Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Last Tour of Stuttgart: an ending that offers many new beginnings

Today saw the last tour, for now, of The Tour of All Tours. The tour went fine and we had an interesting talk afterwards where I learnt about some other kinds of tours. The most distinct one I think was the aircraft carrier tour. In the bay off San Diego I learned there is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is now used as a museum. The public may visit and the tour guides are former sailors from the ship. They explain the ship itself and also its history which includes Vietnam. So it is a vet tour combined with a military hardware and historical machinery tour. I doubt it is the only one in the world but there can't be too many like that.

I finish this period in Stuttgart full of ideas of different direction to take this so the next thing to do is to sit down and plot next moves. I'll be talking about the project in a few weeks at a symposium on critical tourism so I will be returning to the blog as and when things strike me. I won't however be making it a daily thing for now. I think that this daily rhythm is good at capturing something of the process but there are other processes that have to take place over the next week or two so I'll say bye for now.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Rain Tour

This was the  second day of giving tours and the weather has been absolutely terrible. If it were any worse and we would have had to cancel the tours altogether. It has been raining on and off all day and temperatures have not risen above single figures.

Still, it could have been worse, at least it was only a guided tour that was soddened by the weather. I noticed that at the church next door (they of the loud and early bells) there was a wedding taking place today. I took a picture of one of the cars waiting for the couple to emerge as it connects two quite separate threads of The Tour of All Tours. 

So the first is quite simple. Unless I am very much mistaken, this is the same model and colour of Porsche that I sat behind in the Porsche Museum last week. Having sat inside it I now understand better how it can be easy for those driving such cars to feel themselves to be a cut above the normal driver. The other tangential reference is to the Croatian flag hanging out the window. Yesterday I got talking about the inspiration of the project and talked quite a bit about the situation in Dubrovnik with guided tours, how the city centre is flooded with too many tourists in too small a space and how this gave me my initial inspiration for The Tour of All Tours. So this project was in a way inspired by Croatia and in another way was also informed by work I did with with the Zagreb-based group Shadowcasters who make very specific types of city projects integrated into the life of the city. This is particularly on my mind as I'll be returning to Croatia in 8 days to begin working on a new Shadowcasters project, directed by Boris Bakal, which will be a performance that takes places in the streets of Dubrovnik for the Summer Festival. It is always satisfying when life offers some crossovers, patterns and form in the endless flood of events that all too often defy any clear logic. OK, calling this logic is stretching the definition of the word, but I do find it important to create my own personal narratives so I can feel central to the events I experience rather than a witness of stuff.

As the weather was so rotten today the pictures are taken from the newspaper review of yesterday's performance that has just been published. Unless google translate is playing rotten tricks on me it seems positive, which is always welcome, though I have learnt not to be too concerned about negative reviews. I don't mean to say that the press is not important, it is, but that is more as a publicity concern. Speaking of which, we also got another write up HERE. What was in fact more valuable for me thinking through where to go next with The Tour of All Tours was having a chance to have a good conversation with people about the tour.

I have to thank the newspaper's photographer Max Kovalenko for these two photographs, which I am using here, as today was so wet I didn't get any pictures of the tour.

This was day two of the performances and the tour is settling and I am finding a rhythm. There are places I still search for words and some ideas that are not wholly realised so it remains a fluid event but I feel more in command. Something that was quite nice, for example, was coming across some of the other tours and having something to say about them. This can still go further but I already like the unpredictable side of this, as you never really know where and when you might run into another tour. Numbers today were small, due to the weather, but those who came were well prepared in waterproof jackets and warm clothing, with the exception of a French woman who looked thoroughly chilled (in the wrong way) by the end of the tour. The group warmed up over coffee and cake at Cafe Nast and we got to both hear and tell many stories about all the various tours and trips we had all made. A nice way to end a day of cold and drizzle. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

The 11AM Premiere Tour

Today the Tour of All Tours was officially launched with the first performance taking place at 11AM and a second at 4PM. I'm more accustomed to an evening schedule for first performance, but this being a city tour, I was working on a tourist's timetable. That's not to say I have never done morning performances before, I have, but it is remains a rarity.

Making this sort of performance, there is no delineated backstage and frontstage. From the moment I arrived at the tourist information I was in the zone. However, the 'zone' was not the same as that in a more formal performance. The situation here is an entirely different one. During the time spent waiting for everyone to arrive, I borrowed a trick from a tour guide I saw in Oxford: chat to people in a collective sort of way (as opposed to a private conversation) and ask them where they are from. This might sound like a dumb thing but it had some genuine use. I got a better sense of who the people taking the tour were and what their level of English was (it happened to be quite good) and it created a sense of us being a group and not just a collection of individuals who have happened to have chosen the same tour. Once we were all there we set off and the tour got moving.

I am not in the habit of declaring performances of mine a success, that sort of thing is other people's business. I'm much more interested in what happens, what thoughts it provokes and how to act upon them. From that point of view, then, I see that the tour works in different ways for people who are visitors and for people who know the city. For the visitor it actually does fulfil a touristic role of informing them about the guided tours on offer, albeit in a novel way, and for the local it introduces them to a side of the city they usually bypass. This is a good basis upon which to build. However, what it does not yet do is propose a highly fractured experience, it tends to remain within the conventional guided tour format. I'm happy enough with this as a starting point, but I will be curious to see how it can start to stretch this form and still fulfil its two basic functions, as outlined above.

Once we were done with the tour we went to a nearby cafe and had a good discussion about the tour and I should thank Thomas, Eric, Andrea and Kaspar for their generous feedback. Also a big thank you is in order for Art Tours more generally as they have been the first people to support this project and have made very useful practical and artistic contributions along the way.  

With the premiere out of the way, I found this nice fountain in the city centre filled with washing up liquid and foaming over. This is a very popular game in the shopping centre in Portsmouth where I grew up, and while some people hate it, I have to say I have always understood the attraction and have wanted to do it myself, but never quite gotten round to it.

The afternoon saw Andreas giving the tour and doing the pointing instead of me.

From the point of view of a performer, it is really helpful to be able to see someone else giving the performance when you yourself have also made it. It takes it out of your own head and into something much more concrete. I can look at how Andreas gives the tour and see many things that I can learn from. I also notice that he gives the tour in a somewhat different way than I do and I have to distinguish between what is the tour, and what is the tour guide. He does some things in his own way, and they work for him but would be foolish to copy. So there is this process taking place right now of the two tours, the English and the German, starting to find their own directions according to the different languages, cultures and  personalities of the guides.

Finally, here is the forecast for tomorrow. Terrible. Cold and wet. I will be curious who, if anyone, will come in such miserable conditions.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Practice Tour: pictures

It is already past midnight and I have just finished the rewrites of the tour script. It has been a very long and useful day. All the material is there, it has just been a matter of finding the right way to introduce it and to learn and remember it all. Tomorrow the first tour starts at 11AM so I'm not going to write more just now but will instead just leave some images of the practice runs Andreas and I made earlier and get some sleep.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A working day

I'll be brief with this report as it is late and it's been a long day of work. A first version of the text was more or less finished yesterday so I was learning it today and of course making some edits to it here and there. It's rather a lot to remember but because I am familiar with the material it shouldn't be too hard to do. For Andreas, who will be performing it in German, it is a greater challenge. 

So the weather was great today, clear blue skies and sun. The observatory deck of the station tower was finally opened so I went up and had a look at the giant revolving logo that sits so prominently. Looking around from up there was pleasant in a way but I was also happy that I chose not to use that space in my tour. What I provide is very much a street view that gives a quite different perspective, one that does not already charm the eye in a touristic way but instead is familiar and needs some work in order for it to be it transformed into anything.

Kaspar from Arttours and I went to a Stuttgart radio station today and did a rather long interview for a program in the afternoon. There was no shortage of things to talk about, indeed there were quite a number of subjects I thought we could talk about but which we never got round to covering. No problem, there's always the blog for them! But not now. Still, I must get round to talking about the relationship of art to tourism, about these frames that surround the work and also about how the idea came in the first place. Another time.

Later today I made a walk through with Andreas and we completed the tour in both English and German. After that the city was given over to football, people glued to screens, beer in hand, cheering on Dortmund as they took apart Madrid. The popularity of football reminds me a lot of the England, the only difference is they seem to win more often here. Final day of preparations tomorrow, I should get some rest soon, it will be a long long day and I keep getting woken up early here by the church bells which start around 6 AM. Noise pollution if you ask me, but then again my room is next to the bell tower so all new occupants are likely to say that.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Upright Citizens... and me

I came across a couple of funny fellows today. I got a picture of one of them. 

He was walking around the city tearing down posters and stickers. Here he was pulling down an advertisment for a nightclub stuck to a phone box. He didn't look like a cleaner or an official whose job was in any way connected to this activity. It was as if he took moral exception to these posters and made it his job to clean up the public space. I saw him move onto another phone box and perform the same action. While I cannot exactly fault him it is not the sort of behaviour that I am accustomed to seeing in the UK with the possible exception of Christians who sometimes clear tear down the prostitutes cards from the telephone boxes in London. 

The other man I came across was on Schloss Platz. I was walking along and noticed that a large screen had just been erected in the centre of the square to show films during the animation festival. As I was looking in that direction a man was walking towards me in the opposite direction and, as he came within a few meters of me, he clapped his hands together loudly to draw my attention to him. The signal was, I believe, "Hey you! Look where you are going!" Again this is behaviour I am not used to. For starters I wouldn't have walked into him so it was unnecessary but more than that he could have easily stepped aside a little if he was concerned about walking into me. Instead he saw it as his moral right to reprimand me for not being more attentive in public space. This incident reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me. He was in Bremmen recently and went into a public sauna. When some people in the sauna started saying something to one another another man raised his voice to reprimand them "No talking!"  

I've been going around my route and stopping in each location to do some detailed observation. I know more or less what I want to say about McDonalds, for example, but it really helps to spend time in each place looking for details that I can point out. To turn an everyday location, practically crushing in its banality, into the scene of a story, that is what I've been trying to do. And with some success too, I believe. This scene has become the location to talk about tourism and gastronomy and to create a  potential meeting between the gay bar on the top level and Chinese tourists eating next door to the left.  

The same sort of thing here. Checking sight lines so that there is a point in the square which is observable from the closed TV tower. The anti-S21 protesters from the station come here every Monday so they will have to be placed in this frame too. The structure has started to become quite playful in this way. I even managed to find a way to include a trip to Stuttgart's Fruhlingsfest by the football supporter's  from Aldershot Town and turn that into a little story.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Day Without a Tour

Today I've been very conscious of the tight schedule that I now have to work around.There is a very definite clock ticking and several things that still remain to be done.

This was the view of the sky just now. Profoundly grey. It's been like this all day which I should welcome I guess as it has provided me with every reason I need to stay indoors in front of the computer writing the text that I and Andy will give.  

Here's another view. The text has really come on leaps and bounds and I now have some pleasure in it. Rather than just doing the job and delivering the message it starts to accumulate layers. Previously I would arrive at a location and have something to say about the place and the tour that it forms a part of. Now however it is a little more complicated with tours accumulating and commenting upon one another in locations. I could work in this way for a good while yet but will have to distill this more into a system that  can be improvised around rather than anything more ambitious.

The furthest I managed to get out of the apartment today was a a 20 minute walk around the block in order to buy bretzels. I still cannot decide if I even like them but feel a vague obligation upon myself to try to since they are speciality of the region. That, I think, is touristic behaviour.

We've been working out the finer details of the timing of the tours, the languages and bookings. A radio interview has been arranged and the publicity machine is gearing up. It will certainly be quite a shock to suddenly have people in front of me with whom I have to share these musings. So far the project has mostly been conducted by me, walking alone through the streets of the city and into a few institutions for the occasional tour. when it becomes a social event I suspect there will have to be some adjustment. That will all come soon enough, first tour is Friday morning and then we'll be on a morning and afternoon schedule till Sunday. If you want to book do get in touch with Arttours.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Tour of All Tours Tour

Today's tour was both familiar and completely different from anything I've seen yet: I had the chance to give a first version of The Tour of All Tours and to then watch it as it was given to me. The route was familiar as it is a distillation of much of the work of the last two weeks and yet the effect was not something I was able to predict.  

My guide today was Andy who I will be working with a lot more now as we go into the final week since Andy will be giving the tour in German. This was his first real chance to see what The Tour of All Tours was and fortunately the reaction was positive. I'm sure he'd manage to give a engaging tour anyway but it helps when there is some belief in the material you're working with. This is Andy in front of the Kunst Museum explaining their tours. 

This was a lovely moment in the tour when, squeezed onto this car he talks about the car museum tours. Today we went through every location and defined the spot to speak from, where the listeners would be standing and how to move to the next location. It was technical work in a way but it has now more or less allowed us to fix the route and with that done it is possible to start accumulating details for the spoken descriptions that we will give. Watching someone else give a bare bones version of The Tour of All Tours has given me plenty of ideas of things to add to the text that I will now have to set about including. 

I'm conscious that I want to leave Andy enough time to be able to become familiar with the tour so this has set me a very definite timetable to work to, which is not such a bad thing. Not that we'll be making a very strict writerly work, this will have to remain a guided tour style of presentation but, it should be defined textually and have its own formal contours all the same, so my next 48 hours are quite definitely accounted for.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The S21 Protest Tour

Today was a long day of back to back to tours in cold drizzle. I really had the feeling I was working on a performance today and not playing at being a tourist, as it has sometimes felt.

First tour of the day was the much anticipated tour of Stuttgart 21: the most hated rail development in Europe. At least that is the impression I got listening to my guide Mark, who I met in front of the campaign tent which is parked squarely opposite the main station where S21 is focussed. I heard that the tent has been staffed 24 hours a day by volunteers for the last 3 years which is quite an achievement in itself given that Winter temperatures drop to -15°C  with 30cm of snow. For more on their opposition and alternative proposals see K21 (in German).

We started with an overview of S21 looking at the map on the side of the tent. It appears to be an attempt to bury the train tracks and create a through station and thus free up a lot of land that is presently used as train tracks and service yards. It will involve a huge amount of tunnelling that will keep the construction companies happy for years to come. In spite of preservation orders on the station and surroundings these were brushed aside in the 'public interest'. That old one. 

So this building is one next to the station that will be demolished, indeed it has already been hollowed out and is just a facade waiting to be pulled down. It was apparently a rather attractive arts space with counter-cultural tendencies. Other arts venues have also been closed as a result of S21 so it would appear to be a washing of the city centre, clearing out smaller and medium scale cultural spaces and replacing them with prime corporate development opportunities. The whole atmosphere around the station was rather gloomy to tell the truth and it was apparently a rather attractive place in the past. Now some people prefer not to come into the city centre but to stay in their suburbs on account of this.

The one building next to the station which will not be disrupted is the bank offices. Indeed the tunnelling has to accommodate their underground spaces and is therefore rather squeezed. It seems as if the number of tracks envisaged will reduce capacity rather than expand current train capacity. Still the bank is important as they may be one of the financiers who stand to profit from S21 from the interest on loans.

The work has already begun with the sides of the station having been pulled off and a deep pit dug, among other things. It appears as if the strategy from the S21 team has been to keep plans quiet and advance the work as much as possible so that when opposition is encountered they can say it's too late to stop now. Indeed a regional referendum was fought on that tactic in 2011 and they got it passed by a small majority. It reminds me rather of the London Olympics and the case made to sell it to the British public. The entire public infrastructure was at the hands of the pro-lobby along with business and sports chiefs while those against were unfunded and without access to media and power. A level playing field it was not.

We visited the exhibition in the tower advertising S21 and it was a very slickly designed space. From there we had a view over the roof of the station which the protesters occupied. Over 4000 are now on trial as a result of civil disobedience actions such as these and Mark himself spent 10 days in jail for such naughtiness. In the exhibition space they played videos like this one here:

If Mark's predictions are correct the final station will look nothing like this but instead be a compromise as they will have to keep some tracks and an above ground station to deal with capacity. Time will tell. I guess time will also tell if they encounter difficulties with the water drainage which is quite a thing here and a definite unknown.

While I cannot verify any of the information my instinct from the start of my stay in Stuttgart was that this was a big swindle that is more about property development and money passing hands within a tight circle of people at the top than it is about improving the rail network. This tour has only gone to deepen that impression so while the future is not looking bright for Stuttgart I wish their campaign the best of luck.

In spite of all that my guide Mark was still able to smile and for this much more incisive tour than any of the ones I have been able to find I have to say a big thank you.

Now onto the second tour. This will be briefer as it was in many respects a much more predictable tour. It was the Stuttgart Marketing Ltd City Centre Walking Tour. The weather was still wretched but we soldiered through the city stopping at point to point to get a description of the buildings and their history.

The thing that most struck me was that this tour made an effort to make Stuttgart look as nice as possible. And it worked, more or less. The major problem with the tour however was that it was a bilingual German and English tour with 95% of the group following it in German. This meant that most of the group had to stand in shivering drizzle whilst listening to the guide repeating the information to the three of us following it in English. Unsurprisingly the German descriptions of the locations were longer and more detailed than the English ones which most of the people simply experienced as a nuisance.   

That tour finished on the market square where I also saw another tour. This was one of the costumed tours, a woman dressed as a cleaner giving a local style tour in the Swabian dialect. I had wanted to follow one of these tours but after nearly 4 hours of tours in such miserable weather, I was done.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Stuttgart Shopping Tour

Today was all about shopping. I've been trying to concentrate my attention of a certain stretch of Köningstrasse. Many of the tours I have taken pass through this pedestrianised precinct, which is the central spine of the city, but none seem to have any reason to stop here as it is a particularly generic shopping area devoid of all charm.

I have been collecting shopping guides, those small glossy booklets that offer a list of attractive premises where you can unload your euros. I guess these guides are a rather out of date concept but these free maps are still circulated so presumably they must be somewhat effective. I looked at a number of different shopping guides and noted that each guide was tailored to a slightly different ideal customer. Cross-referencing them I noticed that in my part of the street only one shop appeared in all of the guides: Yean's Halle. I went inside.  

At the entrance they were selling traditional costumes for beer festivals. This is the men's section and I was particularly impressed by the pointed hats, they had a small button half way up the hat which, when pressed, makes the top of the hat wiggle to and fro.

The women's section was similarly colourful with bretzels hanging from the ceiling and a ironic wink in the presentation of the tradition. I heard that at the beer festivals it has become quite popular with younger people to dress up in these costumes and to embrace their kitsch qualities. It has got to the point that it can be considered cool (at least to uncool people) to wear this stuff, have a few piercings and combine it with contemporary fashion while packing in the beers and wines. The first of the festivals Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest opens this weekend and by the look of their website it's about as subtle as 30 litre beer barrel. The thought did cross my mind to wear this sort of costume while guiding next week. Fortunately, no sooner did the thought come than it also went.

I then took a look at another sort of shopping tour. This was the guided tour of the Market Hall. It was mostly historical in nature, about the various ups and downs of the place. Like much of Central Stuttgart it was badly damaged during the war and had to resist attempts to tear it down.

Being situated next to Karsplatz, the coach tour drop off point, and being central and amongst the luxury shopping area, it is no surprise that the place has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The place really does not cater to the average shopper, it specialises in expensive foods stuffs on the ground floor and nic-naks for the home around the galleries upstairs. So much has it become a tourist shopping destination that you can buy Market Hall souvenirs such as the highly desirable apron this man is sporting.

And how about this the Market Hall DVD. I bet that would make a great present... 

Last stop today was Tourist Information also know as City Shop, which is telling. The Tourist Services are run by the company Stuttgart Marketing Ltd. They act as the first port of call for visitors and position themselves as the official tourist service.

Looking at their board I then noticed something rather telling: their partners. I remember when I first walked in there and asked for a recommendation of what to see, the woman behind the desk said the Mercedes Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum were the two best attractions. I guess she was simply doing her job of plugging the partners of Stuttgart Marketing. Nowhere in any of the Tourist Information or in their web material did I see any mention of Arttours, but then again I suppose they are simply working for their partners. I did in fact write to Stuttgart Marketing Ltd asking for an interview but I never received a reply. Their business, it appears to be, is in ensuring that the conferences keep coming to Stuttgart Messe and the coaches keep offering tours of the Mercedes Benz Museum. Culture is somebody else's problem. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Porsche Museum Tour: big toys for big boys

I have been putting off the Porsche Museum as I heard it was not so exciting and one car museum a year is probably about my limit. Still, in the interests of The Tour of All Tours I felt obliged to make it over to the Porsche Museum as it is a major tourist destination and they do offer tours. 

The lobby was very slick looking, polished white and groups of men in suits standing around waiting for a tour or talking over coffee at the bijou cafe. The people who entered when I did were all wearing name tags, they looked like this was their treat and afterwards they'd head back to the conference centre.

This calm however was abruptly broken when a school party of French teenagers spilled into the museum, their teacher trying to herd them towards the audio guides. This was the type of tour I too was to get: an audio guide that relates something about the object in front of you when you tap in the corresponding number. The guided tours are reserved for groups I learnt. 

And I was off! One attractive car followed another. Unlike the Mercedes Benz Museum there was little or no effort to contextualise, it was enough to show the car itself. What's more the commentary had a unintentionally funny sound to it. They had hired an American actor to read the script and he was overdoing it badly, so much so that in places it sounded like a trailer for an action movie. The script he was reading from was rather smug and kept coming back to "what a great company we are" and, "see how our cars are the best!"   

The disturbing thing about the commentary was that, it was in a certain sense, somewhat true. The cars, like this 911, are indeed very attractive. This got me thinking that the people who produce desirable things are not themselves necessarily desirable. 

There was one moment when they made a short demonstration of a car by revving up the engine. If you look you'll see the sort of people who were watching: middle aged men. This whole museum is completely toys for the boys. In that sense, it is sort of dumb as a museum but it is sure to be a hit all the same.

This will probably be the only time in my life I'll sit in the driving seat of a Porsche so I asked a fellow tourist to take a picture of me. I suspect there must be 250 pictures like this taken every day.

Finally, I noticed they had the sketch in which Mr Porsche (it is a family company) first laid out the logo. It is significant how Stuttgart is central to the logo: both the name of the city and the city's emblem: the black horse rearing up.

When I was finally released and was looking around the city centre I noticed a nice location where I can introduce the Porsche tour. First of all there is this attractive little toy car for children to play on, this brings in the car theme and toys for boys subtext. Then, in the background, there is a public toilet on which the city emblem of the horse is displayed. That's all I need to get started on the Porsche Tour.

I then took a second tour, this one of the Landesmuseum Wurttemberg's musical instrument collection. This again was an audio guide tour. The device was relatively simple, they didn't need to show off their tech credentials like the car museums, but it worked just fine. You hold it up to the ear, press play and listen.

It made some sense to have an audio tour of this collection as it made the instruments come alive, the tracks were of the instruments being played. They had most of the conventional classical instruments you'd find in a modern orchestra and some rather unusual historical ones too as well as early mechanical music devices, such as a primitive pianoloa and an Edison wax cylinder player. They too offer guided tours from time but not anytime soon. 

Finally I was looking into the shopping tour and I kept seeing this sign popping up: Global Blue tax free. Now I see how some of the uninspiring yet large chain stores manage to become attractive to visitors. With tax removed the prices must surely make these stores become beacons to follow, lighting the way along the shopping tour.