Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The 197th and 198th: Halle (Westfalen) to Dresden to Bad Mergentheim, Germany (July 4–5, 2013)

Thursday, July 4th. Woke up in Bielefeld, organized everything and went downstairs to the hotel’s breakfast room. Piled a few edible substances and sat down to eat, reading the news. Only the day before, there was a coup in Egypt: the military took power after putting the (democratically elected) president under house arrest. I’m not an expert in Egyptian politics (although, due to my background, I’m inclined to say that I know more about it than most) but my entire family happens to live in a country that borders it. Any sort of instability in that part of the world can easily cascade to neighbouring countries.

“Why can’t we all just get along”, I kept asking myself as I was chewing on something—can’t even recall what it was. Done eating and went back to the breakfast stand, to check out the drinks.

In front of me, there stood my arch‐enemy: An automated, all‐in‐one, “push a button and I’ll prepare your coffee” kind of coffee machine.

I hate “push a button and I’ll prepare your coffee” machines. When checking out coffee places, the very sight of such automatic machine is sufficient to make me draw a virtual huge red X on the establishment and move on. Espresso drinks should be prepared manually, or not prepared at all.

I looked at the machine, it looked at me.

None of us moved away.

Knowing that pressing the “Cappuccino” button will result in a disgraceful beverage, I opted at the button labeled “Latte Macchiato”. Hard to screw that one: 99% warm milk, with a shot of espresso. Even if your espresso is garbage, the milk should be able to at least save the day.

Altogether a gloomy morning—one of those that you’d like to get over with already. One of those mornings when you wake up in a town in the middle of nowhere, and your plan involves six hours of travel to a city in east Germany—almost on the border with Poland; I was worried that Poland has some sort of an “halo of awfulness” around it.

The plan: depart Bielefeld at 9:37am, arrive Hannover 10:28am; depart Hannover 11:36am, arrive Dresden 3:29pm. No ICE trains—InterCity only: that did much to ruin whatever expectations I had left from that day. Six hours of travel, all the way east…

Arrived at Hannover’s central railway station. I have been to Hannover before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. I remember it being a beautiful city. What I also remembered is that convenient cafe located right in the central railway station, called World Coffee. They make proper coffee there, have lots of seating space—but the highlight is that they have a large patio right in Ernst August Platz, a small nice square located right outside the station. When the weather is good (as it was), it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a good beverage.

They also provide exceptionally long spoons along with your coffee.


I asked the barista whether they have a bigger spoon than that. Failing to sense my sarcasm (many people do), she replied with an apologetic “no”.

Wish I could stay longer in Hannover; however, the one hour connection time seemed to have flown by. Back to the platform, and on to another train, heading to Dresden. Four long hours, during which I was haunted by Jeroen’s earlier statement about East German cities being grey and boring.

I didn’t know much about Dresden before arriving there. The only thing I thought I knew about Dresden was that the first bomb that the allies dropped on Germany in World War II killed a single elephant in Dresden’s zoo: turned out I was wrong—the incident indeed took place, but it was in Berlin. Realizing that I was wrong, the number of things I knew about Dresden decreased by one, yielding zero.

Not only I was wrong about that bombing, but I couldn’t be further from the truth. Dresden was indeed bombed by the allies; however, it was towards the end of the war, and while there is no record as to how many elephants were killed in that bombing (if at all), the bombing did kill between 22,000 and 25,000 people.

Apparently, it was a massive bombing. 3,900 tons of high‐explosive bombs were dropped on the city over three days, causing a series of firestorms that demolished much of the city. So serious was that beating, that it triggered worldwide debate—even within the allies—as to whether that bombing was really necessary.

Arrived at Dresden’s central railway station, which was under construction (are all central railway stations in Germany under construction nowadays?). From there, it was about a kilometer walk to the hotel. During that walk, it occurred to me that if Poland indeed has a “halo of awfulness”, it certainly doesn’t hover over Dresden.

From the station, heading north, there’s a pedestrian walkway called Prager Straße (that is, Prager Street), which looked as if only recently built. Many people in the streets, lots of shops… wait, am I really in east Germany? am I missing anything?

Checked into the hotel, Holiday Inn Express Dresden City Center. I was in such a mood that I was numb to whatever was happening around me, even while checking in. Totally distracted, totally not caring about whatever was going on around me. Later, I was told that the receptionist was shaking her head at me while I was filling out the check in form, as if to gesture “this guy is a moron”. I was so apathetic, that I didn’t even care after I was informed of that head shaking.

Internet connectivity in that hotel costs money: €5 per device. The reason I booked this hotel was, that even factoring the Wi‐Fi costs in, it would still be cheaper than most other hotels around. Jeroen bought one, I decided not to, in order to see how it works first.

Up to the room. Jeroen headed out almost instantly, I stayed in the room to complete the previous post and the one before. That took a while, and then, happy that I was done, I started uploading it.

It failed.

Tried again… failed. Timed out.

Tried again. And again. And it just didn’t work. Possibly the worst Wi‐Fi setup so far this tour.

Headed downstairs to the lobby, hoping that maybe better reception will speed things up a bit.

Tried once, twice, thrice… Nada. Timed out.

Furious, I went back upstairs, dropped the laptop on the desk and notified Jeroen that I’m on my way to the old city, where he was having an early dinner by himself.

Very shortly after leaving the hotel and heading north, I realized how wrong I was to assume anything about Dresden. The city’s “old city” area is nothing short of stunning, featuring baroque‐style buildings—some of which have been restored after being severely damaged during World War II.

The first thing you see heading north from the hotel is this:


This is the Dresden Frauenkirche, a Lutheran church. I can’t describe the awe I felt when I first saw this building: it is gigantic. Its dome is one of the largest domes in Europe. The church was destroyed during World War II, and was restored after Germany’s reunification.


Walked over to wherever the Dutchman was having his dinner—somewhere around this spot:


The Dutchman then decided that he’s interested in getting to the venue relatively early. I’m usually against that—I have nothing to look for in a concert venue more than twenty or thirty minutes before the concert starts—but as the Dutchman owned the tickets for this show, I had to abide by the Dutch rules.

Fled back to the city center, looking for something to eat. Hey, what’s that? an Asian restaurant? good. Upon entering, I realized that it’s one of those places when you pick certain items from display, and they box it all up for you. But I don’t want a box: I want my food on a plate, please. I’m not going to walk around the city with your food in a box. But no, they don’t do it. Box only. And this entire exchange lasted about 5 minutes, because none of the people working there could speak more than one word in English.

Eventually, resorted to a sandwich, a few buns and was given a cake for free, all for the staggering price of €2.63. Things tend to cost less in the eastern part of Germany, so I learned later.

Rush… rush… and more rush… only because some Dutchman decided to be in a concert venue one full hour before the concert starts.

Back to the hotel, changed my shirt, and headed north again towards the venue.

The venue… well, I’m not even sure it has a name. The Elbe runs through the city of Dresden, and on its north bank, there’s a film festival called “Filmnachte am Elbufer” (English: Film Night on the Elb’s Bank). The area is called “Freilichtgelände Koenigsufer” (Freilichtgelände in German means “Open air”, and Koenigsufer is… well… a name. OK, this is being too confusing already).

I never thought I’ll have to put so much effort into explaining what a venue’s name means.

One of the bridges that connect Dresden’s old city area with the north bank of the Elba is called Augustusbrücke (in English: Augustus Bridge). That was the bridge you’d need to cross in order to enter the venue (as the venue could only be entered from its west side). Crossing that bridge provided excellent views of Dresden’s old city.


The next panoramic photo was an attempt to capture the old city’s view from the north bank of the Elbe, but the picture turned out… well… curved. Sorry. That’s all I have for you at the moment.


As Jeroen had already entered the venue, I collected my ticket from the box office and went inside. It was already very busy everywhere.


In general admission shows when the venue is more than just a pile of asphalt (such as a field, or a castle for example), I tend to prefer watching the concert from afar. As I have been watching many, many shows, I find it refreshing, once in a while, to forget about having a visual on the band and just walk around interesting venues (I remember the concert in Würzburg, of the 2010 Get Lucky tour, being a very interesting experience in that regards).

Therefore, I spent the concert wandering from one place to another, getting a “feel” of the venue from multiple locations. I hardly even seen the band at all.

During Cleaning My Gun, I was to the side of the stage, and the angle between myself and the stage was such that I didn’t see the band at all. Still, I realized that something went awfully wrong for Richard right at the beginning of the song: a string seemed to have gone out of tune. Strange noise. Richard then stopped playing for about 10–15 seconds, and then continued. Later, I was informed that Richard was playing the remainder of the song with a red Stratocaster. The sound where I was standing was so bad that I couldn’t even tell the difference.

Wandering around the venue, I took a few more photos. I should really work on my panoramic shooting skills.


As it grew darker, the scenery became better:


Was good to listen to Dream of the Drowned Submariner again. For this song, I climbed up to the very top of the venue, and went for the middle, to get some good sound quality. The performance of this song was slightly better than in the previous show in Halle, as Mark’s work on the guitar was a little more involved. As I mentioned in the last post, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to take a few more runs for this song’s performance to become incredibly pleasant.

After the concert, exited the venue very quickly (I prepared myself by watching the encore in the vicinity of the exit) as I figured it might take hours to leave the venue once the masses start marching towards it. A few more shots of the city at night time, and off to the hotel.


Back at the hotel, I tried uploading that blog post again, and failed. Went downstairs to speak to reception.

– “Are you aware of the fact that you have terrible problems with your internet connection?”

– “Yes, we do.”

Nice. At least he was honest.

– “Are you going to do anything about it?”

– “Well, we tried telling management, the director, the owners of the hotel… but nothing is done.”

I love honest people.

– “Interesting. So, do you think it’s fair to continue selling Wi‐Fi for €5 per day when you know that it’s not working?”

– “Well, I’m sorry… this is not my decision…”

– “I know, I know. I’m not blaming you. I’m just asking you if you think it’s fair.”

– “Oh. Did you pay for the internet access here?”

– “I didn’t. My friend did, and I’m using the voucher he bought.”

And then, something wonderful happened. He went to the cash register, pulled out a €5 bill and handed it to me. I was less impressed with the actual money than with the gesture itself.

Back upstairs for some sleep; the next day was going to be a long travel day.

Friday, July 5th. Woke up… yawn. Fired up my mobile device, took a look at the schedule: Leave Dresden 7:53am, arrive Fulda 11:42am; short connection—leave Fulda 11:55am, arrive Würzburg 12:28pm; leave Würzburg 1:10pm, arrive Bad Mergentheim 2:13pm. More than six hours of travel, starting so early in the morning.

To better explain how that day went for me, I should take you a couple of weeks back, to the Regensburg experience. While in Regensburg, I decided to see a doctor about a pain I had in my right wrist for the preceding two weeks, after I had a nasty fall in Delft, after the UK shows. X‐rays were taken, the doctor saw nothing, and advised that I should simply let my hand rest, which I did. I was also advised to have a follow up visit if the pain doesn’t go away within two weeks.

So, those two weeks were just about to end. The situation improved, but still, I have pain when bending the palm of my right hand upwards. Unbearable pain, actually.

I heard a joke a few days ago, saying that “men are never sick. They’re either healthy, or dying”—obviously referring to the fact (yes, it was actually proven) that men have a lower tolerance to pain than women. Whenever I’m ill, or in pain, I’m a complete mess; not only that, but in such times, I tend to move between complete apathy to anything around me, and extreme agitation.

In other words, I’m not your ideal companion in such times. Ask all of my ex girlfriends, they’ll reaffirm.

So, this time, as the pain didn’t subside within the prescribed time (two weeks), I became really worried. Two million different scenarios of “what if” kept popping in my head. Therefore, keep in mind that, for the entire day, I was completely apathetic to everything around me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even speak to the Dutchman at all for the entire train ride to Bad Mergentheim. Felt completely disconnected.

All I wanted was for that day to be over, so I can catch the earliest train the next day to Stuttgart and get the follow up check done. I desired to hear good news—that this pain is going to go away at some point—and became completely oblivious of anything else that was happening.

Moderately acceptable breakfast courtesy of the Holiday Inn Express, and off to the central railway station.

Spent the entire first leg of travel—almost four hours—dozing. I think I actually got a lot of sleep done, somehow. I didn’t even try to write: not only I was not in the mood for anything, but the frustration over the inability to upload the last two posts was really distracting me from writing anything that would please any sense.

Approaching the end of the first leg of travel, an announcement was made that the train will be late at its destination, now scheduled to arrive 11:54am. This was horrible news, considering the fact that the connecting train was scheduled to depart on 11:55am. That’s one minute to change platforms—and the platform you arrive to, and the platform you’re connecting from, may as well be in two different ends of the station.


So, I spent the next little while figuring things out. Turns out that the train I’m on was supposed to arrive at platform 3, and the connecting train was supposed to depart from platform 4. There was a good reason to believe that platforms 3 and 4 were adjacent to each other, which means that all you have to do is simply depart your train and jump to the other side of the platform, a few meters away. But, then I remembered that I had seen stations before where this arrangement was inapplicable.

How to do figure things out, then? of course: by downloading the train station’s platform plan from the internet. Neat. Unfortunately, I lost data connectivity too many times so I couldn’t download the damn thing.

Fortunately, as the train approached Fulda, another announcement was made, saying that the connecting train is indeed at the other side of the platform, and the departing train was instructed to wait for connecting passengers.

Phew. Good. Thanks.

Everything worked like a charm. Arrived Würzburg on time; spent the break consuming a sandwich, then hopped on the last train for the day, heading to Bad Mergentheim. That was a “regional train”—of the simpler trains that Deutsche Bahn operates, used mainly for travel in rural locations.

And, indeed, the train did go through rural locations. Beautiful scenery of green hills and postcard‐like views of beautiful, simple, old houses along.

Finally, arrived at Bad Mergentheim.

Bad Mergentheim. Ha. Interesting. I remember when the tour’s schedule was first published, I was looking at the name “Bad Mergentheim” and instinctively started wondering whether there’s a “Good Mergentheim” somewhere which might be more worthy of a visit.

It goes without saying, that I had never heard of Bad Mergentheim before. “Another place in the middle of nowhere”, I thought to myself. Indeed: it is in the middle of nowhere.

Turns out that the word “Bad” in German means “Bath”, or “Spring”. There are many small towns in Germany having the word “Bad” in their names, and they all essentially refer to spa towns, or resorts of some sort. Those “Bad” places is where Germans go on holidays to.

The hotel for the night, Kurhotel Alexa, was located a few minutes walk from the (small) central railway station—to the north, while the town’s “old city” area is in the south. Heading away from the busy area, the scenery became fantastic (see photos below).

Booking accommodations in Bad Mergentheim was a problem, because we couldn’t find affordable rooms offering twin beds. Therefore, we ended up picking a hotel that offered single rooms, and got two single rooms. For the first time in over three months, I had my own room. Oh, how I missed being completely by myself.

Extremely friendly staff on site. Up to the room and the first thing I did was upload those two posts I didn’t manage uploading in Dresden. As soon as they both uploaded successfully, I felt as if some weight was lifted off my soul. It was good being back in business again.

My friend Ingrid made her way from The Netherlands to the concert, picking up Maarten somewhere along the way. The two stayed in a hotel nearby, and plans were made to get together at around 4:00pm.

The concert in Bad Mergentheim was a general admission concert, scheduled to begin at 8:00pm. Ticket collection was scheduled to start at 4:30pm, with ticket purchasers being allowed early entry to the venue at around 5:00pm, before the doors open to the general public. That’s paradise for people who insist on being in the front in a general admission concert—but it comes with the price of having to wait quite a long time inside the venue, before the concert even starts.

Everyone has their own preferences. My preference is to avoid the wait, and use that time to wander around.

The other three decided to enter the venue early, which is the reason for that early meeting.

The venue, Schlosshof (German for “Courtyard”), was located right in the old city area: approaching the old city area, you’d take a turn to the left and you’re already inside the venue. So, as soon as I got my own ticket from the Dutchman, I bid the trio goodbye and went on my way. I had more than three hours to see this beautiful place.


TripAdvisor pointed me at a restaurant called Zunftstube Poseidon, offering a Greek menu. Food hit the spot really, really well: delicious dish made up of rice, lamb, vegetables… excellent.

Kept wandering around the picturesque old city area…


… And after some good coffee in a cafe nearby the venue, I decided to go north of the old city, towards the hotel and the peaceful scenery around.


A really nice river by the name of Tauber flows through the city, right behind the hotel. That provides for excellent greenery and an extremely nice walk, which I, of course, took.


The walk along the green was a truly refreshing experience. I spent eight years of my life being based in southwestern Ontario, where the scenery isn’t much different: overall, I didn’t like it that much but what I did like was the easy access to such peaceful environments (of course, British Columbia offers that as well). While living in Ontario, I spent quite a few days taking day trips to places with similar scenery, often accompanied by a guitar.

I really miss playing my guitars.

Time was nearly up, so I headed back to the old city area.


A quick walk, and then entered the venue.

PANO_20130705_195257 ticket purchasers also had access to an area called “Front of the Stage”, which is the immediate area to… well… the front of the stage. Such ticketholders were given a red wristband, which allowed them access into that area. I headed there, but upon arrival, realized that the place was already jam packed. Again, I decided to listen to the concert simply sitting on the grass, often walking around to see the venue.

I was then identified by someone who happens to be reading this drivel that I write here. A guy named Dirk, who was accompanied by his girlfriend Sabine. The two are from Stuttgart. We started chatting, until I remembered what I was going to do in Stuttgart the next day: hospital visit.

To my extreme fortune, the two took the time to explain to me exactly where I should be going to seek medical care. Not only that, but Dirk went ahead and made phone calls to a couple of hospitals in Stuttgart, and later came back telling me exactly where I should be going—a clinic specializing in wrist injuries and the like.

Wonderful people. Thank you very much Dirk and Sabine for your kind help!

Concert started…


And was, well… very good. Very receptive audience, except in the back and in the sides where people seemed to be much more concerned about consuming insane amounts of beer and chatting with each other. I will never understand why people would pay so much money to go to a concert and then spend the time there drinking beer (which would cost much less in a proper pub) and chatting with others.

But still, what can you do.

I believe it was before I Used to Could when Jim Cox decided to show off a nice piano riff, prompting Mark to ask him to “do it again”, which he did. Sounded lovely. Mark then looked at Jim, looked at his guitar, looked back at Jim and said “I can’t play”, triggering laughter at the audience.

Similar set to the day before, and the concert ended after just about two hours.

After the concert, I took another short walk through the old city, taking blurry photographs. I shall carry my regular camera from now on; the phone’s camera doesn’t do a good job when in darker environments.


Right after, late night snacks at the restaurant that operates at the hotel where Ingrid was staying. An hour or so spent over drinks, desserts and good chat, and then back to the hotel to catch some sleep before catching an early train to Stuttgart the next day.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Stuttgart. Been a very eventful day today. 3:19am… better catch some sleep.


1 comment:

  1. One thousand allied aircraft were involved in bombing Dresden. The fires were so fierce that the latter missions could see the blaze as they flew over Holland, they needed no navigation. A place where so many people were legally murdered is not a place I could visit. Then on the other hand the lure of cheaper living costs is attractive. Many of the former DDR were quite happy without the drive to make money and that would be another reason I would could survive there. Draw the line again and forget the past, just don't talk about it.