Euro Tour 2015 Tour Diary
Day One- Lorrach
The flights happen without incident. This is a rare case of me flying with the rest of the band as I normally use frequent flier points and get placed on other options. Traveling with Leo it is important to be prepared. I have already memorized the German phrase “Das ist nicht von mir. Das ist Leo’s . Bitte nehmen Sie mich zu meinem embassy”. This translates to “That is not mine. That is Leo’s. Please take me to my embassy.” I just hope I can remember it when I am being flailed with batons at the border.
I sit next to a guy with the worst travel day I have ever heard. Chicago to Frankfurt to Kuwait City to some shit city in Afghanistan sitting on a jump seat on a cargo plane to try and track down a helicopter to get set down in a huge base somewhere else. He is a construction project manager that makes $125,000 a year. The downside is that he lives in a cinder block bunker with a roommate and spends his off time watching downloaded movies. He could go off the base but he would need a group of guys with machine guns and hope a bomb doesn’t go off near him. He spends 10 months a year like that and is somehow still married. No thanks.
The toughest part of transatlantic travel is the first day. The whole experience is a great magic trick. A person climbs into a metal tube. The next seven hours are spent eating bad food and watching crappy movies. Then you get out of the tube and it is morning in a place where everyone speaks in a manner you cannot understand. There is a technique however. It is a six hour time change, so generally when the airplane lands it is early morning where you have arrived. You have to adjust to your new time zone, so that means the first day is spent staying awake. There can be no sleep. You just have to power it out. Everything becomes dreamlike and murky due to lack of sleep.
We have a routine after having done this so many times. Christoph is driving us again. He is a detail obsessed punctual German stereotype. He will pick us up in the van at a pre arranged time/place in the van we rent from a company called LSD Trips. Why a company that rents vans to rock bands has decided it is prudent to paint “LSD Trips” on the side of their vans is unclear. Perhaps “Fuck the Police” or “Support Smugglers” was too wordy. Every single time we have been in one of their vans we have been pulled over by German police. “Das ist nicht von mir. Das ist Leo’s . Bitte nehmen Sie mich zu meinem embassy.”
In Germany the police can pull you over and search the car if the fancy strikes them. There is no concept of “just cause”. It is very unsettling to have German police demanding to “see your papers”. I always think that I will end up in a spartan room with a single light bulb where a sinister man in a black trench coat will calmly sit down and question me in terse language. He will never identify what organization he is from or what he is looking for, but there will be no doubt his authority is absolute. “Herr Miller… It is, how do we say? Interesting? That you have come to Germany and claim to have no information about recent events involving the smuggling of refugees…” Eventually I will be left crying and writing out some sort of “confession of crimes against Germany”.
We have to go to Wurzburg to get our rented gear. One of the most common questions I get when people discover we play overseas is “How do you get your equipment over there?”. The answer is that you don’t. Even if you wanted to pay the mammoth expense of shipping it over there, once the amps arrived they wouldn’t work because it is a different electrical system. We bring our guitars, a snare drum, bass drum pedal, cymbals, and my microphone. That means we rent everything else. This leads to little businesses like Navigator, who has rented our gear for years. When we first started renting from him he was in a modest little garage. Now he has a huge warehouse in an industrial park with a mountain of top quality backline. There is no doubt he will make more money on most tours than the artists he rents the equipment.
We pick up the gear and head further south to Lorrach. This is a small town on the Swiss/French border with Germany. BMWs and Audis rocket past us on the autobahn. I try to stay awake in the front seat. I fall asleep in the middle of a story Christoph is telling me. Sugar starts snoring behind me loud enough to wake me up. We drive and drive. The sun goes down. At complete nightfall we reach the club. It is 7pm. I don’t even know what that really means at this point. I walked into the Cleveland Airport late afternoon on Thursday. Now it’s 7pm Friday and I still haven’t had any real rest. We have arrived for our first show.
Heimat Hafen is a well put together club with a pirate nautical theme. I have no idea if we are near any body of water so I question if there are any real pirates around. This is coming from a guy from Ohio in a cowboy hat. I walk in and immediately get a Lasser Pils. My gameplan is to keep a constant flow of this pilsner going into me to make it through the show. A rookie might slam coffee and energy drinks, but that will only result in a sleepless night that will result in complete madness and insanity on Day 2. I have found that if I tie on a manageable buzz, I can surf through these rough waters and make it standing to the next day. I will drink this frankly outstanding beer, play the show, and then fall asleep in a heap.
We head downstairs to the restaurant to eat. We are going to be set up with enormous burgers. Our friend Mr. Evil has arrived with some nice people he knows across the Swiss border. Evil gets the enormous burger and what can only be called a cauldron of carrot soup. I did not know it at the time but this soup is specially prepared with a local alcohol added after the soup is poured making it in reality a 80 proof 700 oz carrot soup shot. This will later explain how Evil becomes as drunk as a British sailor on leave.
The show is the first trial for Sugar to play bass with her broken arm. Six days ago she was doing some hillbilly shit with Pete and fell. This has resulted in a fracture in her right arm. The good news is that the break won’t stop her from playing but she will have to “manage the pain”. She has a splint she puts on during the day, and then wraps an ace bandage at gig time. I have to hand it to her, she is tough as nails. Not everyone would have the toughness to do what she is doing nine times in a row. Sugar appears primed with painkillers and alcohol. I hope she doesn’t die in her sleep tonight.
The show goes better than expected. We play pretty well all things considered. We are trying by trial and error to figure out which songs are difficult for Sugar to play. Of all songs, our swamp blues cover of The Exploited’s “Dead Cities” is a tough one. Who would have guessed that one? We play an encore and finish.
After the show I sign a lot of LPs. We are sleeping in a band apartment upstairs. They are individual rooms but are in midst of construction. I have a nice bed with covers that also has unattached new pipes coming out of the wall. The lighting are these little discs that you can place where you want on the floor. I head up to sleep after considering going to another club nearby with a gaggle of German guys that have surrounded two little Swiss girls. It hits me that I am the prize they can bring with them. “Hey! Look everyone! We found an American cowboy!”. I recognize that this is a stupid idea and go upstairs.
I pass out immediately. After what seems like hours I wake up needing to piss badly. I walk down the pitch black hall trying to remember where the bathroom is near Christoph’s room. After a successful mission I walk past one of the doorways in the long hallway to see Sugar standing there in a bra. WTF? Why is she almost naked with her door open? What time is it? How is she still up? I walk back to my room to note it is 447am. Sugar has been awake for 46 hours. Insane.
Day 2 Stuttgart
I am awoken by Christoph at 10:15 am. It seems like I have been sleeping for 11 minutes. I am tired and my game plan of drinking an ocean of beer has clearly backfired. I am now jetlagged and hungover. Hopefully a breakfast will get me headed in the right direction.
The guys that own the club also own another place a few blocks away that serves breakfast. We load out the mountain of gear into a tiny entry space in the club, and crawl over it to make the short walk to the breakfast. The meal is served by a staggeringly beautiful girl that is the complete stereotype of the German ideal with perfect cheekbones, strong jaw, ice blue eyes and perfect blonde hair. Her English is also surprisingly perfect. I ask her how she manages to speak English so well. “Because I am from New Jersey.” Oh….
Christoph had pulled a gaffe that is uncharacteristic of his almost insane attention to detail by forgetting our stashed European ride cymbal in his car when he made the van pickup. Luckily for us last night the club had a house drum kit with a perfect substitute cymbal for us. Christoph, ever resourceful, takes the cymbal while packing the drum kit as we will need it for the tour. “I will return it when we get back. I’m just borrowing it without asking.” This seems completely reasonable in the empty club while nursing a hangover and jetlag. Christoph now believes he has cleansed himself from the earlier faux pas and may now be even ahead of the game due to his quick pivot. He walks to get the van positively beaming.
In what will become a theme for this tour, our van is completely hemmed in, in this case by a peppermint colored shitmobile of a car. While Europe has amazing history and charming small streets, it really fucking sucks to try and park an extended length van. Making matters worse, parking for the residents in these towns takes on a “fuck it, I have to park it somewhere” attitude that often leaves your car penned in with the offending car owner that jammed you up nowhere in sight. This is the case again this morning. We suspect that this little pink car is owned by a heavily tatted up woman we saw open up a tattoo studio next to the club. I suggest we bust into the studio screaming obscenities in German while busting the place up to get her to move her shitmobile. Luckily we decide against this tactic as it turns out the car’s owner is a Turkish guy that works in the kebap shop around the corner. That would have been awkward.
We are headed to Stuttgart, one of my favorite cities in Germany. We will be headquartered around town in separate accommodations as this is Christoph and his sister Antje’s home turf. Leo and Sugar will stay at Antje’s apartment. Gary will be dropped at a hotel run by an unpredictable Chinese woman. I will be staying at a friend of Antje’s named Oliver, who I have never met. Sugar and I stop at Antje’s to grab a shower while Christoph and Leo do the load in at Goldmark’s. After the shower I walk to a “posh” grocery store to stock up on obscure local wines that I have decided to taste my way through tomorrow on our one day off. The store is Feinkost Bohm, like a pretentious Dean and Deluca with obscenely priced specialty goods. An extremely well-heeled posse is ushered into the private reserve wine cave filled with Lafite Rothschild and Vega Sicilia vintages. I scour the local wines, and when wanting to check out the reserve area I am looked upon like a criminal and am required to have an employee stand next to me. Granted, I am unshaven, wearing a baseball cap with a skull on it, and am wearing a “Schimanski jacket”. And what is a “Schimanski jacket” you ask?
I had purchased a jacket last year at Lucky Jeans that is sort of a modified fatigue jacket with a bunch of pockets. I thought it was kind of cool, but what do I know? It turns out that this jacket is a close approximation of one worn by ex-German 1980s TV detective character Horst Schimanski. He is sort of like an ill-tempered Magnum PI that yells “shit!” every two minutes when not grabbing people by the collar to shake them down for information. From what I saw on youtube he is sort of like a cranky Jim Rockford. All I know is that I am not the epitome of style I thought I was after learning about Schimanski. The rest of the tour is spent having the others ask me things like “Where did you put your Schimanski jacket?” and “Do you have room in one of your 17 pockets in your Schimanski jacket for my (fill in blank)?”. The whole jacket thing kind of blew up on me…
We play at Goldmark’s, a good club by the subway station. It’s Halloween. Our friend from previous tours Robin is the promoter. He is always on top of details, so we know this show will be good. He’s a pro. As in the past his mother cooks us an amazing traditional regional German meal. I have no idea what it is called, but it is sort of like matzo balls with a pork and mushroom gravy poured over it. It is the very definition of “stick to your ribs”. We eat at a long table in the back of the club as patrons start to gather outside waiting for doors to open. There is a real energy in the air. Tonight is going to be really good.
We are playing two sets tonight which could be a real test for Sugar. I help wrap up Sugar’s arm in an ace bandage. We get a couple of shots of Fernet Branca to help with digestion. I walk into the club to get a couple of local beers, Suffig Frisch and Wulle Biere. The club is starting to fill up. I can feel everyone’s eyes on me and see people nudging each other with a “there’s the singer” whisper. I’m usually really comfortable with that sort of thing, but I’m sort of freaked out with nervous energy and I retreat backstage. I knock back one of the beers and decide to take a walk to help get the rest of my heavy meal settled. The park is filled with Turkish kids playing awful music on their mobile phones and people in costumes heading to the club.
I’ve played a lot of shows, but I will say on the record that this one is one of my favorites I have ever played. The sound is good. The crowd is great, packed in like sardines and giving us back lots of energy. A group of people stand in front of me singing back almost every lyric. In the middle of it I’m taken in by how lucky I am to be able to play halfway across the planet to a large audience that is this into the music the four of us are making. Most people never get this type of experience, much less 25 years after they first shakily got up on a stage. There is no way to translate this to anyone else I know except other musicians. It’s what we call “a good gig”.
After the show we grab beers and towel off backstage. Gary scatters off not to be seen or heard from again until Monday. . Leo disappears to the park for some sort of recreational smoking. Sugar puts a bag of ice on her arm. Sugar, how was the show for you? “Well, did you notice that one time when I went way out on the front of the stage? I was shivering the pain got so bad, so I figured if I passed out the crowd would catch me when I fell.” Damn. I had a better time than she did.
I head into the club and pose for a million pictures. A woman that is a well known model is dressed like a zombie and wants her picture taken with me. I see her on billboards the rest of the trip advertising an airline. This rock music thing is OK. Her companion is a fashion designer from Spain that designs $200 t-shirts sold at couture shops. We talk cars for an hour until a Hell’s Angel “supporter” sits next to me on the couch. He has one of those “81” shirts going. That is the clever way they show support for Hell’s Angels. “H” is the 8th letter of the alphabet and “A” is the first. 81? Get it? The Hell’s Angels in Germany have an interesting place in society. They not only run parts of every red light district in major cities (an above ground business here), but also have merchandise stores. They sell t-shirts with “Support Hell’s Angels” with various logos. I love that clunky English translation. How exactly does one support a semi-criminal motorcycle gang? Go to prostitutes? Buy the guys beers when you see them at a bar?
The crowd is still really large. People are dancing to a really good DJ playing rockabilly and blues records. A young girl with multiple piercings dressed in a Boy Scout costume approaches me. She asks me questions about Sugar? “Is she married?” Yes. “Is she mono… mana… monog?” Monogamous? “Yes!” As far as I know. “I want you to tell her I want to be with her.” OK, sure. “You make this?” What are you asking me? If I want to sit in a chair really creepy swirling a mixed drink while I watch you two get it on? “Yes! That is fine!” I found that a little unexpected. I tell Sugar about her opportunity to mix with the locals. Sugar laughs. The Boy Scout girl watches from the wings with a hopeful expression.
I talk to an Australian guy and his German girlfriend. Imagine a really bad Crocodile Dundee impression for the voice. “Eh mate! Ya gotta play the Corner Bar in Melbourne! You’ll kill ‘em. Yeahhh… The Corner Bar in Melbourne mate!” I like this guy. He can’t believe I know about Australian cowpunk bands like Beasts of Bourbon and The Johnnys. The Boy Scout costume girl comes back over. “Why does that girl get to dance with Sugar! I am so jealous.” pointing at Leo and Antje. I gotta get out of here. The situation is deteriorating. I look for Oliver, my host for the next couple of days. He’s sweating, dancing, drinking a giant beer.
I convince him to go. It’s late. We walk a couple blocks to his place in the city center. His apartment is actually at the top of an office building. It’s the only residence for blocks. Downstairs from him is a bookchain like Barnes and Noble and a gym chain called Jonny M. We take a freight elevator to the top of the building. It’s really weird. I am totally ready to crash. Oliver asks “Greg? Do you want to join for a…ah… what do they call it? The last drink of the night?” A nightcap. “Yes! A nightcap!”
And this is how I found myself drinking single malt Scotch at 5:15am on top of an office building in downtown Stuttgart on Halloween.
Day 3 Stuttgart Off Day
I wake up at 11. It feels really early. I shuffle off to the strange Euro shower to get it together and literally almost run into Oliver’s wife Krissi. She has just returned from a visit with her mother to discover her apartment is in shambles and a strange American man in his underwear in her hallway. This can't be what she expected to find at almost noon in her home. Though I didn’t notice last night, Oliver had hosted a party where a bunch of dudes came over to eat poached eggs, drink heavily, and watch a rugby championship on TV. That must be how one watches rugby in The Fatherland. The whole scene reminds me of coming down to my college kitchen to survey the damage from the party the night before. It is a little out of hand. Rudy the cat stares at me with contempt.
It is Sunday. It is a holiday. It is Europe. Everything is closed. 85% of restaurants are closed, all stores, and anything you need is unavailable unless you can get it from a gas station. What the hell do these people do when they need to buy a rubber raft or fish sticks? What kind of savages are these? I am ravenously hungry. Oliver hears me rooting around in the wreckage of the kitchen and gets up, though it appears it is quite painful for him to do so. A man that I left drinking scotch shortly before sun up is not generally in the mood to "do brunch". I beg him to stay in bed as I am self-sufficient, but he is a good host. We scrounge up the leftover egg whites from yesterday’s egg poaching party that he inexplicably saved and toss in some weird ass sausage from what can only be called a meat brick. There are two slices of bread in the house so we each get one piece of toast. Afterwards I get to work on projects for the Level 4 wine certification I am pursuing.
I had made plans that afternoon to meet my friends Andi and Anji at the art museum which is located conveniently next door. The apartment is sort of wild. It is on the roof of a commercial building, the apartment originally constructed for a maintenance person to live in. This two bedroom place has the entire roof of the building as a terrace. There are no neighbors in a half mile in any direction. They have had full bands play parties on their roof. Slayer could set up to play and no one would complain. It’s pretty cool to be in the middle of the action, yet have a totally secluded apartment. I pull myself up to the edge and look across the city.
I go to the museum for the jazz age exhibition. The museum also boasts a large collection of Otto Dix paintings, one of my favorite German artists. Anji and Andi get their signals crossed so we miss our rendezvous at the front door. I walk around the modern art museum amongst German visitors and their clunky black eyeglasses and functional footwear. It was worth the trip for the Dix paintings alone. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Pollock. Max Beckman. There is also a repetitive film loop of a topless Josephine Baker dancing while 1920s jazz plays over it. How very artsy. My phone buzzes with a text message from Christoph. “Just spoke to Sister Ant. She just got up. The others are still sleeping.” It is 4:52 pm.
In front of the museum a large group of Turks or Kurds have gathered around a flimsy temporary stage. Fast paced traditional music blares with some guy wailing on a lute looking stringed instrument. He’s really good. Flag waving men and women in head scarves dance in a circle. After the music stops, a different man grabs the mic and starts yelling about something. He makes that mistake that people who are unfamiliar with PAs make and think he needs to shout because it is a large area and crowd. This results in him sounding like a distorted “Mmmphh MM Ma FuhMah MummpH!!!!!!” No one pays attention to him, the young people talking amongst themselves. The music starts again as does the dancing. It’s a political rally of some kind, but since I don’t read German I have no idea if it is Kurds pissed off, other people pissed off at Kurds, or maybe just a protest about utility rates. People love holding banners in Europe though. Bored looking riot cops look on holding batons. It is sort of like a Turkish high school dance with dudes in beards waving flags with the possibility of being beaten by guys in helmets.
The Turkish population and their place in Germany is interesting. The Turks came into the country after WWII as the young German male population traditionally used for labor had all been killed off in the war. There was a need and Turkish men filled it. Young men from Turkey came in to work in construction with the idea that they would leave after making money. The Germans assumed they would leave as well, so no one really worried about the idea of this population assimilating into what is a very homogeneous society. The problem is that the Turks never left and now this disenfranchised group of people is still here, part of but not totally a part of Germany. In any city in Germany there are right now a group of five swarthy looking Turkish guys smoking cigarettes by the train station passing suspicious looking sideways glances. Their friends work at the kebap shop around the corner, or in the internet cafe that sells cheap mobile phones.
I don’t know how this will play out on the long run, especially with the flood of Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees flooding into the country. The rhetoric from the country is one of assimilation, but I can’t imagine young little Greta bringing home a dark haired Syrian boy and introducing him as her love to her father Hans. Hans isn’t going to backslap this kid and say “Shamir! You gotta bring the family over for sausages and wheat beers! Or if you’d like, we will head over to your place and eat some tabouli!” It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I think there will be a rise in “nationalist” political parties much like in France. The German people are very pragmatic though and will find a way. The fascinating thing will be to see how they get there.
I head back to the apartment where I finish my written wine assignments. Now it's time to launch Operation Local Wines. My plan is to drink my way through the wines I bought yesterday. I bought a bunch of wacky ass grapes I've never had before. As soon as Sugar and Leo had gotten wind of that yesterday, they were all in. They decide to come over to the apartment to fetch me with Sister Ant, so I open a weissburgunder (which turns out to be a different word for pinot gris) while watching the American Armed Forces Network feed of the London NFL game. During commercial breaks they cut to a slick studio where German guys in mullets talk about what is going on with the game. It's really odd. I wish I knew what they were saying. Oliver, Krissi and I talk about all kinds of topics while watching the Jags beat the fuck out of the Bills. It’s not easy to explain the appeal of Donald Trump or the problems of gun control in America to logical strangers by the way.
At 630p the crew shows up and I open up a Silvaner. We hang out for a bit but I am ready to go. I feel like I am imposing on these nice people. I am also totally starving as all I have had to eat were those egg whites 7 hours ago. Meanwhile Sugar and Leo just had breakfast in the gathering dusk 45 minutes ago. I am so hungry I might eat my cowboy boot. We walk back in the fog to Antje’s apartment hoping to not be attacked by a werewolf. This being Sunday night in Germany, every restaurant we pass is closed. I might have to kill a squirrel. Antje makes me a really nice spaghetti meal and even a starter of crazy beet root and horseradish spread. I open the rest of the reds (which were pedestrian at best). We watch some Schimanski videos on youtube. Based on what I see, it appears that this jacket of mine will lead me to solve crimes to help ballerinas and I will probably throw someone through a window. It’s great to have that to look forward to this week. I walk back to the apartment in the fog.
Day 4 Villengen-Schwennigen
The game plan is to meet at Goldmark’s at Noon. Christoph has promised us a trip into The Alps to a special restaurant that serves Swabian specialties. We drive through twisting and turning roads into small villages. The little towns set into the hills look like West Virginia, that is if West Virginia was well kept and had a sense of orderly style. When we stop at a flooring store at an industrial park Christoph announces “Surprise! The restaurant is the house of my mother!”. He loves his carefully planned little surprises. We are excited to eat his mother’s cooking though.
We go into an immaculate apartment. It is well lit and airy. It feels very comfortable. Christoph’s mother is an elderly woman, yet dressed in a youthful style with jeans and trendy belt accented by fashionable sneakers. Her male companion Heine sits in a chair and greets us cordially. We learn that he owns the store downstairs and has retired from the flooring business, leaving his sons and grandsons to work it. Leo is very excited to see a fellow floor man. “I also do floors.” Heine stares at him because he doesn’t speak English. Leo moves into his tried and true method of when someone doesn’t understand what he is saying, he just says it louder. “I ALSO DO FLOORS!”. This proves to be ineffective. Christoph translates. Heine smiles and shakes Leo’s hand.
Christoph’s mother has the meal prepared. We start with Fritattensuppe, a chicken tasting broth with thinly sliced pancakes acting as noodles. It’s really good. We then move to the main event, Schwäbische Linsen mit Spätzle. This is allegedly the representative dish of the region. Spaetzle noodles with lentils spooned over them with sausages. It’s great. It is the sort of dish that every kid argues his mother makes best, and in this case Christoph might be right. Also is a side of pork belly which I am advised to top with Wurze, a kind of German A-1 sauce that people put on everything. It’s the right call. A nice crisp Rothhaus pils washes the whole thing down. Now, where can I take a nap?
We head into the Black Forest. Villengen-Schwennigen is the destination. We played here a couple of years ago and it was a blast. The venue is a place called Café Limba. It is a tiny room by American standards. Hell, it’s a tiny room by European standards. Imagine if you turned your apartment living room into a nightclub. And had bands. It defies all logic, but it works. The owner is Bernhard Zipfel, a big bearded iconoclastic pleasure seeking force of nature. Through his enthusiasm for the music, the whole scene comes together. He’s happy to have us back and we are happy to be here.
It’s a really weird place to play. We set up on the floor by the front window. I notice the bar seems smaller, and then Zipfel explains that to accommodate another show they just took an enormous saw to the bar and cut part of it away. It’s that kind of place. Despite being smaller than my living room, the Limba hosted one of Germany’s top charting bands last year right before they broke. Vibe is everything. When we start the place is packed full. I have audience members eight inches away from me. I wrote the set with the idea of starting slow in speed/volume and increasing the energy as we go. These Black Forest folks have the reputation of being the hillbillies of Germany, an idea they warmly embrace. The energy builds. People start slamming into each other. I see beer being sprayed around. People are starting to jump up and down. We are playing faster and louder material. I would normally suggest kicking out the rowdiest guy, but he’s the owner of the joint. Where do you go from there? This thing is on. He and his close friends are the ones that are taking this thing to the brink. One muscular guy starts doing the classic Circle jerks mosh dance. It’s getting unpredictable.
The key with these punk rock shows is to never show fear. The crowd must know you are the lion tamer or things will careen off the rails. I lean in and out of the chaos, careful not to let a flying body knock into my mic stand and knock out a tooth. A man gets shoved into Gary, by the owner if I’m not mistaken. Gary looks like he is just about to freak. Every time he looks down at his guitar, some grown man gets tossed in his area. It is a bit unsettling. Christoph starts to play bodyguard and shoves people away from Gary and his pedals when they fly in his direction. It’s at the brink. I slow it way the fuck down with a couple of murder ballads. We encore with “Greasy Box” and I almost fall off Leo’s drum kit while making a grand gesture. They want more, but Sugar’s arm is only going to take so much. The show ends. Afterwards Christoph says, “I saw you did not go into those last three songs on the set list. If you did, it would have been like an atom bomb.”
People spill out into the street finishing drinks. The no smoking sign in the club is barely visible due to all the smoke in the room. Sugar walks outside holding two hotel keys. Some guy had slipped them into her pocket in a lurid fashion during the set. “Why do you think he gave me two keys?” It is agreed one room is for the massage table and some sort of Black Forest group sex scene and the other for rest afterwards. I go back inside and talk to a woman that saw the Stones in 1964, and attended the Rock and Roll Circus. “Keith was so nice. He let me call my parents from the phone backstage to let them know I was running late.” She buys one of our LPs. We load up the van, take the hotel keys, and make the short drive back to Stuttgart listening to old Willie Nelson records.
Day 5 Frankfurt
I get up early after a late night talking to Oliver back at the apartment. We talked until the wee hours about politics, business, culture, and Husker Du. I try to creep around the apartment quietly. It isn’t until after my shower that I realize that both Oliver and Krissi have left for work. The Serbian cleaning woman arrives and eyes me suspiciously as I head into the city to kill a couple of hours. I head into the market which has individual stalls with regional specialties. I buy a horrible asskicking local liquor for a work colleague. It is the perfect thing to have on hand when you need to teach guests a little lesson. “Here… You should try this little something I picked up in Southern Germany. It translates to “cherry water”. I’m sure you will find it interesting.”
I head to a small bakerei and order an espresso and small pastry. Other patrons linger over newspapers stretching out their coffees for hours. I stop back at Feinherb to get a single malt scotch for my hosts. I walk down a small backstreet and hear a deep voice. “Hey man.” Leo and Sugar are standing there, and even though I know them it is a shock to my senses. Leo looks Leo enough, but it is Sugar that throws me. She is wearing a silver skirt, a skeleton hoodie, silver sparkly slip-ons and has her arm in a sling. She sort of looks like a 1950s TV show version of what they thought people would dress like in the year 2000, or maybe some kind of crazy performance artist that keeps monkeys and Siamese cats in her apartment. The stiff lipped housewives that slip past pretend not to notice these two crazy looking people in their midst. It’s time to leave Stuttgart.
We arrive at our launch site at Goldmarks to see the van is completely hemmed into an impossible predicament. It takes three of us working as a team to negotiate razor thin spaces to get the van out of the jam. We really could have used a can opener or maybe a crane to have done the job right. Wedging us in is a delivery van driven by a man that is a local promoter of hardcore punk shows. I had learned earlier that this man is very upset at the moment as he fears a show he is putting on later in the week will be overrun by “nationalist skinheads from The Alps”. Why does he think that you ask? Well, it turns out Christoph had anonymously asked online what time the show started, and then one of his friends noticed his online name and joked about them being thugs. It is a comic misunderstanding that has the promoter very uptight. Despite having this perfect opportunity to simply walk over, ease this poor man’s mind and clear the situation up, Christoph instead loves the situation he has created. Christoph ignores the deliveryman and lets him worry about the non-existent gang of incoming goons.
We finally get loose and go pick up Gary at his hotel. Our last contact with him had the crazy Chinese woman from the front desk screaming at him in the background to checkout. As we have been wedged in, we are running late and this woman is not exactly someone that negotiates. It’s some sort of German Chinese mashup of “You go now!”. I have no idea how that scene must have fallen apart over there. Everyone local that hears about the hotel quickly says "That woman is crazy". I'm actually happy to have been dealing with the stuck van instead. We scoop Gary up and start the drive to Frankfurt.
It’s a quick drive to Frankfurt and the Dreikönigskeller, a club we have played numerous times. The club is a tiny cellar with multiple staircases crisscrossing the space creating a perfect scenario to fall down some stairs. We pull up to the hidden alley and find the weather cold. This time of year a gray haze hangs over the city as the combination of the valley and humidity trap the cold moist air in the city. It has that cold clammy feel of Seattle. I'm cold even under my layers. Alexander, the friendly owner greets us. He gives us directions to a local specialty restaurant nearby. When we travel, we always like to eat local. What’s the point of traveling across an ocean to go eat at a Hard Rock Café, you know?
The local food of Frankfurt is served in these well lit rooms with minimalist long picnic type tables. Jugs of apple wine are seen on many of the tables. Plates are almost all regional specialties. Sugar has been dying to get a dish called “hand cheese with music”, which is a round of cheese topped by raw onions and olive oil. Both she and Christoph go completely local with some wacky ass entrée of hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, and “green sauce”. Frankfurt puts this sauce on everything. It’s a multi herb sauce that tastes vaguely of dill. Their eggs and potatoes sit in a pool of it. I get a ladle of it next to my schnitzel. Gary orders what is called a “boiled trout” from the English menu. We all figure that must be a typo and really mean “broiled”. When the plate arrives with an actual full trout staring up at Gary that has obviously been just boiled, it catches us all by surprise. He said it was good though. I knock back some Alsacian Riesling and we head back to the club.
Both Leo and I are struggling after dinner with our heavy meals. The bartender quickly comes to our aid with a “special” liquor to “help bring it down”. I don’t know what it is over here, but any medical issue that you might have is always solved by a shot of some horrible liquor someone’s grandfather cooked up in a shed up in the mountains. It is always herbal and burns like hell all the way down. This is no exception. It is something called “five herb gin” that has the same basic flavor profile as “the green sauce”. I do not see myself enjoying a glass of this on ice anytime soon. I think I saw Jesus when it first hit my stomach.
I decide to fill the set with relatively obscure songs we haven’t played yet. It’s a Tuesday. Let’s get wild. I think I have nine songs on there we haven’t played yet on the trip. This is a gamble. Either the band gets excited to play new material and we all sink our teeth into it, or we all approach it tentatively. In this case we are tentative. We kind of suck for the first 30 minutes of the set. We rebound in the second half of the show and win approval. I get a typically direct German “instant review” afterwards. “For the first six and one half songs the band was not anything but mediocre. Then after that point it began to become very special. This is the second best I have seen you.” The German people love to run up to you and offer criticism. This is not to bust balls though. They really think they are helping you out. It’s hard to get used to when you first come here.
I talk to some nice people. Someone gives me a giant glass of apple wine. One woman wants to try my shirt on, which seems like a horrible idea as it is completely soaked through with sweat. We swap shirts anyway. Hers is a bit snug on me. A guy standing there watching us refers to my ample chest hair as my “body wig”. I meet some people that have seen Leo and I do shows there across 15 years. It’s really cool to have that type of support. I recognize a woman from the last time we played there in clunky glasses. She could not be any more stereotypical. I cordially ask her how she has been since the last time we played there. She responds in a flat voice. “I have done nothing worth talking about. I do not want to talk about me. There is nothing I find interesting.” She stares at me expressionlessly. It’s great.
Alexander approaches. He mentions how he and his friends had purchased a ghost town in Southwest Texas called Lobo. http://www.lobo-texas.com/lobohome/en/home.php I can’t figure out exactly what is going on there. It’s very confusing. They are either being dodgy about it or don’t have the language to explain what they are up to out in the dust. The humorless German woman won’t give anything up either. I feel like shaking everyone by their collars Schimanski style and screaming “Out with it! Out with it!”. I think it is some sort of doomed artist retreat where a communal type collective puts on performances for each other that become increasingly marginal as time passes without other human contact. It must be some type of scene of existentialist plays and then afterwards everyone fucks each other. I just can’t seem to get them to lay it out for me. I give up and go upstairs.
We had learned that the club will close in the next two months, which genuinely saddens the locals. The building, in a total slap in the face, will turn into a French restaurant targeting yuppies from the banking sector. It has been a good run here. I like this place. Sure, it’s small and cramped and stairs are everywhere, but it’s got character. I will be sorry to see it go. The sound of crickets from Sugar’s phone mixed with Leo’s snoring lull me to sleep.
Day 6 Karlsruhe
We decide to get up and not shower until we check into our hotel in Karlsruhe. The facilities here in the band apartment are not exactly luxurious. The hotel will be better. We get moving and do the unsavory load out. Let me tell you, after a night of apple wine and five herb gin, loading out road cases up two flights of stairs is no way to start the day. We roll out and grab espressos and gas station sandwiches at the first stop. As opposed to risking your life in the United States while eating gas station food, the German counterpart is a fresh crispy crusted bread with good quality ingredients. It is a crime that these and Subway sandwiches are both considered to be the same food item. I see Leo get involved with a massive sausage that beckoned him from the well lit tube in the corner. That is served on a paper plate with a roll on the side. I don’t know why it is considered to be good form to pick up the meat and dip the roll in mustard as opposed to a hot dog system, but that’s the way they roll here. I tried to make a hot dog out of one once in Dresden and some guy walked past and said “barbarous”. Tradition must be observed, travelers take note.
We get to Karlsruhe with too much time on our hands. This is not exactly an action packed hot spot. Normally every city has a decent art museum or interesting old city center. Not this one. It’s a college town but seems to lack that strip of stores all other college towns have of cheap Indian food, bong stores, Bob Marley posters and run down bars. One universal truth is that all college kids are under the impression that they discovered marijuana and no one else knows about it yet. It’s kind of cute actually.
The main point of interest is in the center of town, some old palace with a museum. We decide to park the enormous van nearby and check out the immediate area. Leo needs to go to a bank to get some cash exchanged. He sees a bank logo on an office building but it doesn’t offer a retail location within it. I point out that this is an office location just like a second building just down the street. “Dude… Why would they put two locations in the same area without offering a counter to help people?” It is clearly another office and my insistent position that it is exactly like the Key Bank building downtown in Cleveland falls on deaf ears. He walks off on his doomed mission.
Sugar and I walk to the palace. There is an observation tower that requires us to walk 700 stairs to the top. It is well worth it for the sprawling view of the well thought out civic planning. I’ve got to hand it to them. These Germans are organized. Sugar and I try to find Leo by yelling “…leo…” very quietly on top of the observation deck. It proves fruitless, so we go off to get a snack.
I will tell you something about myself. I am very decisive. I will tell you something about Sugar. She is very indecisive. I walk up to a traditional streetside grill and within six seconds order Germany’s saltiest hamburger patty with a side of potatoes and onions. As Sugar can spend 30 minutes in a Speedway considering her choices, a full steam table of unfamiliar foods is a real mindbender. She panics. "Wait! Wait! What are you doing? I thought we were getting pastry and coffee! Wait!" She winds up getting a massive cut of ham with a pound of potatoes and onions. Just a light afternoon snack. If you were an NFL offensive lineman. She bargains with me to take a Styrofoam container of leftovers into the van. No way I want to ride around the German countryside with a fermenting ham loaf and onions. “I’ll give it to Leo!” Deal.
The Hotelwelt Kuebler lets us check in around 330p. It’s a really quirky place. Clowns, antiques, multi person bikes, stuffed pheasants, 1970s living room pits, wooden traditional chairs, a merry-go-round horse, a wine barrel converted into a sitting area, and an underground bar combine in the manic decorating scheme. None of it makes any sense. This place has seen better days. I bet it hosts cashed strapped couples for sad weddings. I have this image of thin paper table coverings, balloons flapping in the breeze, and beers in a washtub while the hotel staff brings mismatching silverware to the guests to pick around their food on plastic plates. The wedding guests all grimly smile and pretend the reception isn't the bleakest thing ever. It is shabby and magical all at once. I sort of like it. It’s like a hotel devised by John Irving.
Christoph and I share a room. We go past the stuffed game birds down to the end of the hall. Christoph turns on his “information machine” (i.e. computer) to scour the internet for tidbits on obscure metal/punk bands and social disasters of friends. I write a Defend Cleveland column. I take a shower and opt to leave on only the Xmas style lights across the bathroom borders like I am a member of KC and the Sunshine Band in 1977. I sing disco songs in the shower. We head to the club.
The Alte Hackerei is a club complex that used to be a slaughterhouse for livestock. The largest room is a theater where a long line of young people wait to get inside to see something that turns out to be new metal band Bullet For My Valentine. “Do not worry Mr. Jagger. They are not hear to see you!”, Christoph says with a laugh. I have absolutely no idea who the band is but apparently a lot of other people do. We load in to our club for a quick soundcheck before yielding the stage to a local band called Tom Mess. My voice is getting dodgy after being in all of these smoky rooms. When I am diagnosed with lung cancer this Spring it will be because of nights in Frankfurt and the Café Limba. I hope my cancer loosens up during the set.
We get dinner at a local restaurant called Zweibel. Christoph suggests passing the hotel key to the waitress “Café Limba style”. This was the way we had become convinced that a suitor in the Black Forest would make his intentions known to the apple of his eye. Our theory of the “key pass” was to take a major hit the following day. We learned that when Sugar had been given the keys a couple of days ago at Café Limba, it was only a guy from the hotel passing her the keys for what was supposed to be our hotel. It was not an invitation to a crazy sex party. We received a call from the hotel asking us where the hell their hotel keys were and why didn’t we stay in the rooms? Oops. The keys join the growing pile of items we have mistakenly taken with us around Germany.
Antje and her friend Porsche have driven from Stuttgart to see us. This is not surprising as Sugar has created a coven with these two. They may have already learned some crazy ass spells from the Alps. Tom Mess starts playing, and it is sort of like a lighter version of Gaslight Anthem. They’re pretty good. They are also nice guys that Leo use a cymbal and special snare. We play and my voice comes back. Hey, what do you know?
This is one of those weird shows that remind me of the first times we used to come over here to play. It can be hard to tell if the crowd is disinterested or extremely attentive as they give you very little back. I tell some stories in between songs when Gary tunes or Leo adjusts his kit. They seem won over at the end and give us a nice unexpected encore. After the show a guy says to me, “Every time you open your mouth it is funny. I was quiet but smile ear to ear. I did not want to miss anything.” That does not happen in the States where I find most people have an attention span of roughly 16 seconds.
Leo heads up a hash smoking party outside at the bier garten picnic tables. I sign LPs for fans. Sugar orders the bar’s specialty drink called the “Kung Fu Tiger” to enjoy with her ice pack on her arm. The drink arrives with an umbrella and a guarantee of a headache in the morning. A crowd of young adults gather around a guy in the corner. They are all waiting to have their picture taken with him. It appears one of the Bullet For My Valentine guys has come over for a drink after their show and the horde of kids followed him over. One of the kids comes up to me. “That is so and so from Bullet From My Valentine. Do you want to go over and meet him?” I mean, no disrespect, but I’m not a 17 year old metal fan. I don’t even know who the fuck that band is. The guy seems like a perfectly nice guy and all, but this room is also filled with other people I haven’t met yet. I tell the kid if that guy wants to meet me, I will be over here by the bar. I do not meet Bullet For My Valentine guy.
We head back to the weird hotel with the plan of being wheels up by 10am. It’s a long drive to Holland tomorrow. Christoph opens up one of the beers he clipped from the backstage and turns on his Information Machine. I fall asleep to the sound of the underground Turkish rap on his computer.
Day 7 Utrecht Holland
Cars fly by us on the Autobahn. I have somehow once again bungled my opportunity to rent a Porsche 911 GT in Stuttgart and drive as fast as an F1 race car on the highway. I need to get one of those. The 911 drivers appear to be much more content than we are chugging along in our LSD Trips van. Then again they probably aren’t listening to the Alcohol Stunt Band like we are, the magic of Chris Crofton winning new converts in the Fatherland. We cross into the Netherlands and stop at a truck stop where Christoph hurries in to secure two packs of Chocomel, some insanely rich chocolate milk drink in slim Red Bull size cans. Also available are cans of Elephant Malt Liquor, Europe’s version of Colt 45.
Christoph tells us about the last time he “spoke to the Elephant”. He was unemployed briefly so his favorite thing became going out on a Monday and getting totally wasted. He really liked the idea of people thinking “what the hell is wrong with that guy? It’s Monday for Christsakes!”. So in this particular incident Christoph and his friends get three giant cans of the Elephant and knock them back in short order. These things pack a 10% wallop, so this is no joke. In no time at all they arrive at the hardcore show where he is already almost totally incoherent. He keeps the party going at the club outside with friends. This activity hits him like a freight train. By the time the headliner hits the stage he is literally sleeping on his feet in the back of the venue. He is totally comatose at a hardcore show. It reminds me of the time our old bass player Tony fell asleep in front of the Cynics backline at the Electric Banana. It seems impossible. When his friends eventually carry him outside, he barfs all over the entrance of the club, making it impossible to leave the show without sashaying through his vomit. Rock and roll. I immediately start texting his friends in Germany to get a copy of a picture from that night.
We roll into the Bed and Breakfast to get the keys to where we are staying. It’s a pretty weird scene. A tiny road is abutted on either side by canals. Central casting has sent people pedaling through on bicycles. Ducks lazily cruise in the canals. We struggle to not drive into a canal with the big van. The B&B is an old farmhouse, and by “old” I mean 1600s. Not 1965. There is a really nice sort of hippie family that runs the place. We have stayed here before and I remember how friendly everyone was in the morning. The main room that must have housed the animals has been converted into some kind of jam area with small amps and bongos. I have a vision of the family doing shaky versions of Grateful Dead songs. Crazy steps that are really little more than ladders are the only way to get upstairs to our loft room. There are six bunk beds with a handwritten sign suggesting crawling out a space if there is a fire. Hmm, that’s reassuring.
As we check in we see a middle aged guy with a man bun in the driveway smoking a hand rolled cigarette or some hash. It’s sort of hard to tell which. Gary blows right by him dragging his suitcase to the ladder, I mean “stairs”. I stop to introduce myself and am surprised to find out that he’s American. He invites us to see him play some rock n roll tonight at a club, which turns out to be the same club we are playing. His name is Brother Dege and he is the opener. I see Leo working his way into his inner circle after the gig after he mentions that this is his first show after a stay in Amsterdam.
We leave for the club at the same time as the Brother Dege crew. It has become apparent it is very important for Christoph to make it to the venue before those other guys, so much so that he drives across a pedestrian walkway and almost knocks down the fence to get there first. Another small victory for Christoph in a contest only he was aware of entering. I’m happy for him when the Brother Dege van drives in as we are unloading. A victory for German precision. We roll the road cases into dBs.
dBs is one of those Euro clubs that is a co-operative performance space, bar, practice space, café, coffee house, meeting place, and maybe school. The club itself is a medium sized space with a massive professional sound system. A little blonde Dutch girl adjusts the lighting rigs. The sound man has a shaved head, as all sound men must. It is so professional here it is almost a shock to our systems. I always like the air of chaos in a room. I like to wonder what is going to go wrong. This seems to be engineered to make the performance ideal for both stage and audience. Danny, the show minder, is a really nice kid that makes sure we feel comfortable. I saunter over to the bar to peruse the Belgian beers on offer.
I am delighted to see LaChouffe on tap. That little gnome has never let me down, though it is a dangerous devil to dance with more than once. I stay with what I know and bypass a couple of other beers with smiling cartoon characters on the labels. If there is one thing I can impress upon you it is the need to treat these smiling Belgian beers with the respect you would a rattlesnake. The more harmless the label appears, the greater the chance you will wake up with a new Korean wife and a tattoo on your forehead. In fact, I will bet that is what happened to the lead bartender, who sports a tattoo of a flame on his forehead. I sit contentedly with my LaChouffe amongst the animated patrons and wait for Brother Dege to begin.
The guys in his band have never played together. This is literally their first time. Dege yells out chord changes on the trance hippie blues. These guys are all really good players and adjust to where Dege decides to go. There is a lot of fog being blown around on stage and he sings some song where he says the word “motherfucker” about 58 times. People seem to like it pretty well. They finish and we get set up.
Remember how I said that this gig was engineered to take out any chance that anything could go wrong? Literally two seconds into it my boot heel catches my microphone cable and it goes dead. I grab Leo’s mic from the boom stand and sing the rest of the song from the limited area allowed by his chord. I sort of look like Tony Bennet in a cowboy hat barely able to move around. A short time later Gary breaks a string. I didn’t know he broke a string because I didn’t hear him say anything about a broken string, so I assume he is tuning and have a quick intro. “Ladies and gents… This is the song!” I look left and Gary’s face is scrunched up trying to needle a string through a hole in his guitar. Oh shit. It is not easy to fill a long stretch of time speaking off the cuff to people that don’t speak English as their primary language. I do my best. It wasn’t that good. Gary winds up switching his guitar out and we finish the set. It is surprisingly very well received and we even get a couple of encores led by some guys yelling out of their diaphragms. "YEEEAAAAGGGHHHHH!!!!" I need to learn that trick.
The club clears really quickly. We head back to the farmhouse. It’s raining. We try not to drive into the canal and drown, which isn’t easy as Christoph is as blind as a bat and refuses to get glasses. We were instructed to be quiet when we get back by the woman that runs the place, so we retreat to our bunks and open some beers called Kompaan Bond Genoot. I don’t know how to pronounce it, but they were good. Eventually I have to go to Europe’s smallest toilet, which is right down the hall. I have been in bathrooms in pleasure boats which are larger. I literally cannot square my shoulders to urinate in the toilet so have to turn at an angle with the door open to accomplish the task. I make a note to try and launch an Operation Mad Ape in there in the morning just for the experience.
Tom, the slide player for Brother Dege comes by to hang out. We talk about his home of Galway Ireland, and what he claims to be a vibrant roots music club scene in Ireland. If an Irish promoter is reading this, we will come over to play. I’d really like to see what’s doing over there. Tom is a friendly guy. It was nice to have met him. He gives me some contacts over there which I put into my phone; undoubtedly to forget about and wonder what they are when I re-discover them in a few months. I climb into my top bunk to discover Sugar stole my pillow. Damn her. I struggle off the bunk to scare up a new pillow. Mission accomplished I climb back up and spend the night knocking a stick used to open a rigged skylight off the ceiling into my legs every 30 minutes.
Day 8 Whilhelmshaven
Breakfast is early as we have a long drive. The Dutch do breakfast differently. As this is a B&B, and a folksy one at that, this is pretty typical. These folks love putting sprinkles on everything. Get yourself a slice of bread, spread on some Nutella, and sprinkle it up with chocolate, candy sprinkles, or maybe bits of cookie. Maybe they do gum drops and pixie stix too. I don’t know. Christoph looks at the situation and takes a piece of cheese. “Sprinkles? It makes no sense. Never!” There will be no sprinkles for the German boy. Brother Dege doesn't do sprinkles either. Leo? He sprinkles it up, but then again he is probably high.
We head back towards Germany making a couple of desperate last stops for more Chocomel for Christoph to lord over his friends. The cans start to roll around in the LSD Trips van. The rest stops here in Belgium/Holland have these weird little automats filled with what can only be called “deep fried delights”. It is like a Speedway gas station, but where in America we would have a cooler with crappy sugar drinks, they have a wall with little PO box looking windows with deep fried cubes and stuff on sticks. You put in a coin and pull out the deep fried crap. A half dozen people stand by the wall of windows to pull out these various brown fried squares and tubes filled with God knows what. I buy Leo a brown rectangle to see what’s inside. I get him a hot curry sauce because I figure he will eat anything with hot sauce on it. It turns out to be a brick of breaded deep fried noodles. After that curry sauce, I am predicting an Operation Mad Ape within the hour.
We roll into Wilhelmshaven, a small tough town on the North Sea. This is probably hopping in the summer as a place to sail and pleasure boat. Now it is chilly with a foreboding gray sky blanketing the region. This would be a great place to be a retired U-Boat captain. I could see strolling around smoking a pipe talking wistfully about the transport ships I had sent to the bottom "during the troubles". I would need to grow a beard first though. Who has that kind of time? We need to get this mountain of gear inside. After load in Sugar, Leo and I walk marketstrasse to look at the shabby discount shops. In three blocks there are ten (10) bakeries, all of which do a brisk business. Logically one would expect these people to all be 700 pounds. Hell, I feel like I have put on 10 pounds this week alone. Yet, slim women eat 2000 calorie pastries at café tables without a care in the world.
We walk into a mall. Leo buys what is purported to be a traditional seafaring cap. He actually does look like a Euro longshoreman. They try to sell me a captain’s hat, but that is going just too damn far. I haven't grown that beard yet. I pass. Sugar buys this weird silver disco shorts unitard from a Chinese run thrift store. I don't know what she is going to do with that. Solve crimes maybe? We try to keep the local economy humming with an espresso purchase, Leo enjoying his 37th pretzel of the week. We have done everything there is to do in marketstrasse. We head back.
The gig tonight is at the hometown of our booking agent Jens. He has paired us with a local metal band called Hellhead. It seems like an odd pairing. They are having a CD and video release party at this show while opening for us. They are guys about our age that have been weened on Metallica and Iron Maiden. They do an updated version of that type of stuff but sung in German. It is unusual for bands to sing in German, which I find odd. I know I can't write lyrics in German, so why do they write in English? Perhaps the American cultural influence is too strong. After all, there are two things we do better than anyone; entertainment and blowing things up with military might, often at the same time. To think we used to build things... What an age! Hellhead brings out local friends and family in great numbers. Everyone is in great spirits. This is looking like a doomsday scenario. What I foresee is a bunch of their older work friends immediately catapulting out of here the second after these guys finish their triumphant victory lap. I don’t want to go into that room that was packed full and play to nobody. I’m concerned and on edge.
We try to set up to play quickly, trying to get up and rolling before anyone in the Hellhead crowd has any real idea another band just started. We can win them over if we get the chance. We are set up. Ready. "Hey man... I gotta go find my gig shirt." Leo must be doing this to give me a nervous breakdown. The room of people are staring at us and I'm standing at the mic. And you want to go change now? I know I am being really uptight about this, but for fuck's sake, this is literally the only thing you need to have your shit together for all day. It's the only reason we flew across the Atlantic. You have literally had an entire afternoon to do nothing but be ready to play when it's time, and now you are going to begin to look for your clothes. I am going to explode. I have so much white rage going when we start to play, I feel like Teenage Henry Rollins. When Gary has to tune his guitar I wonder if I am going to stroke out. I should point out, I have completely lost my mind from lack of sleep and a steady stream of Jever beer. Despite or because of this (I'm not sure), the show goes great. The crowd sort of transitions from the metal heads to our people. There is much frivolity. It's a really good night.
When we finish I really get a sense of how drunk these people are... They might have all just come ashore from being on a merchant marine ship for the last 4 months. One guy in a motorcycle jacket stumbles around the bar laughing and trying to keep his balance. He fails. His friends pick him up. Antje sits down next to me in a booth and we observe the chaos. I start to invent names for everyone. Leo and Sugar almost go to some shaky sounding rockabilly dance party at someone's house but Leo (Leo!) advises against it when it sounds dicey. We have an early morning tomorrow to get to Berlin. I get a local wheat beer. The band apartment is upstairs. It isn't going anywhere.
Day 9 Berlin
I get up early and walk around Wilhelmshaven. There isn’t much to see. Sure, I could maybe put in a good walk and go to a naval museum, but let’s not lose our minds. It’s a long drive to Berlin. I walk to a café to sit by myself for awhile. A hillbilly family with crying child sit next to me and the mood is ruined. Hillbilly single mothers in sweatpants with no control over their children is no longer just an Ohio thing. It's gone global. I go back to the Kling Klang to load out, and grab a quick breakfast. I learn that I do not have the technique all Euros possess for hard boiled eggs. I am sternly scolded for not knowing how to effortlessly remove the shell from my egg and eat it without leaving shell fragments all over the area. Despite my defense of this being very un-American, the Roths do not care. I will point out that I learned rather quickly while Sugar’s egg looks like it was torn apart by raccoons. In the future I will insist on scrambled and avoid this whole debacle.
We drive forever and pull over at an Autobahn rest stop. An abandoned guard tower sits next to the highway, a reminder of the divide between East and West Germany. This was the line. Right here. The bland Soviet style tower should have been enough to convince the East that things couldn’t possibly end well in that Communist worker’s paradise. The Soviet era lack of style was really amazing. Even now you can instantly spot travelers from Eastern Europe by their awful clothes and ugly shoes.
One of the real issues faced by Berlin as a city is that the old Western portion was essentially an island. The best way in was via air. The unified Germany brought the highway system together, but a ring of highway surrounding the city for easy access was never planned and executed. Therefore the highway essentially dumps you into Berlin and you drive local streets to get where you need to go. It is very common to spend an hour driving to something just a couple miles away. We are crawling our way through the city, which is one of the planet’s great places. It really resembles a long shambling East Village in New York that sprawls and sprawls. It’s a city of neighborhoods.
We pull in by the club where we essentially abandon the giant van outside of a bodega. There is nowhere to park in Berlin. Don’t even try. Standing on the sidewalk is our friend Tobi, aka “Dirty Schatzman”. Tobi is a treat. He is easily the most extroverted man in all of Germany, quick with a joke and a laugh. This is always explained away in complete seriousness with a “He is half Spanish” by all his German friends. Tobi has a child with our friend Mirjana that he shares custody with in his home city, and is now having another child with his girlfriend Steffi. I have the sneaking suspicion he drives both of these women crazy, and I instantly see a major opportunity for a reality show. The show will be called “4+1=Fun”. We will place Tobi, his girl Steffi, his ex Mirjana, and his son Milo in a too small apartment, add in his infant and maybe even a sexy nanny if ratings are sluggish. The resulting fighting and tension will be TV gold! Tobi and Steffi’s friends instantly sign on. I am now in development talks. I expect to be a major German TV producer within 6 months.
I sit outside with Tobi, Steffi, Tobi’s lawyer, and their friends at a long table drinking local beer. It’s a nice night. Soundcheck goes smoothly though I’m cranky from lack of sleep. The people at Wild At Heart know us from years of playing there. It is good to be back in Berlin. We get a meal next door at the Tiki themed restaurant. I really want to drink a Berliner Weisse style beer, a particular old sour style of beer that has recently been revived. The waitress has no idea what I am talking about, and everyone local thinks I am talking about an awful concoction of beer and sour mix that pours electric green. I am assured this is what I am requesting. It isn’t. I drink it anyway.
Antje, Sugar, Leo and I go for a walk in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. We stumble into a craft beer store where I finally find my Berliner Weisse. Once again Europe shows the way to the good life by allowing drinking on the streets. I open my Berliner Weisse. Sugar buys something called "monkey gin". There is a very good chance she might go blind after drinking that. We walk past a St. Pauli team shop, unfortunately closed. I'm disappointed I can't get any St. Pauli gear. I have no real clue as to how to club has played this season, but their graphics are amongst the best in all sports. Add in that they are the unofficial official team of the counterculture, and this is really the only must-have sports apparel in Europe. I wish we had more time here. There is a real energy on the streets. We head back to the club.
The Wild At Heart stage is in the very back of the club. I remember a Cowslingers show here that was packed to the gills. Every single person in the room was a heavy smoker. When I stepped up on the stage I recall my lungs almost giving out. It wasn’t a “performance” so much as “survival” that had my focus. Tonight it’s really crowded in the back as well. Those cigarette warnings must be having some effect as it is at least bearable. We are on muscle memory at this point and crank through a well played set. The crowd really likes it, and we keep playing after the set was supposed to finish. I think I recognize a guy from Mad Sin, who I saw a long time ago at the Beachland. There’s a bunch of vaguely familiar people in the room. Maybe it’s just that look of the scene? It’s hard to be sure.
I head to the dressing room to hang out with Mosh and his female companion who speaks little English. I feel really badly for her as she has to stare at an unintelligible American cowboy talk to her boyfriend for an hour. There’s only so many cigarettes a girl can smoke. Christoph and I finish up the tour finances. One of the bar owners brings back a tray of shots. It feels bittersweet to be at the end of this tour. There are so many more places I’d like to go.
The issue we have now is time. Specifically too much time. Our flight leaves at 945am from the Berlin Airport. It is currently 4am. We made the decision to forgo the hotel as it made no sense to check into a hotel at 445am to check out at 7am. This leaves no other logical course of action than to head to the #1 late night spot in Berlin, the doner shop. For those of you unfamiliar with this late night treat, a doner is a Euro version of the gyro. These shops are always run by Turks. Always. If you are drunk and hungry and the sun is about to come up, Berlin has two options which are available at every turn. The doner or currywurst. Currywurst is a sausage chopped into pieces and smothered in a spicy curry based ketchup. As a man about to step into an airplane for 9 hours, a paper plate of spicy sausage seems like an irresponsible choice. I go chicken doner. It’s 445 am. We head to the airport to be dropped off like livestock.
Christoph has a hell drive ahead of him as he will need to take the gear back to Wurzberg, drop the van off, get his car, and drive back to his Swabian Wonderland. At this point I have no empathy for him as I now have five hours to kill in an airport with almost no amenities. We try to figure a way to sleep on the steel seats in the lobby. At one point I crawl under the benches to see if I can make a comfortable nest on the cold tile. Nothing works. I am awake. It’s 630am. I try to talk us into the Lufthansa Admiral’s Lounge when I notice the desk clerk’s AC/DC tour laminate and say “I see you like AC/DC. You know we are a rock band on tour…”. It works. The Lufthansa Admiral’s Lounge is where high income white collar travelers relax to avoid the Great Unwashed in the common areas. They must all be wondering why an evil looking leprechaun is sleeping with his mouth open in their special area.
Security is a hassle. Boarding takes forever. I watch crappy movies and try to fall asleep. I just can’t sleep on planes. I smell like a combination of stale smoke, sweat, and tour funk. I almost feel sorry for the woman sitting next to me, but I’m too tired to care. We land in Newark. Security is a hassle. Boarding takes forever. We land back at CLE. I finally go to sleep at 845pm on Sunday, which is really 245am Monday German time. I had been awake for 42 consecutive hours. When I wake up I have to go to a sales meeting at 830am. Shortly afterwards I am doing makegoods for commercials in the Merideth Viera Show.
What the hell happened?
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