Friday, September 3, 2010

Wunderland bei Nacht? A "new" nightscape...

...from a photographer's notebook

If you follow my photographic work, you know I'm very fond of shooting "nightscapes," city scenes in the special, often magical, atmosphere of twilight to full night. Many of my favorite nightscapes have been European. If wet cobblestones reflecting bright or intense colors are present, so much the better. Throw in a train or a tram, and I really get inspired. As I am now displaying my work on the European photography web site, I was inspired to revisit much of my work from my trip to Germany in the winter of 2008. As a result, several of these images are being displayed for the first time.

My German photographer friend Tom Reitzel and I had taken the train over to Mainz for what turned out to be some very rewarding rainy late afternoon and evening shooting, whether of trains at that city's very busy main station, or along the city's cobblestone streets. Many of those images appear, for the first time on the fotocommunity site, and I'll provide a link below. After dinner (and more wet street shooting) we headed back to the station to catch our train.

As we approached the station, on Bahnhofstrasse, natürlich, I turned around just in time to catch a brightly colored tram rounding a curve in the wet cobblestoned street. Just as it was passing an edifice that, shall we say, was not exactly a "shrinking violet." Indeed, its violet lighting and "Blues Brothers" statues on the balcony made for a wonderful counterpoint to the warm colors of the rest of the scene.

I believe the conversation went something like...
"Tom, is that building what I think it is?"
"It's exactly what you think it is."

I've written often of musical associations that insinuate themselves into my photography, whether at the time of shooting or afterward. And, while it’s “The Blues Brothers” hanging out there on that balcony of “Das Crazy,” in Mainz on this rainy evening in February 2008, the music I heard when working up this image – and whenever I view it – is the Bert Kaempfert instrumental hit from 1960 “Wonderland by Night.”

The tune was written by cabaret artist Klaus Günter Neumann for “Unser Wunderland bei Nacht,” a 1959 German film about the post-war German sex industry (where, apparently, business was booming). Kaempfert recorded it as a single in the big band style he’d been developing, with what would become his trademark lead-trumpet sound.

Story has it, Kaempfert’s German record company, Polydor, disparaged the record’s chances for becoming a hit, owing to the subject matter of the film. Kaempfert, however, believed strongly that the single, “Wunderland bei Nacht,” had the right stuff. He and his wife boarded a Lufthansa Super Constellation bound for New York, and with his new American record producer at Decca, Milt Gabler, laid the groundwork for a body of music and recordings that would make the Bert Kaempfert sound a solid staple in the United States for years to come. “Wonderland by Night” with Charly Tabor’s trumpet line would provide that auspicious launch. It also became Bert Kaempfert’s first big international success.

Guess he knew when he had a good thing, and was not about to be discouraged by provincial thinking. Imagine Kaempfert’s delight at the album art for Polydor’s German release – a romantic nightscape of Manhattan with an attractive couple dancing superimposed, and the bold-face header “Deutsche Aufnahme (German recording) – Millionen-Hit in U.S.A.”

Vielen Dank, Bert, for standing by your convictions. Your music has been a part of me since 1960… and always will be.

And now, a big "first" for my wee bloggie (or should I say kleine Blogchen?) - A music video! (Well, it excites me, being the web newbie that I am, that I was actually able to make it appear!) And if I've ever wanted to share a music video, this is the one.

If what you've just read (or the longer Bert Kaempfert story I posted here in March of 2009: served to whet your appetite - or perhaps you're already a fellow Kaempfert fan - I offer you below, not just "Wunderland bei Nacht" but three other Kaempfert hits, "Afrikaan Beat," "A Swingin' Safari," and the wonderful "Strangers in the Night." In fact, this has actually become my favorite Kaempfert performance of the latter tune because of the sheer magic of the live performance and the warm and wonderful audience recognition in the first notes voiced by the chorus. My sincere thanks to YouTube member januariobezerra for posting this Kaempfert treasure. It happens also to be quite historical in the annals of German television - the second day of color television transmissions in Germany in August 1967. 

By the way, if you're wondering if maybe those musicians on the top deck wearing the dark glasses are imported Mafia "enforcers," those early color television cameras required huge amounts of light to produce their best images, and I'm guessing the guys on the top deck were needing to shield their eyes from some of the bright studio lights. 

Also, in the rhythm section, you'll see two core players responsible for a key element in the Kaempfert sound - drummer Rolf Ahrens and right next to him, bass guitarist Ladi Geisler. Together, they provided the distinctive rhythmic propulsion in Kaempfert's music.

The lead trumpeter is not the aforementioned Charly Tabor who was featured in the original recording of "Wonderland by Night" but Manfred Moch who would serve in that capacity with the Kaempfert orchestra for much of the '60s.

You'll find "Wonderland By Night" at 1:12 into the clip, but please do enjoy all of this Kaempfert gem.

And, if you'd like to view a larger, higher definition version of the photo, please click on the link below (or copy it into a new browser window) which will take you to it on my fotocommunity page. Once there, you may view other European nightscapes by going to that folder. Hope you'll also check out my photos in other subject areas. Many new ones posted on f-c since our last visit here in blog-land.

©2010 Steve Ember

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