Sunday, 1 May 2016

Germany tour part one; Birmingham-Cologne

Tuesday 26th April 2016 
6am train from Birmingham International to London Euston. Excellent sunny landscapes through the window, rather nice bacon bap. 

Arrived London Euston and headed down to the Tube to make our way to St Pancras. We were catching the Eurostar at 8.55 and had left ourselves plenty of time in case of problems with check in, delayed trains etc. 

I should explain that "we" is me and Connie. This trip to Germany consists of four performances and as Connie could join me and the gig schedule was not really heavy we decided to combine the visit with a bit of a holiday. It's a first visit for both of us, and as well as being charming company Connie also has GCSE German, the usefulness of which I looked forward to testing... 

At the last moment I became nervous that there might be some issue travelling with my guitar as part of my luggage allowance. Despite assurances from
not only the Musicians' Union but also Eurostar's own website that a guitar can be included as part of a two bag allowance as long as it's in a case I spent some time picturing a jobsworth check in person refusing to let the guitar past. I even printed out the screen shot from Eurostar's website in order to argue my case if needs be. Rock and Roll. 

St Pancras is quite the statement station with very impressive architecture. The Eurostar check in bit was predictably airport like, and as I was getting ready to put my bags in a tray for the X-ray scanner thing a lady approached from the wrong side of the metal detector tunnel and not only moved in front of me but stole the tray I'd just lifted up onto the desk ready to receive my guitar and suitcase. She stole my tray and I couldn't get to a new one as she was stood in the way. She was being absent mindidly oblivious to the world around her rather than rude I think, and it made me smile. Once past her I said "thank you" in passive aggressive protest and made sure I beat her to the passport check queue. 

Robert, Connie, bags and guitar all through without problems and soon enough were boarding the Eurostar. Through the tunnel, into France. Bottle of water and some Pringles. As we arrive in Brussels the weather gets moody, rain and hail. The city itself looks beautiful in the grey light; as if nature has found a particularly compelling Instagram filter. 

An hour transfer in Brussels and we availed ourselves of a 50 cent wee and a baguette before getting on a Thayls train for the final leg of the journey into Cologne. This was a posh train; big and clean with free wifi. Outside the window Belgium becomes Germany and the view was forests, picture book villages and towns with very pretty pointy houses.

On exiting Cologne station we were greeted with the world famous Cathedral, its size and dominating presence almost beyond words. Work began on it in 1248 and was then halted in 1473 with a massive crane left atop the south tower for 400 years. Work resumed in 1842 and was completed in 1880, making a 632 year building project. Seemingly work continues as it is currently flanked with some very impressive scaffolding, although that doesn't take away from  the impact of the dom (cathedral.) 

We were booked in the station hostel which naturally enough is not far from the station. With a rough idea where we were going we set off, stopping at one point to check the map on my phone. Within seconds of doing this a passerby had stopped to ask if we needed any help and confirmed we were heading in the right direction. What a nice passerby!

We found the hostel and checked in, the lady at reception was happy to show us on a map where the venue for tomorrow night's gig, Kulturekafe Lichtung, was and how to get there. Either via the metro or taking a walk along the Rhine. What a nice lady! Our room was pleasant with it's own bathroom. There's free wifi in the bar downstairs and the place feels very cool and friendly. 

After chilling out for a bit we decided to go for a walk and started with a closer look at the dom. Outside it are some boards with photographs of the area as it looked at the end of World War Two; everything is ruined save the cathedral itself which although damaged remained standing despite being hit serval times in air raids. We had a look inside (only briefly as it was now fairly late in the evening) and the scale and workmanship of the building is truly staggering. 

We wondered through the area around the dom and found many eateries and bars. Checking the map we once again had a helpful local asking if we needed directions, what a nice local! Once pointed in the right direction we were able to set off along the Rhine towards Lichtung. A decent step along that famous river, dodging the bicycles and joggers that sped past. Found Lichtung in a very nice part of town then had a slow walk back stopping for dinner on the way. 

The next day we explored further but didn't go too mad in order to maintain some energy for the gig. We'd walked to the venue the night before but decided that with guitar and other performance paraphernalia it would be wise to use the excellent metro service. However once at the dom underground station we noticed things were eerily quiet and realised that the not only the trams but also the buses were on a 24 hour strike. It was a bit late to do the walk by this point and so we got a taxi. The driver was a lovely fella originally from Turkey who told us his daughter had recently visited London and was desperate to live there, an obsession that had begun through being a One Direction fan. He also corrected our pronunciation of chlodwigplatz, the metro stop directly outside Lichtung. (We were making too much of the ch, it's more clod than chlod.) 

Once at the venue we met the two  Michaels who run the place and learnt more about it; yet another example of a venue/event set up by people passionate about music and attended by audiences who want to support live music and prevent it from disappearing forever. The transport strike may have affected the numbers a bit but the gig was lovely and it was wonderful to make my first performance in Germany and get some names on the mailing list, sell CDs and find out what had attracted people to come along. Perfect night basically. 

Day off followed and now we were able to do some proper exploring; a fabulous day pounding the streets. 

It's a beautiful city with particular highlights including the Hohenzollernbr├╝cke with it's thousands of padlocks and superb view with the dom behind it

The Rhinepark with cute little train 

and the picturesque Hiroshima-Nagasaki -Park. 

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