At 4am the music is still blaring from the red room upstairs, a few feet from Rosa-Luxembourg Platz train station. As its exterior exudes crimson warmth to passers by on the street below, inside the heat is exhausting. Sweat condenses on the scarlet walls, hangs thickly in the air, helps feet slip and slide across the parquet dance floor, practically drips from the dust-stained frosted chandeliers. Selective hearing is becoming a crutch. Every month I notice it more and more – the accents. They aren’t German, rather Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, London. Hidden in plain view, once a month we congregate. Once a month, we stomp our feet to The Smiths and glide to Bowie. I can understand everything – song lyrics, conversation – even with mild tinnitus and positioning below the speakers.
Then a song comes on. A jangly guitar, a rhythmic pulse, a familiar hand clap routine. But there’s something off about it. It creaks with static and it hits my ears with foreign intonations. Like stroking velvet in the wrong direction, there’s something needlessly discomforting afoot. But it’s The Beatles. I’m certain of it. The voices are so quintessentially Lennon and McCartney.
I was standing in their homes barely a day before in Liverpool. I was staring at a photograph above the settee in Mendips. An utterly unremarkable image, were it not for the main focus being John Lennon, sat on the same settee, playing a guitar, one foot propped up on the corner of the fireplace. I lowered my head to the ground. My foot was touching the edge of the fireplace tiles, feeling both intimate and invasive simultaneously. To stand in the living room of a long-deceased stranger, to climb the stairs to their bedroom, to rifle through their belongings. With some faint echo of their presence being enforced with visual reminders, like that framed picture in the living room.
Then getting into a van blasting Fab Four tunes on repeat and moving onto the next sight, the next piece of the Liverpudlian Beatles puzzle. A club they performed in in their earlier years, a half hour out of the city, hidden behind overgrown shrubs and mossy trees bowing over the roof’s wooden slats. Where the ceilings inside were individually painted by the band members, where Lennon has engraved his name not so surreptitiously, not once but twice in nooks and crannies. The empty gig room is claustrophobic. I can reach up and touch the ceiling with the flattened palm of my hand, running my fingers across the grooves of a wood scratched ‘John’. This place used to be full of screaming girls. 500 or so crammed into a room that might at best have the potential to contain 150 sardined bodies. Taking a moment to stand alone in the stark cold wetness of this basement, the nostalgia for a past unlived sideswipes me in surprise.
It was barely a day ago. The ceilings here are too high to touch, there’s nothing to see up there besides a flickering disco ball and the rectangular boxed crystal chandeliers. Stare at your feet, shuffle and stretch. Clap, clap, pause, clap, clap. Try to sing along, the melody is the same but the words don’t fit. The dance floor isn’t quite as full now, the expats have gone to the bar when faced with the unfamiliar. Then it strikes me. The Beatles in Hamburg. The great German pop song push of 1964. Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. Nothing is ever as far away as it seems.
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