Tuesday, April 25, 2006

04.25.06 Germany: It’s a Wrap

After four flights in two days, I descended through the clouds back into drizzly San Francisco. I’ve now had a little over a week to catch up on sleep and reflect upon the incredible set of experiences that made up Jericho’s Echo’s first European tour.

The last few screenings whizzed by in a blur. We had my record-setting longest Q & A (a full hour!) in Trier, and met excellent people in Aachen, where we also had the first ever forcibly removed audience member—a drunk punk shouting in slurred Polish. Overall, there are so many things that unexpectedly astounded me about the trip, even on top of the fact that little old me made a movie that people living 6,000 miles away from me came by the hundreds to see.

The first and most wonderfully surprising thing is the friendship that developed between Johannes and me. You can read a few entries back how anxious I was about spending 24/7 in a car for over 2 weeks with a total stranger who gave the impression of stereotypical German frigidness. Continue reading, however, and you can see that within a few days together, we were inseparable not by circumstance, but by choice.

(My friend Johannes)

Aside from all of our meaningful cultural exchanges (For example, did you know that Scrooge McDuck is called, “Uncle Duckleburg” in Germany?), Johannes was an excellent cultural interpreter for some of our weirder moments. We spent a lot of our time laughing, and in more serious, business-related, or just plain exhausting tour circumstances, we gave each other the necessary support and space. In short, a perfect tour relationship.

As each screening actually had a guarantee, I thought I might make a profit on this tour for once, but I never expected that the biggest gain would be a lifelong friend.

The other main point of interest for me was the curious relationship that Germans have with Israel. I felt like I was really doing something important by bringing the somewhat controversial issues in the film to the forefront for discussion among Germans, because Israeli/Palestinian issues touch a much closer nerve in German society than I expected.

I already mentioned in the Nuremburg entry the surprising (to me) split among the German left regarding Mideast politics. In the U.S., speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that one is considered somewhat of a pariah if they practice left-wing politics and still support Israel. In Germany, it seemed to be the most radical left who were most supportive of Israel. I had folks showing up at screenings in full anarchist regalia—head-to-toe black, dreadlocks, etc, with the addition of a button or baseball cap proclaiming, “Israel: We love you.” What?!

I don’t think I am the one to make it, but a documentary could definitely be fashioned about the complex, contemporary German-Jewish-Israeli dynamic.

Now that I am back and dealing with reality again, the next big step is to get the Jericho’s Echo DVD into stores and video shops and thereby into people’s personal DVD collections…publicity, publicity, publicity…ah, the fun never ends!

Friday, April 21, 2006

4.11.06 Germany: Munster

Things lightened up considerably after Weimar. The drive to Munster was one of our longest, but I think we were both happy to put the experiences of the previous day far behind us.

The screening was at an upscale arthouse cinema (cleverly named "Cinema Munster") and we had a 50+ person crowd. Johannes and I remarked at what a wide variety of venues we've screened in on this tour...everything from broken down squats to fancy art cinemas to music festivals and concert venues. How wierd! Somehow we've managed to get by in all of these different environments.

The guys who put on the show were really cool--Muscha and Carsten (one of those tall, blonde, attractive guys who tries to make himself into a nerd by wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses), from Green Hell Records. Green Hell is one of the largest indie music distributors in Europe and Johannes was saying there must be something in the water in Munster because it is the hub of so much German punk activity.

Carsten also worked for one of the best known venues in town, the Gleis22, so we headed over there after the screening to catch the end Swedish pop outfit "The Shout Out Louds" set. It's awesome to have made a movie that pairs up so nicely with live music, because we've screened prior to so many band performances. At the festival in Bregenz, we got to see Irrlicht, the Austrian punk band with occasional tuba interjections and a wild Cologne-based screamo band, Das Krill. I already mentioned Dog Soldier, the Portland punkers who followed us in Neuebrandenburg. And lest I forget the energetic Berlin/Montreal funkpunk duo The King Khan & BBQ Show who played at our Solingen venue or the female-fronted, Polish, hardcore-with-violins band who played after us in Weimar. It kind of encourages me to make another music doc.

(Irrlicht at the Never Conform Festival)

We got a chance to see some of the city in the morning. It seemed to be the bicycle capital of Germany, with two-wheeled vehicles piled up outside every door, and despite the fact that I was devastated to discover there is actually no such thing as Munster cheese, I really enjoyed the time we spent there before heading off to the final leg of the tour. As we explored the old city together arm in arm, it dawned on me what an amazing friend Johannes had become, and how much I was going to miss him when I returned to the US.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

04.10.06 Germany: Weimar

Weimar was totally intense. I never got quite comfortable in the town where Hitler came to power; in the town that sits in the shadow of the notoriously murderous Buchenwald concentration camp.

We drove in via clean, cobblestoned streets and pleasantly pastel townhouse facades, when we were suddenly assaulted by a huge eyesore--a dirty, brown, broken-windowed ramshackle of a place, covered with graffiti. Ah, this must be our stop. Check the tourbook. Yup, this is where we screen tonight.

Despite my initial skepticism, I came to have a lot of respect for the Gerberstrasse youth center, especially noting how badly its neighbors wanted to get rid of it. Especially noting how it seemed to be the only place in town that wasn't tidily sweeping the city's ugly past under the carpet. Especially because the building stood as a giant,"Fuck You" to the former Gestapo headquarters across the street.

(The Gerberstrasse)

The wierdest part about Weimar is that, save for a few words in my Lonely Planet book, I would hardly have known about all the skeletons in its closet. There were no indications at all that "This is the building where the town's Jews were rounded up" or "This tower was built by Hitler himself" or "This is the hotel where Hitler was given a master suite, and a balcony was built so he could address his adoring fans in the plaza below." Thank goodness for Pierre from the Gerberstrasse, who took us on an "alternative city tour" and shed some light on these painful truths. He also showed us Neo-Nazi rally points and a formerly Jewish-owned shop which is now home to a line of insidiously disguised Neo-nazi propoganda sportswear. I'm not kidding.

(Pierre from the Gerberstrasse)

Pierre is sort of like an anarchist Santa Claus--a jolly, big belly presides over his combat boots and his head is topped with an eclectic mix of dreadlocks, bald spots, and shaved parts. Pierre is sort of the patriarch of Gerberstrasse, and he invited us there to help prepare his ragtag, leftist group of misfit Israel supporters for their upcoming trip to the Holy Land. Interestingly, Pierre led one such group before, with a punk band from Romania, and they put on the first ever hardcore show in the Palestinian territories, at a Christian youth center in Beit Jala.

After two hours of Pierre's tour, I was completely creeped out, and emotionally and physically exhausted. I really wanted to explain to Johannes how i was feeling, but I couldn't quite make out the words. He seemed completely understanding anyway, G-d love him. Fortunately, some comic relief came at the end of the tour, when Pierre showed us the garden where famous Weimarian Goethe did much of his writing. In attempting to describe Goethe's amorous ways, Pierre explained, "Goethe was a big fucker." Now, there's a t-shirt.

Not too surprisingly, our screening was a disorganized mess. Johannes attempted his lecture, but we didn't even have a post-film discussion or set up our merchandise. It was probably all for the best since we were both so tired. We stayed in the squatted building adjacent to the Gerberstrasse. I was still feeling pretty freaked out and matters weren't helped when I realized that I would be sleeping in the big, dormitory style room reserved for bands all by myself. I timidly tucked into my bottom bunk and read the graffiti on the wall: "Va'adat Kishut Tour Summer 2004." Seeing that someone from one of the bands from the movie had apparently slept in this very same bed, my heart swelled. I realized that I really wasn't alone in that room after all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

4.09.06 Germany: Solingen and Braunschweig

Nothing of particular note happened at the screenings in Solingen and Braunschweig--small cities, small crowds, nice people. It was inspiring to note in both towns, however, the motivation of small groups of people to make things happen. I have found this all over Germany, like with the communally run youth centers, and I've definitely been impressed with the results.

In Solingen, for example, our screening was put on by a group of about 20 people (the "cow club"), who work together to put on regular independent concerts and events. In the US, promoters are usually only very small groups of 2 or 3, or even one individual, so it was interesting to see how a bigger group shares the burden and gets a lot accomplished. (On a side note, one of the first things someone told me in Solingen was that the town is famous for its' knives. Nobody except for Johannes thought it was funny when I replied that, well then, I better not piss anyone off. I can't tell you how many times I've thanked my lucky stars that I am on tour with someone whose sense of humor is as stupid as mine!)

Even more impressive than the group in Solingen was the club--Nexus--where we screened in Braunschweig. This large club, which included a bar, performance space, band rehearsal rooms and more, was literally built from the ground up over 4 years by the group of people running it now, all of whom have thus far made no profit from the venture. Our host and promoter, Timo from Riptide Recods, (who had the cleanest bachelor pad I've ever seen despite having already hosted 2 bands that week), explained the plans to develop the club even further, and also turned me on to some really cool bands like Boy Omega.

(The "willich" of Johannes's youth)

On the way between Solingen and Braunschweig, we took a countryside detour to the tiny village--and I do mean village--where J's family moved after they left East Germany when he was a kid. It was nice to meet his younger brother and catch a glimpse into his red brick, pitched roof, open green-pastured past.

A couple of J's really, really nice friends came to the Braunschweig screening and I mentioned to one of them (who interviewed me for poisonfree.com) that we were headed to Weimar next. He got surprisingly emotional and explained that he grew up in that area, and had really mixed feelings about it since he knew that his grandmother had been standing there proudly heiling to Hitler in her younger days. So, after a couple of relatively uneventful days, we headed to Weimar, which was to be one of the most impactful days of the tour for me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

04.07.06 Germany: Hamburg

I've been thinking about doing a documentary on indepenent cinemas and the crazy characters who run them, and Carsten from the Lichtmess Kino in Hamburg is a fantastic candidate. An experimental filmmaker himself who collects projections of color-check girls from the leaders of 35mm prints, Carsten is hte former bassist of a hugely popular, older German punk band whose name translates roughly to "Flowers at the ass of hell." When his spiky, blonde-tipped head greeted us with raspy and abundant laughter, we knew we were in for a good night.

Carsten works full time in a mainstream cinema and is part of a small group who rents and promotes the Lichtmess Kino every Thursday for independent film sreenings. The Kino itself is a really interesting space, inside an old soap factory and plastered with beautiful old movie posters from floor to extra tall ceilings.

(Some of our crowd at the Lichtmess Kino)

We had another sold out screening! Well over 100 were inside--leaving stnading room only--and more were turned away at the door. I was already getting a bit nervous due to the size of the crowd, and my anxiety heightened when people in the back started chatting and snickering during J's lecture. To make matteres worse, the speech was running a bit long, and I was expecting a call from the US (an interview from Venus Magazine-yay!) on the phone that was located in J's pocket! By the time the screening ended, I was a nervous wreck, and it didn't help that, though most of the crowd (at least 100), stayed for the post-film discussion, they were absolutely silent. A sea of expectant faces, but not a question among them! Fortunately, J and I have our schtick down by now and we were able to warm them up some.

It was an appropriate night to have my first stiff drink of the tour (J has been giving me a pactical tutorial on the wonders of German non-alcoholic beers). Before heading home, we went to the bar that also resided inside the soap-factory complex, and Carsten treated me to a shot of Malteeser (sp?)--a local specialty liquor made from caraway seeds that tasted vaguely like a liquid dinner roll.

Harald, our host and promoter, took us on a midnight stroll home via Hamburg's port, one of the largest in Europe. I always like port towns best because of the energy and vitality that comes from exposure to new things, and Hamburg was no exception. J and I got a chance to do some exploring in the morning, and I really loved the feel of the city--lots of cool-looking people, diversity, independent business and a friendly vibe. It was the first city so far that I could see myself actually living in.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

04.06.06 Germany: Neubrandenburg

Neubrandenburg was about as different from Berlin as you could get in one country. Only two hours drive from the urban, educated, sophisticated West German cultural mecca of Berlin was the tiny, rural, largely unemployed East German village of Neubrandenburg. I was amazed at the snobbery that still exists toward East Germany among West Germans. One guy at the Berlin screening asked, "Why would you GO to such a place?", and went so far as comparing a Berliner visiting Neubrandenburg to an Israeli visiting the West Bank. When I explained to another "Westerner" that the Neubrandenburg show was the only place so far where J had to do German translation for me, they snidely remarked, "Well is IS East Germany." Of course, all of this talk made me determined to have an excellent screening there.

The show was in another one of those alternative youth centers, this one in such a remote wooded location that I didn't think the "road" leading to it was actually meant for cars. I must admit that I--who created this movie in part to break stereotypes about punks--was filled with hesitation when we walked in and saw a group of spiked, studded, leather-clad guys hanging around. Oh, great. They're just here for the beer and they aren't going to give a shit about the movie. Funny thing was, the whole gang was actually a band from Portland, Oregon called Dog Soldier who are also touring Germany and were booked to play right after the movie!

The screening itself was nice but uneventful--about 30 peeps--but I had some interesting conversations about the local economic situation and political issues with the show's organizers Frank and Ulli.

We stayed at Frank's parents' place which was even more remote than the youth center--so much so that our navigation system basically said, "Fuck off!" and went to sleep. We've had a few unusual sleeping situations so far, but this was probably the topper. Frank's folks had reently joined a spiritual cult in India and dramatically altered their lifestyle. I slept in a basicaly empty room containing only a bowl of water in the corner, a bookshelf holding myriad esoteric objects and a sign that read something to the effect of, "Please do not touch any of the objects on this shelf. I am using them to heal people's bad diseases, and if you touch them the bad diseases may transfer to you."

Apparently, his parents make a pilgrimmage to their guru in India once or twice a year, each time returning with new household rules imposed by their spritual leader. Since their last trip, use of the first floor bathroom and sliding door to the garden are forbidden. Frank was a ovely guy and it was hard to imagine what it must have been like for him when his "normal" parents got involved in such business only three years ago.

04.04.06 Germany: Berlin

The Berlin shows were amazing--definitely our best yet.

We arrived at the Eiszeit Kino amidst a wild hail storm, the likes of which I've never seen. We had planned to arrive early so Johannes could give me a little walking tour of the city, but I was so cold that I barely remember anything we saw, except for a beautiful synagogue which is one of the few to have been rebuilt among the almost 2,000 destroyed during WWII.

Man, I was really unprepared for the "spring" weather here in Germany,and I am so glad that I decided at the very last minute to throw one big sweater into my luggage.

The cinema ("kino") was located in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin, a hipster area which felt a lot like the Mission in San Francisco. It was nice to be at a proper cinema again. When the Kino opened, we learned that the screening had been written up in at least 3 major entertainment sections in town, and 40 tickets had already been pre-sold. Eiszeit Kino was a really cool place, and the manager Suzann did a wonderful job with PR: I highly recommend this venue to touring filmmakers!

So we waited and people started pouring in, including our Berlin promoter Dietmar, our amazing booking agent Ralf, and Johannes's Dad and sister. So may people showed up, in fact, that it became our first sold out screening (!) and Suzann decided to do a second screening at 11 PM that evening.

In the end, 99 people saw the movie that night and asked lots of questions, especially about the right wing band Retribution. (People here have been obsessed with them--we've gotten questions about them every night. I've been thinking a lot about why that is.) Our most esteemed audience member was Avi, an Israeli expat who sang for the band Mem-Nun back in the day. In J's zine, he interviews Federico from the band Dir Yassin, which was a great influence on the political bands in Israel today. In the interview, Federico names Mem-Nun as one of his great influences, so after the screening Avi said,"If Federico is the grandfather of the scene, I am the Neanderthal."

(The Jewish Museum in Berlin)

We of course didn't get to spend as much time in Berlin as I would have liked, but other highlights included our breakfast with Dietmar, who told us all kinds of crazy stories about his many years of promoting shows in Berlin, such as taking Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys to a local flea market where he dropped $500 on records. We also visited the incredibly well-designed Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was a strange and somewhat painful experience for me, despite its inspiring architecture. The subtitle of the museum is something like, "2,000 years of German-Jewish History" but it seemed a bit more to me like,"2,000 years of Jewish survival in Germany despite almost constant humiliation, discrimination, and murder." However, I could see how that name might not work out so well for the institution's public relations materials.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

04.04.06 Germany: Dresden

Last night was one of our most prestigious screenings in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It's the first big screening where I have not been present, but fortunately Steve Lerner was there to represent, along with my best girl Heather, who was planted in the audience for strategic question-asking. ("Are there DVDs available online?")

Obviously, I couldn't make it because I had my own screening to attend here in Dresden, where the contrast between East and West Germany is striking. Unlike in Munich and Nurnberg, many things here, expecially in the "New City" are dilapidated, outdated and covered with grafitti. There are many buildings that still have the uninviting, utilitarian feel of the Socialist era. In a way it kind of makes sense that this city has the most vibrant alternative youth culture of any we have visited so far.

The grayness of our surroundings is not helped by the rainy, gray skies here. Poor ol' Dresden was very hard hit in the European floods a few years back, and we arrived to encounter the results of a brand new flood just this past week. The newer part of the city is not as affected and we were able to have our screening here, but at the bridge over the Elbe River, only the tops of trees and bus stop signs were peeking out of the water.

The screening itself was small and relatively uneventful. The interesting part is the venue itself, which is another collectively-run leftist youth center like the one in Bregenz. Apparently, these centers are all over Germany and Austria, and they are pretty amazing resources with gig venues, kitchens, sleeping quarters, computers and libraries or info-centers containing political literature. This one even has a kindergartern for the young parents who helped found the center. It's the "Punk Rock Academy" that Atom and his Package always dreamed about!

We found out that at least 2 bands from the movie played here on their respective European tours (Va'adat Kishut and Soon in Here) and that made it all the more special to screen the movie at this venue. Today, we are off to Berlin and I am really excited, as I have only heard good things about this cultural capital.

Monday, April 03, 2006

04.02.06 Germany: Nuremburg

I have to admit that I was a little creeped out upon entering N├╝rnberg (Nuremburg), a city so closely associated with Nazi history. I certainly didn't expect the outcome of the evening, which proved to be our best screening yet.

We arrived early (for once) and took a self-guided walking tour of the beautiful old city. It was the first time since I've been here that I really felt the presence of WWII. I had read that the city was basically destroyed by Allied bombings, and then painstakingly rebuilt using many of the original stones and building materials. It was chilling to walk among these hallowed churches and castles and imagine what it must have been like as the sky rained with bombs little more than half a century ago.

The screening was held in part of a cultural centre which has hosted many great bands. It was fun to go in the back room and check out all the posters and realize that we were doing our screening in the same venue where so many bands we like had played before.

We had no idea before we arrived that the screening was actually part of a two day art & culture program focusing on Israeli/Palestinean issues. The organizers, including our excellent host Tobias, put together a whole spiral bound packet of information about Israeli history and the other artists and an interview with me that had appeared in a German magazine. The 2-day event resulted in a great, diverse crowd of at least 50 people for the screeening. It included a range of people from young punk types to older, left-wing intellectuals. Having such an educated crowd was a real pleasure for us, as both the lecture and the movie were very well received and for the first time the Q & A session was really interactive. Not to mention the fact that, this is the first crowd who broke the stereotype of "serious" Germans, and actually laughed at the funny parts!

One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me so far has been learning about the positions of the German left toward Israel. There was much discussion of this at the Nuremburg screening. It seems like, unlike in the US where left-wing politics are synonymous with the "Free Palestine" mantra, the German left is very split on the issue. One side calls themselves the "Anti-Deutsche" or Anti-Germans, and they are in full support of Israel and all of its policies, claiming that anti-semitism and nationalism are still close beneath the surface in Germany and therefore criticism of the Jewish state is a reflection of that fact. Although they are all on the left side of the spectrum, these "Anti-Deutsche" are in opposition to the other left-wingers who compare Israel and its policies to a fascist state.

03.02.06 Germany: St. Johann & Bregenz

The last two shows could not have been more different from each other. The first was in a remote mountain village, inside a beautifully old tannery ("Alte Gerberei")converted into an avante garde cultural performance space. We screened in front of an austere audience of about 15 people. The second show was in a lakeside town, inside an activist youth center, where our audience consisted of at least 50 punk rockers--every single one wearing black and piled on top of each other. Most of them had been drinking since noon. What a difference a day makes!

Driving into St. Johann in Tirol, I was quite convinced that the Von Trapp family was going to come frolicking past the car at any moment. The snow-capped Alps were the backdrop for this picturesque town where you could window-shop for liederhosen and an enormous St. Bernard dog guarded the door to our guesthouse. "Window shop" is probably the operative word there, as our host, Hans, at the Alte Gerberei, described the entire set up as "prostituion", and the village itself as an "uncivilzed jungle." The tourist in me found it all rather charming, but the artist in me could see how living there as a modern thinker could be pretty stifling. (Incidentally, this traditional town was the perfect spot for me to delight in my first real "spaetzle," a traditional dish kind of like mac & cheese, but made with little corn dumplings, grilled, and covered with fried onions. Mmmmm!)

(Near our guesthaus in St. Johann)

The oasis in this " jungle" was the Alte Gerberei, and I admire Hans for sticking around to run the place, which is known for its avante garde jazz performances and other cutting edge cultural events.

As I mentioned above, we had a small and extremely quiet audience, which gave J and I a chance to do some great improvising during the question-and-answer period, which was really more of just an answer period. Berhard, another one of our hosts and a lovely man, explained that the crowd's reaction, or non-reaction, was very typical of this conservative area. He said that even when they have had an energaetic hardcore band play, the entire audience stands all the way at the back, leaving a great gulf of empty floorspace between themselves and the band. Still, it was a great screening because i think it is small towns like St. Johann that have the most to gain from exposure to new ideas.

In the morning we headed to Bregenz and the "Never Conform Festival." We had never received full information about this event, and when J called the promoter at 11 AM, he was still sleeping although our requested arrival time was noon. J was joking that it was actually the "Never Confirm Festival." We had a laugh but I think we were both a little uneasy about it, and we weer not terribly surprised when we arrived at the venue, the doors were locked, and bands were waiting outside to be let in.

Turns out we were stranded for a pretty good reason. Everyone was outside at the street party that kicked off the second day of this metal/punk/grindcore festival. We found out that we were to screen the movie outside at this party, projected into the back of a truck. Now that's punk!

At the street party, a sea of black-clad bodies swam among the green grass and idyllic lake-front setting of the park where we were to show the film. There were around 40 or 50 punks hanging out, drinking beer, juggling, playing hackey sack, and listening to the talented, German, underground male-female hip hop duo Chaoze One and Lotta C. ("What's the solution? Revolution!")

Unfortunately, we couldn't screen the movie outside because too much light was coming into the truck, so we just made a plan to screen it inside before the evening's bands played and J and I got a chance to relax, hang out in the sun, and take in the whole crazy scene.

Back at the "Between" youth centre (named ironically for its position between the police station and the security director's offices), J and I were pretty skeptical about our potential audience for the film. People were spread out all over the centre and hanging out outside, and nobody really seemed to be paying any attention to what was going on. So J decided not to give his full lecture and we set up about 10 chairs. We got the movie started and next thing we knew, people were literally piling in. We had to add just about every chair we could find in the center and it was really a pretty amazing sight.

One thing that is unique to the political punks here in Germany is the large number of "Antifaschiste Aktion" tshirts, buttons and patches. Of course, all left wing punks are anti-fascist, but it seems so much more relevant here given the country's 20th century history.

Most people didn't stick around for the questions but it was still an interesting discussion because it was such a punk-savvy crowd, so we got some new ones about the leftist bands, and other punk topics like whether or not there was a squatting scene in israel. Just for good measure, we also had a couple drunk idiots yelling incoherent commentary.

We stuck around the festival for a few hours, saw a couple bands, and i was so tired that I barely even remember getting to the apartment we were staying at. We came back to the youth centre in the morning and I was shocked that the festival's crew was up and moving and cooking and cleaning so bright and early. Turns out they just didn't sleep all night long. Viva la punk!