Rotterdam to Cologne, January 6th 2014
In the morning I peel back the flimsy curtain and glimpse the first whisker of dawn. Rotterdam’s blinking constellation creeps imperceptibly closer until its vast industrial tangle fills the horizon. Every one of the countless chimneys is festooned with lights like some Christmas apocalypse. Ships, tugs and barges, container terminals, wharfs and warehouses, petrochemical plants, cranes, barrels, boxes, piles of gravel, sand, coils of chain and rope; it’s the machine-mouth of Europe drinking its lifeblood from the seas. We are disgorged from the ferry’s bowels onto the dockside in our little cruiser and set co-ordinates for the centre to breakfast and make a coffeeshop pick-up. Town is a stimulating mish-mash of modernism not without its charms. The Luftwaffe destroyed the medieval town in 1940 in an effort to cow the Dutch after the Nazis met much fiercer resistance on the ground than expected. Hardly any pre-war buildings survive but we see a few and I privately mourn the loss. Like the RAF did to beautiful Dresden these wonderful places were erased from history by the murderous vandalism of the war machine. Dull minds with blunt aims.
We head out for Cologne, following the scent with the sat nav. Halfway we drop into services for a sausage, the essential fuel of German tours. I make mine a long thin one with speckles of herbs. It’s not the worst wurst I’ve had but I’d say it’s inferior. We are determined to dine exclusively on sausage while we’re here but it’s not a great start. To be frank, I am usually disappointed with my sausage here but the search continues for the truly spectacular. The elusive Super Sausage.
The flat landscape around Cologne reveals little except the white vapour puffs from cooling towers, black pylons and languid wind turbines. The white southern sunlight blasts the factories and farms to our left with a scalding winter gaze. We head east. As we circle around our hotel trying to find the access road we cross the gleaming Rhine thrice, the city sparkling along both banks. We check into our high tech bunkhouse, the rooms crawling with over-designed light fittings and tasteless accessories. Everywhere I go today I come upon vile statuary and I start a small collection of photos — a rhinoceros, a donkey, a Smurf with a dildo. This shall be the trip of the ugly monument.
The Luxor is a venue I have played many times before in various incarnations of DA from the mid-eighties on. It’s a little rock club and hasn’t changed. I meet a charming Italian couple, avid fans, who have taken the train up from Como, through Switzerland to see the show. I blether with them for a while and they present me with a scarf of the finest wool. I wander out after soundcheck and drift along a strip of decent looking bars and middle- eastern restaurants. I order tea in a corner joint trying to use German from the iTranslate application in my phone. Tee mit milch. I fall at the first and the guy immediately talks to me in English. There’s hip-hop on the stereo and the lighting is low and warm. The tea tastes like pine for some reason. I love urban Germany. It’s sophisticated in ways we’ll never fathom. It lacks that edge of hysteria and desperation that curdles the atmosphere of British cities. Mind you, I might be in a right poncey part of town, I don’t know, but it doesn’t feel up itself to me. It’s laid-back, everybody’s just getting on with it. People’s faces aren’t all knotted up with unhappiness and that haunting resentment we do so well. We’re so fucked up it almost makes you proud.
The Luxor crowd are warm and full of joie de vivre (or “freude an der” according to iTranslate). I/we have a great gig. Afterwards I sign and smile until suddenly the sadness sinks in from where I know not. The high fades as quickly as a dropped stone. The empty room with the staff sweeping up, the cold, dead midnight street. Sunday nights have muted ends. I’m tired and long to tangle in the sheets.