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.
It went so smoothly I could hardly believe it: Without consulting any notes from two years ago, I walked out of my hotel near the cathedral in Cologne, took the U-Bahn to precisely the right station, headed down the precisely right street and arrived at the Tankstelle bar to find an announcement outside that there was an open mic.
I had first discovered the Tankstelle bar‘s open mic two years ago on my first world tour of open mics. It had just begun three months earlier, and it was the only open mic in Cologne, and it was run only on the Thursday and I had stumbled upon it on the Thursday. Founded and hosted by the genial Daniel Klaus, a fabulous guitar player – his flamenco is crazy – and good singer, I had very little hope that I would find the open mic still existed when I set out last night. But there it was, soon to begin.
So I went out, ate a pizza and returned. Not only did Daniel remember me almost instantly but he remembered me precisely: “Cat Stevens?” he said. “Yes,” I said. “That’s me.” It was at the Tankstelle that I had sung “Father and Son” for only the second time in public. (I’ve now sung it probably around 100 times.)
Anyway, the atmosphere was fabulous as it was two years ago, but the open mic stage had moved to another part of the bar and now dominated the evening and the bar. It was full, bubbling with life, and a good mix of both German and English songs. Oh, and there was a wonderful touch whereby Daniel bangs a gong between each act, before and after the act, so that the bartenders at the other end of the large bar can turn on the house music between acts, on cue.
Definitely a worthwhile event if you’re ever in Cologne. I hear there are some other jam sessions, but I remain skeptical as to whether I will find them, and precisely what the quality will be like. Keep posted.