It is a chilly Sunday evening in Berlin. Late October and the trees have shaken off their leaves. I shuffle my feet through piles of golden yellow and approach two steel doors with graffiti scrawled on them. Two smokers huddle in the cold, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm. I go inside.
A man with a white head of hair runs his finger down a list, stops and draws a line through my name. He hands me a chit of paper with a row and seat number on it and tells me to walk straight and left.
My jacket is flung over my arm. I walk over to a table and pour myself a generous glass of Spanish Rioja, drop a euro in the tip tray and glance around me. The crowd is a mix of men and women in their 50s and 60s, in black pants and wool sweaters and a few young couples, in dresses and collared shirts. Almost everybody has a scarf around their neck.
I let my eyes wander. Piano Salon Christophori is a warehouse, with piano parts and violins hanging from the walls. Strings of Christmas lights and bare light bulbs, covered with brass shields emitting an amber glow. Lamps with ivory shades and tassels. A gothic face, made of stone. Chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. The stage is illuminated by spotlights, mounted onto a metal frame. The back wall has shelves of vinyl records, a collection of art and portraits of musicians. On the left are stairs leading to an open second floor, presumingly a place where musicians go to collect their thoughts before or after a performance and offer a view of the room below.
I settle into my empty row of four seats. Each one is different from the next, a mismatch of chairs with red cushions, floral upholstery and wooden legs. Eclectic, like the room, eclectic like the city of Berlin.
A tall man wearing a purple sweater and a dark blue blazer walks toward the stage. There is a steady stream of clapping.
Jean introduces himself in German. His voice is soft and inviting. There are trickles of laughter. He sits in front of his piano and begins to tell his story. His fingers dance. Chapter after chapter, every note opens a new door. The music cascades over us. Up and down we go. Soft and rapid, enraged and sullen, running, hiding and fighting. It feels as if there are two musicians in the room, playing from one piano. One is crisp, the other offers a deep, dark undertone. Close your eyes and it is just you and Jean.
Each piece ends on a resounding note. He patiently allows the sound to ricochet throughout the room. Mozart. Chopin. Beethoven. Jean brings the classics to life. And you are right there, hand on chest, feeling the tremendous thump of his beating heart.
Intermission. A bow and clapping. Heads shaking from side to side. Looks of admiration. A glance from one person to another, a smile and a comment. The audience is completely enchanted. Off he walked and on he comes again, humbly accepting a second round of applause. He is a man of genuine stature.
Refilling of wine glasses. A man yelling, “I want to smoke a cigarette!” People walking in and around the stage, admiring the beautiful instruments. We are in the presence of wonderful history and talent. You can feel it in the air.
A gong echoes, and we take our seats. The room feels a little warmer. The three women in the aisle across from me wrap themselves in grey fleece blankets and the couple behind me is locked in a romantic embrace. Jean walks back on stage.
He picks up where he left off, telling a tale with twists and unexpected turns. Elegant key strokes and soft lullabies. Watching the waves crash on to the shore, and the gentle receding of the water back into the dark abyss. Finding yourself lying on the grass and looking up, your eyes adjusting to the millions of stars above, glowing with awesome intensity. A child frolicking in the meadow. Fresh and innocent, bathed in sunlight. He seduces us and we fall helplessly into his arms.
Jean finishes his last piece and is presented with a bouquet of white gladiolus. He bows, leaves and returns to offer his final encore. A goodbye like one I have never heard before. Soft and vulnerable. A sad trickle of a tear. As if to say, thank you, I will miss you.
And we will.
Written by: Diya Khanna
Diya Khanna is a Canadian journalist
living in Berlin with a focus on
diversity, integration and migration.