We drove all day clear to the east end of Germany. While the guys slept in the back I peered out the windows at the German countryside: beautiful rolling hills, old towns and villages, surrounded by manicured forests, all passing us by. The sun even peaked out from behind the clouds for a brief minute. Freddy was getting tired near the end of the drive and I took over for the last couple of hours, navigating through the mist and fog.

chemnitzfogChemnitz is a gritty city deep in the former German Democratic Republic, a city that by all accounts is still waiting to reap the benefits of reunification. During the East German era the city was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt, and a huge statue of Karl Marx’s grim visage still stares out over the main boulevard. The city had been horribly bombed out during World War II, and was rebuilt as a model socialist city — large drab apartment buildings surround the older buildings that remain.

Subway to Peter, our venue in Chemnitz, is built out of the basement of one of these old buildings in the Sonnenberg neighborhood, on Peterstrasse. With stony arches and concrete vaults, it feels like you are descending into the catacombs. Everywhere, subway systems of the world are referenced — including the men’s bathroom, which is shaped like the London Tube and has the name Subway to Peter spelled out in tiles along the wall. The mirrors have been nearly covered up with anti-fascist punk stickers. Everyone had warned us that Chemnitz was full of neo-nazis, and it seemed that the punks who frequent Peterstrasse had formed a counter-movement.subway.JPG

We set up our sound and were served a much needed dinner. A delicious vegetarian feast with mushroom fritters and steak fries. This would be a good moment to discuss European hospitality towards bands. Everywhere we went, we were not only paid to play, but we were without exception fed and housed. The meals and the rooms, like the pay, ranged from modest to lavish, but the food seemed always to be prepared with care, and we were always amazed and appreciative of this kindness. Many of the bars have “band rooms” either adjoining the club or in a nearby building where the visiting the band sleep the night. If not, the owner of the club or promoter of the show will simply invite you to their own home to sleep. It seemed to us that America could stand to learn something from this cultural practice.

The crowd at Subway to Peter was sparse — apparently, we were competing with a big party across town. Punks and heshers who came to drink eyed us with suspicious curiosity, but a few clapped and cheered. Freddy introduced us to a novel beverage — the Banana Weizen. You take a large mug, pout in a little banana juice, and fill the rest with German Heffeweizen — pretty damn good.

pitstop.JPGAfter some drinking we retired to the band room that was in a building down the street. There was a room full of cots, and walls covered with the posters and stickers of the hundreds of bands that had passed through. Ed dubbed it the “punk rock pit stop” and the name stuck. The room only had one small radiator and the draughty windows and the lack of blankets meant that we were cold. The accumulated lack of sleep and the deep chill conspired to lower my defenses, and I felt an illness begin to creep up on me.

As usual, I woke up before the guys and walked around. The rest of the building seemed to be inhabited by Russians. A thick fog blanketed the city and the bombed out courtyard of the “pit stop” looked desolate and despaired. It was Sunday and nothing was open — an already lifeless city wrapped in silence and fog. When the guys woke up we headed west a couple of hours to Erfurt. Little did we know that we would be back…