I embarked on my first period of living in Hamburg for six months in 2011. Much of this first time I was afraid of being the foreign guy. Suddenly Michael Jackson’s Stranger in Moscow began to resonate deeply with me. I was socially silent for long periods of time amongst Germans speaking German (aka Deutsch), even though almost everyone speaks a little English.
Everything was a little weird, slightly confusing and awkward. Taking trains that were extremely efficient, cheap food at supermarkets, waiting at intersections even when there were no cars coming, pronouncing words with crazy sounds like ‘ich’ and mixing up letters like W and V. These things are hilarious, but one of the most trying times I experienced here over the last few years was getting my musician visa.
Imagine getting up at 2am to go to the local Immigration Office to hustle with other ethnic minorities so that I could put my name on a list – then waiting in the cold till the office opened at 8:30am. (Thank goodness for the dude from Trinidad and Tobago who was playing Bob Marley through his phone.)
Once inside the office waiting room I had to push my way through and put my name on another list. It took me about eight hours of purgatory and hustle for my 20 minute meeting, but I got my visa and found new sympathy for all immigrants. Through it all the amazing beer (NZ$2.50 from any kiosk), döner and schnitzel made it easy to love this place.
In 2012 I was based in Hamburg half the time and the rest of the time lived in Berlin while touring with Funkommunity. The band joined me in sharing these unusual but humorous moments and somehow I felt comfortable knowing that its worth getting amongst it as a Kiwi in Berlin.
We had the likes of Electric Wire Hustle, The Black Seeds, Fat Freddys Drop and Lord Echo rolling through, plus a small crew of Kiwis in residence, so we didn’t forget our roots or our family.
Now in 2013 I’m back in Hamburg. This time it felt like coming back to a second home. I’m enjoying making the most of being the foreign guy. It reminds me of the social strategy I used as the token Maori on a music scholarship at private school in Christchurch where my fellow students were predominantly wealthy and pakeha (i.e. not like me). I used my point of difference as an asset rather than a weakness, using humour to alleviate the awkwardness and forming friendships with everyone instead of being part of an exclusive group.
Contrasting to what I heard before I lived here, Germans are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. They have amazing hospitality, a great sense of humour and its easy to feel safe and welcome here. One thing I really like about German culture is they know about honesty, they will tell you if they don’t like something even if its about you. If someone doesn’t like my music they will say it straight to my face but there is no intended offence, and unlike in NZ or other post-English colonies there is no expectation that they need to be polite by pretending they like something when they don’t. Being polite here seems to be more about being honest and hospitable rather than the overly polite (and kind of a little fake) etiquette we inherited from our English forefathers.
Initially I couldn’t bring myself to work, I had writers block and I was afraid that I’d run out of creative energy, so I focused on learning new production techniques, new scales and chords, doing exercise and yoga and learning some German. After a few weeks I was back in the vibe and music has been flowing rapidly ever since.
It’s difficult to narrow my focus but I decided to focus on the new Funkommunity album while Im here and also write some demos for a new Karlmarx album within the abundance of electronic inspiration that is the German music scene. I have a solid local crew consisting of Hamburg band Numbe:ra (whom I did a remix for which was released this year), DJ Belli Bell of Nu Soul City (thanks to Ladi and Parks for introducing me), plus I’ve also met a few other local producers and DJs. Recently I linked with Suff Daddy and the crew from my German label MPM while they were here in Hamburg on tour.
This month I’m off to Berlin to link with the Crazy Planet fam who are Funkommunity’s booking agents for the German-speaking region of the EU. Very much looking forward to seeing Funkommunity’s worldly manager Jaz of Base FM/Crazy Planet in her homeland and catching up with some awesome Kiwis who have relocated to Berlin.
Gonna do a little mish to Scandinavia to hang with Electric Wire Hustle which should be interesting cos it’s so north the sun hardly sets in summer. Then I have a DJ gig back in Hamburg at Mojo Club, which is one of the most amazing soul/funk clubs I’ve ever seen.
It’s a luxury to be able to DJ anything I want here in Europe. There are clubs that book artists and DJs for their art, rather than the fashionable DJ jukebox trend which seems to be Auckland’s glam bogan nightpub scene. I still miss home heaps but I’m determined to make the most of this inspirational time abroad.
I know that the fusion of myself with my Hamburg environment is progressing because the Turkish guy at my local döner spot doesnt look at me like I’m a lunatic when I order my feed in German anymore. There are so many things to marvel at here; like windows that tilt as well as open and close, insulation and central heating, always sitting down on the toilet when peeing, Governments that actually care about people and dont spy on them (because they had this in the past with the Stasi and it wasnt very cool). Ich liebe Deutschland!
I guess considering that Hamburg now feels like a home away from home I’m almost becoming a little bit German. I’m definitely down with that cause Germans know how to party (especially to minimal techno), they are straight up and friendly. They have great food and you can pretty much drink cheap beer anywhere. As they say here in Deutschland, ’Alles gut’. (It’s all good). Peace NZ, see you when I’m back in October. Arohanui.
Crazy Planet Records is an independent touring company based in Berlin who work primarily with NZ artists. www.crazyplanetrecords.com