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 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.