It’s my last night in Berlin and I’m waiting in the city to listen to some live jazz at Zosch, which was a bomb shelter during the war. The band is La Foote Creole and I’m told the place fills fast so I’m lurking nearby.
Nearby is next door at Buchandlung where the Italian bartender, who is wearing a billabong surf shirt, tells me her sister has just left for the Antarctic. The bartender has short waving hair and reminds me very much of a friend, Elisha, from Melbourne. I’d quite like to take a photo to prove it, but I think she might protest.
Over the street is a cafe where I had breakfast two days ago, Keyser Soze. I had two coffees because I saw a woman with whipped cream on her coffee and I was jealous. The waiter, whose name I did not ask, was a slim Asian man with hair to his shoulders and a smile-lined face. He had on a very fetching denim apron and when I ordered my second coffee he brought me a whole glass of extra cream. He asked if I drank red or white wine. I said usually red and he said, “No! White in summer!” He said I should come back after 4pm and try a nice German Riesling.
The sun here has a thick, buttery tone – it paints the stones and the faces yellow. It’s very beautiful. It emerged from behind a cloud just as I was leaving Keyser Soze.
Back at Buchandlung I am people watching. There are three little French girls on my left and a young German man smoking with his older friend on my right. It is easy to spot tourists here. They are always looking up and tripping over the pavement (me especially). Further down the sidewalk is an orphaned table in front of a bench and three men are sitting there smoking and drinking, no bar affiliation required. There is a lot of smoking here and I still feel a little shocked when I see it advertised. One of the men at the orphan table gets up to greet friends. A young guy kisses him on the shoulder as they hug and it is curiously platonic and endearing.
I visited the Neues Museum this morning and admired all the Egyptian relics and agreed that the painted bust of Queen Nefertiti was very beautiful. I would show you but cameras wear her out so no photos were allowed. As usual I spent longer than I thought I would and wiled away half the afternoon in there. I didn’t get to the Neue Nationalgalerie as planned, but it’s nice to wander slowly. These places will wait for my next visit.
When I get down into the old shelter it is all cool brick, the ceilings arched, the space tight. There is unsettling and entirely fitting art painted in the brick alcoves – disembodied eyes, lips with long faces and no other features. Two tables are filled already, plus me.
I like that the bartenders come to you and take cash on the spot, dishing out change from a money belt. There’s no awkward jostling at the bar, or guarding bags and seats while you wait for a drink. My glass is longer than my face and heavy. If I’m not concentrating, I need two hands to hold it.
There are two guys on the stage, pottering around quite familiar. The double bass lies fatly on its side, the piano is inching out from the wall, three wooden seats line the front of the little space – a fourth will join them later.
The performers have filtered in by just after 8pm. They each treat the stage with some unique familiarity. They smile easily. They are all men and I think most are in the 60s, though a couple are young. The mandolin player is tall and lithe and before he sits down he flips a chair on its side and stomps one wooden leg back into place with his heel. He is wearing leather trousers. I applaud him silently.
I am looking down when I hear a foot stomp once, twice, before the music comes sailing out, warm and round and brassy. If only there was space for dancing.
The double bass player’s face is transformed as he plays; he is grinning like a child – big and untamed. I think he’s the oldest up there. He watches each of the players intently when they have a solo.
The trombone is playing with an old tin pot as a muffler (that’s probably not the right word). And the trumpet has a blue plastic muffler that he pulls away from the end of the instrument slowly, letting the sound stream out, bright and luscious. He gives a decisive flick of his finger up to the roof when the song finishes.
The double bass eventually has a solo. I can’t hear them talking, but I know the trumpet player has arranged this with some turn and tilt of his head. The bassist is gripped during his solo, his eyes stay wide open and his lips move sharply over his teeth, open shut out and around, insistent.
I am feeling jazz drunk.
And this happens every Wednesday. Will I see them play again? I don’t have long to wonder because another song comes rolling out and swells over me.
When I leave the sky is just that shade of blue that could be early evening or early morning.