finding Berlin (2018)

It was clear, from their very first conversation, that one of the things that drew them together was a shared desire to travel, so it was natural that within weeks of meeting, they started thinking about where they’d like to take their first trip together …

It’s a big step, travelling with someone for the first time, but, as the saying goes, when it’s right, it’s right.  And it felt right from the very start.  It was nevertheless important to find somewhere neither of them had been to before so everything, from the food to the language, the sights to the people – were new. In that way, the experience would be exclusively theirs, together.

Berlin ticked all those boxes.

It’s one of those cities that is always going to be a fascinating place to visit.  It has no choice but to look its recent history in the eye … and try to move on, all the while reinventing itself in the eyes of the rest of the world, and its own. No mean feat, when at every turn in this extraordinary city, there are stark reminders of the atrocities of a world at war. From Checkpoint Charlie to vast stretches of the Berlin Wall still looming grey against the skyline, both with moving exhibitions about the desperate impact on the lives of Berlin’s communities, as the city was divided into East and West. The powerful grandeur of the Brandenburg Gate, standing proud and defiant, the site of one of the most iconic scenes in recent German history when thousands celebrated as the Wall fell in 1989, and representing now not so much the a divided Germany, but more a symbol of unity and freedom.

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A city very much coming to terms with its past, respecfully and quietly. This struck them no more so that at the Holocaust Memorial. Over 2,500 giant block of grey concrete, set out to deliberately confuse on an undulating piece of land near the city centre.  Even on a sunny day, the atmosphere was eerie and desolate with a clever play of light as the shadows played on the stones – a deeply thought provoking homage to the murdered Jews of Europe.

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Berlin’s history is fascinating and tragic, and it is all too easy to spend time there feeling pulled down by the weight of it.  There is no escaping the past but there is no doubt that this is a city that passionately strives to look forward.  None more so that in Kreusberg, the cool suburb where they stayed, giving them snap shot into the lives of modern day Berliners – families to-ing and fro-ing on their bikes, music flowing out of the bars along the riverbank, every kind of cuisine, street art … the hip place to be.

They found a tiny ruin bar just off the river front, a building that they wouldn’t have given a second glance to without the recommendation of their host, graffiti covered, down an uninspiring side street. But what a find.  Inside, the young owners had imaginatively turned this desolate building into a warm and welcoming bar, candlelit nooks and warm smiles, the younger generation celebrating their city and reinventing something old into something new and exciting.  It was Berlin in a nutshell!

 

 

 

finding the place called Home

Two bright orange Sainsbury’s carrier bags! That’s all he was wearing!  He was the first musician she’d been introduced to since moving to Hastings a week before, and meeting him did rather set the tone of things to come. Midst the chaos of Carnival Week’s Pram Race, she could just about make out his name as Ben and that he played in a band called Kinky Peaches!

Being one of many “down froms” who have headed south and stayed,  she’d already found that two things define Hastings – the ever present, ever changing sea setting the pulse for the day … and the people – so welcoming, community-spirited, brave, innovative, unafraid to break the rules and frankly, pretty bonkers with an apparent penchant for dressing up at any given opportunity! 

And amongst them, an ever-growing hub of creative souls whose extraordinary talent colours the lives of everyone there.  Nowhere more so than in the music … stroll the old town on any given evening and it drifts out of the bars, enticing you to stop and listen more.  Take a typical Thursday … a Belgium keyboard player called Ilja de Neve singing full pelt in a tiny intimate bar on the famous George Street. Never heard of him? Neither had she! Did he knock her socks off? Hell yes! Sitting near enough to mop his brow, she’d  marvelled as his fingers effortlessly sped across the keys, his face contorted with passion for his craft, treating them to foot tapping boogie woogie and sublime blues. Up the High Street, German tourists pressing their noses against Jenny Lind’s windows, wondering at the curious scene inside of fishermen – so defined by their breton stripes and beards – raucously singing sea shanties while the punters chorused in, clearly demonstrating the old adage that Hastings is a drinking town with a fishing problem.  Along the street, Sam Calver’s melodic acoustic guitar drifted through the open doors of Porters … and that was all in just one night. Another evening, one drummer kept reappearing at different gigs, the audience even helping him to move his kit so he wouldn’t be late – only in Hastings! 

Of course, this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.  During those early days in the place that she now called home, young Harry Randall-Marsh, leading his achingly talented soul funk band, had her swooning with one swing of his hips. The Funking Bar Stewards (a challenging name for even the most professional compere!) had them on our feet at the Seafood & Wine Festival. Dr Savage & The Incurables rocking the house at The Nelson, as only he knows how – dear god, the energy of the man!!  Los Twangeros, found most Sunday evenings at Whistle Trago, transporting their audience to sunnier climes. And the weekend treat of Sedlescombe’s Big Green Cardigan Festival – a testament to the quality of the local music scene that its organizers are able to entice such talented musicians to play.  Sister Suzie, by the way – that little lady with the big bluesy voice – absolutely nailed it!!

As so to Ben.  The next time she saw him, he was stealing the show with a guitar solo on the evening of Hastings Pride.  It was then she realised his band is actually called Kid Kapichi! Sorry Ben!

Hastings!  You rock!!