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Blackbirds of Broadway 1999 Tour

Europe: Week 3

Monday, 12/6/99 - We enjoy a late morning and leisurely breakfast, because it's a fairly short drive south to Lucerne. This may be the most beautiful city that I've ever seen. Set by a lake, across from the Alps, the old city is beautifully preserved and still has its old defensive wall standing. Our show would be in the Kultur und Kongresshaus, a large and beautiful glass structure located right on the lake. This would be our finest facility and largest audience in Switzerland. I spend an intense afternoon walking around the old city looking for a good music store and a deal on a music box or a swiss army knife. Prices are high in this city, but I did have a great time at Musik Hug. I bought some nice volumes of folk music, and also some great looking Klezmer (Jewish) clarinet music.

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Lucerne's Chapel Bridge. Just a block from our hotel.

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Our Venue: The Konzertsaal of Lucerne's beautiful new Kultur Und Kongresszentrum

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A music store whose name makes a bit of a statement...

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Lucerne in all its glory:  Taken from Gutsch. The old city wall is at the left

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Gutsch: Former castle turned luxury hotel. Access is via the Gutschbahn, a steep tram that climbs up to the building on the left.

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Gutschbahn: The mountain tram brings our wardrobemistess Michelle up for a quick view of Lucerne.


Tuesday, 12/7/99 - I have to get up early in order to see Gutsch, the hilltop castle pictured above, before the the bus leaves for Germany. The view of the city is spectacular. We say our final goodbye to Switzerland and head for Singen, in southern Germany. There is a bit of a delay as we cross the border into Germany, but after about 45 minutes we are passed through without our passports being examined or stamped. We will now be exclusively in Germany for the rest of the tour. Our hotel is located in a residential neighborhood, and there is a bit of a walk into town. Our venue here is their Kunsthalle. The most notable thing here is that it was the birthday of our company manager, Trude.

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Entering Germany from Switzerland:  We get a 45-minute bathroom break, but are still eventually waved through.

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The border offers our choice of phone booths, German or Swiss. I like Swisscom, because you can send email from a terminal next to the phone.

Wednesday, 12/8/99 - This is our day off, but another long bus ride is in store. This time to Witten, a suburb of Dortmund. We are housed in the high-rise Park Central Hotel, next door to the Saalbu Witten, where we will perform. After walking through the town center, I want to get to the train station and go into Dortmund. I ask a lady, "sprechen ze Englisch?" and she replies, "Oh yes, I am English!" It turns out that she has been teaching English at the local school for some 30 years. Outdoing even the Germans for helpfulness, she drives me to the hauptbahnhof. I purchase a tageskarte (day ticket) from the vending machine and take the train to Bochum and Dortmund. Dortmund is the most modern-looking city that I've yet seen. It is in the Ruhr valley industrial area near Essen and Dusseldorf and was undoubtedly bombed heavily during World War II. I wander for a couple of hours through the brightly lit city center and the huge Frohes Fest Christmas market.. Families wander all through the streets with children and dogs in tow. The children are visibly as taken as I am with all the sights. I return to Witten around 11pm and take a lengthy walk around the town.

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Christmas market in Dortmund: A feast for the senses on a lengthy pedestrian-only street.

Thursday, 12/9/99 - Knowing that I have a show tonight, I head out early for the Hauptbahnhof and catch a train into Essen. Adventure finds me quickly as the conductor checks my train ticket and says that it is not valid. I'm still using the tagescarte that I purchased at 7pm last night. In Zurich, such a ticket was good for 24 hours. What I do not know is that in Germany, such tickets expire at 2am even if they are only a few hours old. The conductor does not speak English and my German is extremely limited. German trains operate largely on the honor system and travelling with a ticket that is not valid or not time-stamped is a serious violation. When we arrive in Essen, I wait on the platform to receive further instructions from the conductor. He sees me looking around, and comes out of the train bringing another conductor who speaks very limited English. I try to press my point once again, because I am aware of the 60 DM fine for having an invalid ticket. He shrugs it off, hands me my ticket and tells me to go to the Information Desk, where someone who speaks good English can help me. What I do not know is that he understands the situation, and that I had made an honest mistake. He has decided to forgoe my train fare to Essen, and leaves it to me to buy a new ticket for any further travel. A lady at the information desk explains the rules to me, and tells me what kind of ticket I need to get back to Witten.

Much relieved, I leave the hauptbahnhof and hit the streets of Essen. Like Dortmund, the city center has mostly modern buildings, with ancient cathedrals and churches being the only clue that I'm in an old city center. There are a number of very good musicians playing in the street. A flutist plays some Bach in front of one store, and a guitar player sits in the main street jamming along to some sort of CD or MIDI accompaniment. As the afternoon wears on, I catch a train back to Witten so that I'll be there in plenty of time for the night's performance.

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High-Tech Street Musician: This guitar player jams along to a prerecorded accompaniment in downtown Essen.

Friday, 12/10/99 - On the road again, this time to Fulda and it's beautiful Schlosstheatre. This old castle is a knockout, and the entire ceiling of the concert hall is a crystal chandalier. The old city wall is beautifully preserved, but I find this out too late to take a good pictures.

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Fulda's magnificent Stadtschloss. We played here in the Schlosstheatre.

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88 Fingers are not enough:  Note the extra low notes on this 97-key Bosendorfer grand piano. A stagehand told me that there is another piano with an additional octave even below that--one of only five examples ever built.

Saturday, 12/11/99 - The troup arrives in Lippstadt, and I promptly hit the street with cast member Clent Bowers in search of phone cards and internet access. In a local African shop, we score the excellent Mundophone card, which gives me over three hours of talk time at 7 cents per minute--and no connect fees. If you find yourself overseas for a while, you want to be supplied with Mundophone cards! You can't get these cards are regular phone stores because Deutche Telecom's official phone cards make a lot of money running the meter down at $1.20 per minute for a US call. The stores are not interested in selling cards with "0800" phone numbers that don't pump money into the state monopoly. For this reason we begain targeting African and Turkish shops. These places cater to immigrants from Mozambique and Turkey who are living in Germany and need to call home. After the night's performance at the Stadttheatre I enjoy a delicious and cheap Hawaiian pizza at a local Greek restaurant.

Sunday, 12/12/99 - We move on to Wolfsburg, home of the Volkswagen. Weather is cold and rainy, and almost nothing is open. Even the Christmas Market has only two booths open. Most of the company goes out after the performance to a Greek restaurant for a wonderful meal. On the downside, I discover that the cork is beginning to peel off of my clarinet mouthpiece. Our assistant sound technician Emily offers to take it into Hamburg, where she and Peter will be stopping at a large music store. This will begin several days that I will devote to the search for a holzblas (woodwind) repairman.

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