Showing Some More Love to Cologne

A collage of images and music from the mighty city in the Rhineland

My recent post about images and music from Germany, the country in which I was born and grew up, was so well received that I decided to do an encore. Instead of covering various places, this time, I’d like to focus on one specific city I briefly mentioned in that post: Cologne, or Köln in German. Or Kölle, as it’s known in the local dialect of Kölsch.

While Cologne isn’t my place of birth (Heidelberg is) and I grew up about 25 miles to the south in the countryside close to Bonn, I’ve come to love this old city. And I always enjoy going back there during visits to Germany.

Cologne is big, at least for German proportions. With approximately 1.1 million people, it’s the country’s fourth largest city after the capital Berlin (3.8 million), Hamburg (1.9 million) and Munich (1.1 million). Cologne is also the most populous city on the river Rhine and in the so-called Rhineland region. Moreover, with more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries, it’s a major cultural center in the region.

Cologne Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cologne, Germany
Cologne with its key landmark the Cologne Cathedral on the left side

There’s lots of history and old architecture in Cologne. The city was founded by the Romans in 50 AD as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. The first urban settlement on the grounds of present day Cologne dates back even further, to 38 BC and a Germanic tribe known as the Ubii. During the Middle Ages, Cologne flourished due to its geographic location on major trade routes. But the city has also experienced its share of hard times. During World War II, it suffered major destruction when much of its millennia-old center was reduced to rubble.

Cologne has many landmarks that have been restored or are in a near-constant state of restoration. Undoubtedly, the most famous is the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), a majestic Gothic church built in various stages between 1248 and 1880 (see in photo above and feature collage imagine on top of the post). While badly damaged by aerial bombs during World War II, remarkably, the cathedral remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. There are also a dozen Romanesque churches in the old town of Cologne, as well as medieval houses and city gates (see photo collage below).

Cologne landmarks (clockwise from upper left corner): St. Aposteln, St. Cäcilien and St. Gereon’s Basilica Romanesque churches; medieval Cologne City Hall; and Hahnentor and Severinstor medieval city gates

When it comes to Cologne, it’s also important not to forget about Kölsch beer. To be clear, Kölsch refers to a style of beer, not a specific brand. Per Wikipedia, Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany: according to the Konvention, it is a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. Of course! 🙂

There are approximately 25 different brands of Kölsch. The most popular are Reissdorf, Gaffel and my favorite Früh Kölsch. Various of the local breweries have restaurants where Kölsch beer is served super fresh – you simply can’t beat that taste! Typically, these restaurants offer delicious dishes from the region as well – to die for! As I’m writing this, I’m getting hungry and thirsty – dang it! 🙂

Obviously, it’s impossible to capture Cologne’s richness in a few paragraphs. If you’d like to know more about this remarkable city, I’d highly recommend a visit.

From left: Früh Kölsch; brewery restaurant Früh in the heart of the city near the Cologne Cathedral; and a traditional Kölsch server, aka Köbis

Since this blog is focused on music, let’s devote the final portion of this post to local artists. More specifically, I’d like to feature a handful of bands from Cologne with songs that are related to the city.

BAP/Stadt im Niemandsland

Of course, the first band that comes to my mind in the context of Cologne is BAP, a group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which has been around since 1976. Nowadays known as Niedeckens BAP, it’s essentially a project of Niedecken. As my favorite German-singing (or I guess I should say Kölsch-singing) rock band, I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, for example here. One of the group’s songs about Cologne is titled Stadt im Niemandsland (city in no man’s land), a catchy tune with nice harmony guitar action from their 1988 studio album Da Capo.

Bläck Fööss/Dat Wasser vun Kölle

Bläck Fööss are a true Cologne institution. Founded in 1970, the band is best known for music in connection with the Cologne Carnival. The local festive period stretches from November 11 all the way to Ash Wednesday in February, with a temporary suspension between the Advent and Christmas period. The highlight is the last week when festivities culminate in a street carnival with parades and people going out masqueraded. Apart from carnival music, Bläck Fööss also became known for other, oftentimes humorous songs. That was especially the case when their front man was Tommy Engel who deliberately took the group beyond carnival music. One great example is Dat Wasser vun Kölle (the water from Cologne), a track from a 1983 studio album titled Immer Wigger (always pushing forward). Based on what I believe was an advertising slogan for the local water utility, the tune pokes fun at Cologne’s tap water. Here’s a short translated excerpt: Oh dear God, please give us water/Because all of Cologne is thirsty/Oh dear God, please give us water/And help us through our misery… Performed in the style of a gospel song, the tune also illustrates Bläck Fööss’ impressive vocal talents.

Brings/Kölle

Brings are a rock-turned-carnival/party song band, which was formed in 1990. During the first 10 years, they focused on rock music. Following the commercial success of a polka type song titled Superjeilezick, Brings completely changed their style to focus on carnival and other Kölsch party music – and completely lost me in the process. Here’s a great tune from their rock period titled Kölle. It was included on their 1991 debut studio album Zwei Zoote Minsche (two types of people). In a nutshell, it’s about a guy from Cologne who once he arrives at his vacation destination becomes homesick and longs to be back in his hometown. Here’s a translation of the chorus: I want to walk to Cologne/It’s the language I understand/It’s what makes my heart beat/I want to walk.

Zeltinger Band/Müngersdorfer Stadion

Let’s wrap things up with some Kölsch punk. Zeltinger Band are a rock group formed by vocalist Jürgen Zeltinger and other musicians in 1979. They have released more than 20 albums and remain active to this day. While I never followed them, I’ve always liked Müngersdorfer Stadion, their tune about a famous local soccer stadium that is the home base of professional Cologne soccer club 1. FC Köln. The song was included on the band’s first record De Plaat (Im Roxy Und Bunker Live) [The record (live at Roxy and Bunker)]. Is it a stretch to highlight this track, given it’s not directly about Cologne? I think it’s not, given Müngersdorfer Stadion and 1. FC Köln are two local institutions that I would argue are comparable to the cathedral, at least to many folks living in Cologne!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Taking An Imaginary Journey Back to My Original Home

A collage of music and places from Germany

The idea for this post came to me over the weekend when I found myself listening to my long-time favorite German rock band Niedeckens BAP, previously simply known as BAP. Suddenly, I longed to be back in Germany, the country where I was born and lived for the first 27 years of my life. Not for good, but just for a visit, which feels long overdue!

Images of key places started popping up before my eyes: My town of birth Heidelberg (image below), the small village in the countryside close to Bonn where I grew up, the cities of Bonn (second image from right in the lower row of the collage on top of the post) and Cologne (left image in collage), as well as the town of Tübingen (right image in lower row of collage) where I did my graduate studies, to name a few.

Heidelberg

I’ve now lived permanently in the U.S. for close to 25 years, almost as long as I lived in Germany – hard to believe! There’s no question the States have become my home. While over the more recent past I’ve witnessed things I never thought could happen in this country, I’m firmly rooted here.

I never really felt homesick since I left Germany in 1993. After all, I’ve been back many times, once every other year on average, to visit my parents and other family. I also still have friends there from high school and university. Returning to Germany has always been important. But my last visit dates back to the fall of 2019, and it’s currently unclear whether I’ll be able to go back this year. This sucks!

Former house of my parents (left) close to the city of Bonn in the village of Buschhoven (right) where I grew up

So, yes, I miss visiting good ole Germany. My family and friends. The above mentioned places. The food. And, I know it sounds like a cliché, the beer – it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Note I’m not saying it’s the best in the world, though it probably is – sorry, Budweiser or Miller! 🙂

This brings me to German rock and pop music performed in the German language. The above mentioned BAP, a band from Cologne, were the first Deutsch Rock I started to explore more deeply in the early ’80s. I turned to many other German acts thereafter. Fortunately, I still got access to plenty of their music, which is very reassuring! Here’s is a small selection.

Wolf Maahn/Kannst Du Sehen

Let’s kick things off with Kannst Du Sehen (can you see), a groovy tune by Wolf Maahn from his 2010 studio album Vereinigte Staaten (United States). Maahn, who was born in Berlin in 1955 and grew up in Munich, has been a professional music artist since the late ’70s. After recording two English language albums with Food Band, he launched his solo career in 1982, mostly singing in German ever since. Two years later, his great breakthrough album Irgendwo in Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) appeared. Maahn remains active to this day and has released 15 studio albums, as well as various live records and compilations. If you’d like to know more about him, you can check out this previous post.

Spider Murphy Gang/Schickeria

Spider Murphy Gang, formed in Munich in 1977, became known for mostly ’50s rock & roll and other retro style songs performed in Bavarian dialect. I think there’s just something about dialects. They can add a certain charm to a song. Country rocker Schickeria (in crowd) is the opener of Spider Murphy Gang’s third studio album Dolce Vita from 1981, which greatly expanded their popularity in Germany beyond Bavaria. BTW, the band’s name comes from Spider Murphy, the guy playing the tenor saxophone in the Leiber-Stoller classic Jailhouse Rock that first became a hit for Elvis Presley in 1957. After nearly 45 years, Spider Murphy Gang rock on with lead vocalist and bassist Günther Sigl and guitarist Barny Murphy remaining as original members in the current eight-piece line-up. I’ve never been to one of their shows, though I’d love to see them some day. Their music is quite fun!

Marius Müller-Westernhagen/Schweigen Ist Feige

If you count his start as a 14-year-old actor in 1962 before turning to music in the second half of the ’60s, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, or just Westernhagen, has been active for nearly 60 years. After meager beginnings his music career took off in 1978 with his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz (with peppermint I’m your prince). Westernhagen whose catalog includes 19 studio albums, four live records and various compilations is one of Germany’s most successful music artists. Here’s Schweigen Ist Feige (remaining silent is cowardice), a Stonesey rocker from Affentheater (monkey business), Westernhagen’s 14th studio release that appeared in 1994.

Udo Lindenberg/Ich Zieh’ Meinen Hut

Udo Lindenberg, who is turning 75 years later this month, is another German rock and pop institution. Already as a 15-year-old, he performed in bars in the West German town of Düsseldorf, playing the drums. After relocating to the northern city of Hamburg in the late ’60s and stints with folk rock band City Preachers and jazz rock outfit Free Orbit, which he co-founded, Lindenberg launched his solo career in 1971, focused on writing and singing his own songs in German. He has released more than 30 studio and numerous other albums to date. You can read more about him here. Following is Ich Zieh’ Meinen Hut (I tip my hat), the opener of Stark Wie Zwei (strong like two), a triumphant comeback album for Lindenberg from 2008.

Herbert Grönemeyer/Was Soll Das?

Pop music is Herbert Grönemeyer’s second act. The versatile artist, who was born on April 12, 1956 in Göttingen, first came to prominence as an actor. He gained some international attention after his role in the acclaimed 1981 World War II motion picture Das Boot. His eponymous studio debut Grönemeyer from 1979 went unnoticed. Things changed dramatically in 1984 with his fifth studio release 4630 Bochum (name and then-zip code of a West German city). It became Grönemeyer’s first no. 1 record in Germany, a chart position he incredibly has been able to achieve for each of his 10 albums that have since come out! Here’s Was Soll Das? (what’s that supposed to mean), the first track from Grönemeyer’s seventh studio album Ö that appeared in 1988.

Niedeckens BAP/Mittlerweile Josephine

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without Niedeckens BAP. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name may sound familiar. The band around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which used to be known as BAP for most of their career, was founded in Cologne in 1976. Not surprisingly, there have been many line-up changes over the decades. For the past six years, the band essentially has been a solo project for Niedecken, the only remaining original member. The other constant is Niedeckens BAP continue to perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. You can read more about the band here. Following is Mittlerweile Josephine (now Josephine) from their most recent studio album Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy) released in September 2020. It was this beautiful ballad Niedecken wrote for his daughter, which triggered this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Wolf Maahn/Irgendwo in Deutschland

The other day, I found myself revisiting Wolf Maahn, one of my favorite German rock artists I’ve featured on the blog before. More specifically, I listened again to his third studio album Irgendwo in Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) from 1984. I got it on vinyl at the time and really dug it – turns out I still do!

Before getting to the record that became is national breakthrough, I’d like to provide a bit of background on Maahn, borrowing from a previous post. Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001.

In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Inner record sleeve of Irgendwo in Deutschland

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined  Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites and kisses) appeared the following year. Which brings me to Irgendwo in Deutschland.

Let’s kick it off with the opener Rosen im Asphalt (roses in the asphalt). Like most of the album’s tracks, Maahn composed the tune’s music and wrote the lyrics.

Here’s Fieber (fever). The catchy rocker is one of Maahn’s best known song and is the tune, which prompted me to buy the album. Again, he wrote the music and the lyrics.

Another highlight on the record is Der Clown hat den Blues (the clown is feeling blue). The song was co-written by Maahn, Heilhecker and backing vocalist Jane Palmer, with lyrics by Maahn.

The opening riff of Total gut drauf (feeling really great), another song Maahn wrote all by himself, could be from a John Mellencamp tune. I think it’s fair to say the sound of the entire album has an American flair.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. And, yes, you guessed it right, it’s yet another tune solely written by Maahn.

Irgendwo in Deutschland was produced by Maahn. In addition to him (lead vocals, guitar), Heilhecker (lead guitar) and Palmer (backing vocals), other musicians included Werner Kopal (bass) and Jürgen Zöller (drums). Kopal and Zöller later joined German rock band BAP. Kopal still is part of the current line-up of that band, now known as Niedeckens BAP.

In 1986, Maahn dissolved Deserteure and has since performed without a standing backing band. To date, he has released 15 studio albums, five live albums and one greatest hits compilation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I suppose by now folks who frequently check out my blog won’t be surprised that another Friday brings another installment of Best of What’s New. For first-time visitors, the weekly recurring feature highlights new music I dig, which was released over the past two to three months. Since most of my blog focuses on the ’60s and ’70s, I try to include as many young artists in these posts as I can find. In most cases, it ends up being a mix of young and established acts.

This week’s batch includes a nice solo debut by a young female African-American artist you may know as the drummer of a great band from Memphis, as well as songs by my favorite German-singing rock band, one of “Nova Scotia’s busiest singer-songwriters” and somebody you may still remember from the ’80s, though he was performing under a different name back then. Let’s get cooking!

Tikyra Jackson/No More Fear

If you follow my blog, chances are you’ve seen some of my posts about Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn., blending traditional blues and soul with elements of contemporary R&B. Tikyra Jackson is the band’s drummer and backing vocalist. It turns out she’s also a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist who just released her solo debut single No More Fear on August 12. Apparently, the effort was driven by Jackson’s reflections on the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Southern Avenue’s current pause from touring due to COVID-19. “I have a responsibility as a young, African-American and also as a woman to use my voice and platform to amplify the message that we are not going to tolerate inequality,” Jackson told American Songwriter. “I had a moment to breathe and be with myself,” she added. “Before Quarantine, it was just the road. But to be able to take a break and feel my emotions and cry has been a beautiful thing.” No word yet whether Jackon’s ultimate ambitions are an entire album. For now, here’s her funky debut single.

Niedeckens BAP/Volle Kraft voraus

Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) is the fourth and latest upfront single from Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), the new album by German rock band Niedeckens BAP’s, scheduled for September 18. Since about 1980, the group from Cologne around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, founded in 1976 and for many years simply known as BAP, has been my favorite band singing in German. More specifically, they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered them here and on various other previous occasions. Released August 13, Volle Kraft voraus was written by the band’s guitarist Ulrich Rode with lyrics by Niedecken. The tune could work as a picker upper that’s badly needed in these corona times, writes Niedecken on the band’s website: “Try to remember what happiness feels like!” No nostalgia but more something like self-therapy.

Guy Paul Thibault/Shipwrecked

According to his website, Guy Paul Thibault is one of Nova Scotia’s busiest singer songwriters. He is loved by audiences for his marathon shows, his stories and his knowledge of the history behind the songs he performs. He performs both his originals and fan favourites from every genre and era…Guy Paul is proud to be able to write, record, mix, master and produce all his music from his hometown of Cole Harbour Nova Scotia. His album “The Road Between” was awarded International Album of the Year 2019 from the International Singer Songwriters Association (ISSA)…Guy Paul has continued his busy pace as a recording songwriter, releasing a continuous stream of singles and new songs in 2020. His most recent one is Shipwrecked, a nice ballad that came out on July 15.

Sananda Maitreya/The MadHouse

When I listened to The MadHouse for the first time earlier today, I immediately thought the voice of Sananda Maitreya sounds very similar to Terence Trent D’Arby whose 1987 debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby was a huge success in Germany and many other countries. That’s because Maitreya and D’Arby are one and the same person! Following his successful debut, D’Arby released three additional records that each performed poorer than their predecessor. By time his fifth album appeared in 2001, he had changed his stage name to Sananda Maitreya, though the record appeared under the name Terence Trent D’Arby/Sananda Maitreya – probably a deliberate transition move. Since 2005, all of his albums have been released under the name Sananda Maitreya. “Terence Trent D’Arby was dead,” Maitreya explained to The New Yorker in June 2013. “He watched his suffering as he died a noble death. After intense pain I meditated for a new spirit, a new will, a new identity.” This new identity continues to this day and his latest single The MadHouse, which came out on July 3. Frankly, D’Arby had completely fallen off my radar screen many moons ago, and I’ve no idea about any of his music he released between his debut and this latest song. But I know one thing: Maitreya’s voice still sounds pretty soulful and that tune’s got a nice funky groove!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; BAP website; Guy Paul Thibault website; The New Yorker; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Niedeckens BAP/Halv Su Wild

These days, the U.S. is going through so much pain and despair. It truly feels like unprecedented times, at least to me. While it’s important to acknowledge the two epidemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism and hold those who call themselves leaders responsible, I also believe it’s critical never to lose hope. Never to give up.

One of the many beautiful things music can do is to help lift our spirits. Here’s a great picker upper from my favorite German rock band BAP or Niedeckens BAP, as they have been known since September 2014: Halv su wild (things aren’t as bad). The title track from their 16th studio album released in March 2011 has cheered me up more than once when I felt down.

Like all of the band’s lyrics, the words were written by founder Wolfgang Niedecken. The music of this particular tune was composed by him and his main songwriting partner at the time, former lead guitarist Helmut Krumminga.

The above clip is from a concert that was part of a tour to celebrate BAP’s 40th anniversary, which I was fortunate to attend during a visit to Germany in June 2016. The line-up featured Krumminga’s excellent successor Ulrich Rode.

Of course, I realize most readers don’t understand German – not to speak of Kölsch, the regional dialect in which Niedeckens performs the songs, and that is spoken in the area of Cologne. Following is a rough translation. Admittedly, it sounds much better in Kölsch, but I hope you get the point!

Hey what’s going on, don’t tell me you’ve given up.You’re right things are tough, but no matter what happens, the sun is rising, even though the night seems to be endless. Trust in what the new day brings before you’re consumed by self-doubt.

Things aren’t as bad, just wait and you will see. Definitely, things aren’t as bad, it’s gonna work out. Believe me, things aren’t as bad, no matter how much you despair. The world won’t come to an end. Things aren’t as bad.

Hey man, stop now, you will see land again. Don’t have doubts, you know what you can do. Don’t hide behind a wall, no, you have to get out. Sure, it’s a shitty situation, but, hey, shit happens!

Things aren’t as bad, just wait and you will see. Definitely, things aren’t as bad, it’s gonna work out. Believe me things aren’t as bad, no matter how much you despair. The world won’t come to an end. Things aren’t as bad.

The person who manages to take away our joy to live still needs to be born. It’s not a problem…no, it’s really not.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube