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  • Writer's pictureJH

Day 8: German Castle Magic and a Wonderful Birthday in Schwelm

AVT: 1h (Tot. 29h)

ADT: 60 km (Tot. 2,367 km)


"Let's make like a herder and get the flock out of here."

- Ken


A nice breakfast. A castle. A show. Presents. Cupcakes. Chocolate. Adoring fans and friends, friends, friends in a lovely little town in Germany.

How’s that for a birthday?

From the bottom of my fingers, thank you to everyone who made yesterday such a special day for me. I’m touched and humbled that you would go to such lengths. If I can’t be at home with my wife and kitties, I can think of no better place or company than Schwelm, Germany and my friends and bandmates for a birthday party. I teased Schimmi a few entries ago for tearing up in Wiesbaden. Last night it was my turn, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I’ll talk more about that later.

My birthday began with a breakfast of coffee and scrambled eggs – a relative rarity in Germany – at a grocery store café with Sarah, Ken, and Deni. From there we set course for Schwelm, but made a little side trip to one of the many ancient castles that are still standing in Germany. We had a few choices but wound up eventually at Blankenstein Castle in Hattingen.

It reminded me in some ways of a much, much, much smaller Versailles. Now, the castle is nothing like the palace of Louis XIV. Let’s nip that image in the bud. But it is an ancient place nestled into kind of a modern neighbourhood. You come off the highway and around a few corners and you definitely begin to realize you’re travelling back through time. The architecture gets older. There’s a stately old church, and then a stone tower rises from the trees. This, I gather, is a remnant of the original castle that was constructed in the 1200s. There have been some ownership changes over the years and a lot of the original structure is gone, but these bits remain and they are fascinating.

I expected to have to pass through a ticket counter and gift shop before entering the tower, but it seems that Blankenstein is public access. We crept up a set of stairs to the foot of the tower, looking over our shoulders for security. We didn’t see anyone, so we entered the tower and, finding another staircase, began to ascend. And ascend. And ascend. At a certain point the staircases became very narrow and dark, to the point where I had to use the flashlight on my phone to see what was coming. Sarah bravely led the way until the darkness settled in. Then it was my turn. I guess they figured the history guy would know what to do if a knight or a wizard jumped out of the shadows.

Alas, no Lancelots, no Gandalfs.

And so we strode around the final, dusty corner, bracing ourselves against bricks caressed by 800 years of fingertips, and found ourselves at the foot of one final staircase. It was just the four of us alone with the walls and the ghosts of history. A dozen or so steps would take us up to … well, a metal door that looked bolted. Could our free pass have been a labour-intensive joke? We trudged up the last few steps and pressed the door open, revealing a cool wind and a magnificent panorama of the countryside around Hattingen.

Then Sarah shrieked and braced herself against the wall. The kid doesn’t do heights.

The tower doesn’t look that high from below, but when you get to the top you realize that it’s built, as most effective castles are built, at the highest point in the area. The ground on the other side dropped a long, long way, and I could imagine sentries perched up on these heights centuries ago, watching for invading armies approaching from all directions. Time only knows how much blood was shed on the slopes beneath us. How many sieges those walls have withstood. Maybe none, I don’t know. But my imagination lights up when I try to picture what’s come before me in these places.

That’s lot of words about German castle magic.

Let’s jump ahead to the show. I don’t think I’ve ever played a chocolate shop before, but that’s where we found ourselves after snaking through the narrow streets of Schwelm. I’m starting to really like playing these tiny venues on my kick/snare set-up. The Marie Chocolaterie & Café, owned by the lovely Marie herself, is a beautiful little shop that, like so many of the others, can be converted to an intimate club with the removal of a few tables. They cleared the floor for us and we set up and did a sound check. Again, it’s a volume game in a place like that, but we’re getting good at it.

We must have had dinner after that …

We did. Burgers at the hotel. Quite good.

When we returned for the show, people were waiting for us. As it was my birthday, there were presents presented and I was touched yet again by the generosity of our friends in Europe. Schimmi even found the courage to purchase an Arsenal keychain for me, which probably puts her Bayern Munich Fan Club membership into suspension for three months (this is the first step, Schimmi – north London is waiting for you). There were gifts of wine and spirits from our other friends and I so appreciate it.

The show itself was a blast. The band is beginning to gel properly now and we’re starting to get a handle on the new songs. The cool thing about playing a room like that is if you put 50 people in it, it’s packed out, and full rooms are fun to play. I think the band kicked ass front to back, starting with Deni’s solo set.

Oh, the tearing up …. Well, a few nights ago Schimmi was affected emotionally, I think, by how much the band was winning over a crowd of strangers in Wiesbaden. I was affected emotionally last night when we hit the close of our cover of Here Comes The Rain Again by Eurythmics. We really hit that song hard and yeah, I felt it when we built up to the big ending and dropped out for the final a cappella lines of the song. Hey, if you don’t get emotional about the music you’re playing …

Once again I can’t name everyone who came out. I will give a shout-out to our old friend Klemens from Topos, who made the trip. Great to see him as always! Michael Foto was there shooting pictures as well.

What else, what else, what else ….

Well, we had sparklers, which was great. At the very end of the show, encores encored, the crowd parted to allow a party of cupcake bearers. Our friend Anke made the most delicious cupcakes for us and I was very touched yet again. After that we enjoyed meeting and talking with fans new and old. And then it was the lads in the band being the lads in the band back at the hotel.

I would tell you more, but it’s now midnight on the next day. Let me close by saying it was a wonderful birthday that I will not soon forget.

Thank you, everyone.

#SarahSmith #Tour #SchwelmGermany

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