Alongside Elliott McKee, Chloë Lewer is one half of Charity Children. Dreamers and trained actors, the pair are an almost accidental pop act who discovered their musical appeal the first day they tried busking in Berlin. Their song Elizabeth was judged Best Song at the Berlin Music Video Awards earlier this year, and this July will see the launch of their debut album, called ’The Autumn Came’ on Nigel Braddock’s currently ex-pat label Monkey Records. They sent us this lovely postcard and Chloë provided the life-in-Berlin update below.
Two years ago, on May 1, 2011, Elliott and I met in Paris. I was glad he turned up – I had some slight concern that he wouldn’t. Perhaps it was all too good to be true? A kind homeless man had approached me whilst I was waiting for Elliott and offered to take me on a date later that night, so I did have a backup option… alas, the boy arrived.
Two days later we reached our final destination, Berlin – a suitcase each filled to the brim with our condensed lives and possessing a newfound love for each other. Dreamers drifting far away from the homeland. We had arrived to a land where everything was unknown and uncharted.
“Elliott? Can I pronounce German with my high school French accent?”
Although Berlin is a city much cheaper than home, we soon became aware that our meagre savings would soon dwindle. We might have to work.
It turns out that being actors from New Zealand, with an inability to speak German, wasn’t so impressive to prospective German employers. We lacked any conceivably hireable skills. What were we to do?
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Possibly due to the supermarket gin we had thoroughly been enjoying that early Spring evening. We sat on a little balcony at our motel and played some petite tunes together. We had only really just begun to play music. Elliott had bought me a ukulele just before we left Auckland. Id always enjoyed singing – although I was painfully shy about singing in public – and Elliott had dabbled in playing the harmonica during his student days spent in Dublin.
We had tossed around the idea of busking when we first got to Berlin. Our friends and families back home were encouraging – to a point. I ended up convincing Elliott to take our tiny ukulele and beverages down to a bustling street corner nearby. We set up outside a takeaway restaurant and began to play our wee tunes. People began to cross the street and we soon gathered a bit of a crowd. At the end of an hour busking we counted our earnings. Twelve Euros and two apples = enough for six kebabs from our favourite place across the street. We felt fat on falafel and elation.
Two years later we still play music on the street, and sometimes people are kind enough to invite us indoors. We’re now a band of four, with the addition of an Australian cellist, Dave, and an Iranian percussionist, Shooresh. During our first summer in Berlin we quickly grew tired of playing covers so we started writing our own music. As winter hit, we went inside and recorded what we had created. These tracks make up our debut album, ‘The Autumn Came’ which we are releasing in July this year, through NZ/Berlin label Monkey Records.
We’ve now entered the third year of our lives as street and sometimes indoor musicians in Berlin. We recently released our first single/music video, Elizabeth, which unexpectedly won us Best Song at the Berlin Music Video Awards last month.
“You guys must be rich now,” a friend from home decided recently. “Not quite,” I replied as I looked longingly outside at the rainy Berlin day. “It’s raining. No busking today.”
I feel like a fisherman sometimes – I’ve never looked up at the sky so much in all my life. As I was speaking I was rolling up our remaining coins, from the last busk, into paper rolls (e.g. 40 x 10 cent coins in a roll = 4 Euros). This is the only way you can deposit coins to the bank in Germany. One of the reasons that being a street musician is occasionally tedious.
Today we’re still struggling with the language, however our ordering a kebab in German skills would impress you very much (as long as you can’t speak the language yourself.) Sorry about talking about kebabs so much, it’s kind of like our band currency. Berlin is very cheap – in housing (if you can find one), food, alcohol, all things important (not including German bureaucracy costs) etc. Thus why it is so appealing to many artist types from around the world and why we can scrape by with what we do – and if you’re going to scrape by, then Berlin is a nice place to do it.
We’re looking forward to the release our album in July, to recording our next one and to taking our music outside of Berlin – possibly including coming back home one day. Although I hope wed be let back in. I saw the passport control man put a question mark next to the profession question on my departure card last time I left. ’Street worker’, I had written. But I was telling the truth?