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The Balkan Adventures

Folk Combo

Welcome to our blog

By Folk Combo, Dec 11 2014 09:28AM

On how Folk Combo spend the first week of their adventure, doing some suburban camping, busking on the streets of Berlin, having late night-van sessions with Bjorn and diving into the surrealist world of Klaus Theuerkauf.


Welcome back and for those who are checking in just now, welcome to our story. The adventure has really begun and this week was all about realizing what kind of life we are going to live for the coming months,eating and sleeping together in the van, meeting new people everyday, playing our music on strange streets and to new audiences and in the meanwhile, trying not to loose our minds in the process. We arrived in Berlin on the 24st of november after a rather bumpy and difficult start (see last post) and we would soon find out there would be plenty more inconvenient moments, tricky episodes and confronting passages to come, for example:


- car issues (the battery...remember?)

- dealing with more German car people

- camping in a city, camping in the winter and practical details such as sanitation, personal hygiene, navigation in urban environments etc.


When we reached the German capital, we first wanted to solve our car battery problem. We drove the Villa to a car garage boulevard. We found a 'Werkstatt' (German: garage) and went in to see if they could help us out. Gijs started the conversation with the guy behind the desk, asking if it would be possible to speak English (bad idea) and if he could have a look at the car. The man interrupted Gijs halfway his humble request and replied: "NO TIME!", but...our car, the battery... muttered Gijs... and again he said: "NO TIME". The way he said it was a bit frightening and we didn't want to waste his 'time' for another second, thus leaving the place as fast as we could. Slightly bewildered after this second encounter with unfriendly German car-people (remember the ADAC?) we didn't feel like trying another garage and instead went on to find a place to spend the night. Before we left Hannover, we looked into this and found a possible camping-site for our Villa but it turned out that this caravan-camp was nothing more than a shady parking lot 20km outside of the center of Berlin with planes flying over every 5 minutes. The prices were more expensive than a hostel in the center, where we would have showers, internet, a normal bed and people to meet. So both agreed to go for the hostel instead, a decision we didn't linger on too long, considering the conditions of both options. Although we really wanted to try out camping in our Villa, it was probably a good idea to explore the city from a comfortable place first. We checked into the Generator-hostel and after we settled in we went out that night to meet up with Bjorn, our friend and collegue from Graaf Floris, who is doing a reserach-project on tourism in Kreuzberg, one of the neighborhoods of Berlin. We had some dinner and since Bjorn was on his way to a friend's place, we decided to meet up later that week for a proper rendez-vous. That night, we walked trough the streets of Berlin, looking around and sipping on cheap brandy to keep us warm while we talked about our (first and second) impressions of the city.

The next day we went for out to play our music on the streets, since we were eager to know if a techno-punk-anarchist city like Berlin would enjoy our folky songs.

We dressed up in our full Folk Combo outfit (folky tie, gilet, hat, long underwear), strapped on the instruments and were ready to folk & roll. However, our appearance was slightly delayed due to metropolic disorientation and we took the wrong tram and going on a nice sight-seeing detour trough Berlin Suburbia. So a bit later than intended, we arrived at the Alexanderplatz, a huge square in the city center full of shopping malls, Christmas markets and currywurst-stands.We played a couple of songs and earned back the tram tickets and the typical German lunch: Currywurst mit Kartoffelsalat (...nom nom nom...). But the cold was quite harsh and our faces and fingers were turning purple blue, the noses started running and we both felt like we had enough for one day. So we went back to the hostel to enjoy the comfortable beds and hot showers for one more night.

The day after we went to the Alexanderplatz again to play. But this time it was going less smoothly, receiving close to nothing at all and we decided to try our luck elsewhere. We took a bus to the Brandenburger Tor, which was good for sight-seeing but not for playing music since there is a Silent Room (???) next to it and a lot of police around, chasing us away before we even got in tune. So we went on to the next stop, which was another Christmas market next to a beautiful old church in Charlottenburg. But here we couldn't play either because every decorated pine tree on the market was equipped with a stereo system, playing Christmas carols and making our contribution to the whole scene a bit uneccesary. So we payed a visit to the old church and prayed to the Man upstairs to help us out a bit. But unfortunately that didn't seem to have much effect because the very next spot we tried to play we got asked for a licence, which we didn't have, and we had to take our stuff and leave. It got dark and we gave up, feeling tired and cold after walking and driving around Berlin the whole day without any profits of our busking attempts. We learned that the life of street musicians is no bed of roses, especially when the winter winds are cutting like knives in our folky faces and the rewards are scarce at the end of the day. So we went back 'home' to our Villa and slept in the car for the first time, having a first go at the suburban camping routine that we are, by now, quite pro at.


One night, later that week, when Bjorn came to visit us for drinks in the van, the 'Tr(a)umatic Heating System' stopped because the gas-bottle was empty and we could see on our villa-thermometer how temperature was declining rapidly. We didn´t have a spare bottle and knew that pretty soon the once cosy and warm van would be a little less comfortable. The morning after when we woke up, the whole van was freezing cold (Villa thermometer: -1) and we skipped our usual morning routine and went straight to a place to find new gas bottles. We bought two, to prevent any further heating issues and afterwards we went swimming in a public pool to relax and nourish our tormented bodies after that arctic night. When we were completely refreshed and warm again we had lunch and went for a little stroll in the Gorlitzer park, a place decorated with drug-dealers, their clients and the pleasant smell of weed and hashies. As a contrast to this law abiding scenario, we entered the Emmenhaus-church next tot the park where the sunday mass had just taken place and the church community were having lunch and a bazar-market with second-hand books and other stuff for sale. We had a look around and kept in mind there was also an internet-cafe inside (modern churches are better connected that one might except) to check our e-mails and update the website. After the church, we kept walking trough the neighborhood, looking for a supermarket, but instead found an art-gallery and atelier, home to the artist Klaus Theuerkauf. As soon as we entered the place and lay our eyes on the pieces of 'art' exposed there, we knew we found something interesting. The place was full of surreal and subversive works. The man who made them was there smoking while working on a small painting. We introduced ourselves by telling him about our trip and backgrounds. Likewise, he told us his story too: he moved to Berlin when he was 23 searching for a creative environment for artists. We asked him if he would know any places to play music or to practice, since the van was a little uncomfortable for a proper rehearsal. He offered us to use his atelier and we could come back tommorow after he took care of some things in the morning. We gracefully accepted this offer and got his phonenumber. We left the atelier and walked back to the van, boiling with ideas and inspired by the spontaneous meeting with Klaus. The rest of the day we spent writing a song about Berlin that we intended to record at the gallery. The result is the a waltz called 'Berlin' that you can listen to on the website.


The next day when we came back to the gallery, Klaus and a friend of his were working on a new painting, the 'Christmas duck' (see website). We used the gallery the whole afternoon for practicing, filming and recording. After the rehearsal, we thanked Klaus for his hospitality and went back to the van, hoping that the internet cafe of the church we visited earlier would still be open to do some work. The place was empty except for one girl that worked there. She was intending to close for the day since nobody showed up. YanYan, who was from the Netherlands, was doing voluntary work for one year in Berlin living in the tower of the church. We told her about our trip and she offered us coffee and Christmas bread. She asked if we would like to have a shower, some food and if we would like to sleep in a warm place for the night. We could not believe that such a kind offer came our way and we brought our stuff up into the tower of the church overwhelmed with all this generosity. That night we had a wonderful dinner that we tried to pay back by playing some tunes. Finally, we slept like two babies. When we woke up, rested and energized, we decided that our Berlin chapter had come to an end. It was time for Folk Combo to move on to the next stop: Czech Repulic!



By Folk Combo, Dec 2 2014 02:45PM

On how Folk Combo left the Netherlands, ran out of fuel on the Autobahn near Hannover, dealing with the potatoheads from the German roadservice and eventually got saved by the two Stefphans.


We set out on our folky adventure on sunday the 23rd of November on a beautiful sunny day. We left the Netherlands and headed for Berlin.

We knew that our car battery wasn't in top shape, but naively as we were (are) we could not wait to start our trip. With the sun in our rear window we knew we were going to the East and both were dreaming with all the possible adventures that we were soon going to experience.

If we only knew what kind of troubles were awaiting us...about two hours later. Gijs took over the wheel in Hannover and while driving he suddenly became aware that our Villa was dramatically stopping in the middle of the Autobahn. On the emergency lane we realized that the van was completely dried out and in desparate need of gas. David went out into the dark night trying to find a gas-station while Gijs was panicking in the car and wondering why the **** they didn't refill the tank in Hannover. When David came back with a few liters of diesel, that he forgot to pay (for real), the car battery (which deserves a whole chapter for itself) decided to increase our drama. It died on us...


We had to call the ADAC, the German road service, to pull us off the motorway. A guy soon came to our aid and he drove us to a near service station. We were very relieved and expected to be back on the road in no time, what turned out to be another ill-fainted-hope. The German ADAC guy tried to jump start our car but failed in doing so and who, in addition, did not seem to be too willing to do a proper inspection.

So after about 15 minutes of 'Scheisse' and other German curses, he stopped and told us we would have to wait for his incredible service untill the next morning. So, we were stuck in Lehrte (???) at some parking lot surrounded by yellow ADAC trucks, ready to spend the first night of our trip in the middle of nowhere. It was then when David remembered that two former housemates of him recently moved to Hannover: Stefan and Stephan. Perhaps they could help us and save us from the Kartoffel brothers of the German roadservice. Like two angels descending from heaven, the Stefphans answered our prayers and came with another car to revive our Villa. After they reanimated the car, they also offered us to spend the night in their house in Hannover, which we gratefully accepted. We had a nice night with them, drinking wine and having some laughs about how unpredictable this first day of our adventures turned out to be.

By Folk Combo, Dec 2 2014 12:39AM

Since we began shaping our 'Balkan Adventures', we both agreed that a campervan was the way to go. We spent weeks scouting the internet to find a car that would suffice to all our needs. We selected a few possibilities and planned a day to go van-hunting in Germany. So, here comes the story of how we got hold of the campervan, which from now on, we call it our "Villa".


Starting from Tilburg, we started this campaign on the night of the 22nd of October to arrive as early as possible to Stuttgart, where we thought we would make a good deal. We arrived there at 10 o'clock in the morning after getting lost a couple of times and eventually found the right address. The van we found on the web was there, on a grim parking lot of some industrial terrain next to a huge brothel. There was no office nor any indication that this parking lot belonged to a garage or car dealer. Interesting... We called the guy, who answered and replied he would sent somebody over. The man who arrived a few minutes later didn't speak English, nor German too well and after about 15 minutes we knew that this van would not suffice our demands. For one, it didn't have a working reverse gear, which according to the salesman didn't matter, since the car-inspection in the Netherlands would only test if it goes forward. We didn't agree and, feeling quite defeated since we drove all the way down to Stuttgart, we left the guy trying to park the van in perpetuous forward motion...unforgetable image. We drove back up to Cologne where another van was waiting for our inspection.


We arrived in Cologne much later than intended, because once again... we got lost. This time there was a proper office and a Turkish German who ran his garage in a small town called Gymnich, which wasn't located on our road maps. Together with his companion, a fat man with a lot of bad jokes, we had a test-drive in the van around the town to check if everything worked accordingly. After the tour it was nearly 9 o'clock and the car dealer, who wanted to make a deal as fast as possible, started to get agitated. Being tired of the whole trip so far, we were relunctant to rush this important decision and decided to hold back, leaving the car dealer in a state of frustration.

We drove to the nearest town to have something to eat and to contemplate our plans. David argued that we should profit the momentum, call the dealer and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. We got the deal: "bring the money in cash within one hour" he said. But in order to do this we first had to get more money in cash. Like in the Matrix, we got help from a bank advisor by phone who led us to the nearest dutch ATM machine. That hour felt like a movie, a race against the clock in order to seal the deal and... we nailed it!


That night we went to a small hotel and had a beer to reflect on this crazy day. We found a small chapel across the street, smoked a cigarette and we both were feeling a sort of 'mystical sensation', knowing that at that moment, we made an important step in the right direction of accomplishing our 'Balkan Dream'. The next day we got up and went back to the garage to pick up the van. With two cars we drove back to the Netherlands and after leaving the other car in Tilburg we drove the van to Utrecht. We visited our friend Sharon to show our beautiful van and to share the story we had just experienced, at that time we didn't know that time a few problems were coming. To save time on this detailed drama, those problems and its conclusion can be summarized as follows:


- Our van did not exist, according to the Dutch car-registation bureau (RDW), result: we got lost in a bureaucratic limbo, waiting, waiting waiting...

- One week later we found out with the help of our personal M, Sharon, that some dyslectic German swapped the last two digits of our chassis serial number somewhere along the history of our Villa.

- We informed the RDW about our findings and trying to encourage them to take our case seriously. Only after a trillion phonecalls, Gijs made the manager of the RDW to get into action.

- After another random time unit, we finally got the green light and were able to fully register our Villa under our name.


Uuummphffff... what a relief!

(However, these two guys did not know what surprises were coming once they started driving the car.) To be continued...



By Folk Combo, Sep 1 2014 11:06AM

Happy to present to all of you our little window to the world, where we will share all the good and bad this adventure might bring to us, and now, also to you!!! xxx