Written 9 December 2010 and featured on The Blogmocracy.com, 17 March 2011 http://www.theblogmocracy.com/2011/03/17/st-patricks-open/
I was strangely apprehensive when my roommate suggested we meet a friend of hers at The Shannon, an irish Irish pub, not one of the higher profile ones in Berlin which cater mostly to visitors of the city but a deeply “green” hangout for ex-pats.
I’ve been lost alone in Wedding or Neukölln at 4am, or skating the edge of safety walking dark roads in between stations in Marzahn after midnight when the local hooligans slink about, but I never felt any trepidation because I knew what I’d do if any confrontation arose though I’m careful to avoid any such business. Yet hurrying down a cobbled street in the deep chill of December, once we stopped in front of an innocuous looking unmarked door through which no sound could be heard, I almost declined to enter. I didn’t let my friend know, but she sensed my apprehension and gave one of her brilliant smiles, opened the door and pulled me inside.
That’s one of the simple things I’ve always been amazed by, the soundproofing of buildings here. The prodigious care with which walls are made, their thickness and strength. It takes far longer to build a house or complex in Germany than the edifices they seem to throw up overnight in the US and you can tell in their energy efficiency and the fact you rarely can hear much through the older houses or flatblocks even if music or voices are at mach level.
You wouldn’t have guessed that behind that little black painted door you’d be stunned by the sight of at least a hundred people and music levels that set your hair waving back on your head. Packed shoulder to shoulder at tables crammed together before a small chicken-wired stage, many of those faces turned towards us, and after a blink of surprise they turned back slowly to their mates.
Immediately upon entry we were confronted with the bar on our right over which hung a huge stuffed crow with wings outspread. I took as a good omen.
The bartender looked at us askance before filling the order of the lithe barmaid who had skilfully wound her way through the crowd, round tray in one hand above her head. As my friend started speaking to him in German, he flatly replied, “Not here”.
“Oh,” she said, a little deflated, but the smile returned seemingly for him alone. His skin loosened near the eyes, his shoulders dropped, the arms unfolded, hands coming to rest on the polished wood of the bartop. Test cleared. Danger averted. The mood of the rest of room relaxed as well though most had their backs to us.
“What’ll ye have then, a Guinness?” he asked.
I shuddered and expressed my first thought about the dark stout. The frown returned.
“No, but I will have a Killian’s,” I replied. All was good in the world again.
“Halloooo,” cried a feminine voice my friend recognized. And making her way through the crowd from a backroom was the German woman we were here to meet. Her boyfriend was one of the players of the band, The Toetapper, live tonight, and thankfully she’d secured us seats at a high table near the stage. Already into their “drink” were two men, both German, one a dapper business man still in a suit though the tie was loosened considerably, and a bearded fellow sporting a “Christmas” cap whose fuzzy tip was centred between his eyes.
We’d arrived just in time apparently. The boys were just about to play their first set and had taken their places. With a throb and thrum of strings their music and voices rose. By the time our beer arrived, I was in heaven. Native American that I am, with half the years of my life spend back and forth between the USA and Germany, through it all I’d had an old and deep love of ballads, especially of the Gaelic variety.
Many a Saturday evening I’d spent listening to the radio broadcast, The Thistle and Shamrock and Fiona Ritchie’s soothing lilt. Though I don’t know her personally, I had always been pleased she actually replied to the occasional letter I sent with requests, and once when I visited Charlotte, North Carolina where the program was based, I had the great fortune to be able to meet her.
So from my adolescent past-times, I’d learned quite a range of traditional Irish, Scottish and Welsh performers, songs and styles. I’d enjoyed the unique voices of the people of Brittany and even some of the old songs of England. So despite what someone might judge of my appearance and probable interests, I was completely “at home”.
We were very merry indeed after a few more rounds of brew, this was only a few days before the events of my flash memoir piece, “The Goose God Cometh Forth” and “A Sweat Lodge in Germany”, and soon the inevitable occurred for me, and I went searching for the “accommodation”. You probably know this can always be an adventure in venues like these, but especially in locations where rooms have been adapted for a club or pub, they are generally tight.
In this case, what must have once been a store of some type (front room where the stage was), was connected by a short hall to a few rooms likely which were the living spaces of the previous owner and his family, no doubt decades ago. Now they were hang-out spots, one of which had a pool table and another the mandatory dartboards surrounded by boisterous groups of a younger crowd.
At least these people parted, giving you an eyeful of “who the hell are you?” though no one said anything. Though not unfriendly in the slightest, it was quite different from some of the basement lounges I’d been to, where the area was so packed it was like swimming, and you might very well be subjected to random embraces and scandalous “feel-ups” from someone you neither knew nor saw, but everyone was having a damned good time. (Reference “Spring in Berlin”).
I finally returned after my particular adventure, but not before a time of exploration. Yes, I am one of those people who usually check out both bathrooms if they are sex differentiated, and any nook or cranny I can, just to have a special perspective; one of those who likes to find dark, little out-of-the-way places and gain a view I might never have experienced otherwise. Also, in places like these, I like to try to find the acoustic “blackhole”, where all the sounds are sucked, and you can exist in a near absence of noise. In the older buildings which have been renovated, and modified and refitted, there are usually “secret passages” or doors most people miss. I like those places.
Back at the table, they are onto rounds of vodka, and I handily down a couple as the lady’s boyfriend in the group comes over for a quick squeeze. She introduces us and gives a little background, and he asks me had I ever heard Irish music. Oh, how I smiled and probably laughed, which I usually don’t do, but the liquor was kicking in with a vengeance. I knew a little I replied.
He asked for requests. “Slieve Galen Braes” was my first choice, “Paddy’s Lamentation” was the second, a few more of which I knew the lyrics and melodies by heart. His eyebrows rose and he clapped me on the back. “Next set’s for you!”
“Here’s for the Irish Indian from Alabama!” he announced to the crowd after he stepped back inside the cage. He didn’t have to point me out, everyone looked my way.
More ballads they played, including a lovely Caoineadh sung by a beautiful young woman which brought a tear to many an eye, before they moved onto a series of lively jigs and drinking songs in which I joined.
The chap in the Christmas cap had never spoken or taken his eyes from his mug but bobbed his head back and forth moving the fuzzy tip. I had to stop looking because after a half dozen shots and three Killian’s it was beginning to make me swim in a different way.
Far slighter of stature and not used to the harder stuff, my friend had reached that point I’d observed on occasion with her: she was agreeable to everything without question, so it was time for us to be going. I didn’t intend to find another smiling naked man coming out of our shared flat bathroom holding out his hand for me to shake by way of introduction. That’s rarely a welcome sight, believe me. It’s even dodgier when they want to have a conversation with you as well while occasionally scratching their bum.
So we paid our lengthy tab, and to my surprise received a cheery round of fare thee wells, handshakes and shoulder slaps as we shivered back into the sub-zero weather. The street looked different, and my friend was giggling. I had neglected to notice where we’d parked the car and she couldn’t remember which fact seemed the most hilarious thing she’d ever done for she leaned over clutching her sides, red-faced with laughter.
“That’s just great,” I said. But she said it’d be no problem.
Tripping across the street to a small bar which was still open, she asked a guy inside for a ride home giving him our full story. The older man, perhaps late sixties with prodigious girth and looked like he was nine months along and ready to deliver, took his cigarette out of his mouth in surprise. He looked at her long moments as she smiled beautifically. Barking out a chuckle all of a sudden, shaking his head, Warum nicht? he pronounced, shoving off his stool.
Yes, thank you for the ride, runs through my mind as I am relieved we won’t have to walk but then, with a certain horror, No, no, no, no, no please lady not that!
I shouldn’t have worried. After we folded into his little sub-compact with my friend keeping up a running spiel all the while, it wasn’t very long until we were before the great door to our building.
He gallantly climbed out and opened the car door for us, requesting a kiss and hug from my friend, and at least a hug from me. There was great, good humor in his eyes, a certain boyish pleasure at being of service. My embrace was fervent and sincere. I gave him a kiss as an afterthought. His smile was of a young man. The perfect ending to the night.