When confronted with the question of what I would do if stranded on an island, I respond that I am stranded on an island. It’s called Manhattan.
Living here is like being on Survivor without the possibility of winning a million dollars. Exploding radiators, lack of heat and the constant threat of eviction are perils I face daily. Luckily, my skyrocketing career affords me the luxury of occasionally leaving town to perform far from home. I’ve rocked exotic locales like Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin. I’m always grateful to get away, even if I’m performing for one heckling drunk at a Bennigan’s in Paramus.
So you can imagine my excitement when Lothringer 13, a gallery in Munich, invited me to be a guest speaker. Not only would I be leaving the two-block radius on the Lower East Side where I live and work, I would be leaving the country! The last time I fled American soil I ended up in London, where less than 24 hours after my arrival I nabbed a meeting with one of the biggest publishers in the UK. It was more success than I’d had during 16 years in New York.
"This is like your ‘Beatles in Hamburg’ phase," said my BFF, Faceboy.
"I know. I’m forced to leave my own country to find success."
Faceboy agreed to watch my Chihuahua, Jen Junior, while I was away. Even though Junior is better behaved than most children, she’s still not allowed to fly cabin on many international flights. (I hope you’re reading this, Richard Branson!) Luckily, I’d be gone less than a week: three days in Munich and two days in Berlin, where I’d also managed to get a gig.
Before leaving I emailed a British lover of mine (from the aforementioned trip) to let him know I’d be in Berlin. He said he would try to get a flight over. The great thing about Europe is that it’s so tiny, international booty calls are a possibility.
I spent the duration of my flight studying a handy German Language Survival Guide. Even so the only thing I could say upon arriving was "Ein bier bitte." Being a beer lover, I knew it would come in handy.
Patrick, my host from the gallery, met me at the shockingly clean Munich Airport, where all I had to do was pick up my luggage and hit the exit. "Isn’t someone going to manhandle, question or demoralize me?" I asked. We then took the also-very-clean S-Bahn to my temporary crib, a stark white room behind the gallery. It was almost like a padded cell without the padding -- the opposite of my cluttered, psychedelic abode back home. Patrick suggested I take a "disco nap" before he picked me up for dinner.
When I awoke, I found cheese, two giant pretzels and a big bottle of beer mysteriously sitting outside of my door. Germans are awesome.
Patrick and his friends took me to a Bavarian brewery where we drank surrealistically large beers that made my hands look tiny. Just lifting them strained my wrist. I would need rehab and treatment for carpal tunnel upon my return. I dined on a mushroom dumpling soaked in cream sauce, since part of drinking responsibly means coating your stomach in alcohol-absorbing grease and cream.
My talk was scheduled for the following evening. Since I only knew four people in Germany, I was shocked to find a crowd. My topic was the New York performance art scene and how it has used the Internet to reach a bigger audience. I won’t bore you by reciting the contents here, but if you’d like me to show up in person in your city, state or country with my insights, I’d be happy to comply.
Patrick had also asked me to show some of my videos. I started with Doo-Doo: Exile in Teletubbyland, where I play the "Pete Best of the Teletubbies." This I followed with an assortment of other wacky shorts. The audience applauded wildly after each one. When it ended, there was a mad scramble to buy my books. My sharpie practically gave out from the sheer number of autographs I signed. I felt like a mix between Andy Warhol and David Hasselhoff.
When the buying frenzy subsided, the crowd screamed for an encore, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s leave them wanting more. Plus, all I really felt like doing was having a few giant beers and talking to German men. One of the things I like about Europe is that the guys are far away. If things go south, they can’t ride their bike back and forth in front of the bookstore where I work or stalk me at my open mic.
One lanky fellow approached me and said, "You’ve inspired me to do a striptease!" and started to dance around and take off his clothes. Sadly I didn’t get to see him finish, as my hosts quickly whisked me away to another brewery, where I tried an assortment of beers with heads like cumulonimbus clouds.
The next morning I awoke at the ungodly hour of noon. Patrick and friends took me to a cloister in the Alps for -- you guessed it -- more beer! Despite my hangover, I was excited. I’ve been obsessed with the Alps since seeing Cliff Hangers on The Price Is Right years ago. We drove for about an hour before coming to what looked like the set of The Sound of Music and a cloister atop a steep hill.
Inside we sat under a sign that said, in German, "Eat and Drink but don’t forget to think about God." The main course was fried pig’s legs. They looked like Jen Junior’s limbs! I opted instead for bread and cheese.
We wandered through the cloister and into a small chapel, which had a sign above it that said "painful chapel" in German -- appropriate considering I was in pain. The cloister was breathtaking, but a few hours at church are all I can take, even if they do serve beer. As the sun went down we headed back to the city so I could catch a train to Berlin.
On the train I drifted off atop a luxurious couchette only to be awakened a few hours later by a woman rolling a cart down the aisle screaming, "Kaffee and Tee! Kaffee and Tee!" I opened an eyelid. It was 6:30 in the morning and I was in Berlin.
I checked my suitcase at the station, since I was now homeless. Not wanting to appear that way, however, I took an invigorating shower at a McClean, where I also reapplied my elf ears. From there I found an Internet café. To my disappointment, my British gentleman caller couldn’t make it. I was now loveless and homeless with 12 hours to kill before my performance. I decided to go sightseeing, taking in Checkpoint Charlie, the Old Museum and the Berlin Cathedral.
As night fell, I found my way to the venue where I was to perform, a bar called ä. The bar’s proprietor, a German hipster named Heinz, introduced himself and told a bald girl named Stefka to give me free beer. Accepting a brew, I sat down and studied the puppet show I had planned, as Heinz and Stefka ignored me and smoked cigarettes. Homesickness overwhelmed me and I wished I could at least be in Williamsburg, surrounded by hipsters whose snark is in a language I can understand.
I imagined no one would attend, that it was going to be a long night performing puppetry for a disinterested audience of two, but a slew of people soon showed up, many of whom were hot! Peter, the manager who’d booked me, arrived and offered his spare room as a crash pad.
I made friends and invited several people to go with me the next day to the Berlin Zoo to see Knut, the city’s famous polar bear cub. Sadly, most Berliners seemed to be "over" Knut. They told me he was now fat, bitter and sick of the limelight, like a child star who has had too much too soon. I couldn’t believe how quick Knut’s countrymen had turned against him.
I gave my map to bar-goers and asked them to circle neighborhoods that were interesting. I asked them, "Where is the weirdest place in Berlin?"
Most said, "This is the weirdest place in Berlin." Made sense, considering they’d booked me.
I started the show with an American history puppet show, followed by a reading from Reverend Jen Junior’s memoir, Don’t Call Me Rat Dog. Then I put on my videos, which were, again, a hit.
Afterward people par-tayed the night away. I met art students, actors and filmmakers. It was a lot like New York, in that many people were unemployed. At about 2 a.m. a small group of us went back to Peter’s, which was conveniently located across the street.
I partied till sunrise and crashed until noon, when I groggily made my way to the zoo. There I appeared to be one of about four visitors. I located the polar bear habitat, but Knut was nowhere to be found. I figured he was probably out knocking over a liquor store or off to Promises rehab so I waited patiently. He showed a few minutes later, strutting his stuff for me, his sole visitor. At well over 200 pounds, he was practically unrecognizable. Still, it was the only celebrity encounter of my trip.
Somehow, I spent the next five hours at the zoo. Narrowly escaping frostbite, I then took the subway to a part of town someone had circled on my map. Exiting the subway, I saw no one. I expected zombies to leap out at me each time I turned a corner.
I wandered down a deserted sidewalk and found a vending machine with a tiny troll inside. I put change in and instead of a troll, a shoelace with images of Barney on it came out. Not even two shoelaces -- one. I put more change in and another shoelace came out, this one black. I now had two mismatched shoelaces, no troll and no more change.
Defeated, I turned down a side street where a sign in front of a bar announced "Heavy Metal" and "Fußball." Fearful, I went inside. Covering one wall was a massive TV screen playing a soccer match – a German team versus Manchester United. Flanking the screen were two posters, one of the Grim Reaper and one of Lemmy from Motörhead. Heavy metal posters, cow skulls and soccer uniforms festooned every inch of wall space, including the ceiling.
The place was packed and everyone stared at the screen, mesmerized. Squeezing in between two dudes at the bar, I ordered a beer from a woman with a blonde mullet who was aided by a man with a black mullet wearing a Motörhead t-shirt.
I felt a bit out of place in my pink go-go boots and elf ears, but it turns out German Metalhead soccer fans are the friendliest people on Earth. I met several men with long, shiny hair and hands like boat oars who wanted to know if I had a boyfriend in New York.
Splitting at last call, I had just enough time to collect my suitcase and head to the airport. Boarding the plane, I felt strung-out, filthy and exhausted -- more like a rock star than an art star (minus the groupies and millions of dollars). I desperately missed Reverend Jen Junior and all of the freaks who make the daily treachery of Manhattan worth the effort. I was ready for my Beatles in Hamburg phase to be over.
REVEREND JEN is an art star, urban elf, troll museum founder and up-and-coming celebrity personality. She is the author of Reverend Jen’s Really Cool Neighborhood and Sex Symbol for the Insane.