Thursday, 22 November 2012

The European Sphere

we are dealing with the very first instance of an accommodation of sovereign nation states – moreover, the first generation of particularly self-confident nation states with their own imperial pasts – to the postnational constellation of an emerging world society...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Pimpernel Poet of the British Library

Almost as soon as Vera Frankl finished editing The Best Read Office, our programme about the readers at the British Library, I was back at my Humanities One desk being asked by the woman opposite me if I had written the poem left on her desk whilst she took a break. I hadn't.

But someone had.

Now, more evidence: a reader (well known) from Rare Books privately tweets today - what about the Rogue Sonnet Flirt?

Her poem was about a part of her anatomy, said to be rather good; it too was left on her desk while she was absent. Perhaps if we are lucky we may one day see it. So today I begin my investigation of the Rogue Sonnet Flirt. A.K.A


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Where I am writing Betwixt - and why it's so slow

That's the Euston road in sunnier times (2011). And a few yards away is this

Which is the British Library. On Saturday the Radio 4 documentary I made with Vera Frankl about some of the readers at the British Library is broadcast. Details here. It's called The Best Read Office in the World. Listen in at 10.30am, or anytime on Iplayer.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A Poem


Zo de wind waait, waait z’n jasje 
As the wind blows, so does his jacket 
(i.e. He will jump on any bandwagon)

Dutch Proverb

To light a cigarette with a candle 
Kills a sailor, they say, in Vlissingen: 
Aan kust sea and sky dance a light tango, 
Ships now close sail for a pale horizon 
Where tobacco can be smoked any way.

Found Flushing Photos

Maybe Tom? Sailing for where? Flushing 2011

Thursday, 23 February 2012

London - conversations with horses

"Nietzsche believed that 'only thoughts which come from walking have any value'. And look what happened to him, seething till his eyes popped out, conversations with horses."

Iain Sinclair, London Orbital, pp31 (2002)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

My Very Own Spaces in Between

Even when intensely focused - on Coryat, his route, the Rhine, just finishing, the detail of everything from light to the often mythological names of the container ships that cruise the river - I am also living the bi-polar existence of multiple personality, at once deracinated and simultaneously acutely gripped. It's what they used to call being a generalist, before post-modernism and the digital made seductive ahistorical overtures, willing a constant present upon us that my own lifestyle choices in London and New York, fuelled by Wallpaper and label-dependance alike, did nothing to refute. I think it must have been first a few fraught weeks in Cairo, followed by several years living in Eastern Europe, that refreshed my visceral need for a sense of the something beyond the download and the wifi; discovering by accident the work of Thomas Coryat I was given, like Mathew Barney is the early video work I experienced in Basel, both the limits and the potential for delicious inventive variation, that inform this staccato journey.

Some of my All About Eve lives at this moment in Duisberg morning include the doctoral scholar, seeking moments of understanding when confronted by early religious art in the kunsthouses of Switzerland and Germany; the would be poet, checking proofs on a private collection I've written (and where does this impulse come from, the pieces are formal and metre-strict, not the free verse of escape but the prison of order...?); the traveller missing home and its pleasures, a belated family life (travelling themselves now, in America, across Europe by car...); the writer trying to find a harmony that might inspire a book proposal for this project that isn't either labyrinthine and pretentious or a guide book; the lover of Kiefer and the reader in English of Heine whose two week German language immersion is proving unsurprisingly inadequate.

Another life that is increasingly impinging is that of researcher for a radio programme I am going to make next year; I need to understand an architect, and occasionally on the trip I read some of his pieces tucked away in the Papers app on the Ipad. He seems so wise, so thoughtful in his ability to meld old and new; the requirements of monumentality and those of the solitary individual; and his dates and passions mirror those of my own father, who died a couple of years ago and the anniversary of which is today - in brutalist Duisberg.

It's not hard to feel stupendously ignorant on a journey such as this; too fast to dismiss, or too taken with the superficial; or similarly quick to rush headfirst over the top about something, a painting or a building, a bar where people were friendly. An Englishman always takes his time, Eartha sang, but it can't always be true, sometimes we too - and perhaps increasingly - are a little premature ourselves.

Which is how I arrived for my cathartic Kiefers two hours early and stuck in the modern watery redeveloped wastelands of Duisberg, I sat down and had a little weep for a while.

A few weeks later, in fact two days back in London, I am at the tube station waiting to travel to the British Library for the first time in three months. My clothes are clean for a change and I have my fancy headphones back. On the floor, dirty and well-trodden, is a pull out section of this morning's Financial Times. For some reason I am drawn to it: the supplement is titled: Doing Business in North Rhine-Westphalia; and on page four a long feature on the redevelopment of Dusiberg's former bulk cargo harbour. It is one of those very strange moments; the scruffy supplement is open in front of me now, sitting in the British Library, recollecting the last three weeks of my journey. I read about Norman Foster's grand plan, about the "targeted" investment, the switch from cargo harbour for the local coal and steel industry - we are in Ruhr-Land - towards being a "logistics hub". But mostly I gulp in horror at the sentences about "luring residents and tourists with a mix of museums (including a Lego museum), shops and restaurants."

I've been here last night and today, on a restlessly emotional day, the vision is grim: neither the neo-futurism of Canary Wharf (from where I've always imagined the Blade Runners of the late twenty first century will operate, chasing not facsimile humans but their algorithms), nor the Truffaut-esque Alphavillery of La Defence. No science fiction flies here, no sense of Super-Cannes just an acute embarrassment that this is probably all Britain's (and her Bomber Classes) fault.

I can't even bring myself to go into one of the cafe for a coffee, so I snuffle around taking grey photographs and wait for the art museum to open. In the FT's relocation guide to Westphalia - Where to Live; Schools; Shopping and Leisure; Transport Links are the sub-heads to the article - there's not a mention of Duisberg, it is all about the Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf triangle, and prose so deathless Bomber Harris might have written it. Anyway...

At eleven the doors to the museum-kueppersmuehle finally opens and I scurry around its nihilistically white high ceilinged rooms, taking in epic photography by Hans-Christian Schink that covers the entire ground floor. I'm not sure what to think, the work is very precise and at times seems overly simplistic, but gradually as I middle-agedly take in that I have been to many of these photo's environments, I warm to Schink's bleak tourism. It is as if the the desire to efface any suggestion of an emotional response has been removed, and a cold technocratic vision judges silently. I think of the work of Nadav Kander, of whose photoshopped images these remind me, and I have learnt to like those very much...and anyway this is just the foreplay. Crowds bussed in from somewhere arrive and I play a game of hide and seek with them as they are umbilically linked to a guide and so I move wherever they are not. As in Dusseldorf the museum is a cathedral of chilly calm; but without those interactive dancers. This is a museum of solitary introspection; at least it favours no visions of the bleak outside.

Once again, though, it is the permanent collection that excites me. For years now I have found in Anslem Kiefer's work some kind of synthesis of the very public and the intensely personal. I find it almost mind numbingly emotional. The work is huge in scale and ambition and so resolutely serious as to suggest it comes out of no obvious post war tradition, except that - as here - the thickness of the paint and the broad, architectural sight lines, make for a post-religious kind of sacredness. Anyway, I am moved and thus immobile in each of the two rooms with Kiefer's art, four and four. I scribble and stare for hours, like a monk with a bunch of stations of the cross to consider.

I will write at length one day about the work but it seems to me that it personifies the state of being in-between, the betwixtedness of my journey and everybody else's. I spend much of my life at desk 2178 in the British Library until recently unsure as to why this space is so conducive to work. Now, having delved through the essays of Colin St John Wilson, and the work of Alvar Aalto, I understand their obsession with this state of in between, the relationship of the out to the in; the concept of threshold. Kiefer's work seems perpetually on the threshold, neither exploiting the allusions, the quotes, the familiar buildings he paints, the mythological, the huge dead fields, nor ignoring their potential for being remade. He seems to be able to paint this state of betwixtedness at the grand scale without making the viewer cowered. His work is assertion, but not i feel confrontation. Wilson writes: "We can still be moved deeply by buildings yet have no adequate terms to deal with the fact," and this is how I feel about Kiefer. Wilson compares the sensation to sexual attractiveness...I think I prefer the idea of alchemy.

Or Wordsworth's: "unknown modes of being."

There is other work: Richter, being colourful. Polke....But my lessons were well learnt with Kate, just a few pieces today, at length. There is a sliver of sunlight when I leave the museum and I wander back into town in search of the best cup of coffee. I realize as I yomp the mall boulevards that the image I have see most often - consciously, for I'm sure I've blocked out the MacDonald's signs - is the H&M carrier bag. Today there is a contagion of them.

The best coffee shop (non Dutch meaning) is nice, but hardly the Cafe de Flore in Paris where Sartre wrote that man is condemned to be free. White and stylish and a myriad of people who look as if they have escaped a mall pass through. I try to write. "Art is with us," Nietzsche writes, "in order that we may not perish with the truth."

I have a friend who has done well by his books, after a shaky start. These days he and his wife have relocated to Carmel and Hollywood has called, but when I knew him well he swore by shopping mall cafes. He could write longhand or on a laptop 5000/7000 words a day and then tear them up without remorse if he saw fit. I've arrived here via the harbor wharf, Japanese businessmen scurrying around, the Hitachi Europe offices are here; the "City" museum....phrooofff.....then a tram to the university district in search of life - but there is none, negatively none, it is a vacuum of inaction. A university....Hmmm.

The cafe Fino's virtues are that it isn't on the main street and the coffee is good and that's about it. I ask a stylish couple where to eat tonight: they say there are great restaurants at the cargo harbour development. I die a little more and keep speed drinking espressos. I start to write a poem about in betweenness and their spaces....

At my cafe window seat the owners have left half a dozen copies of the latest IKEA catalogue. I think back to Kiefer's monumental Brandenberg painting that's in the kueppersmuehle, It is both the colonnaded facade and the liminal space in front, dark and thonic, "In the back of every dictator is a doric column," Herbert Read once wrote. Somewhere in my tweeted universe I have read about the founder of IKEA again, those far right links much stronger than suspected all those years ago....When I die the music may be German techno in Hell, maybe not, but the decor will definitely be IKEA.

The questions mount: where does everyone go at night? Where are the students? Is everybody doing their anthropological research in the shopping malls? In a tiny fragment of the old town that has been dug up a sign in several languages explains how everything was destroyed in the war - I really should detour and go to the Ruhr museum in Essen.

It's a strange feeling, elated from Kiefer, experiencing a kind of betwixt epiphany, and yet stuck in an oasis of zombie-future world. On cue Sade comes on the cafe soundtrack singing Your Love is King, for a few weeks in the early 80s this was the sound of sophistication; then the diurnal soundtrack of shopping. A sax solo! Oh yeah, Lady Gaga has made them hot again. I yearn for some music so slip on my iPod and listen to a French samba version of Blur's Girls and Boys.

I make the gallery DKM too late, but the owner opens up for me with a big smile and goes to find me English texts and says I must to Bochum where there is a great show. There's an Asian theme here and ever since the Dusseldorf Dude I've been aware of the Chinese influences in art: following the money.

My poem starts: Spaces in Between are pockets of resistance, fight escalated prairies of market perfection.....hmmm

"Bolero is good," echoes in my mind as I finish the last espresso - how could they recommend the harbour places of Immelhafen?....I ask the coffee guys if there is "anything like this, but, you know, in a bar?" A bit of head scratching and then with the aid of my Gmaps they say - well there is one That's not too bad."

I wanderweg back to my hotel and then on a largely domestic back street find a promising looking (there is graffiti) narrow bar that's not yet open and then as I am crossing the square of my hotel I see a sign for the Film Forum. Film Forum means Jean Luc Goddard. Means not 3D. Means a heartbeat of something. I head straight for its cafe. It's about 6pm now. A sense of darkness as late summer descends. And people. There is an Italian Film Festival happening.

People talking, not carrying H&M bags. Free wifi. The poem gets knocked off. A lovely older couple who've just seen the new Woody Allen, or perhaps an old one, ask me if I am famous as I look like an actor. Loving this. There is a different drum beating here and even the music has pretensions of being ok. Men wear belted jackets; women in berets. Silver hair is allowed. Here the fascism of the mall is being fought, centimetre by centimetre.

I go to the narrow bar I've found and very quickly the owner is telling all about it. Different of course, an artist has built the mis en scene; its not for everyone. A hint of Tingerlay, but it ain't him, but I am happy. "We had to work for this," she says. She tells me about a story she's seen: two American guys who walked around the world for a bottle of whiskey. This place is a home to ponytails and how rarely I imagined I'd welcome that sentence. I start talking to Stefan at the bar, he's a sound engineer, wanted to be a rock and roll star but now just makes soundscapes for films, yes he makes films too, it may be a pick up, I'm not really sure but I am smiling away, freed from IKEA. There's a long conversation about the genius of Douglas Adams, to which I can't contribute a huge amount but I do try - throwing in that I used to play tennis with his wife, and commission him to write for me at Wired - and that does the trick.

In the end it always pares down to will people talk and Stefan talked; there was life here. I head, a little squiffily, to the bar recommended by the cafe folk. It is easy to miss, a door, nothing fancy.

Finally: men who dress like Jarvis Cocker, women bereft of H&M; ambient Duane Eddy minimalist music. A vibe. It is midnight. I have found the uber space in between. Yay me. A stranger would find this bar, unmentioned online, once in a million goes. The music switches to "The Selector" a ska song I bought in Brixton when I was eight. Teary now, obviously. The owner is a Munsterman, that's German Munster, but has been to Irish Munster recently in a kind of why not way. He's red-haired could so easily be Irish. I'm talking to lots of people now, the music is cool, there's a 20 year old Seberg who is off to study film in Hamburg, full of excitement and fear with blonde bob; there's guys who are musicians, and then I am dragged off to meet an older woman who sits on a raised dais, wearing all black - a famous actress I am told. Soon I have met her son as well, he's just back from Iraq where he's been doing theatre therapy for fucked-up soldiers. These are my people. The notes from my Moleskine from now on are a little tricky to transcribe. However...

The actresses son launches into a vitriolic attack on Sir Norman Foster and how the people of Duisberg would like to sending him packing down river - actually it was a little more visceral than that, but this is a family blog. "If you are from Dusiberg you hate Norman Foster, that's the bottom line." There are places like this, the people tell me, but they are unusual. The townies would rather go to Dusseldorf or Cologne, we build something, just something here.

Then there is the history of the local football team. "It's shit, always has been, but we are proud - so proud - our fans are famous and even been taken up by Bayern Munich fans. It's a history thing. We've always been the poor relative, and nobody who isn't from here will understand. MSV Duisberg, I'll write it for you. [The only clear piece of writing on that page]...The Actress often performs here; she's just back from a one woman show about Goethe. Faust. Bliss. She promises to send me a poem she has written about Duisberg. We swap emails. Thomas a primary school teacher tells me about the problems, the drugs sure, the sense of this not being a boom town, having been eviscerated and never really recapturing a post war soul. Except that it is all over this bar. The actress is Kristina; at some point she dubs Seberg as the town Lolita - certainly she has been around the room several times and now she's back with us as Kristina recites a little Goethe. It's about 2.30 in the morning and all is well. I have one of those late night booze-inflected epiphanies. Two in a day. I think about my dad and stumble off to bed. In the morning this is in my in box:

Poem for Duisburg

I didn’t choose you,
rather been caught by you.
Probably we suit to each other.
The longer I know you,
The more we seem to be similar.
Too proud, to be offended.
Wide city to the one who does understand.
Having had better times.
But even worse of them.
Even you are an eldest sister.
Younger ones are snivelling.
Your governors are
The Third world of governors.
Your worldly wisdom
Is the high amount of cares.
Even you don’t make holydays.
Such a kind of thing we don’t need at all.
You make the championship
And show a sweet Blue
On the tower of the municipality.
Happy without triumph.
If you were allowed to wish something,
You’d give a party like me.
If you are sick,
You don’t open the phone like me.
No one loves you because of vanity
And you don’t answer love by symbols.
You were misused as armour
And did receive your ruins.
Now your are sold out
As old model.
And you know it better:
The city is then place of its humans,
Nothing else.
If foreigners take you as a brave one,
They don’t understand:
You just cannot get out of your skin.
Your harbours are buried alive,
Your chimneys are blasted
And ceremoniously rust your giants.
But your breath is long,
Even if you got asthma hundred times.
You go on continuing –
But not to survive!
You are devote to life!

I take a train half way to Rees, my next stop, because I am old and hung over and I am sure Tom took a boat here. Bleedin' cheat. It is a Friday and I walk through a lot of stinky farm land, see many horses and cows and stuff. But I am still thinking about Duisberg and its spirits of resistance.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Walk to Duisburg

This far into the journey a potential 40 kilometre walk holds few fears, and though the hills and mountains that have formed my backdrop in the mid Rhine have gone and i'm preparing for the flatlands of Holland there is still much pleasure to be found in the minute variations of light, the bright grey clouds, the limiting lines of sky or water, the bridges, their graffiti, the neat rows of trees; the way my path seques from forrest to open stretch, to village hinterland and back.

The light is playing dark tricks today, very photo-friendly and a reminder for some reason of the annihilating blurred light that cast few shadows which I experienced for so long in northern Italy all those years ago now on the first stage of the journey. I am walking from Dusseldorf, I start from Joseph Beuys street, to Duisburg.

I do though have a few fears about the latter as I know it was pretty much destroyed by blanket Allied bombing in the second world war. But whatever I find there will, I insist, be spaces of interest. And the art museum here does have Kiefers, eight of them. I can't wait.

As I walk I think about my conversation with the art dude last night; he's German but art takes him around the world. I'd assumed for a long while that he lived in Dusseldorf, but he was only there to teach; he lives in Paris.

"Why Paris?"
"Why not, I always wanted to live there, and now I have a place in the second. it's not big but, hey, I live in Paris."

And why not? Europe for all it's faults and flaws and Berlusconis is an amazing place, and now I know that if I need extra "energy" I just need to hop to Shanghai.

I am hungry by the time I hit Lieversberg. I have passed the massive Dusseldorf Messe complex and marvelled at more container ships and burnt out the camera battery taking essentially the same photograph over and over in search of the perfectly lit sky, cloud, river, boat combo. There is wifi and it's not summer any more so most of the diners are inside. The usual snitznel fizzy water double espresso fags lunch and afterwards I load the photos from the camera onto the iPad. My waiter clocks me. "Did you see the light this morning? It was magnificent on the river."

I agree and then receive a list of detours I should make for high-end nature photography. I jot the names gratefully, but for another trip, another kind of experience. I've long acclimatized now to my sense of nature, which includes every "ugly" pylon and pig farm and haven and industrial complex. I know from David Blackburn's marvellous The Conquest of Nature how unlike Tom's rhine is the river I walk; and when he took boats, when he rowed with his ex-pat English mates as now on this part of his trip, the tides and the banks and the complexities were far greater than those which confront all on the Rhine today, yachtsman and skullers, container drivers and cruise ferries (there's nothing doing from Dusseldorf to Duisburg today though, maybe it is the end of the season, or perhaps Duisburg isn't quite Versailles). I suspect the latter.

It's very hard to explain the pleasures of the very slow: tantric walking is cool - Sting would approve, and Mrs Sting too, I suspect, if she could bring her cook along - it makes for a very intensified looking, a miss-nothing attitude to trees and skies, and a lot of turning around to make sure the guys going in the other direction aren't having a better time.

Then came the blocks of power stations, pumping a white smoke into the ether that is the colour of Tintoretto's clouds, eerily whiter than the rest of the sky furniture. More photos ensue. More farms, long flat Kiefer landscapes - truly on this stretch the mis en scene is pure Kiefer. Grunged into a thick dense and textured world in which field and factory and sky merge into a giant live poster for German industrialism. I guess I am in the Ruhr. I veer inland to get a closer view of the factories and then tack back towards a shipyard cum container haven. There's a giant bridge looming on my north-western front and I assume this is Duisburg. Then a village, but lost from the river and my GMap not, er, 100 per cent, I ask a woman coming out of a hairdresser's where the centre of Duisburg is. It's 15 kilometres away she says. I don't believe her and so she very kindly packs me into her Audi and drives me 10 kilometers inland, leaving me in a bleak casino and international phone call shop heavy suburban hinterland that despite my love of all things bleak makes me feel quite, er.... bleak. I've walked a long way today, then been driven, and for the next two hours I walk the suburbs, which is pretty tough. Finally I hop a tram for the last stop and then I am Duisburg central railway station. I have no hotel booking and so I start walking into the centre.

OOOOfffff. If the Champs Elysees had been re-imagined as a pedestrianized set of shopping malls from the ninth circle it couldn't have been more uninviting. This is a new town; the bombings must have taken away everything. Eventually I find tourist information on the ground floor of a huge smug mall, nestling next to a plethora of plastic international cuisines. Only the extreme friendliness of the staff prevent a mini breakdown. And even then I am soon contending with "Fantastic selection of restaurants in the malls, and there is a stunning waterfront complex..." We book a room and I ask. Where's the best cup of coffee in town?

The answer, thankfully, isn't Starbucks. I try desperately to get away from the mall-ish vibe of the entire centre with little success though my hotel isn't bad tucked away in a square that feels a little "older", except that there are a lot of Messe delegates drooling around speaking that Orwellian Deep Dive Bollox, like religious converts to the God of Ayn Rand. I ask again about nice places at reception and am sent to the Waterside complex, a walk that is not aesthetically in my top two million. And then I am staring at a row of identikit restaurants where, inside, identikit people listen to Duffy and Sade. I turn around, go home, and skoff the mini-bar. At least in the morning there is Kiefer.

First thing this morning, before i left Dusseldorf I phoned the largest Kiefer collector in the world and got his secretary. Yer man was in Paris with The Man. I was told to call back tonight. The phone rang for an age without voicemail. OK: tomorrow.

When I will also be in search of the best coffee shop; because with coffeeshop comes the possibility the staff might recommend somewhere else that is not mass-produced, that's how it really works: forget online, this is word of mouth....

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Art Haus

The first towne that I came unto was Dysseldorp a faire towne of Cleve-land, situate hard by the Rhene, which is famous for two things, the one a magnificent Palace belonging to the Duke: the other the residence of the Dukes Court here.

With the scrubbed up shoe sellers - there is a shoe convention at the Dusseldorf Messe I've discovered - I take a leisurely hi-tech breakfast with herrings and wifi. Long after the iPhone voice mails have been left and final make-up and hair reconstruction achieved by the boy and girl delegates here, I'm still noodling away. I write this, a beginning of something:

Who ate all the Sushi?

“The only reliable, durable, and perpetual
guarantor of independence is profit.”

The world isn't getting warmer,
Forlorner, more medicated
Or self-obsessed. Every corner
Forms a wi-fi hotspot; the Fed
Finds no evidence for arrest;
The heir apparent reneges
His bonus, cites the very best
Reasons. Sports seasons pass like plagues

The main art gallery in Dusseldorf, and boy is Dusseldorf an art city, is split into three discrete buildings spread around the city. My first port of call is the Kunstsammlung, which "can be characterized as one of polyphony and contrast" the website states. I am more inclined to see it as a temporary show, Move It, which I missed in London, and the collection which is largely twentieth century and totally mouth-watering. At the ticket desk I'm told that the second building is closed today, there's an opening tomorrow for Jordan Wolfson from New York. But, as for the third building across town, promising spectacular video installations, there's a free shuttle bus every fifteen minutes. This is all very impressive.

In the main gallery space for Move It, three young dancers are limbering up as I wander the work, stopping for a good while first in front of a trusty Pollock. Another exhibit, by La Ribot, is a collection of folding wooden chairs that lean against a wall; each has a quotation of some sort and can be used to sit anywhere for artistic contemplation. One quote reads:

Without Walking I Would Not Be Able to Make any Observations.

I think I am going to like it here.

I near a plank based balancing act of art and the dancers, as one, rise from the floor, say good morning in accented English (how did they guess?) and ask if I have any questions.
"Er, what is this all about?" I am not the first to start my interaction in this way...

They are Fatima, Monica and Else, from Venezuela, Switzerland and Sweden; young dancers who interact both with the crowds who walk the show, and with their iPhones, especially programmed with a series of movements created by the piece's creator, Xavier Le Roy. I tell them about my walk, within a minute or two we have taken four chairs from La Ribot's art and are sitting in a semi-circle discussing stuff. I mention the arts cuts in the UK, Else, who knows London well, says, "perhaps this is a good thing, subsidy creates a sense of entitlement, I think the work will get better. My work is better when I have earned the money to produce it, you know, by selling tickets, having a job, I'd rather sell tickets at the cinema to make money than get an Arts Council Grant. It focuses creativity. I like the recession, it makes us change the way we think, Britain needs it." The others are not so sure, dance festivals are great - and yes they don't pay very much for all the rehearsal time that goes into a work, but "I do expect to be paid something," Fatima says. They are more interested in my walk and its dynamic, in a sense it is a far slower - and less graceful - version of their own piece: interacting with whatever comes along and following, in a way, a set of rules (in my case Tom Coryat's, not Xavier Le Roy). Later, after I have experienced the rest of Move It, including 30 mins lying on the lid of a leather facsimile of a piano surrounded by speakers, in solitary confinement as I endure/enjoy most of Boris Charmitz strange video piece about the impossibility of capturing "dance" on camera - full of grunts and sex and stuff - the show's dancers are interacting with more visitors. I like this, it makes the show move. Ushers an unusual rhythm into what could be a stately progression. Oh, but upstairs....

At the river this morning, early for the latest moody cloudy photographs that obsess me, I find myself on Joseph Beuys street. And I know more treats are in store. Dusseldorf is home to one of the very great art schools, the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Look it up of Wikipedia, but the short list of the long list includes: Demand, Polke, Richter, Kiefer, Beuys, Gursky, Struth..Peter Doig teaches there....

It is an industrial power house of post war German (European) art. One of those places that would have been great to study at; like MIT in the 80s, or Oxford in 1930...

Upstair in the permanent collection Beuys work stands out for me, entombed in a pair of rooms, mythic and visceral and I'm struck with Ted Hughes-ish feelings about mortality. There is a gorgeous open window by Picasso from 1919, all gray and dark lime and pale blue and I spend more time on this simple piece than many others; it is overload, but without many visitors....pretty perfect. An elderly invigilator does a dance in front of me, "I am Moving It," he says, rather sweetly. There are huge photo works by Gursky...It is like Christmas. No Kiefer though....Hmm.

I spend hours here, then cross the street in the first rain for a long time to the Kunstalle Dusseldorf: it is a proud large space that dwarfs the work and I can't get excited; neither by the 50 percent off in the museum's cafe, The Salon des Amateurs - which is utterly empty.
It is nicely furnished in faux leather and if there were people...
.....I note it down as a potential space in between. Half heartedly though, I mean who in a city with a thousand bars, the longest bar in the world, would come here?

A spurt of photography in the rain, dark clouds, spots of light, modernist architecture, school kids truanting over fags, and then I take the shuttle across town, out of the old zone and past malls I'll never visit to Ständehausstraße and the K21 part of the experience. A gutted out stadthaus now a wonder of light and space; in the basement fields of video installations, Steve McQueen is first port of call, loud and thonic and an entire theatre to myself in the gothic dark. A three video piece by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, the Strasbourg born artist. Three evocative enigmatic films about place. On a wall Dominique states: "Having been a prisoner of literature for two years or more, captured by a triangle formed by Enrique Vila-Metas, Roberto Bolano, W.G Sebald, three stoires of Robert Walser and J.C Borges, it is impossible for me to present anything else here than three short stories which can be seen or read in any order." It is if she has lived my life. I watch the slow films, one by one, and piece my own narrative. The films are shot, I think, in various locations in Sao Paulo. All I remember is that I first ate sushi there, many years ago. Now I'm writing about sushi as a metaphor for something utterly other. The work is mesmeric.

There is much good young work here, but on the third floor a simple exhibit of newspaper front pages from September 12, 2001 - in multiple languages and from many places - slows me to a standstill. The tenth anniversary is in a few days.

Back at the Einhorn I chat to an American who has lived here for a few years; she followed her heart, after tango took her to Buenos Aires. A paired down life of adventures; a past sadness I sense but don't want to explore. We are similar, I think.

Later I jot that cathedrals are like railways stations, museums like cathedrals once were, and it is only in found spaces that we are able to impose a clear sense of individual meaning. I have no idea what this means now.

The greying of Dusseldorf with the rain sends me home and I watch a film named The Hangover, which is oddly funny in its way, and then with the heavens still thundering I wonder about dinner. I have had an art overload today and I could just Einhorn and be done with it, but my spaces in between antenna is buzzing and so I make for the dark and empty looking Salon des Amateurs where there are a few people drinking; older, corduroy-types, bearded, dare one say fatter? Smokers outside. I go the bar and order some wine and then later go outside for a cigarette. Jens is about my age perhaps. "Ah, English...You know that tonight is a poetry recital? How is your German?"

I mumble: Goethe Institute two week course, back this up with my undying devotion to Heine and Durs Grünbein. "Yes, but how's your German?"

"I love the sound and assonance of poetry, I'll make do without meaning," I say. I explain my trip, "Ah, do you make a sentimental journey?" Jens asks. "Yes, indeed, just like Laurence Stern, did you know he invented the phrase in his book about travel -"
- Jens does. I feel a bit stupid. He probably translated Sterne into German I think. I stumble back inside and take my place at the bar. The cafe is full now and the poets are pacing, warming up like retired footballers playing in a charity tournament. One of the organizing men, not so old, not so young, is wearing flares - which is a first on this journey. I note down, this poetry can not be any more impenetrable than the iconography of Joseph Beuys, or the reasons why I spent time in Cologne drinking as parties partied to Neil Diamond-playing brass bands. These are my fates.

The first poem, from a spectacled, slightly nervous man, seems to be aus dem hinterland - and I'm feeling: hey poetry this is easy....and then there's a long one which involves the names of many, many German footballers through history, so that's a breeze. Then a Romanian woman reads a very long poem in German about the last days of the Ceausescus in Bucharest. And while I understand not a word I have lived in Bucharest for a little while and - as it were - know the story.

The drink break does come, though, with a little relief. In fact there is little for me. Jens is introducing me to other English speakers, an Englishman who has lived here for thirty years who writes plays and poetry and the "definitive guide to the Ruhr" as he put it. I am a little grouchily yeah-yeah where are the Germans, but put it down to tiredness. Then I am introduced to the next poet, he promises to dedicate a poem to me. Thus, back at my place at the bar, I am subjected to stares of abject pity as the poet explains how I understand bugger-all.

His poem is onomatopoeic, lots of Germanesque sounds and nobody much laughs. whoosh, sploosh, mooosh....I don't know. There are many more poems and the audience seems fretful and then it is break time again.

"They weren't laughing with him, they were embarrassed," says a young woman. "It's a tough crowd here and everyone knows everyone." The woman's English is very good, what do you do, I ask.

"I am a satirist," she says, without irony.
"How's it gong?"
"Not so well...."

The crowd disperses but I go back inside to write and end up talking to a guy from the art academy. "did you enjoy the poetry?" I ask.
"I wasn't listening, I just came for a drink while I worked." All the time he is scribbling in a notebook. "A writer?"
"Yes, but now I am just writing a to do list for China, I am off tomorrow."
We talk for about an hour, he tells me about Liu Xiadonj, He Yanchang, Li Gang and the thriving Chinese art market. "I used to go to New York for the energy, all gone, now that energy is in Beijing and Shanghai," he says. He's read everythjng, teaches at the academy, writes, does deals in China, and is generally pretty cool. Finally I tell him about my Kiefer obsession and he casually jogs down the number of his biggest collector for me. He lives here. OMG, as they say. Epic win. It's late when I get home and there is not a shoe soul in sight.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Tatort in Dusseldorf, following the money

Late Sunday sun on Ratinger strasse in Dusseldorf, close to the river, and I am sitting on a bench at the Goldenen Einhorn, the Golden Unicorn, number 18 and built in 1630 - though in those days I assume the bar didn't offer live Sunday night Tatort (the oldest and longest running German cop show) screenings. I have history with Tatort, but I have never seen it. Tonight I will be back.

The vibe is very different from anything experienced in Cologne and I ask the waitress about it. "Oh, it's much more hoity-toilty here," she says somewhat surprisingly, sounding almost Coryation..."it's stuck up; Cologne is more industrial, grungey. I should dress up when you go out."

The other boys at my table find this slightly amusing; of the three two are head to toe Prada, with plenty of logo. I have been for many post Naomi years very much Kein Logo, though hypocritically so, but am, as ever, utterly non-judgmental. They are testing out a new cologne named "Matador" and recalling the highlights of a recent trip to the Dominican Republic. We don't speak; my IPad may have something to do with this.

At my next espresso order I ask the waitress if I am vaguely suitably dressed for an evening. "you look alright" she says, "Sure, why not shake them up a bit? I should tell you that there are more Porsche drivers here than anywhere you've been on your route so far."

Stay pedestrian, I think. Easy in the old town. Ratinger street has many bars, and the hot night, I am told, is Wednesday. Just a few metres away a club promises Hugh Cornwall, founder of the Stranglers, live-ish, soon. I wander down a street that's done business for a good 700 years. On the river the light is sensational - again - and a few hundred metres away a street performer is making rude shapes with balloons and many of the audience are convulsed. "More stuck up?" They must be tourists, I hear an English voice and scurry home to my hotel.

In the evening, spruced by shower rather than a change of clothes, I wander around the old town, there are thousands of bars, all doing good mid-September business. None appeals. There's a lot of boutiques, and smart clothes, and I can't imagine what the new city super malls are like. Thankfully I don't have to find out.

Back at the Golden Unicorn I read my Cologne notes, some a little blurry. "The problem with the Brits in Dubai," I read, "is that they still believe they are running an Empire." it occurs to me that Germany, the places I have seen at least, are a successful regional empire that needs no geographically expansionist dreams any longer. Is it finally at ease with itself? I like to think so.

The opening credits to Tatort have been the same for over 40 years. Saul Bass and Burt Kamfert meet in limbo to suggest big action. Almost. A dozen or so have gathered inside to eat dinner to Tatort and the atmosphere is gently nostalgic; a one time common culture that's now deracinated by download and time-shift, demographics and the web. But this is, despite the small numbers, a collective experience. The show is based in various cities, with various casts, a precursor if you like, of CSI. It begins bang on 8.15, displaying none of those on the hour insecurities that bedevil British or US networks. A ninety minute show with no adverts, it is truly a time-travelling experience. This episode opens - in Cologne, and familiar vistas and those Cathedral towers - with an opera soundtrack - revealing my operatic ignorance - played on domestic vinyl, and a middle aged man dressing up as a woman not utterly dissimilar to Grayson's "Clare". This could be the BBC, though the editing lacks Spooks' ADD driven propulsion, and despite the deaths and mid-life tentative romances and burly jean-clad "Gene Hunt" detective it is all really rather cozy. There are men with axes and sundry nice retro cars and it is a classical way to end Sunday after a heavy weekend of sun, gun clubs, and thrash metal bars...

I wander towards boutique home and the shoe sales-people but just a few metres away it is salsa night at the Schlösser Quartier Bohème. The place is very close to the main art museum, and seems closer too to the Dusedorf money. Men and women in high heels and burnished leather wander back and forth from the dance floor to salsa or sit out or change partners. I jot: long legs and silk dresses. A man stops to ponder my terrace jottings and says: "but words are never the present for yesterday has gone," then he asks to buy a cigarette. A taxi of blondes arrive and the burnished shoe boys hover, and as I walk home I pass an underground car park from where a Maserati sticks out its shiny red nose with a growl of Ruhr industrialism and Italian design. Kein Porsches tonight for me.

There is chocolate on my pillow for the first time on my journey. In the morning at designer breakfast the shoe sellers are very smart indeed. And many are Russian.

Friday, 30 September 2011

A little Cruditie

I felt bad taking the train to Dusseldorf until I discovered that Tom had taken a boat all the way from Cologne to Rees, and he'd ganged up with a bunch of Englishmen who he travelled with for the rest of his journey. No such luxury for me. In fact he only spent 15 minutes in "Dysseldorp", but I was having no such lacuna. The sweaty walk from Dusseldorf's railway station went through the 80 or 90 per cent of the city I'd never see again: I was focused on the old town, on the Rhine, and some pretty tasty sounding art galleries. Strange how quickly one can reacclimatise when Beuys and Kiefer are in the picture. I was a middle aged grunge hero by the time I made the tourist office in the old town, a dripping mess. So when the lovely tourist officer, hearing of my desire to stay in the old town, said: "Most of the guys who do that just want to drink all night and have a bed to crash, the places are not so nice," I was thankful she recognised my inner poet. I looked like a guy who might have been all night in a Cologne heavy metal hangout who then got freaked out by mass-taking German gun clubs. But somewhere in my ruddy look she saw Heine. Forty minutes later I was in a suburban boutique hotel, ten minutes walk from the old town, surrounded by shoe salesmen - and women. The TV was flatscreen and plasma and not bolted high from the ceiling; there was no smell of kebab. And the breakfast bar had Apple desktops for web access.


Cologne and the Gunpowder Plot

One final detail. On his last day in Cologne Tom saw, somewhere in the city, a portrait of the Jesuit Priest, Henry Garnett, who had been executed in London in 1606 in controversial circumstances. After his hanging it was claimed that a piece of straw was found nearby that "looked" like Garnett. It became a Jesuit icon. Well, in Cologne just two years later, Tom saw a printed image of the piece of straw. An early example of viral global conspiracy theory. "Though I thinke the truth of it is such, that it may be well ranked amongst the merry tales of Poggius the Florentine...."

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A moment from Stifel, Cologne - the human juke box

Sitting in the pub window watching the world go by, about eleven on Saturday night. A man dressed with a silver foil wrapped box on his head on which a number of rectangles with words are arranged stops. He is "Gerd Box" the human juke box, and will sing any song from his selection. They are all heavy metal classics. There are no instruments involved; and he can't sing.

What follows ends up with most of the bar singing acapella a song whose chorus is "loving you is like loving the dead". I have money of this being a Bauhaus song, but who knows? The gun club may even have approved.

At Cologne Cathedral

The situation of Colen is very delectable...

Their Cathedrall Church which is dedicated to St. Peter is a goodly building, but it is a great pittie that it is so imperfect. For it but halfe ended. Doubtlesse it would be a very glorious & beautifull worke if had been thoroughly finished....

Tommy Boy....

A few hours sleep after Underground and I am preparing for the walk to Dusseldorf, but first I want one last vision of Cologne's cathedral because Tommy has dedicated twenty something pages to its description, pretty much tomb by tomb. Who knows if this was real time reportage or copied from some guide in German?

So I am in the square that houses one side of the cathedral, a hotel, and the modern art museum. It's already about eleven, which means a late arrival in Dusseldorf. Today there are a new set of faces in the crowds that flock these spaces, faces I don't recognise from my many weeks of walking across Germany; and when I walk around the corner to the main station and its own theatrical courtyard of arrival and departure there are more and more of this strange type arriving by train.

They - as I am, high on the staircase gods watching the Lowry figures flock and separate below - are greeted by a new piece of art in the station square, perhaps twenty five metres high and wide: il papa, advertising "Germany's leading catholic radio station." In the image used the Pope's gesture is a waive, his arm is raised at least - oh god I am being charitable - that could just possibly be misunderstood, given yer man's history, nationality, and....well I am a charitable soul.

The faces are not the only unusual thing; the men, and predominantly this is a man thing, are dressed in olive green blazers adorned with medals. Many carry banners, in cloth, often with designs from the most brutal of christian art sources, St. Sebastian is big, all those arrows and homo-erotic poses... These are walrus men for the most part, with Colonel Blimp moustaches and deep double jowelled necks. Big, overweight, and certain...

But what are they? They are joined by a few women, dressed in Elsa Lanchester Bride of Frankenstein mode, the kind of style that might make the catwalk if The Wicker Man became a big seasonal influence on the people who've taken over from Alexander McQueen. (Yes the jacket and jeans doing very nicely thank you). They keep coming from the station, a relentless march of history straight out of The Lady Vanishes. Yes the Brides have a Margaret Lockwood air; yes it would be no surprise to see Caldicot and Charteris discussing the cricket somewhere....following live on the BBC website, these days.

They are joined in the cathedral's surrealist hinterlands this morning by those extraordinarily annoying silver mimes: angels, roman soldiers, more angels, and they take the majority of the attention for the genuine passer-by tourist child from China or Chigwell.

But not mine.

One green jacket particularly inspires me; a younger sort with a giant head that is buzz cut shaved and his only other facial adornment are a pair of black bull's balls that he has pierced into his nostrils. Think Hellboy meets the winner of the US Masters golf tournament. He's carrying a large St Sebastian banner and I am just thinking that he wouldn't exactly have been out of place on the dance floor to the death metal at Underground. Except that this guy means it. I get in close to these guys and take a lot of photographs. Not quite Robert Kapa in Spain, but there is a pretty strange vibe here, is it the country versus the town thing? Is it like the English football fans in Baden-Baden? No, this is celebration. I keep photographing. Beer bellies in Green, beards, those hats with a flower, more brides. Eventually I have to ask.

They are a pistol and rifle association, celebrating their 150th anniversary. Happy memories guys. From all over the state, and not really Cologne at all. There's going to be a mass in the cathedral....and there, outside the station, the Pope looks on. I mean they don't whack anyone who is taking pictures, but there aren't many smiles. I don't like this so much.

I find I've taken a couple of hundred pictures so I go off to wifi and publish a few and then realise I am exhausted. I'm not going to make Dusseldorf by foot today so I take the train...

Later there is salsa.

Written in Dusseldorf

After the poetry night, coming soon after Beuys, Tartort, and salsa...

North By Northwest, again, on German TV

Early enough, as a kid, the Rushmore
Scenes, the crop duster, the drunk driving
That today seems risible when the laws
Of gravity don't exist and ceiling
Dancing, like Astaire's, happens in videos
For never pirated no-hit teen bands.
Then it was the sex, and blonde spy igloos
Of icy iridescence in whose hands
All men melt under an indifferent
Gaze. But now it's the middle initial
The existential "O" of Cary Grant
That makes necessary the serial
Pleasures found in repeated viewing
Of the perfect tale of man's renewing

A monument to monumentalists'
Thinking that's gone now we are all a brand
Made over by banana republics'
Deracinations we "read" not understand.
Roger O ran from a faint imprint
Of cold warrior and became himself
Inside tunnel and Eva Marie Saint.
To run from the accumulated wealth
Of borderless nations' big idea
Is less easy, even with CGI.
Didn't Inception just increase the fear
Mad men can't answer the question why
And the happy ever after that's rife
Is just Cary's imitation of life.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


A small poem for Vlissigen

Zo de wind waait, waait z'n jasje

As the wind blows, so does his jacket

(i.e. He will jump on any bandwagon)

Dutch Proverb

To light a cigarette with a candle
Kills a sailor, they say, in Vlissigen:
Aan kust sea and sky dance a light tango,
Ships now close sail for a pale horizon
Where tobacco can be smoked any way.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


The older grey-haired busker is already at his spot, where he'll play a David Byrne song about ten thousand times, and noodle nice blues and chat to anyone and drink a lot and witness several dogfights and about ten thousand roller bladers in his day. It's about ten and the area in front of the cathedral is filling with paddle-led tour groups and the genuinely curious and lots of English speaking kids who may be on an Erasmus or a college swap or a who knows?

I've been trained well in going to art and know that in the next city, Dusseldorf, I have eight Kiefers that will take up the best part of a day; and Beuys...So I am not going near Cologne's very good art galleries.

I sit and write on the river front with with my Cologne geography now enhanced by last night's wanderweg. Somewhere in the middle, betwixt river front and punk bar, is Friesenstrasse where Cologne enjoys itself in the more bourgeois ways. I block out the brass bands for a while with a run through on the IPod, then give in to the mood and enjoy the pleasure (clearly expected) of the hundreds who line up, then drink out, on the disco boat that's going to be their life and the Rhine's for the next few hours. God, the music is miserable, matched only by an unfortunate sighting in Dordrecht on television of Jennifer Lopez's new single: I would have divorced her if I'd heard that features some old Eurotrash melody and includes the line "put your glasses in the air" and incites people in Ibiza, Paris, LA and Worthing to get onto the floor. Ok, not Worthing.

I scrub up; which means change, and wander to Friesenstrasse, which is the usual suspect collection of All Bar One, other place, and a bunch of chic-er places that are empty, so far. There's an Irish bar, that's full of oom-pah-pah and so I order my aperol spritz and sit back to watch the "other" promenade. I am missing the river's protean People's debaucheries almost immediately. It would be no different in Lyon or Manchester, it's just that it's not me: I try the KGB bar, somewhat masochistically, and witness the world's worst burlesque for eighteen seconds. Ask the nice barman at my cafe is there is a bar with music, he sends me to the Irish bar's karaoke. Serves me right. I taxi to the deep suburbs and Underground, where heavy metal blares outside and from two discrete internal rooms, which I never make.

Hans is an architect, works in Dubai - has done for five years. Aggressive at first, suspicious of strangers - especially older English ones, "with their presumptions about Germany." Soon we're joined by chefs, gamers, programmers, a Freudian practicing in Paris; bar staff chilling out after long nights elsewhere...what do we talk about? Cologne mostly, those not living here are from here, and are here - as I feel in Stipel - in a kind of nostalgia-ridden return. "It's not as good as when..." is an almost constant refrain, and there's a lot of chat about computer games I don't know: I flannel badly, name drop Wired and tell a few stories about why I am walking. Don't get a standing ovation but Hans apologises and hopes I have a great time in Germany. I get it, he says; says the English in Dubai still behave as if they rule the Empire. And won't listen to anyone else. Forget the collapse in Dubai, there's still work. The Freudian is a Seberg, and as she talks I think only in Paris could you get away with this, but there, working with the banlieu kids, she does. Not even Lacan. The keanu-hair gamers take a shine to me and in a kind of Bill and Ted way we navigate the night and then the sun is coming up and back home the kebabeee smells, if possible, even worse.

In the morning I meet the gun clubs...

It doesn't sound like a Grand Tourist kind of day, but I'm tired of the galleries; they are they new cathedrals and the cathedrals are malls and digital flashlight and avoiding H&M is an almost impossible task. I have met some locals, tried to talk and found that Cologne can suffer nostalgia like a Tory politician. Did I mention the gun clubs?

Post Chamberlain, the Clash Years

Cologne at 5.30am for geo-spatial reasons which don't involve being a Time Lord, though I have been in conversation with a pair of Afrikaans who tease me about the riots and the rugby. It is a good time to see the Cathedral, which I know quite well. Tom Coryat devotes ten pages to its splendours and it was only half finished when he saw it. There are no tourists, just the very early workers emerging from the hauptbahnhof and the old streets behind the kunstmuseum are deserted all the way to the river, which is lacking its usual oom-pah-pah, but is nevertheless full of cafes and bars that will wake up soon enough. Always guilt in Cologne, the bombing and all that, and taking a very early morning wrong turn soon finds me in canyons of brand worship and modernity and it's hard to be a believer.

I take a kebab-smelling room in a hotel on the river, sleep a while and wake up for coffee outside with bright sunshine and an Aussie at the next table who's just flown in, via Singapore, for a show at the Messe. Hasn't slept yet, his Europe tip. Biggest Outdoor Equipment show in the world (just as walking from Dusseldorf, I'll experience the biggest shoe show in the world at its messe). These shows clog up the lone traveller's hotel options, closing down towns - which is good for business but bad for planning. So I am in the hotel kebaberee, where the phones don't work and the wifi is wilful and from my room, which keeps changing for no obvious reason the back street bar by my window echoes to karaoke 80s rock....I am a saint.

Soon we are onto sport and how, even when we have a good sporting team in England, we don't have the "arrogant, killer touch." No surprises for the country that does. I mention the Ashes; Robert mentions the number of South Africans in the England team. We move onto rugby, but Robert is an Aussie Rules guy. I say I've seen Irish Rules, hurling. "Yeah we play an exhibition game against those guys, but last time it got out of hand...they don't do blindside tackling off the ball there. There were a few the end we had to tell the guys stop the blindsiders or we'll ban you back at home."

Robert's company is Chinese; he spends a lot of time there. In the next hour I learn more about the economy, and the Chinese take-over. "You know we were in Vegas for a show and I walked over to an American company and the guy said, we're not talking to you, you're with them." Well, them seem to be doing nicely. its hot, I feel I am burning, so wander off for art, but get weigh laid by just watching the Cologne riverside, on a Thursday, as the small patches of grass fill with people catching the last days of summer. Buskers sing in English....and soon enough men in identical shirts, stags who knows, are singing songs and the music is blaring. Over the next two days I'll watch this part of Cologne a lot; as the brass bands and the rockers, and the disco boaters, and the generally soused enjoy this part of town. There is never a hint of trouble, except when dogs get a bit frisky.

Often, for large swathes of the day, there isn't a cafe seat to be found. "Empire State of Mind" does well with the punters, and there is a gymnastic healthy vibe to the small stretches of grass; not a description for those who lounge the cafes knocking back the local beer, the Kölsch, which I've known from other Time Lord Lives and will ignore all weekend in favour of enigmatic red wine (a conversation starter later in the outdoor club Underground). But the booze kicks, the brass band romps (generously) through Neil Diamond and that song about Alice that I thought had died out in 1608, and well, you know the repertoire. There is much singing along; later a rockabilly band does some decent Elvis...

This is the populist core of Cologne, but I am now obsessed, and not because of Rory Stewart, with the spaces in between.

Thomas Coryat may have had many problems on his walk, but he didn't have to find the coolest cocktail bar in Cologne, with the beds downstairs and the best vibe etc etc. And as it is on Mozart street, a schlep and a half even for such a seasoned walker in the humid evening, he wouldn't have found it even if he'd had Latin GPS. It is literally, well not literally, thousands of kilometers away and I walk across town for two hours, past malls, then into residential districts, dodgy estates; I ask local after local and decide this place must be in Copenhagen, so cool and discrete it obviously is. I try again in a park where some guys are fooling' around and others playing boule and I find Beethoven street, but not Mozart. I find hosts of places, a KGB club (always bad). I console my heavily sweaty self that I now know another Cologne, but of course I'm wrong. I've passed student places and Charles Eames stores, and then finally when I hit - after more directions and bemused looks - Mozart street my bar is deader than Leninism. I end up back in the park with the boule and the university crowd talking cultural materialism and conferences in Dublin and drink very bad red wine thinking: I could do this in Bloomsbury, which is not the objective. I wanted to see "Media Cologne." Across the river the satellite dishes and steely modernism of "Vox" channel declares its power, so where are its players? It's not unpleasant, but really Russell Square sur Cologne? There are, perhaps, one too many sets of red clogs for my liking. Tom probably went boozing about 20 metres from the cathedral, where if my nose for this sort of thing is good, which it is, he'd now be singing Take Me Home Country Roads, in Latin of course.

Hair is un-reconstituted here, which is a blessing, and discussion on the intense side. One of the downsides of academic globalism is that the lingua-franca English that glues the Germans, Irish, English, Danes etc. is the inevitability of conversations about world music...I know, sorry. It must have been the same with Tom, not surprised he was hooked up with fellow Latin speaking Englishmen by now, there is only so long you can tap your foot to pan pipes. I could wander back to the self printed group t-shirts of the riverfront, but I am in a sort of post Chamberlain mountain English guilt, post riot, hacking, mood. I keep going in honour of smorgasbord Cologne. I am lucky not to have found the Friesenstrasse demimonde, tomorrow is that joy, as by now I am a middle-aged sweaty, and would look strange taking an aperol spritz and noodling on my IPad. Luckily my wanderweg takes me to a student street that shouts: "No" and texting, but there is Stipel: ancient monument to German's punk movement and in the space of a couple hours with pierced social workers (drugs, teenagers, "not here in Cologne, the smaller towns, that's where the problems are") I learn a little about another Cologne. The artist who graffiti-sprayed the front of the bar wants to talk about success, which he feels is corrupting - for everyone. "They become arseholes," he reminds me, talking first of Damien Hurst, but then moving on to pretty much everyone. There's a game of pool which is pretty intense and then I think well sod the cocktails. I have found a tiny part of Cologne. Later I will watch older Germans passing the Stipel (the boot). They always - always - smile in recognition of earlier days when they once came here, when their generation had hope - and kein cocktail. But by then they are playing The Clash, perhaps for me as I have met the DJ, though I cannot remember his name. And maybe my memory is playing a few tricks. I have recommendations for tomorrow night, some institution of metal and otherness...By the time I get back to the river even the oom-pah has gone to bed. My room smells like a group of Oil riggers have speed vomited a kebab house. I paint my nose with "Kiehls" shaving foam and fall asleep. In the morning I have culture to consume.

Anarchy in the old Capital

If Bonn was Washington, then Petersburg was Camp David, incidentally a fashion label worn unselfish-consciously around town by sturdy, short cropped men who would be horrified by the camp thing; Sontag readers they do not look like. In its marble men's bathroom the Peterburg is piping Sinatra singing, It Was a Very Good Year, one of those yearning oh Christ I'm getting old songs that shouldn't be heard by men of my state in the hall of the mountain king. It's like the BBC in Manchester.

I write:

I wonder if Chamberlain danced the cha-cha-cha
In the ballroom, Clinton inhaled by the terrace?
Did Byron look down on Drachenfels from here,
The hills echo to Prince Phillip's German jokes?

I call it:

A Large Hotel Near a Small Town in Germany.

Then I walk back down to the Konigswinter riverside and on towards Bonn.

It is a sign of the moving on that the Bonn Kunstmuseum is so full at midday there is not a seat inside or out that is free. Housed down among the renovated ruins of modernity that is the new town, it is grand and white and offering Pop Art; I don't have the will. A lot of runners and cyclists and roller skaters use the Post Office tower nearby as a turn-around, and I bone up some history for another day, then copy the roller bladers. My hotel is in the Boho-ish student area and nice restaurants and fancy-ish bars are flecked among the streets. A media town, I think. I chat wine with an estate agent and watch a bunch of young bankers Blackberry cheat their way with Google on some bet; a red-braced Mohican of impeccable Bauhaus (the band) taste makes an entry or two and I leave for bed; then wander to the river where some thrash punks have set up for an impromptu burst of anarchy. When the police arrive it's all polite conversation. What did they say, I ask the lead singer. "they were just worried it might get like London..."

Boom Boom.

There are plenty of plasma screens and Adidas sneakers in the shop windows of the new town, but no sense of trouble. In fact my only brush with intolerance comes at the river, in a terrace close to the opera, where a young businessman has such trouble keeping still he makes my table wobble, ADD or something. I cant write, I say. (true for much of this trip). Businessman, because his casual was too slick. He takes his party away to another table with a hissed "have a nice day." The late night punk rockers surprise the bar staff. But everyone smiles away...why not, nothing wrong with a little lite anarchy. Probably wouldn't get this in Speyer, but then Speyer seems a long way away now, a happy memory of conversations about the Royal Family, and the Kings of Leon...

Bonn seems to have got the post politics blues over; though I suspect for fun people zoom off to nearby Cologne. I'm sure there's a little more anarchy there.

Where Britain Lost its Morality (1938)

You're only here once, so you've got to get it right
- no time to fuss and fight -
Coz life doesn't mean much if it's measured out in someone else's time

XTC, King for a Day, 1989

A lot of IPod this time, walking; speeding the pace and breaking out the sweat. Standing on the bow, staring Byronically into space. The walk back to Konigswinter is a sign of what it is to come in Bonn, capital between 1949 and 1989 and reunification. There is a nice old town, riverside bars, a sense of fun. But there's also Alphaville down the road, where now the Post Office Tower dominates. Politics is gone; though there is a healthy amount of marxist merlarky in the bookshops near where I've been sick in Bonn.

So down through Alphaville, without stopping, that's for Bonn when I'm back, then a twist to cross the bridge and a four hour romp to Konigswinter. A two street town in once sense; that's where the cafes and restaurants are, but looming behind, the Seven Mountains, the Siebengebirge, where the dragon was slayed by Siegfried. Dragon is Drach, see various plays on this in Bram Stoker and indeed Ian Fleming, Moonraker's villain is Drax. And Fleming always said his plot was George (Siegfried) versus the Dragon.

The hills merge and at their peaks, inevitably, castles or ruins. Drachenfels, which gets its own stanza in Byron, is the daily tourist schlep. Most go by the mini-railway, stopping off at the late 19th century industrialists' house cum castle, half way, or going straight for the top and what is, very often, a foggy day in Konigswinter town. It seems fitting that the view back down the way I've come is clouded and mysterious; This is a new phase, moving into the Ruhr, and expected industry. I can cope; quite like the bleak industrial. From the peak of Drachenfels a view backwards reveals an imposing building on the Petersburg. What's that? Hmm, a huge hotel; that would have been the state residence of the President, had the hotels refurbishment not been completed in 1990. Bad timing. Anyway, I make a note to walk up there tomorrow.

There's a wedding going on in the industrialist's ex-haus. Cameramen and women in hats. Inside there's a lot of late 19th faux frilly art, which was once so popular books were published so that arriviste Germans could copy the style in their own houses. The place is monstrously large, and became a catholic boys college in the 1930s - what they must have made of the largely naked Greek-ish art....anyway, then it was a Nazi college of some kind, but details are thin these days. I wander back down to the river, order some schnitzel and download John Le Carre's A Small Town in Germany. A mini classic of espionage from 1969, which benefits from Le Carre's having lived here; in fact I think he wrote The Spy Who Came in From the Cold here. God it's a bleak book; the back drop is a suspected rise in the German far right; and Britain's general impotent uselessness. I read the whole thing in a riverside gloom of red wine as the tourist boats pull away from the bank in search of more fertile excitements.

The facial type I keep seeing is Putin and Harrison Ford. Strange. The world of Bonn and Konigswinter found in Le Carre makes me weep tears of joy I wasn't an adult for the 60s; grey, brutish and run by Etonians. Er...and that's the other thing: the riots in London are playing out their political aftermath and the London hacking scandal lurches on in more - no, they didn't hack thems... - and it is impossible not to follow this real-time on Guardian or Telegraph feeds, how The Times must wish it wasn't behind a firewall....not. So it is a curious triangular experience, the real, the fiction and the Siegfriedian, and what's happening in the world. I've got the Skype app now as well, so London can be calling anytime. The world grows small. The Petersburg Hotel, I learn from A Small Town is where Neville Chamberlain stayed when he signed off on the last vestiges of morality that Britain owned in the 1930s, that we call the Munich Agreement. As I climb the windy forest past a series of 18th century stations of the cross that have been restored now, I think about the car driving the British delegation up here; and I've just read of anxious meetings over lunch here between the diplomats and the Bonn hacks, trying to get a story in the cold war 60s.

The Petersburg is restored now, but a conference centre; the Clintons, Mandela, the Queen twice have stayed, but I am able to wander into the deserted ball room without meeting anyone. On the terrace I imagine the intrigues, then, and during Bonn's prime time. The choice was Adenauer's, a local, who signed the treaty in 1949 that restored some forms of German autonomy. There's a party of Americans and Brits taking a quick tour; most interested in the hotel chapel, where Michael Schumacher married. One of the kids, rotund, aubergine'd in the Cameron mode, throws rocks over the terrace wall with thuggish entitlement; a moment later a cry in german. He's hit an elderly woman walking back down the Petersburg with her husband. The kid does nothing; his mother shouts down in Home Counties: "He didn't mean it." A few minutes later I am in the same place as the walkers and the next Prime Minister but, say, three, is by my side throwing more rocks. "What the fuck are you doing?" I say. He wanders off, probably 9 or 10. His parents give me the full diplomatic diss as I walk past them.

History up here; but not many arrive; there's a far more modern spa half way up the hill, golf not so far away. Once all these towns housed the diplomatic teams from around the world; now they are away in Berlin. So what now for Bonn?