Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Now where was I? Oh yes! I was in Germany with a bar of Suchard’s Milka watching Musical Showstar 2008. Well, the holiday was soon over but I did manage to watch the two further editions of this casting show online. It’s not nearly as comfortable sitting at my PC, and yes I did miss the chocolate, but it was great to be able to log on and see what happened next.

As you will remember the point of the show was to find a Rusty and Pearl for the Bochum production of “Starlight Express” which has been wowing audiences since 1988. Appropriately enough the second edition began with a medley from the show, and the eight remaining contestants proved that they could remain upright on a pair of roller skates and sing at the same time. They even managed a little choreography.

The same three judges were in position, as well as Uwe Kroeger, who I mentioned last time, the others were Alexander Goebel – Germany’s first Phantom and Katja Ebstein who performed in their production of “Chicago”. Joining Gottschalk on the sofa, was American born Helen Schneider who played Norma Desmond in the German premier of “Sunset Boulevard” (opposite Kroeger) and Meatloaf who surprisingly began his career in Broadway musicals.

The first performance of the night was a lively Petter singing “I Got Life” from “Hair”. He really got into the spirit of things, particularly when he came to the line “I got my ass” by getting his out. I say!!!!! It was a good try but sadly he didn’t quite convince as a hippie flower child.
Christina Maria Brenner chose a song from a particular favourite of mine; the German language hit “Elisabeth”, and sang the beautiful “Ich Gehor Nur Mir”. The audience loved it and I was very impressed by her fantastic vocals and dramatic performance. Uwe wasn’t won over by her characterization saying that he felt she brought herself to it rather than inhabiting the character of “Sissy”. He was in the minority however as Goebel was effusive in his praise.
Kevin Kohler’s version of “Any Dream Will Do” suffered from him not sounding comfortable singing in English again; however it was a thoroughly entertaining performance and it was clear that he would make a great Rusty; but on this occasion he failed to impress the judges.
Sarah Medina improved on her previous song by singing “Macavity” from “Cats” in her own language. Yet again she was wearing a leotard! However this time she had the addition of cat ears!
Marcel Brauneis was particularly impressive with a performance of “I Want To Break Free” from “We Will Rock You”. The judges gave him his best comments so far and were unanimous in saying he would make a great Rusty. Meatloaf was in agreement - in his words “You rocked man!”
The beautifully voiced, if a little bland, Anna Maria Schmidt followed, and failed to impress me with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
Then we came to Alexander Herzog. You may remember that Alexander was the portly one who fell off his skates. Anyway, he made a shrewd choice by singing “Out There” from Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – which has seen a successful German stage production. He really had the hump (sorry I can’t help it) and sang very well, but Rusty? Hmmmm.
My favourite performance of the night came from Franziska Forster who transformed herself from the blue eyed soul singer of the previous week to full show biz pizzazz with “All That Jazz” She was really fantastic and Uwe, rightly, said she was the contests strongest performer.

So the phone lines were open and Helen Schneider took to the stage for an uber-dramatic rendition of “Wein Nicht Um Mich Argentien”. I am sure you can work out the translation of that for yourself! Meatloaf then gave an impassioned speech saying that the contestants were far better than those on a recent American TV casting show. I thought Kevin Kohler was going to cry! Anyway, it appeared that Petter had hit a bum note with his mooning and he left the competition along with Sarah. They both took their disappointment on the chin, and erstwhile cat Sarah didn’t even cough up a fur ball. So we bade them goodbye and the evening ended on a high with the remaining entrants delivering an energetic medley of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair”. Thankfully on this occasion no posteriors were bared!

The Finale

As in the previous editions the evening began with Thomas Gottschalk and his amazing hair entering to the strains of “What A Feeling”. He then introduced the finalists who launched into a rousing rendition of “Cabaret’s” “Wilkommen”. I still feel a tad traumatized from seeing Alexander dressed like a “Chicago” boy, but Kevin definitely had the edge on all the others with a highly polished dance performance. After enjoying the song, Gotttschalk retired to the sofa where he was joined by a returning Rolando Villazon (he of the big voice and Shirley Bassey-esque hand gestures) and the permatanned George Hamilton.

It was of course the final so this edition was going to be a little different to previous instalments and began with a few duets. Marcel and Kevin were first up with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and gave a great performance. Kevin still sounded uncomfortable however, and Marcel really struggled with the high notes. Overall it wasn’t a bad start to the evening though and Alexander Goebel was impressed. Mind you, he did call them the Siegfried and Roy of musicals but in all fairness Marcel’s hair was a little OTT.
I really felt for Alexander Herzog and Anna Maria Schmidt as they sang “All I Ask Of You” in German. Not only was Goebel the original German Phantom, but Kroeger sang the role for the German movie soundtrack and Sarah Brightman was in the studio. Not nerve wracking at all!!!!! Anna Maria seemed to struggle but Alexander fared better – though neither was exceptional. Perhaps they were distracted by the Eiffel tower which strangely towered over them? I thought they worked well together but of course Uwe disagreed. Goebel loved it, but then it is his favourite show and he has played the role of “Phantom” over 1300 times. They definitely saved the best duet for last with Christiana and Franzizka singing a German version of “Mamma Mia’s” “Dancing Queen”. Christina would make a fab Tania, and really got into the spirit of things. The girls got the best comments so far.

Before the solo performances, Sarah Brightman sang the beautiful “Symphony” from her current album. The song is an English translation of a big hit by German band, Silbermond. She looked absolutely stunnning and even managed to speak a little German in her interview, all in all very impressive!

Poor Alexander Herzog! We see him in lycra, on skates, and with a hump, next it was drag as he performed the gay anthem “I Am What I Am”. He wasn’t bad but his light tenor didn’t really do the song justice. Goebel told him he was great but finally gave him a reality check by telling him he was not and never would be a “Rusty”.
Christina’s gorgeous German version of “Aida’s” “I Know The Truth” drew Uwe’s best comments so far, which were well justified.
Marcel reached some beautiful high notes with his “Maria”, from “West Side Story”, and for the first time showed us he could act.
Once again Franziska Forster was the shows highlight with a spine tingling “Maybe this Time”. She isn’t really a good choice for Pearl but is certainly a star in the making.
Kevin Kohler’s choice was somewhat unusual with “Your Song” from “Moulin Rouge”. Why oh why didn’t he sing something in German? Yet again I felt he sounded uncomfortable.
The final performance was from Anna Maria, who truly impressed me for the first time, with “Gold Von Den Sternen” from “Mozart”, a show from the same writers as “Elisabeth” She also proved she could sing and swing at the same time when a swing descended from the flies covered in garlands.

While the votes were placed we finally got to see Rolando Villazon perform an impeccably sung “Impossible Dream” . Following this he was joined by Gottschalk and adopted an extreme Mexican accent for “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”. Gottschalk hasn’t got a great voice but he really captured the essence of the show and would be a great addition to any cast of “Spamalot”.

So the results were finally in. I think Herzog must like his drag make up as he was still wearing it when it came to decision time. Marcel and Christina were first to be eliminated so it was a choice between Herzog and Kevin Kohler for the prize. It was hardly a shock that Kevin won and I am sure that he will make a great Rusty, although I suspect Marcel would have been just as good. Prettier too! Sadly my favourite performer Franziska didn’t get the chance to don her roller skates, but with a good decade on Kevin she may have looked a little odd as his love interest. In the end Anna Maria was really the only option for Pearl so who better to win the role.

With a tear in his eye Kevin joined Anna Maria and finally we got to hear him singing in German, and yes he sounded much more confident, as they sang “Only You” from “Starlight”. They were joined by a selection of steam trains and carriages with no marriages for a spectacular ending to the competition. I am sure that the German public made the right choice and they will be excellent additions to the cast. The whole thing almost made me want to go to Bochum to see the show for myself. I strongly suspect that it will have had the same effect Germany wide and should give the show enough of a boost to steam into it’s twenty first birthday next year, and well beyond. So three cheers for Kevin and Anna Maria!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I Am The Starlight

On the first day the lord created Maria. He soon realised that he had a hit on his hands so it wasn’t long before Joseph followed, and others too got on the bandwagon. Two years on and these reality/talent shows are very much part of the entertainment landscape. Last year saw casting shows for “Grease” both here and in America, and now it seems that it’s gone worldwide. So far this year the trend has given us “I’d Do Anything”, and over in Canada they are trying to solve a problem called Maria. Even Germany has caught the bug and currently has two casting shows on air.

“Ich Tarzan, Du Jane” is the first of these shows. Disney’s “Tarzan” was not a great success in it’s recent Broadway run but that hasn’t stopped German TV channel Sat1 from searching for the two lead roles for a forthcoming production. I have managed to see a few clips from the show and basically it features young and pretty types singing pop songs and is kind of like X Factor but with props. Sadly I haven’t seen the whole show so can’t really comment further.

However, I was able to see ZDF’s offering “Musical Showstar 2008”. Hosted by Thomas Gottshalk, one of German Televisions biggest stars, they have really pulled the stops out with this spectacular talent search. The format is very similar to the American Idol/X Factor/I’d Do Anything shows that we know and love. A judging panel of three includes Uwe Kroeger, Germanys answer to John Barrowman albeit much more serious. Having lead the cast of many of Germanys big shows over the last decade or so including “Miss Saigon”, “Sunset Boulevard” and “Tanz Der Vampires”, not to mention a brief run in the West End with “Napolean” he is an obvious choice for the panel.

Unlike other shows of the genre, Musical Showstar is searching for two lead performers for an existing hit show. “Starlight Express” has been running in Bochum since 1988 and the search is on for the show’s romantic leads, Pearl and Rusty. Bizarelly not all of the candidates appear to be obvious choices for the roles. With ages ranging from late teens up to early thirties – they are literally all shapes and sizes and don’t necessarily have what would be considered the appropriate physique for such a physically demanding show. Where this show shines is that rather than performing a sequence of pop songs all the performers do well known show tunes, in character, in staged production numbers and costumes. This really gives them the chance to show their mettle and display their acting as well as singing chops. For the first live show the performers gave a good group version of “Fame” before we were introduced to Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon who had been giving them some vocal coaching. The clip they showed of this was hilarious. There were these would be musical steam trains with Villazon encouraging them by yodelling full blown operatics in their face at short range. Complete with Shirley Bassey hand gestures. After this he and Gottshalk were joined on the sofa by Uberchanteuse, and star of London’s “Chicago”, Ute Lemper.

Next we got to see the ten candidates actually perform – and the judges caustic comments after. Not to mention the preceding background “clip”. First up was Kevin Kohler, a 24 year old Hamburger, with an energetic English language performance of “Tragedy” . It did come across a little stilted vocally as he wasn’t that comfortable singing in English but as an acting performance it was great and drew positive comments from the judges. 23 year old Christina Maria Brenner was next up with a beautifully sung “Erinnerung” . This for uninitiated is “Memory” of course. Sadly she eschewed the full blown Grizabella treatment and opted for a glamorous ball gown. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” was the next question and Marcel Brauneis answered. Instead of donning the complete Simba make – up Marcel opted to go bare chested, also sporting a fetching brown bolero and some leopard skin pajama bottoms. Beautifully sung, but the judges, particularly Kroeger, criticized his acting ability. Next a little blue eyed soul as 34 year old Franziska Forster belted out “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”. Much was made of the fact that she was a housewife and mother. Ok well if we are getting technical hausfrau und mutter, but the panel were impressed and Lemper provided her feedback on what it’s like to be a Schauspielerin and mutter at the same time for any voters who may have their misgivings! Next came the unlikely, and rather rotund, Alexander Herzog who sang a bumptious number from “Beauty And The Beast” in German – then drew rapturous comments from the judges and a great response from the audience. Personally I didn’t get it. But then again, if my relatives are anything to go by, the Germans do like someone who enjoys their food. The reubenesque Navina Heare then attempted to defy gravity also in German. Sadly she failed to impress the panel. Next up we were introduced to 32 year old Petter Bjallo. Before his song we were shown a short clip of him and his life partner singing Cole Porter’s “True Love” round the piano. Very touching and not camp at all!! His song, was a dramatic German version of “This Is The Moment” from “Jekyll And Hyde”. I thought he acquitted himself well but things got heavy for Petter as the panel disagreed. Mostly with his theatrical hand gestures. I suspect he had been watching Rolando Villazon too intently! Anna Maria Schmidt possibly got the nights best comments for her German “Pocahontas” number – she did sing it beautifully but it wasn’t a song that particularly showed her acting ability. However her clip did show that she loved her Grandpa. Bless! Penultimately we had the youngest finalist, 19 year old Kaj Binder giving sweet “Sandy” from “Grease” and managing to ride a Chopper bicycle and emote at the same time. The judges seemed to like him and Ute Lemper said her oldest daughter would really love him! Finally we got Sarah Medina with a stilted version of “Dance Ten looks Three” another performer who didn’t sound comfortable singing in English, but managed to “act” this “Chorus line” song about tits and ass well enough to wow the judges and the audience.

So that was it. all the performers had performed and the phone lines were open. For five minutes. Next we were shown a clip from the Bochum “Starlight” set where the ten got to put their skates on and try a few moves on set. This was hastily brushed over when the portly Herzog failed to stay upright for more than a second at a time. Anyway, moving on…. The next part of the show was a real treat as I got to see Ute Lemper perform “Cabaret”. Truly fantastic, and a hard act to live up to for the competitors! One small criticism. When Germans say a “S” sound it often comes out as a “Sh”. Now imagine her singing “What good is sitting alone in your room”. A slight problem!

Then we get to find out who is out. Alexander and Anna Maria are first to be told they are safe until it’s wittled down to two boys and girls. Then we go to commercial break. So who got the boot? Well Kaj is first for the chop despite his chopper. And the unlucky girl?? Well she did try but Navina failed to defy gravity or capture the audience vote. And that’s it my experience of “Musical Showstar” is over. Well not quite. On returning home I discovered that I see watch the entire live show (sans background clips) on the ZDF website and I may well log on tonight and watch the further two instalments. So watch this space!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

What Do We Do We Fly?

One o-clock and you're at the gate, Two o-clock and the flight's delayed, When you finally leave it's eight, And what do we do? We fly!

Well that’s Stephen Sondheim’s take on air travel “What Do We Do We Fly” from his sixties collaboration with Richard Rodgers – “Do I Hear A Waltz?”

Forty years on and it seems the pitfalls of flying have changed relatively little. It was with some trepidation that I began my recent flight from Heathrow to Stuttgart. I had a bad experience coming through the airport last summer and now I was faced with the added stress of the newly opened terminal five. An early start was one thing but getting up at 4.45 a.m. really hurt. Why did I have the bright idea of an 8 a.m. flight? Temporary insanity? Actually my insanity is more of the permanent variety so I doubt that! Anyway, I had already checked in online so that was one hassle over. When I got to T5 I felt quite lost, but a girl clad in an over-sized T shirt emblazoned with an “I” quickly came to my aid. She informed me that as I was prepared I was in for a very easy ride. So I then proceeded to breeze through the fast baggage drop before moving on to the security checks etc. Security was nowhere near as bad as the media have lead us to believe. Aside from the novelty of removing my belt and shoes it was easy peasy. I wasn’t even frisked! I may have to complain!

I suppose the design of the terminal is good, but I was disappointed by the duty free options. I had hoped for new and exciting but I found just the same old selection from the other terminals. Never mind though, I got my bottle of Davidoff’s Echo which was all I wanted anyway! Finally the gate was announced as A23 and I discovered I was practically there already. Sadly I wasn’t a B or C gate so I didn’t get to go on the little train!

I had just got comfortable when I glanced up to discover that the sign saying Stuttgart now said Stockholm, Hmm thought I. A rather loud American passenger then tells us all that they have just told him that it’s now gate 21. Great. So we all traipse down to gate 21. The American then proceeds to tell us that he has been at the airport 24 hours as his flight the previous day had been cancelled because of the snow. Encouraging. Oh, and BA had lost his luggage – last seen in New York. Very encouraging! Next thing we know the sign at gate 21 has changed to Amsterdam and 23 has gone back to Stuttgart so, once again, we all traipse back to other gate. The girl on the desk then informs us that , no, it is definitely gate 23 we need so we all meander back. Bloody hell! All I wanted was a quiet nap before boarding – was that too much to ask? I give up and glance at my Doctor Who magazine instead. Yes I am that sad!

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth” announced the American, “so stay away”. No fear, I think, that’s definitely my plan. At this point two women arrive, rather late, for the flight and the American kindly tells them that its at gate 21 and boarding is closing. Of course they run all the way there as the American laughs before telling them that it has changed. So nice! Anyway, boarding time it is and who should I find is sat next to me on the plane? The American guy, of course. Typical. Thankfully he leaves me alone and engages with an elderly German lady obsessed with which compartment her coat is in, along with the afore mentioned late women. So I finally got my nap, and slept for a good hour. Then I awoke to discover that we were still on the tarmac and hadn’t took off. Great! However, within minutes, we finally began our ascent. After touching down I must have cleared the “flughafen” in ten minutes. The joy of small airports! Never the less, the 4.45 am start had left me pretty kaput for the rest of the day.

I hate planes, sitting three abreast. I hate planes, never get a rest. I hate planes (I hate... Ev'ry single one.) The crossing was rough -- Which wasn't enough, The fun hadn't yet begun.

Yes I guess Sondheim got that right too. Along with a couple of songs in Kander and Ebbs “Steel Pier” and last years cult success “The Drowsy Chaperone” air travel is rarely touched upon in musical theatre. There is of course a recent addition to this list that more than makes up for it. Maltby and Shire’s “Take Flight”

“Take Flight” was slightly unusual in that it saw a new work by the established Broadway team of Maltby and Shire receive it’s premier on this side of the pond – at Meniers Chocolate factory – last year. I didn’t get to see the show during it’s run, but I have recently invested in its cast album so I thought this seemed a good time to talk about it.

Rather than telling a linear story this musical looks at a handful of aviations pioneers and going back and forth between their stories and therefore in time.
The show has four main protagonists. The Wright brothers - the true pioneers of flight. Charles Lindbergh the first man to fly Atlantic – he would be the Lucky lindy who “Never flew so high” in “All That Jazz”. Finally, Amelia Earheart the first woman to conquer the same feat. Earheart is possibly best remembered for her attempt to circumnavigate the globe which ended in her plane going missing during its last leg over the pacific.

On first listening the recording didn’t really grab me. I thought it had similarities with Kander and Ebb’s “Steel Pier” and Sondheim’s “Bounce” neither of which are their creators best work. Obviously hearing a show cold on CD isn’t ideal so it’s often with later hearings that I begin to “get” it. Actually it’s not half bad, and I have found that the score puts me in mind of “Ragtime” whish is actually somewhat of a favourite of mine.

“Take Flights” title, and opening, number is a great start describing as it does literally taking flight and also realizing one’s dreams. The Wrights yearn to be the first to achieve flight, despite their academic shortcomings, and Earheart and Lindberghs aviatory goals. The Wrights seem to be the light relief of the piece with songs often seeming to be quite vaudevillesque – in particular their final one, “The Funniest Thing”. Michael Jibson’s nervous portrayal of Lindbergh illustrates the almost pathological shyness the man had. His reprise of the song “Before The Dream” is quite lovely. As Amelia Earheart, that erstwhile Reno Sweeney, Sally Anne Triplett possibly get’s the shows best number with “A Part Of Me”. This is one of the few songs that may well have a life beyond the show itself. As the CD draws to a close history has already told us that not all of our characters would get a happy ending. However the shows ending is one of optimism as it ends with Orville and Wilbur Wright finally achieving their dream and taking flight.

So, take flight? Yes it’s time for the home stretch and my flight back to London. As I write it’s 7.30pm. My 7.05 plane had only left London at 6.40pm and now isn’t expected to depart until 8.45. My stomach is rumbling and I am tempted to dive into the chocolate I have bought for my friend who is collecting me from Heathrow. Seems fair – after all she will be at work now an unable to collect me. So once again I am sitting in an airport and wondering why on earth I put myself through this. There must be better ways to travel surely? But in Sondheim’s words – what do we do we do? We fly, well what do we do? We fly!

Friday, 4 April 2008

There's No Cure Like Travel 4/4/08

Regular readers of this column will be very aware of my frequent trips across the channel and my love affair with La Vie Parisienne. However, what may come as a surprise is the fact that I visit Germany just a frequently. It has to be said that my visits to the small town of Kircheim Unter Teck are really quite different to my Paris jaunts though. Staying with an elderly grandmother isn’t quite the same as living in the centre of one of the worlds great cultural centres. A visit to Germany is more about relaxing and catching up on reading than seeing the sights and Kircheim really doesn’t have much in the way of those. It does have a beautiful Radhaus, and a small castle – well technically it’s a castle but it doesn’t really look like one – overlooking the town. Other than the Kornhaus museum that’s kind of it for the town. A regular highlight is watching the German version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” where bizarrely I seem to get most of the answers right without wholly understanding the questions! Stuttgart is about forty minutes away by train although the trains end too early for me to enjoy Stuttgart’s theatre. That’s a shame as I would have been able to follow the gelb ziegel strasse and discover that it’s not easy being grun, as “Wicked” is currently performing.

Without a doubt I have seen the best and wurst (sorry I couldn’t resist that!) of this particular corner of Germany. With a car at your disposal there are some wonderful things to go and see. Hohenzollern is a huge and fascinating castle and also the home of Prince George Frederick the titular king of Prussia and the German empire. Then there is Schloss Lichtenstein. This castle – not far from the university town of Tubingen – was built in the eighteenth century and was based on a mediaeval castle in a work of fiction. It truly is the stuff of fairy tales. Truly beautiful as you can see from my illustration! Thankfully my eighty seven year old grandmother no longer drives so these attractions are a bit out of the way. I remember her driving. Truly frightening! No cyclist was safe in the vicinity of her Ford Escort.

Anyway enough of this travelogue! Let’s talk about the arts. Although it’s more than eclipsed by Paris my German connection has provided me with a few likes.

It was back in 1983 that I heard the single “99 Luftballons” that was taking Europe by storm. A literal translation of the title was 99 Balloons so when I told my grandmother I wanted to buy 99 Balloons she was particularly surprised, but I did manage to get hold of the single. The following year “99 Red Balloons”, as it was re-christened, went to number one in the UK for it’s singer Nena. Further UK hits eluded Nena, and she remains in people memories largely for appearing on “Top Of The Pops” and “The Old Grey Whistle Test” clad in a vest and sporting particularly hairy arm pits. She continued recording and remained relatively successful in Germany for the next twenty years. Then in 2003 she hit the big time again as she re-recorded all her early hits and the album became the second best selling by a German artist of all time. I Believe Die Schlumpfen (the smurfs) also figure in the top ten! German rock generally doesn’t float my boat though. I can’t ever see myself humming along to Udo Lindenberg or, that other Nena, punk goddess Nena Hagen.

Although she is a world away from the Neue Deutsche Welle of Nena, I have followed the career of Cabaret Chanteuse (or should that be sangerin?) Ute Lemper for almost twenty years. Lemper had already created a sensation in Europe by the time I heard of her in 1988. In the early eighties she was in the Vienna cast of “Cats” eventually taking over as Grizabella, and followed this later with a stint as Sally Bowles in a Paris production of “Cabaret”. A German TV special followed as did the album “Life Is A Cabaret”. I loved the album when I heard it. It features half a dozen songs from “Cabaret” along with a couple of movie songs and numbers from “Les Miserables” and “Dreamgirls” . It probably sounds a little eighties now but I still enjoy it. Although some of her later discs are quite experimental (and hard to take!) there have been some notable exceptions and her first album with Lemper as sole composer is released shortly. Ute has become quite a name on the cabaret and concert scene regularly performing at New York’s CafĂ© Carlyle amongst other prestigious venues. Of course it was in the original cast of the current revival of “Chicago” where Ute came to prominence over here as Velma Kelly, winning an Olivier in the process. We can only hope that she returns to musical theatre some time soon.

Some time ago I wrote about German musicals so I am only going to mention “Elisabeth” and “Tanz Der Vampires” in passing. Possibly two of my favourite scores. As for German cinema, well it rarely captures my imagination but I should mention Edgar Reitz’ epic series of “Heimat” films. Part soap opera and part social commentary the Heimat films provide a gripping insight into German life throughout the twentieth century. Most of the recent German films I have enjoyed have not seen a UK release, however both “Sophie Scholl” and “Balls” did entertain me and they are well worth a viewing!

Of course the charms of Ute Lemper and the hairy pittedness that is Nena are not Germanys main attraction. It’s not the delicious schnitzel served at many a Gasthaus either. So what may you ask is it? Why cake and chocolate of course. Every town is peppered with many a Kaffee Haus where the German equivalent of ladies who lunch drink espresso and have a slice of cake. Oh the cake! There is nothing quite like Schwabischen Apfel Kuchen. I am almost salivating at the thought! My favourite Kaffee Haus has to be Zimmermans in Nurtigen . They make the most amazing chocolate I have ever tasted!!!!

So what has brought on this rambling about all things teutonic you may ask? Well this time next week I will be flying back (terminal five permitting!) from a five day break in Kircheim. No doubt having sampled more than one piece of Schwabischen Apfel Kuchen and a large slab of Zimmerman’s Vollmilch! Not to mention the crisp apple streudels, Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, Wild geese that fly with – hold on – that show really does get everywhere doesn’t it?