Thursday, 28 October 2010

Am Frankfurt

The Chinese girls arrive home at the Boppard hotel from Frankfurt at midday Saturday; an all-nighter. Karaoke, shots, Chinese songs, R&B, Rihanna, Jay-Z. I tell them about "Online" and the sounds of the 1080s. Sounds horrible, they say. Exhausted now, they need sleep. What else did you do...? Can't really remember. Time for Homework.

At the Romer Burg restaurant, nicely ancient and, the Chocolate Cafe People tell me, the best place to write, I don't write, seems gratuitous, and instead read some more Goethe, eat well, but am surprised the staff are insistent I don't drink German red wine; Chilean, that's the stuff. The soundtrack is samba heavy and the guests wear jackets and whisper. A first-holiday together couple, American-English, laugh too loudly at each other's jokes and think about a cocktail. I wander the high street, mid-afternoon. Tom is setting up his Dobro guitar. He's from Koblenz, plays in a jazz cum blues band up there. I'll be in Koblenz soon enough; just have a couple of detours, to Frankfurt and Brussels. Tom plays beautifully, sparse and with feeling.

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That's where my heart is turning ever
That's where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home
All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam
Oh darkiness, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home

I start weeping gently. Which must be telling me something. Back in Bingen for the night before Frankfurt I am in Swiss luxury and photograph sublimity and the mouse tower and end up in a bar full of Two Pint Glasses, Accordion Bands and Take Me Home Country Roads. Natch.

I am in bed early. Clouds over the Rhine in the morning and via Mainz I'm in Frankfurt by mid-Afternoon. Tom took a barque, so feel utterly justified in taking the train, even if some of the factories, especially Opel's, look worthy of a wander-weg. Frankfurt is a shock. Skyscrapers; Ayn Rand -esque Euro signs the size of Louise Bourgois sculptures. Starbucks and "Dolly Busters" porn everywhere, on Kaiserstrasse at least. And Hotel is slap bang in the Red Light Slapper-weg; a Tourist Office Recommendation, of course. I wander down to mid-town, then the old town, but it feels utterly rebuilt. Try to write in a few cafes but in the morning the elegant prose looks like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Of course the Germans were good at deciphering that stuff in the nineteenth century; not me. At mid- morning after a wifi cheesecake and double espresso somewhere that could be in New York or London, I brace myself for Frankfurt's double-dose of modernity, the money towers and the strong sense of rebuilt-ness, and head, as all must, to the Goethe Haus. Calm at last.

There is something so nice about reading Goethe in his own garden. Is that a wanky thing to say? Who cares, really? It is fantastic. Frankfurt begins.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bopping to AOR

So, a short walk along and next to the Rhine on the second attempt to make Boppard with all the speeding car, toy train, barge and cruise-liner semiotics. That's ok, sometimes the vineyard wanderings make me a little too sublime-centric.

Phil Collins was being interviewed last night on German TV; I watched in a type of suspended animation that never occurs wandering a Roman ruin or Reformation church. I've just been asked to go and speak in a week or so at the European Parliament in Brussels about digital piracy: I want to say that the money in music these days is in touring, getting played on Spotify, or better still soundtracking a Will Farrell movie: the CD or the I-Tunes download is really just a promotional device.

But that's subversive. Unlike Phil Collins, who seems to think he is Goethe. Faust vs. A Trick of the Tail?

I re-water at a biker's motel right on the river, filled for some reason with lots of salty dog, shiver-my-timbers, Billy Budd imagery. At least the water is only 1 Euro. Then Bad Salzig for a bun. It's not that the castles have become boring, but they are repetitive. It is hard to make judgements about which to hop to, and which to merely shoot from afar. I walk past a cyclist, older, my age, but he looks really fit and tanned. He's doing "Heidelburg-Cologne" in two days. In many ways I even him, but I so like my slowness these days. I realise belatedly that I have never yet been on the Rhine; everything else but not on. I wonder what that experience is like?

I take a couple of photographs for my cyclist and he stops for a sandwich, half an hour later he passes with a wave and a happy-walk. Soon enough I am noodling into Boppard. It is early afternoon, feels so like a market town. Humming - in its own way - with end of the week-ness. A brass band walks out from the Boppard Tourist Office in outfits that would shock Yes or Supertramp at their most pompous. Half Pearly-Queen, half Gutenberg Bible. It is five minutes to three.

Later I wander towards the railway station, looking for an off Rhine hotel; there are about a zillion on the water front, each waiting for the cruise ships to arrive. I've wander-weg'd the front and feel like a change. Lolling at the station two Chinese girls, students perhaps, but dressed to kill, Last Emperoresses both. Sisters. Where are you going, I ask.

The younger pouts; the older - Frankfurt. Their parents came here thirty years ago; originally their from a city south of Shanghai, but the girls are born here. They like New York, relatives, in business, not really sure what. And Atlantic City, relatives, in business, not really sure what. Not interested in Las Vegas, but Disneyland - oh yeah. They work in the hotel in the summers, study economics - and, clearly fashion. They've met a lot of English students, "you know, getting Kulture." I tell them about walking in the Vineyards. The pouty faces again. "But how can you do that in stilettos?" They phone and text and are off for the night to Frankfurt.

I book into their parent's hotel, complete with Chinese restaurant. Back in the marketplace the Brass Band has made-over into red frock coat based outfits. It seems the mid-Rhine is cigar friendly, there are a lot being smoked out here in the crisp chilling sun over beers and ice creams and the occasional coffee. Dali-style moustaches are also not unknown. The band kicks in, I polish another espresso and watch as from an apartment window above the Restaurant Alte Schmede a sweet-faced granny bops away like crazy to the music. Perhaps this is where Boppard gets its name?

The band is called The Blue Mops, they have come from Nigmegan in Holland, because - oh yes, I had forgotten, there is a wine festival tonight. Here is their first set in full. Everyone of the songs rocking with a rather fine rhythm quite unlike those oom-pah Brass Bands of old. And one member just dances, like the man who stood next to Suggs in Madness. I think of a scene in The Ipcress File with Michael Caine and his stiff-upper-lip boss in Hyde Park listening to the old-school brass band for a while.

The Set.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
River Deep, Mountain High
I'm So Excited!
Something German that everyone claps along with
Take Me Home, Country Roads (obligatory in the mid-Rhine, it appears)
Top of the World

By the time the Blue Mops exit, everyone is happy. I celebrate by ordering a Dunkle Trinkschokolade Mit Chilli. I think of that movie set in France, Leslie Caron, Juliet Binoche, all that whimsey and Chocolate. If I am really unlucky the next visitor to Boppard's marketsquare will be Johnny Depp carrying a ridiculous Irish accent.

In my book, Goethe's Frankfurt house has been garrisoned by the French. I think back to Mainz and Napoleon's brothel for his officers. From one of the waiters in the chocolate cafe I learn that small change is Kleingeld, sounds Wagnerian - if a little too minimal for his usual grand tastes.

I meet an architect on the pull at the wine tastings, in a second marketplace centred on the town's main church. Vineyard stalls have set up around its periphery, and at the far end a stage for tonight's "live" concert. A band named "Online". I speculate on their playlist, only time will tell. My pulling architect is slick, though showing a photograph of your young son does seem a little...crap. "I design houses like women,," he says. The wine seller mentions her boyfriend in Berlin for the eighth time.

She's Stephanie, though everyone calls her "murky". Her brother, who's has died, started calling her that twenty years ago, when murky was 10. She's down from Berlin to help out her father, who runs a hotel here - everyone's father seems to run a hotel here. Murky went out with the same boy for 13 years, lived and worked and played here. They split up around her 29th birthday: it was time for a change. "My cousins kept saying come to Berlin, but, you know, it's so cool, different from here. I went there last autumn, loved it, and now I have a new life."

I start sampling white wines, very unusual. I hate white wines. "It's better tomorrow," Murky says, "there are fireworks." I sip a Goldene Kammerpreismunze. Not bad. In the background Architect is on his third pull, and Online are warming up by circumcising the melody to some horror by Bon Jovi. I sip a something else and then another. "Boppard used to be very big for bowling clubs, but the numbers are falling off now," says Murcky. "Now the older people think: hey, what about Majorca?" When she left college she went with a friend to London for the excitement of it all; she stayed a few weeks and bought a cheap ticket to Thailand. "I understand why the old people want the sun, it's just hard for business here." The Top Mops come into the square but they are initially drowned by "Online" and their soundcheck. When it is quiet enough they play, for some strange reason, the very oom-pah style brass band that NOBODY wants to hear. They last two songs and slink off for a kebab. "My ex cycled the same journey you've walked," Murcky says. "Except they started in March. So stupid. They got close to the Italian border and in some village a guy said to them, 'how are you going to fit the skis on your bikes?'"

Boppard is having fun, but it's older. I understand why the Chinese girls have gone to Frankfurt; how Murky is only here to help her father. "Online" kick off with We Built This City. Oh Gott. Easy Lover follows. When the singer announces in a key further from the melody than I am from Bejing that she "made it through the wilderness" I begin to weep for live music. Let's Dance. Something Got Me Started. Billy Jean (oh, ouch). Hot Stuff.

It is the pop syllabus of the 40s generation; me too, at a stretch. This is a set honed on cruise liners and Rhine holidays. Online move into the 1990s with Relight My Fire. I go and buy a hot dog, burn my palette, and smoother my Moleskine with mustard. Good Wine Tasting, I guess.

At the RhineLust hotel it is worse still. A disco featuring only 1970s German Pop. I buy an overpriced espresso and hack their wi-fi. Murcky's mother, she's divorced now, came form England. She arrived in Boppard thirty years ago at the start of her world tour.

And fell in love.

Tomorrow: the Chinese return, the Romer Burg, sublimity, Tom the Busker and Tears...And then Frankfurt, the Book Fair.

Am Rhein.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Circular St. Goar

An early Biedermann heavy frustuk. A glamourous blonde German woman of the later years says: "I hope you jogged," when I explain where I have walked from.

In the wi-fi annex I meet Antonio, an Australian travelling with his wife. He's running the Cologne half-marathon soon. More pertinently to my needs he has an IPad and we talk SIMs and roaming and pros and cons.

Rheinfels is already moodily higher than the town of St. Goar, it looks imperiously down - but frankly all the castles do that. Down there is a pretty motley collection of cafes and cuckoo clock shops, and it holds little allure. I head up, away from the river, climb through the hinterlands to avoid the two valleys which add two more climbs and descents. Lets be efficient about this.

I'm moving upriver, through a flurry of larger bungalows and then into open land, rectangles of colour, like 60s wallpaper. Like yesterday, except that the light is very different; and this is starting to matter. It's not that I am becoming an artist; it is just that I am looking more closely at everything, and more slowly. It is a dark wet morning, the clouds are pale gray, or darker, hinting at coal. Burrowing down on the abbreviated horizons, ploughing the painters' facades I'm seeing every moment. The uneven geometries of grazing land, fields, forests and pathways, primeval information highways; from dark pastels yesterday to full rich oils today. These scenes are all around, emergent from the light morning darkness. Once again I whirl, a wet dervish this time, wiping the camera lens often, yet frequently finding on "playback" that a spot of moisture has ruined the shot.

Cows and bulls lumber; the isolated trees stand proudly morose, thoughtful. And then, past the bird-watchers' raised hut and into the woods. Properly now, light fades, is glimpsed through the tips of trees. 25 kilometres to go.

It's been raining all morning, lightly. Now outside the forest the deluge begins. I put on my wooly hat for the first time since crossing the French Alps from La Chambre, three years ago. June 2007. New hat.

A new kind of silence descends, far from absolute quiet, but far also form the bustling cacophony of the riverside. Which in turn is church peaceful in comparison with even a small town, with Oberwesel or Bacharach. Bird songs and falling leaves lead the chorus; the Steve Reich monotony of the rain droning above.

Enclosed now, the footpath is narrow, at the right hand edge the ground falls away steeply down deep ravines, below fallen trees, upended, assume new positions, different ecological roles to play. I feel closer to Tom than for ages, certain that he was around here. A turn; a choice, left or right. Soon, naturally enough, the diurnal connection with Tom is bust and I am vaulting streams, walking across upended trees, temporary bridges, and scrabbling hillsides. Another choice, left, right. Open land again, progress. I look across to a pair of trees, like a Kiefer. They are the same trees I've obsessively photographed an hour ago, from another perspective. The light and the rain are different now, so I obsess
some more. Then turn around. Back into the forest. Hours pass. I see pizza sized and coloured - like a pepperoni - mushrooms. Every kind of mushroom; apple trees; hear bird songs I cannot place. It is cosy in the forest, hermetic - signalless.

Eventually I emerge to a stunning almost horizonless vista of fields and plots and horses. In the dark distance pretty much Constable's Haywain - minus the haywain. I plunge the camera to lower and lower angles, emphasising either the vast gray-white clouds or the moist green fields broken apart by long straight farming paths and lanes. Finally a village. I must be close. A football field. A church spire in the distance, peeling. It is three in the afternoon. I ask a local man how far now to Boppard.

It's about 20 kilometres, perhaps you should go to St. Goar and take the bus? It's only 2 kilometres away.

I have inadvertently walked a giant five hour circle. Brilliant me. St Goar may be 2 kilometres away but I am down the wrong valley. I climb through vineyards wet with ripe and readiness, and then in the cloudy distance my castle home emerges, with the Rhine next door, still rolling along. The castle, like Greta Garbo, gives good face in all kinds of weather. She's moody today. Perhaps she is still angry with the Plastics' boys singing last night.

Down, down, to the river and outskirts of St Goar. My wonderful Merrells are soaked through. For my unexpected new afternoon back at Rheinfels castle - I will have to stay another night now - I could do with some trainers, something. I walk into a wet half-empty town, the forlorn cafes of storm-time in mid-week. In Tourist Information I ask about shoe shops in St Goar. "Ah, yes we have Birkenstock, just down the road."...

We Mexicanly stand-off for a few seconds; she breaks first. Into laughter. "I guess sandals aren't exactly what you want? Sorry." I laugh too - it's funny.

In the Birkenstock shop window Heidi Klum's silver "designer" sandals get pride of place. With no brick to throw, I wanderweg back up the final climb to Rheinfels. I take a muddy right half-way up the hill walk and find a small outhouse, known as a "Tusculum" . A place of retreat and creative solitude. It was the idea of Landgravine Anna-Elizabeth, born in 1549. Otto Dix, the artist, came here a lot in the 1920s. I make a note to 1) learn some proper German history 2) Find out about Otto Dix.

Back in Biedermann-Spa territory I change rooms, download the new John Le Carre, Our Kind of Traitor, because some of it is set in Switzerland, and polish off a bad though strangely compelling book before dinner. Dinner experiences no acapella singng and in the late night house bar the cattle owner's wife has some trouble fighting off an 80 year old German with a pepperoni pizza red nose, who spends most of the evening in pursuit of her upper thighs. I guess you have to kiss a lot of Biedermann ass if you run a castle-hotel five minutes from Loreley.

Later I get to meet a Lion - which is like the Rotarians, I learn, only they have an unlikely seat at the UN. He explains the Rhine wines is great detail, loving detail. The bullet point is that the roots of the Riesling grape can be incredibly long. I wrote down 15 metres, but perhaps I had drunk one too many Rieslings. So it needs very particular kinds of soil, and earth. AKA around here.

Chardonay is a slapper, by comparison. She'll do it anywhere.

Fritz wasn't always a sommelier, he used to run an electric organ factory nearby, employing 80 people. Then the banks got involved. "You know that everyday those guys play with eight times the world's GDP?" he says.

I don't. "They really do run the world."
Handy: I'll be in financial Frankfurt soon, I can see for myself. On the curious time-machine digital jukebox that Gustel the High German Scribe cum barmaid plays Gilbert O'Sullivan is singing "Nothing Rhymed." I'm so tired from my circular day it sounds positively Irving, if not Isaiah, Berlin. Upstairs walking to my room in the old castle I stumble across one of the staff in full medieval costume. The team are having a locked door party downstairs somewhere. It is 11.30.In the morning I'll walk to Boppard the river route, zoning out the cars and trains and cruisers. I'd like to - like - get there.

I chat to Antonio about IPads some more in the post frustuck wifi annex meet up zone. Mouthful. He tells me there's a wine tasting weekend kicking off in Boppard tonight. With live music.

I wonder if it will creep beyond the 1970s?

Friday, 8 October 2010

I'm Not Singing in St. Goar

The first thing that changed things was the dog, a dachshund called Spritz. It is late and after a grandish dinner in a place on Bacharach's market square, a dark woody restaurant where elderly German Warrrior Queens with unfeasibly large breasts snigger with their somewhat smaller husbands about the man in leather on his own (who is actually reading James Fenimore Cooper's Rhine diaries from 1836, newly downloaded onto I-books) I am in the late night retreat up a narrow alley.

That's me in the leather, BTW. Serves me right for going a little upscale. Still the venison was lovely. Now I'm sitting with my free, digital, Last Mohican author and realising it's all been done before (again) and Spritz is all over me in the corner. It's a local Bacharach bar, but there are English voices, an Australian woman, it is her birthday, she's pleased she tells me later, once my bona fides as genuine listener are established by Spritz's owner, because she came to Bacharach ten years ago and has never left. There's been a hiatus with her boyfriend, but he's come tonight, the first time they've seen each other in three weeks. "Now I can get back to my old, real, life," she says.

Somewhere else an American woman is talking about the haircut she needs before she goes home to see her parents. She hasn't seen them for "about 15 years." She works in munitions at base somewhere.

Spritz speeds outside with me when I go for a smoke. His owner follows. A scholarly looking chap, neat but tweedy, scarf, the air of someone who quotes Thomas Adorno or Klaus Mann. He's my age, I discover, but could easily be 30. Is there a hint of a lisp? "I come from an old family, I mean old, East Germany, way back, I mean we had a lot of workers, we were farmers with land. They were loyal, patriotic, and then something snapped in my grandfather, he realised it [the war] was wrong. He and his wife began to hide people, a professor of Russian, one of the old school. At the end of the war he had to move, the Russians wanted him dead. He became very religious, Calvinist, we couldn't know anything of the world, no newspapers, no television; he wanted us taught at home. Very strict. And the professor of Russian, well he married my cousin and she became a great translator of Russians, I mean Breznev, he was a friend...Gorbachev...

What do you do Wilhelm? (And why are you in exile in this tiny town on the Rhine?). "I teach, in a high school, politics and civil engineering. I've been here eight weeks, with Spritz. I mean everyone might not know me yet, but everyone knows Spritz."

Why are there American soldiers here, is there a base?
Dismissive, yes, 80 kilometres away. "Do you want to know something? I used to work - I'm 52 - for a minister, in Berlin. I went to university....many places. I was his advisor, I went to many countries with him. I was in Washington, just before the invasion of Iraq. With Senators and Congressmen and (there is a list of very famous names, the usual suspects of the Washington of 2003). Afterwards we went to a bar and - ha! - said to me, this war is a good thing, we can get rid of some of our rubbish, and get hold of the oil." I shrug, the detail is good, but the idea is a commonplace of anti-Americanism. Who knows?

"The minister wanted me to get involved, being a member of the parliament, but I couldn't balance, I mean, the life led at cocktail parties and receptions and the formality, with my real friends, my life."

And so Bacharach?

The expression is beyond wistful. I realise that Wilhelm is in some kind of exile. Was it a scandal in Berlin, or just a sudden Emersonian desire for escape? "Writing a book? That's good, I should like to write a book one day. What stories I have!"

In the hotel I've done a search for "The Rhine" on I-Books and Amazon, and come up with the unexpected James Fenimore Cooper title, "A Residence in France with an Excursion up the Rhine."

"To write anything new or interesting of this well-trodden path, one must linger days among the ruins, explore the valleys, and dive into the local traditions."

Or as my friend who grew up in Bingen emailed: "you must go up."

At first it is the shafts of early morning light exocetting through puffy off-white clouds. The housetops of Bacharach, the spires and the absurdist castles are the natural beneficiaries. And then the vineyards begin and the sun starts to make a more concerted effort; the clouds develop subtleties, gradations, lighter and darker shades, gaping mouths of whiteness and jaws of deep gray. And the landscapes colours beg to be bathed in. After the relentless routine of Rhineside walking on cycle paths, this is something utterly different, and not 500 metres in land.

Just "up".

The greens (Hildgard of Bingen was obsessed with "greening" a kind of religious metaphor for spiritual growth, as I understand it), the dark soil, soiled, earthy and fertile. The russets. Silence descends, but quickly I realise this is not silence, just not urban-sound. It's like nature's version of John Cale's musical theories.

The vineyards vie with tilled fields; sheep grazing suddenly achieve acute definition as the sun breaks loose. And punctuating everything trees solitary, in pairs, clumps and forests, each with their own allegory to tell. Solitary beasts of aged knowledge, imperious rows like sentries. There is a curious geometry to it all. Or perhaps it is just the pantheist neural network that lies dormant in my head kicking in.

In the hills ahead a small town, lolling in the contradictions of the skies. Somewhere, not so far away, the Rhine. But for once, for now, nowhere in sight, unseen and un-needed.

I am photographing like a Dervish, a sufi of spinning shots and dances as I try and bring the sky and the land together in compositions. A hundred, two Oberwesel, when I come down, I've taken 700 photographs.

The light had seemed mysterious and un-catchable from the first moments I climbed out of Bacharach. It played restless tricks on its canvasses. A few hundred metres from the vineyards the Riesling green vines swim in a yellow wash; then a more formal undulating green, Turner town, Constable, if I was a painter I'd never leave. This is fashion shoot territory too: I can imagine Nadav Kander - or indeed Mathew Barney - up here. Abstract, crisp, delineated and then lost. Architypical, wonder they loved the Rhine, those guys. I hope Tom got up here. Wasn't down by the river with the kiss me quick brigades.

It does become easier, suddenly, to understand the Romantic Sublime.

Later I go down, a trick of descents and re-climbs, into another hilltop castled town, Oberwesel. There's an Italian ice-cream and coffee shop. The young waiter is surly at first, checking out the old leathery man with the Ipad but when I tell him about the first walk, across northern Italy, and now Splugen, he gets very excited. "I've only seen people like you on the television," he says. I want to say that if they were on television they had a crew and a make-up artist with them, however solitary their jaunt. Some elderly cyclists, grazing on giant sundaes, just say: "Bravo!" when they hear my story.

Down the main street and a little right, falling towards the river there's an old school hotel where the German national anthem was first sung. I go check it out. There's a plaque and a framed document, but it's all a bit too uber ales for my mood. I'll write more about German singing and songs from St Goar, my afternoon destination.

I stay low now, the trains pass by near me and across the river; and the barges, the cruisers, cyclists, cars on the B9 road. The valley has narrowed, it's tight now and must once has been so treacherous....cue, suddenly the Loreley "thing". A big slab of rock that means a lot. Cruise ships cruise it like seedy businessmen on the Kaiserstrasse in Frankfurt. One boat named "Germania" handily passes as I'm taking pictures. Thanks Tom.

The river arc as I approach St. Goar is a demi-crescent of motor-caravans; a caravanserai of mobile homes. And every one of them has, or is in the process of having attached - a satellite dish. Deck chairs, pick nick stuff; late afternoon sun puffing now, thinking about a rest. Long long shadows. "What you watching?" I ask a man from Munich.

"Champions League,"

Ah yes. And Mainz are still top. "On Saturday, all over, they play us."
We will see. I like the fact that the small underdog team is top of the Bundeslege.

Another climb, muddy paths, steps. Blowing for air, and I am fit now. But still smoking. Finally Rheinfels castle, now a splashy-ish hotel and spa. "We've been expecting you, Mr. Hunt." At least Herr Owner does not have a white cat. The view from the bar is everything a Turner or Claude might want. I'm in the Mrs Rochester attic, the only thing I can afford. In a strange kind of digital apartheid, the old castle rooms are ADSL, and the new conference centre annex hotel is wi-fi. I wander over in the light rain and download more Rhine books. I book a table for dinner - posh - and take a sauna, relaxing. I "dress" for dinner (new underwear). And am told the table's not ready. I sit in the gallery bar for half an hour without a drink reading Fenimore Cooper. Ignored by Buddy Holly the rookie waiter, and certainly by all the scooped cleavage waitresses who are serving a conference party in the main dining area. I go out for a smoke: there is a delegate Iphoning his wife. A Candian-German. "Plastics, we are coming together from around Germany - and the world - to exchange best practice and to ensure that the environment is our central consideration. And you?"
I explain.
"That's very cool. I live in Heidelberg once, you know."
I go back inside still no drink. Then my table; a lonely Lorelei space surrounded by Biedermanns and their Wives. Lots of jewels. And stares. No drink, no menu. Around fifty minutes into my dinner date I get a thin gin tonic. "And to eat, sir?
A menu.

I get up and walk out. I have my first hissy-fit of the trip, explain to the Italian maitre'd that the restaurant service is "rubbish." He practically hugs me; in reality it is more of a rugby malling movement that finds me sitting back in the gallery bar with a free glass of rather fruity Rhein red and better service than Angela Merkel gets.

I go for the venison stew.

Next door the Plastics Boys are being entertained by a fat-Falstaff with a post-modern lute. He's been warming up with a beer in the lobby, now he's on a roll. When everyone starts singing Take Me Home Country Roads, I begin to lose my new found contentment. Then the lute-ing stops and the Plastics Men sing a long acapella song that isn't Tomorrow Belongs to Me; isn't a Michael York Cabaret Closer kind of number.

But is scarily close to it. I feel sick. I start joining the dots from the Germania staute at Bingen, the National Anthem locale in Oberqwesel, the Loreley, and now something about flowers and blossoming and...well what do you rhyme burn the books with? It aint' Wagner, and it's not The Scorpions. And it is definitely not Supertramp...The Italian maitre'd looks embarrassed; so do many of the Biedermanns. Tomorrow my new Italian friend will apologise. "Too much wine," he will say.

Plastics Men vanish; they're not in the little house behind the castle where the management close down their night with the more social of the castle guests. I drink some wine, write about my day in the Moleskine, watch some Champions League, listen to pretty much every unusual song composed in the 1970s in Britain or American, I mean The Legend of Xanadu? Magic, by Pilot? Heart of Gold? Sir Duke? All Around My Hat? Then I pay. I am 16, going on 17.

The barmaid Gustel, writes the bill with a fountain pen.

In the most perfect High German Script. The handwriting is so lovely, so time consuming, I ask to keep the bill. I can have it when I leave the hotel.

Only later do I wonder why High German Script is so popular in these parts. In the morning the 30 kilometre walk to Boppard - through more of this fertile land. After eight hours in the rain I come to a village with signs (my first for hours): I had completed a perfect circle, by accident, and was 18 straight kilometres from Boppard, and two kilometres from St Goar. I am the worst walker in history. I book, damply, for another night, and am moved from Mrs Rochester's attic to Dorian Gray's. But that walk is for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bingen: the mystic multimedia artist

I didn't know much about Hildegard before I came to Bingen, though I did know someone who was born and grew up here. They'd said to expect a few minor miracles. They'd also said that the waterside front - where the cruise liners pull in and everyone but everyone, and I was no exception, take about a thousand bad photographs of the castle on the far bank in conjunction with the "mouse tower" on a small island close to our side - was where they smoked their first joint, many years ago. This morning it was rowers, mists, and a hint of dare one say the mystical? Probably not. I hadn't smoked anything stronger than a Marlborough Light.

You'd have to say it's pretty photo-friendly here in whatever light. Today was a dull morning, but that just made the hill-tops greener, rather than yellow, and the mists gave Germania a spectral glow. I

The museum to Hildegard is maybe thirty metres in land, around an area with a Swiss hotel, a conference centre and an ominous looking bar. It's all peace inside, and Hildegard's music is playing.

Hang on, she's a twelve century religious mystic; what gives? In 2008 the academic William Harmless wrote "Mystics" for Oxford University Press. His chapter on Hildegard is entitled: Mystic as Multimedia Artist. It is fair to say this is interesting. She was the 10th child of a noble family, born in 1098. At eight she was "enclosed" that's locked away for life, in a cell of a monastery at Mount st. Disibod, not so far from where I'm standing now. That was supposed to be it: a life given up to contemplation of God. She ends up running a monastery, touring Germany preaching, having visions, persuading the then Pope they are good visions, writes the first known European morality tale, invents a secret language and writes beautiful music. She's a prophet too. We need to know more.

"Truly," as Tom wrote, "there are very admirable matters written of this woman by the historians."

The museum is lovely, but what really grabs me are the maps: how far her letters, her relics, her ideas, her music, travelled. It is the Niebelungens all over, except that this is even earlier. I don't buy the CD in the gift show; I download it at half the price next door at the Swiss hotel on the lobby wifi.

There's a great image of Hildegard, a saint and also known as the Sibyl of the Rhine, writing on a wax tablet in her study, looking for all the world like she's checking her Facebook page on an IPad. Multimedia indeed. Her visions are apocalyptic, flame-driven. There is so much rich material here in terms of image, music, ideas, language, geography, sexual politics...Hildegard seems to have fallen off the radar in the Renaissance and her writings and ideas were only really re-discovered in the twentieth century, when some saw her as a kind of feminist icon. Did I mention the medicinal innovations? Or the sartorial freedoms her fellow sisters had in her monastery? Amazing.

There is much to be read about Hildegard of Bingen. Rhine route now, check out the mouse tower, many myths and kids stories, but really a navigational point at what was until the damning of the Rhine a treacherous (lecherous, Gershwin joke) part of any ships's navigation of the river. Hence, soon, the Loreley and all that mermaid/undine stuff.

Can't disagree it looks good, but then so do the vineyards, the castle, the freighted-up barges. In a riverside garden there's a small museum with brilliant technology, invented by the University of Dortmund. A large Mac-Style computer screen mounted on a moveable frame that is a camera/telescope to all around, the mouse tower, Germania, etc, but clickable and data emerges. Downstairs a touchscreen 10,000 year history of the Rhine, watch it change. The curators here could not be more friendly. They release me from embarrassment and pull the switch for the model railway upstairs that illustrates how trade and freight was brought from one bank to the other. The trains move too, very exciting for boys of all ages. But the train sets - on the left and right of the upstairs gallery remind me of the model railway quality of the entire mise en scene. I scoot down to the Rhine and march on Bacharach, trying not to make too many Burt jokes. But, on Facebook at least, failing miserably. About ten minutes out of town I look up and see an amazing "Gothic Novel" castle. I have to go see.

I was right. Rhinestein castle is a steep upward walk. It looms down on ground level with the same kind of broody/moody intensity possessed by Bran castle in Romania. It also has the best post box address in the world.

Romantik Schloss
Burg Rheinstein

Later the owners point out to me that whilst this is a very cool address, it is a bit of a bore having to walk up and down a steep hill to pick up the gas bill, twice a day.

There's history here alright. Bought in 1975 by a former opera singer named Hermann Hecher from Barbara Duchess of Mecklenburg - the last owner of the "House of Prussia" (which is not a retail outlet) - the castle was improbably first built in the very early years of the fourteenth century, first mentioned as "belonging to Mainz" in 1323. We're in beween, or Betwixt as we like to say in these pages, Bingerbruck and Trechtingshausen, the real start of the Middle Rhine Valley.

The restoration is sublimely good. There are libraries in rounded turrets high in the clouds that Borges would have killed for. There are amazing dining rooms; and most bizarrely perhaps there is wifi everywhere. I immediately email the info@burg-rhinestein for an interview, because I would come back like a shot. A tour party of Swiss and then French school kids Iphone their way around the rooms and later I get it pretty much all to myself. This was a place to collect taxes, oh yes. Like Bran, actually.

I email some more and then Cornelia Hecher wanders down from the family apartments. We talk for half an hour or so. Her father in law bought from the Barbara Duchess because she was threatening to sell to the Hare Krishna. There was a big pow-wow at the next castle down, local government wasn't happy. Hermann got to buy his castle.

How long did the restoration take?
It will take forever, always. Cornelia says.

The family lived at first high in the state rooms, had electricity installed, water. Now they live in housing at the rear of the castle. Cornelia and Marcus's son, Marko, is also part of the castle business here now. "We were so happy when he decided to do that."

A detour but a great one. Back at riverside the school kids are waiting for their motor cruiser: will it be Germania or Goethe or Loreley? I'm long gone when it arrives. The colours are moving towards the autumnal now. The Russets are Coming, I note. At Bacharach I'm staying in a place in the city walls. And they are old. I send emails of Bingen home. My friend who grew up there says I have to go high tomorrow from Bacharach. Into the vineyards and the woods. I feel altitude sickness already. Later after dinner I have a curious interlude in the late night pub.

Wilhelm and Exile is for tomorrow though.

Publishing and the oldest brothel in town. Mainz 2

"A matter that may seeme incredible to the understanding of many men, yet most certainly verified by experience. By virtue of this arte are communicated to the publike viewe of the Worlde the monuments of all learned authors that are set abroach out of the sacred treasurie of antiquity, and being now freed from that Cimmerian darknesse wherin they lurked for the space of many hundred yeares, and where they did cum tineis ac blattis rixari, to the great prejudice of the common weale of learning, but especially of God's church, are divulged the common light, and that to the infinite utility of all lovers of the Muses and professours of learning. By this arte all the liberall sciences are now brought to full ripeness and perfection. Had not this art bene invented by the divine providence of God, it was to be feared lest the true studies of all disciplines both divine & humane would have suffered a kind of shipwrack and have bene halfe extinct before this age wherein we breathe. I would to God we would use this great benefite of our gracious God (as a learned author saith) not to the obscuration but the illustration of Gods glory, not to dis-joine but rather to conjoine the members of Christes militant Church here on earth."

Thomas got printing in Mainz, there's no doubt of that. There is an argument that says printing created the Reformation, helped to promulgate its "framework." I'm really struck here in Mainz about the relationship of printing, especially those early printing centres that emerge in the later fifteenth century and onwards to Tom's time in the early years of the seventeenth, to the "River". Especially the Rhine. Strasbourg, Basel, Zurich, Mainz - and Frankfurt just a barge away up the Main - are all deeply constructed around the River as information highway, surely? This is for more thought, in colder, bookier, climes. AKA London.

Baby Photographer One told me about her previous job, house photographer on cruise lines, navigating the world with rich, older, guests. It was hard work: wherever in the world they landed her job was to capture the myriad being happy - and photogenic - in front of, well, the pyramids, the Bob Marley museum, the skyscrapers of Dubai. Photos all day, developing at night. I tell the baby photographers about The Venetian hotel in Vegas; they tell me about the security guards that follow into the toilets in the hotels on the Emirates, because the taps to flush are pure gold. "I'd rather have the smell of real Venice," Baby Photographer 2 says. "Although, I like casinos, as long as I win."

On the outskirts of Mainz heading for Bingen, not so far away up the Rhine, I stumble across a very modern building (photos on Facebook). It is beautiful in a slightly kitsch angular way, and it is certainly out of kilter with its surroundings. An older couple are investigating the exterior, seeing if it is possible to go inside. What is it, I ask.

The new synagogue, it is not even open yet.
It's rather amazing, no?
Yes, very nice. It is a Swiss architect. Mr. Hertz. (Although a later news story says from Cologne.)

They are cousins, he has has come to visit her. She has just retired as Professor of Archaeology here, he too is retired and nowadays translates Irish and Anglo-Irish poetry.
- He's very good, says the archaeologist.
The most recent a volume of Bernard O'Donoghue.
Yes and next an anthology of anglo-Irish writers including Derek Mahon - one of my own favourites. We talk a little of The Hudson Letters. Both Swiss, both enjoying the new Synagogue, an unexpected surprise.

I had my first IPad meeting last night. At the next table a well dressed young man, flipping through his "Flipboard" app - Norbert got me clued into that in Zurich, I use it myself, it is a kind of mobile "Daily Me" thing.

You enjoying yours?
Absolutely, for work really.
Of course.

He's a publisher of a business magazine, a trade title, about fast moving consumer goods, FMCG. His title has a great market share, and German - good old still "making things" Germany - is riding the recession a little better, as it were, than Britain or American. We talk about publishing for ages, he's met my old boss; hung in New York with the Economist guys. Likeable, fun. A professional. Apps may be the salvation for publishing? We discuss. In Germany the regional press has a much greater strength and resilience than in American or Britain.

I wonder too if it also has a more refined readership.

The Pubishers' Wife arrives; she's involved in NGO work, Africa. Practical, friendly. They have travelled a great deal, big trips, southern India is next week. I talk about my love of that region, how once, many years ago, I got engaged down there. And next?

Oh next is another big trip - or a baby. I think it is time. The juggle of lives. It is time for dinner, they are going home. We swap Facebooks, then The Publisher says, hey, want to see the oldest Brothel in Mainz?

Irresistible, obviously.

It is their home, right in the centre of town, metres from the cathedral. They have an apartment; it's a very old house, but the interiors are modern and bauhausly less is more.
"Napoleon, when he was here, set this house up as the brothel for his officers. In the grand simple lobby a glass framed exhibit of Roman finds made here, when the rebuilding was being done. An instant series of archaeological and historical allusions.

"Julius Caesar having conquered all the Cities on this side of the Rhine which was in his time called Gallicum littusthe shore of Gallia &c. planted garrisons in each of them...for the better fortification of the place, and to keepe the bordering people living in the same territorie in awe and subjection of the Romans. For which cause he assigned Lieutenants called in Latin Proefecti to all the principall cities and Townesthat he had conquered," Tom writes. I think about that long sequence in Goethe's autobiography in which he describes his family house in Frankfurt being sequestered by the French - he makes some interesting observations, which find an echo I something I read by Tony Judt, but I'll come to them in Frankfurt.

I somehow miss dinner and chat to a couple about terrorism. An IT guy and a Graphic Designer, what really struck me, he says, about 9/11 was how personally I took it. I really thought "these guys are after people like me. And I'm just a regular guy who works with computers."

There's a Siegfried statue outside the Deutsch bank offices, and Mainz win again in their mid-week match. Top of the league still. In the bottom of my back pack I find a ripped newspaper article I've found. The London Daily Mail from September 15. An English woman who fell asleep and woke up speaking perfect French. I sometimes wish I could have that kind of sleep.

Instead I wake and walk to Bingen. It's about six hours, along the Rhine, the Rhine is its mid-Rhine glory, where each curve in the bend augurs another castle on the hills; more vineyards, and a lot of pleasure cruises, with or without in-house photographers. I stick low, close to the river, and parallel to road B9 - and the trains. Which now resemble a giant train set, spotted across the river, some great fantasy of mittel-European play. But they carry everything from people to tanks.

It is dark when I hit Bingen and the hotel sheets are itchy. In the back streets there is a lot of Russian being spoken. In the internet cafe, because there's no wifi around, a group of Turks and Slavs Skype home.

But I haven't seen Bingen by day, so I can't really judge. I know there is a big feminist mystic thing here. Hildegard. I fall asleep staring out of the windown into the gloom across the river and the vineyard hills. There is something up there, bright when the fog or the clouds move. I check the hotel tourist sheets. It is the statue of Germania, one of those Rhine Warrior Women. Frustuck is rather doleful; I head for the Hildegarde museum in the rain. Above me, in and out of the clouds, Germania looks down across the vineyards of the right bank.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Mainz Kind a Town

An easy walk out of Oppenheim, and a sense that up there on the hill, the old clerics did their job further afield. They could see so far. The Rhine is not elusive today, but still I walk an inlet, see some archery, and then turn around, feel stupid.

At Nierstein a wine loving couple give precise instructions and big smiles, soon I am in the vineyards and the lines and the smells are fantastic. They go on and on; I almost believe in white wine for a while. Then down to the river, which means the other side of the railway line that always follows me, I tune it out, and on for the afternoon towards Mainz.

The town arrives in a six at night glow; beer gardens on the river, kids playing frisbee (new sport) and laying around. The light is as if God decided Mainz around Harvest Moon should be Ectachrome, all sixties. I don't know if I am on the Campus of Berkley 1968, or something earlier and George Seurat. Very nice.

The bells are ringing of course. It's probably 6.15 but it feels welcoming. Everything is good, the Dom, the Marketplatz; the modernity of the Rathaus and the combination of the two worlds. But no wifi in the hotel; in fact a sort of analogue dismissal.

I wander the streets of the old town pimping for a signal - in Germany I haven't yet found anywhere to give me a new SIM and 3G access, as in Switzerland. There's a bar, an "of course", and soon I am talking to two professional photographers. They make their money shooting new born babies at the hospital; most hospitals now have websites with such things. The great thing is, everybody is happy at the shoot. They recommend an Italian place for dinner.

I sit outside and listen as a pair of Mainzers, husband and wife, she dictating from her IPhone, discuss the evening football scores in the Bundeslige. I ask if they support Mainz, currently top of the league. It is early in the season. Of course, but the fun ends on Saturday - Mainz plays Bayern Munich, the Siegfried of Teams. The husband was born in 1942, his family left Berlin at the end of the war, came here. "Mainz is very Roman," he says, you will see. And the Dom? Well the craftsman who made very respected, the academics say so.

Back at the wifi cafe the Baby Photographers are still drinking; it's someone's birthday, maybe even one of them. I go inside to write; they come later, on their way home, to tell me I am a very "open" man. Later lawyers, students, they all want to work abroad. Spain or New York.

In the morning the Gutenberg museum is a riot of questions. A sea of wonder on many floors, where in the basement kids watch a printing lesson and upstairs I get another lesson in how little I know about the quality and the web-page like intensity of mid sixteenth century print works from the region. It is also a sea of lost meanings, a man stands on a fish, in turn suspended on an Ionian column. He holds a basket of fruit in one hand, a wheel in the other. From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, grr, supposed to know about that stuff. I am sure I can find out the "meaning". But I'll never share the illustrations' assumptions to its contemporary viewership. I think about this in the DIY Dom, all being fixed up, the film crew on location with some school kids. Nice, but wrong vibe. Didn't sing for the Chagall stained glass either, he was 91 when he started, after all.

Last night's Husband and Wife go back to Berlin twice a year, even then they are amazed at the changes. East Berlin...."is like New York."

I'm proficient at old towns now; know how to wake up to their bells, wanner their logical streets, centre myself at marketplatz and think. I hear there is a Mainz "Willemsberg". I weg my way there, for hours. Pass the Mainz football stadium, a couple of high schools, and there is a cross between Hampstead Garden Suburb and the Arsenal at Woolwich, that is an old munitions factory. There are supposed to be lots of creative artisans there. I find only a bunch of non-creatives having lunch. Ask the barmaid. Ach yes, photographers and fashion designers and architects and ceramicists and painters is Medici Florence.

But I just find the seamstresses and the assistant to one fashion designer "of London". she studied at St Martins, a few years ago. Where is everyone, I ask Gudrun. Holiday?

No, they just don't feel creative, I guess. Not everyone can be creative every day. Gutenberg spun a little in his grave. And I am sure the workaholic baby photographers did too. I change hotels to one which began in 1346, and is next to the Guttenberg museum. Write and drink coffee and realise, again, how little I know. And how hard it really is to be creative. Tomorrow, well later today, but written tomorrow, the oldest Brothel in Mainz, some Publishing Talk and a bit of a take on 9/11. Mainz kinda Town.

Kein Problem.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

More Sagas

A early sunny start in Worms takes me to the river, a statue of Hagen throwing the treasure of the Niebelungen into the Rhine, and the vineyards that brought us Liebfraumilch. A Proustian moment - not. Too many 1970s allusions without any of the ameliorating punk songs, just loon pants and Abigail's parties.

The Dom is not so far from the Martin Luther memorial; and the campaign that will bring the tourists here en masse for 2021 - the 500th anniversary of Luther's address to the Diet of Worms - is already up and running. To get there, and it's still around 8am, I've walked past the Jewish cemetery, outside the city walls. I know I should know about Luther and the Jews, but I don't - I make a note to find out.

The Niebelungen museum is controversial; a lot of locals didn't want it, there were too many bad associations with Germany's "Illiad". It is a very clever piece of design, built into a slice of the still remaining city walls. Standing on these walls after a couple of hours inside I wonder: where in the world has not been invaded in, say, the past two hundred years? And is there any correlation between being - or not being - physically invaded and a country's relationship to overseas war? It is just a thought.

The museum is an audio-visual experience of the good kind. In fact the entire point of the museum is that it is a fascinating series of spaces, towers, which the visitor climbs to watch and listen to the story, and some of the recital, of the German saga. Who knew it was centred in Worms?

The narrator of the piece is the anonymous author of the German version of the Niebelungen. Even in English he has a nice fruity voice, and a gentle sense of humour. On small video monitors clips from old black and white German movie tellings of the myth, including Fritz Lang's play away, moodily. And there's a modern music score that adds to the atmosphere.

"When I wrote this story, some 800 years ago, the world was a very different place...Over the centuries I have seen what you, the living, have made of my story, and how you have interpreted it..." The narrator disagrees with some of Snorri's version..."many interpreted my poem as they pleased, not really caring for the truth...There were many who let themselves be compared to him [Siegfried]. All this has nothing to do with my work. What fiendish interpretations were these! Oh sceptre of misfortune!"

It makes me think of Luther, his "re-interpretation" - his going back to The Word - of the Bible. It is the curse of all texts to be too open, too malleable. I think too about the word "freedom" in the past decade. Then back inside, our narrator does not rate Wagner's take on the myth so highly. Indeed the museum's creators say that they "deliberately shied away from all of the Romantic epics..."

In the "Listening Tower" there is a real panorama across the city to the cathedral, and in the other direction to the Rhine. There's also a series of audio clips of where exactly the "Burgundians" - yes indeed, the original Worms folk were Burgundians - travelled. Iceland, Hungary, Jerusalem, Denmark...It shames us, even Tom, how far they went.

The cycle path to Oppenheim starts at the railway station in Worms. I buy sandwiches and water from a shop there. The woman behind the counter is wearing a nice Burberry scarf. I praise it, "from England," I say.

"Ach, from Istanbul," she laughs. "It's a fake."

This morning I've received an invitation to talk at the European Parliament, at a conference about copyright. Brussels. Not on the route, but not so far away. Copyright a year on from Britain's Digital Act. Should be interesting. But what to wear? The travel clothes will be walking by themselves soon, leaving their stinky presence...Hope the shops are good in Brussels. Maybe I should - like Tom in 1612 - hop to Istanbul...

I start at around 12 and it's still warm, the weather doesn't break until Thursday. Still the one hour detour around an inlet that leads nowhere puts me back an hour, though I do get to see some archery fields. Another sport for the list. It's plain sailing down the river, but a long way, and when I'm forced to take the ferry across to Gernsheim and find that at 5-ish it is still about another 20 kilometres I wilt, sit and have a water and a giant Snickers bar. And head for the cycle route.

Go wrong, first time on the right bank of the Rhine. Always been a Left Bank kind of Guy.
Hot, tired. A vision. She's a schoolgirl, well just finished, going to study mechanical engineering at Darmstadt next month. She leads me to the railway station, explains the complex train route I'm going to have to take to get to Oppenheim (it involves going to Frankfurt, briefly), and then marches me off to the supermarket to get provisions as I have 20 mins in hand. By the time I collapse in my somewhat swanky just off the hill hotel in steep-streeted Oppenheim The Schoolgirl has already tracked me down to be a Facebook friend. She may well Rule the World shortly.

In the morning I wander the hilly streets and enjoy a small city museum that fills in a few Tom gaps. I realise I am not reading Tom much at the moment, am too ensconced in Don Quixote. There'll be time in Mainz. I leave at midday and am in Mainz by 5.30. The walk through the vineyards of Nierstein is fantastic.

And for tomorrow.

Monday, 20 September 2010

My Diet in Worms

Frankenthal's cloudy centre is drinking beer at 9.30, but it is Sunday. The weekend cyclists soon appear as I walk towards the Rhine, through a subdued suburbia close to the autobahn. It is a morning of sports, first the teenage footballers in their new kits, ready for grudge matches. The weather is amazing, in the literature of the region that I picked up in Speyer it repeatedly uses the word "Mediterranean" - now I begin to see why. The sun doing its shadow dance with the trees across the river, the fields, the paths I'm walking. My own shadow making me a temporary hero of some Rhine Saga. Taller at least.

It's warm, but the air has something chilled about it, like a good Riesling. September on the Rhine.

The river is majestic now - and I've not yet reached the alleged Romantic Sector, where all the Lorelei action takes place - it's boulevarded by massive trees, neat like a classical garden. The kayaks are out, the power boats, the long-slung barges slink by. Then the cycling parties, dog walkers with great packs of beasts, largely tethered and all well behaved. Fishermen, couple just noodling on the bits of beach. I zig-zag from the walking path to the cycling, changing the angle of these vistas. A woman practicing her dressage on a spotless small course. A horse and buggy come down a glade; it is 1890 and Sherlock Holmes must be in pursuit. Or perhaps he's in Pinewood, working on the sequel.

More heartache as the Turner riverscapes just keep coming; my camera must be getting bored with staring into the sun for those Wagnerian cloud formations. Not so far today, about 15 kilometres, or less. Another woody glade and then a strange sound, one that I recognise but it can't be possible: metallic, montonous, repetitive. Out of the glade and the fields, really a park, open out.

It is.

The Worms Cannibals and warming up for their baseball game with the Cannibal Old Boys. I take a seat behind the pitching frame. Pierro is from Frankentahl, but lives here now. "It's a global game - it's just that nobody knows that. They've been playing baseball in Worms for years." The practice goes on, friends and family turn up. I can't say surreal anymore, but it was unusual.

I turn inland just before the Niebelungen bridge, that can wait for sunrise. In a car park, somewhere south of the centre I ask a middle-aged woman in a shiny Beemer, door open, where is the Zentrum? She shakes her head violently, don't know, don't know. The man beside her closes his wallet.

The diet of Worms on Sunday is ice cream. I guess I have missed lunch. There are hundreds of outdoor tables in the marketplatz and around the DOM hotel. And hundreds of different kinds of gellato. Even the waiters look Italian. As my baseball player was "Pierro" I wonder if there is some kind of Italian community, some Roman connection. Perhaps it is just the Mediterranean climate.

At dusk I drink coffee and hear about a new archaeological find in the past year: an underground bridge, the Volks Brucke. It's seventeenth century.



The Niebelungen bridge in very early morning, crossing the Rhine, not so far from the Niebelungen Museum, closed today so I book another night, somewhere else (not so keen on last night's place, particularly the thirty or so nineteenth century Chucky dolls in the tiny hotel reception, sitting on all the seats). The Bridge Gate - the Brucketurm - is a big Gothic-style "hello" or "goodbye" to Worms. It's surrounded by a host of highways and paths and autobahns to all parts of Germany. Heavy Goods Vehicles Chunder by, barges slip their way: I like the contrast, the continuity. In fact the bridge gate is not so old, just over a 100 years, but it looks it - sort of Hogwartian, full of tricks. Close by a modern statue celebrating where Hagen threw the Niebelungen treasure into the Rhine long before Joan Rivers. More on this when I have Ein Klue (Museums shut on Monday in Europe).

The new - old - underground bridge is not so far away and is, not so dug yet. Is nascent, a promise of digs to come. At tourist information Sabrina explains that this was built in the early seventeenth century when the Rhine was not controlled, not dammed, and smaller tributaries served the walled city, bringing the food and goods to the marketplatz in small boats. I am getting closer to an idea of Tom's Worms.

Around the city walls, the synagogue, rebuilt in the late 1950s, after wartime destruction, but first here in the eleventh century. A monument to King Leopold; and then another massive multi-figured memorial to Martin Luther, looking pretty good. This is said to be the largest memorial to The Reformation anywhere in Europe. Plenty of tourists take its picture.

It is positively Greek Island Heat at lunchtime and I'm pondering last night's discovery that Worms fights with Trier to claim their position as oldest city in Germany. More of that when the culture re-kicks on Tuesday, plus the Niebelungen Saga, Martin Luther and the 1521 Diet of Worms (they are already advertising the 500th anniversary in 2021).

But, for the first time in ages, I am live. I have, as it were, caught up with myself. So much is unwritten, missing, missed. But I am here, the sun is out as I write and I'm getting tanned. In front of me a pair of middle-aged Loreleis that Lunch have just put away a meat platter about the size of Hampstead Heath, in London. They are both posh thin. There must be something in the wine.

Or the Rhine.

It is September 20, 2010 and the bells of the cathedral have just given us the quick 2 0'Luther.

A short little palimpsest of Speyer

Ever since I saw and became obsessed with the work of the German conceptual artist, Anselm Kiefer, I've wanted to see - and walk - and, inevitably, photograph, haphazardly, some of the rhineland landscapes that appear to have influenced his monumentalist work.

Kiefer''s art tries to - I think - reclaim a connection, a continuity, with a long, ancient, tradition concerning land that was eviscerated, literally burnt away, by the twentieth century in Germany. All that history that I know I must confront at some time.

In much of his most central work Kiefer uses quotes, ideas, and allusions to, Jewish mysticism, the cabbala - but not that LA-Madonna stuff - that I am discovering has a very strong link to the Rhine towns I am visiting now, here in Speyer and in Worms - not so far away beyond Frankenthal. Here, and separately in medieval Spain, the Jewish mystic tradition evolved in the 11th and 12th centuries; it feels strange as I enter the world of the Niebelung, the Germanic Saga, to be realising this.

Simon Schama, the historian, who I should really just quote every day, but a traveling man has some pride and hopes for originality, wrote of the 2007 Kiefer show in London at the White Cube:

"Much of Kiefer's art represents a resistance to this inhuman virtualisation of memory; its lazy democracy of significance, its translation into weightless impressions. The opposing pole from that alt/delete disposability is to make history obstinately material, laid down in dense, sedimentary deposits that demand patient, rugged excavation. Kiefer's work burrows away at time, and what it exposes also makes visible the painful toil of the dig, skinned knuckles, barked shins and all.

For a German born amid the slaughterhouses of 1945, booting up could never be glibly electronic. Kiefer became famous in the 1970s and 80s for his frontal engagements with the totems of German history: blood- spattered trails befouling the deep Teutonic woods (his name means fir tree) from which the national culture had been proverbially rough-hewn; torch-lit timbered pantheons within which heroes and anti-heroes lay provisionally interred."


I think perhaps I have seen some of this land now, and meeting the Roma twice I feel we are still not home, still determined to find scapegoats, to torch land - my mind, dislocated by the travel and the attentiveness to detail not the big picture, still can't understand the Koran-burning fiascos of Florida.

There's a judenhaus here in Speyer, bathhouse remains, restored ruins. I visit on the Friday afternoon of Yom Kippur, atonement. Speyer had a long tradition, a vibrant, integrated community, of jews until around 1540 - unlike many towns that, while tolerant, still placed their jews in ghettos.

I keep thinking about the Roma, on the run from Sarkozy. Walking to the cathedral later a girl passes in a "I 'heart' Roma" t-shirt. She's more Spanish Steps, Armani store on the via Condotti, I suspect - still I read it as a gesture in Anti Sarkozy-Bruni (I think we have to add her, regretfully) polemic.

In the bookshop at the judenhaus there's a small brochure about the jewish mystics of the region. If this diary every becomes a book I will, in Chatwinny/Stewartian prose talk about these men. For the moment their lives are for contemplation back at the British Library.
I spend a few hours in the cathedral, but nothing quite becomes it like first viewing, walking the rhine, church as media, presence, power. It is plain, huge, being restored with vast UNESCO funds; down in the crypts those Emperors that Slyvie talked about yesterday in the dreamy, statue-filled, gardens of Schwetzinger. It really was a sublime pitstop, a wander into a truly other world for an hour. I imagine pageants there, bacchanalian festivals, regal strolling. But it is the Palatinate, and I am stupidly ignorant about it.

Down in the crypts the tombs are like giant loaves of bread, pressed into the walls. Upstairs I sit and consider the Romanesque interior, very plain, arched, austere. I can't help but think of certain mosques I've seen in Istanbul.

There is more that connects us than separates.

There's no phone, no television and no wi-fi in my Catholic hostel. I find a network at Maximillian and read about the Pope and terror arrests in London. (Later the suspects are all released). There is a tepid conversation with loud Russian women, who give me a what's he worth once over: not much they conclude.


In Baden-Baden walking to a cafe at around nine one evening I heard the most pitiful sound. From a side street comes the echo, from a building with the terrifying blue neon logo often seen "abroad", away from England, that just reads "pub". The sound is of a male chorus, clearly well on their way, singing in various keys, Carly Simon's "You're So Vain."

I'm remembering that moment now as I go for a late night coffee/red-wine at the Irish bar in Speyer. I don't do this sort of thing. But last night, walking home, it was quiz night at the Irish bar, and one of the answers that boomed out into the courtyard to a question was "Schnitzel." Which brought about large-scale applause. At least it will be German Irish, not Englishmen singing You're So Vain, or indeed Anticipation or Mockingbird. Inside it is pretty quiet. A couple of guys my age standing at the bar, drinking Guinness. I order a red wine. Gunter says: "Why are you drinking red wine in an Irish bar?"


"We started in the Library, with champagne. The Oriental Club, just off Oxford street, in Marylebone. And then the food...the wine...Finally, we stand, we say the Loyal Toast, to the Queen! I am 18, in a borrowed morning suit, the first time in London. Me, from Speyer. The wedding [a family friend's son - connected, investment banking....Hong-Kong heiress...] was in St Pauls! I mean people took their video cameras out, they"

The following year Gunter met an older, and married, woman...

I loved this story because it touches at so many things: travel, difference, influence, class, marriage, money...the English, but most of all the moments that matter - that change us. I think - I feel - that this story, this spot in time to misuse Wordsworth's idea, changed Gunter's way of seeing the world. He's seen a lot of it now, and like many of us, feels spiritually at home in New York, that confusing brutal melting point where old Europe meets Steel-Canyon Modernity.

Gunter's friend Peter tells me about the Palatinate, the subtle distinctions of "east" and "west" of the Rhine. I listen and learn and sadly forget. Because Peter wants to know about the British Royal Family.

What do you think of them? They're very...expensive.
"But a great tradition," says Gunter.
"Very expensive," I say. I laugh. "Look, did you guys see The Queen?" [It is part of my doctoral thesis, exploring the distance between Peter Morgan's script and some sense of what really happened. And yet The Queen is an Oscar winning movie.]

"Of course," Peter's mantra.

"Well, I don't think it really happened like that." I give a pompous lecture on history, narrative, new media and trust.

"A bit like the English histories of what happened in Ireland?'
- Exactly.
"But what do you think of the Royal Family, expensive aren't they?"
Soon we are trying to think of something useful, and inconsequential, for Prince Charles to do.
"Look, they're all useless except for the Queen," I say, "she does her job. But look, I'm a champagne socialist sort of guy, I would say this."
"From Hampstead," says Gunter, who understands these things.

We end, after a lovely chat, tilting at windmills in a bar named Don Quixote. But not for long; in the basement there is frenzied youth and deadly music. Gunter and I agree to meet next year; there's a Clapton concert in London. My round, this time.

There is more that connects us, than separates, I say to Gunter and Peter. Why not?
I like my new red-wine, rhine-side, aphorism. It is perhaps a little Howard's End, but..why not.

After the Farmer's Market with Serious Hangover, and the Pope or God punishing me by hexing the wi-fi in the hostel, and at Maximillians, and by ensuring that when I phone my friends to meet up - via a train - nearby - they are in a shopping mall without mobile reception, I resign myself to a train to Frankenthal. It's about 30 kilometres and I'm not in the mood. By the railway station there's a unicorn [see Facebook for photographs]. My first of the trip.

Frankenthal is a bit belchy. A lot of men on the street with plastic bottles of vodka. A lot of men milling about generally. Don't like the mood, though the town is nice enough to look at. At the family bar it is Ladies Night, which allows Robbie Williams' Angels to be played without postmodern irony.

It's not for me. At the sport's bar I learn that Mainz are top of the Bundes-League. The first time in their history. And I'll be there in a few days.

Still, I suspect, missing super Speyer.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Rolling on a - wrong - river. To Speyer, Spira as was

Another Heidelberg philosphe weg, my fourth, down to the new bridge, past the Irish bar that Angela said was good, but I don't do Irish bars unless they are in Ireland. Then a joyous pilgrimage down the Neckar river, as instructed by my lovely, old school, hotelier. All dams and fishermen and long shadow silhouettes and turns to see the castle and the wonders of Old Heidelberg. Dramatic clouds.

All wrong of course. Wrong river. You can't, as Goethe wrote, teach ein alt hund neue tricksen. I just will never get this real life GPS thing right; I'm saved by my IPAD - again.
I walk back, meet a bunch of youngsters running the toe-path, then their teacher. I ask him the way. I could walk to meet the Rhine, but that's to Mannheim. No.

What are the kids doing?
They're better than me.
You'll learn, good luck.

Back through neue Heidelberg, nichts so nice, and then the barnhof and the tourist information. A nice map-paper-based guide. Up past the station, watching a huge caravanserai of Audi cars of a train to Frankfurt. Then a US military base, some autobahn hugging, and then full Americana: Holiday Inn followed by drive through Burger King - where I buy water that comes in a carton, not a bottle. Then the paths open up on wonderful farmlands, and the sun is playing, doing marvellous dramatic things to the clouds, and the pylons and the church spires. I'm happy. The factory meets the fields meets the pylons and the spires - that light. I have those rapturous early Anita Baker songs in my head. Feel wind-blasted and demi-sun-kissed. A dauphin shortly to visit my summer palace.

It will be Schwetzinger for lunch and schloss. But - naturally - I am two hours later than I should be. Late because I necked the Neckar too long. But is worth it, a L'Oreal River.

Tired by Schwetzinger I carb on Carbonara, then walk to the schloss, whose labyrinthine, classically designed gardens are an hour's visual distraction, lovely. An elderly Mannheim couple feeding the aristocratically fat carp. They loved holidaying in Cornwall, in Penzance, in the old days. Live for pleasure, Sylvie says, but in moderation.

You will enjoy Speyer, she says, then quotes some Shakespeare, There is a time in the fortunes of man...You know that there's a story, a myth, that when the Emperors knew they were going to die, they went to Speyer. I don't know how many of them are buried there. How nice to know.

I'm in the Palatinate Emperor's summer residence, very baroque. Nice gig.

Outiside Ketsh, on the home run, Rhine-side, stunning late afternoon landscapes, sun-shadows, the river curving like it did outside Strasbourg, like Richmond, Surrey. Then, suddenly, a large caravan, clothes hanging by every window, a tractor to tow it. A bunch of women picking vegetables, fruit?, from a field. I take a photo.

No photos, no photos. A woman tells a man, he repeats the request. More Roma, more dispossessed. This is terrible, what does Sarkozy think he is doing? He should have married Joan Baez. Another miserable moment.

A few ups and downs, nothing too heavy, a air strip - gliders, oh Thomas Crown, c'est moi.

And then the view down the sun-darkened river to Speyer, four towers; that cathedral. Romanesque. Unesco, world heritage etc. 357 photographs down since Heidelberg.

A pedestrian town, pretty perfect, old town Rathaus and Tower. Canterbury without the students or the choirboys. At the guest house Ingrid is in russet. No nonsense. I complement her on the jacket. "I've had it 20 years. I bring it out for this week of autumn."

Over filet steak for energy I write up my day, and know that it does no justice to its elemental happiness.

Now, what is the bloody Romanesque?

Philosphies of Life

Lazlo runs a brand new vinyl store in the clubby street; the late night old town, about half a hiccough from my bridge-side Heidelberg hotel. In his stylish shop window there's a copy of the soundtrack to Stanley Donen's European road movie, Two for the Road. Ah, those days when Europe - to catch a thief, pussycat don't look back - was young again, and exciting.

The new Erasmus students, celebrating their pan-European cultural heritage and academic brilliance over cheap cocktails at the Brass Monkey (owner from Nottingham; ex-pat exile-drinkers unfriendly, suspicious of questions) talk party-party nonsense and watch Spain take a thumping from Argentina, live from Buenos Aires thanks to Mr. Murdoch. These kids look younger than policemen, not quite the heirs of Erasmus. Outside a boy and girl, complaining because one year in their supervisor has asked for evidence of work. Happy daze, I guess.

Earlier in lieu of England vs Switzerland - unsurprisingly absent from the plasmas of Heidelberg's finest Gerwurtz-ing Establishments - I watch Germany rip through Azerbijan. 6:1 finally. I do so in a small bar with a pair of sisters. one a sports student, the other a young publisher. They have one of those traveller's tales.

They grew up in Karlsruhe, not so far away, but it never felt like home. As they talk about Karlsruhe it feels as though they left some bad times behind when they moved, independently to Heidelberg. Both studied here. Their father is German; their mother from Brittany in France. Brittany is a kind of home, the parents have moved there finally. Beautiful, different, quiet. But not home-home.

The girls grew up in Buenos Aires, where their father taught German. First lessons were in Argentine Spanish. They still remember.

So where is "home"?

Florent says: "I was walking over the old bridge here, last year, it was cold, and I suddenly thought, this is home, this is where I want to be. It was a great feeling. I'm 24, and I'm home." Boyfriends arrive, a golf-pro with a gamy knee. The German team keeps scoring. Everybody is happy.

They are four: from all parts of Britain, young and my age, two men, two women. Business travellers, but not so that you would notice. We're in Destille, the Last Stop before Bed. They are IT people, work for a company that got bought, last year, by a German Corp. So now they need to upgrade the SAP, or whatever, here in H-berg. They are here a lot. In the modern way they live in different places in England but are connected by the network. One has been on the "tour" of Heidelberg, starts sprouting useful facts, facts I don't know. They are buried now in a Moleskine. Something about the castle, the ....Oasis close down Destille, and for once a mass rendition of Wonderwall seems an affirmation rather than a Dirge. As the cathedral bell strikes two, everyone is "After all, you're my..."

Heidelberg is split up for me by an emergency trip home, as careful readers of my Facebook pages may have spotted. Just five days, but it changes my attentiveness. On the mini-coach out to Frankfurt airport I meet an Iraqi Kurd who, at 44, has lived in many countries, fought a bloody war; survived. He was an art student, then conscripted aged 18, to fight against Iran for eight years. Then smuggled, fake passports, stick on photographs, to Moscow where he worked, but won't say as what, for three years. Then Hungary, Slovenia, Chechnya, Turkey....Lebanon, then finally Germany, a wife, children. A job. Home. "It's better now in north Iraq," he says. "My family is happy."

Back, days later, vibing into the mood. Angela is around my age, she writes about business travel. She woke up this morning in a South African themed hotel, all ostrich eggs and hunting rifles, in the Highlands of Scotland. Her luggage got left somewhere in Edinburgh. Tomorrow she flies to Malta; Monday to Japan. In the 1970s she visited Afghanistan. Everyone did. She studied at Heidelberg, so did her parents, and theirs. It is a family tradition, like taking a boat up the canal to Strasbourg for holidays.

There was an English boyfriend. He lives about fifteen inches from my old 1990s flat in Islington. Of course. For a long time Angela was a literary critic. She tells me about a highly autobiographical novel, just reprinted, by David Lodge, the Catholic-Campus guy that we all read and thought clever in about 1982. It's set in 1950s Heidelberg. (But not electronic yet, so it can wait...) Angela asks about the big novelists; I've grown up with them, the usual suspects, and can't suspend disbelief anymore, the offspring of their second marriages fleck the north London schools I know, pushy parents try and make their sons - those Tristrams - befriend them. And besides Saturday is quite simply the Worst Novel Ever Written.

"You will love Speyer, it's very...mystical," Angela says.

Lazlo is 30, his parents left Pest, well a little town just outside the Pest side of Budapest, in 1985, just as the Perestroikan Years kicked in. It seems a lifetime ago now. He's a musician and his vinyl store is a week old. "If I make enough money to cover my costs and make some music I will be happy." He plays me on ITunes some his moody modern jazz. Nice.

There is money in the rare vinyl biz. Lazlo sells old, cool, obscure, freeform, jazz on vinyl to Japanese buyers. He tells me about Drug Store, an old school men's coffeeshop, oaky and full of chess-playing Magyars.

Janos is pushing - well old. He has his own seat at Drug Store. He left Hungary just after the second world war, in 48, long before the failed revolution. He studied, but never got to work in his field. "I ended up in gastronomy," he says. With a chuckle. I show him the street in which I lived in Pest on my GMapp, app thing. Janos points at Margit island, nearby, where I used to run most, some, mornings. "Ah very beautiful," Janos says. "When I was a boy I went to the therme, the baths. Beautiful."

Across the smoke, yup despite the laws, there are ways around the smoking ban, it all depends on the size of a place and whether there is food cooked, old men open, defend, ponder and endgame. Often with audiences. Chess: never got it, but it looks cool.

Later a Scotsman with a wounded dog, who dates a barmaid here, tells me about his times in Budapest with a bunch of subsidised artists. After the wall came down and everything changed they lost their state salary. So they sued the new government - and won. Won the right to be paid to be artists. The free-market Insead-ers of Basel would not be happy.

And I don't think they're still getting their salaries.

There's jazz on somewhere, a little way out of the old town, almost no distance at all, but most centrists don't know. At nine, the newspaper says. I turn up fashionably late at 9.10 but there's just a guitarist and three guys in wooly jumpers, big bellies, beards. "The singer will be here within an hour," the guitarist says.

"Stay," says a wooly beard, "we brew our own beer."

It is 9.11, and I'm drinking wine in a restaurant opposite the unhappening jazz bar. Trestle tables, lots of them, platter food, big plates. An atrium, a back room full of 200 men talking turkey, in what sounds suspiciously, vaguely, like English.

I smoke, meet a marketing executive for a hedge fund guy, who is, in fact, heavily tattoo'd, I see the legal ones. When she divorced she got an abdominal one which reads, "through the darkness into the light". Saucy. Doesn't it hurt?

Life hurts.

Not just a marketing person, she also owns a couple of bars in Hamburg: one burlesque, one punky 1976, Ramoney Pistolian. I must visit, she says: then back to her bankers. Work, work...

I'm trying to figure out the ciggy machine. Down by the men's toilets. I've got my plastic ziggy card, I've dialled the number, and paid out my Euros. Nichts.

Three men, English speakers. We're all trying. They go get a "native" German speaker. I put in my credit card...Nichts again.

Who are you guys?
American military, sir. (I know, but what kind?)
Ok, what you all doing here?
We're at a conference.
Ok, about what?
Come on, who can I tell, I can't even buy a pack of (don't say fags, don't)...cigarettes.
It's about Europe.
(Slightly drunk guy, ominously): And Russia.

Ah. So 200 plus, Spook-sytle, intelligence men and analysts - because these guys don't look like the ones who hide behind bushes in Kabul - are two-day conferencing about Russia? What now? Bomb the spa towns, invade the Sushi bars?

Every morning, four times in total, I philospheweg. I cross the old bridge, climb an abrupt narrow trail, that puffing opens up to areas to "think", look across the river, and "philosophise." There's a circuit, old bridge to new bridge for those with the lungs to climb; other way around for those without. A famous route. Everyone's been at it, Goethe to Weber. Fashionable first in the early 1800s, in fact the Romans did much the same - only the walk was through their vineyards. Can't fail but feel connection to smart people doing this. Read Holderlin on the IPAD up high, contemplating the ruined castle. If I stay long enough, I figure. I'll write the Great European Novel.

Everyone should have a philospheweg.

In Destille three Siberians - one who is uncannily ABBA, despite being 17 - tell me that the Russian money in Baden-Baden in "new". No shit, Sherlockski. Actually, there's a lot of old money there too.

A Californian firegfigher, over - early - for Octoberfest, with many tatts too, wants to argue about mosques in New York. Do my elderly liberal stickt, and despite it being late o'clock he says, "yeah dude, you're right."

An electrician from a small town twenty kilometres away is in Heidelberg for an electrician's conference. In November he's going to New Zealand for three months. "Once in a lifetime thing," he says. "It will be so marvellous. Maybe there will be The Girl."

Going home now, a guy and two girls, trainee teachers, sitting out, wrapping. "Cool town," I say. "Is this it, nothing else tonight?"
"Nothing else."
A guy in a linen jacket, polyester pants, comb-over hair, comes over. "Where's the action?"
He says.
"No action," says the guy.
"Come on,"
"We're talking to Robin, he's fun."
"No, he's scary, I saw him before."

Linen/Polyster man disappears to his Travel Pussy, and I to my Happy Hof Hotel. Speyer in the morning. And mystical things, we hope. Back at the hotel a late night smoke with the night porter, Michael. He comes from a village in East Germany, there's no work there, everyone drinks. He commutes 90 kilometres to do this shift. A nice man.

Somewhere in another country the Pope is talking rubbish about atheists. He needs a philospheweg.

Or a travel pussy.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Heidelberg: philosophy compulsory

My favourite moment of the Baden-Baden Grayson Perry incident happens without him, back at the Capuchin-Radisson reception desk. An elderly German couple were, they explain, sitting behind me in the Travel Pussy cafe. They want to know, pretty simply - what the hell was all that about?

Neither my German or their English are up to the post-modernish complexities of Grayson Perry's life, art work, persona; the project itself; or Philippa Perry - yes, I keep saying, Grayson's wife. This is a stumbling block.

We use the receptionist, Russian, to translate - even then we are in Scarlett/Bill Murray land, lost in translation.

The photographs of the meeting with the BBC crew, the artist and his wife, are all on Facebook, so sign up if you need to see these, plus a ton of rapturous landscapes. One of the foibles of the IPAD is that it doesn't look as if I can post pix to my blog site, though Facebook is a simple email exercise. Well done Mr. Zuckermann. Sorry about the movie.

For those that haven't seen the pictures the point about Grayson Perry's persona, is that he is dressed in an exotic costume, a woman's dress that's a sort of space-cadet take on Tootsie, and it's all to do with someone called "Clare." There's a lot of iconography going on, but that's for real Freeze art critics, I've got enough on my plate with the catholics and protestants.

Heidelberg looks a bit grim @ the Banhof, then blossoms in a gorgeous triangulation of river, hills, ruins, and old town. It's raining and who cares?

It really has all happened here: Martin Luther, Goethe, Hannah Arendt and the American army (still based in a camp just outside town) have lived in Heidelberg. There's a pedestrianised old main street, with glossy stores and a Foreign-Student Pleasing Starbucks, almost empty. A fine bricked marketplatz and cathedral, a dominating, high on the hill.semi-ruined castle out of the imagination of every gothic novel, and then some. Only it is far older.

As Johann Holderlin wrote, in Heidelberg:

But heavy, hulking into the valley hung
The Fate-Acquainted castle, the vast, all Torn
And battered down to its foundations:
Neverthesless even there the sun now...

Coryat like the place too:

Moreover there are fome that affirmed it i called Heidelberg quasi Adelberg, that is, a noble City, in regard of the nobility, the elegancy, and fweetneffe of the fituation thereof...

I march up to the castle without funicular, the views are stunning, everything triangulates, seems whole. Even the hundreds of camera-friendly umbrella holders, Japanese often. At the arch to the old bridge, fifty metres from my hotel there appears to a continuous Japanese wedding taking place. I think for a moment of Barney and Bjork and their Japanese Whale Ship.

I miss lunch.

It's hard not to feel philosophical here.. Compulsory really. I walk back down windy curved streets and take in the university where Luther defended his revolutionary thesis, and kick-started the Protestant Revolution. And where 400 years later Max Weber invented the Protestant Work Ethic. Then a second hand book store, old boxed set DVDs of Fasbinder, Douglas Sirk, Catherine Deneuve.

I immediately imagine a Jacques Demy movie set here, The Philosophers of Heidelberg. Francois Dorleac as Hannah Arendt, Maybe Delon as Karl Jaspers...People next, I guess.

Grayson Perry and the travel pussy

It's one part Hugh Hefner to another part Bond this morning, the first time in my life I have spent from waking until late afternoon in a bathrobe. Frustuk in the Capuchin wing of the monastery (those old monks presumably spinning in their graves, perhaps they moved to CERN). High ceilings, last days of Marienbad vibe. I download - buy - Dostoievski, complete works for one pound ninety nine.

It is fantastic to be able to buy and then read the books referenced in a place. In seconds. Perhaps for many the e-book is a modernity too far, but for me - on the road and unable to have a sherpa carry my extensive library - it is perfection.

Dostoievski published The Gamblers in 1866; but reading the novella now on the sun recliner next to the thermal whirligig pool it is as fresh and relevant and contemporary - and as cynical - as an AMC series about Madisson Avenue ad executives.

I whirl and gig in between the duplicitous, tragi-comic chapters. The Gamblers is a pretty savage comic-mode death-job on spa towns. I know, but have no facts, that we British went crazy for German spa in the Victorian Era. I'm pretty sure it was to here, Baden-Baden that William "Vanity Fair" Thackeray brought his chronically depressed wife for - failed - treatment.

Thackeray was the Wayne Rooney of the Victorian Novelists - ballerinas were his WAGs; and he ate like food was going extinct the next day. In one of his travel books, From Cornhill to Grand Cairo, he records a 12 course lunch, more food than I've consumed on this trip.

The Gamblers is located in BB, and thematically at the nexus of money, sex, race, Europe, marriage - and gambling. Funny that the "new" post-Bankruptcy B-Baden, seems so similar.

My poolside companions (inside and out) are leathered and German. They fill out those books of games fur uhr upon uhr. I guess they think I am dull for playing on a computer for hours. But it's digital Dostoievski, so who cares? I start off feeling very white; later very pink.

At five I go back into town, and sit at the cafe which dominates the central crossroads. It's not anything very special except that yesterday in the basement loos I've first seen - shades of Chapman's Homer, Keats lovers - a "travel pussy." In a vending machine that in the UK would be full of condomania, are one kind of condom, one "mini vibrator" and two types of artificial vagina. They are doing the Vagina Monologues in Strasbourg in November, but this vagina monologue appeared more about not having to "speak to the hand." I needed a photograph.

Which is how I get to meet Turner-Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry.

The photographic plan was pretty simple, drink coffee, go for pee, take pix. But then as I am nursing another espresso (up to about eight a day, plus water and wine is my soul liquid intake...) when a slightly prim woman in vaguely punkish spex comes over. I guess because I have been looking over at the outdoor tables near me - where a large group of people dressed for a Hercule Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster shoot are drinking; a couple have wanderweg-ged over to a statue, a funny looking woman. Everyone is speaking English. About a millisecond before Punk Prim asks: "And who are you?" I hear the word "Grayson."

So my reply to the question mutates. I say: "Actually, I am a critic from Freeze magazine."
"Fuck, no!"
"That was a joke. I'm doing this walk..." Philippa Perry relaxes and we move into a long conversation about what's going on - it's a project for the BBC's very own Medici Prince, Alan Yentob. The only man who's nearly killed me at lunch. A long time ago at Kensington Place: I foolishly ate the monk fish, cue green skin, passing out....

Grayson is travelling - as his persona, "Clare" - Bavaria in a customised Harley Davidson bike, with a glass case at the rear where he keeps his teddy bear. The case is miked and camera'd to catch what the locals say. It's all very high-end conceptual meets dressing up day on a particularly bohemian cycling holiday. Philppa has just published a well-received graphic novel, Couch Fiction; a graphic tale of psychotherapy. I promise to read it, though suspect I'll have to wait for print, rather than IPAD download.

I meet the director, who asks about my shoes - he's always had problems. An actress who has just been doing Shakespeare at the Globe; a publisher who wanted to come along. The elderly gentleman and his partner who customised the motorbike and travel with the gang to keep the Harley fine-tuned. Very "Imagine"; very old school BBC, the kind of thing we may have to fight for soon. Lovely, in fact.

We say goodbye and I go back to my Moleskine. Then Grayson comes over and sits with me because he knows how lonely it is travelling alone. He mentions a visit to Japan. He's just ridden the Nürburgring with teddy. We get somehow onto mountains, church bells - how the English invented winter sports. He's a friendly, very clever guy. I wish I knew more about his work.

"In the Swiss mountains, and again, more recently, " I say, "I keep thinking about Casper David -
"- Friedrich," I know, says Grayson. "I was driving the Nürburgring, and it goes pretty high and I was thinking Friedrich..."
"It's funny how it took Romanticism to make people 'like' mountains."
"They finally felt safe, felt safety, I think. The mountains weren't the enemy any more."

I begin to talk about Matthew Barney and the Slaugen show in Basel."
"I have a problem with Matthew Barney -" But we never found out what.

Three London Biker-Geezers have arrived at the table. "I've got ten pounds says you were on 'Have I Got News for You?" a couple of weeks ago."
"Yes I was."
Big grin - tenners all around. "You were good."
"And what are you boys doing here?"
"We're motorbiking Germany."
"I just did the Nürburgring yesterday."
"So did I, what time did you do?"
"Oh, it was slow. Where are you all from?"
"I'm from Chelmsford [also Essex]."

We all get special Victoria Miro Gallery Postcards of the Project. The programme is out next year, 2011 - if the BBC still exists. I tell Philippa about the travel pussy. "We don't need them," she says, we'll all travelling with our fuckees."

The Travel Pussy is on the right

Later, winding home to the Capuchin Radisson, I stop at a posh bar in the hope of Russians, instead I meet a handsome local couple, Rainer and Renata (say), and they work as executives in one of the really smart hotels here. They're sharp and fun, and they talk of the long Russian heritage here. Rainer's just back from Argentina, lived in Chicago a long time. He loves the new bands, Hurts, and Delphic, and they're both coming here - yes here - shortly. Better than Deep Purple, or Barclay James Harvest.

A bus stops by our table. A - sizeable - Englishman, young jumps out. "Casino?" he shouts. Twice. Nobody says a word. I stand up and give him instructions - straight, right, look out for, well you'll find it.

"I thought I was back in Bournemouth," Rainer says. Then I work out that the pair come from the hotel where the 2006 English World Cup Wags stayed. "Oh we loved Posh," they say. Funny then, that this morning in a very Baden-Baden/Gamblers everything is for sale kind of way, that one WAG's life, or at least their public personna's life, has unravelled a little.

In the morning I begin to understand the Englishman and the casino. Tom slept rough the next two nights on the way to Heidelberg. I'm not doing that: it's a bitch with the wifi. So I walk to the railway station, a two hour plus feat, far away from the old town, past malls and media centres and more casinos. The railway station has been taken over by England football fans. There is a nasty dark menace to the cafes and - yes bars. Everyone is drinking, it is 10am. The England match is in Basel, across the border. I wonder if these guys might have been turned back on an airplane. I don't speak a word of English, but am so nervous, not speaking, I knock over and break a plastic moulded croissant. The boys just laugh. Two hours later I'm in Heidelberg and experiencing a spectacular time warp. Goodbye Proto Vegas; hello Second Athens.

Every biker needs a calling card