My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
The Musically Less Than Great Cologne is a Bad Place for Open Mics
I go to Cologne while attending the German Grand Prix when it is run at the Nurburgring in the south of Germany, near Bonn and Cologne and another city the name of which slips my mind. The point is, there is not much choice in the region for places to go for open mics, so I chose Cologne as one of the major cultural and nightlife cities of the region. It is a wonderful, beautiful city with lots of culture – but a lower than average number of live music joints for a city of this nature – in my opinion. And after my third biannual visit to the city I have still only found one open mic, although I have heard of the existence of two or maybe three others over the years, but they either always seem to close down or never have existed, really. So this will be my weakest, poorest, thinnest list of open mics in any of my Thumbnail Guides to date.
Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
COLOGNE, Germany – I discovered the Tankstelle bar’s open mic near the Barberossaplatz in Cologne’s student area in 2009, and I have attended each year that I have come to Cologne since then. That is, every second year. When I originally found the place, and the last time I attended as well, it was run by its founder, Daniel Klaus, who was a wonderful open mic MC, and he always managed to make a fun and successful night out of it. Last night, the first thing I discovered when I arrived around 9:00 PM was that Daniel is no longer there, and it is now run by Micha.
The year I discovered it, it had only been running for three months. Now it has been more than four years, and it is going strong. When I arrived last night, it seemed totally dead, with perhaps only one or two other musicians present in addition to Micha. I asked him until what time it ran, and he said until around 3:30 AM. So I said, “Fine, I’m going to eat dinner.”
I went to a nearby bar restaurant where I ate a pig schnitzel big enough for five people – although I only ate enough for three people – and then I returned to the open mic to find it much livelier. It would eventually become massively lively, amazingly lively, and turn from a classic open mic into a full-fledged jam of a kind I have not attended since the great Szimpla Kert jam in Budapest a couple of years ago.
There were flutes, a sax, congas, bongos, singers, guitars, bass, just everything! And I managed to play on two occasions – once for a set of four songs, then for a one song thing where I was joined by the sax player and some percussionists.
Cologne is a beautiful city, but there is not much music, or not much in the way of open mics and jams – although there is classic stuff and a few karaokes – so that may well turn out to be my last open mic this weekend. But it was well worth it, and Micha has clearly taken on the work of Daniel in more than honorable manner.
In fact, the Tankstelle bar is a very genial location with cool drawings, murals and artifacts on the walls, ceiling and with sofas, easy chairs, tables, a horseshoe bar and a very cool youth population of clients and musicians. Really a happening spot in the desert of this otherwise not so pop-culturally inclined region of Germany.
I had some unfinished business in my last night in Cologne. Two years ago when I did my first world tour of open mics and jams I spoke to a busker in front of Cologne Cathedral asking him where on that Sunday night I could play my guitar and sing. “Any open mics?” “No, but you can play your guitar and sing at Flanagan’s Pub in the karaoke they have on Sunday night. You just need to bring your own guitar cable.”
I had a cable, I went, and I sucked out. I regretted it since then and thought I had indeed simply chickened out. But there was another feeling, and that was , that it just was not the right place. And no one else played an instrument and sang. It was just a karaoke.
I went back last night, having had only one open mic since Thursday in Cologne. This time I realized why I did not do it, and that I would not do it this year either: I hated the atmosphere. In Mannheim last year I attended another karaoke and they allowed me to play guitar and sing and it went great. It was a wonderful break for the other performers too, after three hours of karaoke. But I just didn’t dig Flanagan’s! The place feels a little like a cafeteria, not an Irish pub. So I left and said, that’s it for Cologne. The open mic I DID do at the Tankstelle, was so good that it didn’t much matter anyway….
I am absolutely furious not because I failed to find a jam or open mic last night in Cologne, but because once again I lost some of my video footage for some bizarre manipulation I did while downloading it to my computer. This time it had nothing to do with interviews of people, but rather a few nice bits of skyline, and most importantly some wonderful shots of the thousands of Love Padlocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge across the Rhine River.
After eating a meal in a nice restaurant called Oasis, I walked along the Rhine and found a good spot to play a couple of songs, singing into the wind, singing and playing to the skyline of the massive Cologne Cathedral on the opposite bank. A few people stopped by to listen, and applaud.
It was a nice moment, and it was fitting that one of the songs I sang was “Crazy Love.” For it was then followed by the amazing discovery of the thousands of Love Padlocks on the bridge. They are clasped to the fence on this busiest of all railway bridges in Germany, and they bear the names of lovers, couples, and the dates of their relationship or when they were put on the bridge. The custom is to lock them and throw away the key, an eternal symbol of the lovers’ bond.
It is incredibly impressive and beautiful and warm to look at all these names and dates and different styles of locks. Apparently it has been done on this bridge since 2008, according to wikipedia, but I found locks with dates back to 1989. The bridge authority apparently at one point wanted to get rid of the locks, but the lovers won a battle and the locks remain.
I have now done another visit to the bridge and got some video footage….