L Train to Berlin
Hallo hallo! Just back from my Madonna adventure in Berlin with my new friend Julie. Had a great time -- lots of lagers, laughs and a much-needed change of scenery. I'll get to the highlights in a minute, but first, I must begin with -- surprise! -- a public transportation complaint.
Ok, so my flight left from Newark Liberty International last Sunday. The airport's official website assured me that I could grab a shuttle bus to the airport from Penn Station, Grand Central or Port Authority. So I planned to get on the bus at Penn and bought a ticket online.
I get out of the A train at 34th street and ask a bus driver where to catch the shuttle. He directs me to the front of the New Yorker hotel. So I go there and wait. And wait. And wait. And start to get nervous when I see no busses.
I ask around a bit. Cops, MTA officials, anyone in a uniform of any kind. Nobody knows anything about this bus. The clock is ticking. Finally some random guy informs me that the shuttle no longer stops at Penn Station and that I've gotta get up to Port Authority to catch it. Good to fucking know.
Now, why couldn't the Newark Airport folks amend their website to reflect this change in plans? I mean, this is not a trivial point -- I could have missed my f-ing plane! Ugh. Anyway, I sprinted up to 42nd street at top speed and finally found the damn shuttle. Assholes.
Getting through check in and security at the airport was surprisingly painless, what with all this recent hysterical hand-wringing over liquids and gels. The whole thing strikes me as a bit ridiculous; now, while everyone has all their attention focused on toothpaste, mousse and hairspray, doesn't it stand to reason that the next would-be terrorist is going to try something else? Anyway...I had pretty much only packed clothes so I was able to breeze on board with no hassle. And in the plane's restroom, "Borderline" was playing. A very good omen!
My plane landed in Berlin a bit ahead of schedule and I got to Julie's lovely flat in Prenzlauberg around 9 a.m. Julie was glowing with good health, thanks to her new obsession, hula-hooping! We drank some coffee and went out for a wander.
Berlin was much more pleasant on this visit than on my last one-- cool and comfortable, like fall. Passing rainstorms freshened things periodically. Lots of people outdoors in beer gardens and cafes. The city was on its best behavior.
I was determined to find some new shoes and had this idea that I would dispose of my old Doc Martens in some kind of symbolic retirement ceremony somewhere in Berlin. Maybe sink them in the bottom of a lake or something. Leave a piece of myself there.
Anyway, at the end of a long hoof, we found a really cool pair of black Vans with skulls on the sides for 50 euros. Cute! Anything with skulls wins me over pretty easily. I bought 'em. Gotta say, it's a little odd wearing sneakers at this point -- I've been stomping around in combat boots for more than a decade, so wearing the Vans makes me feel almost weightless.
Monday night was meant to be relatively chill, since our pilgrimage to Hannover for the Madonna show was the next day. But alas, our good intentions were abandoned a few cocktails into the night at her apartment. We took some beers for the road and headed out to a local goth party at Dunker.
By the way, I love how consistent and reliable the goth scene is -- pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a clan of black-clad, Bauhaus-worshippers congregating somewhere. God bless them all. Julie's promoter friend let us in for free and gave us some free drinks (which we may or may not have needed). Good, good, smoky goth fun.
On Tuesday we were utterly wiped out but made it to our train to Hangover, I mean, Hannover, on schedule. We ate breakfast on the train. The Germans sure are a mighty carnivorous lot; order anything that includes meat and you'll likely get enough to last you for a week. But we needed sturdy food to prepare ourselves for the day ahead.
As we got closer to Hannover, the weather grew more and more ominous. Angry storm clouds gathered as we crossed the countryside and rain showers pelted the windows. We started getting nervous; the Madonna show was in an open-air arena. We braced ourselves for a soggy concert experience. Being as tired and hungover as we were, the prospect was a bit daunting.
But things got much better. We disembarked in Hannover and the train let out into a sort of shopping mall inside the station. We wandered through. Then we encountered a delightful sight: a clothing store called, simply, Madonna. Hah! Another great omen. We stopped to take a photo of the place, then peered inside out of curiosity. Their stuff was so cute! So we went in and I ended up dropping 50-some euros on some quite fabulous new gear, all emblazoned with the Madonna logo. I got an adorable, fur-lined hoodie that says "Madonna, Since 1988; Princeton Ivy League" on the front. It makes absolutely no sense and it's fabulous and it's my new favorite thing in the world.
From there we walked to our hotel to catch some downtime before the show, which included, importantly, a short nap. By 7pm the rain was pouring steadily and things were looking a bit dire, but we were excited anyway. Madonna! She was here in Hannover, among us. And we would be rocking out with her in just a couple of hours. We made some stiff cocktails and got ready to go. We listened to Confessions on a Dancefloor (what else?).
And in the end, the gods were with us. The very minute -- no, the very second -- we exited the hotel, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. The sun shone down benevolently as we skipped to the train station. Hooray! It was like a scene from a movie (a corny movie, perhaps). All Madonna tickets, by the way, were honored as valid train tickets to and from AWD Arena. How cool is that? We sipped our cocktails-for-the-road on the train.
Opening DJ Paul Oakenfold had just wrapped up his set when we got to the venue. We would have liked to check him out but it was just too important to rest instead, given the shape we were in. It was a wise move. We bought beers and hustled down to the floor of the giant arena. Eighty thousand Germans in there. People were doing the wave and the vibe seemed pretty good.
As politely as possible, we wormed our way up toward the stage as far as we could, and got a little way past the soundboard. A really good spot. Then it seemed that, once we had found our place, the lights went down and the show started. Our timing was perfect!! -- and we were buzzing nicely. Weeeee!
Wow. The concert was unbelievable, not that anything less was expected. As always, Madonna's show was a total sensory overload of phenomenal visuals, costumes and choreography. Absolutely top-notch everything. She sang great. It is criminal how good she looks. Girls half her age would kill for that ass. They performed almost the whole of Confessions, plus goodies like "Into the Groove," "Erotica," "Ray of Light" and...ah, heck, why don't I just print the set list? It went a little something like this:
Future Lovers / I Feel Love (Medley)
Like A Virgin
Live To Tell
Like It Or Not
Sorry Remix (Video Interlude)
I Love New York
Let It Will Be
Ray Of Light
Drowned World/Substitute For Love
Paradise (Not For Me)
Music / Disco Inferno (Medley)
La Isla Bonita
Erotica/You Thrill Me
I love that Madonna can encore with one of her new songs and absolutely no one is disappointed, because it's as strong as anything else in her repertoire. It was a really inspired set; everything was irresistibly dance-y. Julie and I bounced around and sang and had the best time. But it must be said, our neighbors were a total DRAG. We were virtually surrounded by grumpy, frumpy trolls who positively resented our levity.
I need to ask, why do these people spend good money to go to concerts, only to stand there, stock still, and not even applaud at the end of the songs?! These killjoys acted like we were watching a debate, rather than having a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience. Julie said it's typical of German audiences; they're not exactly the loosest bunch in the world. Anyway, cranky Teutons aside, we had a completely BRILLIANT night, a positively GOOOOR-geous time, and were worn out from top to bottom by the time we filed out of the place. AND, the rain had held off for the entire show. God really does love Madonna.
We trained back to Berlin the next afternoon after having a giant, carnivorous breakfast in Hannover (a dozen sausage links, anyone? how about some bacon to go with that?). The rest of the week included but was not limited to loads of shopping, drinking and episodes of Little Britain. There was a nasty thunderstorm and we told ghost stories (what else?). We built a fort! I taught her "Man on the Moon" on guitar. Tons of walking and my stiff new kicks gave my feet some righteous blisters. I bought more stuff: four books (Paul Auster's New York Trilogy and Moon Palace, Yann Martel's Life of Pi and Patrick Suskind's Perfume, all at Julie's recommendation) and a vinyl copy of Nina Hagen's first album (all German lyrics).
Berlin is a really handsome place these days. Apparently its clean, pasteled appearance bears only a passing resemblance to the monochromatic, edgy, derelict pile it was six years ago from England. Lately it's gotten so overwhelmed with Americans, it's like East, East Williamsburg -- being so cheap, it's become a magnet for unambitious hipster/artist types who've realized you only have to work three days a week there to get the utilities paid and still have plenty of money leftover for pot. God bless.
The engineering and aesthetics are amazing, though. Things are well-made there. The apartments are big and beautiful and dirt cheap. The trains are embarrassingly efficient. The beer is strong and so is the coffee.
Julie's planning a move to New York. After six years, she's seen all there is to see in Berlin. It's got a relatively low ceiling. By her accounts, the scene is pretty small, a bit cliquey and incestuous and two days behind London and New York, in terms of fashion and music. She calls it a "city of slackers." The low rents are great on the pocket book but maybe not enough incentive to justify spending a lifetime there spinning the wheels.
It is a cool city, though. There's a hearty, smoky vibe there and plenty of drinking on the streets. I like that. It's dark and austere, vibrating with lots of intense history.
On my last night in Berlin, we hung out at Julie's best mate Alex's GOOOR-geous flat, listening to records and drinking beer, then dinner at White Trash Fast Food. I had to be at Tegel airport viciously early the next morning, so we skipped the clubbing, even though it was a Saturday. But there was one thing I still had to do...
After we got back to her flat at midnight, Julie and I took my old Doc Martens out to the street, tied them together and hauled them up over a signpost on Shoenhausser Allee, New York style. It should have been a somber moment but instead it was hilarious. This photo was taken the next morning, en route to the airport.
The German airport security confiscated my deodorant (why didn't the Americans have any problems with that?) but otherwise I was allowed on board the plane with little hassle on Sunday morning. When I got back into the city, I was immediately brought back down to earth with the reality of New York's public transit inadequacies: the L train was down, OF COURSE.
I started this post with a transit authority gripe and I'll end with one. Ok, so it's bad enough that they shut down the L train ALL FUCKING WEEKEND and almost every night of the week, right? Now, why can't the train conductors ANNOUNCE THE SERVICE DISRUPTION on trains that connect to the L at 14th street (like the A,C,E,F,1,2,4,5,6, etc)?!
Here I am on the A train, whipped, jet-lagged and lugging a giant overnight bag, planning to transfer from the A to the L train at 14th Street. Upon stopping at 14th street, would it be so damn difficult for the conductor to announce something like this:
"Attention! There is NO L TRAIN SERVICE AT THIS STATION!"
Is this too much to ask?
What happens instead is, I get out at 14th street, walk up the stairs and all the way across the station, hauling my luggage, only to find that goddamn red tape the MTA love so much, stretched across the L train entrance like a giant middle finger pointed at my face. Grrrrrrrrr. NOW I have to turn around, walk all the way back to the A platform and wait for the next downtown train so I can make my way toward the JMZ.
If the conductor would just say something about the L being out of service, I could just stay on the damned downtown A train and skip all the unnecessary schlepping and angst. But nooooooo! That just wouldn't be the MTA way. Assholes.
Ok, enough of my vitriol. Let's end this on a high note, shall we? I had a fantastic week. But what did I learn?
1. We should all feel much safer now that travelers are crossing international borders with no Aqua Net or Colgate in their bags.
2. There is a clothing line called Madonna, and their stuff is adorable. Check it out here.
3. Julie makes strong coffee. And she can hula-hoop in both directions!
4. Beer o'clock comes early in Berlin. And ends late.
5. German audiences are stodgy and joyless. Maybe they should eat less meat...
6. Little Britain is still the funniest show ever. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here.
7. Unlike many Germans, dolphins are very friendly indeed.
8. German trains are the best anywhere. Ditto for their toilets.
9. God loves Madonna, even if the pope does not.
10. Julie is THE TOPS!
Soundtrack to Berlin/Madonna Adventure 2006:
Madonna Confessions On a Dancefloor, various compilations
Prodigy Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
The Mission various
Cocteau Twins Lost 4AD Recordings
Andee's mix tapes
Jesus and Mary Chain Automatic
R.E.M. Automatic for the People
Siouxsie and the Banshees various B-sides
the horrible "glam" dj at King Kong Club
Faith No More Album of the Year
King's X Ogre Tones
The Ruts Something That I Said
The Cure Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration
Nellie McKay Get Away From Me
Massive Attack Mezzanine
and, of course,
MADONNA LIVE IN HANNOVER!