Hamburg Daze

12/3/2010 Now available at GeekPop 2010 (see below)

A few days ago Martin White of Roadside Poppies submitted a song called “Ausgabe Drei” to the GeekPop festival. It was recorded on 13th Jan this year in his bedroom in Ferney Voltaire (near CERN) by Martin (bass, production, guitar), Nick Barlow (melodica), Andy Buckley (drums) and me. Unfortunately I sing, but at least that makes my guitar sound better, and I like the slide effect I got from the wedding ring. We’re all on ATLAS, so we tick the geekpop box I guess. But the song is also rooted in life and physics, as follows.

The song was written by an old friend, Greg Feild, while we lived in Hamburg working for Penn State on the ZEUS experiment at the HERA collider, DESY. Greg was a PhD student (who went on to work at Yale on CDF, but with whom I have sadly since lost touch – Greg, if you see this please call!) and I was a postdoc. We played in a band which was occasionally known as BYOB. Here’s a pic:

BYOB rehearsal in Hamburg

BYOB Rehearsal in Hamburg, circa 1995

Greg is on the left, then Phil (who was a UCL PhD student), Chandy (who was an Oxford PhD student and is now a steampunk pioneer in Sunday Driver), Susanna (my wife, who was a PhD student at EMBL at the time) and me.

Greg’s song (I think I may have added some embellishments, but we’re not talking about the Procol Harum organ solo here) is  to me very evocative of several things.

Bad Food

One is the particularly dreadful smell of the DESY canteen. It hasn’t changed much, judging from my last visit about three months ago. Ausgabe Drei was the window where vegetarian options were served up. I think the “chef” used to resent the fact that while carrots and broccoli could, with diligent boiling, be made indistinguishable from the cauliflower in texture, they stubbornly retained shades of orange and green. The DESY canteen is the only place I ever went in Germany where the sausages were disgusting.

Good People

The second is the cultural mix in DESY. It was a German national lab (unlike CERN for instance which was international from the start) which welcomed a huge influx of international physicists when the wonderful HERA electron-proton collider started up. The mix showed up in all kinds of aspects, food being one. Even the Brits complained – imagine what the French and Italians had to say! German institutional food was even worse than in the UK (e.g. the RAL canteen was much better, and not only Brits said so). Odd, because Hamburg itself was a fantastic place to live, eat & drink.

The song also reflects Greg’s horror and finding a fish with “the head on, and the tail on, and the skin on”. Greg (from Tenessee) seemed to share with many Americans a sense of outrage when food required any effort to eat, or bore any resemblance to its unprocessed state. I was with the Germans on this one.

There’s also the slight social awkwardness of meeting “Bobby K”, a senior German Professor. The hierarchy was much stronger in the German research system than in the UK or even the US.

Just three amongst many little cultural frissons. Bizarre to remember, when I got on a plane to Hamburg during my PhD, it was my first flight. And only my second time outside the UK. But we were all colleagues working on a major international experiment, and, like particle physicists seem to, we got along.

Good Physics

The third is just the excitement of doing physics. Wow. HERA did not have a big headline like the Higgs at the LHC. We did think for while we might have found leptoquarks, but it turned out to be a statistical fluctuation – watch out for more of those soon. But we were looking at fundamental stuff – inside the proton, even “inside” the photon – which no-one had ever seen before. Imagine as a postdoc or PhD student looking at a plot you made, which contains information about something as universal as the photon which no one in the history of the world has ever seen or known before! The shoulders of giants indeed – in this case the most recent ones being the people who built HERA and ZEUS. I was very pleased with this paper. It is soooo nice to be once more at the start of one of these great adventures; an even greater one this time.

Anyway, I think it’s a good song. Martin is a fantastic producer and I’m looking forward to ATLAS week (next week) when I hope we’ll play again in Ferney Voltaire.

I don’t think I should post the song here until they release it, so don’t miss GeekPop. As they say, be there and be square.

Note added 12/3/2010 now available at GeekPop 2010. The Reproductive Stage, Roadside Poppies, Track 2.

I’m not really sure who I am writing this particular post for. Maybe, as another of Greg’s great songs put it, “An audience of one”. But if you made it this far I hope you enjoyed it.

[Note added 27/3/2010 More pictures: same band; Eden, Greg, Phil and me performing in the DESY horsaal; Froggies and Bleicherstrasse with Chandy and Susanna. And another song (one of mine) which we used to play was also recently re-recorded by me, Martin and Paul Jackson: Sunshine Train]



About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics Prof working on LHC, dad, dodgy guitarist, Man City fan in exile.
This entry was posted in Particle Physics, Physics, Physics Stories, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Hamburg Daze

  1. Pingback: Fashion Shoes playing in hamburg S-Bahn | Fashion Wear

  2. Sam Silverstein says:

    Ok, you can add one to the audience. I also have many fond memories of my years at ZEUS, and the “good people” are way at the top of that list.

    I agree that the DESY canteen certainly wasn’t the high point (although I thought there was usually at least SOMETHING edible, and if not, the currywurst was adequately sustaining). Still, I remember my first visit to CERN (directly from DESY) and eating in the cafeteria there. The people there were grumbling about the food, and I was thinking “What are they talking about? This food is fantastic!”.

    Thanks for the link to GeekPop, and the BYOB update!

  3. Martin mcDermott says:

    Jon, I remember it well. I was with John H in Hamburg a few weeks back and happened to wander passed the shamrock. I remember acting as “roadie” for you and suzanna at a gig there where you played “ausgabe drei”. You’re too right about the desy canteen – the last resort having reviewed the “options” was the strangely synthetic wurst with frites, washed down with multiple-vit. Mahlzeit!

    • Hi Martin! Brilliant to hear from you! Hope all is well! You were a top roadie. One day I may have to blog the spiegelei & bratkartoffel debacle in the Fischmarkt; at least the bits I remember…

      I also remember April Skies at your wedding. Thank god there were no mobile phone cameras back then…


  4. Pingback: The Spiegelei Incident « Life and Physics

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