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THE WORST RECORD STORE OWNER IN THE WORLD

IT’S SOMETHING fine to find a Jackson Browne vinyl these days.
Not only does this satisfy a hipster need to buy music on wax, but Browne’s confessional songwriting, particularly his early work, is worth every attentive second.

Born on 9 October 1948 in Heidelberg, Germany, Browne’s understated, varied 40-year career has influenced a range of musicians across the decades. While never achieving the status of similarly-mature peers and friends (Dylan and Springsteen to note), Browne was the first artist to sign with David Geffen at his then Asylum records.It cemented Browne as an influential figure in west coast US rock. Browne’s musical web included hundreds of fellow singer-songwriters around Los Angeles in the late sixties and early seventies. Many of them achieved stardom themselves, in part due to Browne’s support. Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and The Eagles are just a few.

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I’m unsure whether it’s Browne’s German heritage, or frequent European tours back in the seventies, that owes to his popularity in Germany. He’s no German. His father a US serviceman, his mother a Nordic Minnesotan. And he’s no megastar. However, the volume of his music found second-hand is unlike anywhere else.

Walking the avenues of Berlin, thumbing musky record collections of various vinyl sellers, is a blessing for any music fan. Given Browne’s popularity, and the vibrant atmosphere of Berlin, an adventurous amble among this musical metropolis becomes my routine.

Halfway along the eclectic Kastanienalle in central Berlin, tucked beside a desperately ironic hipster café, branded with a garish upside-down McDonald’s ‘M’, Franz and Josef offers boxes upon boxes of used vinyl, across all genres.Beer crates of worn vinyl spill onto the pavement. The shop itself, tight and elongated, smells of rabbit food and stale cigars. Many of the thousands of vinyls on display show the marks of faded glory.

A handful of gems are hidden in stacks of vinyls outside the store. Genesis, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, The Clash, and of course Jackson Browne.

All of this within a few minutes. Five euros a piece. In Berlin beer terms, that’s five beers. It was a dilemma, but I’d sacrifice the cosy warmth of acceptable afternoon drinking for Browne. Nothing says dedication like avoiding a vice.

Then it began.

“Please leave,” a gruff male voice said. “Please stop looking at the records.” I continued browsing anyway. Perhaps this guy – mid-sixties, grey-haired, wide-eyed, high or a maniac – struggled with English.
“Please, go away,” he said. “I don’t like your kind. I’m calling the police.”

***
Uwe Trostmann is a Berlin enigma.

Searching for him online for his name reveals an address in Charlottenburg, a middle-class neighbourhood.An image search of Uwe Trostmann provides a few pictures, notably of his Franz and Josef record store. It also gives plentiful pictures of attractive German women in dirndls. Because Germany, naturally.

Not much is known about Uwe. Multiple forum threads and collections of online reviews – both in German and English – speculate he is a mental patient.

Others say he is a racist. Or a psychopath. Or a mix of them all. There is one agreed attribute, though. Uwe Trostmann is the worst record store owner in the world.

A bold claim, indeed. There are just as many pompous, arrogant, miserable record store owners as there are record store customers.

Yet Uwe takes the title because of his brash, nonsensical hatred of everyone. His arsenal of dismissal includes weapons such as “I don’t like your kind”, “you don’t speak German so I don’t care”, “you cannot afford the records in this store”, or the plain, yet reliable, “fuck off.”

Uwe is the only person to whom the hatefully clichéd bumper sticker I don’t discriminate; I hate everyone applies. (Well done, meme lovers, printed t-shirt wearers, and uncles who share everything on Facebook. I hope the persistence was worth it for this one applicable time.)

Uwe’s dislike for everything became so publicised that he was featured in a national German breakfast TV segment in 2013. In the piece, undercover reporters entered the store to buy records, only to be met with remarks such as “there’s only shit in this shop”, or “never come back to this store.”

The reporters speak ask Uwe about his actions, but he answers them rudely. At one point, he even cheekily thanks people for “every euro” they give.
The reporters speak turn to a lawyer who clarifies the illegality of Uwe’s statements. It’s all cringe-worthy, wide-eyed, bloated breakfast journalism, but it gives a decent insight into the man-come-potential-psychopath we’re dealing with here.

Five years after the piece, Uwe is still there. Still being a prick.

***“Please, leave right now,” said Uwe. “I will call the police.”
“To say what, exactly?” I asked. “To tell them someone is looking in your open shop?”

Uwe stared at me with anger for a second. A vein just above his right eyebrow pulsed with rage. His hand slowly slipped into the pocket of his baggy, over-washed cotton khakis for his telephone. Then, upon fingering the outline of his phone, he returned his right arm to chest height, and extended a finger forward towards my face.

“You must go now,” said Uwe, with a raised voice. He snatched the Jackson Browne vinyl (“Running on Empty”) from my hands and stuffed it into one of the vinyl crates at random, so I wouldn’t find it. Two pedestrians wandering past glanced with amusement and pointed. They probably thought I was a shoplifter, as they sniggered at my stunned silence and red face, glowing with anxiety and disappointment.

Uwe swivelled on the spot, strode the five paces to the door of the shop, and entered.

“Wait, what?” I protested. “Are you being serious?”

As he stared at me once more, mouthing something unheard, he flicked the sign on the door to “CLOSED”. Pretty serious, then.

I stood for a few seconds more. I wasn’t angry, just confused. Bewildered. Curious.

The drizzle transformed into a passing shower which, despite not dressing appropriately for the weather, made me smile. ‘Enjoy soggy records, you prick,’ I thought.

Inside, Uwe sat behind his small, wooden counter, feet on a box of vinyls, reading a broadsheet newspaper in front of his face. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.
With the intensity of the rain increasing, I headed north, towards a favourite pizza place of mine some five minutes away. It was always warm there, and the food is cheap. A bottled beer and any pasta dish or pizza for five euros.I pulled my phone out of my denim jacket pocket, shielding the screen from the droplets of rain. I searched for Franz and Josef; it was the first time I had done so.
And everything became clear.
Streams of Google Reviews with one star. Thousands of comments on forums, articles, and social media relating to the rudeness of this guy. And that YouTube clip from 2013.
‘As soon as you look at the records and books the guy just hits you with his almost physical rudeness.’‘This is the worst shop I have been in the entire life.
‘Money laundering shop. Otherwise how does it make a profit or just stay at least open? It just doesn’t make any sense that a rehab person like this has a record shop.’
There was even a news story relating to a famous DJ, Levon Vincent, who himself was kicked out of the store for browsing. Uwe revels in rudeness. He collects and publishes his worst complaints in a book titled “Rude”, available for sale in the store for three euros. (I’m baffled as to how he sells this book. No one is ever in the shop long enough to buy it. They complain online. The book adds more material but is still never sold. An odd business plan.)

I had to go back if only for a deeper understanding and maybe recover the Jackson Browne vinyl. Uwe is still reading the newspaper with his feet on the boxes of vinyls. The sign now says ‘OPEN’ though, so he’s moved a little, but not far.

This time, I walk in confidently, sure he won’t notice me if I just come inside the store unannounced. I approach the box near to where Uwe dumped “Running On Empty”, and he begins to acknowledge my existence.
His glasses appear just over the top of the newspaper and catch my gaze. He blinks quickly, two or three times, his mind processing the sight. Our eyes are still gazing at one another in the second he slams down his newspaper, firmly points a newspaper my way, stands quickly, and removes his glasses.
“You,” said Uwe. “I just told you to leave.”

Uwe doesn’t quiver. He doesn’t appear nervous. Barely angry. More despondent, apathetic, and mildly aggressive. But not angry. Yet.
“I know,” I responded calmly, “but there are some records I would like to buy.”

Silence.

Uwe looked me up and down, measuring my ability to buy. “But you don’t buy anything,” he said. “You just look. You cannot buy anything in here.”
“But I did want to buy something,” I said. “How can you tell on appearance alone?”

Silence again. Uwe collected his glasses from his worn beech desk and began fidgeting with them in his right hand. He took two steps forward, his weathered face a few inches from my nose, frown lines engraved by daily misery, breath pungent from coffee and cigarettes. 

He looked fed up. Hurt. Hopeless. And for the first time, slightly angry.
“I know your kind,” said Uwe. “You look, you touch, you do nothing. I know this. I have seen hundreds like you. The records are just five euros. Why don’t you buy one? It’s just five euros.”

At least this confirmed we hadn’t misunderstood each other. Uwe simply hates customers.

“I don’t buy anything because you wouldn’t let me,” I said. “I’d even found the records I wanted, but you’re so rude that I will not buy anything now anyway.”

Uwe laughed, loudly. “So you come back here to tell me you are just like everyone else? I don’t care. It’s a free country.”

“No,” I said, “I came back to ask why you’re like this?”

“Like what?”

“Rude.”

“Me? Rude? Ha, I’ve never heard that before.”

“Then why did you turn my away from your store?” I asked.

“It’s a free country. I tell people to go if I want to,” said Uwe.

By now, our responses have gathered pace. Sentences are no longer complete.

“But it’s illegal to simply tell people to leave and never come back. They even said that – “

“Oh, you’ve seen me on TV? I don’t care. You do as you want. Are you going to buy – ?”

“No, I’m not, because you’re still so fucking rude.”

“I’m fucking rude? You just swear and complain, and I am rude? Well you can fuck off.”

“See, you just prove my point,” I said. “You cannot see how that’s rude?”
“Man, I don’t give a shit. You go where you want. Do what you want. But never come back here. I will call the police now,” threatened Uwe.

“Go on then,” I dared.

The anger erupted.

“Get the fuck out of my shop. You come in here, telling me I am rude, asking how I do my business. I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Learn to speak German and fuck off out of my country.”

In a world without social conventions and downright decency, I would have punched Uwe. Really hard. Right on his large, greasy nose. In the second I processed this “fuck off out of my country”, my brain had scripted, recorded, and released an entire movie. I’d punch Uwe, some nameless goons in the back would flood the store, and I’d take them out too.

There would be a fight akin to the “Kingsman” church scene, with actors kicking the shit out of each other, regardless of whose side they are on.
I’d stand atop a pile of bodies as the police arrive, all of them shocked at my strength. Turns out I had beaten a local crime ring. This was my first step into the Berlin underground. And then the title credits roll, the music starts, the movie begins.

But none of that happened.
 
Instead I shook nervously. Sweat rolled down my face. I was embarrassed. Scared. Fragile. Uwe took one threatening step towards me, as if to lunge at me. I flinched. I turned. I walked towards the door, a six metre walk of fear.
“Don’t ever come back,” shouted Uwe.

“Fuck you. I never will.”

The door slammed and the rain fell. The number 12 tram rumbled past as I turned northwards, back towards home.***

Will Uwe ever cease to trade? Probably not. And if he did, he wouldn’t care. He’ll continue selling his self-published book of the complaints.
Uwe claims his store is “the best second-hand store in Germany,” despite high prices and his curmudgeon reputation.
The sad part isn’t Uwe’s delusion. It’s that the vinyl countdown has begun.
The vinyl world is already over-inflated with arrogance, snobbery, and pedantry, in both buyers and sellers. The fact it can even be considered its own community speaks volumes about these negative attributes. The community is music. It shouldn’t be format.

It’s this self-righteousness that, understandably, deters many music fans from venturing into vinyl. If it continues, it will halt the expansion of vinyl DJs, collectors, avid listeners, enthusiasts, and more.

Then you have the other arseholes of the vinyl world, like Uwe, who intentionally make vinyl shopping as uncomfortable as possible, typically to deter buyers whom they consider unworthy. These people with their superiority, their disdain for a middle-class hipster movement, seem determined to see the demise of vinyl, purely to keep the interest all for their self-selected elite.

That’s a shame that no amount of Jackson Browne will dispel.

On my way home, I jumped into OYE Records, one of the best record stores I have ever visited.

“Do you know the guy down the road who runs the Franz and Josef record store?” I asked.

“Him?” said the young guy behind the counter, slowly bobbing to thumping of the background ambient house. “I know enough to stay away.”
That makes two of us.


“I don’t buy anything because you wouldn’t let me,” I said. “I’d even found the records I wanted, but you’re so rude that I will not buy anything now anyway.”

Uwe laughed, loudly. “So you come back here to tell me you are just like everyone else? I don’t care. It’s a free country.”

“No,” I said, “I came back to ask why you’re like this?”

“Like what?”

“Rude.”

“Me? Rude? Ha, I’ve never heard that before.”

“Then why did you turn my away from your store?” I asked.

“It’s a free country. I tell people to go if I want to,” said Uwe.

By now, our responses have gathered pace. Sentences are no longer complete.

“But it’s illegal to simply tell people to leave and never come back. They even said that – “

“Oh, you’ve seen me on TV? I don’t care. You do as you want. Are you going to buy – ?”

“No, I’m not, because you’re still so fucking rude.”
“I’m fucking rude? You just swear and complain, and I am rude? Well you can fuck off.”

“See, you just prove my point,” I said. “You cannot see how that’s rude?”

“Man, I don’t give a shit. You go where you want. Do what you want. But never come back here. I will call the police now,” threatened Uwe.

“Go on then,” I dared.

The anger erupted.

“Get the fuck out of my shop. You come in here, telling me I am rude, asking how I do my business. I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Learn to speak German and fuck off out of my country.”

In a world without social conventions and downright decency, I would have punched Uwe. Really hard. Right on his large, greasy nose. In the second I processed this “fuck off out of my country”, my brain had scripted, recorded, and released an entire movie. I’d punch Uwe, some nameless goons in the back would flood the store, and I’d take them out too.

There would be a fight akin to the “Kingsman” church scene, with actors kicking the shit out of each other, regardless of whose side they are on.
I’d stand atop a pile of bodies as the police arrive, all of them shocked at my strength. Turns out I had beaten a local crime ring. This was my first step into the Berlin underground. And then the title credits roll, the music starts, the movie begins.

But none of that happened. 

Instead I shook nervously. Sweat rolled down my face. I was embarrassed. Scared. Fragile. Uwe took one threatening step towards me, as if to lunge at me. I flinched. I turned. I walked towards the door, a six metre walk of fear.
“Don’t ever come back,” shouted Uwe.

“Fuck you. I never will.”

The door slammed and the rain fell. The number 12 tram rumbled past as I turned northwards, back towards home.***

Will Uwe ever cease to trade? Probably not. And if he did, he wouldn’t care. He’ll continue selling his self-published book of the complaints.

Uwe claims his store is “the best second-hand store in Germany,” despite high prices and his curmudgeon reputation.

The sad part isn’t Uwe’s delusion. It’s that the vinyl countdown has begun.
The vinyl world is already over-inflated with arrogance, snobbery, and pedantry, in both buyers and sellers. The fact it can even be considered its own community speaks volumes about these negative attributes. The community is music. It shouldn’t be format.

It’s this self-righteousness that, understandably, deters many music fans from venturing into vinyl. If it continues, it will halt the expansion of vinyl DJs, collectors, avid listeners, enthusiasts, and more.

Then you have the other arseholes of the vinyl world, like Uwe, who intentionally make vinyl shopping as uncomfortable as possible, typically to deter buyers whom they consider unworthy. These people with their superiority, their disdain for a middle-class hipster movement, seem determined to see the demise of vinyl, purely to keep the interest all for their self-selected elite.

That’s a shame that no amount of Jackson Browne will dispel.

On my way home, I jumped into OYE Records, one of the best record stores I have ever visited.

“Do you know the guy down the road who runs the Franz and Josef record store?” I asked.

“Him?” said the young guy behind the counter, slowly bobbing to thumping of the background ambient house. “I know enough to stay away.”

That makes two of us.

Ashley Scrace

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