From the Summer 2016 Issue of Ukulele Magazine | BY ELIZABETH RUSHE
In cozy bars and venues dotted around Berlin, Germany, ukulele meet-ups attract lively crowds, from multi-instrumentalists to novices, as well as those who simply want to sit back and enjoy an evening of uke tunes. Much of Berlin’s active ukulele scene can be traced back to Leleland, a welcoming ukulele shop in Kreuzberg, which claims to be the largest of its kind in Europe.
Harald Truetsch, who plays ukulele in a rock band named Toxic Tones, opened Leleland seven years ago and organized some of the first ukulele gatherings in Berlin. Truetsch reflects that most of his customers are from abroad. As he says this, a pair of giddy German teenagers tumble in to purchase their first ukulele. Truetsch plucks the instrument expertly to tune it before handing it over. With a beckoning wall of ukuleles and Truetsch on hand to offer advice, the shop is stocked with rarities, such as the limited-edition Ibenez with a Steve Wei fretboard inlay; a custom-made ukulele by Australian guitar luthier Cole Clark; and German-made ukuleles. Leleland does get a lot of international customers, however—people hear about the shop and put it on their must-see itinerary when visiting Berlin. Truetsch is particularly proud of a recent visit by Tomoki Sato—the internationally renowned Japanese ukulele player, vocalist, and composer.
Harald Truetsch and Leleland
The shop was the initial meeting place for the longest-running uke meet-up in Berlin: the Ukulele Stammtisch (stammtisch means regulars’ table). It started seven years ago and now meets twice a month—every second Thursday and every last Tuesday in Lagari, a cozy bar in the neighborhood of Neukölln. Organizer Matthias Müller-Guth says the Stammtisch is open to everyone, from beginners to advanced players—the vibe is friendly and welcoming, there’s a willingness to share technique and skills with those who are learning. This group is especially ideal if you want to improve your German, since all members are local (though happy to chat in their excellent English, too), that is to say, they’re “actual” Berliners, which believe it or not can be quite rare in this city. Order a locally brewed beer from the bar, and you’re all set. Many who regularly attend the Stammtisch group are active in their own ukulele bands and orchestras, such as the Gentle Ukes (the-gentle-ukes.de), Berlin’s all-ukulele orchestra. The orchestra practices on Fridays, and interested uke players can participate in a few practices before they sign up to be a member of the orchestra, which celebrates it’s sixth anniversary this year.
Uke Boogie is another regular ukulele meet-up in Berlin: a lively night of open-mic spontaneity that takes place once a month, organized by Alex Highet, originally from Scotland. Highet brought the Uke Boogie night with him when he moved to Berlin—the Boogie will have been running for three years in May of this year. Each month, in addition to the glory of performing in front of a delighted audience, the Boogie crew raffles a ukulele to a lucky member of the crowd. Instrumental diversity is encouraged, along with ukuleles.
“We try to encourage more unusual instruments, so we ask that guitar players leave their guitar at home,” Highet notes on the club’s Facebook page.
Most people who get up to play perform on ukulele, but you might also be treated to a Kanye West cover on mandolin, or a cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Love is Like a Bottle of Gin,” accompanied on the box drum.
All styles of ukulele performances are welcome. A typical night includes German punk, French chanson, ’90s indie-rock, and hip-hop. A highlight one evening was Highet’s performance of an original song he’d written especially for Jonathan Richman, which led to a discussion on how to get a video of the song to the quirky American singer-songwriter, who apparently only communicates by snail mail. Uke Boogie attracts an equally friendly, slightly more international mix of people, including both players and audience.
And, of course, the prize—a ukulele—is a great reason to start learning to play.
WHERE TO UKE IN BERLN
Leleland Ukulele Shop
Ukulele shop in Kreuzberg
Open mic for ukuleles and other instruments that aren’t guitars, every second Wednesday of the month. Uke Boogie is in between venues at the moment, check their Facebook page for new venue confirmation.
Berlin Ukulele Stammtisch
Every second Thursday and last Tuesday of the month.
Cogg Guitars & Ukuleles
Looking for a custom souvenir to bring home? Visit luthier Gary Neath at Cogg Guitars.
A taste of America, with a Hawaiian influence. All-day breakfast includes buttermilk pancakes, hash browns, eggs benedict, and bottomless coffee (a novelty in Berlin!). Co-owner James Kroll grew up in Hawaii, reflected in the name “Nalu,” meaning surf, as in a wave that’s breaking.
A beautiful, historic music venue, which hosts about 550 events a year. If you’re in Berlin on May 8, don’t miss the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.