The City Centre of Bonn was a bit livelier on Saturday afternoon. A demonstration against the increased cost of permits for street music brought out not only the sunshine but a large crowd of musicians and an even larger crowd of enthusiastic listeners. If you thought playing in the street was simply a matter of opening your guitar case then take a look at the hoops Bonn puts it’s ‘free entertainers’ through HERE.
‘Bonn – Half the size of Chicago’s main cemetary and twice as dead’ It’s a description that has been around for some time in Bonn unfortunately. Sometimes it seems as if we’re living not in the 21st Century in Bonn but in 1984 and in Orwell’s Oceania. It’s better for the people not to have an Ice Rink in the Centre, or a light show with (gasp!) loud music (Klangwelle) or indeed Loud music at all (double gasp!!) as in concerts outside (Kunst!Rasen). The latest gentle ‘stranglehold’ on Bonn’s cultural identity was quietly delivered recently with the proposal to raise permit costs for people wishing to play music on the City streets.
Quite possibly you didn’t realise that musicians even have to pay to play? You will though have possibly come back from Cologne and suddenly walked out into Poststrasse thinking “Why is it so quiet here?!” The truth is that, unless you are a youngster with a flute maybe, before you even open your guitar case you will need to visit Bonn’s Stadthaus and hope to be one of the three musicians ‘given’ permission to play for half an hour before moving on again – for another half hour – to a location legally out of sight and sound of the first location. Oh, and you will need to be pretty good, and pretty quick too, because a two day permit will cost you 25 Euros.
Thankfully there are dedicated people in Bonn who want to make the City a real MUSIC City once again and Daniel Bongart is one of them. Daniel is a rising star on the local acoustic scene in Bonn and organized the Demo for Street Music on Saturday. Thankfully he’s not alone in wanting to change things and after a ‘silent’ hour distributing leaflets, there was a good sized crowd of musicians making music, literally, behind Beethoven’s back (Hähnel’s statue of the great Man).
A large smattering of acoustic guitars was to be seen of course. Wielded amongst others by Folk Club MC John Harrison, guitar virtuoso Sebastian Landwehr and Folkclub ‘sound engineer’ (he records the shows!) Mario Dompke. A welcome addition to the afternoon’s gathering was Melchi. You’ve probably seen Melchi playing on the streets here in Bonn. If you did then you will definitely remember him for his wonderful rhythm-filled melodies with lyrics from Bamoun in his native Cameroon. I can’t imagine anyone being annoyed at having Melchi play as they go about their shopping in Bonn on a busy afternoon.
Like Daniel Bongart, Melchi has used playing on the streets to hone his musical skills on the ‘hardest stage in the World’ City streets. A familiar smile under a familiar ‘top Hat’ stops by to wish us luck – Cynthia Nickschas is probably the best proof of all in the power of street music. In 2010 Cynthia was trying her skills as a street musician with the view that if no one took any notice she would return to her studies. Instead, she went on to be a part of German singer-songwriter Konstantin Wecker’s band and later release CD’s on Wecker’s own label. It all started with just a guitar and a hat on the street.
Aside from the guitars, there are some more exotic instruments on offer. Steve Perry has brought his own personal didgeridoo and there’s a man at the front sitting on a chair getting tunes out of a handsaw and a violin bow. Somehow he managed to join us on songs like ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘The Auld Triangle’ evenbeing the first to play said instrument to ‘Jock Stuart’.
A good time was had by all then, and not just the musicians, with lots of smiling faces and supportive comments from passers by. People who largely take street music for granted as they do breathing. Many are clearly amazed that playing music on the street isn’t just a matter of taking a guitar out of a case and playing.
Street Music is in fact a part of any City’s cultural diversity, creates a friendlier atmosphere on the streets, adds colour to the City for visiting tourists and also puts a human face on the increasingly distracted environment we live in; where we talk on trams not with those around us, but with someone on the end of a cellphone. Streetmusic is a part of the here and now, reality in a world consisting increasingly of virtual reality. It’s also nice just to put down your shopping bags for a moment and live in the here and the now…
A ‘Bürgerantrag’ against the increased street music fee will be addressed on 29 August at 6 pm in the Ratssaal, Stadthaus Bonn. All support will be appreciated by the organizers.