This weekend saw a positive relaxation in the Corona regulations here in the Bonn area. For the first time since lockdown Bonn Council has been allowing permits to entertain in the City streets. Folk Club impresario John Harrison was proudly the first to play Bonn’s shopping streets again, so I joined him for some of his journey as a street musician to see how people would react to hearing a real guitar and a real voice out on the streets again.
John Harrison really was quick off the start blocks in claiming a street music permit. So quick in fact that he recalls a delay in his appointment because the council officer was out overseeing the painting of yellow squares in pre-determined locations around Bonn – not always in the perfect locations for musicians as we shall see – but Corona rules rule right now.
John was feeling very optimistic on Friday being the only holder of a pass on what was expected to be a day sunny enough to fry eggs on the pavement. By almost mid-day on Saturday though the rain was still falling and people would be more likely to head for the cover and bargains of Karstadt’s closing down sale.
By the time we meet up at Münsterplatz though, the puddles of water were reflecting bits of blue sky amongst the grey clouds. We take a look at the stapled sheets of paper stamped by Bonn’s powers that be, telling John where he can and cannot play, how long for, and how he is to behave whilst there. There are the usual rules of a half-hour maximum in one space and not returning to said space for so many minutes or playing near said space for so many minutes. Then there were the new rules to consider…
As mentioned. The City regulators had been out the previous day painting yellow squares. In each of the seven locations, there were now four such squares, with one marked out as the ‘stage’. The audience was somehow expected to be herded into the three remaining boxes with 1.5 metres between them (and the space between them and said ‘stage’ was around 4 metres to avoid aerosols from singers). John reckoned his ‘step’ distance to be around a metre so we checked this out – all good. What we didn’t have, as John pointed out wryly, was a highly trained sheepdog to get listeners into the said boxes and, more challengingly, keep them there.
It could even be a problem from the ‘off’, as, exactly on the cue to begin playing, a police van pulled ominously up a few metres from the first ‘spot’ which was, rather appropriately, near the ‘Pranger’ outside the Münster where medieval miscreants were chained. One false move by a happy reveller in front of John and I could see him being moved, chained. and pelted with rotten tomatoes…
In the event, people were keeping their distance. Maybe unsure if John was legally allowed to be playing, maybe out of fear for Corona, or maybe even (unbelievably) they didn’t like Blues music. At any rate, only three pigeons approached our yellow boxes, and even they hopped around them rather than entering. I left John and his feathered audience to his work and promised to catch him later at Bottlerplatz.
A half-hour or so later I actually found John entertaining a small crowd of actual human beings opposite Macdonalds in Friedensplatz. All hope of being heard at Bottlerplatz having been quickly scuppered by the presence only a few feet away of a children’s roundabout throwing out dings from the firetruck and dongs from the ambulance and in between, merry go round music.
As it turned out though, Friedensplatz was probably the best location of all, although this was difficult to ascertain initially. Yes, there were certainly lots of people sitting on the steps in the now radiant sunshine, but John seemed to be singing the praises of twelve gates to the city and the limitations of St James Infirmary into a vacuum, as most said heads were bent over cellphones. Curiously though, many of them could obviously multi-task, as John’s tip-jar (hat) got good business from people who hadn’t seemed to be listening at all. Feeling heartened that the day was now firmly going John’s way I wished him luck on his further travels and headed off to get some shopping done.
The consensus by afternoon’s end for the City Centre’s lone musician: Some of the locations were a bit naff for finding an audience it seemed, or even being heard in the case of Bottlerplatz. There were a couple of electric bikes parked on John’s stage square next to the giant heads of Cassius and Laurentius behind Münsterplatz, and a wagon parked on his ‘stage’ at Bottlerplatz didn’t help matters initially. John though was optimistic about things. Currently, the best and most enthusiastic listeners are, he noted, actually children. Many presumably dragged around the shopping centre by parents and happy for some distraction that didn’t involve rotating in a circle in a fake fire engine. Perhaps, when people get used to both seeing and hearing music on the streets again, the adults will enjoy it too. Whether they will ever understand where to stand, or acquiesce to actually stand there without those highly trained sheepdogs though is something I’m waiting to find out. Maybe Stadt Bonn is already on to it. The kids would certainly love having a dog to pat whilst the music played.