Saturday, June 26, 2010

Melonhead TravelBlog - Part 2

Summertime, and the living is easy...yeah, right. Finding the time to update the blog is getting more difficult as life has become much busier in recent months. Busier in a good way.

We are definitely making progress behind the scenes on WNBJM and will have some updates shortly. We can't wait to make some real announcements but there is so much happening simultaneously that we don't know when exactly things will come together.

In the meantime, enjoy some more travel scenes from my recent trip to Germany in early May. After a short introduction, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

I was asked to speak at the German Pinball Association's spring show in Volklingen,Germany by our more than gracious and hospitable host, Martin Wiest. Martin has been a regular visitor to the Chicago Pinball Expo throughout the years.

He has an extensive collection of games and houses them at a rented space with a group of other collectors in what they call "Pinball Heaven". This basement location is unique in that it has a stairway that leads to unused stairwell that the group refers to as the Stairway to Heaven, hence the name of the location.

I was able to share this lifetime opportunity with my wife, Andi, which was the best thing for both of us after a very long and trying 2009. Even an ash spewing volcano couldn't stop us from making this trip!

It was an unforgettable experience thanks to both Martin and his lovely wife Anja for welcoming us into their home and showing us 4 countries in one week!

Flying a bit south of the ash cloud added about 45 minutes onto the overnight flight but we landed in cloudy and rainy Munich with a warm welcome and started our jet-lagged week after lunch with some sightseeing in downtown Munich.

BMW headquarters - a German tradition on wheels.

Hangin' with the Beatles in Hamburg.

We visited a dozen cathedrals in one week - each one unique in it's own way.

An afternoon German tradition - "Kaffee und Kuchen"

Another German tradition...Beer!

And another German tradition...the world's best wurst!

As you can see, as an artist, I was overwhelmed with the rich history we were surrounded by in Europe. Every view is inspiring and almost every head turn...a statue or a gargoyle.

This gargoyle is dedicated to game programmer's who don't like a game rule idea...

This statue dedicated to game designers who may have lost or nearly lost a finger and tend to disagree with any team member's ideas...

This intricately carved wooden face is dedicated to pinball artists that wait until a game designer has left the room when the art is not yet good enough...

This bronze face is dedicated to guys who dig naked gold women in pools...

Whoa Nellie! This modern girl is actually in Luxembourg City and she reminded us all of the Big Juicy Melon project...for some reason.

After our Munich experience we visited with Martin's "Pinball Heaven" group and made some new pinball friends. The guys introduced me to some special Munich microbrews and I even left with some parting gifts - a couple of custom beer glasses with the names of the pinball games I've worked on throughout the years.

This was a pinball "first" for me when Chris asked me to autograph his head - sporting a special "doo" for the event. I told him I'd sign it only if he went straight to the tattoo parlor for a more permanent solution. I hope he didn't follow through.

The actual pinball show took place in a location about a five hour drive west of Munich in an industrial town called Volklingen, near the border of France. When we first arrived to where the GPS took us, we weren't sure if we were in the right place.

A looming steel mill from the late 1800's stood before us, looking like the birthplace of rust itself. Once we were assured we were in the right place we quickly learned that the German Pinball Association couldn't have picked a cooler location for their show. This aging steel mill, retired in the 1970's, and now repurposed as a cultural center to celebrate the industry, history, and culture of Germany was the most amazing venue for a pinball show ever!

Once we got inside, the strange industrial surroundings reminded me of a scene from Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times". My wife said it best..."If I wasn't here to see this myself, no description or pictures could have captured the look and feel of this place."

The show started with a welcome from the Burgermeister (Mayor) of Volklingen himself. I would say there were nearly 100 different pinball games to play brought by association members from several different countries.

The pinball world is a small place when it comes to "customizing", "mods", and the quest to make an old game new, different, or better than the original.

After being around pinball for the better part of 30 years, I've never actually played in a tournament. I had to travel across the globe for another pinball first! I had a great time playing with my "team" and even though I didn't exactly place, I played respectably for a first time tourney player.

Another amazing part of this adventure was my proximity to Luxembourg and a connection we made at the show.

I grew up knowing that my ancenstors immigrated from the country of Luxembourg. When I learned how close the show was going to be to the Luxembourg border I asked Martin if we'd be able to travel there after the show. As fate would have it, not only was my request granted but several of the show's attendees came from Luxembourg for the weekend. When they learned that my family had its origins in Luxembourg, they invited us to visit Luxembourg City on Monday and showed us around for several hours. A special thanks to Helmut Deimel and Jean-Claude Ruhl for being such avid fans of pinball and taking the time to show us their beautiful and interesting capital city!

During the show I sat with two groups of avid fans to talk about my pinball past and our pinball future as well.

After the show ended on Sunday afternoon we hit the road for more "local" sightseeing. Martin and Anja had never been to this area before so for them it was all new as well. We crossed the border into France and spent the rest of Sunday visiting the Alsace-Lorrain region, stopping by the largest U.S. cemetery in Europe (a hugely moving experience, especially because we were there in time to hear "taps" - ironically one day after the anniversary of VE Day), followed by yet another afteroon stop for the German tradition of "Kaffee und Kuchen"(only this time at a bakery in St. Avold, France.) Across the street from the bakery we found a familiar name on the sign.

Speaking of names, we came upon a small French village with a large fortress in the hills outside of town and a very peculiar name.

We are fortunate that both of our wives have a good sense of humor.

I was intrigued by things that we don't see in the U.S. - which was mostly everything in plain view but I also captured a few other items of interest.

Like cool and unique circus posters...

...and cool cars travelling down narrow streets...

...and cool bikes...

...and cool Fords...

...and...French Food in Luxembourg...

...and more Kuchen...

The final leg of our journey brought us south to the Bavarian Alps to visit the ornate homes of King Ludwig II. The weather took a big turn for the better and we couldn't have finished our stay in Germany in a better place. We actually stepped into Austria just to say we visited 4 countries in one week!

While visiting the castle Neuschwanstein (famous for being the design that inspired Walt Disney's Cinderella castle), a few folks noticed the Whoa Nellie shirt Martin was wearing and mentioned it between themselves. Turns out they were from the LA area and found the shirt entertaining. Yep, our big juicy melons got noticed in the Americans. Melons Gone Internationale!

...and Two German Nellies!

I wish I could name and thank all the great people we met in Germany - everyone welcomed us like old friends and we'll never forget our trip - all because of pinball! Another special thanks to Reiner (hopefully spelled correctly) for getting the beer glasses made and for the handcrafted pinball themed gifts! And to all the great people associated with the GPA - thanks for the memories!

Next time we'll show some real progress on the game and get ready for the start of "game hell."

Enjoy the summer holiday weekend!


All art, sketches, or photos related directly to "Whizbang Pinball" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Big Juicy Melons" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Sweet Juicy Melons" are TM and Copyright 2009 WhizBang Pinball, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Photos on this post courtesy G. Freres or M. Wiest or A. Weist or A. Freres

1 comment:

  1. Greg what an incredible trip for you and your wife! Each portion was unique and must have been quite amazing. Hopefully your future pinball trips won't suffer too much by comparison : )