Tag Archives: Germany

A few things I should have mentioned about Nuremberg – or maybe not

My eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg

Eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg at weekend

“I need a blog,” I told my eternally-un-named friend today.

“Oh no, no,” she said. “I’m tired. There’s a lot of things you’ve said in other blogs where I think Oh, I don’t really like the way I sound there – that’s stupid – and why do you have to use the eternally-un-named friend phrase so often?… and… I’m really tired.”

“You’re at your best when you’re tired,” I told her. “You’re on a roll; go for it.”

My eternally-un-named friend and I returned from Nuremberg yesterday. It was my first visit. She had been there in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Tell me about Dürer and the statue of the rabbit,” I suggested.

Albrecht Dürer drew a picture of a young hare in 1502. Outside Dürer’s (rebuilt) house stands or, rather, sits a modern sculpture based on his picture.

Mad hare

The hare with the myxomatosis kind of eyes

“I remembered it being like your mother’s ornament,” my eternally-un-named friend told me today. “But it wasn’t like that at all – or Dürer’s drawing. Instead it was like this crazy thing that had myxomatosis kind of eyes and had his claws on top of a human foot and had other things sticking out of it… It looked like it had had a car crash and was really rough and ghastly and spookily gross but, then, Dürer did have some pictures of odd animals with pop-eyes for some reason.

“It just disappointed me because, of course, I was getting well into hares because of their connection with the moon and them being…”

“Connection with the moon?” I asked.

“The moon,” repeated my eternally-un-named friend. “The moon goddess is represented by a hare in pagan religion when women ruled… or were, at least, equal… ehhh… the world.”

We looked at each other. We laughed.

Durer_NurnbergRuins

But you can mention the Dürer statue which survived the War

“We did have that conversation at Dürer’s house,” I reminded her, “where we were both disappointed that nothing in Dürer’s house appeared to actually be Dürer’s. Most things were copies.

“And I said to you: That’s possibly our fault, because the British bombed the place and – was it 94% or was it 97% of the town was destroyed?”

“I don’t think we need to keep mentioning things being bombed,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I don’t think we need to keep mentioning the War. There is the Fawlty Towers joke of Don’t mention the War, but there does come a point where it all… There ARE other things.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Dürer had a toilet built in his kitchen,” replied my eternally-un-named friend.

“I forgot to mention that in my blogs,” I admitted. “Remind me.”

“It was against city council regulations, even in those days,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “So he had to pay a fine before they would give it back to him.”

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1933

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1933

“But, getting back to the War,” I said, “you thought it was odd that I didn’t mention Rudiger playing tennis against the back wall of Hitler’s review stand at the place they held the Nazi rallies.”

“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “people just used it for hitting balls against and Rudiger did when he was a teenager in the 1970s. Now you can’t do that because of it crumbling. If you had included it in your blogs, it would have showed that life had gone on. Only a few decades after this building we’ve all seen used on television as an awesome Nazi symbol of power… people were playing tennis against its side and back walls. It’s like the Ozymandias poem.

The Noremberg Rally review stand in 1993

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1993, already crumbling

“When we were there at the weekend, the whole of that road where they used to march in front of Hitler was being used by a family on roller skates. It was like a 1950s no-longer-used schoolyard and there was some guy in shorts just using the steps to run up and down for exercise.”

“The odd thing,” I said, “was that, when we were in the rally ground, I didn’t think of the awfulness of the Nazis or the scale of the rallies. I was thinking of the lyrics in that Stereophonics song Nice To Be Out:

Let me think now, let me see
I stood once where Hitler’s feet had stood
When he made a speech in Nuremberg in ’38

“Oh for goodness sake…” said my eternally-un-named friend.

Rudiger Schmidt - one degree of separation from car accident

Rudiger Schmidt: a man only one degree of separation from Nuremberg’s first car accident

“You didn’t mention that one of Rudiger’s first landladies was an old woman who was so old she had owned the first car in Nuremberg and, about a year after she bought her car, someone else bought the second car in Nuremberg and, a few weeks later, they crashed into each other.”

“I didn’t think it was interesting enough,” I said.

“But,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “you were interested when Rudiger mentioned that female nurses are called krankenschwester, male nurses are called krankenpfleger and ambulances are krankwagens.”

“I just like the idea of a crank wagon,” I said. “When were you last in Nuremberg?”

A knitted tree-warmer in a Nuremberg park

Knitted tree-warmer in Nuremberg park

“1993. And you didn’t mention in your blogs that the Nuremberg bratwurst sausages are small and thin – the size of a finger – because the wives of men in prison used to shove them through the keyhole. They were small enough to fit through a large keyhole… At which point in your blog, you could use the picture I took of you looking like Dr Strange-glove pointing to a very large lock which isn’t the prison. It was in the castle.”

“It might not be interesting enough,” I said. “What else did I forget to mention?”

“They have beavers in the river,” said my eternally-un-named friend.”

We looked at each other.

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Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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Clever people made dodgy money when East and West Germany were re-united

An East German GDR border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

An East German border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

I am staying with my eternally-un-named friend’s friend Rudiger in Nuremberg in what used to be West Germany.

“When East and West Germany were re-united in 1990,” Rudiger told us yesterday, “the two currencies were not united immediately. If you were an East German and you parked illegally in West Germany, you could pay the fine in East German marks and get any change back in West German marks.

“So people would drive from (the former) East Germany to West Germany and park illegally. If you got a parking ticket for 10 marks, you could pay the bill with a 100 East German marks note and get back 90 West German marks. At the time, I think the exchange rate was 1 West German mark = 14 East German marks.

“So, if you were fined 10 marks, you paid with 100 East German marks and got back 90 West German marks which were worth 1,260 East German marks.

“Every Sunday and Monday, there were lots of East German cars parked in the pedestrian zones in West Germany. People would stay for a day to get the parking ticket.

“Also, if you came from East Germany to West Germany, you were given 50 West German marks in the city in which you arrived.

“If someone came from East Germany to Nuremberg, they would be given 50 marks; they would then go to Munich and get 50 marks, go to Hanover and get 50 marks and park illegally in every town.”

“And,” I asked, “there was no central control if you got 50 marks here or there or there?”

“No,” confirmed Rudiger. “There was no control in the first weeks.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“Two or three months,” said Rudiger. “There were so many people coming from East Germany that they couldn’t control it and the bank branches would sometimes run out of money. So the banks had to go to supermarkets and ask Would you lend us some marks, please?

“The supermarkets would lend the banks the money. The banks then gave the money to the East German people who had arrived. And the East German people would then buy goods from the supermarkets who would then lend the money to the banks. The money would go round and round and round in one day.”

“A good money-making deal for East Germans,” I observed.

“West Germans made money as well,” Rutger told us. “A West German friend of mine at that time had an aunt in East Germany and she gave him East German money. He took it and put it into a bank in West Germany – as East German money. At the time, still, the exchange rate was 1 West German mark = 14 East German marks.

“One year later, he knew that the exchange rate should be changed to 1 West German mark = 1 East German mark.

“It was a good deal.

“And, as for cars… the East Germans all wanted West German cars, so we sold them our old cars.

“At that time, my sister had an accident and her car was totally broken and a man approached her in the street – she did not know him and he was not from East Germany, he was a West German – He was saying to her Oh! Give me that car! What do you want?… and she joked and said 2,000 marks and he took out his wallet and said OK and she sold it on the street for 2,000 marks – a totally broken car.

“He bought it because he could sell it to an East German.

“Some of the East Germans bought cars here in Nuremberg and couldn’t get home. On the motorways in West Germany, there were lots of broken cars bought by East Germans who had not made it home.”

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A birthday present from Dartmoor and the crumbling of dark Nazi structures

The perfect birthday present for a man with a slip disc

The perfect birthday present for a slipped disc man

Last night in Nuremberg, I slept on the floor because of my bad back: I was hit by a truck in was it 1990 or was it 1991? I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to check.

Rudiger, with whom I and my eternally-un-named friend are staying understands my problem. He had a slipped disc recently.

It was his birthday yesterday and one of the presents his mother gave him was a pad for his back containing, as far as I understand it, some soil from Dartmoor in England. The pad seems to be called a Moor-Rucken-Kissen. When I put that into Google Translate. it says that it is a Moor-jerking-cushion.

Multi-national life can be very complicated.

“You have to put it in a microwave or hot water and then you put it on your back,” Rudiger told me.

“But you don’t have a microwave,” my eternally-un-named friend pointed out. “It’s a heat thing?”

“Yeah,” said Rudiger, “yeah.”

Rudiger with his back pack yesterday

Rudiger with his back pack yesterday

“It’s a moor back compress,” I read out from the packet. “A pleasant heat source for your back… Helps to release neck tension. Long heat storage due to ‘ist’ whatever that means. Natural moor filling. Perfect fixation by means of individually-adjustable hook and loop fastener. Removable washable covering made from cotton and it’s from Dartmoor?”

“My sister told me it was,” replied Rudiger. “I do not know for certain. I hope so. It would make it more interesting.”

“How are you going to heat it up?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“You have to put it in a microwave,” said Rudiger.

“But you don’t have a microwave,” I said.

“I will have to use hot water,” said Rudiger.

“Do you sleep in it,” I asked, “or do you just walk around in it?”

“I think I walk around in it,” Rudiger told me. “I do not know.”

Later in the day, we went to the Nazi Party rally ground on the edge of Nuremberg where Hitler showpieced the best of his Thousand Year Reich.

It looked smaller than it seemed on the newsreels and in the films but, apparently, the rallies comprised 200,000 people.

One of the Thousand Year Reich’s Nuremberg Rallies

One of the Thousand Year Reich’s Nuremberg Rallies of 200,000 Nazis

The vast parade stands and outbuildings of the Thousand Year Reich’s iconic rally ground had started to crumble less than half a century after they were built. They were still crumbling. Reportedly it costs 100,000 Euros per year just to maintain the deteriorating structures and the local council is uncertain whether to keep maintaining them as historic monuments or to knock them down.

Afterwards, Rudiger told us that, once a year, in the 1930s, the Nazi Party would bring together top Nazi officials from all over the country for their own elite rally in the half-built Coliseum near the main rally ground. These vast annual meetings/rallies were filmed but took place only at night, never in the daylight. The reason was that most of the party elite looked far from the ideal of tall, thin, blonde demi-gods. Like Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and other top Party people, they were often short and dark.

Tall Aryan troops in black uniforms and with blonde hair fronted the assembled masses for the cameras with torches flaring and, in the darkness behind them, were the Nazis.

The Nazis always had a good eye for visual composition and good theatrical events, though I have never heard of any comedy clubs.

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Will following in Hitler’s footsteps help me at Britain’s Big Comedy Conference?

Will this help me achieve world domination?

Will this help me in a world of comedians?

I flew to Nuremberg this morning at the godawful hour of 07.40am – at least I did if I got up in time to be at Stansted Airport at 05.40am. So, if you spot any gibberish in this blog more than normal, it is caused by me writing it at some ghastly, inhuman hour. This blog was posted when I left for the airport. I may still be there at the airport. Who knows?

Why am I going to Nuremberg?

Well, going to Nuremberg did no harm to the career of Adolph Hitler so, I figured, why not? Someone has to and I may be able to pick up a few tips for speaking at The Big Comedy Conference in London on 30th November.

I am going to be on one of the many panels there. I am not quite sure which panel, but I am keeping schtum in case they realise that I don’t know anything and I lose out on the free lunch.

The Big Comedy location - Old Sessions House

Big Comedy Conference location – Old Sessions House

The Big Comedy Conference is billed as “a day of lively talks and workshops tailored to arm aspiring stand-up comedians, producers, performers and comedy writers with the knowledge and tools to help them forge a career in the British comedy industry.”

So… much like the Nuremberg Rallies of old, it is aimed at a bunch of sociopaths who dream of world domination – though, this time through the medium of HBO, Comedy Central and BBC3 rather than Panzers, Stukas and blitzkriegs.

Look, I’ve had no sleep.

“I’ve been wanting to run a comedy conference for a number of years and this year I took a deep breath and committed to it,” the Big Comedy Conference’s führer Mark Boosey told me yesterday. He is Guide-meister at the British Comedy Guide who are organising it.

You will gather I am trying to ease myself into my Nuremberg visit.

But, then, in the Conference publicity itself – written before my trip to Nuremberg was known – it says: “John Fleming is the entertaining comedy blogmeister general and keeper of the flame of alternative comedy”.

I recognise all the names except mine.

Lots of good people… but also me

The Big Comedy Conference have got performers like Jo Brand, Al Murray and Arthur Smith lined up. Well, not LIKE them. They ARE them… As well as writers, commissioners, promoters, agents, editors, BBC heads and, indeed, anyone and everything bigger than the late Basil Brush.

The number of big names involved presumably has a lot to do with the fact that writer Dave Cohen has overseen the programming of the event and he knows everybody. In fact, he knows so many people that he has probably forgotten I am the John Fleming who, as an Associate Producer, worked with him at Noel Gay Television in the early 1990s. I suspect he has me muddled up with some other John Fleming – there are millions of the bleeders.

My full name is actually John Thomas Fleming – I was named after my two grandfathers (John McLellan and Thomas Fleming) and I swear that any alternative meaning of ‘John Thomas’ was unknown to my parents at the time I was born. They were going to call me John Tuesday Fleming because, when my father first saw me in the hospital, he said to my mother: “Let’s call it a day.”

Anyway, when I applied for a National Insurance number after leaving college, it took ages to get one because there were five – yes FIVE ! – John Thomas Flemings all born on the same day, month and year. The Social Security people thought I was the one in Newcastle trying to con a second number out of them.

John Flemings – there are millions of the bleeders…

So I suspect Dave Cohen may have muddled me up with a more worthy John Fleming who is, as a result, going to miss out on the free lunch.

Anyway…

Dave told me yesterday: “It’s great to be involved in something that really covers what it’s like for people starting up now. There are conferences and talks for performers and similar ones for writers, but this is the first time anyone has tried to put something on that gives an idea of the whole picture.”

Dave Cohen may have got confused

Dave Cohen may have got me confused

He then wisely added: “I thought it would be a lot harder than this and it is. It’s like one of those toys where you stand on one thing and something else pops up that you have to stand on. Organising the talks has been a little bit like juggling jelly with one hand tied behind your back while swimming through an oil slick – actually the novelist Anne Tyler has the best description when she talks about organising toddlers – like herding water. I’ll go with that.”

I know what it feels like. When the late Malcolm Hardee and I compiled the short story book Sit-Down Comedy – alright, Malcolm made phone calls and I had to cajole, shepherd and sometimes advise 19 stand-up comics most of whom had never written for print before – it was like, I thought, doing a plate-spinning act. You had some plates happily spinning away but then one would suddenly go wobbly or would crash to the ground.

Don’t ask for more details.

Don’t intrude on private grief.

MarkBoosey

Mark Boosey – Big Conference Führer

Mark Boosey told me yesterday: “What I really want to emphasise is that The Big Comedy Conference is not just a day where people come along to hear about how nice it is at the top and what a lovely time everyone had on set with this star or that celebrity – I’ve been to some of those kind of things before and they’re pointless. This is going to be a day about arming people with the facts, knowledge and contacts they need to further their career. The speakers are going to be briefed to keep everything relevant and useful. No waffle!”

So, like I said, they may have got me confused with another John Fleming.

Don’t tell them.

It will be our little secret.

“Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

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What Hermann Goering’s great-niece told me about the Holocaust this week

Hermann Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe

Hermann Goering, the Deputy Führer

This week, via Skype, I talked to Hermann Goering’s great-niece Bettina Goering in Thailand. She is writing a book.

“Hermann wasn’t really a nasty Nazi, though, was he?” I asked her. “He wasn’t identified with the Holocaust. He was simply head of the Luftwaffe. The image I have of him is an overweight man, who liked art, stamping around in rather flamboyant uniforms.”

“That’s what I thought,” replied Bettina. “That’s the image I had too, until I started digging further and it’s much more complex. The truth is that he was involved in the Holocaust too. I didn’t know that until I started the process of writing this book. He was as involved as any of them. He might have not been as gung-ho in his rhetoric about Jews. He came across as ‘the Luftwaffe guy’. But he was just as involved. I first learned that when I did a documentary called Bloodlines. He was part of the Final Solution. He co-authored it. So he was very involved. He was part of setting up concentration camps. And, when they decided to do the Final Solution, he was part of all that.”

Bettina has no children.

In the documentary Hitler’s Children, she says:

“My brother and I had the sterilisation done in order not to give life to other Goerings… I was feeling responsible for the Holocaust, even though I was born after the War, because of my family, who had an active part in it.”

“You got sterilised,” I asked her this week, “because you didn’t want to pass the genes on?”

“I think that was part of it,” she told me. “I think we had a lot of other intellectual arguments. There are enough children. We don’t want children, blah blah. I think, deep down, that was part of it too. It’s kinda complex.”

“And your relationship to Hermann Goering is…” I asked.

“He is the brother of my grandfather on my father’s side,” Bettina explained.

“You were born in the decade after he died,” I said.

Bettina Goering - currently living in Santa Fe, USA

Bettina Goering – currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Yes. The only member of that direct family that I knew who was really involved was my grandmother. My book is also largely about her and her relationship to Hermann and her relationship to the whole family. They were a very close-knit family.

“Her husband – Hermann’s older brother – died very young when she was in her 30s. She had three young boys and Hermann took care of her. I just found out she actually looked after his household at the beginning of the Nazi times – 1932/1933.”

“So,” I said, “by the time you’re really aware of anything, it’s the early 1960s, when people are making films about the Nazi era, but it’s not the immediate past…”

“There was a bit of a limbo time in Germany,” said Bettina, “when really not much was mentioned in education or films and it really came home to me when I was about 10 or 11 and documentaries were shown and that’s when I really started to see how bad it was. Before that, I knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t know what it meant, really.”

“Which obviously,” I said, “must have had an effect on you…”

“There have been different stages to it,” replied Bettina. “I came of age around the end of the 1960s and I got into this whole ‘Anti’ movement. I became left wing, hippie and tried to somehow understand this whole dilemma more and create something else.”

“That’s roughly the time of Baader-Meinhof,” I said.

Baader-Meinhof: a troubled generation

Baader-Meinhof – in a troubled generation

“Yeah. They were around and one of my friends became one of the second generation of Baader-Meinhof. I was in a left-leaning organisation but for me to use violence was totally out of the question. But some of my friends were starting… You’d be surprised how many people were sympathetic to them (the Baader-Meinhof activists), including us, for a while. There’s a good movie that came out a couple of years ago…”

The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.

“Yes. That was about the time I was growing up and I think they (the Baader-Meinhof activists and supporters) were partly in reaction to the Nazis in some ways, because most of them were born during the War. All that manifested in themselves.”

“A very mixed-up generation,” I said.

“My mother only met my father after the War,” explained Bettina. “My family was the Hermann Goering family on one side, but my mother’s family were the opposite. Very different families who married each other. My grandfather on my mum’s side was an anti-Fascist. He was once arrested. It was well-known he was supporting Jewish people. He had to be really careful.

“So here I have the Fascist side and the anti-Fascist side both in my family and that made it very… crazy. This trouble within myself was always trying to work itself out.”

“So your book is going to give an inside view of a troubled family?”

“Yes. It’s the inside view and trying to find some way to… You can’t really marry those two sides together… Also I was judging them so negatively that I was judging some part of me. Do you get that? That came to a head at some point where I realised I couldn’t really live my fullest potential  because I was really judging part of me so negatively. That is something I have been striving to overcome. Exactly that. To find some forgiveness in myself – of myself. It’s like an impossible thing to do, but just in order to feel healthy, I feel like I need to do that.

“There’s a lot been written about the Nazis on a very intellectual level but my book will be maybe a more emotional way to deal with it, which is hard for the Germans to do. There’s still all this guilt, conscious or unconscious, and I write a lot about this guilt stuff. On an emotional level, it is not resolved.”

“Who do you think would like to read your book?”

“Well, anybody who has any traumas in their closets. So far, we’ve only approached one or two German literary agents. Until now, we’ve really not been that ready.

“Maybe it will be that a British publisher will publish it first and then it will, in a roundabout way, go to the Germans. We are writing it in both languages and I have been living more in English-speaking countries than I have in Germany. I lived even in England for a couple of years.”

“You are in Thailand at the moment, but you and your husband live in Santa Fe in the US?”

“Yes, but we are moving…”

“… to where?” I asked.

“We’re not sure just now. We are sort of in flux. We have a house in Santa Fe that has still not been sold. It’s gonna take some time.”

“Could you live back in Germany happily?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s not that I don’t like Germany. We go visit a lot. But I’ve never felt drawn to live there again. I feel it’s a bit limiting.”

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UK comedian Martin Soan once met a strange man at Bimbotown in Germany

Martin Soan at home in London last night, his mind boggled.

Martin Soan – at home in London last night.

I had never heard of Bimbotown in Germany until British comedian Martin Soan told me about it last night. He was raving to me about the joys of Leipzig.

“It’s a genius place, John,” he told me. “It’s full of such beautiful architecture. the central nervous system for 19th and 20th century music conservatoire education, great resistance against Fascism throughout the Second World War, the Green Lung.”

“The Green Lung?” I asked.

“Hitler created it,” Martin explained. “The Saxons were building the largest navigable waterway from the south to the north. The two parts ended up 300 metres apart. Hitler came to power, hated Saxony and stopped the construction and, to this day, those two canals stand 300 metres apart. But all the land in between and around was given over to the infrastructure – warehousing and goods yards, train systems – and it all turned into ruins in the Second World War. When they came out of it, it just grew up as a park.

“So now, in Leipzig, wherever you go, you go through glorious countryside. And Bimbotown’s there.”

“Bimbo Town?”

“Bimbotown,” Martin confirmed. “Probably the world’s greatest semi-automata-automated-automaton of a club. It’s genius. Run by Jim Whiting.”

“Ah,” I said, “I met him in London in about 1986, I was looking for people to be on Game For a Laugh and went to his first floor flat in Archway Road and, going up the stairs, I think there were moving robotic things on the walls and, in his flat, I think there were things moving on the walls and a mechanical man sitting on the sofa.”

There is a clip of his 1986 flat and work on YouTube.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Jim Whiting’s in Leipzig now. Plus there’s this other art guy called Henrik Håkansson who has ensured that the Turner Prize winner gets exhibited second in Leipzig: so it’s now shown in London, then Leipzig, then New York.

“Leipzig’s becoming a hugely important cultural place. I’ve not been for a few years and I’m slightly worried that the romantic, slightly-decaying, forgotten East German aspect which is Saxon – they consider themselves completely different from West Germany obviously – might disappear.”

“And Jim Whiting?” I prompted.

“Genius artist,” said Martin, “dealing in welding, machinery and anything to do with the finer aspects of engineering. He does beauty on an industrial scale, but he’s also a fine engineer on a tiny scale too. Wide vision.”

“So what’s Bimbotown?”

“It’s a concept he came up with. It’s a club with music, bands, comedians. But incorporated into his club are things like…

“You sit down at huge, sweeping unusual-looking bars and stools are installed which are bolted to the ground and they have tractor-like seats. Very comfortable. They incorporate your bum. So you’re sitting on one of these and suddenly – WHOOSH! – your seat zooms upwards and you’re sitting up in the air on this seat and everyone’s laughing.

“Another thing was when I was standing at the bar and everyone had pints of beer. I looked along the bar and everyone simultaneously grabbed their drinks and took them off the bar. I thought What’s that about? and suddenly my glass was just – WHOOSHKKK – knocked over… There was a wire above the huge, sweeping bar which had six East German greatcoats moving round the whole club forever and ever and ever so, when people at the bar saw the next greatcoat coming, they just lifted their glasses off the bar.

“In one part of the club, you’ll be sitting down on chairs over here with a live band over there and suddenly everyone goes WHOOOOAAA! and the whole area with the chairs is on a false floor and suddenly you are sitting there on the chairs moving round the club.

“There was actually one bed ride where you got on these East German beds and it took off and you went round art instalations. Absolutely amazing.

“The people who push the buttons to make all this happen are just ordinary people sitting on armchairs with a table in front of them with BUTTON A, B, C, D. It takes them a while to work out what the buttons do. So they press this – What’s this? – There’s nothing happening! – But, when they press one button, a bar stool is rising with someone sitting on it – rising up into the air. Absolute genius! Loads of stuff.”

“Did you perform there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Three times.

“I met this guy in the club, an old guy – and he had a shopping trolley. He had his whole life in this shopping trolley. He had books and all the significant things in his life. He had a hat on his head, was wearing sunglasses, had a huge beard, a greatcoat, was hunched over this shopping trolley. And people were coming up to him and talking to him; some people were slightly abusive to him, trying to make him react. But he didn’t do anything. He just listened to them for a while, then just moved off. He went through the whole place like that. Enormous club.

“In the end, I actually went up to him and said: Man, you’re doing a fucking genius job. I’ve been watching you for about twenty minutes. I’m stoned, I’m drunk but – I tell you what – that doesn’t take away from my keenness and observation. You are a fucking performance genius.

“He just listened to me and moved off.

“But, as he moved off, there was the flash of a strobe light – because there were lights all over the club flashing and strobing – and I saw he had no legs.

“It was just an automaton machine going round the club. It took me in. It convinced me. I was drunk and stoned and the lights were flashing and the music was great and I thought it was real. I thought he was real. But it was a machine.”

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