Have you ever had a song that you just can’t get out of your head? It happens all the time doesn’t it? Most go away eventually but a maddening few just take a break, lying dormant in your brain waiting for that little trigger to send them bouncing and bopping to the forefront of your head again and again. For me, one such song is Talking Heads‘ Road to Nowhere and the catalyst is that dark but uber cool city Berlin. Someone mentions Berlin and Road to Nowhere starts chugging along in my head until its unstoppable. It seems like a very strange association. You’d think a Nick Cave, David Bowie or even a Krautrock song would be more appropriate for Berlin but this is a personal thing.
In 1985 I spent a few weeks hitchhiking around Germany and everywhere Road to Nowhere was being played whether it was on the radio or at the odd party I went to with students I stayed with. It was more than an appropriate song for the way I was travelling. Half the time I wasn’t sure where I was going and often when I thought I knew I never seemed to end up there.
Most of the young West Germans I met said there was only one place I had to go to and that was Berlin. They always said it with a glint in their eye and a little nod of the head alluding to how wild it was. Apparently a haven for young West German punks, pacifists and gays living there to escape military service, I was in awe of the place even before my arrival. My awe was justified when the first car that stopped for me in Hannover where I had hitchhiked to was almost full, fittingly with three members of a punk rock band heading to West Berlin for a gig. I piled in for the ride of my life sandwiched in between mohawk haired Jurgen and Holst who were becoming more intoxicated the longer the journey went. There was no way out. This was cold war Germany, once the car crossed the border into East Germany it was forbidden for you to exit until you arrived in isolated West Berlin.
Along the way we passed hundreds of Trabants or Trabbis as their affectionately now called, the car that was then the symbol of Communist transportation, at least in East Germany. As we drew up along side a bashed up Trabant, Jurgen wound down his window and handed the driver a packet of Marlboro. This to me seemed like the West patronising the East even though the packet was accepted gleefully.
At the border the East German police summoned us out of the car. One of the punks made a snide remark and the humourless, clean shaven, young police officer aggressively hastened us into a building. I was left alone but the others were taken away for a few hours and interrogated. I walked out and sat by the car wishing I was anywhere else. Finally, the three musicians appeared, looking a little crest fallen. There was a sombre mood back in the car but as we headed towards the bright lights of the Western city a familiar beat sounded from the radio and out the side of my head I caught a glimpse of a mohawked head swaying just a little in time to the music. ‘Road to Nowhere’ was playing again.
More about Berlin music, film and literature next blog.
Road to Nowhere is on the Talking Heads album Little Creatures