"Place is loaded with rustic charm" is one of my favorite lines from Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm." I myself need some non-rustic charm, and I think we've found it in Mülheim An Der Ruhr, a great urban area with handsome two and three story brownstones. We just landed at the Garten Hotel, a place that has amenities like working wi-fi and non-lumpy beds.
Don't get me wrong, last night I slept in Thiersheim, eight kilometers from the Czech border. It had everything you could ask of a quaint little village, including a biergarten that was so late with my food, someone had to bring it to my crabby self at the gig. "I am not grousing," I told myself, "I just like to get my blood sugar out of the diabetic range."
I snapped a pile of pictures there and had a nice stroll. Houses that would be a half a million and up in Munich or Milwaukee were selling for 40 to 50 (¡™£¢∞§¶••ªº≠åß∂ƒ©˙∆ ... excuse me I'm looking for the Euro symbol. I give up). You might be able to ship one of these beauties back to the States and still come in cheaper.
Our hosts, Dagmar and Gregor Thorndal, wound up in their house – which includes a nice little ballroom – for that very reason. Located in the rolling countryside in eastern Bavaria, it also houses the shop where he builds guitars and works with a guy who makes amps. Both are high end-ish. When he mentioned the prices, I winced.
At the biergarten, everybody feasted but me — my food never arrived. Dagmar, who was with us, stayed behind and delivered it only minutes before we had to play. I couldn't find a place to sit and eat. I finally wound up on the third floor landing, with the timer on the light putting me in the dark every two minutes. This went from annoying to funny as my blood slowly sugar rose. The gig went swimmingly after that.
We have been criss-crossing Germany in a manner that would make Mad Max proud. The gigs seem to be routed so we can set some sort of mileage record. Everyone has kept their spirits up on the long road races down the autobahn. For whatever reason, Germany seems to still be rebuilding after WWII. There is construction everywhere, and we wind up in single lane traffic more often than we would like, which is never.
I spent all day yesterday thinking I was in the former East Germany. We had actually passed through it, and I must have nodded off when we re-entered. So that had me looking at things through glasses that were tinted a communist era shade of bleak. I thought the cars I saw in one window were the famously crappy Trabants — two-stroke, two-cylinder examples of bad design. They were in fact West German, and I would have taken either of them if there were a way to get them home.
Finally, to top off my day of dislocation, I got to talking to Dagmar about the aftermath of the terrible war, and all things evil and genocidal. She had an unbelievable story about her father. He fought on the Russian front. History buffs will tell you what a miserable, frozen bloodbath that was. He was not an enthusiastic follower of the Reich, but like many, he felt he had no choice. I try not to judge, not having ever had to make a decision as wrenching as that.
When the Germans were defeated, he walked home. It took three months, and he almost made it. As he crossed the border into Poland, the Russians captured him and put him in a work camp for four years. They finally released him because his lungs were shot. In a great example of understatement, she said he didn't like to talk much.
This is a very complicated place.
We left scenic Mülheim An Der Ruhr at 7 a.m. with the dreaded drive to Denmark ahead of us. Klaus arranged a bed behind the back seat on the amp cases, and the report from Kurt was, and I quote, "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!" Why this wasn't thought of on the first day is puzzling, but we are now fighting over it.
We got to the top of Germany, passing Hamburg – where the Beatles played early gigs – and across a bridge to an island, Berg Auf Ferhman, where Hendrix played his last. We hopped on a huge car ferry and crossed to Denmark over smooth steely colored seas, under a melancholy sky to play our next one.
The ferry had a huge duty-free shop. I haven't been caught up in their irresistible allure yet. I'm not a big cologne, whiskey or cigarette guy. They seem like a SkyMall magazine come to life, only they occupy way more space. And if the idea is to save money, they're going to have to drastically cut their prices.
Hopping off in the ancestral home (my mother's side), I wonder if I'm the first one to make it back after a couple generations. I know Brother Bob has been to Amsterdam, but I think I may be the first of the Petersen/Paulsen line that produced me and many others to trek back.
We are playing Roskilde, near Copenhagen. I am told it was once the capital, but I think that's just to keep me from going into the big city tomorrow on our day off. Nevertheless, it seems charming and inviting. After we check in at the club at 5 p.m., we find the Below Average White Blues Band getting it wrong at high volume. We can't get our stuff into the small backstage area til they have struck the last chord in anger, I wander, like Ringo in "Hard Day's Night," down the lonely cobblestone snapping pictures while the rest head back to the hotel.
I love the old city centers in Europe; they are gorgeous, walkable and relaxing. It's like going to the country without leaving town. Roskilde has a cathedral off of a long cobblestone pedestrian mall. I discover cobblestone is a terrible walking surface for my already aching feet, but there are narrow paths of smoother pavement for bikers and hikers. They're so narrow in places, though, that it's like a tightrope walk.
Click click goes the simulated shutter on my smart phone as I run my photo count up to the 450-picture range. I am doing double and triple shots. You know, storage is so cheap, and I find that it pays occasionally with an artfully framed composition. We may have moved past the old camera 'round the neck tourist image, but everything about me still screams "he's not from around here."
Later, the Danish crowd delivers what the Germans couldn't: spontaneity, attention and some enthusiastic dancing. One of the couples definitely had that "get a room" vibe that's such a treat to cringe at. The locale is a beautiful, all-purpose coffee house, bar, restaurant and music venue with a small, almost professional stage. In other words, perfect for letting it rip.
You expect to meet the Melancholy Prince from the play, but it's hardly doom and gloom here. I am told Denmark rates at the happiest nation and the crowd, who chant and sing after the last song as their way of asking for an encore, certainly seems to be in a good place. Somehow, they have survived the nightmare of state-funded health care and enlightened policies to go out and cut a rug.
Now you two ... get a room, already!