Music everywhere we go…

When we lived in Berlin, we’d frequently see and/or hear musicians on trains, in train stations, and sometimes even on the sidewalk right outside our home.

Here in the DC area, musicians don’t play on the Metro trains at all and only rarely in or near the stations. So whenever we do encounter someone sharing their musical talent in a public place, it’s definitely a lovely surprise.

Here are a few of the musicians we’ve encountered lately, and yes, we do show our appreciation with at least a dollar or two to each!

August 21, 2015: Clarendon Metro station, Arlington, VA

ClarSax 8.12

2.21.14 RPtr

February 21, 2014: Washington, DC (photo taken through the window of a brew pub near Shaw Metro station)

2.7.14ClarSaxFebruary 17, 2014: Arlington, VA (outside the Clarendon Metro station)


November 24, 2013: Washington, DC (outside the National Archives)

8.8.13sAugust 8, 2013: Falls Church, VA (outside the West Falls Church Metro station)


The 8th thing I love about living in Arlington, VA…

Wait, what – Hurt Locker is a musical? Nope…just an elaborate inside joke from the current Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Finally being close enough to New York that theater weekends can be a real thing!

Thanks to Vamoose Bus and its direct trips from Arlington to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan, we’ve been taking full advantage of this proximity to catch up on some amazing Broadway shows.


Our first trip up not long after moving back to the US from Berlin, we saw Wicked (Theater Girl’s pick for her very first Broadway show), plus the sadly now-closed After Midnight (with Dulé Hill!) and Buyer & Cellar (Michael Urie!).

On our second trip, we were extra-ambitious and managed to squeeze in four shows plus a whole day with a friend conveniently visiting from Berlin that same weekend. Seeing Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall in the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a thrill I’m still pinching myself over months later, matched only by FINALLY seeing Alan Cumming in the latest Cabaret revival (Michelle Williams, too). Stunning performances, all.

Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall? Enough said.
Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall? Enough said.


Seriously, looking back at those sentences I just typed, I have to wonder if I’m not the luckiest person ever.




Add in Pippin and this other kinda-well-known actor Daniel Radcliffe (Daniel Radcliffe!!!) in The Cripple of Inishmaan and I already know it’s going to be hard to top that theater-licious weekend.


At least until Theater Girl is stage managing professional shows of her own, because you know I’m going to want to be in the audience for those every single night.

Instruments we’ve heard/seen played on Berlin public transportation

ubah accor

You’ll always find the most recent additions at the top of each category – my last update was 14 July 2013.

On an S-Bahn (train)/U-Bahn (subway) car:

  • A solo acoustic guitar player on the U3 line, one of the quieter U-Bahn lines (it’s mostly outside the main part of the city) and one whose trains musicians rarely ever board to play. Too bad, because the guitar player I heard the other day was not only one of the most talented, he was also one of the most delightful I’ve yet encountered (and quite the contrast to Mr. Surly Accordionist below). After an incredibly beautiful performance that stretched the distance between three stations, I gladly gave this musician a 2 Euro coin and was not at all surprised to see almost every other passenger give a little something, too. This should have surprised me because the typical percentage of “paying” passengers is usually quite low, but in this case, his talent was too hard to ignore, as was the genuinely warm and grateful smile he gave each and every one of us, whether we added a little jingle to his cup or not. Truly a highlight of this past year of public music…
  • Another first! While the instrument was familiar (accordion) and the playing was only so-so, the musician bearing said instrument was not only completely aggressive in his demand for money (leaning over the seats of my visiting parents for a full forty or fifty seconds while pushing his plastic cup for donations practically in my poor jet-lagged father’s face — a behavior I’ve never before seen in Berlin — yet somehow still continuing to play), he also cursed at me and then gave me the finger after I gave him a firm “Nein, danke” in an attempt to get him to leave. While some of the musicians we see on the trains aren’t very “good” in a technical sense, they do follow a fairly established etiquette of moving on after just a second or so if you don’t make eye contact or start to reach for money. I suspect this (not quite a) gentleman figured we were a sure thing since we were speaking English and I was showing my parents a map of the transit system when he walked up. At least my parents now have an exciting story about their first full day in Berlin, and I now know to get up and switch cars if I ever see this particular accordionist again…
  • A very talented trio whose instruments included an accordion, a violin, and — a first for me on a train — a cello! Their rendition of Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line was fabulous and I happily added an Euro to their outstretched cup.
  • Melodica with egg-shaker/amplified recorded music (My all-time least-favorite performance ever – both lazy and derivative, and the two “musicians” were part of a roving pack of similarly outfitted buskers hauling small amps on luggage carts from one subway car to the next at each stop in a clearly organized strategy to score the most amount of coins with the least amount of effort.)
  • Accordion (a few too many times, but only because that’s one loud instrument in crowded quarters!)
  • Spanish Guitar (only once but so beautiful – one of my favorite performances yet)

In an S-Bahn (train) or U-Bahn (subway) station:

  • Country Western Guitar (once)
  • Harp (only once so far, sigh)
  • Classical Guitar (once)
  • Blues Guitar (once)
  • Electric Guitar (once)
  • Accordion (a few too many times)
  • Keyboard (a bunch of times)
  • Violin (too many times to keep track of)
  • Cello (once)
  • Banjo (once)
  • Flute (once)
  • Saxophone (at least twice)

I should add this category while  I’m at it…

Musical-y sounds I’ve heard from our apartment window:

  • Car horns, from a procession passing by (a wedding, it looked like)
  • Recorder, being played by either a young neighbor or a student at the Montessori school nearby (hard to tell because of the way our building echoes)
  • Church Bells (daily at 8:15 am, noon and 6 pm, Sundays off and on all morning, lucky me!)
  • Trumpet (almost every Tuesday, mid-morning)
  • Operatic singing (just once so far, coming up through a basement-level apartment building ventilation grate)

The 64th thing I love about living in Berlin…

Do you see what I didn't?
Do you see what I hear?

An answer to my Tuesday morning musical mystery!

I’ll save you the suspense right now and say that none — that’s right, not a single one — of my theories was anywhere close to  correct. I’ll save you even more suspense by telling you that I found the answer to my question as soon as I stepped out of our courtyard gate the following Tuesday morning. It turns out I didn’t need to walk down the block to investigate after all!

While a small part of me was disappointed that the quest I’d been anticipating all week was over mere seconds after it began, the rest of me was at first gobsmacked (how obvious!) and then delighted by the truth I at last found.

Have you guessed what I was unable to figure out on my own, even after posts like this?

Continue reading

The 63rd thing I love about living in Berlin…

Somewhere, out there...
Somewhere, out there…

The mystery of the Tuesday morning mini-mariachi serenade.

Six or seven times now since moving to Berlin, I’ve heard live mariachi-style music coming from not too far down our street. It wasn’t until the third time that I realized the music wasn’t some random event, and so I started paying attention.

The first detail I noticed was that it seems to happen only on Tuesday mornings. Early last Tuesday morning, I made sure to open the windows wide so I wouldn’t miss it like I had on previous weeks.

This turned out to be an excellent fact-finding strategy. With the windows open, I heard the music the moment it started and quickly wrote down the time (10:28 am, in case you’re wondering). While I listened,  I also made a note on my calendar so I’d remember to be waiting the following Tuesday. Continue reading

The 62nd thing I love about living in Berlin…

The Berlinale, Berlin’s spectacular film festival.

BrokenCircleThe Berlinale screens films ranging from traditional Hollywood blockbusters (Les Miserables, this year) to small documentaries. Tickets can be rather cumbersome to acquire – they’re only available three days in advance of each screening and the online allotments sell out in literally minutes.

Thanks to a tip from our German tutor, I ventured off to one of the three official box offices where I could compare the list of films with tickets still available against the list of films we wanted to see, then plot the possibilities on a calendar to avoid overlaps. While this entire process took more than an hour, it was an exciting hour and I left the theater with tickets to five films showing over the next few days.

The first we attended was for director Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown. Remember my post about the hardiness of German tissues? This film is what cemented my fervent admiration for these Taschentücher. I ended up needing almost an entire pocket pack of tissues thanks to the high emotions and tragic happenings in this beautifully acted film from Belgium. I suspect American tissues would have had a hard time keeping up with the multitude of my tears. Continue reading