Stories From A Canadian Musician In Germany

Photo by Jason Sylvester

All photos by Jason Sylvester

Traveling outside of Canada can be a bit overwhelming, especially for a Canadian musician who has never left his Continent before. But all it took was one click on the Lufthansa website and I was on my way. Oktoberfest was almost over and I was told that if I missed this Bavarian festival I would still be able to enjoy the gift that was for all mankind, Weihnachtsmarkt.

When the day arrived for me to leave I had overpacked, as if I was about to enter a hostile environment with horrible weather and pickpockets all around. Those unnatural fears are only adopted by the untraveled; after a week in Germany I had indeed fulfilled such an inexperienced-traveler stereotype.

I can still remember the anxiety of boarding the Lufthansa plane in Toronto. I sat down beside an old couple from Gütersloh who smiled but didn’t say much and there was a flight attendant who stared at me as if I was completely ignorant of traveling etiquette. “I AM CANADIAN” is a phrase I was mentally preparing myself to say over and over again during the next few weeks.

However, it only took me two cups of wine, a delicious meal, and a splendid warm towel, and once we passed Greenland I was a changed man.

Aside from writing for TBJ and visiting friends, my mission was to make some music connections, write and record a few songs, and in the mean time soak up as much of the German culture as possible. I had almost two months to do this, but as is the case with most people who visit foreign countries, you end up needing more time. Every city in Germany is unique; the people, the streets, the buildings, the beer, the music, and so much more are what make each visit memorable and each goodbye just as hard.

The first busker I saw was in the downtown shopping area of Cologne. He had found a corner of the wall where the sound of his voice would reverberate especially loud and clear (I later noticed this was a popular method all over Germany of reaching a larger audience, despite the noise of crowded streets). He covered many top-40 hits that I recognized from commercial radio in North America. This wasn’t surprising because almost half of the music on German radio was from North America as well. Artists and bands like Adele, Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Nickelback were often played alongside British and European musicians like Robbie Williams, Ed Sheeran, and Nena. It is clear that Germans like songs written in English, whether the artist is from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, or the United States.

A lot of Germans I met are actually more interested in non-German music than their own music. North American musicians should realize the potential of an international music market where artists from all over the world will travel and make new friends while sharing their music with others who would really appreciate it. The most wonderful thing about music is that it speaks to people, no matter the language.

When I went to Dresden, I stayed in a guest room at Schloss Röhrsdorf which is near a village in the South East called Dohna.

In the castle there are three families and a few others who live as a community of artists. Singer/songwriter Sarah Brendel is one of them, who recently released an album called Before The Mountains. Beside a tremendous amount of friendliness and generosity, these people also showed me how to live life to the fullest, whether you are German or Canadian, musician or mother, married or single–just do what you were made to do!

The following video was filmed in the Schloss courtyard a few months ago with many friends and family participating in the fun:

Norm Strauss, who is a singer/songwriter from Kelowna, BC, Canada was also staying in a guest room at the castle. He had been playing a series of house shows in the area and called the Schloss his temporary home. It was only a couple weeks beforehand that the Canadian Christian worship leader and songwriter, Brian Doerksen had also graced the community with his presence. The Schloss has been building a reputation as a hub and rally point for many international guests and musicians from all over the world, including visitors from Israel, Canada, and elsewhere in Europe. Ironically, the village where the community is found is also home to some very private and sometimes suspicious residents who are always curious as to how these mere musicians could end up taking over the local castle.

During my stay I also had the chance to go to the Altstadt venue called Beatpol (formally Starclub). On the way home I got furiously lost and seriously considered sleeping on a bus stop bench. Afterward I decided nothing could really scare me anymore, and going out on my own became second nature.

To the experienced traveler, the Deutsche Bahn is very simple and nothing to be afraid of. When my time was up in Dresden I booked a ticket on the mighty ICE train, to head up north to Hannover, before returning to Bielefeld.

After a couple more weeks hanging out with my new friends in the Lippe area of Westphalia, I met up with Pete Dueckmann, who had been preparing for his recent debut album release, Beat My Hearton December 8. Artists like Pete, who have a family and a day job are always looking for new ways to promote their music. Because of layers of red tape among the structure of music curation in Germany, it is hard for an artist to push their music to commercial radio. Pete and his Producer brother Viktor started Treesons Records to give themselves a jumpstart at the German music industry. In the new year they plan on finding opportunities for their business in the European market as well as in North America.

Pete and his band perform the title track from his new EP:

People say that one needs to live in Germany for at least six months to get a firm grasp on the language. The same can be said about the music scene. For an independent artist touring in small clubs, houses, and cafes, it is hard to get going. The days of The Beatles breaking through in Hamburg are over and just like the rest of the world, the Internet has become the key in promoting one’s music to a larger audience. So even if you can’t go to Germany or if you are stuck in your home country, get out there and make some Internet friends and you never know–you might find yourself with a bunch of new friends in a castle.

–Jason Sylvester

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