If I'm too much to carry by Mark Ziegler

Traveling in style. Bass on top. 

Traveling in style. Bass on top. 

I was reminded of this topic recently when a bassist mentor and friend, the great Lyman Medeiros, asked for responses to a common question asked of musicians carrying around large instruments. That question is essentially “don’t you wish you played the flute?” He got some great responses and it was a good opportunity to share those comebacks we have too much tact to actually use in real life.

I wrote the following several years ago but never posted it. This seems like a good time to share it.


Airlines love bassists! 

Airlines love bassists! 

If I’m Too Hard to Carry (2007)

There is an all-too-common question asked to musicians of particularly large instruments. Seeing someone carrying a tuba or a bass must illicit an urge to open one’s mouth and say stilly things and this question is usually some derivation of: “Don’t you wish you played the flute?” where the word “flute” can be substituted with any number of small instruments. Since I’ve heard this question about three thousand times, I have a few stock responses. Here are some of my favorites: “Actually, I wish I was a singer. Except then I’d have to lug around a giant water bottle, own about 45 scarves, and still carry around my huge head.” “Yes, I do wish I played the flute, but I’m not allowed with 500 feet of one after what happened last summer.” “No, because flute players don’t get as much attention from the ladies, so it’s worth the heavy lifting.” “No, because this is the only exercise I get. If I played flute, my eating habits would push me up to around 400 pounds, and that far exceeds the extra weight I’m hauling around in this case. Not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t have any work.” But, let’s be honest. I don’t say those things, though sometimes I’d like to. I just usually try to “out-small” them in the naming of small instruments. If they say: “trumpet,” I say “flute.” If they say: “flute,” I say “piccolo.” If they say: “piccolo,” I say “piccolocino.” or some other made up instrument. It’s a fun game.

Let us, for a second, expand on the logic established by these comments.

First: apparently your happiness and professional success is determined by how portable you and your belongings are. This is true in the business world of shrinking laptops, cell phones, and luggage – which all apparently make for more room for other miniature electronics (GPS, iPods, OnStar, satellite radio) in one’s luxury SUV. So, maybe the philosophy regarding professional happiness is: “less is more; smaller is better; more of the small stuff is best”? If that’s true, we shall assume swimmers and strippers are always happy; and would be especially so if they could fit a waterproof/sweatproof iPod in their Speedo/G-string.

Second: you should always do what seems easier, even though the long term ramifications are preposterous. Let’s just imagine every harpist, cellist, drummer, and tubist (both the name for “tuba player” and “one who studies tubes”. In this case we’re dealing with the former. Not to dismiss the plight of the tube scientist) in the world hangs up their instrument for the jew’s harp or the kazoo – all because they are smaller and easier to transport. Add up all of these new small-instrument players, and – besides being oddly similar to the house band in many of my nightmares – all of a sudden we have no need for subwoofers and no rock and roll whatsoever, not to mention the fact that NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THAT MANY FLUTES*. (I am not making fun of flutes. The world doesn’t need that many basses either. Hint, hint, Mike Huckabee.)

Third: musicians should choose their instrument of artistic expression based on how much they have to carry. (Who cares if you are the second coming of John Bonham – pick up that tin whistle and get to work!) Or, if someone is good enough to have roadies (something common to big rock bands and not-so-big rock bands with poor/overly-nice/clingy/slimy/loser/stoned friends), then one is not confined to small instruments, but can play a large instrument if someone else carries it around for them. To sum it all up, I should have either been a flutist, a concert pianist, or just good enough to have a roadie. Then I’d never have to deal with the embarrassment – or effort – of “schlepping” “gear”. More importantly, one might argue (and that “one” is me), I would never have to pretend to laugh at these questions ever again. If you’re really, really big-time, you get to have a private jet and fire or humiliate anyone who says dumb things to you.

Ok, let’s take a step back. This really is not about me, nor is it about how much someone really understands about my profession. The crux of it, and the really interesting thing, is this: there is a strange phenomenon that prompts people to make essentially the same exact joke to anyone who appears to be a musician with a larger-than-fanny-pack sized instrument. It is not strange that anyone observing a person carrying such an instrument would think, “boy, that’s a big instrument.” What is strange to me is the high percentage of people who decide to comment, as if we’re old friends or have been having a conversation: neither of which are true. Furthermore, the flute comment accounts for about 78%** of the total spoken comments. And every time, I have to pretend like it’s a clever thing to say and give some sort of acknowledgement. I can’t be a jerk, and I can’t make fun of them to their face. Partly because I’m generally pretty nice. Mostly, though, because I’ve been that guy. The guy that makes the joke that is in fact an attempt at making a connection. And the joke usually isn’t as funny or clever as I wanted it to be, but it still hangs out there – in midair – in search of approval. When I’m on the other side, I won’t shoot it down. I’ll just nod my head in agreement as I put my masterfully carved 100 year old dear friend over my shoulder and keep on schleppin’.

* Like the line in the song “Misty” that says “walk my way, and a thousand violins begin to play.” Somehow this is supposed to be romantic and beautiful. I have a hard time finding it anything but frightening, claustrophobia-inducing, logistically improbable (how many violinists – professional or otherwise – in any one area would be available and willing to participate) and either potentially bad (if they are working for free, you are not assured quality) or very expensive (the price of a decent string quartet can be daunting, let alone one thousand violinists.) That’s an absurd number of cheap (or volunteer) violinists appearing out of nowhere for this grand, romantic gesture. Here’s some sonic math for ya … First of all, decibels (dB) are measured logarithmically. To double the volume of a sound source, it requires 10 times the original power, and is represented by an increase of about 10 dB. (2 violinists is only a doubling of power, not volume; i.e. 2 violins in unison is only twice as powerful as one, not twice as loud). At a somewhat close distance, one violin can comfortably produce sounds around 85 dB. Ten violins (a tolerable number and more or less half the violins in a symphony orchestra) are twice as loud as one violinist, and would be about 95 dB. One hundred is another doubling, and pushes the level to 105 decibels, and closer to the danger zone. (It is unclear whether this is the same danger zone Kenny Loggins referenced in “Top Gun”. For argument’s sake, let’s say it is.) One Thousand fiddles could reach 115 dB – a level that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would only permit you to experience for 15 minutes a day – easily surpassing, and sounding almost as good as, the noise from a power saw. As the song continues, we realize what Mr. Mathis thought was a thousand violins “might be the sound or your hello.” If that’s the case, you just might be dating a Siren. You should run, swim, or paddle as fast as you can. You have fifteen minutes.

**Completely, absolutely, and totally made up.

Islands, a volcano, and pizza by Mark Ziegler

Naples is lovely and historic. Just don’t drive here. Please, don’t drive. I wonder if Napolitanos are better drivers than we’re used to because they have to deal with crazy people driving. I think this is common in Italy. I’ve seen some crazy driving cities, but this one – so far – takes first place. The others, in my experience, off the top of my head:

1. Naples
2. Caracas, Venezuela. Here, again, you might die. It might be the traffic but just as likely it will be kidnapping. We arrived in the middle of the night and were told to keep the lights off inside the bus as we drove on what I later found out was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Yeah: the world. So, not exactly traffic-related issues, but still …
3. Brazil. All of it. Many people think Corcovado is a statue of Jesus, but it’s really a famous traffic cop urging people to slow down.
4. South Africa. Maybe it was not being used to driving (riding, really) on the left. Maybe it was driving in an old school bus careening around the coastal mountains (while getting used to the left lane). Maybe it was the monkeys on the road that caused a traffic stand still. Cutest traffic jam ever.
5. Any place where scooters/motorcycles outnumber cars and make their own rules. Wait, this is almost everywhere that isn’t the US. This just takes getting used to. It’s kind of a wonderful literal work-around for car traffic. Just look both ways. At all times. I know, that’s impossible. But do your best without going whatever the opposite of cross eyed is.

While we’re making lists, here’s the list of the best cities for pizza, based on value:
1. Naples. Hands down some of the best pizza I’ve had and you can get it anywhere. The average is still incredible and the ingredients are incredible. I want to bathe in the tomatoes. But, the value is really where it’s at. Most pizzas are in the 5-7 Euro range. I know, right?!?!
2. Other places. I don’t even care any more. There’s no contest. I love pizza. New York style, Chicago style, whatever the style I make at home. But, I think I’ll get a little sad the next time I’m paying 28 bucks for my favorite NYC pizza. Di Fara’s is amazing, mind you. (For you New Yorkers, I just showed my allegiance in the great pizza debate.) It will just make me a little sad for my wonderfully cheap pizza binging days in Italy. Then again, I’ll be able to eat it free of motorcycle fumes and get home with a considerably lower risk of bodily harm from a taxi hitting me on the sidewalk while trying to make the light.

On the road (and boat, train, plane, and bus) again by Mark Ziegler


Back on the road with West Side Story. Ok, I've been back since June. I've had the fortunate problem of being busy playing shows and exploring some wonderful places. I'm finally catching up with tons of photos and thoughts that I'll be sharing with you soon and, hopefully, more regularly. I've been struggling with how best - and most efficiently - to share photos in an easy to use format with a good interface. As I was weighing my options with Wordpress, Flickr stepped up their game, and after some research I've decided to use that as the main avenue to check out my photos. I'll be linking things as they come up and posting a few things here, but head on over to my flickr page and explore if you feel like it.

It's time to go play a matinee in Dresden. We head to London next week, so there will be lots on the horizon.

Thanks for reading!


be busy by Mark Ziegler

I once again take on the recurring role of the short-term New York resident. It's always great to be here, but it's strange knowing you have a window. New experiences abound: a session in the legendary nyc studio Sear Sound; performing semi-regularly with my improv group (Your Albino Boyfriend) and going further at the Upright Citizens Brigade training center; getting the hot ticket to see Louis C.K.; recording/writing at home for some cool new projects; spontaneously heading to see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf because it's Steppenwolf on Broadway and it's closing next week darnit and if we don't go now we're going to regret it and not regretting it one bit.

It may seem scatterbrained, but it's been an ongoing goal of mine to expand different areas of my creativity. Like, since I'm able to travel a lot, I've been able to get out and explore the world of photography, or that improv has become an educational experience for me. Everything can inform everything else. Some days, the music ratio is higher and some days not. I'm not sure what all of this will lead to, but I've learned a ton by going outside of my comfort zone and just doing. We're so quick to judge ourselves when it comes to our talents and hobbies - especially when we grow up. If we're not immediately good at something we judge ourselves and we're probably likely to let it fade away or simply give it up. I read a great article recently about Dave Grohl and his new documentary, Sound City. He had some great points about how kids don't need to go on these talent shows where they get up early and stand in line and sing someone else's song just to be praised (or criticized). They need to play in the garage and just suck. We're so preoccupied with being good and getting recognition and getting famous and monetizing our product and on and on (and on) that we forget to have fun. We forget to just suck. We forget to just be.
It's great to be home. I'm lucky to have a great place to spend these extended breaks from tour and I'm inspired by all of the creative people I get to associate with every day. I've told Spring she's welcome anytime and I think she'll take me up on the offer. The bike is calling.

Paris Part 1 by Mark Ziegler


I'm looking out my window as the trees still hang on to a few last leaves: the tipsy friends who don't realize the party ended hours ago. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay green. I feel as though I've been in a perpetual fall for several months. I couldn't be happier about it. Okay, maybe if it rained a little less. Even so, it's a great season and never hurts to get a little more of a good thing. Speaking of ... here's the first round of photos from Paris. Eiffel's tower, Montmartre, Sacre Cour ... enjoy!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkvan/sets/72157632063118745/show/ (slideshow for mobile)  

Midnight Turkey in Paris by Mark Ziegler

I was once in Bogota, Colombia on Thanksgiving. It wasn't my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was my first out of the country (and the warmest Thanksgiving I've ever had). Our group was thankful, although a little skeptical, when the hotel offered to cook us a Thanksgiving meal. It turned out to be a very special and unique meal. Colombians don't have much contact with cranberries, pumpkin pie, and probably turkey. But that didn't phase them. Sure, there were omissions that would count as blasphemy at a typical turkey day dinner, but the things they came up with just from reading recipes and talking to people was pretty amazing. I love that they didn't try to copy everything exactly - how could they without access to certain ingredients? - but by applying their skills to some new parameters they were able to create something memorable. I've been thinking about that in art and music as well. Sounding like yourself no matter what, while still honoring the style. And being thankful for all those different styles, people, and gifts that we are able to share with each other. This year, we'll be eating post-show in Paris. What will they come up with? Turkey gras? Pumkpin au vin? Cranberry brûlée? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out. Let us give thanks.



Fall, Slowly by Mark Ziegler


It's been a lovely time to be back in Europe. We're a few weeks into November in Paris, and some of the trees over here have just turned: hanging onto their leaves as long as possible. As I try to make sense of the ever expanding Paris photo library, here's a little teaser from Essen in October. I made a photo outing to Villa Hugel, an estate of the Krupp family on the outskirts of Essen. I didn't get a photo of the theater to do it justice, but it is a converted Krupp factory that had once evolved into big supplier to the German war efforts. It's amazing to me just how intertwined these countries are, and how close I am to so much of that history.

(Here are some photos for those of you who want to skip the rest of the rant that follows ...)

(slideshow for mobile) http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkvan/sets/72157631988995150/show/

As Americans, we talk a lot about the impact of the wars - especially WWII - on our parents and grandparents. We do so not without justification; it was a tragedy beyond my comprehension and the impact was and still is huge. But can we even imagine what it was like to have the war (or any modern war) fought on our own soil? The direct and immediate impact that would stem from every win, or every loss, is hard for me to consider.

This is all fresh in my mind after a visit to the sobering Musee L'Armee and I'm not going to be able to say anything new about war that hasn't been said before. But it's strange to go from one city - playing in a building that used to make tanks and "Big Bertha" artillery (named after Krupp's daughter) - to a palatial theater in the French city that was the target of such weapons. And now: decades later? I'm not sure Germany and France really think about it (beyond typical nationalist posturing), and compared to other parts of the globe they could pass as good friends. After all, these wars weren't my wars or the wars of my ancestors. These were wars of aggression and as such can only "belong" to the aggressors themselves (in a unique situation of possessing unparalleled power). Those aggressors are long gone. The memory of the last century, even as it fades from first-hand to second and further along, has paved the way for some real dialogue. Some real perspective. Maybe, even, some real peace.

Two historical tidbits:

1. As a war museum, the Musee L'Armee is essentially a museum warning of and highlighting the horrors of war. So, it was an ironic moment when the Nazis raided the museum in the 1940.

2. When the German army was leaving Paris in 1944, Otto von Stülpnagel was ordered to burn the city down. He refused. Maybe he saw the writing on the wall. Maybe he just loved the food. (Comparing German and French cuisine is hardly fair. Don't get me wrong; German food is good. It's just not quite French.) One thing is certain; he had gained some perspective.

Long Distance by Mark Ziegler

Recording is an enjoyable experience for me, so I jump at the opportunity to do it whenever I can. In the spring, my good friend Jeff Moehle (longtime collaborator and drummer for Butterfat Trio) was producing a record by Ann Marie Boyle, a singer/songwriter in Kalamazoo. They needed some upright bass on a track and he had me give it a shot from my home studio in Brooklyn. The first one went well, and they asked for another. The back and forth continued, and within a few weeks I'd gotten to play bass on most of the record. There is one amazing and still strange-to-me thing to keep in mind. It's not a new concept in the collaborative-ready digital age, just one that's fun to be reminded of: I've never met Ann Marie. I'm sure I will at some point, but for now she exists only through my bearing witness to the fascinating life cycle of her original recorded music: the evolution of several really interesting songs into a highly enjoyable album, and one that is a credit to all of the talented people who went into making it a reality.

There were several people involved in the project and I'm proud to say they are friends of mine. Even if we haven't met yet.

Ann Marie has a few words of her own about the project on her website.

You can purchase and/or stream the album "Human Nature" from Bandcamp.

[bandcamp album=3867829076 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

essen (und trinken) by Mark Ziegler


Well, it was a lovely vacation/break but it's back to work and back to Germany. How did I cram all of that into 5 weeks? I have no idea. The list is almost absurd, but I will add two plays to the list from my previous post: Peter and the Starcatcher: seriously, go see it if you can.

August, Osage County (White Plains): I'm probably biased towards this one but it just so happens to be very good. Go see it. But only if you can handle brutally funny and brutally ... well, brutal family dramas. Eat the fish.

The gigs went well and I even did an audition. (It's good to be reminded to step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Sometimes, step way out.) There was also a great trip home, a new (to me) monthly trivia night, a weirdo party, a dance concert, run-ins with my improv friends, a new addiction (thanks, Downton Abbey), guitar practicing (!) and even cello practicing (!!).

Two weeks in Essen, then it's on to Paris for the rest of the year. Yes, my life is pretty rad right now. Rad enough that I can write "rad" (three times, now!) in a post and feel pretty good about it. So, happy end of 2012, USA! I hope you survive the election, and a few dozen new holiday albums, and the Mayan calendar stuff, and that movie with Zac Ephron. Jeez, that's a lot now that I think about it. I'll be thinking about you. Just remember that lucky '13 is right around the bend - and I'll be hot on its' heels.

Big Apple Season by Mark Ziegler

It's been a great month to be back in New York. Reacquainting myself with a few basses, friends, and cooking for myself. I'm also playing a few gigs! Last night was my first foray into the bi-weekly improvised Out Of Your Head series at Freddy's. It was a great night with many very cool improvisers and some broken pint glasses. Tonight (Monday 9/17) I reunite with Gato Loco de Bajo at Zirzamin for some serious low-end fun: double bass, bass sax, bari guitar, and tuba! (and drums, too.)

I've gotten to be a band photographer a bit too, so I'll be sharing a few pics in the coming weeks.

Some great things I've gotten to do/see on my break:

Into The Woods @ Shakespeare in the park

A very rainy, but fun, day at the US Open

Chaplin @ the Barrymore theater (major kudos to my Ave Q friend Rob McClure for his amazing portrayal of the Tramp!)

John & Scott @ UCB

Alex Wyatt @ Douglas Arts

Grand Army farmers market ... cheese, fish, maple & mint iced tea ...

food friend outing to fantastic Thai @ Pok Pok

And, I got to bike around Governor's Island and scope out future squatting possibilities for the next layoff. I only have to figure out how to get there and back without the summer ferry. Anyone have a kayak I can borrow in January?

And lots to look forward to before heading out again. My brother turns 30, I get to see the east coast premiere of "August, Ossage County", and my mentor Michael Formanek is releasing a new ECM record  along with 2 nights at the Jazz Standard on Oct 2 & 3. Be there!

Fisch and Ships by Mark Ziegler


It's hard to rank the cities so far, but Hamburg might be pulling ahead as my favorite. I'm not really sure why this is. There's a good chance it's based on the fact that it's been better weather the last few weeks than the other cities. Having only a week in Leipzig also made it hard to really enjoy, so it's an unfair system all around. Let's put up some stats to try to quantify this. Some Hamburg highlights and lowlights:

High: Nice view from my room.

Low: Germany doesn't know about "sheets", only "comforters". So, when the sun comes up, I am baking well before I'm conscious enough to do something about it.

High: Lots of bikes! And for decent prices!

Low: Lots of bike thieves who wanted my new (used) ride more than they wanted to not be total jerks.

High: The fischmarkt is really cool. A place to start a Sunday or end a long Saturday of hanging out at the ...

Low: Reeperbahn. Pretty gross. But somehow still worth seeing, even if only in daylight. Night seems to intensify the grossness. Is it a far cry from when the Beatles were here? Probably. How far a cry, I do not know. Perhaps it's not a cry at all, but a guitar gently weeping. But that sound is most likely just some crappy DJ a few blocks down.

High: The parks and harbor. Excellent places to walk/run/have my daily ice cream cone. (Seriously, why do we not have hazelnut ice cream? It's the best! C'mon America!) Even if some parts of the park are manufactured beauty (similar to Central Park), it's really nice. Little waterfalls, rose gardens, fountains, kids-playing-with-water areas, multiple ice cream stands. They even have these cool wooden lounging chairs which, in New York, would be stolen in minutes even though they probably weigh a ton and would be incredibly conspicuous and awkward to steal. All I know is, they wouldn't last. Not so here. (Unless that chair is actually a bike seat.) What else ... did I mention the ice cream?

Low: Still mad about my bike getting ripped off and the "California/Mexican" place is only so-so, but since one of those is a repeat and I can't really think of another major con it looks like more points in the High column. Congrats Hamburg: you got yourself a statistical win.

Even though it's summer, when lots of things are not-at-all open or barely open, we've found some good music. With that search also comes bad music, but that can be repressed. Also, there's a movie theater that has showings in English and serves beer and only costs 7.50 Euro with student ID (shhh! don't tell!) so the points just keep racking up for this place.

I'm off to enjoy the day. Another busy weekend and then only one more week before it's back to NY and Ohio for a month, where I'll get to reunite with excellent people, great musicians, hoppy beers, favorite foods, and un-stolen bikes.

(slideshow for mobile)


Ice cream/Köln by Mark Ziegler

koln night

Ah, Köln. Another fun German city. With a huge old cathedral, great biking on the Rhine, and plenty of outdoor restaurants and beer gardens. Definitely the highest concentration of sunshine that I've seen in a few months. I learned what sneaky sunshine can do when riding around for hours in a convertible. Not that I'm complaining. I'm a big fan of the ice cream prevalence in Germany. So are the kids, business men and women, tourists and most everyone with a stomach for dairy. I happen to be extremely lactose tolerant.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here's, like, 200,000 words. More real words later. Enjoy!

(slidesow for mobile)


zig likes leipzig by Mark Ziegler


I don't know if I hate packing, or I'm just no good at it. Maybe it's just that I'm easily distracted. Either way, instead of packing, I'm going to write a few words about Leipzig. Yes, it was a few weeks ago. But Köln has been pretty packed with adventure it's been hard to find time to sit down. That and the fact that the internet is pretty bad. Definitely not the worst I've seen, but it's up there. Certainly nothing to write home about. Which is good, because it'll take a while for that email to send.

Leipzig was a good stop. Lot's of music history - Bach and his tenure at the Thomaskirche, the boy's choir that's still going strong - and one of the most bike friendly (or at least, bike busy) places I've seen. Lots of streetcars, too. Makes for an interesting pedestrian adventure.

I tried Göse, which is a regional beer top-fermented beer. It doesn't comply with the German purity standards, but has an exception as a local treasure. It's an interesting brew. If you're here, find the old train station and walk around back. You won't think you're on the right track until you see the biergarten. You've made it. Try some göse. And maybe some potato bread. Good job.

One of the nicer days in Leipzig, I happened upon some performers in the street. They were good and I chatted them up on a break and found out they were on tour and are based in New Orleans. The singer/guitarist and I kept looking at each other with that "you are pretty familiar looking" look. Turns out, we were both at Western Michigan together for a few semesters. The bass player used to live in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, too. Lives and paths intersecting, years and miles and oceans apart. Small world. I sat in for a set of busking, making it a quartet, and got a couple of guys to come out to their gig later that night. A really fun hang at a cool pub and the band sounded great. A highlight of the week, for sure.

The Köln photos are going to take a minute to sort out, but I'll have them up soon. Nothing like a long bus ride to Hamburg to get some of that stuff done.

Til then ...

(slideshow for mobile)


early walks by Mark Ziegler


The last week in Berlin was equal parts rain and sun, but just as enjoyable as the first two. Now that we're getting used to the tour schedule, I find it easier to plan and get out to do things. Here's the rundown and a new batch of photos to go along with it: I got to catch a really good jazz trio let by Shai Maestro (great name, huh?) at the Jewish Museum. They moved it inside because of inclement weather, but the museum is beautiful and it was a great way to spend a drizzly Sunday morning.

I mentioned a video from the "jazz fest" and here it is. If I knew how to prepare you for this, I would try. Pay specific attention to the revolutionary use of "house/house" rhyme scheme.

[wpvideo yFOXTRKT]

The Fest, at the very least, led us to Bergmanstraße and to some good food. Bergmanstr. is part of Kreutzberg which is a really hip part of town and appears to be in the somewhat-early stages of the inevitable Yuppification era that happens in (or, to?) the cool neighborhoods. It borders Friedrichshain, though at one point it was difficult to cross the border. Why? There was this thing called the Berlin Wall in the way. And some of it still stands as what's called the East Side Gallery. I didn't get a chance to see it in person, but it's worth going here for some more information.

The Reichstag was an obligatory tourist activity that was even cooler than expected. If you make a reservation a few days in advance, they'll let you go to the top of the renovated government building and walk up the spiral staircase in the glass dome. As you walk around - based on your location - an audio guide tells you what you're looking at throughout the city. It would be a great place to go at night, but in early July the sun sets around 10 pm and at that time I'm in the middle of act two.

I kept hearing from German friends about "X-burg". I like to be in the know, so instead of asking someone I decided to become a super sleuth and figure it out. Is there a "Christ-berg"? No. Dang. "Chi-berg"? Nope. Although, "da bears" - statues, at least - seem to be big in Berlin. And there's plenty of grilled meats for Ditka and co, but still no dice. So, I went neighborhood by neighborhood. I knew it had to be a cool area. And a berg. And, then I realized I'd been there. The coolest hood around: Kreuzberg = "cross mountain." I even got another German vocabulary word to throw around.

I made it back to X-berg (feels cool to write that) for lunch with a friend from Lake Placid Jazz Seminar back in the day. Great to see her, and have been checking out some excellent albums of hers in the meantime. We took a walk up the "berg" - not really a mountain but cool views of the city, even with some tall trees. It's another gem of a little park hidden in the middle of Berlin. There's even a waterfall with nice views of the monument at the top.

Sunday night I wasn't feeling well, so I packed and turned in early. Monday morning we were headed to Leipzig, and I found myself awake at 4 AM, wishing I had taken some early morning pictures. Had it not been for the free coffee machine in the lobby, I might have hit the pillow again. But, I actually got up, downed some espresso and hit the road. I got to the hauptbahnhof (main train station) with enough time to get to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate before the early morning colors went away. I was pretty much the only one at the gate: the only tourist, at least. By the time I trekked over through museum island to Alexanderplatz, the sun was in full force and I was ready to get back to bed for a few hours before leaving for Leipzig.

Since Monday, I've busked with a guy I met in college, caught a few pieces sung by the Thomaskirche Boys Choir, and saw a guy play trombone with his foot. But more on all that later.

(Berlin 3 slideshow for mobile devices)


week 2 in review by Mark Ziegler


Rain or shine, I was determined to get out as much as I could last week. As you’ll see from some photos, the rain made sure to punish me for that choice. Once I got used to the always possible drizzle or downpour, I just made sure I was prepared. I don’t mind rain, and with the US getting pummeled with heat, rain, and fire, I’ll be happy with what we’ve got over here this summer. I use that word liberally. Like a guy named Marco said: “Here we have renamed the seasons. Winter, Spring, Fall, and … this.”  He didn’t actually say “this”, but rather a word with those same letter rearranged.

The Brandenburg gate has been an interesting sight, since it was the prime location for watching Euro 2012 games and thus surrounded by scaffolding,advertisements, and security.

The Bauhaus museum was really great: I didn’t realize how many great artists – not just architects – were involved with that school. Klee, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, van Der Rohe … and the institute hired them to teach what and how they wanted; not from some prescribed academic dogma. I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything quite like it. I’m still working out a joke involving the words “Bauhaus Movement.”

Prenzlauerberg is a cool place to see in the former East. There are glimpses of the old, but there’s a lot of activity: street fairs, families, tons of shops. It’s kind of the Park Slope of Berlin, with fewer baby yoga classes.

And then … the “Jazz Fest” – another term I use liberally. Out of the 4 things my friend Dan and I saw, one might constitute as jazz, one other was a salsa-ish mish-mosh of afro-carribean styles (and pretty good), one was in a church where an organist was playing trying-not-to-be-too-square arrangements of Beatles tunes … and then … well, I can’t even bring myself to upload it right now. Stay tuned for, erm, something else.

(mobile devices, try clicking here for some Berlin photos.) http://www.flickr.com//photos/sharkvan/sets/72157630450411908/show/

I’m finally getting through last weeks photos and getting some up here. Most of the fun of changing websites is logistical, and now that I’ve finally made some executive decisions, it should be easy to get on to the fun stuff. Due to the way WordPress is set up, I’ll be using the WordPress/Flickr double-whammy for photo integration and all that. I’ll be posting a variety of things on the blog posts, but you’ll also be able to check out galleries and photo streams from the Images link. If you want to see all of the stuff on Flickr (which should be growing steadily), go here for the all-photo slideshow. (And if anyone knows of a better way to be doing this – let me know!)

game of groans by Mark Ziegler

I may be bad luck for German soccer. I was here in 2002 when they lost to Brazil in the World Cup Finals. I'm here again, and they play a very strange game against Italy to get knocked out in the Semis of the Euro Cup. I knew things would get crazy if they won last night, but I didn't know the streets would be packed with Italy supporters in the case of a loss. Even a party bus of Italian fans made its' way down Kurfürstendam around midnight. Either way, it was fun to take in the game with the locals.

A friend made an interesting observation: it seems like (in Berlin, at least) the age range at many of these places is pretty varied. Lot's of fußball supporters young and old out last night, and in the same restaurants and bars. During my afternoon exploration of Prenzlauer where were families everywhere it was a similar situation. Tons of kids; little street fairs; fruit stands; playgrounds ... almost puts Park Slope to shame. Maybe it's just an urban thing in general, but it seems to be especially present here. Then again, maybe everything only seems different when you're in a less familiar place. I could just be constructing these differences in my head.

There is one thing I'm pretty sure of. Sunday night Italy or Spain will win, and either way we'll be serenaded by car horns - celebrating; rubbing it in - well into the night.