There is a guy playing the piano outside my house. It's sitting on a piano moving trolley, next to the canal, beside the kebab stand where you can get more food for less than three euros than I can eat in a sitting. I was riding my bike home after an evening spent busking in the cafes around here, and as I was about to cross the bridge I got pulled up short by a Chopin nocturne. That has never happened to me before.
The guy with the piano on a trolley is the king of the buskers, which is quite a big call in this busker-infested town. There's a chap up by Mauerpark, for exmple, with a home-made robot on a shopping cart. It's made from bicycle parts and it can dance a pretty good approximation of a polka. And the other night there was a man doing frankly quite scary things with some sort of flamethrower/foghorn hybrid in the back bar at Tacheles, and there are several fairly accomplished human statues around the place. So it goes on, all the way down to the hordes of middle-class kids from New Zealand with their guitars and their songs about birds. None of them can match the piano on a trolley guy for quiet dignity, however. Quiet dignity is what you need if you want to be king of the buskers. Quiet dignity and mean as Chopin chops.
I sat down and watched him for a while, and when he stopped for a cigarette he asked me if I wanted a hoon on his piano. In German, though, so the word he used was a lot longer than 'hoon.' Did I want to play a piano on a trolley, next to a swan-studded canal in the gathering dusk of the Berlin summer? That is close to being one of the questions the feds use to calibrate their polygraph machines. Of course I wanted to.
This guy had hauled his piano all the way down here, though - god knows how, as far as I know the apartments around here are all walkups. So he hauled it some unholy distance, and it's not quite 40 degree heat anymore but I bet that raised a sweat, even if he took it in nice easy stages. And he timed it impeccably, so that his Chopin kicked in right on dusk, when everybody's ready for a bit of Chopin if they're sitting by a canal eating massive kebabs. Basically he's done everything just right so far.
And right now, at this stage of my musical life, I can confidently play two things on the piano. One is 'The night they drove old Dixie down' by the Band, and the other is by Pink Floyd and I don't want to talk about it. They're both good songs mind you, but Chopin is buried somewhere on this continent, and I just knew that if I busted out my dirty old Comfortably Numb, Herr Chopin would start such a spinning in his grave that we would definitely have felt it over there by the kebab stand. The only guy I know who could get away with that sort of behaviour is tearing it up in South America, and besides we try not to encourage him.
So I did what I had to do. I took a deep breath and explained that it was late, I was tired, and this whole thing was just not my scene, man, and besides, maybe I had places to go, you know? Becuase my German is very poor, I explained this the way I explain everthing lately - a sort of shrug, with a rueful grin tacked on at the end. He knew what I meant.