Monday, April 03, 2006

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!

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