How did the chicken swallow the sword? German Humour in the 1980s

Martin the speech theraüist in Nurenberg last night

West Ham fan Martin in Nuremberg last night

Shortly after I got an iPhone – my first smartphone – I went to Kiev not quite understanding the concept of roaming charges. I did not use the phone. I was in Kiev for three days. On my return to the UK, got a bill for £170.

I am in Nuremberg at the moment with roaming and everything else apart from WiFi turned off.

I am staying with a very interesting man called Rudiger Schmidt, but there is a problem with his home WiFi and it is only now I am here that I find out Nuremberg is known for not having a lot of free WiFi.

I met a man in a bar last night – not a phrase you will often find in this blog.

He was – indeed, still is – a speech therapist called Martin (a German) from Hamburg who supports West Ham United football club and who visits the UK two or three times a year to see West Ham play. He told me not only that energy prices in Germany are rocketing (which is what UK newspapers are also currently obsessed with) but that bars, cafes and restaurants here (unlike in the UK) are increasingly wary of providing free WiFi for customers because of the unpredictable and increasing cost.

But enough of my cyber traumas.

This blog may well be eventually posted by pigeon.

My new chum Rudiger Schmidt’s main memory of coming to London in the 1980s is of a sword-swallowing chicken.

“Why did the chicken swallow the sword?” I asked.

“It was the 1980s,” Rudiger replied.

“Ah,” I said.

“It was a rubber chicken,” continued Rudiger.

“The performer,” I asked, “swallowed a sword which was inside a rubber chicken?” with vague memories of seeing this act surfacing in the back of my mind.

“No,” said Rudiger. “The chicken swallowed the sword.”

“That’s why it was so clever,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who had seen the act.

“A rubber chicken?” I asked.

Rudiger remembered the 1980s yesterday

Rudiger talked of DEBAKL last night

“Yes,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Rudiger was so impressed with the chicken that he bought one himself… A rubber chicken… Did you then perform the act yourself in German?”

“I tried,” said Rudiger.

“Where?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“There’s a little children’s theatre nearby here ,” said Rudiger, “and we had a show in the 1980s called DEBAKL – as in ‘debacle’. It was an acronym for German Entertainment Needs Culture.

“I staged a show for adults every first Thursday in the month, when people who could do anything interesting for seven minutes could perform. They could do whatever they wanted to do. I moderated (compered) the shows. So I did the rubber chicken sword swallowing act there.”

“Were people impressed?” I asked.

“Yes, very much,” said Rudiger.

“But you’ve stopped doing it,” said my eternally-un-named friend, with a slight hint of sadness in her voice.

“It was in the 1980s,” explained Rudiger.

“Ah,” I said. “You did not want to be up-staged by a rubber chicken?”

“Yes,” said Rudiger.

“Do you still have the chicken?” I asked..

Not the actual sword-swallowing chicken

Sadly not the lost sword-swallowing chicken

“I have lost the chicken,” replied Rudiger. “We did the DEBAKL shows in the 1980s for about one year and then we stopped in about 1988 and then, maybe two years later, we did another two shows and stopped then, but we did another show in 2009 and I have a video. Do you want to see it?”

“For sure,” I said.

But sadly the chicken was not on the video, the video developed problems halfway through and, because of cyber problems, I cannot upload the footage.

Such is cyber life.

I feel cursed.

But the video did include a man dressed as a butcher who sang what appeared to be a traditional German song while wearing a blood-spattered white apron. He was standing by a small, furry toy pig and waved a meat cleaver as he sang. Rudiger told me that the lyrics were mostly Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop!

Another act had been videoed in the 1980s in a local underground station.

“You are not allowed to go in the tube without a ticket,” explained Rudiger.

The four man comedy group on the video danced to music for a DEBAKL audience of perhaps 20 people sitting on the steps inside the underground station.

“If the controller had come,” laughed Rudiger, “all of them would have had to pay!”

The four performers danced in a row. The first three had giant signs round their necks saying (in German) POTATO. The fourth had a sign saying HEAD. So, dancing, their signs read POTATO – POTATO – POTATO – HEAD. There was also a man dancing while wearing a vertical tube with a flat cardboard hat.

“What is he supposed to be?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“He is a tube of mustard,” explained Rudiger.

At the end of the act, through interference on the video picture, it appeared that objects were being thrown.

“The audience are throwing things at the performers?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Rudiger, “the acts could be extremely good or extremely bad but they had to be interesting. The audience could throw round metallic pot-cleaning sponges at the acts and we counted how many were thrown. The act which had most round metallic pot-cleaning sponges thrown at them won a prize.

“When the audience came into the theatre, each member of the audience was given five round metallic pot-cleaning sponges and you could throw one or two or more at an act, but you had to ration yourself because you only had five to last you for the entire show.”

“Did they,” I asked, “throw these sponges at acts they liked or at acts they hated?”

“It did not matter,” said Rudiger. “What mattered was if the act was interesting. One guy could make a cucumber glow. It was a really good act.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Germany

One response to “How did the chicken swallow the sword? German Humour in the 1980s

  1. Bob Boyton

    Hi John, I tried to comment properly but I got a message saying the page couldn’t be found. I think the British act with the sword swallowing chicken was a guy called Tim Barlow, I was in the Crown and Castle workshop with him, he was deaf and I think well known amongst disabled performers. Hope you’re well Bob

    Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2013 10:56:36 +0000 To: bobboyton@hotmail.co.uk

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