In mid-May I had the great pleasure of spending four days in Leipzig, in the province of Saxony in eastern Germany. The reasons for this perhaps require a bit of background:
David found out he was accepted to the London College of Communication in September. I excitedly wrote to my two main former profs, Dr. Hawn and Dr. Anderson, in Dallas to tell them our exciting news about moving to London. Both were enthusiastic, and Dr. Anderson in particular wrote back and reminded me that he and his family would be spending the spring semester in Leipzig while he undertook sabbatical research there. "So if you're feeling a trip to Leipzig coming on," he wrote, "please do indulge yourself - we would love to see you!"
Hmmm, let me think. Leipzig is the city where J. S. Bach spent the latter years of his prolific and (at times overwhelmingly) impressive career. There, he was the Cantor of three churches, perhaps the most famous of them the St. Thomas Church, for which he wrote his enormous, intricate, gorgeous work The St. Matthew Passion. In the 17th Century, it was a centre of European trade, learning, and culture. Schumann and Mendelssohn both called Leipzig home. It is a historic city with its roots in the tenth century. Sure, why not?
(I hope you're detecting the hint of understatement. If not, by this point, you may be on the wrong blog.)
Though Dr. Anderson and fam were enthusiastic for my visit, the logistics at first were a little difficult to figure out. Europe is of course renowned for all the cheap hopper flights you can score. There was one through Ryanair (God love it) that flew straight into a teeny-tiny Leipzig airport and cost about £6. But, my concern to find a job before jetting off to have a good time caused me to put off booking a ticket, and when, in late February, I turned my attention to booking a flight, say for early April, lo and behold the airport was closed! David and I are still debating whether it's a seasonal airport, or if the airport right then decided to stop being an international carrier. Sigh...
So finally we worked it out that, door to door, I would go via the following route:
City bus*: Night bus N44 from outside our front door to get to London Victoria Coach Station
Terravision (like Greyhound) bus to the airport - something like 3:30 in the morning
Ryanair flight: 06:25 London Stansted > 09:10 Berlin Schönefeld
Commuter train: 09:55 Berlin-Schönefeld > Berlin Hauptbahnhof (RB)Intercity train: 11:51 Berlin Hauptbahnhof >12:05 Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (ICE)
Local tram: Leipzig S-bahn to Rudi-Opitz-Str., Leipzig
*What's that you say? Taking a city bus alone in the middle of the night seems like a bad idea? Why not take a cab? Well my friend, Tooting is a strange greater London black hole where taxis dare not tread. Seriously, they need to get over this, I have places to be.
This was a bit of an undertaking - by the time I got to doing it, my trip to Germany felt like something of a quest. It actually really reminded me of that part in Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, when they go on the big journey for some reason, and they travel by train and skis and dogsled and whatever else - anybody?
My picture account of the trip begins here, after the night bus (ugh) and 3am coach ride (mmph) and the Ryanair flight. Here is the small airport outside of Berlin.
Now, I have gotten a little spoiled with my map-reading, wayfinding, trip planning husband who always knows exactly where we are and exactly where we're going at all times. So, while I was excited for my trip I was a little wary of making all my connections by myself. In particular, I knew the city train that would get me to the main Berlin train station (Hauptbahnhof*) was not right there in the airport. David and I looked it up together on Google Earth (God love it) and David showed me that the airport was tiny, so there was probably only one exit, and that there was a covered walkway of some kind that obviously led to the small train station. Lo and behold, when I stepped outside the Berlin Schönfeld airport, this is what I saw:
|*Cue angels singing*|
*Haupt = 'main', -bahn = 'train', -hof = 'station'.
So I found my commuter train and a helpful English-speaking rail employee (obviously placed in the station to help confused non-German speaking tourists like me) directed me to the platform where my train would take me to Berlin. I was actually in time for one earlier train, so I would have longer in the big Berlin station to make my connection. Nice.
|Had to take a picture at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof - at this point in my journey, I was feeling pretty smug.|
|The enormous and impressive Berlin station.|
|That's me! Woo hoo, almost there!|
We met up easily on the other end and walked together to Rudi-Opitz-Straβe, where their flat is. I was so happy to have reached my destination! Dr. Anderson was of course at one of his archives for the day, so we caught up and I heard about their life in Leipzig so far. Erica told me all about her school (she was attending morning classes at the local German school, I was very impressed) and we got out some German picture books and she tried to teach me a few things. We decided our favourite new word was the word for 'thimble' - Fingerhut.
|Home sweet home, at least for the next few days!|
Dr. Anderson arrived home after his archive closed and said he couldn't believe I was still on my feet! (I had kept them posted on the details of my Richleresque trip.) We all agreed it was pretty neat to be all in Europe together. I told them I was so grateful they were having me to stay, and they assured me it was a pleasure. :) Well, everybody's happy, then!
We sat down to, in my view, a very German simple supper of rye bread, sliced meat, cheeses, cut vegetables, and this ridiculously good (mildly heart-attack inducing) spread called Käse-Salat - 'cheese salad'. OMG. (Cultural observation no. 25 - I LOVE German food. I was so excited for French food when I went to Paris, and of course it was lovely and delicious, but... all that butter really takes its toll. I mean, I have to admit, after a couple of meals in Paris, I just didn't feel quite right! I think you need to work up to that much butter. But the kind of meals we ate in Leipzig - YUM. I could eat it forever.)
|The very useful No. 12 tram.|
Dr. Anderson was headed off after dinner to take in a concert at St. Michael's Church. We all decided to go together, Dr. Anderson again commenting that it was remarkable that I had not fallen over yet. I knew it wouldn't last, but why not feel sleepy at a lovely concert?
The concert featured a very challenging work for choir and organ by Marcel Dupré, Symphonie-Passion op. 23. It is a 20th Century work with a Catholic mysticism angle to it. Impressive, and (from the sound of it), so difficult for choir and organist alike. Not that they sounded like they were struggling, but it did sound like a challenging piece. Very effective. I also really loved another Dupré work they did during the evening, "O salutaris hostia," from his Quatre Motets op. 9. Really pretty!
I noticed as we sat in the church that, along with other Christian symbols I'm used to seeing in churches, there was the triangle-and-eye symbol that I have always associated with the Enlightenment and the freemasons and all that. I think it was even right in one of the stained-glass windows. The Andersons didn't know what to make of it. So, still looking for the cultural context of that particular symbol in a sacred context - anybody?
|St. Michael's Church at dusk.|
|Nighttime in Leipzig.|
The next morning was Saturday, so the whole family set out with me to take in the city. Leipzig is a fairly compact city, but there is plenty to take in to fill a day of wandering, so off we went. We used a variety of modes of transportation between us. The weather was lovely - in fact, it cooperated most of the trip, though it was cool a lot of the time.
|Erica in very appropriate attire, both for the day's agenda and for coordinating with her bike.|
Dr. Anderson reminded me that, of course, Leipzig was on the East side of the divided Germany. As a result, a number of the really beautiful old buildings were neglected and fell derelict. By contrast, a lot of the same old buildings in the western part of the country were destroyed over the course of the war, and rebuilt quickly in a modern style reflecting the forward-thinking, "progress" mentality of its leaders at the time. So then, when the wall fell, lots of these beautiful old buildings in Leipzig were looking very shabby and sad - BUT they were still there, and now most of them have been gorgeously restored. So, Leipzig has a very old-world, historic feel, very beautiful, despite it having been neglected for decades during the Berlin Wall years.
Dr. Anderson also pointed out another feature of German culture to me - he pointed out that, if a street is named after a person, there will be an honest-to-goodness footnote at the bottom of the sign, explaining that person's significance, and giving their dates. It's very small; you couldn't see it from your car or from across the street - you have to make the effort to go over and take a look. He feels (mini-lecture alert) that this is a holdover from Martin Luther and the Reformation, which was in essence a didactic movement. The word 'didactic' gets a bad rap, but it isn't intended to be pejorative; one of the main ideas Luther was after was that people are enriched by learning, by bettering themselves through learning, and that one must make the effort to achieve knowledge. The most obvious example of this didacticism is the very idea that the Bible should be translated into the vernacular, so people can read it, and learn something from it. So again with the footnotes on street signs; it is good for people to learn the significance of the names on the signs, but you have to actually purposefully get close enough to the sign to take in its meaning. Understanding German culture through signage. End of mini-lecture.
|Street sign with footnote.|
|A beautifully restored old building.|
Our walk took us past Gohlischer Schlöβen, as in, "mini-castle of Gohlis". A little bit Casaloma-esque in that it's a private spot, I think. Though apparently they have a café or something, but we didn't go in. Beautiful!
|I think that's where the café is.|
|Wilkommen to my castle.|
We continued walking through a beautiful, expansive green park, which happens to border on the Leipzig Zoo. So, you can be wandering through the free park and peer into part of the zoo. This prompted me to try to explain to my hosts how awesome Zoo Tycoon is, and how you can mix certain animals that get along in the same pen, just like they were doing at the actual zoo. I figured there are no secrets, Dr. Anderson already knows I'm a nerd.
|Looking in to the Leipzig Zoo... so random...|
|Giraffes! Note that they share a pen with the ostriches. There was a baby one too but I didn't get a picture.|
We came upon this tree swing, and by this time I had to text David and tell him that the Germans have green space all figured out. I mean this park, or glade or whatever, was SO beautiful, and big, and right in the middle of the city! And there were lush trees just everywhere... ahhhhh.
|European doors! Can't beat them!|
|Here we are in a main square, and there's the Altes Rathaus.|
Our tour through the main part of the city took us first past the Altes Rathaus, Old City Hall. Leipzig is a very walkable city, and when you study Bach's life you always read that he worked at these multiple churches and would walk in between them to get to his various services. Well, when you actually go there, you totally see how it worked for him - it's all just laid out in a very pedestrian-sized manner.
|Love this doorway decoration - the mysterious Arab bestowing coffee to the eager West, like Prometheus bringing fire down from Mount Olympus.|
Next stop, lunch. Erica requested Kartoffelhaus (seriously, I need to catch up with this girl's language skills), definitely a solid choice - how can you go wrong with a restaurant called "House of Potatoes"?
We sat outside looking out on the beautiful square. Kartoffelhaus obviously specializes in various things made from potatoes, especially baked potatoes with various things on it. The Andersons told me the potato "mit kräuterquark" would be a culturally authentic choice; quark is an herbed sour cream/yogurt dip that's from the area. The herbs in it are chervil, parsley, dill, chives, salt and pepper. So I went for it. Yum!
Afterwards, we decided to head back towards the Altes Rathaus and take in the Leipzig history museum that's now housed inside. This took us past the Thomaskirche for the first time - exciting! We would be coming back to take in the motet later, but it was exciting to see. Bach was here!
|My first glimpse of the Thomaskirche.|
|Lead the way!|
The history museum in the Altes Rathaus is very interesting. In the central great room, which is the first room you walk in to, the walls are lined with portraits of the mayors of Leipzig from way back. There is an enormous display in the centre of the room, a model built in the 19th century of Leipzig as it was in the 17th century. Dr. Anderson has decided he needs it for his Bach seminar that he teaches at SMU. On it, you can see how the old Medieval(ish?) city wall jutted right up against the back of the Thomaskirche. It really was a compact little city, lucky for Bach.
The history of any of the cities in this area becomes in some ways a history of the Lutheran Reformation, because it was such a watershed event in this area's history and has become a seminal part of the cultural fabric. Dr. Anderson (a little too gleefully, I think) pointed out an old painting to me where the faithful followers of Luther are being guided up to heaven, while the poor wretched Calvinists (read: Presbyterians) are being munched on by the monsters of hell. Poor Zwingli is even trying to get up to heaven by a ladder but the rungs are divinely snapping beneath his feet. All around the painting are speech balloons with intricate painted print on them, detailing precisely why this is taking place and why it is right that this should happen. (Picture my Lutheran friend Dr. Anderson laughing out loud to my right.)
Well, with that lesson under our belts, we took in a really old pulpit from one of the old churches, possibly that Luther preached from, though I can't remember now. We also saw Luther's wedding ring which depicts Christ on the cross and has other intricate carvings in it (again, didactic - noticing a pattern?) The museum also has one of the really famous portraits of Luther. Dr. Anderson pointed out to me that the Reformation is so important to this part of the world that, when you're on the train, the place of his birth and the place of the 95 Theses are labeled with his name attached: Lutherstadt-Eisleben and Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.
Another big highlight of the museum visit was the original of the super famous portrait of J.S. Bach. In it, he is holding his "audition" composition for the Leipzig League of Extraordinarily Smart Smartypants (I may have the name not quite right). This was an inner circle that you really really wanted to join, but the first time it came around that Bach was invited to submit his candidacy, he passed because he wanted to wait and be the 14th joiner, his favourite number. Okay fine then, Johann. The piece that he wrote as his contribution once he joined (Dr. Anderson could explain so much better than me) was, if I remember correctly, a set of canons where the melody could be added at the major second, major third, major fourth, etc. etc., every interval of the octave, and the entire thing always worked harmonically and contrapuntally. And it probably also works backwards. Dr. Anderson had pointed out to us in Church Music Colloquium at Perkins that, Bach would have to have known in his head that that would all work out with the melody he had in mind, before he started writing any of it. He just knew. Okay then! So, we sat basking in the presence of Bach('s portrait) for a while before heading on to the next thing.
|Statues on the Thomaskirche|
'The next thing' was perhaps the highlight of the day - taking in the Saturday afternoon motet concert/service at St. Thomas Church, led by the Thomaskantor and sung by the Thomanerchor, the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig. This organisation exists in an unbroken line from the choir that Bach led (and before that, of course), and the Thomaskantor, who today is Georg Christoph Biller, is filling the position that Bach held in his time. Does that not blow your mind a little? It does mine. :) :) Interestingly (to me anyway), the position of Thomaskantor is a civic position, not a church position, so Herr Biller is an employee of the city of Leipzig - as was Bach, which we know from his letters caused him no end of grief! This fact has very interesting implications for Dr. Anderson's research which he has been carrying out this past term, because he is researching the life of one of the previous Thomaskantors. Uh, Thomaskantoren. I won't give it away, though- you'll have to read the book. In German.
I was thrilled to see that the church was packed for this weekly event. They only charge you €2 for it (well: the concert is free but the program is €2 and you have to buy one!) so it's about the cheapest, most high quality date I can think of!
There was a welcome and a hymn before the motet, and one of the ministers gave a talk/sermon that gave some context to the motet and tied it to the liturgical theme for the week. I tried very hard to absorb some of the German by osmosis. The hymn we sang was Mit Freuden zart zu dieser Fahrt (With joyful pleasures on this journey, let us sing joyfully). A.k.a., "Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation."
The Motet for the day was Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan ("What God does is properly done" - what a Lutheran sentiment!), Cantata BWV 100. I had tried looking it up ahead of time to learn some of the context, but I have been disconnected from the SMU academic search resources (cry) so I had to rely on internet findings. It's a lesser-known one of his multi-movement cantatas, based around a Lutheran chorale and featuring full choir movements, solos, and a "straight" rendition of the chorale tune at the end.
The St. Thomas Choir was quite simply one of the most beautiful choirs I've ever heard. They sang Bach's music with a lustre and vitality that seemed effortless, but that really showed why this music deserves to be sung more than 200 years after the composer's death. The continuo band accompanying them were also fabulous, including some wonderful brass players - that made me miss David a bit, he loves when there's brass. The choir is all men and boys, the boys being students of the St. Thomas School where Bach taught as part of his duties. (As in, "okay kleine Jungen, finish your Latin dictation and then it's straight to bed. I mean it!") It was a fabulous event to be a part of!
|Unassuming chairs at the Thomaskirche.|
|The smaller of the two organs, at the side of the church.|
The architecture of St. Thomas is not contemporary to Bach's time, and I don't know all the opinions surrounding its refurbishment, but I think it looks lovely inside. The organs also have been redone, and Dr. Anderson said the Sauer-Organ, the larger of the two, was built in a really lovely way that doesn't overpower the space, as some organs tend to do. More on that to come...
|Here we are in Bach's church! We are actually standing in about the place that the pulpit Luther preached from used to be.|
|Bach is buried right in the chancel of the church. No pressure or anything!|
|It really wasn't dim at all in the sanctuary but my tiny camera was no match for the vaulted ceiling. So beautiful!|
|The back of Bach's church.|
Afterwards we had a look at Bach's statue. This statue was dedicated in 1908, at the same time as they moved Bach's body from its humble grave outside the city and reburied him in the chancel of the church. While they were at it, they used the skull to help them recreate the facial features which you see on the statue.
Bach has the score of the St. Matthew Passion in his hand, and is backgrounded by organ pipes symbolic of his virtuosity on the instrument. Note that the sculptor also couldn't resist inserting a commentary on the treatment of church musicians in his own time (and in Bach's, as it happens); Bach's poor frock-coat pockets are empty and out-turned.
|Me and my buddy Erica with Herr Bach.|
After our big excursion, we popped over to a nearby Kaffee Haus for a coffee (or for some of us, a pint. For others, a Shirley Temple). Dr. Anderson got talking about his research, which was great to hear about, although because of the time period he is researching it has a lot to do with reading Nazi newspaper articles and the Stasi, and various scandals and political machinations, and he was cheerfully talking about all this in a restaurant full of Germans. (Lisa: "Talk quieter please...")
At the restaurant, I searched the menu in vain for a Leipzig treat that Karin Schemeit had told me to be sure and have while I was there - Leipziger Lerchen. Karin had mentioned them in her blog post about Leipzig during her wonderful travels, almost over three years ago now! The word "Lerche" means "lark," and the treat is a little pastry with an "X" on the top, filled with marzipan and jam. If I'm understanding the (German, Google-translated) Wikipedia article properly, the name comes from the fact that they used to make lark pies on festival days in Leipzig, and then at a certain point lark trapping was banned. So, they started making these treats instead. I had read on a tourism site that they were not to be missed, and Karin told me they were tasty as well, so I was on a mission. Apparently these are a very authentic Leipzig treat. However, they weren't on the menu at this spot. And, the Anderson's had never heard of them! Uh-oh, this could be a challenge.
We finished our day off with Brot (bread) and other tasty things at "home." What a day! I still can't believe that I got to hear the choir of St. Thomas Church - what a once in a lifetime pleasure.
DAY 3 - GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME
So the next day, being Sunday, started off with church. The Anderson parents decided to walk to church and Erica and I took the tram. "Erica knows the way, just follow her." Erica was starting to remind me of David, or of how I hear he was as a kid - already very sure of her directions and of reading maps, and very interested in the workings of transit systems and signage. Hmm! So I knew I was in good hands as we locked up the flat and headed to the tram stop. We got off at Augustusplatz, which meant we got a great look at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where the orchestra that was once conducted by Felix Mendelssohn plays.
|Follow me, I know the way!|
What a beautiful church this is! I was there on a great Sunday, too, because they were baptising and confirming a number of their young people, so there was a feeling of festival to the service. We again sang the hymn Mit Freuden zart du dieser Fahrt, which we had sung the day before at the Motette service; Dr. Anderson told me later that this hymn, in the Lutheran lectionary, is proper to this week of the church year. Singing the hymn in German, I caught about every fourteenth word (that one was for you, Bach), but it is nice to at least be able to pronounce it thanks to rigorous pronunciations from my friend Suzi Byrd when we were all learning Jesu meine Freude at Perkins.
|Notice the very interesting columns - more on that later. Random cultural observation: French people that I work with tend to say "colonne" instead of "column," but pronounce it as if it's the English word.|
There was even brass for the hymns and anthems during this service. David would have been in heaven! I certainly was. Like at the Thomaskirche, the choir at the Nikolaikirche sits in the balcony at the back of the church and sings from there. The service was a full Lutheran mass, typical of this part of Germany, as Dr. Anderson later pointed out. We went up in groups to the circular railing at the front of the chancel to take communion. Erica and I sang together out of the bright red hymnal.
Also like the Thomaskirche, the Nikolaikirche was redone in the 1800s, so the architecture (and appealing pink walls) are not contemporary to Bach. Bach premiered the St. John Passion here in 1724. In 1989, the church became famous as the site of peaceful protests against Communist rule (the Monday Demonstrations).
|Notice Bach's personal seal - it's formed out of the initials JSB overlaid on each other twice, frontwards and backwards.|
|It's hard to take a good picture of the whole church because there are buildings kind of all around. But here's the entrance. The church is situated at the crossroads of what were once two important trade routes.|
|My gracious hosts!|
|The Nikolaischule, the residential school where choristers of the Nikolaikirche are taught. The corresponding original Thomasschule has since been torn down, unfortunately. I bought some postcards in a shop nearby to send to family and friends.|
In the picture below, note the solitary column standing to the left of the church. It is in the same style as the columns inside the Nikolaikirche, and was put there to symbolize the life of the church extending outside of the confines of the church's walls.
After church we had a fabulous buffet brunch/lunch/dinner (Verw
öhnbrunch)at a place called Leo's Brasserie, with cold meats and breads and potato salads, green beans with those very German fried onions in them, pastas, desserts, the whole bit. So yummy! Somehow the whole meal tasted very German to me. How do they fry the onions so crispy like that without burning them? Inquiring minds want to know.
After lunch we did some wandering around the city centre.
|Goethe! Get excited!|
|A different view of the Altes Rathaus|
Another example of "making an effort to learn something" in the German cultural fabric - the inscription on the Altes Rathaus. The large gilt letters encircle the entire building - you have to walk around the whole of city hall to read the message. It says something like, "This building was completed in November of 1556, for the greater glory of God, outside of whose glory no building can stand." Only I'm sure it's longer than that - it's apparently the longest inscription on a building in Germany. Hence the walking around the entire building. One must make an effort!! (Sidebar: all this mention of the Altes Rathaus is starting to make me wonder whether I did in fact see the Neues Rathaus, the new city hall, the whole time I was there?? This is a serious oversight. I'll have to go back.)
|Shopping arcade, with figures from Goethe's Faust.|
|These figures depict a scene "in Auerbachs-Keller aus Goethes Faust," the scene in which Mephisto enchants (verzaubert) the students.|
Next, we spent a wonderful couple of hours in the Bach Museum. This is highly recommended by yours truly should you ever find yourself in Leipzig. It is a wonderful, compact, very modern and interactive museum with a fabulous combination of scholarly, musical, experiential and contextual elements. The first room you come to has a big electronic "table" on it where something must be projecting from above, and there are images of letters, manuscripts, posters and other things relevant to Bach's life, that by touching the screen and dragging things diagonally (think iPhone) you can resize and look at them bigger or move them aside to look at something else. You can even (much to Erica's amusement) "explode" one of the items into puzzle pieces and work at putting it Bach together. So much fun!
Upstairs, there was an interesting room with suspended "organ pipes" that must have had some electronic device inside, because if you put your ear up to it you could hear a piece of Bach music playing. So, you could listen to a bunch of different musical examples, but the room wasn't filled with all the different pieces playing at once because you had to sidle your ear up to the speaker. Neat!
The next main room had a large map of Leipzig at the time of Bach laid out on the floor, and podiums standing at the spot of places of interest in Bach's life (e.g. the Thomaskirche, the Nikolaikirche, the Thomasschule, etc. etc.) The podiums then each had an electronic touch screen, with an array of information about the place in question. So you got a feel for where in the city all Bach's "places" were in relation to each other, and could learn about them in specifics at each of these podiums.
My favourite room, though, had a glass display in the centre of continuo instruments contemporary to Bach's time, including a bass viol that they know was played in Bach's "band." All around the periphery of the room were small speakers with a picture of a different kind of contemporary instrumentalist on them - first violin, oboe d'amore, celesta, organ, harpsichord, bassoon, etc. etc. You could pick a piece of music on a panel, and it would play in the room, but with each individual speaker playing the whole track quietly, but with the audio of the particular instrument it represented playing much louder than the other parts. When that instrument was playing, the image of the player would light up, and if it wasn't, it would go dark. So, you could go up close to that speaker and hear the specific instrument clearly, and easily pick its part out of the texture of the rest of the piece. OMG! It was the coolest thing ever. I stayed in that room for a really long time. It was like music analysis heaven. Yes I know I'm a nerd, okay?? :) :) :)
We also saw a very cool room of Bach's manuscripts. Bach had the coolest handwriting, though I don't envy people who work with his manuscripts and have to actually pick out what he was saying. Dr. Anderson is alarmingly good at it. Lisa picked up on something really cool in one of the part scores, something about a transposing instrument... but I'm not remembering what it was now. But it was cool!
The whole museum really made me think of David and his Information Environments studies. He would have been so interested in it - maybe less for the subject matter but definitely for how well thought-out the whole installation is!
|Courtyard of the Bach-Archiv building, adjacent to the Thomaskirche|
But perhaps the most fabulous (and most hilarious) revelation of the trip came next, when we were looking at a shadow box of artefacts. They consisted of a belt buckle, thimble and other curios. Remember how I said they excavated Bach's body in the early 1900s and made the statue's face based on his remains? Well, the label on this shadow box said "items recovered from the grave believed to be that of J.S. Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena." Herm?
Okay, so Bach had such a humble burial, by the time they got around to going and finding his grave again (150 years after he died), they didn't really have the most reliable record of where he had been laid. The curatorial note on this shadow box quoted some document they had to hand at the time (I'm picturing a scrap of paper or napkin circa 1750) that said something like "Bach was buried in the fifth plot on the left after you go out the back door of the church." So they followed this questionable treasure map and found a grave with a man and a woman in it, and figured that was the one. WHAT!
Follow the thought process through with me, folks -
This means that we can't really be sure that the person who is buried under a bronze epitaph in the centre of the chancel of St. Thomas Church is actually, truly J.S. Bach. And furthermore, the face of the person immortalized in a life-sized statue outside the church, which was taken from said remains, might actually be some random dude, and not J.S. Bach at all. (Dr. Anderson: "We could all be looking at the local butcher.")
This actually makes my day. No, my year. These kind of revelations make life worth living.
|"So, who do you think's really buried under there?"|
|The first-ever monument to J.S. Bach, organised by Felix Mendelssohn in the 1800s.|
I popped into the gift shop of the Bach-Archiv and came away with two cute buttons, that say "Soprano" and "Alto" on them in Bach's handwriting. For me and my Mommy.
|We walked around the back side of the Thomaskirche. Right there at that road is where the wall of the city used to be.|
After all that, the Andersons put Erica and I on the tram back to Rudi-Opitz-Straβe. You see, they were trading me a week of housing for one night of babysitting. They headed off to take in an organ recital and go out for a date night afterwards, and Erica and I headed home together to make some supper. I'm glad Erica knew the way! We skyped with my Mom a bit, and possibly David too, and then we watched the end of one of the "Land Before Time" movies dubbed into German. (Hilarious. The only part I understood was Ducky going "yup yup yup!") We also watched "Sandmännchen", a vintage 5-minute kids' show leftover from DDR days. The sandman goes around to a child in a different part of the world each show, and sings a little song and puts sand (sparkles) in their eyes to make them sleepy. It's stop-motion animation and there's a little orchestrated accompaniment to the music - very sweet. (Interesting: I tried to find it on YouTube and the actual cartoon isn't there, but what does come up shows me that there may have been a "West" and an "East" version of the show. Huh!)
Erica and I were still hanging out after our supper when the Anderson's came home saying "did we make it to 7 o'clock??" (In their defence, I think it was a bit after 8). They made it through the organ recital but could only muster a coffee and dessert after that. It's okay, guys - that revelation about Bach's grave tired me out too.
DAY 4 - JUST FOR A LARK
The next day, Monday, it was back to the archives for Dr. Anderson. I think I spent the morning writing my postcards, and chatting with Lisa. Then we went and picked Erica up from a morning field trip at school, and headed out for more explorations.
We hopped on the tram and went back to Augustusplatz, and this time I managed to get some pictures of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The International Mahler Festival (in honour of early 20th century composer/conductor Gustav Mahler) was in full swing while I was there, but apparently all the tickets were gone, gone, gone.
|Fountain outside of the Leipzig Gewandhaus.|
The building below has a very interesting history - it is just now being built on the site of the University Church, which was bombed by the Communists during their control of the region, because they wanted to build something else on that spot. (!) But, there were protests of the bombing of the church, and now, much later, a building is being constructed that will have a secular, civic purpose but whose architecture evokes the destroyed University Church. Dr. Anderson makes the whole story sound much more colourful and scandalous than I'm telling it, but I don't want to get the details wrong. Very interesting aspect of local history!
|A building intended to evoke the University Church.|
We walked a short way to the building where Felix Mendelssohn's flat was, to have a look at the museum that has been put together there to maintain his legacy.
|This says "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy died in this house on the 4th November 1847."|
So, while it was really cool to be in Mendelssohn's house, we all got really excited at the staircase up to the flat and had to look at it for a while. I couldn't capture how pretty it was really properly on my camera, but it was a double spiral staircase that fanned out from the right and left, all the way up the building. The woodwork was really pretty and beautifully stained. Hard to describe... it was a really pretty staircase!
Here we were in Mendelssohn's flat. Apparently what's really interesting is to visit here, and then go visit Schumann's flat in another part of the city. Mendelssohn conducted the Gewandhaus orchestra for many years, as well as being a well-regarded composer. Schumann, though a well-respected composer and music critic, was not so lucky in terms of lucrative appointments, and struggled financially. Apparently comparing the two is an interesting exercise in "how the other half lived" - Mendelssohn's flat takes up the entire floor of the building and obviously was very lovely accommodation for him, his wife, and his children.
They have the flat set up beautifully with furniture and fixtures contemporary to the time, manuscripts and concert materials from Mendelssohn's time, an iPod listening device that serves as a personal guided tour, and a room exhibiting Mendelssohn's considerable talent for watercolour painting. Erica and I both liked Mendelssohn's painting of Lucerne, Switzerland the best.
Below is a room that they've outfitted with actual belongings of the Mendelssohn family. They include a leather travel chest hand painted with scenes of London.
After that we headed off to find some Kaffee und Kuchen, and to mail my postcards.
|In a square between the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Mendelssohn's flat.|
We ended up at "Lukas," sort of the Starbucks of Germany. And what did we happen to find there?
|They were delicious!|
I really enjoyed my marzipan-jam-pastry treats, and I also enjoyed getting out my postcard to Karin and amending it to say that I had in fact found Lerchen during my trip!
|Sitting in the covered arcade outside Lukas.|
|Pastry with marzipan inside. Wikipedia told me there would be jam, but these ones I'm pretty sure actually had a maraschino cherry inside, instead.|
Lisa was impressed and decided to buy a few Lerchen to take home for breakfast the next day. I feel I have contributed to their cultural understanding of Leipzig. ;)
After dinner at home, Dr. Anderson was headed out to a master's organ recital (Masterprüfung) at the Thomaskirche. I was delighted to have another opportunity to sit in the church and hear music there, so I tagged along. Since it was a student recital it wasn't packed like for the Motette, so we got to sit right out in the middle of the church. It was so wonderful - the student was, of course, fabulous. Her name was Su Jung Lee, a student of Stefan Engels of the Hochschule für Musik und Theatre "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy", Leipzig. She played both organs during her recital - first, she began with J.S. Bach's 6th Sonata in G Major BWV 530 on the smaller organ at the side of the church. (No pressure - the organ bears Bach's personal seal, and Bach is buried mere meters away. Uh... or not!!)
Next she moved over to the larger organ at the back of the balcony to accompany a soprano singing Louis Vierne's Les Angélus op. 57. But the pièce de résistance came last, Franz Liszt's Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral "Ad nos, ad salutarem undarm", a mammoth fantasy and fugue of a scale that I think only Liszt was capable of. It's hard to describe, especially on one hearing, except to say that it is immense and a little overwhelming. But, as I mentioned earlier, even playing this huge work with passages that I'm sure included the full organ, the instrument didn't overwhelm the room. It was just lush, grand and satisfying. When the student arrived at the final cadence, the sound of the final chord was so wonderful I suddenly felt like I`d been waiting to hear that chord my whole life. A wonderful evening of music!
After that, Dr. Anderson suggested a glass of Wein so we sat outside a cafe and chatted for a while.
DAY 5 - HOMEWARD BOUND
On the last morning of my time in Leipzig, I had another chance to sit and chat with Lisa. I had brought them a Royal Wedding postcard and a tin of Twinings "Royal Wedding Blend" tea as a thank-you gift. Lisa made up a pot of the tea - kind of rose-flavoured, very nice - and we had a nice quiet chat. Lisa is a pianist, and she was interested to hear about the piano pieces I have lined up - on the back burner anyway, the music is in Susan and George's basement.
After that, Lisa went to pick Erica up from her morning at school and I went ahead of them to the Grassimuseum, kind of the Smithsonian of Leipzig, which has an impressive musical instrument museum. They joined me and we had a wonderful time looking at celestas, harpsichords, sackbuts, viols, Kontrafagotten, and these teeny-tiny violins that look like a sprite would play them. The exhibits include recordings of period music, some of it played on the very instruments that are on display. Very cool!
|See, I really was on this trip!|
|Courtyard of the Grassimuseum.|
After that it was time to head back over to the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof to begin the reverse of my great journey of a few days ago. This trip was such an amazing opportunity to experience a part of the world I had never been to before, and definitely made me want to return and discover more of Germany. I am so grateful to the Andersons for having me!
It seemed so wild to be going "home" to London from Leipzig. I guess I still can't quite believe we're having this wondeful experience, but I am thankful for it every day.
It also reminds me how much music there is out there to experience, enjoy and study! Talking to Dr. Anderson always makes me want to go and read the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians for about the rest of my life. But that's a good thing, I think, and chatting with him during the course of the trip helped me crystallize some ideas I've been having about "the future" (more on that later).
It was so neat to be in a living city that has so much respect, it seemed to me, for its legacy and for keeping alive the traditions that made it great in the past. It must feel like a big responsibility, carrying on the music of Bach and the legacy of Martin Luther, but it feels as though Leipzig handles it with a calm and matter-of-factness that makes the cultural attractions really pleasurable and vital. The combination of green space and "city" space in Leipzig was a really lovely surprise - there's an "aaah" factor to suddenly finding yourself in an expansive park when you were just walking along a concrete sidewalk. In terms of tourism, I think it was a little more fun from a communication perspective to be in France, where I speak the language. It really is kind of fun to be able to speak to people in French and get on okay with it. I really, really don't speak German. Ha ha. (Oh well - one more thing to learn??) We may have that factor in to our planning of our Europe trip when David and I go after our time in London - try to spend lots of time in French-speaking places where we can actually talk to people.
I don't think I'll ever forget listening to Bach's compositions in the church where he worked - where he was a hardworking church musician, just like me.
Well, plus the whole genius thing.
Auf Wiedersehen, Leipzig, und vielen Dank!