Thursday, July 28

Berlin | 03: cheesecake, museums and the final coffee

It's one of life's great truths that if a day begins with cake for breakfast, it's going to be a great day. On our penultimate day in Berlin we're at Five Elephant first thing, for some of their legendary cheesecake. It's light and dreamy with a decent base, and worth all the hype. Their crumble cake is equally good; the coffee is thick, dark and strong.

The sugar fuels our feet north to the Jüdisches Museum Berlin, so well-stuffed with history that a whole day here wouldn't be enough. The Holocaust section is a must-see, a beautiful and moving display of a nation's sorrow and regret. But it's also interesting to learn about other aspects of Jewish history so often overlooked by the blunt, overwhelming tragedy of the Holocaust. 

Onwards to Checkpoint Charlie, where I once again mourn the forgotten facts of my History A-level. Visitors queue to have their photo taken with US soldiers, but the authenticity of the scene is marred slightly by the ultra-tacky tourist shop behind. (It's strange to write this a year on, in a land of divided continents and the ascension of Trump, where the idea of building a wall to divide countries has re-emerged as a very real possibility.) 

A sugar crash renders necessary a Bäckerei trip: plagued by hungry wasps, we try the poppy seed pastry that's in every bakery. Next up is the Topographie des Terrors, a free outdoor museum detailing the history of Germany. Built on the site of the Gestapo headquarters along an extensive segment of the Berlin Wall, the museum is incredibly informative: you need a few hours and a fair bit of brain space.

Later we visit the Holocaust memorial site. Like the 9/11 memorial in New York and the war graveyards of Ypres, this is the kind of place you've already seen on websites, Instagram and blogs, yet still remains a moving monument when you're there in the flesh. It's nice to see children running and playing among the foreboding concrete blocks that make up the memorial. I think the best kind of memorials and monuments facilitate more than one kind of reaction; places that are not just about solemn remembrance and sorrow but the idea of life continuing, of a multi-faceted experience, of the visit being a memorable part of your trip in more ways than one. At any rate, a couple of dudes are sitting on one of the blocks drinking beer. Life goes on. We remember. And drink beer.

We walk through the heart of Berlin, the closest thing it has to a centre, where art galleries, memorials and museums nudge against the Reichstag and the cathedral. Our 'museum legs' have kicked in by this point (the kind of achy jelly legs you only get after extended time in museums) and a trip to an ice cream parlour is all we can think about.

That evening, we buy a budget picnic (including flatbread, hummus and baklava) from a nearby Turkish supermarket and drink beer by the canal as the stars come out.

On our final morning in Berlin it is hot and sunny. Coffee at Roamers, both a hidden gem and a Neukölln institution among those in the know. It's my favourite coffee stop so far. I'm a sucker for succulents, exposed wood and a wild west feel: I don't care how poncy that makes me. Inside it's bustling, so we sit on a bench in the street, drink black coffee in the sunshine and read.

Nearby is Tempelhofer Feld, a public park that was once a city airport (and before that... a public park). On the grass, where once no member of the public would've been allowed to stray, people sunbathe and picnic. You can climb a small tower to look out across the field to the city beyond. The airport buildings and control towers are empty, dotted with weeds, an eerie reminder of what a war-torn capital might've felt like (although Tempelhof was used for civil aviation right through WWII). But any tang of emptiness is blown away by the activity in the park: the flat open runways are jammed with runners, roller skaters and kite flyers. We sit under a tree and eat our last giant pretzels of the trip.

Later, I'm alone on a bus heading through Berlin to the airport. I'm taking photos as we glide through the street, and I realise it's my first time completely alone in a foreign city. It's exciting. 

places mentioned
cheesecake, cake and coffee at Five Elephant | Reichenbergerstraße 101
Jüdisches Museum Berlin | Lindenstraße 9-14
Checkpoint Charlie | Friedrichstraße 43-45
Topographie des Terrors | Niederkirchnerstraße 8
Holocaust Memorial | Cora-Berlinerstraße 1
coffee at Roamers | Pannierstraße 64
Tempelhofer Feld

Wednesday, July 27

The summer of my education in rock and roll

Like I’ve said before on this blog, the summer of 2013 was the summer I properly discovered Bruce Springsteen. The summer I roamed his back catalogue, walked the length and breadth of it, sniffed all its corners. Every couple of weeks a new CD dropped onto the doormat. Born to Run was love at first sight; it always had been. Born in the USA saw me through a heatwave and a re-exposure to the vibrations and emotions that hang in summer air. Then I followed Darkness on the Edge of Town into autumn, treading golden leaves as Bruce howled and smouldered. 

These three albums in particular distracted me from the more subtle joys of his first two creations (Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle), so it wasn’t until early 2014 that my ear turned to WIESS. And suddenly everything was about that album, it was all I could listen to. E Street Shuffle on the walk home from work, the way Incident blurs into Rosie, and the soaring of the strings in New York City Serenade. In April 2014 I visited New York for the first time, and as the plane descended into JFK under a blazing sunset, I listened to that song. It was a good moment.

Three long, long years passed. I listened to other music, of course, but Springsteen was always the background hum. Every summer swung around to crush hopes of UK shows. And then 2016: at last, Bruce was back on British soil! I booked tickets in the midst of a stressful second year at university; the tour dates were a finish line, glowing at me. And finally it was June, and I was standing at the front of the crowd, in Glasgow and then in London, and then in Denmark, dancing and shouting and touching Bruce and, oh boy. The aftermath of those shows. 

In the days immediately following, I couldn’t see a way out. I couldn’t see how my own reality would ever live up to those few hours of ecstasy. It was as if I was on a plane, the dull grey spread of real life far below. I was running solely on E Street time.

It was the rebirth of teenage infatuation. I couldn’t contemplate anything but Bruce, couldn't listen to anything else, couldn't sleep, wasn’t hungry, was inexplicably close to tears all the time. I would go for long walks listening to the same Bruce songs over and over, because they made me feel close to him and close to the happiness I felt at those shows. And it was annoying, man! I thought I’d put all that teenage crap behind me. I watched footage from just about every show he’d ever played, every documentary and interview I could find. I wallowed for days in the world of Bruce Springsteen, like a long soak in a hot bath, the door to the rest of the world firmly shut.

Now, as that toxic pink cloud of love starts to clear a little, and I emerge, flushed and wrinkled and smelling of bath salts, I really begin to listen to what Bruce is saying in all of these songs and conversations, and I reach for the back catalogue of his musical influences. So just as the summer of 2013 was the summer of discovering Bruce Springsteen, the summer of 2016 has become the summer of my education in rock and roll music. 

Finally, I can begin to feel like I can offer a semi-educated opinion or thought about music. I get the references of other musicians and music writers. I can string songs together to form a rough chronology in my head. I can hear strands of one genre in another. Record stores have become treasure troves. The world of music is opening up to me in a way it never has done before, the doors flung wide, nooks and crannies increased tenfold. And through this I am starting to understand how I can maybe make my own reality enough, somehow; how I can wade and wallow in music and keep it a big part of my life without the disappointment of, say, not being at a Bruce show.

I start with Bruce’s 2012 SXSW keynote speech, and I go from there. 

(photos taken from the front row at the Horsens show last week!)

Monday, July 25

Liner notes | 03

I've done a fair bit of travelling about this past few weeks and I want to write about the places I've seen. But right now I'm running on four hours sleep, sitting under an apple tree eating strawberries, unable to do much else. So here's some lazy liner notes instead.


1. I don't know why it took me so long to get to the Barbican Conservatory. It's free and there are cacti and terrapins. What's not to love?

2. This whole outfit came from charity shops and was apparently 'a little bit Emmy, a little bit Gram, a little bit Flying Burrito Bros'.

3. London in summer: beer, rain, heat, football, rooftops.

4. I watched my aunt roll and smoke a joint onstage to the strains of Woody Guthrie.
Come, love, and we'll go ramblin'
Down where the lights are so bright
I'll win you a divorce from your husband
And we can get married tonight

5. Records and sea salt candles, to soothe the post-Brexit soul.

6, 7. Sometimes a cycle through the park to town to get iced coffee is all you really need in life. 

8. A recent eBay find: the same boots Bruce Springsteen wore in 1978. I can't take them off.

Thursday, July 14

Berlin | 02: palaces and pizzas

It's been almost a year since this Berlin trip, but it was so good that I'm going to continue writing about it anyway.

So. Day three in Berlin. It begins with a cortado served from a little red van parked inside a florists. We get a free biscuit too. It's warm and sunny again, the streets full of the soft golden feel to the air that signals an impending September. Everything - the clean modernist facades of the East Berlin Plattenbauten, the wide concrete pavements, the trees - feels as if its been washed in shimmering honeyed water and put out to dry.

On bicycles once more we nose our way to the Spree and cycle alongside it all the way to Charlottenburg. The river path is nice, reminds me of the Thames towpath, and affords us a good view of the changing architecture as we head west. If Neukölln and Kreuzberg are the equivalent to London's hip east quarters, then Charlottenburg is Chelsea and Kensington. It's affluent, grand. We eat a picnic under a willow tree in the gardens of the Schloss Charlottenburg; a palace I'd love to return to and explore.

In the afternoon we cycle back toward the city centre to check out Friedrichshain, a more gentrified version of Neukölln. A criss-cross of cobbled streets is home to independent boutiques and bookstores, coffee shops and the photobooths the neighbourhood is famous for. We drink cold brew at Silo coffee and hunt down a photobooth for a strip of black and white photos to take home.

Later, beer and vegan pizza at Sfizy Veg. I've always been a little suspicious of fake cheese, and I tend to believe that once you've been to Franco Manca all other pizza pales in comparison, but this is good. We sit outside. The food doesn't last long.

places mentioned:
cortados from The Coffee Ape at Blumen Weyer | Sonnenallee 51
Schloss Charlottenburg | Spandauer Damm 20-24
cold brew from Silo Coffee | Gabriel-Max-straße 4
vegan pizza from Sfizy Veg | Treptowerstraße 95

Wednesday, July 13

Liner notes | 02

1. Spent the first five months of the year studying a lot; sometimes with bluebells and iced coffee

2. 'Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile...'

3.  Another study spot, this time with grapefruit and black coffee

4. From frosty early morning January swims, to tan backs and bright turquoise waters

5. Birthday treats. In May I saw Phil Cook play London's 100 Club. As my friend Isabelle says, his album Southland Mission is 'actual, literal summer'. It's infectious sun-dappled joy.

6. Room At The Top: the first post-exams summer read
'If flesh had a taste, hers, I imagine, would be like new milk. I fell in love with her at first sight. I use the conventional phrase like a grammalogue in shorthand, to express in a small space all the emotions she evoked in me.'
'I got a room at the top tonight
I can see everything tonight
I got a room where everyone can have a drink
And forget those things that went wrong in their life' 
7. It's pretty overwhelming how many places in the US I want to see next year

8. Took my kick flares for a walk

9. Nowhere beats Richmond Park in early summer

Wednesday, July 6

And the livin' is easy: songs for summer

June, 2016.

I made a playlist.

A month of midsummer rain, of Brexit despair, of bearded footballers, of Bruce and the best nights of my life, of elks and airports and black leather boots and frozen yoghurt, of political and social combustions, of burrowing deep into rock and roll music.

It's July now. As I type, Federer's about to be blown out of Wimbledon (update: epic comeback!). A crocodile-teared Blair has just had his own reputation blown to smithereens by Chilcot. The Corbyn 'chicken coup' continues, hopefully in vain. Leave politicians are fleeing the stinking ship of xenophobia and bigotry now that it's somehow successfully left port. Next month I move to California. The sunshine is steady again, but the ground, everywhere, feels much less so.

At least there's always music.


And the livin' is easy: songs for the summer:


Tuesday, July 5

Glasgow | 02: coffee (and burgers) in the city

After my June trip, I'll always associate Glasgow with three things: Springsteen, sunsets, and coffee. OK, so Springsteen shows may be a rare occasion for the city, but I hear Scotland often enjoys a good sunset, and the coffee in Glasgow is definitely worth shouting about.

Our call for post-Bruce brunch was answered by Spitfire Espresso, glowing on a street corner in central Glasgow. We sat under a cloudless late morning sky at a table on a heat-soaked pavement, with strong dark coffee and poached eggs. While this perfect summer weather was temporary, the independent coffee scene in Glasgow is permanent, and impressive. 

After roaming the West End, we caught the subway back to the city centre and eventually wound up at Bread Meats Bread. What a place, what a burger. I've been vegetarian for a while, but a good burger joint always tests all of my reserve: unless it's so good it actually does a decent vegetarian burger.

I've had three exceptionally good vegetarian burgers in my life: the 'Thom Yorke' at Berlin's Let It Be; the veggie burger at Copenhagen's Tommi's Burger Joint (now also in London!); and the falafel burger at Bread Meats Bread. This burger was so tall I doubt even Andy Murray'd be able to get his jaw around it. Served with a generous basket of sweet potato fries. I swore I'd never be hungry again. 

It's normally the west side of the city that gets recommended, photographed, instagrammed. But the east of Glasgow, home to the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Cathedral, and the Glasgow Necropolis, is worth a potter too. Papercup Coffee Company, a West End favourite, has another branch in the east; we had sourdough toast and coffee here on our final morning. (I was sat in the window in a Springsteen shirt when a man in a Roy Orbison shirt walked past outside, and we gave each other a smile and a thumbs up, like we were part of a secret club.) 

And of course, a coffee from the legendary Gordon St Coffee at Glasgow Central to accompany the train ride back to London.


Places mentioned:
Spitfire Espresso
Bread Meats Bread
Let It Be (Berlin)
Tommi's Burger Joint (Copenhagen)
Papercup Coffee Company
Gordon St Coffee

(And yes. I'm still unable to blog without making at least one Springsteen reference. You'll just have to live with it.)