On my way back home from Egypt this past weekend, I stopped in Frankfurt am Main, Germany to do some karaoke singing. While my stay in Frankfurt was brief, it was over 2 1/2 years in the making; it was as integral to the plans for my trip as singing in Egypt itself (to say nothing of visiting the pyramids). 🙂
To reach Egypt from my home city of New York, I arranged to fly via Lufthansa from New York to Cairo, connecting in Frankfurt; and for my return voyage I reversed that itinerary. I deliberately scheduled an overnight layover in Frankfurt during the return journey, in order to afford me a long-awaited opportunity to sing karaoke in Germany. The country that’s been bestowed with the sobriquet of the Land of Chocolate had hitherto been a glaring omission from my World Karaoke Tour, but that would finally change! (I’d been to Germany before, having spent several days in Berlin during my summertime romp through Europe in 1993. But although I’d sung in three countries during that same trip, Germany hadn’t been one of them. This was during the dawn of my World Karaoke Tour, and I wasn’t focused then, as I am now, on searching for karaoke in every city I passed through.)
Once those plans were in place, it took an unexpectedly long time to bring them to fruition. My Egyptian holiday was originally scheduled to happen in February 2011; but 18 days before my departure date, a revolution erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, culminating in the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the installation of a democratically elected government. Given the chaos and danger that attended the uprising, my Egyptian tour — which I’d begun planning nearly a year in advance — was canceled by the tour operator. So I went to Morocco instead (a trip that will be covered in one or more future articles on this blog) and had an amazing time; and Casablanca, rather than Cairo, became the first African city on my World Karaoke Tour. I rescheduled my Egyptian vacation — including the overnight stay in Frankfurt — for one year later, in February 2012; I assumed that the situation on the ground in Cairo would calm down by then.
But while the threat level in Egypt had indeed receded by February 2012, I again failed to make it to Egypt. Due to illness, I was unable to travel this past February and rescheduled the journey yet again, this time postponing it to September 2012.
In the waning days of this summer, as the starting date for my third attempt at an Egyptian adventure approached, the possibility arose that I might have to postpone once more. In mid-September, anti-American protests erupted outside the United States embassy in Cairo. Some friends and family members urged me not to go to Egypt during this latest time of turmoil; they worried that my being not just an American citizen, but one of Jewish heritage, might make me a target for the agitators. Just one day before the Saturday when I was supposed to fly out of New York, I wasn’t sure what I would do. But my group tour in Egypt wasn’t canceled. It therefore would have been very expensive for me to cancel on my own at the last minute. Also, unlike in 2011, my government’s State Department did not issue any warnings to Americans to avoid non-essential travel to Egypt. I therefore proceeded with my vacation. That meant that I was slated to wind up in Frankfurt on the final Saturday of the month.
The particular establishment where I’d be singing had been selected well in advance. My googling had brought to my attention a bar in Frankfurt that offers karaoke on Fridays and Saturdays: an Irish pub called O’Reilly’s, just across the street from Frankfurt’s enormous train station, the Haputbahnhof. Before I left New York, I confirmed that O’Reilly’s was still in business and still offered karaoke on weekends. And so, at the conclusion of an absolutely fantastic tour of Egypt — about which I’ll have much more to say in the coming weeks — I headed to Cairo International Airport to catch my flight to Frankfurt. Egypt had become country no. 25 on my World Karaoke Tour less than two weeks earlier; now it was time for Germany to become no. 26.
My flight out of Cairo was delayed some three hours. As a result, I didn’t even land at Frankfurt’s airport until approximately 10:40 pm. But I zoomed through the terminal in record time, and got to my hotel pretty quickly. Finally, at about midnight, I strolled into the Irish pub for some karaoke!
The atmosphere in O’Reilly’s on Saturday night was electric. The bar is huge, and it was packed. It didn’t hurt that, serendipitously, the great German festival of Oktoberfest was going on. While Oktoberfest is celebrated most spiritedly in the Bavarian city of Munich, several hundred kilometers to the south, where the festival originated, the folks at O’Reilly’s were pretty amped-up anyway. I didn’t intentionally plan my night in Germany to coincide with Oktoberfest; it was just a nice bonus, and one that made the night even more special.
The karaoke host at O’Reilly’s is an Irishman named Kenny. He’s a nice guy who contributed greatly to the fun that was universally being had at what O’Reilly’s calls its “karaoke disco” show.
For my song selection, I’d given serious consideration to performing the only song I know by a German artist: Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” (the version with English-language lyrics, of course). But I’d never sung it before, and I hadn’t managed to practice it very much in the preceding days, so I wasn’t confident that I knew the song sufficiently well to pull it off. Instead, I opted for the safe choice of one of my well-established A-list songs: “True,” by Spandau Ballet. One of the outstanding one-hit wonders from the 1980s, that song does boast an admittedly tenuous German connection: the group that originally recorded the tune took its name from a German prison. (Well, to be more accurate, the band’s name was inspired when a friend of the band members spotted the words “Spandau Ballet,” a presumed reference to the prison, scrawled as graffiti in the restroom of a nightclub in Berlin, the city in which the penitentiary had been located. The band itself hailed from the United Kingdom.)
Here you can watch me singing “True” at O’Reilly’s on Saturday night:
As you can see, the crowd was into the song from the very beginning. That’s the kind of audience that makes karaoke truly exciting and rewarding for me.
Thanks are due to a man named William, who was with a large contingent that was visiting from the Netherlands; he’s responsible for the excellent camera work on the video. Oh, also, I can’t believe how disheveled I look; but in my defense, I literally had just stepped off the plane. 🙂
Although I stayed at O’Reilly’s for nearly two hours, I didn’t submit any additional songs after my one turn on the stage. The reason: the amazing crowd reaction to my first song guaranteed that anything I did the rest of the night could only be a letdown. You may recall that something similar happened in Paris in 2005. So, almost exactly seven years after that unforgettable Parisian evening, I decided once again to follow George Costanza’s credo of showmanship: always leave on a high note and leave them wanting more.
I spent the remainder of my time in O’Reilly’s rocking out to other singers’ karaoke performances, and conversing with some of the awesome people in attendance. In addition to William, those peeps included Alex and Sarah, a pair of Lufthansa flight attendants; James, a former stand-up comedian who lives in Seattle and has what many would consider a dream job (designing video games and traveling the world to meet with developers); and Laura, a Sydneysider who was one of those many Aussies that travel abroad for long stretches of time. I could have stayed at O’Reilly’s much later than I did; as the hour of 2 a.m. approached, the bar remained quite crowded and I was still having a blast and meeting new people. But I’d been up a long time and wanted to get some rest before heading to the airport in the morning for my flight to Newark, New Jersey. Reluctantly, I tore myself away and walked back to my hotel.
That is how, on September 29, 2012, Germany became the 26th country on my World Karaoke Tour.
(I have some regrets that the tight scheduling of my Frankfurt stopover left no time to take in any sightseeing in a city whose roots, like those of so many other metropolises in Europe, date back to Roman times. Admittedly, Frankfurt, which boasts an impressive collection of skyscrapers, is much more of an international business centre than a magnet for tourists. It’s not a sought-after destination for leisure travelers in the way that cities such as Munich and Berlin are. Nevertheless, Frankfurt does contain some attractions that I would have liked to see if given more time. Highlights include: the Goethe House, in which literary superstar Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once lived; Frankfurter Römer, a medieval square with cool architecture; and the Kaiserdom Sankt Bartholomäus, the cathedral seen in the photo at the top of this blog post, which hosted the coronations of Holy Roman Emperors for some three centuries. At one time, Frankfurt’s downtown would have included many more points of interest; but sadly, most of the historic edifices in the city centre were ravaged in World War II bombing raids. Even the cathedral sustained heavy damage in the aerial attacks, including the complete devastation of its interior, and needed to undergo extensive reconstruction.)
Next up for the tour: Istanbul, Turkey in late December! Let’s hope that after that trip, I won’t be able to answer in the affirmative to the question, “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?” 🙂