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)


Things I’ve Heard From Our Balcony


ligSomeone playing a trumpet! For a few brief and wonderful moments, I actually thought I was in Berlin listening to our regular musical visitors. Then the very un-Berlinish crosswalk signal down the street began beeping and I remembered that we’re now back in the US where we rarely hear music on the street. It’s likely that the unseen trumpet player is a busker down in front of the Metro station a few blocks away, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I’m okay with letting a little musical mystery back into my life…

A rather angry squirrel barking at some unseen threat.

Overgrown tree branches scraping against the window of an apartment in the building across the street.

An extended set of really, REALLY loud male sneezes.

The local high school’s marching band practicing its halftime show out on the football field a few blocks away.

A spirited, high-volume rendition of the Rocky theme by a twenty-something guy running down the block. Continue reading

Things I’ve Seen From Our Balcony

Armored car guards picking up a deposit from a nearby restaurant.

A wasp nest high up in a tree across the way.

A group of very loud, very official (possibly even Presidential?)-looking helicopters.

A large group of children playing a swimming-pool-free variation of Marco Polo in a nearby courtyard.

Workmen using our balcony as a staging area for repair work on a balcony a few floors above.

A very flattened blue-striped work glove, obviously run over multiple times.

Crows, or maybe ravens? I don’t know which but I would like to because sometimes they quite companionably hang out on our balcony railing and I feel it’s rather rude not to know their proper name. I’ll try to get a picture and then maybe you can help. Continue reading

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 60th thing I love about living in Berlin…plus a bonus 61st!

win su

Seeing the sun again!

Apparently this has been the most sunlight-deficient winter in Germany in decades, and we’ve definitely noticed. The last few months, it hasn’t been uncommon to go weeks (yes, that’s weeks) with only a few hours of sunlight total.

We’re great fans of winter, though, and we’ve lived in some pretty overcast places before (Ithaca, anyone?) so of course we knew to expect nowhere near as many of those blindingly blueblueblue winter skies we’d gotten spoiled by the past five years in Florida.

Overall, it’s been a magical season of chilly days and Christmas Markets and fat fluffy snowflakes, plus some beautiful road and train trips all around Germany and even into France and Austria. This opportunity to bundle up and experience a northern winter again is definitely one of my favorite things about living in Berlin. (Let’s just go ahead and officially make that #61, shall we?)

Still, while gray may be one of my favorite colors, there’s a lot to be said for even just a bit of some other hue sprinkled into the climatological record.

Looks like all that darkness may already be a memory, though, as those weather-trend expert people are predicting an even sunnier spring than usual here in Berlin. With all the glorious gold-tinged light we’ve been basking in the past two days, it feels like Mother Nature’s spreading her arms wide to welcome us to spring with a great big sunshiny hug a few weeks early.

And for that, I’ll continue lifting my face to the sky along with millions of my German neighbors, adding in a little whispered Danke every time I do.