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Blackbirds of Broadway 1999 Tour

Europe: Week 4 & Home Stretch

Monday, 12/13/99 - As usual, our 'day off' is devoted to a lengthy bus ride. This time, we are headed to Itzehoe, a suburban town about an hour north of Hamburg. The weather is cold and wet, and it's nice to see pot of hot gluhwein waiting for us in the lobby of the Hotel Mercure. We're about a 15 minute walk from the town center, but I need to get some laundry done and head on in. As with most of Germany, there are no laundromats, only full-service laundries and the service is expensive. Soaked to the skin, I walk back to the hotel and do my laundry in the bathtub.

After drying myself out and hanging up my wash, I head down to the railroad station and catch a train into Hamburg. Getting off at the Hamburg-Altona station, what do I find but a huge coin laundry only two blocks from the station! I walk around Altona a little bit, checking out their Christmas Market and a large indoor mall. Looks like a nice area, but I want to get to Hamburg's main train station, which is sure to have a number of eating places. I jump on the Stadtbahn (U-Bahn) and make a bee line for the Hauptbahnhof. It does not disappoint. Hamburg's main train station is a truly massive facility with tracks on three levels, and shops & restaurants on two levels. The area outside the station looks fairly dingy. Almost like a red-light district. I would later find out that the other side of the station opens onto the riverfront with a massive Christmas Market, featuring lights, food and crowds. Can't win'em all. I return to the hauptbahnhof and decide to eat at the Pizza Hut. By now I've learned to request a 'salami' pizza rather than pepperoni. Click here to explore Hamburg the way I wish I could have!

After a little confusion on the U-Bahn, I finally make it back to the Altona train station and catch the last train back to Itzehoe. When I return to the hotel, Emily reports that the music store in Hamburg couldn't fix my mouthpiece. This will become tomorrow's priority task.

Tuesday, 12/14/99 - As soon as I get up, I check my laundry and find that it's still wet. I check the local gelbe seiten (yellow pages) and identify all the music places in Itzehoe. I make a few phone calls and locate a possible lead a mile or so away. Heading into the town center, I stop to buy an umbrella at a discount store. The same umbrella that cost me $4.99 in Charlotte, NC is only 4.99 German marks--roughly half the price. I like shopping here! The music store turns out to be a bust--just rock and roll stuff. They recommend a place in Hamburg, but it's too late to go. Instead I go to an indoor mall called Holsten Centre to get on the internet and buy some new shoes. There are a few street musicians out in the center. An Irish singer/guitarist, and two accordion players including a cute latin girl who appears to be confusing various elements of the songs Autumn Leaves and Besame Mucho. I just can't spare any coin for this one. After getting some new (non-leaking) shoes and having a nice pizza down at the train station, I walk back to the hotel to board the bus to the theater. The show at Theater Itzehoe is particularly fun because the cast has made a big joke of the fact that Itzehoe sounds just like "It's a 'ho." They get the audience singing this during "Minnie the Moocher" and we all leave the theatre very self-satisfied.

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Theater Itzehoe:

Wednesday, 12/15/99 - We pick up stakes and move again, this time to Ibbenburen--referred to by the cast as "Ibuprofen." The hotel is a bit of a walk from the town center, but I am desperate to find someone to fix my mouthpiece cork. Just up the street from the hotel is Musikhaus Weber, but their repairs are all done by a place called Music Produktiv about 6 kilometers away. Buses only run there once a day, so there's no chance for me. Even so, I wish that I could've payed them a visit. Click on their name to view their impressive website. Knowing that I'm helpless with the mouthpiece, I concentrate on mailing some things home. We will leave in a week and my suitcase must weigh 70 lbs or less at that time. On the way home from the post office, I run into a small music store in the town center, and they sell me some tenon cork for a recorder. Hopefully this will equip me in case of a real emergency. Walking back to the hotel, I see something rare for us--a banner up advertising the show. The performance goes well that night, and the hotel keeps its restaurant open late for us.

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Rare sight: A banner advertising our show, hangs from Ibbenburen's Stadtbucherei (town library).

Thursday, 12/16/99 - We return to the Dortmund area for a performance in Iserlohn, the "third I" of the week. Our hotel is located in Hagen, about a half hour away. I'm still trying to get someone to look at my clarinet mouthpiece and finally hit paydirt in a place called "Music Shop" located in the Rathauspassage. When the mouthpiece is finally separated from the tuning barrel, I see that the cork and glue have rebonded with the tenon. The repairman is willing to replace the cork, but there's not enough time for the glue to dry before I have to board the bus for Iserlohn. That settles the issue for the remainder of the tour. The main street in town has a terrific Christmas Market set up and I wander through it until after dark. After a meal at McDonalds, I head back to the hotel and catch the bus to work.

Friday, 12/17/99 - Weather is not the best, and we are in for a long ride to Pirmasens. Traffic is thick on the autobahns and is at a standstill as we reach the town during the afternoon rush. After a half hour of slowly poking towards town, we finally hit the city streets and are confronted by so many one-way streets and 'do not enter' signs that we end up headed back out of town. Our bus driver Martin finds a place to stop, calls the hotel on his cell phone and is talked in by the desk clerk. It's almost 5pm and getting dark. I run to the post office and mail another package home. Then a long walk through town, checking out the Christmas Market and having a nice Chinese dinner. It is bitter cold and the falling ice is stinging my face. Too windy for an umbrella. After warming up back in the hotel room, I head out to an internet bar called Anno 1900. The owner, Aachem, is a very nice guy and hooks me up with an internet terminal. After this, I'm ready to hit the sack.

Saturday, 12/18/99 - Saturday in Pirmasens is dead quiet. By time I get out at midday, the buses have stopped running in my area. I walk about a mile down to a music store by the train station, and shop through the music. Walking back, I get to see Excelsiorplatz, their center square with a three-level underground parking deck, and take a leisurely walk around the Christmas Market. This show has the smallest attendence of any on the tour so far, but the audience is still good. After the show, I return to Anno 1900 for some dinner and internet surfing. This is a very friendly place and I end up conversing with most of the people there at one time or another. Some folks who saw the show are there and they offer to buy me a drink. I end up in deep conversation with Aachem and we go on until 3am. The streets are covered with snow and walking is trecherous. Winter has finally arrived.

Sunday, 12/19/99 - After a significant overnight snow, we pull out for Schweinfurt, our last city on the tour. Just outside of Pirmasens we find the highway blocked by a couple of fallen trees. The guys bail out of the bus and start trying to move them. The trees, however, are still rooted in the ground on one side and their branches are caught in other tree branches on the other side. As other cars come to a stop, we get more help and are eventually able to get rid of the trees. As we finally pull into town, we find that our hotel is located fairly close both to the theatre and the town center.

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Roadblock: As Stacy and Trude supervise, we move a couple of fallen trees from the road enroute to Schweinfurt.

Monday through Wednesday, 12/20-22/99 - After a successful opening on Sunday night, we play the rest of our run to sold-out houses. Trude arranges for us to have our farewell party on Monday night. Being in the same town for four days means that our working days are more like days off than most of our official 'off' days. I start catching up on my rest and just enjoying the town. Again, I need to do laundry but no laundromat is to be found. I select just enough clothes to finish the tour, and mail the rest of my laundry home from the post office. I give the hotel 30 DM worth of laundry but fortunately they forget to charge me for it. The shoes that I purchased in Itzehoe have rubbed my heels raw, and I buy a pair of engineer boots from a discount shoe store. Relief at last! I do some last-minute Christmas shopping, and start eating Turkish gyros to save money. I also enjoy watching "Hawaii Five-0" in German. To each his own...

One interesting historical note on Schweinfurt. It was the scene of one of the most disastrous allied bombing raids of World War II. One-third of the bombers that went to attack the crucial ball-bearing factory were lost. That company is still in operation today, and Schweinfurt is the home of a large US Army base.

Thursday, 12/23/99 - This is it. The bus departs for the Frankfurt airport at 5:30am. The first flights are going out at 9:30 and we have to be there two hours in advance. My first flight will be a 10-hour trip from Frankfurt to Atlanta leaving at 11:18 and arriving in the use around 3:30pm. About two hours into the flight, I find myself short of breath and eventually nauseated. At first it seems like air sickness (which I've never had), but the condition persists and is apparently a 24-hour bug. The plane ride is a nightmare due to my lost equilibrium and Delta Airlines puts me in a wheelchair at the Atlanta airport. After a 2 1/2 hour layover I board an MD88 for Richmond, arriving at the airport just before 8pm. My parents are there to meet me and I sleep at their house that night. The tour is over.

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