The odds Henning faced in putting together this Event and making Berlin the darling, amidst Germany’s past, may have seemed to say he’d never win, but win he did and so did we. Heart was visible all around. So were shy grins, delighted smiles, hearty laughter, and abundant love. Land miles and air miles added up to an unbelievable number of heartfelt miles, as people once again came together from all over the world to gather in Leonard‘s name for the Leonard Cohen Event, Berlin 2006.
Love reached out to me before I ever landed in Berlin. In Cracow, Jarkko and Eija, Dick and Linda, and Pawel and Justyna, met up with me for greetings and to pass on valuable information for my stay there; and our meeting turned out to be invaluable for this lone traveler negotiating Cracow. Lost luggage had precluded my meeting them and Sebastian for dinner upon my arrival, but when we met up and were talking about Sebastian’s continuing uncertainty about attending the Event, Justyna and I laughingly agreed that it couldn’t hurt for me to take his phone number and make some last-ditch efforts to talk him into coming. I won’t take credit for it... but I did call and implore, and Sebastian did attend.
On Wednesday, leaving Cracow for Berlin, I discovered the Consummate Gentleman in Pawel. Meeting up with him and Justyna at the airport, he bore the brunt of my excessive packing decisions, insistently carrying my luggage at every conceivable juncture, right through to the Suite Hotel in Berlin, with the same disarming sincerity and sweetness as when he started. Awaiting take-off at the airport, Pawel sat quietly, whilst Justyna and I delighted in each other‘s company with a whole lot of laughter. What a welcoming duo for traveling companions. As we waited at the airport, it felt as if the Event had already begun.
No idea why, but despite all I’d ever heard about Berlin, I was never really drawn to going there... until this Event. After public transit carried us from the airport to our hotel neighbourhood, we disembarked and the fresh air of Berlin was intoxicating. Nothing like I’d imagined... the city looked so clean it sparkled. I later learned that Berlin has within its borders more trees than any other European city. Justyna and I agreed ~ Berlin feels good!!
Pawel and Justyna walked and I, long-exhausted, schlepped, into the Suite Hotel, where they delivered me with my luggage. There sat Lizzie Madder’s love, Peter, at the counter and after perusing us, asked if we were there for the Leonard Cohen Event. “Oh, yes... ,” and he kindly informed us that registration for the day had already closed; however, already in never-say-die mode, we assured him we’d try, anyway... and leaving my luggage, walked over to the Ibis Hotel bar to register. Of course, Peter was right and we were, indeed, too late. No matter. Tomorrow would be fine.
On Thursday, I picked up our official, Event gift bags. Anxious to see what was in them, I reached into mine and the first item touched was the exquisite replica of Leonard’s drawing from the “Book of Longing” cover made into a pin, its brilliant colours intact ~ a love gift from Leonard. At home, the book’s cover sits framed as a picture, but now I could wear it, literally, anywhere. Next, I found the other beautiful pin, the silhouette of Anjani and Leonard dancing, with the words “Thanks for the Dance” and “Blue Alert” printed on it ~ tangible love between them, gifted to us. If I’d tried, I couldn’t have thought of better gifts than these precious pins.
The dynamic poster created by Kadir Ercan for the Event was included for our framing of many fine memories. Then, two CDs given to every single one of the Event participants by two Leonard fans, Richard McGraw and Simon Moorehead. A true and heartfelt generosity of spirit to share their lovely, creative efforts with each of us. We now have our own, “Sincerely L. Cohen” bumper sticker ~ what an understatement... and a user-friendly, necklace-style name tag, forever marked with “LC Event Berlin 2006,” yet convenient for future use as a name tag or key chain. A meaningful and thoughtful collection of items.
I saved the Event booklet for last, with more time to read it. Tall and slender, with top-quality paper and colour, it's a collector's item. Replicated on the cover is Kadir’s dramatically-angled poster with Anjani’s photo of Leonard’s face, and the eagle wings logo designed by Ania Nowakowska, the Event dates, and the call to all... “Let’s Sing Another Song.” On the inside cover is Kim Solez’s breathtakingly gorgeous close-up photo of Leonard in gray cap, with serious eyes and very slight, warm smile. On the facing page is the word “Welcome” in 16 different languages superimposed in white lettering over the midnight-blue, night sky behind a photo of Berlin architecture.
I had already heard about the excellence of Henning’s greeting inside, and now I was finally reading it for myself:
Welcome to Berlin, and let’s sing another song!
The story of the Leonard Cohen Events is a story of success. In the beginning, there were a few small tea parties in Holland, but with the rise of the Internet , and especially the initiative of Jarkko Arjatsalo and his creation of the best web-based source of information about Leonard Cohen, doors were opened to call a larger crowd for a meeting. After Lincoln 1998, Montreal 2000, Hydra 2002, and New York 2004, we now gather in Berlin to spend a weekend in the spirit of Leonard, to enjoy his music and his poetry, to relax and simply have fun in the company of people who have all found refreshment, encouragement, and motivation in Leonard’s work.
The city of Berlin has left behind a period of utterly devastating years. Evil commands came from here and led to the most unimaginable cruelty in the history of mankind. But when it all come down to dust, it’s time to start again and make plans for a better world. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a new vitality was installed, along with a lot of work and money, helping to make Berlin an attractive goal for travelers, and a peaceful place in which to live.
This year we are looking forward to several new Leonard Cohen items. A new book of poetry has already been released, a new CD, and a DVD have been announced. In the midst of all this, there is summer in Berlin, where a bunch of lovely heroes will sing like a bird on the wire, the songs of Leonard Cohen.
I really feel happy that I have been trusted with the chairman’s task. For once in my life I have got something useful to do, instead of hanging around and writing poems like “Charisma, please find me, I’m almost 50”! [after Henning spoke at the Saturday night dance party, I hunted him down so I could present him with a men’s cologne sample I’d brought from the States, and inform him that charisma had already found him, long ago... ].
May this series of Events remain a joyful occasion for Leonard Cohen fans to pack the bag and go meet friends.
It was impossible to read this and not be touched and consider all the work that everyone on the committee had to do to make all this happen, to make still another Leonard Cohen Event a glorious reality.
As I looked through the booklet, I found Diane [ “Diane” on the Forum] Williams's poem, the winner of the Forum’s Spring 2006 poetry contest:
Two girls climbing trees 'til sunset
wove endless chains of wild daisies.
Pretty you lay on warm green grass,
wreathed in happy white flowers.
Sharing secrets, swimming rivers,
playing games in shadowy woods,
forging a lifetime allegiance
in sun-steeped innocent hours.
Now you lie in oblivion
in the back of a long black car,
drowned in an abysmal shadow
where chill, still darkness devours.
Pale sad letters of your glad name,
are spelled by sprightly carnations.
Cold you lie in a box of wood,
wreathed in happy white flowers.
This tender poem paid tribute to a lifetime of love and friendship with her dear cousin, Joy. It was fitting that Diane’s poem would be included in the booklet for an Event where more lifelong relationships, including friendship, love, marriage, and children, are developing from year to following year; and where, through old and new associations, our hearts continue to merge, and other lifelong loves and friendships are forged... and we are going on, enduring together the losses of our own loved ones, here and in our private lives.
In the New York booklet, the piece written by Bobbie regarding Leonard was the one I resonated with; this year in Berlin, it was the words of Peter Dawson that touched me.
Simply titled “Leonard Cohen and Me,” Peter wrote:
In 1969, at university, suffering the usual student angsts, girlfriend trouble, father seriously ill, I called round to see a friend, hoping for a sympathetic ear. It was midday but he came to the door semi-naked, invited me in and said, “You’ve just got to listen to this.” He proceeded to play two albums - Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room. He was so excited by his new discovery that it was only when he had to get out of bed to turn the record over that he realized he hadn’t introduced me to his friends, “Oh, by the way, this is Jean and this is Sarah.” He was in bed with two women, one with long blonde hair, on with shorter, Mary Quant style black hair and panda-like eye make-up. My introduction to Cohen.
That same summer I was working in London and enjoying what the capital city had to offer a young boy from out of town, when I came across Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen in a library. I took it out on loan but, as things turned out, for the only time in my life, I failed to return it. The volume became mine.
Skip forward thirty-three years and I am sitting in a poetry cafe in Cambridge and strike up a conversation with a beautiful, interesting woman. We continue the conversation later in a pub. She blows my socks off! Her name is Lizzie. Later she is looking at my bookshelves and says excitedly, “You’ve got Leonard Cohen!” My introduction to Lizzie and the world of Leonard Cohen events.
Jonathan, of the two albums and two women, remains my best friend; Lizzie still blows my socks off!
Beneath Peter’s piece, at the bottom of the page, rests a small, colour photograph of daisies... titled “Daisies for Lizzie.” Daisies from Diane’s childhood, as she speaks her heart and love for her cousin, Joy, finds its counterpart in Peter’s piece, as he shares the serendipities of Leonard in his life, and speaks his heart and love for Lizzie. Impressive to me will always be the man who is proud of his love for his woman... and doesn’t care who knows it. He’ll tell the world. When I wrote Lizzie to ask for her and Peter’s permission to include his piece in mine, she further responded:
It is one of the things I first loved about Peter - his ability to be very expressive about his love for me and our relationship together. After living in a marriage wilderness for so many years, it is bliss to not just "know" I'm loved, but to feel it every blessed moment of the day and night. He has taught me a lot about expressing love to one another and we do it all the time.
In the Berlin photos, it’s easy to find Lizzie and Peter, without much looking. They are clearly in love and their hearts all but visible. Love in Berlin ~ in person and in the booklet... amongst other photos, there, is Kim Solez’s tender one of Anjani and Leonard at their dinner table, their smiles reflecting the clarity of their love, as well.
In the near-closing pages of the booklet is a piece titled, “Berlin - A Person Perspective within a Brief Historical and Social Context,” composed by Deutsche Welle and Andrew Darbyshire in April 2006, with some help of Wikipedia. I could quote it in its entirety for its worthiness, but will limit myself to this excerpt:
What the Berlin story demonstrates is the survival of the human spirit under every type of adversity, along with the capacity for people from diverse races and spaces to come together in a metropolis and, through the socio-political process, endeavour to rebuild and shape their domain in a way that continually tries to improve the lot of all within its confines.
Cohen’s music and writing is rich in its portrayal of the human struggle in all its dimensions, but thee is always a message of ultimate hope within it: that we are all in this experience together and that we can, not only survive it, but each one of us eventually find our way or find our peace. In this 21st century, Berlin seems to me to be real evidence of a city that is finding its way and is about reconciliation and peace. It has turned its past around with great resolve and now accommodates a coming together of a diverse range of people with various needs, working together with good will to rebuild something worthwhile for all its inhabitants: something which will stand as a powerful new monument that is in stark contrast to those that highlight aspects of its tragic past. On the other hand, as Wikipedia suggests, “Berlin is a magnet for individuals who are attracted by its liberal lifestyle, eclectic urbanity and artistic freedom.” On this basis, Cohen’s body of work and artistic reputation undoubtedly also finds a comfortable place in this culturally sophisticated city.
Last, but not least, we as Cohen fans surely come to this city with, not only excitement and enthusiasm about enjoying and promoting ‘everything Cohen,’ but also with as much good will as we can muster and bestow upon Berlin’s inhabitants. First we took Montreal, Hydra and Manhattan and now we take Berlin! We want our Berlin hosts to know that we are right there behind them in their critical 21st century endeavours to meet the needs of their populace (despite their city’s unenviable ramifications, we must cling onto that belief in basic human goodness, with the hope and energy that derives from this. So, out of all the bleakness of its past, something good is happening to Berlin and will continue to do so. In Leonard’s own words, from "Anthem":
You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
The holy dove floated softly above us in Berlin.
The clever graphic in the booklet was a small, colourful hummingbird. At the top of each page, the hummingbird is in a different flight position and is placed closer to the right on successive pages. The delightful result is that when you quickly fan the pages, the hummingbird flies.
Near the very end is a whole-page replica of another poster that hung in the church at the Event... with “Ring the beLls that still Can ring Forget yOur perfect offering THere is a crack in evErything That’s how the light gets iN.” This booklet was well planned. On the facing page [the inside of the back cover] is Eija’s stunning, colour photo of the treelike plant silhouetted in black against the sundown sky, Aegean Sea, and hills of Greece, taken on Hydra. Beneath it, “Hey, that’s no way to say GOODBYE ...” and “See you at the next Event in 2008 in Edmonton, Canada” ~ and let’s remember what we can’t forget... we’ll be on Hydra again in 2007. Yes, I could go on about this Event booklet... they’re reliably wonderful every time; however, what we want most is for you to attend and take home your own.
On the back cover is Lorca’s photo of Leonard, sitting with his legs crossed, hands in the pants pockets of his striped, gray suit, a serious and pleasant look on his face. The only words are at the top of the page... “you go your way / we go your way too ~ The Cohenites.”
We hope in coming years, you’ll join us, again ~ or for the first time. This Event promised to be a great one, and it turned out to be a promise that was wholly kept.