Monday, 20 April 2015

Spargel Everywhere: The Monochrome Set Germany Tour 2015: Part 2 - Hamburg & Berlin (including a meet up with Anka!)

Photo courtesy of Caryne

'Alaska's cave' - a tardis stuffed to the gunnels with Zubehör

Easter Sunday saw the first long drive of the trip, and my first experience of tour bus travel. It was in fact technically a tall van - a Mercedes Splitter - but seemingly the Germans would refer to it as 'ein Bus'.

The most remarkable aspect of the van was driver Alaska's comprehensive assortment of accessories and bloke-y tackle, which hung off the back of the headrests, were stowed under seats, lined the dashboard - and also dangled perilously from pegs clipped onto the roofliner. He had everything on board from plastic cutlery to a spare toothbrush, torch, screwdriver, whistle, straws, paper cups, tissues, penknife, bottle opener, obligatory pin up photo, drinks box, tote bag of 'passenger reading matter', first aid kit, and - most intriguingly - several sets of swimming goggles. And this list is by no means exhaustive.

A small snapshot of Alaska's bits and bobs

A rat's eye view of the Autobahn

On Day 1, seating habits were formed, which also included my travelling mascot, Max Rat, who assumed one of several more or less perilous poses to the left of the drummer's headrest. On cold days, he took to swaddling himself in the keyboard player's scarf, which also made for better stability (see one of his many toppling incidents below).

Motorway travel games and ghosts of projects past

Further to the head scratching over US states that also double up as Christian names, another travel game I played with the keyboard player consisted of listening out for travel bulletins, specifically any instances of a person or foreign body obstructing a motorway lane. This is an incredibly common phenomenon in Germany, and on a single trip could range from the customary burning vehicle or HGV tyre shreddings to 'metal poles', 'unidentified objects', and - our personal favourite - 'children'. We didn't encounter any 'Geisterfahrer' on tour though - so-called 'ghost drivers' who drive the wrong way down the motorway, causing a major risk to other traffic. Oh, and the bass player remarked that for a long time he had thought 'Ausfahrt' was a major city in Germany, as so many roads seemed to lead to it...

Max inexorably heading for the passenger reading matter bag

Then I am not sure if it counts as a game as such, but pretty much any sign off the motorway had associations for me with a particular job - or several, indeed, going back over the past 25 years...So, Laupheim (high speed blister packing plant), Hannover (blind rivets, rubber additives for tyres), Rottweil (architectural lighting), Wittstock (composite wood panels), Schneverdingen (wafer biscuits), and so on. On one - rather startling - occasion, a domestic appliance factory I had visited in the late 90s turned out to be bang opposite the venue! And when we stopped for lunch at a service station on the way up to Hamburg, I realised I had been there in 1994 to met a Dutchman in the cafeteria, whom I interviewed in German about stationary waste compactors. So whilst I was outwardly in 'band on tour' mode, the ghosts of my professional past persisted in popping out of the woodwork at every turn...;)

My jacket potato with 'no sour cream please'


The gig that night was held in Hafenklang, a scruffy but capacious club by the harbour. All but obliterated by graffiti, as is standard for the German indie scene. Our rather 'retro' hotel was within easy walking distance, and I was invited to join the band - and Caryne and Dave, the husband and wife duo selling the merchandise each night, aka 'Die Merchandiser' - for a delicious homecooked meal at the venue.

Note the matching shower curtain with its cheery depiction of marine life!

The rhubarb lemonade raid

Now we were in Hamburg, we had squarely entered Germany's answer to Yorkshire's Rhubarb Triangle, meaning we had ready access at last to that sought-after soft tipple of Rhabarberschorle - the rhubarb equivalent of 'Appletizer', comprising rhubarb juice and fizzy water. The lemonade part is poetic licence to be honest, though you can also get a rhubarb version of that. And thus it was that at the end of the night I was charged with yet another drinks mission using band vouchers - to include as many rhubarb drinks as the bar had left.

There were so many of these vouchers that I decided to minimise my embarrassment by staging a split raid between the upstairs and downstairs bars. The upstairs sortie passed off without a hitch - was 'reibungslos abgewickelt', as the Germans might say - and I snagged five bottles of Rhabarberschorle. However, when I went downstairs I found the way to the bar deliberately blocked off with trestle tables and stacks of chairs. Nothing daunted, I managed to negotiate this veritable obstacle course of furniture and sneak through to the bar, where I scored another half dozen bottles of our rhubarb elixir. My cunning plan backfired rather though, when the woman from the upstairs bar - who must have wandered down for some reason, possibly to seek replacement stocks of rhubarb drinks from her colleague downstairs(!) - caught me in flagrante as I was clumsily clambering up the trestle table mountain on my way out.



The next day, Easter Monday, should have seen a fairly straight run down to Berlin, however we hadn't fully reckoned with holiday traffic, and got caught out with a vengeance a little north of Neurüppin. We were so behind schedule that I scrapped my idea to take the band on a scenic Umleitung to view the Trabant on a pole of a past post. My assigned mission that day was a spot of emergency navigating - using a paper road atlas, how impossibly quaint! - yet essential to figuring out a route that dodged the main jam and any likely spin off bottlenecks on the more obvious alternatives. To say we ended up off the beaten track is putting it mildly. Some of the minor roads we traversed were so minor they were cobbled, an oddity peculiar to former East Germany, as far as I can tell.

On this leg, I was also given the very important task of 'holding apples and envelopes of money'. Just briefly, you understand, while band members' hands were otherwise deployed.


The third and fourth gigs of the tour were back at Monarch, a quirky little venue overlooking the U-Bahn station of Kottbusser Tor. A full description of the place may be found in last year's tour report. Back then the dressing room had consisted of a subutteo table, but the ever resourceful Alaska took it upon himself to fashion one this time using a black out curtain and some of his extensive collection of clothes pegs.

Two English fans had come over specially for the gig, and proffered their necks for me to sniff - Simon (he of the Pratchett-esque beard) was sporting the über-elegant Chanel pour Monsieur, while his wife Mazz was rocking Aromatics Elixir, which wore beautifully soft and mysterious on her. I was rightly reprimanded for completely failing to recognise either of these iconic fragrances.

Photo courtesy of  Caryne 

At some point in the evening I embarrassed myself in the (heavily graffiti-daubed) ladies, when I followed a young girl inside without realising that the toilet cubicle itself was missing its door, thereby scotching the usual possibility of someone going to the loo while the waiting person touches up their makeup or whatever by the sink. The girl proceeded to take her trousers down in front of me, muttering with a slight note of petulance: 'Well, okay then, if you must', whereupon I legged it out of there as though I was on fire. I was sure to use the disabled toilet later on, which to my amusement was not completely free of graffiti either!

Hope and Anka

The following afternoon I had arranged to meet fellow perfumista (and Bonkers reader) Anka in a coffee house near our hotel, where I took a seat at a table by the window a little ahead of the appointed time. Anka recognised me straight away from my blog photos - while I recognised a woman with a look of recognition of her face ;) - and we spent a most enjoyable hour chatting about our respective jobs, her recent holiday, and that evening's gig which Anka and her husband had gamely agreed to attend! Our chat stretched my 'extrem eingerostet' German to its limits, but it was a jolly good thing for me to practise in this way. Surprisingly, we barely touched on the subject of our fragrance hobby...another instance perhaps of '(brand new) friends before perfume', to quote Val the Cookie Queen.

I didn't catch up with Anka and her husband till after the gig, though they had texted me their whereabouts, while I had left a notice by the door to direct them to where I was standing, in the unlikely event of their wishing to be as close as I like to be to the stage (for reasons of height and photography, mostly)! I was delighted to learn that they had enjoyed the set. Moreover, as they were eating their dinner before coming out, they had tuned into a live radio interview with the singer, Bid,  which had helped them to get 'in the zone', as it were. ;)  I should also mention that Anka was wearing Rozy edp, which smelt amazing on her. It proved to be an unexpected leitmotiv of the tour, as will become apparent in due course...

My confusing use of arrowheads was a source of some merriment

Oh, at the end of this gig the bass player sent me back upstairs to 'waste' TEN more drinks vouchers on beers for the next leg of the trip. I encountered the same resistance to the 'alcoholic beverage takeaway concept' as I had in Cologne, but in the end I managed to do a runner with all ten, though not before I'd copped for a serious ear bashing from the barman.

The singer leaves his mark at Hafenklang

PS Spargel (asparagus) will be along soon!


  1. So many things to comment on here, but surely the most important one first:
    The Husband would absolutely adore Alaska's car decorations. He is always trying to sneak in manly survival-type stuff that to his chagrin doesn't make it past the censor (me).
    Happy to hear about your nice chat with Anka, perfume people are amazing. I have yet to meet one I didn't immediately get on with.
    Now on to the spargel... :)

    1. Hi B,

      The Husband would totally love Alaska's bits and bobs - Nutzschmuck could one even say? ;) The van was simply bristling with survival-type stuff for every eventuality - many of which fortunately didn't occur. The big road atlas was quite fun, as Schleswig-Holstein kept falling out however many times I stuffed that particular part of Germany back in.

      It was so nice to meet Anka, who was a good sport for braving a gig, given the fact that she and her husband had no prior interest in the band. Though they had looked at a few YouTube clips to get a rough idea, and because of having listened to the radio show earlier that night, were even able to recognise a couple of tunes in the set!

      Spargel kommt sofort - echt!

    2. Nutzschmuck! Now that is a neologism (Mussonism, to add one of my own) worthy of the Duden. Love it! :)

    3. Yay! By simple analogy with Nutzfahrzeug, it must be said. ;)

  2. Sounds like your trip was littered with "ghost interviews".

    Too bad the band missed out on the Trabant on a pole. That would have brightened up the journey for sure.

    Lovely to hear about your meet-up with Anka.

    Well done for securing all that rhubarb juice and beer under such trying conditions.

    Are TMS doing a London gig?

    1. Hi Tara,

      Haha - 'ghost interviews' is exactly it. ;) Maybe they can take a rain check on the Trabant, as they will likely be playing Berlin again sometime. They have a gig as it happens in Islington on May 16th.

  3. Funny post , my dear. But, Spargel, please....! Did you ever cover the asparagus wee issue on bonkers? It's at least smell related, And weird.

    1. Hi Sabine,

      We have to get a little bit further south for the Spargel, but their appearance is imminent, really. Given that the album is called Spaces Everywhere, you could say that my blog posts have spaces where Spargel should be...?

      I had forgotten about the asparagus wee issue? Smell related and weird indeed. And not especially savoury, haha.

  4. What Sabine said, now there's a true bonker's theme :-)
    Sounds like you had a marvellous time, and now I want to try that rhubarb- schorle...

    1. Hi Asali,

      It is certainly a medical oddity, the whole 'urinous asparagus' thing.

      The rhubarbschorle is absolutely delicious, if not exactly rock 'n' roll!

  5. I think my comment just disappeared into thin air. :(

    Anyway, I love the fact that you recognized Anka by the look of recognition in her eyes. :)

    1. Hi Ines,

      Sorry about your comment, but you know the drill...always copy to the clipboard before hitting publish. I do with everything I write on here, and it's my own blog and should behave! Anyway, thanks for sticking with it. I am sorry I didn't get a photo of Anka, thinking about it. Having initially recognised her in the cafe, later, in the darkness of the gig itself, I actually approached a completely different woman and asked if she was Anka. ;)

  6. Ha, this was fun to read and I like the pictures, esp. the two of your mascot!
    Yes, we really enjoyed the concert.
    And your German is not eingerostet at all, you have a big Wortschatz. Now, I am off to read part 3...

    1. Hi Anka!

      Am so happy you enjoyed the concert, smoke and lack of Geza Schoen notwithstanding. ;) And thanks for your kind comments about my Wortschatz. My passive Wortschatz is better than my active one, that's for sure. I listened again last night to that Berlin radio show you caught, and it was so interesting hearing the lady presenter paraphrase what Bid had said back into German. I have learnt a few things on this tour, not least the all-important difference between 'wuehlen' and 'herumfummeln'. ;)

  7. The very thought of asparagus scented wee leaves me unable to comment. That is some serious stuff. A note as yet unused, even by the scary O'Driu.
    CQ xxx

    1. Hi Val,

      I laughed out loud at the mention of O'Driu. It can only be a question of time before someone comes up with a perfume along these lines. I shan't rush to sniff it, mind. But I am backing more rhubarb notes in fragrance, yes indeedy.

  8. That rhubarb drink sounds amazing! Rhubarb is not that popular here in the states, but I did once find a pricey rhubarb soda that was delicious. Never seen it since! And IKEA sells a rhubarb syrup in the summer to make a rhubarb drink- it is especially good with fizzy water and some vodka. Hoping it makes its appearance soon.

    1. Hi odonata9,

      I was very interested to get the Stateside perspective on rhubarb. I had no idea it was so under represented as a fruit, though the rhubarb soda you mention will be very similar to this Rhabarberschorle, I would have thought. And as you say, by adding water to that syrup you can get back to a Schorle idea too. Liking the sound of the added vodka. ;)

  9. And now for a British Columbia rhubarb report: we have lots of flavoured cider drinks here, and one is in strawberry-rhubarb. Can't give a report on its tastiness as BCL only had a 2-litre bottle, which was too much of a commitment for me...AnnieA

    1. Hi AnnieA,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your local rhubarb report with us! Strawberry-rhubarb flavoured cider is a new one on me but sounds intriguing. I agree though that 2 litres of any beverage is a major commitment, hehe.

  10. I like your rat! I should probably come up with a travelling mascot - since I cannot bring Rusty with me (I wish cats could travel!)

    As I was scrolling back to find the first unread post I saw that car on a pole picture and thought that either you went back to the same place again or Germans were that consistent with putting strange things on poles. I was relieved to read that it was an old picture.
    After I read that old post I noticed a van on a pole as you drive from where I live to San Francisco. Here you can see it:

    1. Hi Undina,

      Glad you like Max Rat. His name is actually a pun on a German friend's band, called Maxim Rad. In German a 'd' is pronounced as a 't', you see.

      We did indeed go back to the same place again - or very near it. It would have been my third visit since 1999 but we just couldn't risk making any unnecessary detours with the traffic as bad as it was.

      I love the picture of that van on a pole - good spot!