The police roadblock is set up just after the record stores, which is lucky, because that’s where we want to go. At the first store I buy an album of Russian folk songs and Ryan buys Hip Priest and Kamerads. We’re in there for a while and we forget about the police until we’re outside again. Some lean against their vans, eyes shut, absorbing the sun. Others are blowing steam off the tops of cups of coffee. There’s a picnic kind of atmosphere at the roadblock. What on earth are they doing?
”The Neo-Nazis planned a demonstration, but they didn’t turn up,” the man in the second record store says. He is very enthusiastic. “The anarchists are there, though. There are a hundred anarchists in between all the police. Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?”
No, we say, just browsing. He asks us if we’d like coffee. Sure! He bounds out to the back room and I can hear the sounds of a tap running as he fills the kettle. He brings a basket full of teas out for me and I choose Arabische. I’m not sure what is in it but there’s a nice camel on the packet.
I feel so good being in this shop, surrounded by records, with this enthusiastic man telling us about the Nazi demonstration. Every one of his sentences travels in a wide arc, they bounce with excitement. He is thrilled by the action. His phone keeps ringing and he speaks into it in bursts. I can hear other, excitable voices buzzing from the receiver. I look from him out the windows to the sunbaking policemen, their white riot helmets dangling from their hands as they yawn.
I sip at my tea a bit, then go off into easy listening land.
Upon seeing this, I have a question for the man in the shop.
“Can you explain Heino to me?”
I first encountered Heino in the book Incredibly Strange Music. Heino seemed too weird to be real, too good to be true. At the time I was learning Russian and I had a German guy in my class. I asked him about Heino and showed him the book, and he gave me a look of utter surprise. He was amazed that anyone outside of Germany would know about Heino. He described the busloads of old women who go to his concerts, and, most interestingly, that he is an albino. I have since realised that everyone who talks about Heino must mention this fact. In the break he went to photocopy the article, as he wanted to show it to his friends. “There will be many laughs tonight,” he said, famously.
Now I am unable to resist the chance for another explanation of Heino. As I expected the record store guy pounces at my question. He comes out from behind the counter and joins me at the Heino section. He flips through, purposefully, all the while explaining Heino.
“Do you know Schlager? Heino is the most famous of all the Schlager singers.”
”Does he own a restaurant?” I ask. (A Heino fact my fellow Russian student told me.)
“It is possible. Here, at first he is wearing the normal glasses,” he pulls out a very early Heino album. “And then he is wearing the dark glasses. He is an albino.”
He is obviously looking for something in particular.
“I am sorry to say that I have a Heino album, and I put it on when I want people to leave my home,” I say. I feel a bit bad about this. The guy obviously is proud of Heino in some way. I can imagine how you would feel proud of Heino, but I still can’t imagine listening to any of his dozens of records. The record store guy even sings excerpts as he flips past Heino after Heino. Every record cover features him on it, always with the shock of white blonde hair and the dark glasses. Heino’s house must be full of framed pictures of himself.
“Ah,” he says, taking out a Christmas album. Inside the gatefold sleeve is a pop up nativity scene. Mein Gott! I laugh and call Ryan in from the next room.
“You have to see this.”
“Coming!” he says. We feel very at home in the record store, what with the coffee and tea and chatter.
He joins us regarding the pop up nativity.
“Heino should be in it,” I say.
“Maybe he’s in the manger,” Ryan suggests.
The record store man starts to tell me about Schlager. He picks out some albums to put on for me, as examples, while explaining the structure of the one record company that existed in the DDR, VEB Deutsche Schallplatten. Amiga was the popular music branch of it. Now I noticed that every record in the section we were looking at had AMIGA in the corner. Amiga Amiga Amiga.
The first record he puts on, I know within 20 seconds that I will buy. It has that wide, warm 60s sound and makes me feel instantly happy. My friend is very pleased that I like it so much, and leaves me to listen as he bounces off to help some other customers, his blonde hair swinging. It is cut very straight, just below his ears.
I can imagine myself listening to this record at home in a few weeks time, lying on my bed, with all my reassuring clutter around me, taking me back to this one lovely sunny morning in Leipzig, looking at records with Ryan, dozy cops outside, drinking a cup of tea made by this surprisingly friendly man, who tells me, when I buy the record, to look after it, because it is very special.