frostytree.JPG We had hardly slept and the long drive south to Switzerland, through fairytale woods and villages, at least gave us a chance to rest. Although Ed and Cez slept, I refused to shut my eyes — the forests of Bavaria were covered with a layer of pure white frost — truly magical.

bavariaOutside of Zurich we picked up a hitchhiker. She was a middle-aged German woman with dark sunglasses and burgundy lipstick that over-ran her mouth. She said she was trying to get to the mountains because she was hoping to see some snow. Freddy agreed to take her as far as Bern — she could find her own way to the mountains. I offered her a clementine and she greedily accepted it. She sat next to Ed, who was mad that he couldn’t keep sleeping. She tried to talk to him but he wasn’t having it, convinced that she was some kind of witch. He seemed relieved when we dropped her off.

kerzers.JPGKerzers was half farm town and half bedroom community for Bern — with barns and yards of horse manure alternating with the pharmacies and restaurants. We were shown our hotel, a luxurious horse-themed establishment, and treated to a fancy Italian dinner of pear pizza and antipasto. We saw a bunch of local youths at a nearby table and invited them to come down to the show. They ended up coming, which was a good thing since there wasn’t a big crowd. Even though it was small, folks were receptive to the music, dancing and talking to us in between sets. We had the idea on the way to Kerzers to play Desconocido differently — more like a New Order-inspired jam than the usual African highlife style that we play it. We tried it out and it came out great — Ed and I pulled off some mind-reader shit and spontaneously came up with harmonizing bass and guitar lines, while Cez did his best to do the Kraftwerk. This new arrangement became an obsession during the tour and we continued to play it almost every night.

Why were we returning to Chemnitz? One of Freddy’s obsessions is making sure that the bands he takes on tour gig every single night, if possible. As he explained it to me, a day without a show is just a waste of money — you don’t get your room, you don’t get your board, you have to spend money without any money coming in. But as the tour progressed I came to see that at the heart of Freddy’s obsession was a nobler, more spiritual sentiment.

van.JPGFreddy has booked European tours for surf-music legend Dick Dale and for Mexican rockstars Panteon Rococo — and yet he also brings out little known acts like Fosforo. He knows that for a band like ours, tours are like rock n’ roll school: you have to learn how to get along in close quarters, be gracious towards fans and detractors alike, how to party late into the night without wearing yourself out — and most of all, you have to rock hard every single night. I could see Freddy’s pride that he was contributing to our musicianship, by making us play night after night, always trying to outdo ourselves and make it better. And so with nothing else booked on Wednesday we were returning to Chemnitz, where at the very least we would have delicious vegetarian food and a cold room to sleep in.

The second show at Subway was even less well-received than the first. Old-school punks sat right in front of us and hardly acknowledged our presence. We even tried to play an especially noisy, punky, aggressive set, but I guess that without mohawks and power chords, we didn’t have the right punk credentials. There was something ironic about it: I thought about how the original old-school punks had been complete outcasts and rebels. Here we were playing rebel music, feeling like outcasts ourselves, but completely misunderstood and unappreciated by people who had all the external forms of punk — but punk had calcified, become rigid and narrow-minded.

falkorock.JPGOne guy in the audience who was excited to see us was DJ Falko Rock — he said “like the song, you remember Amadeus?” Rock me, Amadeus! Falko Rock spins a lot of old garage rock and eighties rock, and his cheery enthusiasm helped to lift our spirits. He told us more about Chemnitz — about how people had stopped having children after the re-unification, uncertain about what the future would hold. In addition many people had left for other, more prosperous cities. Schools are constantly closing and the economy stagnates. A report had come out claiming that Chemnitz has the lowest birth rate in the world. Despite the lukewarm reception I was glad that we had played these shows in Chemnitz, a little Fosforo flame burning against the chill and gloom that seemed to blanket the city.

After we played the proprietor asked us if we wanted to try the house Schnapps. Why not? We were brought a shot each. Down the hatch and surprise — garlic! Yep, garlic Schnapps — very intense. Ed, who was already fairly sure that Chemnitz was haunted by the dead of WWII and the poltergeists born of years of repression under communist rule, was glad that we had been given this potion to guard us against the spirits of evil. And yet the garlic Schnapps could not prepare us for the living spectres of indifference and malice that roamed the streets of Karl-Marx-Stadt.

bombedout.JPGAs we walked the block down to our punk-rock pit-stop our path was blocked by a very drunk man and his unleashed German Shepherd. The dog snarled and barked at us unceasingly, but the man only laughed and gurgled at us in Russian, nursing what seemed like at least three cans of beer. The dog came dangerously close to biting Ed and Cez-One, we just didn’t know what he might be capable of. We ran towards the building and as I tried to go into the courtyard the Russian blocked my way. I insisted that we were rightful guests and pushed my way through, we ran in but the dog followed us and barked at us all the way to our door. I was so tired that I passed out, but Ed and Cez-One, completely spooked by the experience lay awake all night. In any case, it was hard to sleep once the Italian punk band that was also lodging at the pit-stop showed up in the wee hours. They were very drunk, and despite my best efforts to keep sleeping I would hear them farting and laughing.

diebarsign.JPGBack to Germany we drove and on this clean chilly night we pulled into the famous Die Bar in the small village of Schwalmstadt. Our predecessors Mezklah and VBC had raved about Die Bar: the kindness of the owners, the refrigerator of beer that sits next to the stage — it was all true. Although the bar didn’t get very full we had a great time playing. The house amp was a huge Marshall, and the excitement of being reunited with my guitar meant that I really rocked out and played some heavy guitar solos. It sounded great and musically, it was one of my favorite shows of the tour. We hung out a good while afterwards and made some friends. This one kid schooled me for real in foosball — Germans are crazy about foosball. I never knew the game could be played with such subtlety and skill. Steve, our host, kept plying us with shots of Jagermeister, which tasted a surprising lot better than I had remembered it. We learned and forgot many useful German phrases.

We were taken back to Steve’s house to sleep by a Cozy fireplace and in the morning were treated to a lavish German breakfast with Steve’s girlfriend and his niece. When Steve’s niece went out to play she put on a bonafide little red riding hood. When I remarked on this Steve’s girlfriend told me that we were in the heart of Grimm Brothers country and that the road into town is called Fairy Tale Road. We took this Fairy Tale Road back to the highway and headed to Chemnitz.

jk2470.JPGFor Christmas Day we returned to Freddy’s neck of the woods, Retie being Kasterlee’s neighboring town. The club was in the middle of the fields and woods, but hordes soon arrived on bicycles and in cars. The lineup was crazy diverse: a death metal band, a blues-rock trio, us, and a rockabilly band closing out the night. Although the place was packed we had a tough time, frustrated by equipment failures, and playing music that was perhaps too unfamiliar for the audience. Fortunately, when we got back to Freddy’s house we discovered that the airlines had finally managed to deliver Cez-One’s suitcase and my guitar. The bad news was that Ed’s bag and my synth were still missing. Fucked up! At least we had my precious guitar back…

erfurtposter.JPGWhen we got to Erfurt, on Christmas Eve, we were immediately excited. We learned that we would be sharing the huge hall with the three local reggae soundsystems — a dream come true. After setting up our sound we were taken to our hotel a few blocks away. The building had been a police station during East Germany days, but was now a pretty hip hostel. We got the “special” room, the lock-up where they used to keep all the weapons.

After the most delicious eggs and potatoes we had ever tasted, we waited for people to arrive. We couldn’t play until midnight: apparently there is a law in Germany banning live music on Christmas Eve until after midnight. We played a great reggae rock set and the response was massive. I remember feeling a certain charge while I was singing Give Thanks in Hebrew in front of this great German crowd — perhaps it was a feeling of redemption. Later, after our set, I learned that Erfurt was only miles away from Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp where Elie Wiesel and many others had been kept prisoner. Redemption indeed.erfurtcrowd.JPG

I wasn’t feeling so hot, so I headed back to the hotel to get some rest as the reggae kept rockin. Ed and Cez-One showed up at dawn laughing and drunk. At one point in the morning Ed stumbled out of bed and knocked into the prison bars, waking me up. I saw him lurch towards the lockers and lay his head on the locker door. It seemed like he was starting to piss. I shouted at him, “Ed! The sink! Over there!” He mumbled something back that sounded like “I’m pissing in the shower.” “The sink!” I yelled. Mumble, mumble groan was the response. Maybe there was a bottle or something he was pissing into that I couldn’t see. Hoping that he hadn’t just peed all over his back pack and the floor, I turned over and went back to sleep. Sometime later I heard  Cez-One stumble out of bed and bump into the walls. He was confused but I managed to safely direct him to pee in the sink.erfurtprison.JPG

Unable to go back to sleep I decided to get up. I looked on the floor where Ed had stood, and indeed there was a fresh wet spot, and his backpack looked wet as well! Although Ed would vehemently deny that it had happened and swear that he had walked all the way to the bathroom, I had seen it all take place with my own very sober eyes. I am not telling this story in order to embarrass Ed — not at all! The truth is, I felt proud… as a rock n’ roll band we had finally managed to a little damage, even if it was minor, we had taken our first baby steps in hotel room wreckage…

erfurt1.JPGWhile the guys slept off their drunk I walked around Erfurt. Everything was closed on this Christmas morning, but the old city was everything you might hope a German town to be, complete with massive cathedrals, tranquil streams, and a walled citadel that overlooked the red-roofed city.

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…

Aachen sits on the border of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. We were playing at Hauptquartier, a small bar in the center of town. Upon entering the bar, we immediately felt the positive vibes. The space was small, but lavishly and meticulously decorated in golds and yellows. Dieder, the owner, told us that the same artist has been decorating Hauptquartier for years, and that he redoes the decor every six months or so. Dieder — tall, gaunt, with an easy and open nature — helped us tremendously, finding us the extra cords and plugs we needed that had been packed in our missing luggage.

guitarpicks.JPGFreddy had dug up an old Mexican Squire guitar out of his attic. The nut was broken and the low E-sting was almost unplayable, but it would have to do. Also, Freddy didn’t have straps for the guitar or the bass. Ed, ever resourceful, fashioned guitar straps out of duct tape. My guitar picks had also been packed in with my guitar, and so I cut some new ones out of Cez-One’s old Costco card — my favorite being the one that had his corny mug on it!ducttape.JPG

After sound- checking Dieder invited us out to eat at his favorite Thai restaurant, which was shockingly delicious. We had great conversation and lost track of the time. It was getting late so we headed back to get the music started. Our set went great. There must have been only twenty or so people, but the space was so small and intimate, the sound so warm, that the old Fosforo fire managed to spark and flame. People of all ages, danced and swayed enthusiastically as we played for more than two hours, pulling out songs that we had not played in a long time. I saw one older man in the crowd sitting, swaying, concentrating on what looked like a heavy, ponderous book of German philosophy.