Where it all started- Berlin

After a church service and a long bus ride we were back in Berlin where the Castle Singers started this amazing European journey. Because there was so much traffic on our way we were put far behind schedule and we had 30 minutes to warm-up, get through devo. and finish off the end of the year castle singers traditions. The church we were singing in was the zionskirche where Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked as a sort of youth pastor. It was also a center of opposition during the GDR regime when much of the artwork and design of the church has been covered to make it look more modern. This re-decoration ruined much of the original artwork. When Berlin was bombed during WWII the church was plundered by locals for firewood and protection. The church has been through many restorations but still has a sense of ruins from a troubled history. My camera does not do this description justice because even with its past the light shines in any way it’s possible.

The concert itself was a little scary at first. It was probably the smallest audience we had seen yet and they didn’t start clapping when we finished the first song. Which, as any one who has ever performed will know, that this can really ruin the mood of the singers. Even with this audience we gave one of what I believe to be our best performances. I could not have asked for anyone else to perform with such emotion.

It’s the singers in this ensemble that make my experiences at Wartburg more than worth it. They are some of the most beautiful people I have met and have given me so many reasons to want to stay at Wartburg and I couldn’t be more thankful for each and every one of them.

P.S. for the singers, Sorry for creeping all tour but I hope you like the pictures. Sorry if I don’t have one of you, it means that you move too much so all of the pics are blurry 😦 But I think everyone is in at least one picture!

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May 11-Flossenburg

Stillness and silence. That is how I would describe our experience at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. It is one I will never forget. We started out our day at the Flossenburg headquarters, in which 15,000 people were imprisoned at one point. This spot is also where the SS would interrogate and torture prisoners. However, I did learn that mass killings came from the labor they had to put forth in the quarries, rather than from being sent to gas chambers. Nonetheless, the torture these prisoners had to go through was unbearable.


I was moved to tears after singing in the Synagogue. It was one of those experiences that is hard to put words to. As we gathered around the Star of David and joined hands, we sang Lamb of God. It was then when I truly listened to the words and fell in love with the beauty of that song. While the words don’t necessarily connect, there was one line that really stuck out to me-“Have mercy on us.” Singing in there meant everything it needed to be.


As I walked through the Valley of Death, I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of why someone would put innocent people through what they had been through. It was painfully obvious that if there was ever a time of evil, it was at that point. While this establishment was commemorated as a memorial, something still felt haunting as I took my first steps down. Our tour guide described it as “walking down into hell” which I think was quite accurate, with the entrance being located above the crematorium. There were pillars at the camp gate to represent the prisoners’ suffering. The ashes of about 15,000 people were scattered or buried near the crematorium. Walking inside the crematorium was nothing but eerie. The Pyramid of Ashes is made up of remains of those who perished at the camp. I walked around it just wondering how any of it could come to be. The Square of Nations memorializes those dead by country of origin. By the time I had walked the whole path and made my way up to the chapel, I felt a sense of revelation. The memorial site is laid out to resemble a Christian Stations of the Cross, so the chapel can be seen from the crematorium. I surpassed the Valley feeling relieved, as others should have been able to do.


The message was clear to me. It wasn’t about sorrow or grief. The concept of the Concentration Camp is remembrance. Remembering those who were put through things that some of us couldn’t imagine. They were all just people like us. They all had self worth, whether they themselves believed it or not. It was all overwhelmingly powerful. The only way to fully understand it is to experience it. Nevertheless, an experience to remember.


May 14, Nuremberg. Broken and Rebuilt.

11281904_10205104366743476_1927591464_n 11292797_10205104366663474_94404803_n 11253852_10205104366383467_62468402_nOur arrival in Nuremburg was greeted with a short bit of free time to wander and explore the city on our own. It was Tiffany Louk’s birthday, and so I made it my mission to accompany her on her birthday adventures. We visited the market square, which hosted no market this day as Ascension Day is a German national holiday. There was a small Italian market down the street near an ice cream shop, so of course we had to grab an ice cream. Wandering back up toward the castle, we stopped at Albrecht Durer’s house. It is one of the few buildings that survived the enormous American and RAF bombing raids during WWII. It is a beautiful half-timbered structure, but entry was rather expensive. And, as we later learned, it holds no original Durer artworks. We then visited the free parts of the Nuremberg castle structure, which itself actually consists of 2 castles. Tiffany and I gave in, spent a little money, and climbed the tower to experience the aerial view of Nuremberg, which was fairly impressive. It is not the most gorgeous city in Germany by any means. Nuremberg was totally wrecked by WWII. As the homeground of much of the Nazi Party and a critically important industrial city for the German war effort, it was a choice target for Allied bombers. Very little of the city remains original; rather, it has been restored piecemeal. But it still remains an attractive city by my standards.

After finally finding a way across the castle moat, we returned late to our guided tour. Which, of course, took us on exactly the same path we just meandered through, only backwards. Nonetheless, it was an interesting learning experience to discover the importance of the Nuremberg castles, a place where every German king and emperor known hosted an imperial diet. This meeting of national leaders was politically very important for setting the tone of their reign.

On the far end of the city, the Nazi Party rally grounds still stand. Near Zeppelinfield one can overlook the pond Dutzendeich and see the Congress Hall. It was built as a tribute to the Roman Colosseum, to inspire the vision of the Third Reich as a renaissance of imperialism. It is enormous and ostentatious, for sure, but also unfinished, ugly, and made of crumbling red brick under the facade. The northern wing of the building now hosts the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Documentation Center with historical exhibits. Across the pond, the Zeppelinfield itself is the location of iconic images of enormous numbers of Nazi soliders marching with Hitler standing on the Zeppelinfield grandstand in the background. Three years ago, on this same Castle Singers trip, I walked up to the very platform where Hitler once stood giving convincing, powerful speeches of a new world order led by a unified German Third Reich. The place felt haunted, by the deaths of millions and by the suffering of the world in a second world war. Haunted by the incredible evil that was inspired by one man’s vision.

I stood there again on this day. Hanging from the platform was a knitted blanket with a rainbow on it, laurels hanging on both sides, and a message of peace, love, and equality embroidered in the fabric. The place felt less haunted somehow. Germany is still repairing the damage done, and their national identity may never fully recover. But the people themselves are through with supporting evil, and that inspired me with some hope.

Reid Cook

Eisenach Adventures


This morning I woke up with a nice view of the Wartburg castle from my bedroom. I got ready and went downstairs for a beautiful gourmet breakfast with my host family.

After breakfast my host mom and two host sisters and I drove to the Burschenschafts-Denkmal and walked up a lot of stairs to the top where we were able to stand and look out at the city and see for miles. We could see the Wartburg Castle and where my host family lives.

We then drove to a bakery for lunch where I had a slice of a delicious apple cake. We met the rest of the castle singers at the Bachhaus for a tour. The tour guide played the organs and harpsichords and played recording of other interesting instruments that Bach used for his pieces. I had a döner, a huge sandwich filled with meat and vegetables as a second lunch to tide me over until dinner.

We then rehearsed in the Georgenkirche which had a beautiful acoustic and amazing architecture. I stood really high in the balcony and was really nervous about falling off. My host family picked me up and we got pizzas for dinner, got ready for the concert and gave a beautiful concert which everyone loved. I also got recognized and was given a small gift for my birthday.

After the concert my host family took me to a bar to celebrate my birthday and the wonderful concert we gave and then we headed back to the house. It was a pretty good birthday, definitely one to remember!

May 13th: Trains, Chocolate, and a Fancy Castle

What a crazy busy day from one thing to the next.  We started an early morning at the Probstzella DDR-Grenzabahnhof-Museum. It is half way between Berlin and Munich and was a boarder checkpoint from 1949 until 1990. Pastor Jay had many stories to tell and connecting those to stories from out home stays.  From there we were all getting very eager to go to the Lauenstein Confiserie (chocolate factory)! We spent our time scoping out the wide variety of options, had a cup of coco or mochachinno, and then bought all that we think  could be carried back home with us. I think we could have stayed all day. Our final tourist stop was a steep hill up to the Lauenstein Castle and took in the historic museum and renaissance architecture. Pastor Jay stuck with us the entire day and shared his vast knowledge! We had our concert that night at Michaeliskirche in Ludwigsstadt and afterwards were all invited to one of the families homes for drinks, music, and good company!wpid-wp-1431728198204.jpegwpid-wp-1431728213339.jpegwpid-photo-collage-maker_gvgera.png.pngwpid-wp-1431727889518.jpeg

Eisenach, Germany: Coming Home

imageComing to Eisenach truly does feel like a homecoming. Today we were met with open arms by the mayor of Eisenach and our very own Dr. Pfaltzgraff! We visited our namesake, the Wartburg Castle and learned about how Waverly came to be a sister city to Eisenach. In 1990, Robert Vogel asked the mayor of Eisenach at the time if Waverly could be their sister city because of the college’s name. The mayor could have chosen Detroit, MI instead of Waverly. I think they made the right choice 🙂

May 12th

When I woke up at the hostel located in the middle of the woods, I stepped outside to my porch. I was greeted by chickens and sheep as I stepped out. I was then startled by Michael brown who was starring since I came out.

The place that we stayed that night was so peaceful. It was a little hotel/hostel on imagethe farm in the forest. One of my favorite stays so far because we all got to be together.

We then walked out to the road and waited for the bus. Because we were in the middle of nowhere, it was a lot of winding roads to get out, those get me pretty sick. It was also a 2 1/2 hour drive. I slept for a majority of that. We are in the middle of the mountains so the view is fantastic. We got to the castle which was beautiful, located on the top of the hill, it loooked out the small city that reminded me a lot of Eisenach. We met the pastor of the church, he has lived in Germany for 40 years. He gave us a quick tour of the castle outside then we had some free time. A number of us went to get our favorite German/Turkish treat, Döner. We then made the long hike back up the hill to the castle where we got a tour of the inside. One of my favorite parts was that we got to wear little feet covers that made us slide around very easily. They did this to protect the floor, but, I think they gave them to us to help polish the floors. We got to sing in a few places and the acoustic was nice.

We drove to Probstzella, it was about an hour. When we got to Probstzella we had a short rehearsal then went with our host family, my host parents were Olla and Manfred Escherich. They were an elderly couple that spoke little English. I got to practice my German, I was a little rusty. While we were eating outside and having coffee a small but fat snake fell out of the bushes! It was not a dangerous snake but it still scared me a little!

We then went to the church for dinner of bratwursts. We had a wonderful concert with 2 encores. The concerts just keep getting better and better. After the concert there was a reception planned but everyone went home. I drank local beer and chatted with the people that hosted us. We then went back and watched the semifinals for soccer. It was a good day with some great people.

The picture is of my home stay that night.