It’s “Thanks for the memories,” in English, or “Vielen Dank fuer die Erinnerungen,” in German.
They were two old friends on the stage together; he, with his trumpet and she, with her beautiful voice, performing, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” This pair has a history together of music and memories. But together, they also share one special memory of another performance, a history-making moment, 20 years ago.
Jebry, or Judy Branch, singer with the Marco Island Paradise Jazz Band, was performing in Berlin, Germany, with internationally renowned Jimmy Wallat and his Magnolia Jazz Band. They were appearing at the famous Jazz club, Eierschale, in Berlin’s Dahlem district.
Wallet and his wife Ingrid traveled to Florida for the first time in March 1989. During their stay, they visited the Old Marco Lodge, where they heard the Marco Island Paradise Jazz Band. Jimmy got to sit with the group for a great jam session and decided then to persuade Jebry, along with her husband, drummer Bobby Phillips, and the rest of the band to come to Berlin to perform.
The band made the trip to Berlin on Nov. 9, 1989, with Jim Martin on trombone, Punch Thomas on coronet, Jack Maheu on clarinet, Jimmy Andrews on piano and stand-up bassist Joannie Bucher, along with Jebry singing and Bobby on trumpet. Jimmy’s Magnolia Band met them at the airport and played a welcome session amid the passengers and crowds.
The show at Eierschale was later that same night. Both the Magnolia Band and the Marco Island band were playing on stage together. An enthralled audience of several hundred had gathered to hear the two bands play the Dixieland standards, “Struttin’ with Some BBQ,” “Bourbon Street Parade” and “At the Jazz Band Ball.”
That lasted until the emcee grabbed the microphone and started screaming into it. Jimmy remembers hearing him say, “Stop! Listen. The Berlin Wall has fallen! Hundreds of trabbies and thousands of East Germans are on the Ku-Damm!” Trabbies are little East German cars. The Ku-Damm is the main boulevard in West Berlin.
The Germans, of course, had been hearing about the wall coming down, but no one knew when, or even if, it was ever going to happen. Suddenly, with no warning, the moment had come. One thing was certain, the show at Eierschale was over.
Ingrid remembers the day. “The ninth of November was any date. We knew nothing. It was a normal day. Nobody knew this was such an important day in the whole world. Everything changed on this day. Morning, the wall. Evening, no wall,” she exulted.
Jebry and Bobby were taken aback. At first, they were just trying to get someone to tell them, in English, what was happening. Then, seeing the powerful emotions the event evoked in the Berlin population became moving and memorable to the couple.
“The Americans thought, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice?’ Then, we went outside and saw the intensity of it,” Jebry recalled.
Reminiscing with Jimmy and Ingrid during their March visit to Naples, Jebry remembered aloud: “It was a lovefest. Everybody was kissing, East and West Berliners. They clapped whenever an East Berlin car came by.”
“Because East Berliners didn’t have any money, they were invited to eat and drink in all the restaurants,” added Jimmy.
“Why are there so many banana peels?” Jebry wondered, upon seeing the fruit droppings all over the streets.
Apparently, fresh fruit was scarce on the eastern side of the wall, so it was one of the first things that the incoming East Berliners wanted. Later that night, Jimmy and Ingrid packed up the equipment and went home to watch the festivities on television, a telecast that lasted all night and for days after.
Jebry and Bobby went out to see what was happening on the streets of Berlin. “We went up on the scaffolding and looked down on ‘No Man’s Land,’” Jebry recalled.
“We could see how difficult it would be to escape,” she said.
As Jebry and Bobby explored life on the East Berlin side, it was small things that brought the reality home for her.
“The toilet paper they had was awful! I saved a piece of it, ‘cause nobody would believe it was so horrible. We found one of the best Chinese places we ever went to. It was beautiful. Right across from Check Point Charlie. We drank a lot of beer and Jagermeister,” Jebry said.
“It was a great experience, seeing new-found freedom, to see all the people pouring in,” said Bobby.
He was in the middle of a drum solo when the news broke at the club. He never finished that solo. The pair and some other band members wandered the streets, playing jazz, sometimes from the roof of a car, and joining in the celebration.
During the subsequent hours, Jimmy organized music to play at the city’s famous Brandenberg gate. It was a place where the journalists gathered and the nationals waited to see that gate open, after so many decades.
“It was the symbol of a divided country,” Jimmy said.
Music in general, and jazz music in particular, was a big part of that international celebration.
“Americans think jazz belongs to America,” said Ingrid Wallet.
Regardless of its roots, jazz quickly became a beloved form of music to the German people after World War II.
“We heard old German songs, classical, Rhineland–that’s what the Nazis liked,” she remembers. “Then, the war ends, and we hear on the radio something we’ve never heard in our life!”
That was the music brought into the city via radio by the Armed Forces Network. Before then, swing music was, “verboten.”
Ingrid heard a Woody Herman concert on radio and loved it. “I heard Ella (Fitzgerald) sing, and thought, ‘She must be an angel,’” Ingrid exclaimed.
The next day, everyone went down to the wall to harvest some of the bits of forbidden concrete that would always be a symbol of repression. Jebry filled up the pockets of her jeans and coat, tucking away as much wall as Bobby could chip away with his little chisel. She keeps one piece, framed, in her home.
That evening was the fifth Berliner Dixieland Festival, featuring around 20 bands. The Marco Island Paradise Jazz Band was the headliner, and Jimmy remembers that posters announcing the event read, “Berlin meets Florida.”
Some members of the group say that the wall collapsed because of Jebry’s powerful voice, but she claims she’s innocent. The two couples have a lot to reminisce about, as they try to piece together their memories of the events and details of an extraordinary time in history.