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SDE Berlin Diary / Day Four

In the last of Paul’s diary pieces from Berlin, the SDE Editor drops in to say hello to a graphic designer who helps create super deluxe edition box sets, tries – and fails – to go shopping and then hits Schöneberg airport bar, before returning to Blighty…

It was another late night on Saturday, since after The Human League we sloped off to find somewhere to get a drink and ended up in a place called the Marquès, which has a restaurant on ground level (closed when we got there) and a great bookish bar downstairs in the basement. It was a superb ‘find’ – relaxing and quiet, with friendly table service and a fine atmosphere. We were automatically brought a glass of water each, without even asking and we enjoyed a few beers before heading back to the hotel.

On Sunday morning I had arranged to meet up with graphic designer Mychael Gerstenberger who lives and works in Berlin and whose biggest client is Bear Family Records, the German label who produce some great box sets and who are known to many of you, I suspect.

We were meeting with Mychael at the bottom of the U6 line (Alt-Mariendorf)  but of course, meeting people is always fraught with misunderstandings, especially if you don’t know what each other looks like (well, I didn’t know what Mychael looked like, at least).

I thought, for some reason, that Mychael was picking us up in his car so me and my friend Allan headed up from the station to ground level to look out for Mychael. I should say that after a mild but very wet Saturday, the temperature had dropped quite dramatically overnight, so after about 15 to 20 minutes hanging around, it started to feel very cold. Another 20 minutes past and we started having conversations along the line of “at what point do we given up and just go back?”. As we were on the verge of leaving, Mychael responded to one of my ‘where are you?’ emails to say that he’d been waiting on the platform for the last 20 minutes. D’oh! Apparently, Mychael told us later, if Germans are meeting at a station, they always meet on the platform, because there are often many exits. That makes sense, but so – we thought – did getting outside away from the crowds.

After that misunderstanding was behind us we headed towards Mychael’s studio, which had an impressive array of music box sets on shelves and on display, most of which Mychael had worked on.

mb_s

He also had a cool collection of old Macs, which he assured me were still working and sometimes still necessary to run legacy software.

mac

One of Mychael’s favourite box sets that he has worked on was the Chuck Berry Rock and Roll Music – Any Old Way You Choose it collection. The presentation of this 16CD set followed the Bear Family pattern of using jewel cases with inlays for the CDs and being in housed in a fairly big box to accommodate a large format book (in this case with a whooping 356 pages of content). I asked Mychael why he thought Bear Family stick with jewel cases which aren’t the most loved CD packaging every invented. Was it because it gives the fan the option to take them out and put them on the shelf?

Mychael: That’s one reason. I try to interest them in other formats, but they always come back to these. They just like to have separate volumes, where you can have chapters, or disc one and two in one package. And sometimes with different pictures on the front

The books always have a detailed discography, where every session is listed. Sometimes with the time they took for a lunch break, because they have access to union sheets! They also have labels pictured, recording information and the original record covers, sometimes various different versions. And really big and sometimes elaborate story in the liner notes.”

Bear Family still has the philosophy that we do these things for eternity. So you can still order order a box that came out 40 years ago, from them, and they regularly reprint stuff.

We also chatted about music retail and Germany and I mentioned how much I was impressed with Dussmann’s range of physical music (see Day One of the Berlin Diary).

Mychael: In general, record shops and book shops in Germany didn’t die out like in other countries, because of the laws. You have a fixed price for books, so Amazon is not really a competitor to any book shop. Most people in Germany use Amazon to research something and then they go to their bookshop, down the street, and say “I want to have this book” and they’ll have it the next day, at the same price. Also, when you buy something, like a vacuum cleaner, on Amazon Germany, if you also order a book at the same time, they can’t add postage for that, because of the laws. Books have to be delivered without added postage. That’s why bookshops, [although] they may be struggling, they don’t close one after another.

I found Mychael’s comments very interesting, because this law (read more about it here) unwittingly also supports record shops or retailers that sell records – i.e. bookshops! – in Germany. Because people aren’t so used to automatically shop online, they aren’t quite as likely to buy music online as someone in the UK, for example. Also, because a bookshop like Dussmann can survive and hopefully prosper – thanks to making decent margins on bestsellers – (not paper thin margins due to massive discounting), it means that they can continue to support physical music. It’s clear they have a passion and an inclination to do just this.

psmb
SDE Editor Paul Sinclair (right) with box set designer Mychael Gerstenberger

It was fascinating talking to Michael and seeing his place of work. I wanted to check out a good flea market, and he recommended one near Tiergarten station on
Straße des 17. Juni. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were greeted by empty streets and clearly no flea market in sight. I asked a nearby taxi driver what was going on and it seemed like there was some special reason that we weren’t aware of – a public holiday perhaps?

Speaking of which, Germans take Sundays very seriously and all the shops are shut, bar some very touristy, souvenir-type stores and the odd food outlet. Worth bearing in mind if you are thinking of doing a Saturday and Sunday in the city for some retail therapy. I was a little bit sad because there were still record shops I hadn’t managed to visit and I quite fancied popping back into Dussmann!

On a positive note, it was an opportunity to soak up some culture for the last few hours in Berlin. We visited the impressive Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe, aka The Holocaust Memorial, and Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz, just around the corner.

After that, it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the airport. I stayed at the Tryp Berlin Mitte Hotel by the way, which worked out to be about £75 a night. I’d recommend it because it’s fairly groovy, very well located on the U6, and delivers virtually everything you need – safe in the room, cleanliness and room service. My only quibble is that the ‘free’ wi-fi is virtually unusable, because they deliberately restrict the speed. It’s €5 a day to upgrade to something decent.


Thank you Berlin!  You are a wonderful city and can’t wait to come back again soon. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It was particularly nice to meet locals like Mark Reeder and Mychael and to be in Hansa Tonstudio 25 years to the day that U2‘s Achtung Baby was released – something I wish I’d known when we were there!

It was hard work (honestly!) but a lot of fun. I hope SDE readers have enjoyed the diary reports. Gimme your suggestions for 2017!

paulsig

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51 responses to SDE Berlin Diary / Day Four

  1. Heinz says:

    Thanks Paul, these reports are really great!!!

  2. Gerd says:

    So it seems there is enough to see and do: so just come back next year! :-)

  3. Ben Williams says:

    Thanks for the great posts from Berlin Paul, it takes me back to when I went there about ten years ago. Great city.

  4. Straker says:

    I used to be a graphic designer. Mychael is a lucky man – Good clients are hard to find and a working relationship like that is to be cherished. I see a G4 on his desk there – A whippersnapper compared to my ancient G3!

    Where next Paul?

  5. Gary Hunter says:

    Nice to hear you visited some of the places I went to when I was in Berlin, Brandenberg Gate and the Holocaust memorial are a must and glad you went in the media markt, a fantastic place isn’t it, I spent hours in the place when I was there, the biggest collection of CD’s, Vinyl, DVD’s & Blu-Ray I have ever seen.

  6. Adam shaw says:

    Really enjoyed your posts .
    Thanks Paul .

  7. David M says:

    Very interesting, actually Germany isn’t the best place to visit for weekend shopping. Most times shops close early afternoon on Sat and remain closed until Mon.

  8. ANDREW r says:

    Fascinating and illuminating comments concerning German opening hours/regulations.
    What we in the UK have sacrificed in the non stop rush to 24/7 shopping doesn’t bear thinking about! Well done Paul.

    • Daran says:

      The Germans are so logical and sensible! A benchmark for all. Have to admire them. Who would have thought that some small laws would preserve high street shopping (take note British government…).

      The laws for Sunday a friend told me are very strict. No lorries allowed I think he said, plus no noisy jobs like diy or lawn mowing. Or else!

  9. Russell Emberson says:

    Thanks for the entertaining blogs , keep up the good work

  10. Brian says:

    Sundays are still revered in Germany. You’re not even allowed to be noisy on a Sunday morning. Get the lawnmower out, start drilling, let the kids run screaming around – your neighbours can call the police.

  11. Willy says:

    That was a fascinating read! And yes, where to next?

  12. Willy says:

    P.S. Isn’t that where you’re standing the location of the cover of Barclay James Harvest’s ‘Berlin’ album?

  13. Steve Turner says:

    Great City that I visit frequently as my wife has cousins there. Your report has highlighted some stores I wasn’t aware of that will be visited when I next there.

  14. Charles K says:

    What a cool trip, meeting Mychael must have been beyond cool, he certainly has a dream job!

  15. Tracey says:

    It sounds like you had a great long weekend, Paul! I really enjoyed reading about it.

  16. richie says:

    Thanks for all your Berlin bulletins Paul, really informative and entertaining. Mrs richie has OK`d a trip as soon as I sell my record collection or we save enough for the trip. We`ll save enough, the records are safe! I reckon I`ll need a lot of dosh when we go, so many record shops so little time.

    Oh Mrs richie wants to know where the shoe and handbag shops are?

  17. Daran says:

    Where next… it has to be Tokyo Paul. Expensive I know, but worth it. Perhaps you could work out some way to make You Tube vlogs help pay some of the cost? The car vloggers seem to make it pay handsomely. You get a lot of site traffic these days.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      I must admit I did think of Tokyo too…. but would definitely be a challenge and would need much more than 3 days.

      • Daran says:

        Yes for sure at least a week. But like one of the best UK car vloggers ‘seeing through glass’ who went over to LA for a few weeks and called the videos ‘vlogangeles’ you could easily get a video a day of good interesting content Paul. The only thing is the time pressure to edit them back in the hotel etc, but if planned in advance it could work out I’d say. I hear rumours they make about £300 per video with enough views when they Google ad stuff is included.

        Just a thought.

  18. Martin says:

    Excellent blogs, sir!

    Not only give a feel for the place – in terms of record emporia, at least – but act as an essential guide and encouragement to visit.

    May I suggest London and/or Birmingham and/or Manchester for you to visit and provide the same detailed guide, even if only as stop-gap(s) before something more adventurous?

  19. Cliff Pooley says:

    Great diary entries Paul, and a place I’ll be looking to visit late next year.

    Tokyo sounds good for next trip (sadly I couldn’t do the flight) – possibly tie it in with the Bowie is exhibition? (Would love to see what limited vinyl they will have there!)

  20. Matthias says:

    Excellent blog, Paul. Thanks a lot!
    I used to go to Berlin every July from 2011 to 2014. I saw there Robert Plant at the Zitadelle Spandau and many other artists at the famous Waldbühne. I never visited Hansa Studio. I will do that the next time. There are also some nice record stores at Prenzlauer Berg, especially for used records.
    It was also great to read about your meeting with Mychael Gerstenberger. I really like the Bear family boxsets. It’s all about the (sometimes even forgotten) music and not about selling as many copies as possible. And the big books that come with these boxsets are really beautiful and infomative.

  21. Stan says:

    I love reading about these adventures! Might a trip to Japan be in your future plans?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Would LOVE to come to Japan!

      • MiG says:

        If you’re coming to Tokyo (where this Brit ex-pat lives, incidentally) there are some ways to make it cheap. If BA still does courier flights from Heathrow to Narita, grab one. Do a check online for couriers since they don’t advertise the system. Saves you a bundle of cash on the flights and you don’t have to do anything except hang around in customs for a few minutes. Tokyo’s dead easy to deal with if you’re a non-Japanese speaker, and the hotels aren’t expensive at the low to business end. I think Tokyo must have the same system as Germany, in that nothing on Amazon JP is discounted much, and physical shops are still proliferating here. Tower for one is alive and kicking, and even though Spotify’s just launched in Japan I’m sure we’ll manage to fend it off. Anyway, start saving the cash and you might afford to come in, oh, 2019…but NOT 2020 obviously.

        • Daran says:

          I read that courier flights / deals are now almost a thing of history? Thanks to 9/11 regulations and the internet delivery of documents combined with frequently flying flights by the courier’s own planes they are almost non existent. Those that still exist are barely any cheaper than discounted flights so it is alleged.

  22. Simon says:

    I’ve just come across your Berlin blogs tonight, Paul, having just got back from my own week in Berlin (Thurs Nov 10-17) and then London. I loved reading them.
    I found Berlin an incredible place. I spent the time visiting the memorials and exhibitions rather than record shopping but did Thilo’s Hansa tour on Friday 11 followed by his Bowie bus tour in the afternoon so we must have missed each other by just a few days! Thilo really seems to know his stuff (how many car horns at the start of Depeche Mode’s Stripped? 3!).
    Following Berlin I had a couple of days at the tennis at the O2 in London where Heroes was blasted out of the PA at the conclusion of each match. Funny to hear the lyrics having only a few days before been looking out of the very window where Bowie allegedly saw Visconti and his mistress, and standing in the big hall where it was recorded!
    I stayed at the Leonardo Berlin Mitte, a couple of hundred yards from Friedrichstrasse station and right next to the river. It’s also pretty reasonable at about £80 per night (or was at my time of booking).
    Small world!

  23. Simon says:

    Car engines that should say, not horns!

  24. jason says:

    I gotta say, I’m with Bear Family on this one–I still LOVE the jewel case. You drop it, it cracks, you lose teeth from the hub–you just replace it! As handsome as the books in the new Floyd box are, I’m terrified I’m going to push or pull to hard and break out the teeth or something, and then you’re just screwed. If the trays in digipaks, box sets and the like had replaceable hubs, I’d be with them 100%, but…

  25. Nigel Yates says:

    Big thanks for the blog Paul.
    Really enjoyed reading your day to day exploits!
    Was in Berlin about six or seven years ago (primarily for a Lamchop concert) but really enjoyed what Berlin had to offer.
    Was in Dussman myself and was like a kid in a candy store at the plentyful choice of vinyl on offer!
    Would highly recommend Berlin to anyone for its sights and culture.
    Don”t care where you go next cos I know it will be worth reading!

  26. PC says:

    Great piece, Paul. For your next trip, maybe Barcelona? It used to have a lot of good record shops, but I was last there in 2001, so they might be gone by now. Or you could go to Dublin. It still has some independent record shops and has what may be the last two Tower Records shops left in the world. I saw Nada Surf play a brilliant in-store in Tower on Dawson St in Dublin on a recent visit. They played over an hour. Nice guys, too.

  27. Paul Davis says:

    Hi Paul,
    I’m originally from London but I’ve been living in Berlin fo almost 20 years. Just thought I’d tell you that the reason that the street market was not on was because it was “Totensonntag” (Sunday of the Dead) and there are no markets at all on this day. I know this as my girlfriend has a regular stall in the “Mauerpark” flea market. If you ever come back to Berlin, this market is definitely worth a look and will probably be quite a bit cheaper for records than the Strasse des 17. Juni ,which is a bit of a tourist trap theses days.
    Unfortunately I’ve only just seen that you were in Berlin but it looks like you managed to find most of the places I would have recommended anyway. Great that you got to see The Human League while were here. I would have loved to have gone myself but somehow it slipped under my radar and I found out about it today, on your blog!! Even worse, Huxley’s is 10 minutes away from where I live….

  28. Zongadude says:

    Thank you Paul, it’s always a pleasure to read these diaries.

  29. Larry Davis says:

    Great trip to Berlin!! I gotsta go and check it out when I go visit Europe…was gonna go to Scandinavia first (Iceland and Sweden) over Germany, but that could change. As for trip suggestions, how about Boston?? I pop up there every so often…only 3-4 hour drive from NYC…because the record shops are waaaayyyy better than in NYC, espesh with the Newbury Comics chain and a slew of great little used CD/vinyl shops. And it’s a university town, so the shops verge on esoteric and experimental and interesting. Are you keen on Boston, Paul??

  30. Tyrone says:

    Will we be getting a faux salute at Victoria station then?

  31. Jim says:

    I’ve known Mychael for years through a music bulletin board. Great man. He did a booklet on all Apple record releases, a superb item. Each one had a personalised cover. I still have my copy years later.

  32. RJSWinchester says:

    Interesting travelogue! The records shops in Germany are fabulous. I remember going to Saturn in Cologne in the summer of 1994 and my jaw literally hitting the floor when I saw the amount of product they had. This was before you could buy just about anything on the Internet and 4 hours later I left there with about a dozen CDs. Great prices too. I also went to a lot of gigs during my two spells there with the best being Wilco in a tiny club with an audience of about 150 during their Summerteeth tour in 1999.

  33. daveid76 says:

    Thanks Paul. What you wrote about the fixed price for books in Germany was very interesting and of course makes perfect sense, which is naturally why no such agreement now exists in the UK.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes, exactly!

    • Julian Hancock says:

      The paradox is that a numbet of people who visit this site seem quite keen on picking up music at a discount/bargain price. These would not, of course, be available if the equivalent of the German fixed price agreement for books applied to the music market.

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        Fair point…

      • Daran says:

        True Julian, and lets be honest has the discounting done us any good really? Cheap packaging, loss of shops and music culture + the only main music biz investment in Simon Cowell type acts as there is no (profit risk) investment margins for error any more. We may have saved a few quid, but have we not all unwittingly helped to collapse the industry whose wares we loved (along with the internet of course)?

        I think we may all be losers when everything is taken into account. Others may disagree of course.

  34. Sean says:

    Thanks paul, never been to Berlin but can’t wait to check it out

  35. Stuart says:

    Paul,

    This guys videos on Tokyo record stores are always excellent, and now hes going to act as a tour guide in July – timing eh!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dozrquI75hE

  36. PeterJH says:

    Brilliant! Enjoyed the read.

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