During my spoken word career I’ve performed in some wonderful cities and places where I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone unless I had a gig there. Lancaster, for example, or Newquay, or Petersfield. Lovely places which I’m glad I got the chance to look around because I wouldn’t have even thought about going to them. And of course, London, New York, and Barnstaple.
About eight years ago I decided to have a few days in Berlin. I’d always been fascinated with Berlin having studied twentieth century history for my A-Levels, and it seemed a place imbued with the mystique of Cold War intrigue, wartime shenanigans, the excesses of the 1920s, and of course, the basis for Bowie’s mid-70s albums. So I booked into a lovely hotel near a small park and a lake, a short U-Bahn ride from the city centre, and set about having a good old poke around.
It didn’t take long to wonder if there were any spoken word open mics. I’d heard from people such as Mighty Mike McGee that there was a thriving spoken word scene in Germany and that they were very accommodating to English language performers. Indeed, I do speak a little bit of German, yet people soon lapsed into English when ever I opened my gob. A quick check of Google showed that there would be a slam in a venue not far from my hotel.
Incredibly nervously, I turned up at the King Kong Klub for their poetry slam. And the host greeted me, he was incredibly welcoming and made me feel at home, and I sat with his friend, who was taking the entrance money on the door. I’d already emailed to say that I was coming and they both seemed happy for me to take part. I’d spent part of the afternoon perfecting my finest three minutes.
The King Kong Klub was a bar with a kind of shabby chic demeanour. Or perhaps it was just plain shabby, it’s difficult to work it out, these days. And when the show began I soon realised that my limited grasp of German was not going to help me, as the host spoke very quickly and then at one point started throwing bananas at the audience. This, apparently, was a tradition at the King Kong Klub poetry slam. One of them ricocheted off my head.
And then the competition began. The first thing I noticed was that the performers, who were all performing in their home language, didn’t seem at all rushed. Indeed, they were doing slots of ten, fifteen minutes. And they didn’t follow any of the conventions of slam that I’m used to. Some of them had props. Some of them danced. Some of them did several poems. And after each had sat down, they were given scores by members of the audience, just like a slam ‘back home’.
And then it was my turn. I did my tidiest three minutes. Expecting not to be understood, I was relieved to hear the audience laugh at all the appropriate places, and then when I went to sit down the people at the bar told me in English that they’d loved the poem.
Now, due to my insistence on not looking at the scores, I had no idea how I’d done. The next performers came up and did ten, fifteen minutes. And then there was a break, and I was too embarrassed to ask the host if I’d made it into the next round! I remember going down a spiral staircase to the basement toilets and trying to pluck up the courage to ask, while at the same time wondering how long the building had been there, and which part of Berlin it had fallen into during the Cold War. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when the show restarted that my name was called again! Indeed, not wanting to look too presumptuous, I’d put my performance book away in my bag so I had to fumble around to get it out. I’d also nabbed one of the bananas. ‘For later’.
My second poem also was well-received, and I only knew I hadn’t made it into the final when they actually did the final. I do remember that one of the lads in the final did a set of poems which seemed to be about a toy car that he was using as a prop.
It was a wonderful night and I chatted with my friend on the door, as we had a beer, (I don’t usually drink beer, but he was nice enough to come back from the bar with it), and we both clinked bottles and said, ‘Prost!’, at which point he informed me that apparently I’d come fourth!
It was a lovely night, and I really do want to go back to Berlin once the world is a little safer. I made some new friends that night!