September 1, 2016
Memory Lane in Germany Part II
In the years between 1985 and 2016 I must have done the trip to and from Germany dozens of times but with a different band and always by air. We travelled around the country in a luxury tour bus and stayed in 5-star hotels: no more smelly sleeping bags on floors. This weekend’s trip was a return to that earlier, simpler style of touring and the memories of those early tours are the ones that came flooding back rather than the later years. As we crossed the border into Germany the speed limit disappeared from my Satnav and as we got closer to our destination I could feel the self-confidence of the place: a stark contrast to fractured and febrile Brexit-voting England. The people are prosperous and relaxed, the cost of living is low and the beer excellent.
The first gig of the weekend was in the city centre at an arts event funded by the city council, and we belted out a set of the hits that made the band I was in famous, propelling us to the swirling vortex of madness of stadium shows and million-selling records. It brought a lump to my throat to see people standing in front of the stage singing all the words: I realised how much of the fabric of contemporary German culture those songs had become. Several uber-fans were there, faces I’d seen from the stages of arenas and stadiums for 20 years, sometimes at every gig on a 3-week tour.
After an hour of bashing it out in 32 degrees heat we packed up and set off to Koblenz, where we had an evening show.
And what a show it turned out to be:-) After a lovely drive down the Moselle valley, lined with vineyards on one side and the river full of boats and bathers on the other, we checked into our hotel and then drove up to the venue: Fortress-EhrenBreitstein on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhein.
This fastness is a massive prison/garrison complex dating back 5000 years, and tonight it was host to the Cafe Hahn’s 35th anniversary celebration. 3 stages, dozens of performers, thousands of people gathered in one of the most extraordinary locations I can remember in 40 years of touring to dance and sing the evening away. The public paid €5 entry fee which was then refunded to them in the form of a beer or glass of wine. All alcoholic drinks were served in glasses (the drinking kind, not the vision aid kind) and I didn’t see a single broken one all night. The mood was happy, friendly and joyous. We played to 4000 people on the big stage at about 11.15 and the party was still going strong, people singing and dancing into the early hours. I can’t imagine the Woolwich Arsenal doing anything like this: Germany has become excellent at putting these kind of public gathering on. Shapes were thrown, songs bellowed out and smiles broadened as the show went on.
Next day was a day off. We planned to drive up to Moenchengladbach for the Monday gig and headed off up the Moselle valley again. Now, we all have a bucket list, right? One of the things on my list is to drive the Nurburgring Nordschleife. (For non-petrolhead, this is one of the world’s classic motor-racing tracks, 20.8 kilometres of winding country roads through the Eiffel mountains.) The circuit holds open track days, when for €29 anyone can simply drive round the track. So, in my 1.8 litre 2010 turbo-diesel Ford Mondeo with a roof-rack on, we set off around a circuit so demanding that Sir Jackie Stewart dubbed it “Green Hell.” Race-tuned Porsches, Mercedes, and more exotic beasts blasted past us as we trundled around (I was determined not to be a twat and break my car, so was sensible.. -ish.) I waved at the photographers and fans in the stands, all of whom did a great job of disguising their disappointment at our appearance.
We arrived back at the exit point behind a purple Porsche and as we drove into the car-park off the track people were leaning into the Porsche to take photos, laughing and waving. As we drove past no photos were taken and I demanded of a young man why this was so. He told us that the reason they were al taking pictures of the Porsche was that the interior was lined almost door-to-door with vomit: the passenger obviously did not enjoy the ride as much as the driver.
Monday’s gig was in Moenchengladbach with Paddy Zimmerman, Charly T and Ufo Walter in an Irish pub. The concept was simple: a pro jam night. Paddy had been a fan of mine from a young age, picking out the riffs from our records as he learnt guitar, and he is now a fine player and teacher. He filled the place and we blew our brains out for two one-hour sets: a brilliant end to this trip.
I hope to be back: I miss Germany and its people, its culture and varied landscape. Bis gleich, Freunden:-)