After our return to Mannheim we had one show on Saturday, then a day off on Sunday - the last for a while. We took this opportunity to travel to Heidelberg, especially to see the Schloss - a work in progress that was never completed and took so long to build that by the time the latter parts were being built (in several clashing architectural styles), many of the earlier parts already lay in ruin. The day was cold and damp with precipitation alternating between heavy fog and light drizzle - a perfect day to see the castle ruins fading off into the mist. We mistakenly took the English language guided tour, against the advice of my guidebook and regretted it almost immediately: the tour guide spoke English very poorly, and spent the entire two hour tour telling embarrassingly bad jokes and almost nothing about the castle ("Can anyone guess what this is? That's right it's the keeps you hot").
Once the tour was over, we walked down into the basement to take a look at the giant wine barrel. The vineyards in the area used to have to pay their taxes in wine, and the wooden barrel used to store the wine is three stories tall and the size of a basketball court. It was once guarded by a Tyrolean dwarf named "Perkeo" apparently because he was the most prodigious drinker in Germany - when anyone offered him a glass his answer was always, "Perche no?" (Why not?). According to legend, he died when he accidentally drank a glass of water by mistake.
After descending from the castle (using a cog railway instead of the LONG steps), we went in search of food and ate at a tiny little beer hall just off the main square before walking through the city. Unfortunately since the day was so cold and wet, we didn't explore too much - we walked across the old bridge and tried to walk along the famous "Philosopher's Way", but it was muddy and getting dark, making us turn back. Passing through the gatehouse again, we saw a little hotel on the right with a sign that translated to "Goethe almost slept here" -- apparently, the night clerk turned him away, much to the dismay of the owner, who put up the plaque. We stopped in for a quick beer at the Palmbrauhaus which had a distinct medieval feel, where our table was actually inside an old fireplace. By that time, it was completely dark, and we went back to the train station for our return trip to Mannheim (about 15 minutes away).

The following day was the beginning of a long stretch of touring - we headed down into the black forest, where our hotel was a gorgeous resort with many beautiful statues (and one would assume gardens in the summer), but so large and isolated (our rooms were part of the guest house, requiring a not-too-pleasant trek through the snow) that "the Shining" came to mind. The next day we returned to Stuttgart, but were far enough out from the center of the city that we had no time to go back in. Directly across the street from our hotel was the Porsche factory which was interesting to see, but not open to the public that day. The morning brought the trek to Erlensee, a faceless outer suburb of Frankfurt, where we had nothing to occupy our brains other than playing bridge all night. That was also the night that Pam's replacement joined us, and it seems that she will be a welcome addition to the tour. By the time we arrived in Wurtzburg on the 13th, we were ready for a rest from the bus and some more interesting scenery than gas stations and rest stops.

Wurtzburg ended up being one of my favorite cities we visited - large enough and old enough to have a beautiful old city in the center of the town, but not a huge metropolis. On one side of the city is the Main River (pronounced "mine") with the thirteenth century Schloss Marienburg perched high atop the opposite hill, and on the other is the Residenz, a palace that is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. Both served as the seat of the prince-bishops of Wurtzburg, and now both are open to the public. Our hotel was in an older building that had been beautifully restored, with trompe de l'oeil paintings covering the walls, and my room had a wonderful view of the Schloss on the hill -- perfect at sunset. Shortly after we arrived, a large group of us set out to see the inside of the Residenz palace. It was too dark inside for me to take any pictures, but the ceiling frescos were absolutely stunning. Also of note is the staircase off the main entrance hall - a huge marble structure that takes up one entire wing of the palace, and resembles an MC Escher drawing more than a conventional staircase. Since it was off-season and we were the only ones there, BA and Patrick took turns coming down the staircase singing songs from Hello Dolly and Sunset Boulevard.

We left the palace and walked through the old city center, which was extremely beautiful, with a number of ornate (and very colorful) buildings and churches - poking our heads into each one. Inside one of the smaller churches was the crypt of St. Killian (Patrick was especially glad to have seen that) and the altar in another was stunning. When about an hour was up, we stopped at a street stall in the main square and had a glass of Gluhwein (the last of the season, it seemed) and some Wurst before making the trek to the main bridge. The bridge is over a section of waterfall on the Main river and lined with statues of those important to the city in the past. Among them, the statue of Pippin (only of interest to musical theater people perhaps, but with a pose like that, no wonder a musical was written about him).
Upon returning to the hotel, we all rested for a few hours and met at 7:00 in the Mexican restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel. Apparently there is a military base close to Wurtzburg, and the demanding taste buds of the service ensured that the food there was excellent, as were the Margaritas. But the surprise at dinner was when Christine Negherbon and Angela Ruggiero walked in with new, much shorter haircuts - both had formerly had hair to the middle of their backs. We would discover the next day at the show that almost half of the women in the cast cut their hair that day -- a reaction to stuffing extremely long hair under 3 different wigs a night for several months. Most of the cast and crew were there, and by the end of the night, we were feeling no pain -- and for many of us, the Mexican restaurant was just the beginning: since we had the night off and no bus call in the morning, we went out bar-hopping until about 3 in the morning.

The following day was a day of rest for most of us - I did a little shopping and had a nice quiet lunch at a little bistro near the hotel. After the show that night, we returned to the Mexican restaurant where Christine Negherbon had brought a number of her friends who were stationed nearby. Among them, Betty Ann met a very nice US Army gentleman about her age, with whom she has kept in contact with in the week since, and visited again this weekend. It may grow into love or it may not, but either way, it's nice to see her happy.

The next day we returned to Saarbrucken, which didn't seem any nicer the second time around, but at least the Italian restaurant in our hotel was open after the show, so we didn't have to eat peanut butter and crackers this time. Unfortunately, the theater there was built as a sports arena, so our stage was on a scaffold in the middle of the floor, with the audience on bleachers surrounding us - no way to make an entrance on stage without half of the audience seeing you come up the stairs onto the scaffold and walk into the wings. It obviously was used more often as a concert hall - on the walls of the dressing rooms were posters of artists whom had played before us, mostly from the 1970's: Ella Fitzgerald, Ike & Tina, Deep Purple, Santana, John Denver, the list goes on and on.
Freiburg was next on our itinerary, and it was another charming little town, much like Wurtzburg - extremely beautiful and very much like a fairy tale village. Nestled in a valley at the edge of the Black Forest, it has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. The streets and sidewalks are cobblestone, and in front of each store is a little mosaic of what is sold in that store: a goat in front of the butcher shop, a book in front of the book store, a Pfenning in front of the "Penny Markt". On the edge of the streets runs a very deep gutter filled with running water: apparently this used to be the sewer system of the town in the middle ages, when a stream was diverted to run through the town an a very intricate system. While charming and probably effective, I wonder what it was like in mid-July in 1750 with all of this sewage running through the streets. After checking into our hotel, a small party made our way into the center of the old city to see the cathedral. Interestingly, the cathedral was entirely financed by the town merchants in the middle ages, after the ruling family lost their fortune, and local craftsmen did all of the work. One of the sculptors, so impressed with his work on the pulpit, inserted a small bust of himself at the base of the pulpit staring out at the congregation, so he would not be forgotten.

Upon leaving the cathedral, our party split, and Rob, Michael, Patrick and myself went across the town square to the torture museum, where they had examples of medieval cruelty that made me very glad that I was not alive during the Inquisition years: an assortment of racks, skin stretchers, skull crushers, saws, pins, pokers and screws with disturbing and graphic descriptions of how each was used, and what they did to the body. Strangely, my bus seat wasn't there, although I'm sure it deserves to be.

We headed back to the hotel, stopping by the local brewery for a light dinner before the show. Our very modern and well-appointed hotel was right across the street from the equally modern and well-equipped theater, which was nice because we got to use all of our set for the first time in a week, and we didn't have to get back on the bus to go to and from the theater (a welcome change).

In the morning, we had a very early call because of a long drive to Passau, right on the Austrian border. Because of a 20 mile back-up on the Autobahn near Stuttgart, we arrived late with just enough time for me to scarf down a store bought sandwich before getting back on the bus to do the show. Passau looked like a very beautiful city, situated at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers with at thousand-year-old fortress on the hill overlooking the city. My room had a wonderful view of the (greenish-gray, not blue) Danube and the fortress, but because of the time restrictions and the heavy rain, I did not go out to explore the city at all. The theater itself was a disaster: built by Hitler in the '30s, it hadn't been renovated or updated since, and almost none of our set could fit onto the stage: again we had to cut the "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" number since it is entirely dependent on the large train cars the chorus girls sing from. I always feel bad when we have a situation like that, because the audience can see in the souvenir program that they're not getting the full show. Tensions in the cast were running high that night, and some personal conflicts came to the fore backstage that night, which would continue to taint the experience of the show for all of us for the next week (and for who knows how long into the future? Already 3 more people have given their notice since the New Year's break).

Linz, Austria was next, but because of the continuing rain and long drives, we barely got to see any of the city at all - for us it might as well have been another attractive German city except for the different currency. (At this point, I have US, Austrian, French, Spanish, German and Swiss coins all rattling around the bottom of my backpack -- none of the change places will accept them.) Following Linz was Erding, Germany, where we stayed an hour away from the theater at a very new, modern looking rest-stop hotel overlooking a Nuclear power plant in the middle of nowhere - not much to see, but at least I didn't feel guilty about staying in the hotel room and "missing" something because of the rain. The next morning we headed back to the western edge of Germany to Trier, a very old and historic town, founded in 15 BC by the Romans.
We arrived late in the day, and only had time for a quick one hour walking tour before it got dark, but fortunately, the rain stopped for a day. A block away from the hotel was the enormous ruin of the second-century Kaiserthermen, a bath house with a very intricate system of hot and cold air and water ducts exposed to see, and large round structure used today as an open air amphitheater in the summer. After that we walked north past the baroque palace and statue garden and on to the Dom (Cathedral) where behind the altar are shreds of cloth said to be the clothing torn from Jesus at the hands of Pilate. In the center of the town is a very attractive and large central square, with the main street leading north to the giant blackened limestone gate, also built by the Romans -- which apparently worked because the city withstood siege after siege during the middle ages without surrendering. Walking back through the center of town we went a different way, and passed the birthplace of Karl Marx. Ironically, the (museum) house is in the middle of a very commercial street, in view of several department stores - it stands alone in a sea of capitalism.

After the show most of us just collapsed into our beds, the long week was beginning to take its toll, and we were all exhausted. Our next stop was Solingen, where we were to sit for two days (playing different nearby cities) about 30 miles north of Cologne, and an outer suburb of Dusseldorf. Solingen is described by Fodor's travel guide as "the Sheffield of Germany", and that sums it up well. Ugly, Dirty, Grey and Rainy -- but the hotel was clean and right across the street from the theater. With the rain, there was no reason to go to Cologne (we come back through here in a week or so) and it was time for all of us to catch up on our rest. Betty Ann's Army man was also able to come by to see her again. With no bus call in the morning and nothing to see nearby, I decided to hold a large party in my room and invite the cast to come blow off steam after the show the first night and it was very nice to just relax in a hotel room with a lot of people with whom I really haven't spent much time with lately, laugh, and talk about everything but the show.

Next: Ann returns and I go to Amsterdam