who from behind looked eerily like an East Van character I know back home. Stationed behind the keyboardist was a fellow with a guitar, also playing exceptionally well. Needless to say I was transfixed and plopped down on a chair to listen. For a time they were joined by a djembe player who works at the hostel – he had a very professional technique and was packing several drums. Occassionally the guitarist would sing and be joined by the pianist, and they covered Beatles tunes and jazz classics and all sorts.

On a pause I found out they play together in LA, and another character from the hostel, Uncle Steve, invited me out to join them on a trip to the Vienna flea market. I won Uncle Steve’s good trust after he had been bemoaning his lack of black tea for the morning, I gave him a bag of mine and he reciprocated with sharing some of his chocolate. Good trade! So off we went to the flea market, picking up the keyboardist, J.T.’s, son on the way. During the transit ride Uncle Steve proved to be a little out there, which increased the comraderie between the rest of us as we listened to his merry gambit.

The mom of J.T.’s son came out with us too, and her and Unkie made the lead through the bustling, tourist crowded market. Following them were J.T. and his youngster, with myself and J the guitarist taking the rear. As it was the first day with sun in who knows how long, the people were out in droves and it was hard to keep track of the group. J was beguiled by the eyebrows of a very persuasive market girl, “it was the Brook Shields effect,” and bought a big bag of wasabi peanuts which became my tasty protein snack for the next couple days. The opposite end of the market became a little more nice and junkie, with eccentric second hand goods, and J.T. oogled old music instruments. At some point we lost Uncle Steve, but a half hour or so later when we were getting ready to move on, he found us again. His decision was to take us back to the hostel where he would prepare us a feast.

JT picked up a bunch of groceries, and we returned to the hostel and started another musical jam while Unkie made good on his word. There was no way I could keep up with these guys on guitar or piano, so I grabbed a djembe and my odd hippy drum circle experiences held me in good stead to follow on rhythm. Around this time a rainshower started so we had good timing to be indoors.

Unkies feast was delicious, he made a cream sauce pasta and salad (and maybe something else.. it’s been a while now and the memory fogs) served with bread. Apparently he operated a restaurant at some point.

After lunch there was more jamming, and figuring this was a rare chance to have the backup of a master like JT, I broke out The Cat Came Back on the guitar and he accompanied me on the piano. From there we had a chill time, and went our separate ways a bit.  

There was some napping, Unkie drifted off somewhere, and JT and his son went for dinner. J and I went out for a beer and the sun was back out so we sat on a patio and chatted. Remembering this bottle of vodka I was packing (passed on from one of the hostel workers in Prague) we moved back to the Ruthensteiner and were joined by JT. Then we found Uncle Steve, or he found us, and we sent off on a fools errand to score them some grass. JT entertained us with jokes about musicians and they continually got themselves lost by not following my directions – maps and spacial awareness come naturally to yours truly… In the end, JT left Unkie at a gay bar with 50 euro – which he never saw the light, or the fruit of, again.

Trotting back to the hostel, we passed a young fellow hoisting a backpack and an instrument, a lost look about him, “tenor sax?” JT guessed right and we dragged him with us and another lively jam followed. After midnight we had to close up to keep the noise down. From there J followed some girls to a party, JT went to find Uncle Steve, the Canadian saxophonist signed into the hostel, and I hit the hay after a fine day in Vienna!

May 21

Headed downstairs and found the mandolinist had time to kill before his train, so we walked down Mariahilferstrasse (a bustling street full of shops in the inner core) to the Vienna Modern Art Museum. This featured a tantalizing array of contemporary works, as well as a large exhibit of Andy Warhols videos, and other media artists (including Canadaś General Idea!) from the 70ś to the present. It was refreshing to see after all the historical paintings I have been viewing of late. Afterwards we had lunch outside and were entertained by the daring swallows who would swoop and land on your hand to peck your lunch and fly away again – all in an instant. We then parted ways and I toured the city centre, taking in the tourist tidbits.

There were off and on rainshowers, so I stopped once in a bookstore, another time in a phone booth where I played some harmonica tunes.. passing a group of fellows one had an umbrella and held it out for cover as I passed! It was a pretty whimsical journey. By then my feet were sore from wearing my summer shoes, so I made way to the hostel and took care of laundry.

The Hostel Ruthensteiner is actually pretty fancy and well equipped. It has a sprawling surface area, two floors, two courtyards, many washrooms and showers and chill spaces… Nice furniture and decorations.. By far one of the most upright hostels I have stayed in yet.

That evening I just took it cool and had an early night, my buddy from the night before was jamming again but I was tired out. Drew awhile and planned what might come next. It had been in my head to go to Munich tomorrow, but since hitting Vienna Budipest was calling… Apparently its a very chill city, full of music and good times. Only trouble was I didnt have enough time to get back for my flight if I started that sort of a journey…

May 20

Woke and headed for the bus.  It was a quick journey to Vienna.  The coach was pretty luxury, had seatbelts, an attendant who provided complementary beverages, and movies.  The landscape of Austria is very quaint and beautiful.  I saw wild deer munching in the fields.  All the wilderness Ive seen so far feels very tame though, like the soil is leashed and the grass docile… Maybe I need to visit the alps.

Getting into Vienna I found my hostel, which has a music room… Made supper, then jammed out on the piano and guitars for awhile.  Later in the eve I was joined by a Jack Johnson style singer-songwriter from the states, and we grooved awhile with a rotating crew of guitarists.  A Scottish fellow with purple pants and a polka dot shirt proved to be a mean mandolinist, and it was quite a merry time.