Geoff Berner – Grand Hotel Cosmopolis – 2019


On November 1, Vancouver singer/songwriter/accordionist/novelist/political activist Geoff Berner returns with new left-wing Jewish music for our perilous times. Grand Hotel Cosmopolis is the first new klezmer-punk album from Berner since 2015’s We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians. Released on Coax Records in Canada and worldwide via Coax Europa (an imprint for Coax on artist run record label GiveUsYourGOLD in Berlin), a new label set up as a european bridgehead for Coax artists.

The album’s first single, “What Kind Of Bear Am I?”, was originally written for Gravediggers of Uzda, an experimental musical theatre production from director Jenny Romaine at the KlezKanada Laurentian Retreat. “Jenny told me we needed a bear song, for the bears working in the tavern scene, and handed me an academic paper by Robert Adler Peckerar,” says Berner.

“I am told that when the Polish Empire ran Belarus a long time ago, there were many restrictions for Jews and Roma people, but there was a special license granted to them alone. They were the only ones allowed to train and keep dancing bears. In the town of Smorgon, Belarus, there was a Bear Academy. They say that the whole town was devoted to the cruel work of the training of dancing bears. They say that when you arrived at Smorgon Station, a bear porter would take your luggage for you. That bears cleaned the streets with brooms. That bears served also in the hotel. All through the town.

Rob‘s piece talks about how dancing bears are symbols of the way Christians thought about Jews and Roma in a way similar to the way they thought about dancing bears—as creatures somewhere between animal and human..”

The video, by Jordan Lloyd Watkins, is the film noiresque journey of a bear through the less-polished spaces of Vancouver. “And as the lyrics go,” says Berner, “‘I pour the drinks, I hear the music, and I try not to dance, but sometimes I just can’t help myself no matter how I try, and you ask me, what kind of bear am I?’.”


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Since Whiskey Rabbi was released in 2005, Berner has been making klezmer music fused with the energy and rudeness of punk. The Globe and Mail called him “the avenging angel of klezmer,” and with songs like “Dalloy Polizei (Fuck the Police)”, Berner’s work is overtly political and controversial.

The new album and its title song are inspired by the Grandhotel Cosmopolis, located in Augsburg, Germany. The ‘Hotel’ was started ten years ago, when a group of activists took over an abandoned high school. Their vision was to turn it into an artsy, inexpensive hostel for travellers of all kinds, as well as safe and free housing for refugees and asylum seekers.

Half of the space in the Hotel is taken up by families of displaced people from Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, and many other places. These people stay for free or on a pay-what-you-can basis. They earn money and their first German work experience by helping run the hotel.

The word “cosmopolitan” is a slur that anti-Semites have historically thrown at Jews. Stalin and his henchmen preferred the term “rootless cosmopolitan” for Jews during the Soviet pogroms. The basic idea was that Jews, being town people – as Jews were historically forbidden to own land – were disconnected from the soil, and therefore decadent and corrupt.

For Berner, the idea of a party at the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, an oasis of welcome and relative safety for people on the run – in Germany of all places – is a perfect way to talk about Jewish solidarity with oppressed migrants, and about how good things are still possible.

That’s the goal of Grand Hotel Cosmopolis – to use the Jewish leftist cultural tradition to inspire people to defend the human values of decency and the right of every human being to a life of safety and freedom, while having a fun time doing it. You’re welcome to come stay awhile.

To support the actual Grandhotel Cosmopolis, go to



01 Not The Jew I Had In Mind
02 What Kind Of Bear Am I
03 Ven Kimsti
04 Would You Hide Me
05 Vilne
06 Grand Hotel Cosmopolis
07 The Drummer Requests
08 Oh You Survivalists
09 What Don’t We Just Take The Billionaire’s Money Away
10 Zog Nit Keyn Mol (Partisan Song)

Oct 12 – Prince George, BC – Theatre Northwest
Oct 19 – Chilliwack, BC – Tractorgrease Cafe
Nov 1 – Vancouver, BC – Chutzpah! Festival – Wise Hall
Nov 2-3 – Cumberland, BC – Woodstove Festival
Nov 19 – Vienna, AT – Klezmore Festival – Sargfabrik
Nov 20 – Viechtach, DE – Altes Spital
Nov 21-22 – Augsburg, DE – Grandhotel Cosmopolis
Nov 24 – Mainz, DE – Hafeneck
Nov 25 – Aachen, DE – Domkeller
Nov 26 – Köln, DE – Hängende Gärten von Ehrenfeld
Nov 27 – Speyer, DE – Eckpunkt
Nov 28 – Stuttgart, DE – Laboratorium
Dec 5 – Hannover, DE – Feinkost Lampe
Dec 10 – Dresden, DE – Societatstheater
Dec 11 – Bremerhaven, DE – Pferdestall
Dec 12 – Hamburg, DE – TBA
Dec 13 – Bremen, DE – TBA
Dec 14 – Berlin, DE – Supamolly
Feb 14 – Toronto, ON – TRANZAC
Feb 15 – Wakefield, QC – The Black Sheep
Feb 16 – Montreal, QC – Casa Del Popolo
Feb 21 – Peterborough, ON – The Garnet
Feb 22 – Guelph, ON – The ANAF


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