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Last month, a seven-day tour through the major cities of Germany gave National Tonight writer, Helen Herimbi, some insight into what it would be like to go on tour. Here, she recalls a week of DJ decks, hugs and krautrock 'n' roll.
It’s a warm summer’s day in Cologne – otherwise known as Day One of On Tour In Germany week.
The week, which has become an annual affair since it had its start last year, is organised by Initiative Musik, the funding agency that is set up by the German government and music industry to support German music.
Cologne, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Berlin are on the cards and electronic music is the dealer. It’s impossible to fit all the experiences into just one article so this is the abridged version.
After 11 hours in the air and a train ride from Frankfurt to Cologne, I should be tired. But the streets of Cologne – busy and beautiful – have me wide-eyed. With just enough time to check in and meet all the other invited journalists (from Japan, Canada, the US, Italy, Ukraine, Cameroon and more), we are separated into two groups and shuttled to the new location of the iconic West-deutscher Rundfunk (West German Broadcasting Corporation) studio.
Opened in 1953 in town, the studio was relocated to the suburbs where it now stands small behind a huge gym that offers zumba classes.
A grey-haired man named Volker Muggler excitedly shows us the equipment from the Fifties and Sixties that’s still intact.
He also laments the fact that with the digital age, bedroom producers make their own tunes, thus negating the need for this particular studio which has become something of an unofficial museum to the beginnings of electronic music in Germany.
That visit was promptly followed by a walkthrough of some of the city’s hotspots including culture agencies and Intro Magazine, which is a free glossy that is financed purely through advertising.
We had an opportunity to speak to the people behind the music game here. Most interestingly, we had a tour of the legendary Kompakt record label house which is divided into a warehouse, a record shop, recording studios, offices and living spaces upstairs. Here, we were treated to an in-store performance by the electronic duo, Coma.
Putting the music aside for a second, a visit to the larger-than-life Cologne Cathedral was a jaw-dropping experience. Surrounded by hyper-religious imagery, we were there to actually look at the abstract Richter Window which was the cause of controversy when the kaleidoscopic window was added to the centuries-old cathedral in 2007.
Speaking of art, Dusseldorf has to – hands down – be the art capital. There are galleries everywhere. The Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at Kunstsammlung was eye-opening.
The prestigious Art School was the departure point of our guided musical tour of the city. The guide was a dapper older man in a red suit who mounted vinyls onto his bicycle and rode ahead to significant points in the town where he’d play the records as a soundtrack to the stories (about Wolfgang Reichmann, Ratinger Hof and more) he was about to tell.
Everywhere we went, Neu! and sometimes Neu? was plastered on walls, under bridges and on billboards. It would be easy to assume this was a reference to the legendary krautrock pioneers, Neu! which was founded by Michael Rother and the late Klaus Dinger. But apparently, Neu became a word the disenfranchised youth of Germany took and owned as a representation all their own.
In addition to that, we drove to where Kraftwerk’s first Kling Klang studios was situated. And then it rained.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be a real tour on German electronic music without an extensive lesson in the institution that is Kraftwerk. Aside from seeing elements that were inspired by the iconic band everywhere in Germany, we also attended a 3D exhibition of Kraftwerk’s visual work. It was called 12345678 and forces you to be quiet and be drawn into eclecticism.
Berlin saw us visit the German Reichstag which is impressive in its quest to go green and the high-tech tours they offer. Unfortunately, we just drove past what’s left of the Berlin Wall (now called the East Gallery) as we were running late for a Universal and Berlin Music Week showcase… on a boat! We watched the enigmatic band Claire and danced to Kid Simius who was drenched in sweat by the time we got off the boat.
The last two days were spent in Hamburg, possibly the most architecturally forward city I’ve been to and so laid-back I didn’t want to leave. First up, we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime intimate chat with Michael Rother (formerly of Kraftwerk and Neu! as well as leader of Harmonia) as well as veteran, Andreas Dorau and Kurt “Pyrolator” Dahlke of atatak.
Following that, we spent the evening and the next day at the indi music festival, MS Dockville Festival, which takes place at a harbour. The likes of rapper MC Fitti, singer Leslie Clio and electronic musos Alle Farben, Roosevelt, Fenster, Vimes and more held the German flag up high. Bands from elsewhere, like The Lumineers, Mac Miller and Woodkid, kept the 20 000-strong crowd thoroughly entertained.
The On Tour In Germany week was spectacular. Partying every night and learning about the party and music scene during the day – sprinkled with some touristy things – is a great way to learn about a country whose musos have touched the world. So dankeschön to Initiative Musik and the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.