I have now lived in Heidelberg, Germany for a bit over a month and I feel like I know the city well. I’ve gotten to the point where I can give people directions and talk intelligently with residents about the area. But I was certain I knew Heidelberg well when I can talk about the “characters of Heidelberg” and the residents know exactly about whom I am speaking.
There are such “characters” in every busy city – the strange people who sort of have their own trademark behavior or look. Well, by walking down Hauptstraße everyday for a month, I have unavoidably observed each and every one of these “characters of Heidelberg.”
My first day in Heidelberg, I met, well more like encountered, this tiny, senile, old man, I lovingly refer to as “Herr Klatschmeister” (“Mr. Clapmaster” for those of you who don’t speak German). This hunched over, joyful man hobbles slowly up and down Hauptstraße every day. He walks up to people loitering on the street, he stands in the doorways of shops, he interrupts people’s conversations and looks people right in the face, smiles, and begins clapping his hands together in his own little rhythmic pattern, whilst cackling in a jolly sort of way. He continues to engage people in this manner for a good two to three minutes, not saying a coherent word, just laughing and clapping, and when he is finished, he utters a last goofy hee hee, waves a dopey wave, and shuffles away.
Another interesting “character” is the one dreadlock guy. This assumedly homeless man has amassed the entirety of his hair into one beaver tail-like dreadlock which goes down to his waist. I had the misfortune of sitting next to him on a bus and let me tell you, that dreadlock reeks!
Understandably, a lot of these sorts of “characters” are street performers; street performers frequent particular spots and make their presence obvious. There are some good street performers here in Heidelberg, but I am going to venture to assert that the vast majority of street performers here are rather awful. For example, there is a man who sits on his stool and plays this one song on his accordion day after day after day for the entirety of the day. The first time I heard his song, I thought it was rather nice and I may have even considered this musician talented; but when I realized it was the only song he ever plays, my opinion changed rapidly. I want to pay him to stop playing. The song is so grating for me now, that I have to suppress violent urges that stir inside me as the music passes through my ears for the umpteenth time. He is not the only one-hit-wonder musician on the street though. There is a woman who also has but one ditty to play on her accordion. I don’t think it is cruel to say that if these musicians have all this time to sit on the street playing the one song over and over, they can take a little of that time to learn at least one new song.
And while we are still on the topic of terrible musicians, I need to complain about him, who is without a doubt my least favorite musician on this street: The One-Armed Halo Drummer. The Halo Drum is not a commonly known instrument; it is a round, steel, UFO-looking structure that has flattened areas around the domed surface which, when struck, emit a tuned note. A remarkable instrument, really – a melodic percussion instrument. Well this One-Armed Halo Drummer has not grasped the melodic part of his instrument yet. This young man sits on the ground with his three halo drums and beats on them with sticks. He has no rhythm and no tune. He just beats on them like a five year old who found the five pound bag of sugar and greedily consumed it all. What upsets me most about this is that people actually give him money. I don’t know if it is because they pity his handicapped state or because they actually think the music is good. I am afraid that people are just not educated enough about the halo drum to know what a big disgrace he is making of the instrument, and so their first exposure to this fine drum is a bad one. I want to just make a general announcement to all musical performers: learn to play your instrument before you inflict your “music” upon the masses.
Playing a statue is a popular form of street performance in Europe, I’ve noticed. The best ones are those that you have to carefully inspect because you aren’t entirely sure whether they are people or just statues. We have one statue performer on Hauptstraße, but it is painfully obvious that he is no statue. Firstly, his costume isn’t very convincing, though not the worst I’ve seen. Secondly, he won’t stop moving for more than 20 seconds. He harasses passersby! I once saw him flick the hair of an old lady walking past him. Thirdly, he has a little bird-tweet whistle in his mouth that he uses to squeak at people. It emits a terrible sound and ruins the whole statue façade.
And finally there is a woman who dresses up like a tree and creepily smiles and slowly moves to wave at people. I don’t know what she is doing, but it is downright creepy.
Also, what is the obsession with dreadlocks in this city? I see at least ten people with dreadlocks a day! Men and women!