Donnerstag, 19. Mai 2011

Nuremberg 1978 -- My Own (and Alex Conti's) Personal Recollections

I'm still rather infuriated over Clinton Heylin's sensationalist perpetuation of anti-German prejudices and his distortion of the truth for the sake of a "better story" ("anything involving Nuremberg just HAS to have Nazis in it -- my British and American readers, who are used to Hogan's Heroes stereotypes expect this") that I dug up (and partially rewrote) my personal recollections of that day.

Once again -- there were no neo-Nazis throwing things on stage. 
There were threats by a neo-Nazi group (Wehrsportgruppe Hofmann) PRIOR to the concert which had to be taken rather seriously by both the city of Nuremberg and Dylan's tour management (excerpts from a 2006 interview I did with Fritz Rau can be found in this related blog post), resulting in highly increased (and at times rather intimidating) security measures.

The concert itself was absolutely peaceful -- the only objects thrown (briefly) were aimed at the people right in front of the stage by people farther back who could not see the stage with the folks upfront standing up and obstructing their view -- something which is corroborated by other concert attendants, like Andrea Orlandi from Italy.

Neither Fritz Rau nor Alex Conti (lead guitarist of Lake, one of the groups opening for Dylan), whom I interviewed in 2006, can recall any incident involving Neo Nazis throwing objects on stage, nor does anyone else I know who attended the concert.

Alex Conti remembers Dylan in Nuremberg, 1978 (mp3) 
(German language, from 2006 interview) 
© Manfred Helfert 2006

Alex Conti remembers Reichsparteitagsgelände (mp3)
(German language, from 2006 interview)
© Manfred Helfert 2006

Here are my own (highly personal) recollections of that concert:

The morning of July 1, 1978 -- a Saturday, if I recall correctly. The sky's overcast and it looks like a hard rain's a-gonna fall. After one more cup of coffee two student friends of mine and I board a beat-up
Buick 6 (Volkswagen Beetle, that is...) and we are on the road (again)....

It's eight in the morning --  we're late getting through the suburbs of Mainz, Germany onto Route 66 (A-66 that is...), heading east into the uncharted wilderness of the German Free State of Bavaria to
that place called "Zeppelinfeld" ("blimp [air]field"), the euphemistic, conveniently politically "incorrect" name by which the former "Reichsparteitagsgelaende" (the Nazi Party's rallying ground of
the 1930s) in Nuremberg is known these days -- sweep the past under the carpet; all the graves are by now covered by grass, and the pastoral countryside through which we're driving is peaceful and serene....

"Street Legal" (which I had just purchased a week ago, or so) blasting from the car stereo -- "Baby, Stop Crying", "Is Your Love In Vain", "Senor"... -- nice, relaxing music, perfectly suited for driving at maximum Beetle's speed on the autobahn....

We're past Frankfurt -- traffic is congesting. We hadn't realized that this is the first day of school holidays in several German states -- everybody and their family is heading in our direction, east to
southeast, in every type of jalopies (mostly spotlessly is expected of the typical German car-fetishist), on this highway leading to the gardens of eden of pre-civil-war Yugoslavia and

Past Wuerzburg -- stop and go -- we're stuck inside of the biggest traffic jam, bumper to bumper,  I have ever encountered. Two kilometers in one hour -- where's the next exit from the autobahn?
Otherwise, we won't make it in time for the 2 p.m. opening of the concert, admission to the festival grounds starting at noon....

Finally, an exit. We get off the congested highway and proceed (rather steadily and without any further obstructions) on narrow country roads towards our destination....

Nuremberg, at last -- we get lost in the city; finally, at 11:30, we see a direction marker for "Zeppelinfeld". All the parking spaces near the festival area are already taken; we find one about a mile away, grab our stuff, and head towards the arena.

My first impression: Huge grey concrete walls looming behind the merciful camouflage of trees... Gigantic. Rolled out barbed wire coils everywhere (to block unauthorized access to the festival grounds), viciously looking security guards in black leather garb with even more viciously looking German shepherd dogs (who can probably trace their ancestry back to "Blondie" or another dog owned by the "Fuehrer"...) with muzzles, behind the barbed wire -- bad vibes, "are we entering a
concentration camp?"

The main entrance -- myriads of people being herded through about five "cattle chutes", frisked for weapons and glass bottles, but the atmosphere changes -- the "bad vibes" are gone; people are joking, you make new acquaintances while waiting in the long lines in front of the entrance...

Finally, we're inside. The sight is amazing. In front of us are already about 30,000 to 50,000 people settled on their blankets, air mattresses, etc. on the level area in front of the stage which looks
tiny from the far end of what is only half of the huge area with its gigantomaniac architecture
(picture the chariot racing arena in the "Ben Hur" movie "times two" or even "three"... or watch Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will").

The other half of the area (behind the stage) is converted into an American type  sportsfield -- bleachers in the sun of the early July afternoon, standard baseball fields (used by the American troops stationed in
Nuremberg and therefore "Off-limits" for concert purposes).

Right behind us looms the most megalomaniac part of this place's architecture: The rostrum used by Hitler for his speeches, huge concrete "slabs"/"pillars" rising high behind it, a "tower" type building on either side -- all of it probably intended to "dwarf" the spectators, to imbue the feeling of "You are nothing, your people (and its glorious leader Adolf Hitler) are EVERYTHING." Threatening, intimidating....

We find some space to sit down at the foot of this concrete monster building, slightly higher than the level area in front of us so that our view towards the stage is not obstructed (we've got binoculars
hanging from our necks... but no jewels) -- not too far from the row of portable toilets (to our right), rather convenient in view of our supply of red wine in plastic bottles. The throng of people entering the area still seems endless....

The concert starts. We've made friends with the people near us, exchanged tobacco (and "wacky tobaccy") with them...

"Lake" -- a German/English group opens, followed by "Chicken Shack," a British blues-oriented group -- the stage is a rotating one, so while one act plays, the equipment for the next act is already being set up in the back -- then the rear part of the stage is then rotated to the front -- so the breaks between the
different acts are minimal -- very good planning, IMHO.

The first real "highlight" -- Eric Clapton with (most likely) Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene of "Jesus Christ Superstar" movie fame) as background singer, who is featured as solo artist on a truly excellent "Can't Find My Way Back Home."

By now, I'm on one of the "towers" and have a unobstructed view over the whole area, as well as the area outside Zeppelinfeld -- there's an (obviously) man-made pond about 500 meters away and on the other side of this pond I see another gigantic (definitely Nazi-architecture) building....

The lines of people waiting to be admitted to the festival area are still long -- I've never seen that many people in my life. Clapton plays J.J. Cale's "Cocaine"....

Instead of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Champion Jack Dupree follows Clapton -- he is great, but as one critic later remarked (I'm quoting this from memory) it was somehow "like playing with marbles in a bull-fight arena." A great act, but somewhat out of place in front of this huge audience (70,000 or 80,000 by now) -- his intimate heart-felt blues more suited for a club atmosphere...

Finally, the moment I've anticipated for so long:
I'll be able to watch Bob Dylan perform in concert for the first time!

He opens with Tampa Red's "She's Love Crazy" -- a song I'm not familiar with at all. Then "Baby, Stop Crying" (by now, I know that one). "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- sounding rather strange in its 1978 arrangement --, "Shelter From The Storm" --- etc.

After "Going, Going, Gone" (song #12), Carolyn Dennis sings Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come", Helena Springs follows with "Love Minus Zero/No Limits", Steven Soles with "Laissez-Faire"....

In retrospect (almost 33 years ago), and re-listening to my CD-R copy of that concert last night, I
find Dylan's performance very spirited, very "exciting", as if the strange mood of this historical place had made him give his "utmost."

Instead of the "average" 26 to 27 songs on other 1978 European concerts, he performs 28 in his "main set" -- and he even makes a remark about the significance of this place when introducing "Masters of War".

Halfway through Dylan's set, I have finally made my way through the crowds to right in front of the stage, the barricades and "cattle chutes" at the entrance are removed -- everybody can come in for free now to watch the finale...

When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky: 
The two encores -- Eric Clapton joins Dylan onstage for "I'll Be your Baby Tonight" and "The
Times They Are A-Changin'" -- during the last song, "professional" fireworks go off behind the stage, the area in front of the stage is further illuminated by thousands of lights from flashlights, lighters, most likely U.S. Army issued "illumination grenades" in different colors (there are quite a few G.I.'s in the crowd...) etc. -- PURE MAGIC which lingers on for quite a while, even during the long trek back to our car!!!

Thank you, Bob, for the first of many unforgettable concert experiences! 


  1. I was there in the front and never seen anything thrown on stage. I and otherss shouted sitzen to those sranding so I could see the srage from my sitting postion American GI

  2. I was there in the front and never seen anything thrown on stage. I and otherss shouted sitzen to those sranding so I could see the srage from my sitting postion American GI

  3. I was there, sitting somewhere towards the back. The atmosphere was fabulous. The only violence I observed was when a few GI's ran the gate with a cooler full of Bud. Let's not forget Vince Weber's performance. Great stuff. I found an audio recording of the concert on Youtube this weekend, and it brought back great memories...