May 29, 2022 The almost forgotten feeling of spending more time on the road than at home. A few years ago it was normal for me, today I have to get used to it again. Even when I’m in my Berlin apartment, I don’t unpack my backpack. This week we’re going to Augsburg and Freiburg. I’ve been to both cities before, either with a band or as a DJ, people danced until the wee hours. The mood is different today.
On the streets of Augsburg I hear almost exclusively Ukrainian and Russian. As in Berlin, blue and yellow flags hang everywhere. I notice that around the corner from my hotel is a synagogue built 100 years ago that also serves as a Jewish museum. I go and follow a guide. It’s a school class, more than 20 children, who have to deal with German-Jewish history on this Friday morning.
The great hall of the synagogue is beautiful. The moment I walk in and I’m happy to be all alone, another door opens – the class comes in. The kids are impressed too. They listen more quietly to the tour guide. What I notice, however, is that no matter what he says, two guys on the sidelines are looking the other way. They probably don’t understand him. Then I hear someone whispering something in the other’s ear, in Ukrainian.
During my aimless walk through the streets of Augsburg, I suddenly find myself in front of a building that somehow looks familiar, but I’m sure I’ve never been there. I get closer and it occurs to me: That’s the Grandhotel Cosmopolis! Geoff Berner, one of the best Jewish songwriters of our time, wrote a song about this place that became the title of his album! I still remember how he enthusiastically told me about it in 2019 in a pizzeria in Friedrichshain – a hotel and hostel, which is also a refugee accommodation. Concerts are also held there, one of the walls in the foyer is covered with tour posters.
I find Geoff’s poster, take a picture of it and send it to him. He calls from his home in Vancouver 20 minutes later, when I’m already on my way back to the hotel. “Grandhotel Cosmopolis!,” he writes. “I miss this people! And I miss you too!” He would like to know whether there are also Ukrainians staying there today. I didn’t hear any Ukrainian in the ten minutes I was there, I reply.
At my hotel, I want to ask reception for a kettle, but I have to wait until the receptionist finishes with another customer. He reminds me a bit of my father – I can see that he doesn’t understand anything the woman is telling him, but he does his best to pretend he doesn’t. The older lady standing next to him has a distant look and doesn’t join the conversation.
The Lord wants to tell her something. I hear they speak Russian and ask if they need help. Yes, they do! They had to wait half an hour last night before the gate was opened for them, Andrey tells me. I translate to him that it’s not the only way to get into the hotel in the evening. We’re going out so I can show him another entrance.
Andrey is very talkative, he immediately tells me that he is an artist and comes from Kyiv, in addition, he often does stage design in theaters. Whether I’ve ever been to Kiev theaters, maybe I’ve already seen one of his works. And his accompanist is a renowned pianist, I could have seen her in the Kiev Philharmonic before the war. Andrey invites me to his room, he has a lot of pictures there, maybe I’d like to look at them. I have to apologize as I have to go to the event.
A dacha has been built on a meadow in Martini Park near the Augsburg State Theater, and various events are taking place there for a month, including my reading. Then there’s borscht for everyone. Late in the evening I call Oleg, a friend from Kyiv who works as an art curator. I would like to know whether he would know Andrey. But of course, Oleg replies, he’s a great guy. I’m supposed to say hello to him.
Tomorrow I have to take an early train, the way to Freiburg is long. I write to Andrey, he only gets in touch hours later. We promise each other to keep in touch.
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