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International junket nothing to sneeze at

Sun., Dec. 7, 2008

Guten Morgen, amigos.

By the time you read this (barring unavoidable delays or an unexpected burst of gravity) I should be half-loopy from jet lag and wandering somewhere near the Rhine River.

Germany, that is.

The land of Lederhosen, Sauerkraut and the oom-pah-pah.

What I’m saying is that I am off on another transcontinental misadventure with Charlie Schmidt, Spokane artist and renowned nasal contortionist.

Today is Part One. Stay tuned Tuesday and Thursday as the trouble unfolds.

I realize this is a horrible time to go. News is oozing everywhere … and I don’t just mean those fools who took a wee in the seniors’ facility ice machine.

Staff Member 1: “Hey, this ice water tastes like Jack Daniels.”

Staff Member 2: “The whiskey?”

Staff Member 1: “No, the handyman.”

Then there’s the announcement that Spokane County will be laying off 50-some people.

That’s actually a good move, as long as the real deadwood goes first. The entire county commission, for example, and County Assessor Ralph Baker.

There’s actually a term for economic cuts like this.


But getting back to my junket. It began with a phone call. Charlie told me he had an extra plane ticket and asked if I’d like to join him on a trip to Düsseldorf and Cologne.

To which I cheerfully replied: “Gesundheit!”

Charlie knows I’m always up for one of his globetrotting nose odysseys because …

I’m his pal.

My job has no requirements when it comes to subject matter, dress code or work site.

(If my job were any less vital, I’d be a panhandler or on the Spokane City Council.)

Last March, you may recall, I tagged along with Charlie to Turkey where he bought two turbans and performed his hilarious act on an Istanbul TV variety show.

This time he’s appearing on a television show in Hurth, located outside Cologne. The program is called “Granaten Wie Wir.”

Alas, my exposure to the German language came mostly from watching “Hogan’s Heroes” as a kid. So I typed the above words into an Internet translation site. Out came, “Shells Like We.”


Charlie’s dancing schnoz has been a smash the world over. He’s been on the “Tonight Show” twice, for crying out loud.

To recap: Charlie smooshes his sizeable rubbery beak against a large sheet of glass. Then he wriggles it to the beat while lip-syncing a popular song like the Tom Jones classic, “It’s Not Unusual.” The result is gut-busting fun. (See for yourself at

Despite what you might think, swilling dark beer and porking on Schweinebraten are not the only motivations for my freeloading.

As a matter of fact, I’ve had a strudel-size hole in my heart ever since Spokane called it quits with Lübeck, our former German Sister City.

The split came in 2000. According to our Sister City Society, the Lübeckians “made it quite clear that they are not that interested in Spokane.”

Oh, please. We can play the blame game all day long. I say we give Germany a second chance to strike up a completely meaningless relationship with the Lilac City.

Pam Scott thinks so, too. When I told her about my trip, Scott, communications manager for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, showered me with civic trinkets to bestow upon my new friends, including a stack of Spokane brochures printed in German.

Here’s a sample: “Zwar brannte Spokane vor gut einem Jajrhundert nieder, doch wurde die Stadt neu aufgebaut…”

As I said before, I’m not very fluent at German. But I think it says, “We have big potholes in Spokane, and red light spy cameras, too…”

I dunno. I could be wrong.

Scott gave me a “Spokane. Near Nature. Near Perfect” vest to wear and anointed me an official unofficial city ambassador. My mission is to make sure a document begging Düsseldorf to become our new Sister City gets in the proper hands.

The scroll shows the commonalities between our two cultures, like…

“Whereas Düsseldorf has castles, Spokane has the Spokane County Courthouse.”

“Whereas Düsseldorf has Altbier dark beer, Spokane has Northern Lights Dark.”

“Whereas Düsseldorf has spicy German mustard, Spokane has Domini’s – which uses a lot of mustard.”

Yep. That should win over the Düsseldorks.

Or get me sent to the Russian Front.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at


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