Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Roadie Report 49- Germany and Home for August - by Camilla McGuinn

Hamburg, Germany

In my dream world, there are few things more romantic than riding the rails, gazing on a beautiful countryside and eating a plate of cheese and crusty bread with the one you love.

The German countryside is green in July and boasts the most manicured plots of land I have ever seen. The towns are a cross between Hansel and Gretel and Norman Rockwell. Backyard gardens are blooming with flowers and heavily ladened vegetable plants. The canals beg for you to be on a barge drinking in the culture. Germany is an amazing land.

Musing about the landscape from the large window of a comfortable, immaculate train creates an inner tension of wanting to let the gentle rocking of the train send you to dreamland or sitting with your nose to the window so as to not miss a moment of beauty.

The land is spattered with wind mills. Some houses in every town have photo-voltaic solar panels. This is a land going “green” more quickly than my country. To someone who has solar panels on their roof, all efforts to use natural sources of renewable energy are a delight to see.

The Nuremberg concert began in a drizzle, but ended in clear skies and thunderous applause. The promoter kept promising me the rain would stop before the show. His mischievous smile was a mile long when the sky cleared. The venue is located within the only walls left standing of a church that was a victim of World War II bombs.

Roger was deeply moved each time he looked up through the arches at the evening sky as he sang.

As is often the case, the first song he sang for the packed audience was one that he feels conveys his life's story, “My Back Pages.” During the second encore, he asked the audience what they wanted to hear. A man shouted, “My Back Pages!” Roger laughed and said, “Well I sang it to begin with, so why not end with it too!”

Hamburg is a shipping city. We drove there during our 2004 tour, therefore it felt very familiar. The buildings, parks and lakes are beautiful. It is hard to believe that it must have been close to rubble fewer than than 80 years ago.

Our train to Hamburg arrived a day before the concert. A driver met us at the station, drove us to our hotel to deposit our bags, and then drove us to the promoter’s restaurant for an interview and an early dinner. The interview was lively and our meal was outstandingly delicious! We asked the waiter for a portion of broccoli. Finding green vegetables, besides zucchini, is a real treat on the road. The plate of broccoli which accompanied large prawns, a salad and fish would have fed an army. We did our best to eat most of it.

Uwe, the concert promoter, entertained us with tales of Hamburg in the 1960s and the Reeperbahn district where the Beatles had honed their craft. Roger was intrigued and decided he had to go there and pay homage.

The next day we ate another amazing meal at Uwe’s “house” and then made the pilgrimage to the Reeperbahn and the Beatles museum. We only had a few minutes to peruse the archives before we had to leave for sound check, but it was worth the visit.
The Beatle Museum at the Reeperbaum

Leiszhalle is a beautiful performing arts center. After Roger’s sound and light check, I explored the various floors and performing halls. Peter, our German agent for this show, saw me with my head pressed against closed doors listening to the sounds of Gershwin. He insisted upon opening the doors and ushering me inside. A symphony orchestra was rehearsing. We quietly slipped into balcony seats and listened. Peter remarked that it was psychedelic. Listening to Gershwin with that description did shed a new light on the intricacies of “Rhapsody in Blue.”


The two hours on the train from Hamburg to Berlin went very quickly. When we arrived, the Ellington hotel lobby was filled with people and luggage. A bus had just deposited a gaggle of tourist. Our time schedule was tight. Roger always needs to eat lunch at 2pm on the day of a show. He doesn’t like singing on a full stomach, but does need the proper protein to last him through the nearly 90 minutes of aerobic exercise required for a show.

We decide to go straight to the restaurant and register after lunch. After settling at a table, I went to wash my hands as Roger ordered. The reception desk was amazingly empty when I walked through the lobby back to the restaurant. So I approached the desk and decided to register.

The clerk informed me that he had bad news. I, in turn informed him, “I don’t have time for bad news.” That remark did not stop him from telling me that the hotel was overbooked and they had made us reservations at another dwelling place. In about two seconds I made a decision.

Peter was arriving on a later train to this hotel. We would be going to the venue together. I decided Roger and I would eat a leisurely lunch and then deal with the problem that the receptionist had presented to us. I figured it would also be helpful for someone who spoke the language to clarify the situation.

Peter was very good at clarifying things when he was told the problem. The hotel manager visited our table with profuse apologies, offered transportation to the new hotel and refused to let us pay for our lunch. Lunch was very good, so we were happy with my decision to eat first and let Peter be the clarifier.

The Berlin concert was presented in a beautiful Lutheran Church. The church is the venue for over 100 concerts a year and the experience is overwhelming.

People from the high balconies were peering down onto the stage and the crowded pews. Peter told me that folks came from the “East” because Roger’s music was not officially allowed in the days when the Berlin Wall had locked gates. This was their first chance for some of the fans to hear the music in person.

Cologne, Germany

The schedule in Germany was arranged so we could have a day off for travel in between concerts. We spent our free day in Cologne walking across the bridge and exploring the city. There is a sweet custom on the Cologne bridge - people in love have their names engraved on a lock and then hang the lock on the fence of the bridge. Must make for a very lucrative business for lock engravers.

On July 13th, Roger’s birthday, he celebrated by doing what he loves …. performing. The Cologne, Germany concert was broadcast for radio. As a reverse birthday gift for the enthusiastic audience, Roger autographed 250 tickets which were given to each fan as they entered the venue.

We traversed the wonderful German rail system to the four remaining concerts: Utrecht, Nederland; Burg Herzberg, Germany; Peer, Belgium; and the last one in Aschaffenburg, Germany. It was important to make train reservations for the German trains even though we had German and Eurail passes. I saved a few dollars by making the reservations in Germany instead of through the US Eurail Pass website. The personal touch in Germany also guaranteed us the seats that had power connections for our computers.

We boarded the train in Frankfurt on July 22 for our connection in Brussels on the Eurostar for London. There was an hour layover at the Cologne train station. In the shadow of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral we sat in a small café reminiscing about the past two months of incredible adventures. This tour had been our longest outside the United States borders and the most adventurous. The decision not to travel via airplane turned out to be a wonderful choice.

The Crystal Serenity crossing over the Atlantic, the overnight trains from Spain and France, several times on the Eurostar under the English Channel and the joy of riding the rails through all the beautiful countries created some very sweet memories, but it wasn’t over yet.

We lodged our last evenings in London at the Grosvenor House, the hotel Jim McGuinn and the Byrds stayed in during their first visit to England. It seemed a fitting way to end the tour; especially since we had a lot of Marriott frequent guest rewards points. All those stays in Marriott Courtyards situated by the highways of America certainly paid off with a nice perk.

Our last day was spent holding hands walking through Hyde Park, eating one last meal at Harrods’s food court and meeting with Nick Peel to discuss the tour and future tours. As we picked up our formal cruise clothes that we had left at his office, Nick asked if we were ready to go home. The look we gave each other was one that said we were torn between being happy and being sad it was over. We replied to Nick, “It will be nice to be home for a short time, but touring is our life.”

The train to Southampton was crowded with people carrying lots of luggage for the passage to North America on the world’s largest ocean liner.

Ocean Liners are microcosms of little nations. We met people on both ships crossing the Atlantic that we hope to sail with again. The world seemed very small when we met and laughed with people during the Queen Mary's Captain’s reception who had conversed with Roger on “Twitter” just a month before.

Verrazano Bridge in the early morning from the QM2

The ship docked a few hours before the first Amtrak train of the day to Winter Park left Penn station. Our tickets were for the second train, but they had one compartment left on the earlier one and it became ours. We slept soundly that night and wondered how we would sleep when the Earth was not moving under our pillows.

The last train ride of the tour.

It was a blessing to walk through our front door. Our caretakers did a wonderful job and all the mail was stacked in twenty different piles on the kitchen counters. Within a few days we were back on a daily schedule which included washing dishes and taking the garbage out, but more importantly connecting with friends and neighbors. In one week we entertained on four separate nights. During the day, I spent hours advancing the upcoming tour to Minnesota, Iowa, California, Oregon and Washington. The back roads of America are beckoning.

I recently received email from Tim, the agent who booked the Crystal Serenity. The Earth's ocean is going to move again under our heads – the Crystal Symphony has confirmed that we will be sailing on cruise #0226 departing Nov 2, 2010 from NYC through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. Our friends have enjoyed our stories of the Crystal cruise so much that they are going to be booking passage too!

Andrea at Skyline is working on concert bookings along the Amtrak routes back to Orlando. It will be another tour on the sea and rails, this time in the United States. It is time for America to get back on track.

Travel does make the world smaller - what a wonderful world!