Two weeks ago, on September 18th, I flew into Frankfurt, Germany where I met my girlfriend at the airport after we’d been apart for essentially one year. We’ve finally settled down for one month in a tiny town called Millstatt in Austria, but in the meantime, we got to visit Berlin and Salzburg a few weeks. Life just got a little bit more interesting, so I might as well get the ol’ blog up and running again.
Berlin Is Run by Robots
I, for one, welcome our
new robot overlords.
When I arrived in Berlin, at which point I’d been awake for over 30 hours (not even drugs could zonk me out on the plane ride), it suddenly hit me that everyone was speaking German – oh crap. Now a foreigner, I have a newfound respect for my friends from abroad. The signs are in German. All the children are speaking German. The Simpsons is in German. Doors are wacky and open both sideways and from the top. The outlets are gigantic. Some of the 1€ coins have Mozart on it (I approve). The toilet, which you usually must pay for in public places, is in a separate room from the shower. Keyboards have an Ö button. Dunkin’ Donuts is a popular internet café. Stuff is different.
We were staying in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town that is surrounded by forest and feels far-removed from city life. However, five minutes away by foot, there was a high-tech train line which connected to a large, complex transit system that runs through the city with clockwork efficiency. With a map of the train routes, you can get anywhere in the city without the use of a car.
Berlin is an interesting city that is full of duality. The architecture and aesthetic of new buildings is modern or avant-garde while the older, classical structures still remain. This is reflected in the Reichstag building, the meeting place of the German parliament. Its outer walls from 1894 still remain, but inside it is relatively new, made of glass, metal, and mirrors, all designed to be energy-efficient. This duality is also felt due to the politics of a reunified West and East Germany.
After a few days in Berlin, we caught a train to Salzburg with a brief stop in Munich. It turns out Oktoberfest was going on, so I got the chance to see people running around in Lederhosen while singing about beer. On the train, the police came out of nowhere to check our passports. Fortunately, I am not writing this from prison.
Salzburg Has Pretty Stuff in It and Said Stuff is Pretty
Believe it or not, I haven’t seen The Sound of Music, so this was my first look at Salzburg, and let me tell you, there are good reasons why Salzburg is a tourist attraction. The river Salzach flows through the center of town, in a small valley surrounded by bright, beautiful, green mountains. This part of town is full of old buildings, alleyways, shops, and people, but it still feels cozy and pleasant. There is a massive fortress, the Festung Hohensalzburg, atop the mountain on the west side of the river, with majestic cathedrals and rustic alleyways below. People are constantly moving on foot, bikes, or by bus, and there is a vibrant, pleasant energy that flows through the streets. You won’t see many business suits, but you’ll see plenty of people in Durndles and Lederhosen. Mozart was born and raised here, and the town likes to remind you of that every 10 seconds. You’ll hear some accordion music eventually.
For most of the stay in Salzburgland, Hayley and I were in Antering, a cozy little cow town north of Salzburg, with Hayley’s host parents. We enjoyed the freshest milk imaginable from the Milchautomat at €0.60/liter. Cows are everywhere, so expect to hear a loud “Moo” every two minutes.
Similar to Berlin, public transit here is fantastic. With a €18 week ticket (Wochenkarte), you’re free to take any public transit or local train (Lokalbahn) in and out of town as you please. The Lokalbahn from Antering runs every half-hour, and you’ll never wait more than 5 minutes for a bus while in town. There are plenty of touristy things to do, but what I enjoyed most was visiting the Mozarteum, an international music school, to practice piano. Every piano available in practice rooms were grand pianos, but, of course, there’s no way I would know that because I’m not a student. Right? Right.
Hayley and I happened to be in town during the Long Night of Museums on October 1st, which meant we could every museum we wanted to for a flat rate of €13 apiece. There’s no shortage of museums to visit, so we wandered around town for hours, investigating the fortress, looking at God-knows-what in the museum of modern art, and appreciating some beautiful oil paintings. Most notably, there is an amazing Panorama painting of the city measuring 4.9 x 25.8m from 1829. We also visited Mozart’s Wohnhaus (living house), which had approximately one hundred billion rooms (give or take three).
There is also a more relaxed, less economically-driven lifestyle here. For example, businesses will close early on Fridays, not be open at all on Sundays, and sometimes close at noon. In some ways, it’s refreshing, unless you need to get anything done.
One thing noticeably missing from Salzburg, however, was a decent Internet connection. To do anything online, I had to visit McDonald’s in Getreidegasse, which isn’t too far from Mozart’s birthhouse. Blasphemy? Yeah, a little bit. Fortunately for me, McDonald’s employees generally don’t care about anything, so I was always able to sneak in to use their wireless connection without buying overpriced tourist burgers (made from tourists, obviously). When burgers are €6 apiece, I am not above a little subterfuge.
Millstatt Is Most Certainly Not Run by Robots
Hayley and I are currently settled in a small, cozy home in Millstatt, Austria. I’m currently looking out the window at a beautiful lake, which is nice, but I miss the energy of a big city. The town is extremely small, very quiet, and very isolated. That being said, we’re both extremely happy to have our little home together, even if it is only for one month. There’s a music school nearby, so I will likely have a place to practice piano daily. For work and Internet, I’ve been given a key to the small dance studio space owned by Hayley’s employers. Because the dance season is over, it’s empty and lonely, but it’s a good place for work. I’ll keep myself company by screaming at the top of my lungs.
I’ve re-applied to Berlitz schools all over Germany and some prospects have opened up. I’m basically spinning a giant Wheel-o’-Jobs, and whoever gives me a job in any German-speaking city, that’s where I’ll go. Hopefully the wheel lands on a big city or, failing that, some place with good ice cream. I’ll take either one.
Thanks for the notes, Scriabin!
So, after roughing it out in Portland for a few years, I realized that music is hard work. Well, duh. But how hard is it? Hard enough that once you rely on it for income and spend every waking hour of your life practicing, recording, networking, booking events, balancing your budget, maintaining a website, advertising, and anything else for publicity, it’s no longer fun. In fact, I’d rather fry burgers at McDonald’s for better pay and a shorter, easier work day. It would make taxes easier, that’s for sure.
I also still have a lot of work to do in the practice room so I can produce more music more quickly and more accurately. My technique is really quite dreadful, so as soon as I find work to support myself, I plan to enroll in school to get a Master’s degree in piano performance. Now that I know exactly what it is I want to do career-wise, I can focus on studying with some specific goals in mind.
In the meantime, for repertoire, I’ve been working up Scriabin Sonata No. 5 and spending the rest of my time sight-reading Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. So, aside from the Scriabin (which is a bit too dissonance and dense to play for Grandma), I won’t be learning any pieces for performance any time soon.
Warning: The next few paragraphs are extremely nerdy and relevant only to me, but I’m going to write about it anyway.
Technique-wise, my latest thing is to finally train my fingers to be less stupid. For years, I’ve been relying on motion from my arms and from my wrists, and while these are useful motions, I’m not using my hands effectively at all. So, I’ve been doing Czerny exercises, and I’ve just grabbed a copy of Clementi’s Gradas ad Parnassum, Vol. I in Salzburg. Supposedly, Beethoven lived by this – it’s probably worth looking at.
I’ve also had a eureka moment that’s a bit of a no-brainer, but still invaluable. When the hand is in the “correct” position with fingers bent inward, the fingers cannot move laterally without a great deal of tension. This means that in order to take advantage of all muscles in the finger when striking a key, the hand cannot be stretched wider than its natural shape. So, when playing large chords, there is a guaranteed loss of dexterity in the fingers. Also, when playing wide arpeggios, it’s best to keep the hand small and tight, relying on the arm to guide the fingers to the correct notes instead of stretching. The thumb, however, can move independently – thanks, evolution!
I’ll write more later, but for now, I have to get back to real work. Feh.