03.12.2005A German Brass Band in the Middle EastTouring the Orient with a Trumpet and a NotepadAleppo
We leave for Aleppo at nine in the morning, four hours by bus. The landscape is largely desolate – a brown, stony hill desert. There are only isolated settlements with green fields. The land is irrigated here to grow vegetables for Damascus.
In Aleppo, the band played with their backs to the wall - but the audience was pleased and even clapped for an encore, "which is not usual in the Arab world", as Moll proudly adds The country has obviously been suffering a shortage of diesel fuel for the last few days. Our driver stops at every petrol station and is greeted with shoulder shrugs and negative gestures. There is simply no fuel. Diesel in Syria is state subsidized and extremely cheap, but exclusively for use in buses and trucks. There are no diesel cars in Syria.
We will only be one day in Aleppo, so as soon as we arrive, we head straight off for the bazaar. Spread out over eleven square kilometers, it is the largest bazaar in the Middle East. After a bit of searching about – most of the city's residents can't speak English and therefore couldn't read the map given to us by the hotel – we find ourselves right in the middle of the souk, and it is more Middle Eastern and fragmented than in Damascus.
Here we are surrounded by just about everything – halved mutton, layered and decorated pyramids of coffee with cardamom, wedding dresses, gold, Berber costumes, cloth, hardware, rugs, and tents.
Back to the hotel and then directly to the concert venue by bus. The concert is to take place at an abandoned Syrian Army barracks located on a mountain with a panoramic view over the city. The former splendid garrison headquarters is built in an Arabic pseudo turn of the century "Gründerzeit" style with balconies, wide staircases, and pointed archways.
It has been abandoned for many years. The doors are hanging crooked at angles, the windows are broken, it is overrun with weeds, and cypress trees are thriving on the fallow land. A real ghost town – idyllic and surreal on account of its military past, but also a little creepy. Yet a fantastic backdrop for a concert.
Our stage has been built on the sporting grounds. You can see the black and white painted cement hurdles over which the soldiers were chased. A huge frame with climbing ropes, a horizontal bar for chin-ups, basketball rings, and everything in black and white cement style.
In the shattered window of a garrison building hangs an oil painting on cardboard. It depicts battle scenes with the Syrian flag waving victorious over a shot up tank with a Star of David. This scene was probably pure wishful thinking. As far as I know, such a victory never took place in reality.
A pleasant evening breeze is blowing and the sun sets with a mild golden glow. Suddenly, we are sitting in the dark on stage. There is no electricity. For the last two hours, a number of Syrian technicians have been working around a transmission pylon, trying to tap electricity from the power line, obviously without any success. An hour-and-a-half wait in the darkness follows.
A generator finally arrives along with delicious shawarma and falafel sandwiches for all. The bus is transformed into a dressing room and everything now seems to be going well.
Raimund tells me that the garrison was built in 1910 by Germans for the Ottoman Empire. That explains the Wilhelminian-Syrian mix of architecture.
The generator runs, the concert takes place, but it is rather windy and for the first time during the tour I am glad that a jacket is part of my stage costume. There isn't enough time for a sound check – the public has been sitting with amazing discipline on little plastic stools for an hour already in the wind.
During this time, our sound technician Stolli has turned the sound system on full blast and bombarded them with 1980s disco hits. He seems to be having a good time.
Unfortunately, we can't see the public. The first row is some 30 meters from the stage and we are directly facing the spotlights, which blind us. We are therefore playing in the dark without a sound check; the drummer is still weak from illness. He and Matti (the trombonist) caught the bug today. I am one of the few remaining without any gastro-intestinal problems.
This all made it a difficult concert, but the audience was pleased and even clapped for an encore, which is not usual in the Arab world.
Another day on the road – the same route back to Damascus. I chat with Manfred Ewel, the director of the Goethe Institute, about twelve-tone music and African art. At the Goethe Institute, I briefly go on the Internet and by chance read that this morning at 10:45, as we were still in Aleppo, the Israeli secret service blew up a Hamas leader here in Damascus and subsequently assumed responsibility.
For a moment, I feel a slight sense of unease that a foreboding of violence and terror has directly passed us by.
We continue to Amman. We wait at the Syrian-Jordanian border one-and-a-half hours. This time, everything goes smoothly. At the main checkpoint, a number of rows of wide, bricked-in tables have been installed between the lanes.
Here guards intensively search, frisk, and control. Not for us, though. It must certainly have to do with the fact that our bus driver has discreetly bribed the responsible authorities with various banknotes, as he has apparently done at all the previous border crossings.
The sound of overexcited birds twittering away can be heard throughout this roofed inspection hall. It is like we are in a giant exotic aviary at the zoo but judging from the uniform intervalls of the sound I guess it must be an audio cassette to ease the minds of the people waiting.
Next stop: Amman (click 6)