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Published: September 7th 2009
Berlin baby! This idea of letting “Namibian” drive in front was, is, and always will be daft. One either has a nose for directions or... Namibian doesn't. But we have a “safety net” system of very basic Tesco walkie-talkies: Namibian heads into a city, ostensibly following a map, and I try and radio him before he makes a complete dog's breakfast of the route. The system is by no means infallible; a circuitous route this morning, courtesy of Namibian panicking on the ring road, finally brings us to the O2 Arena, Berlin.
The bicycle puncture, that I'd meant to fix since finishing the Lou Reed tour last July, finally gets repaired. Oh all right, I fit a new inner tube. If you think I'm going to fool about with glue and patches in these temperatures, you're mistaken. Any project, even as minor as changing a bicycle inner tube, earns a nice cup of tea in my book - arguably the finest drink in the world - and I briefly reminisce about other rock 'n' roll tours with colleagues I've not seen for months. With nineteen other truckers on the tour, most of whom are old pals, it's terribly
easy to lose a day chatting. But I've never been a social butterfly, preferring instead to explore alone. Or with Namibian - because he'll follow faithfully, and he's jolly handy for taking photographs of me. From past experience, as soon as more than two drivers set off on a cultural afternoon, stops for alcohol inevitably eclipse any historical interest.
Not one hundred metres from the Arena is one of the best sections of the Berlin Wall - 1200m long. In 1961 the East German military sealed off the city with this 3.6m high barrier, stretching 100 miles around West Berlin. Although it was built, uniquely, to keep a country's people in, rather than the enemy out, it was actually the enclave of West Berlin that was surrounded. To reach West Germany from West Berlin meant passing through East Germany and then through the Iron Curtain. When it came down in 1989, the city went beserk celebrating; aspirin soon ran out.
Namibian and I are having a silly day. How many times have I been to Berlin over the last 10 years? Yet today, in a fit of madness, I'm doing the tourist thing: taking photographs with guns and
Tina Turner's trucks
The O2 Arena, Berlin
hats , and stamping my passport with “Checkpoint Charlie”. We warm up with lattes at Snackpoint Charlie.
Truck manoeuvres start before 6am. Namibian has a flat battery after boiling his electric kettle to make my tea. It's a reciprocal deal: he makes the tea in return for following me to gigs - so it's a bit mean that I make him go in front into cities I suppose. It's for his own benefit; one learns little about international trucking from following a pair of black trailer doors for months on end. And I don't feel too mean - he's chosen a pink thermos flask for me this year.
Now, by the time I've unloaded - or in the industry parlance, we say “loaded in” (to the venue) - breakfast is up and running. Most tours, certainly twenty-truck Tina Turner tours, take caterers on the road to feed the crew. And it's invariably excellent food. We sit down to a fry-up and intelligent conversation fills the air: 'I had a toothless ferret once,' says my friend Mark. 'If I could teach it to cook, I could get rid of the wife.' The reply, from a chap who
One of the best sections
is the spitting image of Captain Birdseye, is something of a Chinese whisper. 'I've never had sex with an animal I could cook,' he says, without trace of a smile. 'There was a goat once, but that was love.' Funny lot, truck drivers.
Down at the DDR museum: ah, the trusty two-stroke Trabant - in a word, “crap”. But, and it's a big but, the average motorist could fix one nearly as expertly as a mechanic. If you can believe it, there was a waiting list in East Germany of up to sixteen years for one of these four-geared beauties. As late as 1985 only every other family here owned a car at all.
Tour life is bleak: we're surviving on blackened tilapia with mango salad and a choice of only five puddings. One could blossom on tour.
I'm glad to see not all of us are drinking tea and having early nights - a number of colleagues were seen leaving the catering room at 9am this morning, looking wine-smudged and unsteady. The recycling bin was full. Very rock 'n' roll.
How nice to have the bicycle again - I've missed frost-bitten
The car of choice...unless there had been a choice
fingers. Cor, it's cold. Really cold. Stopping at a newsagents to warm my nose from an electric bulb, I'm saddened to see that “spunk” is no longer sold. This German liquorice caused much hilarity one tour when my best pal Gary sampled the misnomer. “This spunk tastes a bit salty,” he said before... I digress. Let's get on with Germany's capital..
Berlin is nothing like Staines, West London, except for the West Side and East Side “massifs”. There is still, almost twenty years after the fall of the Wall, a resentment among the now-integrated populations in Berlin. Staines never had a wall.
A full fifteen Germans jump the queue as I approach the metal detector in the Bundestag, Germany's Parliament. I know the British love queueing to the point of national fetish, but how can people unabashedly push in like this? I murmur something unmentionable about 'you lot leaving towels on sunloungers' but decide not to bear a grudge. All the same, it's worth watching the news tonight to see how many BMWs have been nudged into the ditch by black trucks on the motorway to Hamburg.
Amazingly, approximately three million people a year visit the Bundestag,
Inside Germany's parliament building
centre of German law-making. Incidentally, the shorthand writers here can note an average of 400 syllables a minute - that's faster than people actually speak. On the downside, a cappucino on the roof-terrace cafe costs £4.50.
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