The first few days in Europe I danced with doubt, but over the next few days I just danced. Independent to a fault, I sometimes forget what good company can do for the spirit. After the first morning in the hostel outside Zurich I realized that it will be the people that make this trip all it’s worth, and this first week in Konstanz has been the proof of concept. Though I’m still new to it, in a profession this unpredictable it seems that one of a buskers greatest assets is his friends, and I’m filled with gratitude at having met such great new ones already.
I have been so graciously welcomed to Konstanz by a friend-of-a-friend named Andy. He is a busker by profession (one man band) as well as a magician, and he has a surprisingly varied background in music, magic, and art. It seems he can play nearly any instrument, and his trance music project Eat Your Guru is worth checking out. Born in England, he’s now been in Switzerland the better part of twenty-five years, the last fifteen in a charming artists apartment directly on the border between Switzerland and Germany. An eccentric man himself, he keeps an open-house policy that has him meeting all types of interesting characters from all over the world, and he has done wonders in helping me get my feet under me in this foreign land. I could not have imagined a better person to become my first friend in Europe, and I gratefully tip my hat to Eric for recommending me to him.
Konstanz is a picturesque little university town on the Bodensee, a lake that shares borders with Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. It wasn’t until my fourth day of travel that I actually felt like the trip had begun. Friday morning I spent walking through the past, through a city whose roots trace back to the last Stone Age, to when the first Romans settled in the area around 40 A.D. Besides the towering churches, the most dramatic difference I noticed was the way the streets were designed. Instead of a perfect square grid, the streets curved and twisted with countless narrow passages winding between buildings like footpaths in a forest with several large squares opening up like meadows. The design is so much more organic than anything I’ve ever encountered in the States — so much is different here than in the States — and I feel that the longer I travel the more I’ll gain a better perspective on the land I come from.
I arrived Thursday afternoon and wasted no time shaking the American dust off of my now international street show. Down in the harbor by the lake I laid out a rope, set the stage, and began attempting to draw a crowd on a slow Thursday. Slowly I put together a handful of skeptical onlookers and got a few of them to come up to the rope. The jokes, which have become more than half of the show, rang in at an astounding 0% success rate, most laughs coming from the awkward tension of an uncertain language barrier. I slowed my speech, simplified my word choice as much as I could, and ended with a wine bottle production, an effect I hadn’t done on the street in several months. I made about ten euro and immediately sat down to write out what worked well and what went wrong.
Andy informed me afterwards that I didn’t need to speak so slowly, and that doing so was nearly patronizing. It turns out they understand me fine — they just don’t find any of my jokes funny. The myths I’d heard about German sense of humor were turning out to be true. There’s a line in busking that goes something like “Oh come on folks, it’s all just jokes, where would we be without laughter and comedy? We’d be in Germany, that’s where”.
Saturday and Sunday the streets were filled with a massive flea market, and though I only attempted a handful of shows, by the end of the weekend I’d managed a respectable show and earned a hat comparable to what I’d make on a good show in the States. Though all together it was a meager weekend compared to what I’d have made in the states, I still smile at the fact that I’m self-employed on a paid vacation. The more I ask around, the more I’ve learned that I’ve started in a very peculiar spot for a comedy-magic show — south Germany is far from ideal for what I do, but being so far out of my comfort zone has already had some interesting effects on my character. After our shows we went Friday and Saturday we went out dancing, and something about being so far away from home, so far from anyone that might recognize me, I danced like I’ve never danced before surrounded by strangers and a few new friends listening to German electronic music. The more often I discover myself in new and unusual circumstances, the more I shed the parts of me that are purely environment-based, and the core of my character slowly reveals itself bit by bit.
I began studying street theater as a travel device, a means of supporting myself on the road. After the first weekend in Germany I began looking at the map for my next destination, and I realized that there was so much of the map that I was very hesitant to travel to for fear of getting stuck in a place I couldn’t make any money in. When I left Seattle I had a comedy magic show in English, which limits me to English speaking audiences. After experiencing the awkwardness of performing comedy in English and receiving crickets, I’ve decided that when I return from a summer in Europe I want to have the seed of a silent show planted and hopefully sprouted. On the second weekend here in Konstanz (uncertainty of my next destination had me staying longer than intended) I performed two shows without speaking a word, and still made as much as I had in some of the earliest shows in Germany. It will be a much greater challenge starting off a new silent show, but if I want to write a motorcycle around the world then I’m going to need to become a more universal performer.
“When you are in your daily stress and you forget how to live, let everything go and come to yourself and decide what you want for your life. Open your mind and free your thought from everything that is restraining you so we may all fly again.”
A special thanks to Andy for being such a wonderful guy and a gracious host, and a special thanks to Paula for showing me around a German college, for translating the street art pictured above, and for teaching me about German culture.
Cheers to uncomfortable growth! In an hour I hop on a bus to Amsterdam. Stay tuned!