Sign at my favourite restaurant
Somehow I seem to have it with the clarinet. Or her with me? Kinan Azmeh, Anna Vohn, Mohamed Najem - from this one could derive a pattern... I don't know, at least in spring 2007 I received an
e-mail from clarinettist Anna Mareike Vohn, former student of Sabine Meyer, the first woman to be installed by Herbert von Karajan with the Berliner Philharmoniker. She asked me if I wanted to go
on tour in Palestine. I just hesitate imperceptibly, then come my three famous letters. YES. So in July I have a date in Ramallah with the youngsters Anna Mareike, Ahmed Eid and Tareq Rantissi.
Since I am supposed to be in Damascus in June anyway, I can connect the two places well.
Luggage, whether for 3 days or 3 months
Tareq Rantissi, Anna Mareike Vohn, Ahmed Eid
The problem is that if you are caught entering Syria with an invitation to Palestine, which you can use there for entry, the journey is over. So the plan is to fly back to Germany from Damascus,
change linen and papers there and then to Ramallah via Tel Aviv. Now the Arab is a little chaotic in himself. The concert in Ramallah is brought forward without further ado, and I have no chance
of getting to the more or less praised country by land without an invitation (which is in Germany). All right, I've done that before, and I think I can do it again this time.
And so I take a taxi in Damascus to take me to Amman. So far it is no problem, I know these countries and I know the stress at the borders. As a precaution, I have added all the national anthems of the area to my repertoire, so if there is any trouble with my instrument at the border, I can demonstrate quite well what the "Käschtle", as the Swabian affectionately calls it, does. And so I arrive at 11 o'clock at the Allenby Bridge. Besides the King Hussein Bridge, this is the only place where Palestinians can come into their country from outside.
You book a ticket that takes you for 80 dollars across the one kilometer of no man's land between Jordan and Palestine. From there it is still 100 meters to the border, which is controlled by
Israel. This border is secured by young soldiers. So I walk towards her with the Käschtle on my back and with my little suitcase, when suddenly it becomes clear to me:
There's hardly anyone who looks more like a bomber than me! I am very careful, the children of soldiers are very nervous: "Musica, music," I shout from a distance. "Okay, go ahead." I put the accordion down and open the backpack so you can look at it. They're asking me what I'm doing with it. I answer something like: "Yes, that's a bad weapon, depending on who plays it, but it's actually music, a weapon of mass harmony". Humor is not the first thing you think of at any of these borders. But they'll let me through after the instrument passes the scanner. Then a big room. Bright neon lights, loud, many Palestinians wanting to enter their country. And a little accordion player right in the middle of it.
After a while, a soldier comes up to me and asks for my passport. Where I want to go. To Ramallah. Why? To play a concert. For who? For the German Cultural Institute, I'm lying. Invitation? None. When I was born. And where. What my marital status was. They play the good-cop-bad-cop game. The girl is maybe 25 and probably of Russian or Bulgarian origin. She's playing the bad guy. And he, just as old and Israeli, calms me down again and again. "Will be okay, will be okay..." "Wait!" They're leaving me. Name? Mr. Manfred. Nationality? German. Marital status? Unmarried. And so on.
After half an hour, the same game, same questions. I have time to look at the situation. What happens there is called offending among pest controllers. But unlike the many Palestinians who have to go to their country, I always have the option of going back to Amman. When they appear for the third time and I am asked for the third time if I am married, I walk towards the soldier lady, smile and say "well, not yet...". As I said, the humor at these borders is limited. They're leaving me.
I'm falling into a kind of lethargy, getting sad and discontented. And then I do what always helps me in these conditions: I unpack my instrument and play a little Bach, my eyes closed. That feels good. When I see the light of day again after a short time, miraculous things have happened. The noise level has dropped and I have a small audience. They no longer understand the world and listen to my playing.
My two cops show up, and nothing seems more urgent than taking me away. I guess I'm defensive decomposing. I finish the piece, pack up, and I'm accompanied to entry without further ado. There I ask not to stamp my passport, but to issue a separate note so that the passport is not "poisoned" for the Arab states. "Sorry, too late," says the border guard and then poisons my passport with his stamp. That means for me: Departure via Tel Aviv and running in Germany.
After endless hours I reach Ramallah, the hill of God, and my familiar Royal Court Hotel. That sounds more royal than it is, but it's awfully nice, and the people there are very kind to me. They
recognize me and they make me feel like I've never been away. That's how they are, my dear Arabs.
I have a small suite with kitchen and bedroom, minibar, and a lovely beer garden next door. In short: everything the musician needs.
A shower, a delicious tea, and a little rest make me forget the borderline experiences. Then it goes with fresh energy up to the ZAN, a club where the crazy people meet. Writers, painters, musicians. I'm in the right place. A few of the local Taybeh beers will help you get down.
Royal Court Hotel Ramallah
TOURING IN PALESTINE
The night is short, but relaxing. The next morning we meet for rehearsals at Al Kamandjati Music School. My young colleagues, the group is called "Matabb" (in Dutch this means "Drempels",
probably something as simple as "Fahrtgeschwindigkeitsgrenzungshindernisbauwerk" in German), have pieces in their luggage. I remember works by the Norwegian Øystein Bru Frantzen, who is a very
good composer and arranger and spent a lot of time in Palestine. I also have a few of my pieces with me, and we will put together a concert programme in a few days.
I like the "kids". All really good musicians, a bit impetuous maybe, especially the guys, but full of zest for action.
In the Al Kamandjati School with Ahmed Eid and Tareq Rantissi, Falafel for lunch
And so we go. The stations of our small tour are a lot of places, which you often see in the news: Nablus, Qalqilia, Bethlehem, Jenin, Ramallah and finally the magnificent King's Tombs in East
Travelling in this country is a little tiring. In addition to the permanently installed checkpoints such as "Qalandia", "Flying Checkpoints" can also be set up. You never know when and where, but that's the trick. And at these places endless queues of cars. If you look at it from the outside, you might easily think that this is all harassment.
The Goethe bus has a magnetic flag on the hood. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary, but sometimes it must not be visible under any circumstances. I never really understood that. Mysterious Orient ...
Aber am Ende ist es wie immer: Die Musik und die Begegnung mit einem überaus dankbaren Publikum lassen einen den Streß schnell vergessen, und man weiß wieder, warum
man hergekommen ist.
I have a day off after the concert at the Cultural Palace. I stroll around, look at this and that, go to my favourite juice shop where you can get the most delicious juice blends (orange -
ginger, hmmm!) and buy some of the beautiful hand-painted cups from which I still drink my espresso at home.
Sometime in the early afternoon I get hungry and go to one of the cookshops you can find everywhere. My order, a falafel bread is processed quickly, I pull out my wallet and want to pay. When I hold out the shekel bill to the cook, he comes out from behind the counter, builds up threateningly close to me and quietly says: "It's bad enough that you are here! But if you try to pay now, I'll have to kill you. You know us guys over here, you know?!". I was really scared for two seconds. Then a loud and warm "joke joke joke! The concert last night was incredible! Thank you for that!"
These guys have a sense of humor!
After eight weeks I leave Syria and Palestine via Tel Aviv, my "burnt" passport does not allow it otherwise. At home then the running to the offices, but this
doesn't change my feeling: I'll be back.