Lynn Ruth Miller continues her globe-trotting blogs…
It has been over a year since I visited Berlin. I try to get there every six months. In all the places I visit, I have been fortunate to make good friends and Berlin is no exception but, this past year, it was impossible to schedule anything sooner.
I try to stay with my wonderfully gifted friend Lilli Höch-Corona when I am there because she and I are on the same page in so many ways.
She runs a company that distributes Gefühlsmonsters – wonderful pictures that psychologists and counsellors use to help people identify and deal with their emotions. The pictures were first drawn by her son Christian when he was 13 or 14 years old but, through the years, they have been refined and expanded to cover a gamut of feelings.
Whenever I am with Lilli we talk about how important it is to identify what you are feeling before you can deal with it sensibly and logically.
She has helped me understand that ‘now’ is all I really have to deal with and if I can manage that, tomorrow will take care of itself.
This visit I spent a lot of time with her talking about what life really means.
I had just read an essay about the turbulence and uncertainty of the past decade.
Lilli pointed out that what those writers ignore is how many, many people are now standing up and making themselves heard; people like Greta Thunberg, the women in the #MeToo movement and others demanding equality, recognition and action to remedy the inequalities so prevalent in our world.
In her Christmas broadcast this year, Queen Elizabeth of Britain reminded us that progress is taken in very small steps and I think it is these steps we should encourage and support. Little by little they will renew stability and encourage reform that will address the major problems of our age.
Lilli and her husband live in East Berlin now but, during the time Berlin was a divided city, they were in the West. Lilli and her family used to visit friends in the Eastern sector and bring them little luxuries because everyone was forced to live meagre, Spartan lives. It was a communist country then and, although everyone had food, a no-frills car and enough to supply their basic needs, their lives were very limited and it was a hard life for them all.
The neighborhood has been tarted-up since it was part of East Berlin and the artists and non-conformists that defined the district’s intriguing subculture in the 1980s and 1990s have been replaced by a young, hip crowd that frequents the many cafes there. Where there were once run-down houses in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, there are now designer shops and varied lovely restaurants.
The very first comedy club that took me into their heart in Berlin was Neil Numb’s Cosmic Comedy Club.
Neil is a born entrepreneur and he started this English speaking comedy club in the basement of a hostel called Belushi’s. The club has grown into a successful, professional performance area frequented not just by visitors but by the entire ex-pat community in Berlin. The key guy on stage is Dharmander Singh who not only hosts every night but helps with publicity and is the man who put Cosmic Comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe comedy map.
The beautiful thing about Cosmic Comedy is that, unlike other established comedy clubs, they give everyone a chance to perform. Comedy is a developed skill and you cannot get better unless you do it over and over again. Dhar and Neil offer everyone their moment of fame on stage and I have seen the quality of performance there get better and sharper each time I am there.
However, this time, my first show was not with the boys. It was with Bryan Schall who does a magnificent variety drag show called Jews, Jews, Jews that has travelled all over the world. This was their Chanukah show and Bryan, whose drag name is Nana Schewitz, with his first in command LoIita VaVoom, put on a spectacular show for Jews and non-Jews alike.
The audience was a mixture of religions and backgrounds and the show was both original and very camp.
All the performers were amazing but the final act was a Polish Burlesque star called Betty-Q.
She knocked our socks off using Chanukah candles to light her performance.
Nana came out as a giant golden menorah.
And Lolita treated us to a potato pancake extravaganza.
I felt like I had entered another world: one filled with magic and wonder, miles away from reality.
Finally, after all these years, I got a glimpse of the real Berlin kind of cabaret I had heard so much about. This time I managed to get a bigger taste of Berlin than I usually do. Ordinarily I just eat, sleep and run to the comedy club for my performance.
This time, Friday and Saturday nights, I performed at The Cosmic Comedy Club.
The second night I did my show I Never Said I Was Nice and, to my surprise, a woman who loved that show in Tokyo was there to see it again. The international comedy scene is far smaller than I thought and we tend to see one another in very unexpected places as we travel from one place to another.
I came home to London on Sunday, ran to perform in A Night in Soho and then packed to go to the Limmud Festival in Birmingham, a Jewish international festival powered by learning. It features hundreds of educational and informative events and caters to thousands of Jews worldwide. Many similar festivals are held all over the world but the UK one in Birmingham is the biggest and people have been attending for at least forty years.
I had the good fortune to do an hour’s comedy show, be part of a showcase, do a talk on optimistic living and then have a discussion with Rachel Creeger on how we got into comedy and what it means to us. Usually, when someone sees me at a gig and likes what they see, they come up to me after the show to find out where I am performing next. This, however, was a Jewish event and people came up to me to invite me to dinner.
When anyone walks into a Jewish home, they are immediately invited for a meal. The lady of the house will rush into her kitchen, swearing there isn’t a morsel of anything in the house, open her refrigerator and it will be so packed that food will tumble to the floor. She will hastily put together a five course feast for whomever is standing in her front hall and then, should there be anything left over after the meal, her eyes will fill with tears and she will say: ”No one ate a thing!”
I assure you huge feasting is not limited to the Jews. I thought only my people ate a lot on their holidays. I was wrong. The British know how to feed you on a holiday and the family I am spending Christmas with do it with a gourmet flair. The three sons are vegetarian and I have been inundated with mushroom and ale pies, beetroot flan and alcohol, alcohol, alcohol.
I am not complaining.
I have taken an antacid and I am ready to welcome 2020.