Going Dutch with German Writers (14) : Gin, Tonic, Cucumber, Thomas Meinecke

The DJ, musician and writer Thomas Meinecke is a star in his own right. When Katy Derbyshire goes drinking with him, he wows her with stories of revolutions and meeting the world’s most famous DJ ever. Plus music, literature, censorship and the world’s most delicious drink.

Remixing languages: Thomas Meinecke and Katy Derbyshire.
Remixing languages: Thomas Meinecke and Katy Derbyshire.Foto: Privat

Who?

Thomas Meinecke is a musician, DJ and writer. He lives in a Bavarian village and hosts the event Plattenspieler at Berlin’s HAU 2. His latest novel is Lookalikes and two of his books have been translated into English by Daniel Bowles: Tomboy and Pale Blue. I approached him at a reading from his book Analog, a collection of magazine columns about music, and asked if he’d like to go for a drink.

Where?

WAU, the bar/restaurant on the ground floor of HAU 2

What?

Thomas drinks red wine, I drink gin and tonic with cucumber and green tea.

What did we talk about?

Thomas is relaxed when we both arrive, which relaxes me too. He seems perfectly comfortable talking to a stranger, presumably through years of practice. I think we start with where we come from, respectively, and he tells me he’s from Hamburg but he loves Britain. His first time there was a summer as a paying guest with a family outside London at the age of thirteen in 1969, and he would take the train in via Croydon and spend whole days walking around the city. He wore out a pair of shoes over six weeks and when he got home his mother took them back to the shop and complained, and he got a new pair for free.

I ask was he one of those German kids who listened to BFBS, the British army radio station? A lot of music fans here have told me it was very influential for them. No, not so much, he says, but Hamburg was in the British sector of course and he’s always felt comfortable with British culture. There’s a tradition of strong relations to Britain in Hamburg, and later Thomas tells me he’s always felt grateful to the Allies for liberating Germany, reassured by their military presence here. It was an ambivalent feeling though, because the US was at war with Vietnam when he was young, for instance, and he knew those army bases weren’t just protecting Germany from fascism but launching missiles as well.

I prod Thomas a little about John Peel (the world’s most inspiring, influential and eclectic radio DJ), which was what I was trying to get at with my clumsy BFBS question. Out comes a tidal wave of anecdotes: his band F.S.K. was Peel’s favourite German band, some say, allegedly with the most Peel sessions after The Fall. That’s not true though, he says; they only did seven. Oh, only seven Peel sessions. I am awed. Thomas’s wife Michaela Melián, an artist, was living in London in 1984/85 and knew Peel liked the band, so she went to see him at the BBC. And Peel said, oh yes, it’d be great if F.S.K. could do a session for me, just give me your number so we can set it up. But Michaela was sleeping on people’s floors and didn’t have a phone number. So John Peel calls up his mother and checks with her, and then gives Michaela his mother’s spare door key.

Thomas’s wife stayed at John Peel’s mother’s house? Yes, she slept in John Peel’s childhood bedroom, and Peel, ever the gentleman, bedded down on the sofa when he was in town to record his radio show. His brother had split up with his wife and was living in the attic. And the mother’s lover, an actor, would swan around the house in a dressing gown. I am starstruck by proxy. It’s rather hard to find words for how amazing this anecdote is. Thomas tells me Peel was quite a private person and wouldn’t necessarily meet the musicians he asked for sessions, but they got on very well. When they went to a restaurant people came up and asked for autographs. Thomas Meinecke isn’t boasting; I think he’s just happy to have known John Peel and glad to be talking to someone who has an idea of what a pleasure that must have been.

Thomas is very enthusiastic about London: Maida Vale recording studios, 1980s Hackney and Dalston (very different to nowadays, of course). I am less enthusiastic about London because that’s where I’m from, so it’s my duty to be critical. He laughs, I think, because he feels the same about Hamburg. People ask him why on earth he moved to Munich (and then to a village outside the city) when he comes from such a great place. But he loves Munich – along with Barcelona, one of two cities in which anarchism was ever put into practice, in 1919, he tells me. I know that but I didn’t know about Barcelona. And Munich always has an SPD mayor, despite how conservative people think it is. He loves the city’s political history, and he loves the Munich disco tradition and the “mad kings of Bavaria”. He says it in English – he learned about them from the band The Mekons, in the northwest of England. The mad Ludwigs never waged a war; they were too busy with the arts and their castles. The man who would be king if the anarchists hadn’t kicked the royals out – he grins – is a little art collector with a poodle. He has lots of Kippenbergers and Polkes littering up his castle.

The Blogger: Katy Derbyshire

Katy Derbyshire is a London-born translator who moved to Berlin in 1996. She has translated many contemporary German writers, including Felicitas Hoppe, Francis Nenik, Clemens Meyer, Inka Parei, Dorothee Elmiger, Simon Urban, Sibylle Lewitscharoff and Christa Wolf. She likes talking about books.

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