BERLIN - "This is the most respectable forum there is. I'm the first Israeli to appear here. It's certainly very exciting and amazing," Aviv Gefen said to Haaretz a few hours before taking the stage at Berlin's giant O2 World Arena, the final performance in his successful concert tour in Germany. With Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich and Leipzig behind him, Gefen certainly had cause for pride and satisfaction in his Berlin grand finale.
"It's idiotic to use the word 'conquest' to describe success but this is certainly a very, very, very big step and a leap forward from my point of view," Gefen said when we asked him how it felt to conquer Berlin. "It's exposure that's hard to believe. It's a giant step for me. We're talking about venues that are bigger than any we knew before," he added.
O2 World is considered the city's most important concert stage today. The giant arena hosts bands like Metallica, REM and U2 on a daily basis. Gefen had the privilege of opening for Nena, the veteran German pop star who won worldwide fame with "99 Red Balloons" in the 1980s.
They traveled across Germany together for three weeks: Aviv, 37 and the father of Dylan, 3; and Nena, who turned 50 last week, a young grandmother of two. Around 10,000 people heard them every day.
Nena chose Gefen to open for her after hearing one of his new songs on the radio. There were 150 candidates for the gig, but her choice was unequivocal - Aviv Gefen of Tel Aviv. "It's an honor and a historic opportunity to appear with Nena - she's the German Rita," Gefen said yesterday.
This was not Gefen's first time in Berlin - he has performed here seven times in the past few years, both solo and with Porcupine Tree founder and lead singer Steven Wilson, as Blackfield. The only time he refused to perform was on Holocaust Remembrance Day, earlier this month. "We were supposed to appear in Austria but I decided that as a Jew and an Israeli, there was no chance that that would happen," Gefen recalled. "It doesn't matter if there's a contract and a commitment, and they accepted it."
Another event that dampened the excitement of the tour was the closure of European airspace due to the Icelandic volcano, which forced Gefen to cancel a scheduled Independence Day performance in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv. Members of Gefen's organization joked about how his song "Cloudy Now" had fulfilled its prophecy, but Gefen himself felt very frustrated. "I was very sorry. It was murderously depressing. We tried everything possible to get to Israel - to take a bus and then a train to italy, or any other option - but we were simply stuck. It was very strange for me not to be home for Independence Day." To compensate for his absence, he filmed a song that was shown on giant screens at the Rishon concert. "Everyone sang along with us, it was really weird," Gefen noted.
Gefen is planning another tour in Germany, this summer - this time fronting his regular Israeli band. The Blackfield front is also not being neglected; Gefen and Wilson began recording material for their third album two weeks ago.
"I do a lot of work on the ground here. You need balls for this," Gefen says when asked to characterize his audience in Germany. "I don't know any other way. That's how I gained quite a following. But I also owe my success to German radio, which put us on the playlists, and to the management of this crack team," Gefen said, promising to produce "results very soon."
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