When we left Solingen (where it had rained straight for 2 days) we headed east to Wolfsburg, so named because Hitler founded the city, his nickname being Wolf. The city was founded as a model modern industrial city, and its centerpiece is the Volkswagen automobile plant - a company and plant originally designed to provide every German citizen with an affordable automobile. Of course, during the war, the factory was used as well to make war machines, and consequently, virtually nothing remains of the original city that Hitler had built. The current city is clean and tidy, but very sterile feeling and dull. The VW plant on the north side of the central city dominates the entire region - the roofed area of the car factory is the size of Monaco, and it may be the largest industrial structure in the world.


Appropriately enough then, when Bradley and I rented a car for the next 2 days, we ended up renting a new VW Beetle, which was an excellent car to drive - it felt much more solid than most cars of its size, and driving on the Autobahn at 180km/h was smooth and easy and quiet. Anyhow, we left Wolfsburg directly after the show and arrived in Amsterdam around 2:30 in the morning. We parked the car underneath the music hall and found a cheap hotel for the night. In the morning, we walked over to our other hotel and checked in shortly after 11. Hotel Orpheo is owned and run by a couple in their fifties, and while our room looked very 1978, it was clean, large, cheap and overlooked a beautiful canal (although it would seem that this is no great feat in Amsterdam - everything seems to overlook one beautiful canal or another).

Of course Amsterdam is known not only for its beauty, but also it's liberal attitude towards personal freedom, especially in the more taboo areas of sexuality, prostitution, and soft drugs. In 1979, the city council decided that the crime surrounding the expanding drug scene of the time was more detrimental to the public welfare than many of the "soft" drugs themselves were. So they made possession, use and commerce involving small amounts of these drugs not punishable by any law, and regulated the way these are sold. It worked. This, combined with a very progressive welfare system has made Amsterdam one of the safest cities in the world, and the prostitutes and marijuana outlets all pay taxes on their products. So Amsterdam now has about a hundred "Coffee Shops" where you are asked if you want a drink or smoke menu when you enter - quite an interesting experience for an American. Just for the record, with the current exchange rate, a rolled joint costs about $2.50. Or so I've heard.

After checking in, we changed money, went in search of late breakfast/early lunch and then I got my hair cut (or rather fixed, after a terrible haircut in Mannheim), and then headed to the Anne Frank house and Museum. After being in Germany for so long (where the war in general and the holocaust in particular are not discussed much - but where the reminders of the war are everywhere) it was a good place to get a hint of the human perspective of what happened. The newly renovated museum is well laid out in two buildings, giving a history of the war, the Jews in Amsterdam, and the Frank family before they went into hiding. Then visitors pass through the bookcase/door hiding the attic section where the Frank family hid for those years. On the walls in Ann's room are her pictures of the glamorous American movie stars of the day (sadly, the furniture is no longer in the attic, we were told it is all being restored) and excerpts from her diary are on plaques on the walls describing the daily routines of those living in the attic for the three years they were there, as well as the activities of those who helped them.

Leaving the attic itself, in the newer building built to house the museum is an media display, detailing what happened to each member of the Frank family (Ann herself dying at Bergen-Belsen one month before the allies liberated the camp) with first person narrative by camp survivors, Otto Frank, and many of those who helped them while in the attic. In the very last room are the diaries she wrote in chronicling her years in the attic. The entire experience was very moving, and alone worth the trip to Amsterdam.

Upon leaving the museum, we walked slowly past a more recent monument, a large pink marble triangle jutting out like a pier over a canal remembering the gay men and lesbians also murdered during the holocaust. Called the Homomonument, when we walked by there were numerous bouquets of flowers near the far edge, as well as several of bottles of champagne left in memory. Continuing along the canal towards the center of the city, we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine on the buildings until we got hungry, then we moved on to a French bistro that Brad was very fond of (and rightly so - the food excellent and very inexpensive, the atmosphere lively and fun). We had originally also planned on going to the Van Gogh museum, but at that late hour in the day, we decided it was probably best to go ahead and eat and plan on returning to Amsterdam some other time.

After dinner, we went out to sample the nightlife in Amsterdam, which even on a Monday night was invigorating. We bar-hopped a little, danced a little, and walked through the red-light district. I had just finished reading John Irving's novel "A Widow for One Year" which has a great deal of its action set in and around the red-light district so it was especially interesting to walk through. Each street seems to have its own distinct type: Pretty Blond Scandinavian women, Jamaican women, Ecuadorian transvestites, Russian women...at a certain point one wonders how many prostitutes can a smaller city support? And in and among the red-lighted windows are restaurants, bars, houses, churches and the police station, ensuring that the district and the prostitutes are safe from drunken or violent tourists.

About half an hour of walking through this area was enough for us (too crowded, and after being in New York for 6 years, prostitutes are no longer a novelty, nor are tourists, the latter being annoying no matter where they may congregate), so we headed back to the neighborhood where our hotel was, a very lively district with (less) tourists mixed in with the locals. The Dutch in general are extremely fun people and are very open to striking up a conversation with out-of-towners. Everyone I encountered while in Amsterdam spoke fluent American-style English (Even when they spoke Dutch to each other, I frequently mistook the sound of the words for English - the vowel sounds and accent seems just like a neutral, television-news style English). By the time we rolled into bed after 2AM, we were exhausted, and slept well. The next morning we checked out by 11 AM and drove the 2.5 hours back to Dortmund where the rest of the cast had been staying in a soulless convention-center complex (in a rather soulless and dull city). As soon as we crossed the border back into Germany, the sun disappeared and the rain started up all over again.


While we were in Dortmund, our choreographer, Ann Nieman had returned to check up on the show and to make sure that the new girl, Randi Kaye was doing well in the show (she didn't have to worry about Randi - she had picked up the entire show within a week, adding one or two numbers a night, and is a very solid performer onstage). It was refreshing to have Ann come back, because instantly, a lot of the liberties that had been taken with the script and style of the show and bad habits that had developed were dropped by the actors before she saw the show or removed by Ann afterwards. She was also able to clean the dance numbers and tighten up some of the scenework. Although she was just listed as the choreographer on this show, she is also a director, and our director, Jeffrey Dunn, authorized her to fix things if needed -- and since we have not had a stage manager since the end of November, a lot of things needed it. Her presence was also calming, and (at least for now) smoothed over a lot of the tension that had been building in the cast over the past few weeks.


After Dortmund, we had the pleasure of returning to Nienburg, where we had spent three weeks rehearsing the show. The weather was dismal this time, but we still trekked out to our favorite restaurants and rehearsal haunts both before and after the show. The house was sold out, and the audience would not leave until we had done three curtain calls: a very nice feeling. That night at the bar, Ann said good bye to everyone again before leaving for the airport to catch her plane back to New York.

In the time since then, we have been working hard and moving fast around the northern tier of the Country - dodging the raindrops the whole time in our routine: Bus-Hotel-Bus-Theater-Bus-Hotel-Sleep-Repeat. After Nienburg came Essen, another faceless former coal mining city near Dortmund -- nothing really of interest there. We arrived in Schwerin, deep in the heart of the Former GDR, in the pouring rain. Apparently there is a gorgeous castle in the middle of the lake in the center of town, but because of the rain and wind only Christine Nevins, the most determined castle-seeker attempted the trek. The rest of us played bridge in the bar (The hotel was in the middle of an industrial park, with no food or entertainment anywhere nearby). The following morning, we got on the bus again to go to Rostock, a port city on the Baltic Sea. As soon as we got on the bus, the rain cleared up, and we were able to see the Schwerin castle from the far side of the lake on the way out of town. The sun continued to shine for the rest of the day, and upon arrival at the hotel, we were all set to go into the city to see the port and the cathedral. When we walked through the hotel lobby, we saw that the hotel pool complex had a huge waterslide, and suddenly that seemed like a much better idea than sightseeing for the day.


That night after the show, a few of us wanted to go out to a nightclub, and on the way, the taxi driver decided to take us on the scenic route through the city. He pointed out the 800 year old city gatehouses as we passed, and just when we were getting a little fed up, he took us to the former Secret Police headquarters (now used as a courthouse in the post-communist era). Around the back, hidden from the street he showed us the prison attached to the building, a huge 7 story structure with no windows, formerly used exclusively for those not sharing the "correct" political outlook with the state. The entire structure was surrounded by high chain link fences with razor wire loops along the top, and with several rifle towers spaced very close together. One wonders how the citizens of East Germany have dealt with the change over the last 10 years...and what they now think about the former communist regime (all of our German crew is from the West, so I've never been able to ask that question).

The next day we headed west again to Kiel, a major port city on the Baltic, and also the terminus of the canal between the North and Baltic Seas. Because the city was used during the war to build the U-Boats, very little remains of the historic center of the city, but the city itself has rebuilt nicely (albeit not very attractively). Of the few buildings that remain, the tower of the Rathaus has become the symbol of the city. Also of interest is the statue of the "Ghostfighter" in front of the main church. The Nazi party had this statue removed because they deemed it "degenerate art" and buried it in a field, where it was discovered in the '50s and returned to its original space. The harbor is the most interesting part of town - it's deep enough and wide enough that the boats that come into the harbor are taller than any of the buildings in town (except for the huge structures used to load and unload these boats). Kiel is the main departure point from Germany for ferries leaving to St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Gothenburg (Sweden) and Oslo. The dressing rooms in the theater overlooked this harbor, and during the entire show, we were able to watch the boats coming and going. The city has also kept a number of historic fishing and commercial boats from the last century, which are still floating in the harbor behind the Ship Museum. That night after the show I returned to my room to get a full night's sleep, but a number of the cast members went to the Casino right along the waterfront. Patrick Bodd walked home with an extra $450, and Michael Ursua was the big winner with about $1000 (we told him to wait for the exchange rate to get better..then it could be worth as much as $1200).


Today, we traveled to Halle, but because our hotel is so far outside of the city, we will not be able to go in early before the show. I don't think I'm missing much -- this is how my guidebook describes the city:

HALLE, Population 277,000. Halle is as romantic as a crime scene in a coal field. Grimy and crumbling buildings, dilapidated roads and smog-filled air are about what you'd expect of a city that was the center of the GDR's chemical industry -- the place is a pit.

I don't think I'm missing much.

Next: Dresden, Köln (if I can make it) and the return of Jeffrey Dunn.