02 Sep 2008 - Rod's Diary - Warsaw

ROD'S DIARY -- WARSAW AUG 7

Sorry it's been a while. From Warsaw on to Moscow we either had shows or travel pretty much every day and to be honest I was getting writer's cramp mentally. Also I wanted to take some time seeing the magnificent cities we were visiting and with Reading Festival, a ton of personal stuff to catch up with and kids still on hols its been busy since I get home from Moscow.  These diaries take a while especially when there are a lot of pics to sort out and some of the cities coming up are very special and merit more special attention. These cities in Eastern Europe - Warsaw, Prague, Budapest (plus of course Moscow) - have incredible histories and so much to see, so the diaries will be quite long with a lot of pics. I was very sorry to miss the show in Bucharest (the day of Jake's birthday though) especially as I have never been there. But bear with me as much of these last few diaries will be about the history and the cities, as I have always found recent Eastern European history to be of great importance, much of it sadly so tragic. Not much on the band then but lots on the history and the cities -- much more interesting!!  I don't pretend to be an expert and will only be skimming the surface but I hope it may inspire some of you to get googling, or even better buy a book, to tell you more about some of this if it piques your interest which I hope it will. Also I don't have time to reference or check what I write so I hope that it is largely accurate, but please take this as a disclaimer if I get some things wrong!!

Aug 7 started in the dark, waking up my eldest son Tom, 17, at 3.15 am to get a cab up to Gatwick airport to catch BruceAir to Warsaw. Today was Bruce's 50th Birthday and to celebrate it he was flying out 210 fans to Warsaw and the next day Prague to catch the two shows there. We were flying on the Ed Force One Boeing 757, and originally we had hoped it would still be decked out in all our art and logos as per the photos you will have seen. However Astraeus had opened up a new flight schedule into central Africa and the Eddie art caused a lot of problems. The locals perceived him to be bad ju-ju and wouldn't get on the plane!! Even worse they wouldn't get on the planes adjacent to EF1 as they considered them tainted, and of course this did not go down very well with the other Airlines. As this was the only plane of that size available to Astraeus they had no option but to commission it for this new route and to take our colours off. Their initial plan was that our colours would be removed after we returned home from the Feb/Mar tour, but it proved so popular on flights around the UK, Europe and the Middle East that they had left them on, which of course was great for us!! Still, it was sad to lose them but they will go back on someday when we take EF1 out again.

Arriving at Gatwick at about 4.30 for a 5.45am departure -- it was this early so we could guarantee a slot at this busy time of the year -- there were already loads of fans there waiting to board Flight 666 (what else!) Tom and I mingled with the fans, taking pics and even being asked to sign autographs (which I still find mighty strange as a manager!) and then Bruce appeared to talk to the fans and start signing and posing with them all. It was pretty much chaos and getting everyone on board on time became such a problem I had to help the airline crew get everyone moving quickly to get on so as not to miss our slot, which would have meant at least an hours delay. But we made it -- and sorry if I was rude to any of you but it was a bit early and we had to go!!




Brazil, as always, is represented.


On arrival in Warsaw Tom and I headed for our hotel -- it was still only about 9.30am local time -- to get a couple of hours sleep before heading into the city. Warsaw and Poland has always had a special place in our hearts following our tour there in 1984. FYI the dates were --

9th August 84, Warsaw, Torwar sports Hall,
10th August,  Lodz, Sporthall Aleja Polit
11th August, Poznan, Poznan Arena
12th August, Wroclaw, Folks Hall
14th August, Katowicz, Sportshall Makoszowy

These all had capacities of around 8000 and most of you will know about this from the DVD of Live After Death which has both the original "Behind the Iron Curtain" video and interviews about it in the documentary section. I can still remember it so well, we also played in Budapest and Yugoslavia (as it was then) for the first time. We were the first Western Band to take a full arena production to Poland and the first ever to undertake a full major tour, and this was very much still part of the Eastern European Communist Bloc at that time with all it involves. So many things still stick in the mind for both good and bad reasons. The good in particular were the people. It was obviously a poor country in those days and the hatred of all things Russian was evident wherever we went but the people we met were making the best of it and were bright and in many ways far more cultured than the West, and very friendly and inquisitive. I have never understood why in America Polish people are the butt of jokes making out they are intrinsically stupid. My experience in Poland and Polish friends in the UK (one old college friend being a Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College London) has led me to believe that the opposite is true and some important characteristics are hard working and smart and, again, cultured. And of course, as history has shown, remarkably courageous.

Also the audiences were fantastic, but if the first show you ever saw was the Powerslave Tour, which was then pretty much the same as this current tour, I guess you would be a bit overwhelmed. Also, although everything was a bit drab and grey, the absence of advertising and excessive neon displays was a pleasant change to what we were used to in London! We also had one of our best nights out on tour ever when we asked our interpreter Roman to take us to a rock club, finding on arrival it was no longer a club and it was that evening being used for a wedding reception. When they realized it was Maiden we were invited in for free drinks....if we played a couple of songs! As you would have seen on the Behind The Iron Curtain video we accepted....well Polish Vodka has to be the very best, and strongest,there is! So various band members and others got up for memorable performances of Tush and Smoke on the Water. And Nicko and I, still high on the vodka, found ourselves returning to the hotel at 6am still yelling out Smoke on the Waterrrrr,,,,da da da....da da da dah! What a night!

The bad was most certainly the pain that the country had felt under the Nazis and was still feeling under Communism. Stalin actually killed more Polish people than even Hitler. The tragedy of the country for some forty five years was tangible. We visited Auschwitz which remains one of my clearest and most awful images ever, with its misleading sign Frei von Arbeiten over the entrance. A truly mind numbing place to visit and even then, in 1984, the evil still lingered. But it is the sort of place everyone should visit at some time to realize the full extent of the capacity of man's inhumanity to man.

And in I think it was Wroclaw but may have been Lotz I remember still the venue and having a clear feeling of foreboding as I walked up to it from the hotel, a very unpleasant vibe. Inside the stage was wide and very narrow and there was a massive tarpaulin over the center point which was the base of an arch or a dome. I found out later that this was where the Nazi Party used to meet and have rallies. I learned that under the tarpaulin was a massive Swastika, covered as it couldn't be removed otherwise the arch would fall. And along the wide stage, cut into the wall behind, were spy holes. This is from where the SS would watch the audience and if anyone was to behave "inappropriately" they would be dragged out and dealt with. It is incredible how clear some of these images are to this day.

It was great that we were able to arrange for our promoter of that tour (promoting on behalf of the Government Cultural Dept as that was the only way in those days) Andi Msjeck and our interpreter Roman to come to the show that night to talk about old times and how the place has changed. I have not been back for any length of time in Warsaw since and the place really has changed, something we were about to find out when Tom and I left the hotel at midday to do our few hours of sightseeing. It is remarkable what you can achieve in a few hours though.

We started with a short walk to the Old Town, a mediaeval looking area surrounded by castle walls - probably the original town - and built around a huge square in which is a column topped by an old Polish King (Sigmund r Baza?) He may be obscure to most but he is popular in Warsaw as it was he who moved the country's capital from Krakow to Warsaw! The area is beautiful with some wonderful buildings and architecture as you will see on the pics - and it looks truly original but it isn't. It was 85% destroyed by the Nazis during the war along with most of the rest of the city. We later saw in a museum a picture of this column surrounded totally by ruins. This must have been before the column collapsed, as it later did, though the original statue of Sigmund remained intact and was re-erected on top of his column in 1949. The old town similarly was completely rebuilt around that time as close as possible to how it originally was which is really quite some feat.

  

After this I had to go down to the venue to check a few things out which I did. It's a stadium (Gwardia) with capacity of 30,000 -- which was sold out -- but unlike most it was quite "flat" with most of the audience on the ground. Everything was in good shape and everyone seemed happy.


Empty stadium


A few wires!


Backstage olympic championship


On crew wall.

Afterwards we had arranged to meet up with the very good promoter Steve and some of his staff at the Club Stodola, a student club and small venue of about 1000 for various touring acts -- Marillion I saw will be playing there in November. Bruce wanted to arrange a surprise party for his gang on BruceAir, all 200+ of them, to celebrate his birthday. We had originally looked at the Hard Rock hence some rumours on the web but it didn't work out -- they wanted some of their own guests and even some media to be in attendance! Despite the fact that they were asking for a hefty fee. Obviously they wanted publicity out of it too besides the cash but publicity is not something we wanted, we wanted it private. Club Stodola was ideal with very helpful staff and, as you will see in the pics, a wild interior. It also had a DJ booth which Bruce was hoping to use to act as DJ for a while for the fans! So we made final arrangements with the club -- we had already ordered the birthday cake! -- and, keeping our driver on, headed off to see more of the city.


Club Stodola where Bruce has his BruceAir party.

 

 


Like most major cities Warsaw is built on a large river -- The Vistula -- which more or less separates the richer and poorer areas of the city, and over the river on the poorer side you can see some huge drab Soviet style tenements. There is a large tower in the centre -- The Palace of Culture and Science-- which I realized when I got to Moscow was an archetypal Russian design and was indeed built by them. Locals call this the Wedding Cake due to its very intricate design -- and they also say it has the best view of the whole city. This is because it is the only place where you can't actually see this tower dominating the horizon -- and as it reminds locals of the Communist times it is not something they wish to see, hence it's the best view! Our driver told us this and its always good to go around a city with someone local as these sort of local fables always add to the enjoyment . 

I love unusual tales of history. A very good one from here is the true story of Wojtek the bear -- now you have to google this as it is truly extraordinary and must be a movie one day. Briefly Wojtek was adopted as a cub by a unit of the Polish Army, the 22nd Polish Army Artillery Supply Co, and served during the war in Palestine, where he allegedly captured an Arab spy, and at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Southern Italy.  As he grew, eventually to a height of 6ft, to remain with the unit he had to be part of it so he was specially inducted into the Company in 1943, name, number, ration book, dog tags and all. He served well, his chief role at Monte Cassino being to carry the huge artillery shells to the cannons - and to operate the shower controls. He never dropped a shell and his bravery was recognized by the High Command who changed the Regimental Insignia to depict a bear carrying a case of shells. Living on honey and marmalade and with a taste for tea spiced with vodka, he developed a penchant for beer and also cigarettes, which he would take one drag of, then eat. He eventually retired to Scotland when the Company was deployed there at the end of the war and he became a welcome regular in his local pub. It's true, believe me. You have to check it out!!

Anyway back to the story -- the "new" part of the city is stunning and modern. There is a fantastic new glass Courts of Justice building and a fascinating large university, the main shopping street, Nowy swiat, has everything from Armani to Burberry (if you want that sort of thing!) -- quite a change to 84! All in all mightily impressive. All this and much more we saw driving round during our quest for more history.

We fotunately had time to visit three other historical sites, although there is much else to see but not enough time sadly.

The first was Pawiak Prison, built in the 1830's to serve as a Tsarist Prison. Under the Nazis it became the Gestapo prison seeing 100,000 pass through its gates, the largest political prison in Poland at that time. Of the 100,000, about 40,000 were executed there and the other 60,000 sent to extermination camps. No survivors. Underground cells built for three were crammed with eighteen and the horrors there are unimaginable. A mangled tree stands outside, preserved after the war and decked with obituary notices dating back to 1944. The prison now houses displays of photographs of victims and art. There are no pictures here of this interior, I feel it inappropriate to take these sort of pics for a journal such as this. The displays are very powerful and fully demonstrate how art can capture the horror of the times. One in particular caught my eye -- Hitler crucifying an emaciated female figure representing Poland while keeping Stalin, armed with Hammer and Sickle, at bay. This is what the Nazis did to Poland, they almost literally crucified it.


Pawiak - a reminder.



We also stopped at the Memorial to the Jewish Ghetto. We must all be aware of the tragedy of the Polish Jews. Near this is a fenced off hillock where the last standing leader of the Jews killed himself after the Jewish uprising in the Ghetto.


A sad reminder of the past. 


Memorial to the ghettos.

Finally, we stopped at the memorial to the 1944 Uprising. The surviving Poles in Warsaw, who courageously never gave up finding a way to fight back and few became Nazi pets, cut a deal with the Russian army, who were just on the other side of the Vistula River. They agreed that if the Poles rose up the Russian army would immediately cross the river and come to their aid and join them against the Nazis. The Polish people armed themselves however they could and rose to fight the Nazis as planned, but the Russians just watched and waited until it was all over and the Polish forces destroyed then crossed the River to claim the city. I count this as one of History's most despicable acts and biggest betrayals and felt it well worth paying our respects.


Memorial to the 1944 uprising.



I hope you guys don't mind me going into these areas but I find them as interesting as they are disturbing. Maiden has always had a close afficity with history and, as fans, many of you are probably interested too so I do hope you find it this way. I do think that a knowledge of history is so important and it is something that is often neglected by educational curricula in many parts of the World. And some of the occurrences covered here should never be allowed to be forgotten. I just hope that some of you may take the time to look into some of this in greater depth than I am able to do here. It is very worthwhile. My son Tom is hugely interested in history and I feel he saw a lot of things to make him think and hopefully be wiser understanding more the depths to which people, often normal people, can sink. "It was my job, I had to do it, I was told" is just not good enough. I also think the Polish nation should get the recognition and respect they are due for what they went through and how they handled it, something that applies to much of this Eastern European region.

Anyway out of the dark and into the light -- the show. I feel I am getting repetitious saying this, but it was another fantastic show. They all are. The audience was incredible. Being mainly standing it became a massive crush to the extent that we even had to take fans over the barrier in front of the mixing desk, not just in front of the stage. I have never seen that before. Of course by now on a tour I expect everything around the sound, lights, production to be working like clockwork and it is. It does help to have a shit hot crew, though, I have to say. And we have. It's hard to imagine a better tour than this is and has been. The biggest audiences in many places that we have ever played to -- so obviously many new friends. Not long to go now, but some great places to visit yet. Tomorrow, Aug 8, will be Prague, which I think is the most beautiful city in the World, certainly where I have been anyway. So expect a lot more pics and another long diary!! Hope it doesn't bore you!!


The flag comes over



I had promised Tom we would spend some time seeing Prague and, as we were only to be there the one day of the show and Tom was to fly back with Bruce on BruceAir, we went with the rest of the band as planned straight off stage to the airport to get to Prague. Sad to miss Bruce's party (we did of course make up for it!) , but we heard that the bash, with the Flight 666 fans and friends, went really well. We had arranged a massive cake in the shape of Ed Force One but didn't get a piece as the fans ate it all. We also heard that they drank the Club almost dry too! (By the way as addenda we were told that Gothenburg ran out of beer the night we played so I guess all those fans had a great party after the show!)






Hope it was worth the wait. More soon.

LOTS more pictures available in The Gallery.

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