Three years had passed since the first and only FilkContinental I'd been to, and I eagerly looked forward to the trip. On my 1999 trip to Germany, I'd visited Bonn and Leipzig for their connections to two of my favorite composers; this time I started out by visiting Berlin. Anke graciously provided me with a place to stay.
Tuesday was a day for recovering from the overnight plane trip, so that left me with just one day to see Berlin. Anke's house is itself in a historic area, near the Karlshorst Museum, the site of the Nazi surrender to the Soviets. While waiting for a bus, I was startled to see a tank on a pedestal across the street.
On Wednesday, Anke had to go to work, so I was on my own. I took the bus and S-Bahn into downtown Berlin and engaged in my favorite mode of sightseeing, wandering around with the help of a map in search of interesting things. Some of the highlights:
However, the high point both literally and figuratively was my ascent of the stairs of the Franzosischer Dom (French Cathedral) to an encircling balcony with a fine view in all directions. There were engraved signs indicating some of the main sights; several of these referred to DDR buildings, and someone had vigorously covered those signs with scratches.
The cathedral is in former East Berlin, as were most of the places I'd visited that day, but it was within easy view of the west. The engraved signs identified "West Berlin" sites as such, the others presumably being in East Berlin. But as I looked around, there was only one city, without any sign of the barrier of concrete and barbed wire and observation stations which had gone down the middle of the city just a little more than a decade ago.
It was incredible to conceive that so recently, the area where I was standing, with its trains, its historic buildings and its art, had been a prison for its population. It made me remember that evils can be removed, that civilization can win over brute power. Some monuments to evil remain -- there is still, for instance, a Karl Marx Strasse -- but what has been accomplished is astonishing.
Anke and I did a little shopping together in the evening; you can't make a trip to Germany without bringing chocolate home!
Though Anke had tried hard to get me a ride share, the cars were packed -- two-seaters are more common in Germany than here in the US, so it's hard to do much carpooling. I hung around Berlin for a more leisurely half-day in Berlin, then took the train to Freusburg Siedlung. (One of the more amusing station names along the way was Alterhundem -- "Old Dog.")
Franklin was at the station to meet me, as arranged, and he drove me up the narrow road to Castle Freusburg. At one point a car was coming down, and I realized the road wasn't one-way. We climbed the sidewalks to get past each other; presumably that's the normal routine of things in Freusburg.
The oldest parts of the castle are a thousand years old, but has been added to over the years, and the interior has been completely converted to a twentieth-century (hardly 21st) youth hostel. Only a few people had arrived so far: the con committee (Volker, Kirstin, Anke, Katy, and Franklin), Keris to set up sound equipment, and GoH Minstrel. The Musiksaal has very nice acoustics, requiring only minimal sound reinforcement.
The rooms are named rather than numbered. I was put, eventually along with six others, in the "Marder" room of the "Wildgehege" (animal enclosure) floor. All of the rooms on that floor were named for various small critters; we eventually determined that "Marder" is German for "marten." Bathroom and shower were in separate rooms off the hall. Hey, no one had ever claimed this was a luxury hotel.
That evening, we tried to go to dinner at a Thai restaurant in town. However, Thursday was a national holiday, and the only place we could find that was open was an Italian place. The food was good, it didn't cost much, and there was lots of it, so we couldn't complain.
First day of the con. More people began arriving in the afternoon, including some I'd been eagerly looking forward to seeing again. Martin and Andy GK, Valerie Housden and others from Britain; Thesilee, Freddy, Ju, Alexa!!!!!, and many others from Germany; and Kathy and Leo Sands from the US.
The program got under way with a medley of filked spirituals for the opening ceremonies, several concert sets (Anke, Sib, and a group called "the Halfling Assassins" which I didn't catch), a workshop, and open filking. A "domino" variant of poker chip bardic was used, in which people were issued domino-style cards, and had to match a previous card to sing; about the time I arrived, the circle switched to straight chaos, so I never really learned how it worked.
The big day of the con. Breakfast was served at 8 AM, so the choice was to rise or starve. Originally, I'd planned to sing "The Mad Scientist's Love Song" with Mich Sampson, but her father's recent death meant she couldn't come. I inquired around for a new "lab assistant," and someone suggested Alexa, who was glad to help out. Of course, considering that she has a doctorate in biology, she should have been the mad scientist and I the mere bottle-washer. But the duet was so much fun to do that we practiced it at every opportunity.
The concerts started at 11 with the Kinders and then Lord Landless, followed by a lunch break. Afterwards was Breton dancing for beginners, at which I exercised my clumsy feet, and then a harmony workshop. We worked on a three-part madrigal with typically meaningless lyrics ("Though Philomela lost her love... Fa-la-la"). Our revenge on the lyrics was yet to come...
Next came the auction. This was a low-key affair compared to the typical Interfilk auction; things can be had for reasonable prices, and there weren't any "wenches" in skimpy outfits to encourage people to bid higher (surely this can be corrected next time!). Franklin did a good job as auctioneer. I picked up a German-language fanzine and a little book of modern fairy tales for €4.50.
The main concert was done British-style, with one or two songs per performer. I attended some of it, but by this point I clearly needed more sleep, so my recollection of it is vague. In between songs, Franklin auctioned off more items.
After dinner I rested some more and got back in time to catch about half of the spot by Summer and Fall (whose real names I missed). Very good performers, though their repertoire makes Bill Roper and Erica Neely look cheerful by comparison. Large amounts of tissue paper were passed around.
Next came Valerie Housden, who surprised me by introducing her songs in German. Following this, Chris "Minstrel" Malme gave a fine GoH concert. The Pegasus Nominees concert came after this; not all the nominated songs were performed, and some were proxied by recordings. Perhaps it's just as well that "Horsetamer's Daughter" wasn't included in the concert, though I'd have no complaint if it wins in its category.
After this came the Golden Oldies circle. In spite of last-ditch resistance, "Banned from Argo" was sung, along with numerous other filk classics which might not be well known to the German filk crowd. This was followed by open filk circles upstairs and downstairs, and eventually by a little sleep.
Already the last day of the con! Breakfast at 8 AM again, and an early rehearsal by the harmony group. The madrigal had grown since the day before. Phil Allcock had added a verse ("Though filkers often lose their songs... Nya-ha-ha"), and I had added another ("Though Philip Allcock wrote the song... Oh-no-no").
At eleven, the first spot of the day was by Kjenjo, who claimed not to be a filker. One surprise which non-filkers frequently get when performing for filk audiences is how likely the audience is to know the songs already or pick them up quickly, and Kjenjo experienced this in spades. He did "The Rattling Bog" at a constantly increasing tempo, but the crowd kept right up. At the conclusion of the set, Franklin formally dubbed him Filker. Sunny and Tju also were well-received. None of these performers were well known to the German filk crowd, so they were a pleasant surprise to all.
After lunch, I took advantage of the period of light scheduling to rest and prepare for my own set. Martin and Andy GK let me use their keyboard for the occasion. My assortment of English and German songs went over well, and performing "The Mad Scientist's Love Song" with Alexa was great fun. "The Imperial Polka" also got a good response.
Martin and Andy joined Chris Malme for the "Minstrel and Patchwork" concert. This was followed by the Request Concert (Wunschkonzert), a special feature of German filk cons. People can vote during the con for songs which they'd like to hear again, and the winning songs are performed at this concert. An excellent idea, but I needed to catch up on sleep, so I skipped most of it. Sadly but inevitably, we came to the closing ceremonies, with some reprised spirituals, and our harmony group singing the doubly-filked madrigal.
But the con isn't over till everyone leaves! The Sunday night dead-dog filking was the most memorable in many cons, with silliness rising to new levels. The primary instigators were an international conspiracy consisting of Franklin, Phil, and Alexa. Finally I understand what the "Oliver Kahn" in-joke is about!
But eventually I had to go to bed so I could catch the train back to Berlin the next day. Carpools brought people back down the hill to the little train station, and the last familiar person I saw in Freusburg was Freddy Filk Frog on the opposite platform.
A wonderful con, and I wish I could go back every year.
Last revised October 11, 2002
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