The fruits of my labours and the tale of my (Berlin) origin

Another thing I will regret wearing when trying to tell off a child who is too busy gazing at my ears to pay attention…

There are a million things I love about Berlin. My crazy jewellery course is one of them, and I will miss it dearly now that it’s over. Above you will see the final thing I spent three good hours swearing at, weeping over, bleeding onto and quietly muttering oaths about. You’ll recognise the strawberries from my Viking glass beads course and the hammer from my series of brutal bunny-boiler murders that I committed in one wild night of too much Sekt…

Anyway, today I am going to write about one of the first things I fell in love with in this city and the way it partly led to me being here now. I am talking about a jazz bar, B Flat, which I first came to the very first time I even visited Berlin. The visit was part of a regrettable holiday which I think I’ll save for my memoirs, and it mostly stuck in my mind because it was the first time in my life I was ever offered a joint (by a creepy punk who swiftly got chucked out by the scruff of his neck the minute he brought it out; it’s not that kind of jazz bar) and because I drew a picture of the Spirit of Jazz on the wall of the girls’ loos next to all the penises. Apart from that, I barely remember the night itself. At the time jazz still seemed to me a pointless exercise in men dressed like Steve Jobs being smug with instruments trying to out-man each other in the least manly way possible. No, scatting is not manly – great, though.

Anyway, the regrettable holiday ended regrettably and I came back to the UK glad that Berlin was one of those ‘been there’ done that’ places I could tick off the list of arbitrary Life Experiences. All credit then goes to my mother, who refused to believe that the city adamantly calling itself ‘the coolest city in Europe’ could be such a let-down and who was also quietly trying to push me away from studying English Literature and push me towards studying German in order for me to someday become a glorious Civil Servant. In the spirit of our mother-daughter ‘weeks of fun’, during which we do all sorts of hilarious and wholesome activities like cycling and making porridge, she decided that we ought to go back, just the two of us, for a bit of a present. We saw the sights, we ate and drank a startling amount, and then we came to B Flat to see the Berlin Big Band perform.

The concert was fantastic and having seen them again just recently I would heartily recommend anyone remotely jazztronic to give them a try. We got there early to get seats and came to be sitting next to two appropriately black-turtle-necked gentlemen who tried to engage us in conversation. This took a few minutes to get going as my mother is a little suspicious of any men who don’t provide a full CRB police-check statement to verify that they are not in the market for casual sexual predation, but the men persisted and told us that not only was one of them an eminent Norwegian choreographer but that the other was a prominent translator of the works of Thomas Mann, the Charles Dickens of German literature. Of course then everything he said sounded to my naive ears like pure liquid intelligence, but when he charismatically said, “You have to live in Berlin, Rosie. It’s the best city in the world. It’s young and exciting and perfect for young people like you,” I was right to take his word for it. Even my mother, who at the time narrowed her eyes and clutched her bag a little tighter, said later that he had a point.

This guy’s throwaway and rather wazzockish statement became my mantra and it is the reason why I fought tooth-and-nail for the privilege of mincing about with idiotic children all day in this city. And the bar, B Flat, has become one of my favourite places in it. 

It is run by a brilliant man who looks like a cross between John Lithgow and Richard Dawkins and who plays the double bass like a wonderful pervert, leaning into the strings and chewing his lips like a man on the S-Bahn. Every Wednesday night he hosts a free jam session, where he plays and to which he invites a fantastic array of jazz artists from around the globe to get on the stage and out-man each other in impressive and beautiful ways. The lovely thing about the jams is that they are all different and surprising without ever bragging about it; once, thinking that we were going to see a standard night of great music, we were presented with a man wearing a cowboy hat and another in a black suit with glimmering gold pinstripes. The man in the cowboy hat played drums briefly before marching off stage, and while his brother in the pimpstriped suit (I copyright that word, by the way) played piano he gradually re-emerged from the crowd wearing one of the most startling outfits I have ever seen. He had a copper bra on reminiscent of hula-girl costumes, a tutu of different drums clipped around his pelvis, a tie made of corrugated tin and – finally – a scraper-shaker instrument suspended and protruding from his crotch. With thimbles on all his fingers he began to play his entire body as if he were a smart-casual version of a one-man band and he recited terrible beat poetry in a growly American drawl. Once he had finished his glinting brother donned a Lady Penelope wig and the two did a duet of ‘Baby it’s cold outside’. 

Another night, two jazz tap-dancers were invited and had a literal dance-off on stage, in what was clearly the gangly-looking, musically incredible yin to Step Up 2’s yang. Another night, about six saxophonists ended up all on stage at once and poured sheer saxophony syrup all over the audience for glorious ages. There have been ten-minute bongo solos and minuscule Japanese men who unexpectedly turned out to be unbelievably good at scatting. All this is laid on for a minute ‘Kulturbeitrag’ of 40 cents on the cost of your drink. I am seriously considering buying a black turtle-neck myself. Oh, and I do check every time: the Spirit of Jazz is still there.

Rose T