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A Rock Band Gets Drunk, and in Trouble, in East Germany

Some tours are uneventful, while others can be extreme. The Rockin’ All Over the World Tour had started in Ireland in June 1977 and continued through to the European leg that followed, starting 6 January 1978 in Rouen, France. The entire tour would run for sixteen months, sold out!

This leg would be rough. There was severe weather, with many tours canceling. We ended up being the only ones out that season who went the distance without canceling any shows. But the weather wasn’t to be our only problem out there.

We’d graduated to real tour buses–no more vans, or even driving the band’s Range Rovers between shows. The new normal was a driver and bunks to sleep on. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to change, makes me wonder why we fight it so vehemently at times. Maybe because with change we don’t automatically become smarter.

We had a day off to get from the show in Essen on 12 February to our next show date in West Berlin on 14 February. This required us to drive through the border checkpoint at Helmstedt–Marienborn and along the stretch of autobahn that allowed access to West Berlin. The checkpoint was heavily patrolled by both the East German and Soviet Armies. You didn’t want to mess with those boys.

Stopping was Verboten on the autobahn and there was a maximum four hours allowed to travel the distance. That was, unless for some reason your trusted bus driver was running out of fuel. Seriously? Yep, there we were, looking for a gas station in the corridor, as the only thing worse than being low on gas would be to run out of gas. On our third attempt to stop, we were approached by a military patrol and eventually given an armed escort to a filling station.

A small supply shop was attached to the station and being both bored and curious as we waited for the driver to sort himself out, we went in for a look. Just as you aren’t meant to stop, you are definitely not meant to shop, but the temptation of Western currency was too much for the beleaguered shopkeeper; he unlocked his cages to release a bounty of alcohol previously unheard of to us from the West.

Upon resuming our trip, we tasted several of these concoctions. Jägermeister was the hands-down winner–in fact, we decided we needed more. We convinced the driver to stop again so we could purchase more of this herbal elixir. We wouldn’t back down, convincing him it was his fault in the first place: if we hadn’t run out of petrol, then we wouldn’t have found Jägermeister. The next stop went smoothly, and the one after that. Then we spotted a shop just off the road a bit and feeling full of Dutch courage we barreled towards it.

The East Germans decided they’d had enough of our antics. They’d been monitoring our movements and, without notice, opened fire on our bus. Just like that! Well, holy shit! In all fairness, if they’d asked us nicely at that point we probably wouldn’t have listened. We were all completely shit-faced from our first and very in-depth encounter with Jägermeister.

After the soldiers rousted us off the bus and confiscated our caseloads of the evil brew, we were sent on our way with severe warnings of what would become of us if we stopped again. My German isn’t great, but I swear I heard some reference to us, travel and Siberia.

Upon finally arriving in West Berlin, we all decided we needed a decent meal. We chose an Italian restaurant, feeling good about our escape from the corridor. But the staff at the restaurant were not feeling good about us. It was awkward from the start and went downhill rapidly. Kind of like Fawlty Towers on steroids. As the arguing continued, one of the waiters came at us swinging a bottle of wine, and the next thing I knew I had a broken nose. I still to this day do not know exactly what happened, or how I ended up being the one koshed. The government later closed down the restaurant and deported the Turkish staff–it seems we weren’t their only victims.

We turned up at the show the next day with Bob Young, Quo’s tour manager, holding the West Berlin newspaper that relayed what we’d gotten up to on our day off. In great detail, I might add. It was 14 February. Happy Valentine’s Day to me!

We set our course for the next stop on the tour. Back in West Germany and feeling safe away from East Germany, we pulled over at one of the service stations off the autobahn to refuel. Two military tanks were sitting just off to the side of the entrance; they were US World War II vehicles that the army paraded up and down as a show of power. We’d witnessed these displays: the Americans would travel in one direction on the autobahn in a tank and truck convoy, and the West Germans would travel in the opposite direction with a similar convoy. How strange to find these tanks abandoned.

I had to brave the blisteringly cold night to use the service station restrooms. Staff directed me down a wide set of stairs to a long, tiled hallway that resembled the access tunnels to the London Underground, clearly much older than the building above. Halfway along this hallway, I came across a group of American soldiers who looked homeless. When I asked them if they were alright, I thought they were going to cry. They jumped up, ecstatic that someone was speaking English to them and not swearing at them in German.

It turned out they’d been part of one of those silly exercises, when two of the tanks had broken down. Army law decreed they had to stay with their equipment until it was repaired or removed. What was meant to be a one-day exercise had turned into a five-day ordeal. They’d run out of money after day two, which was when the staff had stopped them from sitting in the heated restaurant area. They’d been designated to the tunnel, as it was dry and slightly warmer than their tanks.

I felt sorry for them and brought them back to the bus with me. We fed them and gave them each a blanket along with Status Quo merch swag that would help them keep warm: sweatshirts, T-shirts, scarfs, beanies. We also gave them a couple of shots from our recently restocked bar, to stave off the cold.

I had to ask, ‘So, what’s it like inside a tank?’

One of the soldiers answered, ‘Why don’t you come with us? We can show you.’

All of us spent the next hour or so playing inside a tank. What was it like? Uncomfortable, tight and cramped. The fun bit was playing with the gun that the soldiers explained could hit a target from an extremely long range, making the discomfort worthwhile. I tried to convince them to let me shoot off just one round, to which they obviously said no. They did, however, confess two things. Firstly, that these Sherman tanks broke down here all the time; they’d been configured for the North African desert, so they rattled apart on the hard road surfaces. Secondly, they never carried live ammo–so, all those pissing contests were just that.

We left our soldiers at the truck stop with their clean, warm clothes– branded for the Quo Army rather than the US Army–and what cash we had on us to see them through until someone came to get them from their base. A week later, they turned up at our gig and volunteered to help us with the load-out as a thank you.

Courtesy of ABC Books

Excerpted with permission from Loud by Tana Douglas. Published by ABC Books.

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