Arts Desk

Across the Europeverse: Bielefeld, Germany

AJZ: The writing on the wall.

For most of the month of October, Arts Desk contributor Justin Moyer and his band, D.C. modern rock quartet Edie Sedgwick, are touring Europe. Here is his latest dispatch.

Driver D. wakes me at 8:30 a.m. We push-start the van and drive two and a half hours toward the Czech border. In a gravel lot in the middle of Germany, we meet Boss J., the owner of Van-Rental Company S., and switch vans.

Van-Rental Company S. is not a major operation or competitor to Avis or Enterprise. In fact, Boss J. owns only two vans—one that we-push started this morning, and one that, after 600,000 km of service, is with a mechanic in the Czech Republic having its engine rebuilt. Thus, Boss J.—a 26-year-old who looks more than a little like this D.C. recording engineer—is put in the awkward position of renting a van from Bigger Boss M., owner of Bigger Van-Rental Company F. and Boss J.’s former employer, to make sure we have the van we paid for.

It’s dizzying.

On the back to Wurzberg, I interrogate Driver D. about the economics and politics of renting vans in the Czech Republic. Why does Van-Rental Company S. only have two vans? (Because the company was founded only six months ago, when Boss J. left Van-Rental Company F.) Why did Boss J. leave Van-Rental Company F. and start out on his own? (Personality differences.) Why are Czech vans cheaper than German vans, and German vans cheaper than English vans? (The same reason that shirts made in China are cheaper than shirts made by American Apparel.) How much net profit can a typical punk van-rental executive expect in a typical year? (50,000 euros, well above what Driver D. says is a typical Czech’s per capita income. Boss J., a van-rental magnate with two broken vans, is not typical.) Why don’t Czech van rental companies combine, creating a monopoly, and raise their prices? (Personality differences.) Will the Czech economy ever catch up with Western Europe? (“We are 50 years behind,” says Driver D., blaming communism.) Doesn’t Boss J.’s girlfriend get mad when he goes on tour, driving bands for up to eight months per year? (Yes.) Why is gas cheaper in Germany than gas in the Czech Republic? (We don’t know.)

This extended conversation, which tests the limits of our knowledge of macroeconomics and international relations, ends when we return to Wurzburg, pick up the rest of the van and gear, and drive to “AJZ,” a venue in Bielefeld which tests the limits of my tolerance for poor hygiene. The venue looks more than a little like wherever they had that techno party in Matrix 2, but with more cigarette butts, graffiti, unheated sleeping quarters, garlicky hummus—and louder techno. We play for 100 people waiting for a disco night to begin, sell one record, and lose our cowbell and shaker.

I also lose a white blazer. Maybe this is a good thing. Do I really need to wear a white blazer onstage?

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