Having made the decision that he would like to continue his music education at a German speaking University it was apparent to Greg that he would need to considerably improve his existing German language skills. As living in a country is always one of the best ways to learn a new language, or to quickly enhance existing skills, he decided to relocate to Berlin. He had visited the city in January of 2017 and gone to some of the more common tourist destinations. He had found that he liked the ambiance of Berlin, the food, the culture, the shops and the nightlife.
Accommodation is always one of the big things that anyone moving to somewhere new has to sort. Compared to other European capital cities Berlin still has areas of the city where rental prices are not totally prohibitive. In part this is a consequence of Berlin’s turbulent, troubled twentieth century history. Immediately after World War Two the city was divided into sectors and then in 1961 was effectively cut in two when the Berlin wall was placed around the Western sector of the city by the Communist East German authorities. Berlin was to remain a city of two halves until political changes in nearby Eastern bloc countries meant that the checkpoints along the Berlin wall were opened in 1989 with parts of it being demolished by enthusiastic crowds; the following year Germany was reunified. Berlin has now been one city again for longer than it was divided but work still continues to ‘join the seams’ . Whilst deserted U-
A flat share or “Wohnungsgemeinschaft” is a very popular option for those looking for accommodation, especially when being careful with costs. Sub-
Greg joined a theatre group and choir to begin to build up a social circle, by Christmas he found himself in a production wth a theatre group largely made up of other newcomers to the city acting in German for an audience of native speakers, which was slightly anxiety elevating but very enjoyable. Also somewhat anxiety raising, but very exciting, was an opportunity to perform at the Konzerthaus at Stadtmitte, duetting with a new singing friend at a concert for the staff who work there; a knowledgeable audience well used to hearing top class voices. The choir group he joined had a full Christmas performance schedule and Greg very quickly had to learn their Christmas concert programme performed without scores for an audience of some four hundred in one of Berlin’s beautiful churches. A somewhat slimmed down version of the concert was then performed a further three times in various care settings dotted around the city. Many of the Christmas traditions that we in the UK consider our own were in fact ‘imported’ from Germany being introduced to this country by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. Greg decided to stay in Berlin over the festive period and loved visiting the brightly decorated shops and bustling Christmas markets. One thing that he did miss was a seasonal Turkey dinner. He did in fact find a restaurant who advertised that they cooked a Christmas roast dinner and Greg went there with a friend over the Christmas period but, nice as the meal was, it was not what you could get very easily from any restaurant serving a Christmas menu in the UK.
Having lived in Berlin for a year now Greg has seen the city gripped in the coldest of winters and baked in the hottest of summers. He has coped with trips to the optician and doctors and found that he can understand what is being asked of him and make himself understood. He discovered that he has reasonably ‘green fingers’ when he got a range of pot plants that he put onto his balcony to brighten it up and got them to flourish and bloom earning him a compliment on how nice he had it looking from one of his neighbours across the street. He seems to have established a pattern of activities for himself that takes up his days. As well as speaking German when carrying out day to day tasks he tries to spend some time each day reading and writing and studying the language and has worked through steadily advancing on-
One area where Greg has perhaps been less fortunate since his arrival in Berlin has been settling with a vocal coach. In the UK he has worked with a raft of talented vocal teachers. He did consider making regular trips back to London when he first moved Berlin to continue to take vocal lessons but even with frequent and reasonably priced air fares this has not proved to be a viable option. Since he moved to Berlin then Greg has worked with several vocal teachers and taken Master classes to continue to hone his vocal skills. But, he has yet to settle with one long term coach as he has done in the UK. One of those Greg has worked with is the respected conductor, coach and repetiteur Tim Ribchester. The contacts that Greg has built up by exploring the tuition opportunities on offer in Berlin also gave him the chance to sing for Dale Fundling, an American who had made his home in Berlin. A chamber musician and accompanist Fundling found that his greatest passion was assisting singers and has spent more than twenty years working at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Fundling’s students have performed on leading opera stages including the world famous New York Metropolitan Opera, London’s Covent Garden and Milan’s La Scala. Greg was thrilled to be offered the opportunity of becoming a student of Fundling and was even more delighted and grateful that his studies were supported by the R E C Music Foundation that assists an international and diverse range of music projects as well as individual performers’ studies. Not long after their collaboration had commenced however Dale took the decision to move away from Germany. Greg is hoping that he has now found another coach that will meet his present needs.
So, Greg’s life in Berlin to date has, on a whole, been a positive one; he is far from being the only newcomer to the city of course; prior to the second world war and its aftermath people had been drawn to the city by its glamour and liberalism and this has also proved to be the case since its reunification. The European refugee crisis has seen Germany take a larger number of those dispersed by conflict that any other European nation, something not all German’s approve of and there has been a rise in the popularity of right wing political parties. Whilst asylum seekers have been, on the whole, settled in areas with lower population density these are also often areas with fewer jobs, often those there are are what are called mini jobs, part time work. Some then have drifted towards Berlin, where homeless numbers have risen sharply in recent years. In the twelve months that Greg has lived there he has had two times when he had to offer help to a victim of street crime, and with a friend who works at a restaurant has given out left over food at the end of a day; he spent part of his first Christmas volunteering for a scheme that offered hot meals to the homeless. Like most big cities Berlin has its darker side and can be a harsh place for the unwary. Within days of his first arriving Greg was targeted by pickpockets and had his wallet stolen but recently when he lost his wallet whilst travelling on the U-
Enjoying some Spring sunshine on the balcony of his flat whilst doing his daily German language study.
Rehearsing with the theatre group.
Although the vast majority of the wall has been demolished there are reminders of it’s former existence throughout the city.