Berlin is the ideal city for dreams, according to Georg auf Lieder. The former street musician should know: This summer, he released his very first album. Now, he has left his regular spot under a bridge at Berlin’s main square “Alex” behind to embark on a fully-fledged tour of Germany.
Georg, you spent two years playing underneath the commuter rail arches at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. What makes this space so special?
The walls in the arches reflect sound really well, giving you wonderful acoustics. Although it might sound absurd, the passing trains do not disrupt the experience. It is also a fantastic place for first dates as I observed.
So, how do make yourself heard among the hustle and bustle of the capital’s busiest square?
You simply start by playing a song. If people like it, they will stop. In a way, the whole process resembles a conversation: You need to address people, speak to them, and make them feel that you would like them to stop and listen. It is all about treating them to a good time, to a shared experience. You shouldn’t dwell too much on overthinking what you are saying, but just let things happen – and the magic will follow.
When you set up, there is no audience. What about the inhibitions of making music on your own in this environment?
In the beginning, it took a lot of courage to go out there and play my own songs. For the first few days, I would set up, but then lose my nerve and slink off again. At some point, I simply had to give it a go because I was running out of money. And then it was fine. I ended up spending my first earnings straight away.
There is a huge difference between the Alexanderplatz ‘stage’ and a regular recording studio. Did you find it hard to adjust to the new environment?
I had recorded a few songs before and knew how a studio worked. Yet it was still quite different once I was there. It proved difficult to capture the many magic and fleeting live moments on record. You don’t see me smiling or sweating over the frets. But a great song has to work by itself, without the associated images.
Do you still return to your old Alex haunts every once in a while?
Unfortunately not, since there is simply not enough time. But I would love to do it again because it taught me so much … like forgetting everything around me despite all the noise, this total focus on myself and my work.
Many musicians play on public transport. Have you given this a go at some point?
No. To me, subway performances are too in-your-face because they play to a captive audience, to people who cannot simply get up and leave. I wanted people to listen to my songs by choice. That’s also why I would only ever play after 6pm on the Square, i. e. once rush hour is more or less over, people have travelled a bit, and those who stop are ready to spend a moment or two listening – sometimes for up to two hours. That was just what I wanted!
You left Hamburg for Berlin three years ago. What’s so special about Berlin?
Berlin is good at looking after your dreams. All new arrivals have a dream of some kind and use their time here to focus and refine it. After all, that’s what happened to me: I moved here from Hamburg to focus on my music one hundred percent and improve my songwriting skills. And while every large metropolis might offer such an amazing environment, I have only really felt it in Berlin.
Do you think your songs would have turned out differently if you had spent your days playing on Rome’s Piazza Navona?
Most likely, since I really don’t know anyone there and I would have probably been very lonely.
As a street musician – how do you perceive a city?
I think you always need to be in the right place at the right time to learn to love a city. For example, I discovered Wuppertal …
… a quite low-profiled mid-sized German city …
… via its Parisian Quarter, a truly beautiful place. Many people find Wuppertal incredibly ugly, but to me it is one of Germany’s most attractive cities.
Just how important is music for a city and its inhabitants?
Incredibly important. A city is defined by its sound: to me Salzburg, the city of Mozart, conjures up virtuoso violinists. In Berlin, on the other hand, I came across an incredible singer on Alexanderplatz, right at the start of my time here, who wasn’t flawless, but very unique – and thus a perfect example of this city. Munich, on the other hand, has more personal connotations. It was here that I first heard José González’ “In Our Nature” – on the very first sunny day after four months of grey and snow.
Thanks a lot for this interview, Georg!
Georg auf Lieder – Alexanderplatz (Universal Music)
05.11. Kiel, Prinz Willy
07.11. Lübeck, Blauer Engel
10.11. Wuppertal, Beatz und Kekse
11.11. Pappenheim, McIntosh’s
12.11. Munich, Rausch & Töchter
13.11. Mannheim, Forum Mannheim
27.11. Dresden, Rosi’s
29.11. Leipzig, Ratstonne
30.11. Bayreuth, Glashaus
Header image: Ben Wolf