In Berlin for an Hour and I’m Already in Trouble

Monday, October 8, 2018

Berlin, Germany– The Hotel de Rome, the taxi driver told me, is one of the most “prestigious” in Berlin. It is impressive. It’s housed in what looks like a 17thcentury palazzo, but it’s unlikely to be that old. Most of Berlin was razed in WWII. Only a few buildings from the past, such as the Brandenburg Tower (a short walk down the street), were spared. However they restored the façade of the hotel, and they did a good job. The lobby is elegant and spacious, but not cavernous, as so many in hotels of this size are. I’m happy to be here.

The Hotel de Rome has 108 rooms and 37 suites. I’ve been allocated a junior suite. Waiting for it to be readied, I’m working in the smoker’s lounge (an unexpected plus), which has a large window that looks out onto the square.

There is a brochure on one of the desks with a photo of the Forte family, which owns this hotel and several more. I’ve never heard the name. I feel I should have. The photograph looks like it belongs in a Ralph Lauren catalog. The background is old wealth. The costumes are casual wealth. The father and mother look ordinary. Two of the daughters are strikingly good looking. The son not so much, his hair combed over to the side, glimmering from an overly zealous application of gel. They remind me of the Trumps. The Trumps ala Ralph Lauren. I tell myself to look them up.

As I said, the smoker’s lounge has a large window that looks onto the square. In the middle of the square, a man is playing the French horn. He’s playing Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E-Flat Major.  I know that because I attempted to play a section of it in a competition in 1962, when I was 12 years old. It was part of what was called The New York State Solo Festival. I won a red ribbon.

He plays the instrument beautifully. Not Dennis Brain, but close enough for these ears. I leave my work, exit the hotel, walk over to him, and stand there in front of him, listening. No one else is standing there and I’m not surprised. The French horn is not the sort of instrument one plays in a public square. Guitars and drums and violins and saxophones are fine. Even trumpets and flutes. But French horns? I’ve never seen it.

In any case, I stand there feeling mildly stupid until he finishes a phrase. Then I hand him a 20 euro note, enunciating the German phrase I’d looked up just a few minutes before. I say, “Du spielst schon.” Which I think translates as You play beautifully.

The man accepts the money but he’s looking at me oddly. I wonder if I got the translation right. In German, does “play” have the same versatility as it does in English? Does one playa brass instrument? In Spanish, you don’t play (jugar) a guitar, you touch (tocar) it. Could spielst mean play as in… Oh cripes, I hope not!