German Open Mic Adventure Consolidated:
A micro trailer from the film: From the Cologne segment of “Out of a Jam.”
A song recorded with a local, in this case, recorded in the public square in Mannheim with Tonio Geugelin:
A podcast: with Antonia Hauth head of anti-Racism festival in Germany:
The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Cologne Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music
A link to a favorite blog item from the past: UNICYCLING TO THE PAPAYA BRASIL IN MANNHEIM
A favorite video: Atmosphere clip at the Tankstelle open mic in Cologne:
An excerpt from the Book: from the Cologne chapter of OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Journey of Healing and Rebirth Through Music:
The problem with the race at the Nurburgring was that it was out in the middle of nowhere in the Eifel Mountains, an ancient volcanic resort area. I had for years been staying in small gasthaus, hotels and private residences in the countryside, far from the cities. That had been the German Grand Prix experience for me for more than a decade; a small-town countryside thing, in places like Schifferstadt near Hockenheim or Blankenheim for the Nurburgring. The cities were too far away for practical use. It occurred to me arriving in Germany this time that after 10 or 12 years going to Germany once or twice a year for races, I had never in my life had any experience of a German city, having never even been to Berlin.
Cologne was 90 kilometers from the Formula One track, which meant a long drive every day, but there was no question of doing an open mic or other musical evening in a village of three houses, a gasthaus and a restaurant.
So Cologne it was. But when I arrived on Thursday evening after 7 PM at night, I entered the city in what seemed an endless drive through a wasteland of buildings without culture. I was hoping and praying that my hotel, the Dom in the center of Cologne, would be in a section of town with cultural, restaurants, music. I parked in an underground garage beneath the cathedral, walked into the hotel, checked in, entered the room and looked at my email for messages from work, then slung my guitar over my back, and decided that I would simply walk around the city, look for buskers, check out cafés and bars. But I also decided to ask at the front desk if they knew anything. The Dom Hotel was the most famous in the city. It had existed since 1855, and was home to guests from royalty to world and business leaders, and was now owned by the Meridien chain. I asked the young man behind the counter if he had a map of the city. He asked what I was looking for and I told him a place to go with my guitar to play and sing.
“I don’t know of any such places,” he said. “But speak to the Concierge because he is supposed to know that kind of thing. I am just the receptionist.”
The concierge said: “Such things do not exist in Cologne. There will be no place to go and play like that. If you want, you could ask the owners of the bars or cafés if you can sing, and maybe they will say yes. But this concept of the open mic does not exist here.”
Nevertheless, he told me that I should take the U-Bahn to Barbarossaplatz – and he circled the area – saying there were lots of students and student bars there. I asked if there was any other such area rich in bars, and he circled another zone, not far from there, but said it really would be best to go to Barbarossaplatz.
He said it would take 45 minutes to walk, and it was best to take the U-Bahn just a couple of stops. So I did. It started underground at a station facing the hotel and then emerged to become a streetcar, or tram.
As I got off the tram at Barbarossaplatz I thought about how I had just arrived in this town, it was now after 8PM, I had no leads on a place to play, I had practically no hope. I was resigned to spending four days walking in circles failing to find anything and having to write off this whole trip to Germany as the one big failure of my world tour of open mics and jams. Boring Germany.
I looked at the map and walked toward a church. The concierge had told me that if I saw the church, I was in the right area. I took a street called Pfalzer Strasse, seeing several cafés, bars and restaurants, some with outdoor tables. One of the first had small plastic renditions of electric guitars hanging on the wall outside and within, like in a Hard Rock Café. It was a live-music venue, but heavy metal. It gave a feeling of a musical vibe to the area, and I began to think that something might happen.
I continued down the street and kept an eye open for a place to eat as well. Another bar had a sign that seemed to say a concert was going to happen. I was stymied by the complete absence of the English language, or French or any similar romance language.
I went down Pfalzer Strasse to a corner bar called “Tankstelle.” It was modern looking, with a double door on the corner. I noticed something that looked like a microphone on a poster by the door. I looked closer and I saw the words, “Open Mic Jam Session.” I looked again, and saw the word of the day of the week on which it was to happen: Donnerstag. I thought, “Is that Sunday? What does that mean?” I examined the announcement more closely, and it said, “acoustic,” and it said “guitarrin,” and I thought, “Yes, this looks very much as if there is an open mic here.” But when?!?!
I stepped into the bar and I saw guitars, microphone stands, a sound mixing board, chairs, all adjacent to the door. And a guy linking up cables. A young man in his late 20s, early 30s, blond curly hair, dark complexion, round face, jeans, shirt, a headband.
“Do you speak English?”
“Is there some kind of open mic?”
It was 8:20 or so.
“That’s amazing. I’m looking for an open mic. I would like to play.”
“Yes, you can play.”
“O.K.. Listen, I have been in this city for only an hour and came out of my hotel and came here and stumbled across this place, and I came looking for an open mic!!!”
“Well, here it is. You found it.”
“Are there many of these in Cologne?”
“No, there are not. As far as I know, mine is the only one.”
“How long has it been going?”
“I started it three months ago.”
Yes, it all looked new, he spoke in fresh, insecure tones with his strong German accent.
Despite my extraordinary luck in finding this place on the night it ran and instantaneously as I set out to find it, there was a logical chain of events that had led up to it. I chose Cologne because I thought there would be nightlife and music more likely there than elsewhere. I took a hotel in the center of the city, and I was fortunate enough to have a concierge who knew the most likely part of the city to have nightlife – even if he said Germany does not have such concepts as open mics. It was all about making one’s own luck. But having said that, having found it on the first street that I walked down it made me feel as if I had developed a sniffing device for open mic detection. It was only about the fourth bar where I had read a sign to see what was going on. Yes, Donnerstag was Thursday. That Thursday was the only day of the week that this open mic existed and I happened to have got there on the Thursday 10 minutes before the open mic was supposed to start at 8:30, this was also part of my decision making process.
The lesson: Do not give up hope. Go for what you need. If you are alone in life, continue to work toward meeting the right person and you will. If you have a sick relationship, go for a good one. Go through the motions toward your goal despite any feelings of futility you may have. The goal may be reached when and how you least expect it; but without going through the motions, it definitely will not be reached.