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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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"When the recommended special - schweinhaxen - arrives, it is the biggest chunk of pork ever put before me."
"When the recommended special - schweinhaxen - arrives, it is the biggest chunk of pork ever put before me." (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Europe: It's so European!

Hanging with my man Antony last night after we played, it struck me I rarely see Macedonians after gigs in Milwaukee. There was also his pal from Croatia and, of course, countless Austrians and a smattering of Germans.

I feel like I'm treading on thin ice here. Would it be as offensive to an Austrian to assume they are German as it would be for me to hear a stranger confuse Milwaukeeans with Minnesotans? Or the ultimate insult: Mick Jagger from the stage of Alpine Valley shouting "Hello Chicago?" I might be the Ugly American, but I am trying in this region of shifty borders to know where I am.

The attractive alpine set we saw last night could easily sneak into Minneapolis and be mistaken for local talent. Waking up in the village of Kufstein has me wracking my brain for new ways to say cute or charming. I feel like I am part of an elaborate model train layout. People dress as if they expect the sequel to "The Sound of Music" to start shooting any minute, and as we head out for Habach and the gig later tonight, it alternates between awe-inspiring Alpine splendor and what seem to be identical adorable (phew, found one last synonym) villages layed out around churches.

We stop at a flea market to inspect the goods. My fantasy of finding some treasure is soon replaced with the revelation that no matter where you are in the world, these things are the last stop before the landfill. The German version features too many knick-knacks, and throws in the occasional pair of liederhosen or other Von Trapp regalia. All of this is worn unironically. Irony itself is thankfully absent from this trip. If anything, clueless Americans are the unwitting entertainment here when they are not wittingly attempting the same with their guitars.

Habach is achieved with a brief stop at a gasthaus for authentic German cuisine. We eat outside with a view of a long, sloping meadow so green, it looks colorized.

When the recommended special – schweinhaxen – arrives, it is the biggest chunk of p…

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While roaming around Austria, John Sieger ran into this handsomely dressed guy.
While roaming around Austria, John Sieger ran into this handsomely dressed guy.

Saint behind the glass

The title of this piece is from one of my favorite Los Lobos songs. Today, in a gorgeous and strange church in Kufstein, Austria, I saw a real saint behind what I assume to be real glass.

Bejeweled like a Damian Hearst skull, this full-length skeleton had robes encrusted with every gem known to man in whatever miraculous century its immortal soul wound its way upward to heaven. The eyes seemed to be filled with diamonds, and you’d think I’d remember the name of this strange apparition, but I’m feeling a little strange myself after a 2 a.m. nod off and a fairly early start to get here.

There were hints when we left the autobahn and headed through a series of postcard villages that I would have my Catholic childhood dredged up. Like the big Passion Play signs with a dead ringer for our Lord and the stunning modern church set at the bottom of Mount Kaiser where people were filing in to start the festivities. By the way, everything is set at the bottom of a mountain except the castles. Yes, I said castles, and I don't mean Mars Cheese Castle.

Speaking of mountains, I am reminded once more of what an absolute flatlander I am in this area where people seem to have no idea just how crazy their surroundings are. You can always tell the boss (make that Kaiser) mountain in the neighborhood, as it wears a cloud at a jaunty angle and seems to be keeping an eye on its lesser neighbors. The autobahn has tunnels through these behemoths that make you wonder if you will ever see daylight again and qualify as jaw-gaping achievements. Hoan Bridge, you just got a little more ordinary.

Last night's hotel is the one I am certain my wife fantasizes about — all modern and designy. It was clean and cute, and she would imigrate if she saw it.

Today, we drop our bags in something that looks like my mother decorated it. I will not complain about three consectutive nights with my own room, even though thoroughly professional Klaus seems apologetic. This is because the show…

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John Sieger is currently woodshedding in Velden, Austria, working on his bowling.
John Sieger is currently woodshedding in Velden, Austria, working on his bowling. (Photo: paulbielatowicz.com)

Strike while the ten-pins are hot

I guess you could it call it beginner's luck. First off, I've never had a bowling alley in my dressing room before. But at Blusiana, a very nice club in Velden, Austria, I have just rolled a strike on my first roll. (Full disclosure: After that, I had very little luck, but at least no gutter balls.)

The lane is full length, but uses a something about the size of a large softball and has nine pins that jump up on ropes like marionattes after you knock them down. It's a hybrid for sure, but the very fact that it is available after our grilled fish with rice and a fine French merlot has kept this primadonna appeased for now. But they better have the right color M&M's, though, or else.

The ride into Austria was like leaving a fairly nice version of Wisconsin, with slightly bigger hills and gloomy fall-ish weather, and rolling into something like Oz (with no wicked witches) in late August. Klaus says this area has hundreds of mountain lakes at different levels, but I fell in love with this one, and I declare it the very nicest. Then again, George Clooney has an estate on Lake Como, and I believe he can afford to live wherever he likes.

Second day jet lag, along with the adventure of getting lost on the way to the gig, had twisted my ever-fragile mood in a direction not conducive to making music. That was a while ago though and luckily, food and bowling have brought me around.

You can take the boy out of Milwaukee, but ... I think you know the rest.

A very accurate map of Austria.
A very accurate map of Austria. (Photo: John Sieger)

Up and down the Alps

The change from hilly Germany to mountainous Austria is not quite as sudden as encountering the Rockies in the middle of Colorado, but it is no less dramatic. It is also about as chock full of charm as any place has a right to be.

In fact, that last sentence was typed in a tunnel that cuts through one of the more dramatic mountains this flatlander has seen. Before that, there was the beautiful alpine town of Salzburg and a couple smaller villages that were probably turned down as a setting for "The Sound of Music" for being too ridiculously beautiful to believe.

All this beauty is filtered through the experience of hours in a van with three band members and Klaus the Tailgater. Over here, that act doesn't involve a party in the parking lot of a stadium, but rather racing up on much smaller vehicles, stabbing the brakes and making a rude gesture (just a little out their view) that resembles grabbing some sort of low-hanging fruit. For some reason, I trust Klaus implicitly, and he is competent beyond the dreams of any musician's fantasy of a road manager.

I mean, he booked the tour, drives, translates, rents the gear, sets it up, tears it down, sells the CDs, deals with the club owners and any other task that comes up. All will a gruff kind of cheer that goes down pretty easy.

Back to the van. This is a Mercedes Sprinter, and that logo is ubiquitous on the autobahn and city streets. Poor people seem to drive them or else there is no lower class here. It seats five comfortably, but for the first time ever, I am the smallest person in the band. Greg and his son Dylan are both over 6'6'', and Kurt Koenig is almost as tall and sort of large. No one messes with this bunch, but when we hit a curve, I sometimes disappear into one of them.

Klaus, who seems to rely on his own peculiarly intuitive internal GPS, took us down smaller and smaller roads on the way over today, and finally we had to double back when it threatened to turn into a gravel hiking path. It's all good,…

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