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

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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.

received_10206665786069143So today May 9th our small little group got to do a lot. We got to see St. Thomas church where we honored Bach and Mendelssohn for their great work. After that we hopped on our bus and made our way to Prague. Prague was absolutely beautiful and the second we got there that was clear. That night we had date night where we got to be together as the castle singers. The main thing I want to talk about for today are the members of castle singers, the real reason the group is and always will be castle singers. This group of sixteen people is incredible they are the happiest most joyful group of people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. People join the castle singers for many reasons whether it was the music we sing or the feel of a smaller group, but I can say with certainty that you will stay for the people. Today was proof of that and this entire trip has been an eye opening experience to who and what the castle singers are.

Reformation Restoration Raucous Retort

Wittenberg was the destination of our day’s journey. Leaving Bad Belzig and our gracious host families, we set out in order to visit the historic town where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door, condemning the Catholic Church, mainly its practices of indulgences. This started the reformation, which produced Protestantism. Of great benefit to the common people of the time, Protestantism cut out the middle-man between them and their maker, which was nice, seeing that many would be meeting Him shortly due to the wars and turmoil that followed.

Driving through the country of Germany, spires could be seen lining the skyline. It seemed every place where a few houses were gathered, there could be seen a church of exceedingly old age, many times much older than the good ‘ol US of A. With this fact in mind, and also having visited my fair share of cathedrals and ancient churches throughout Europe, you can forgive me if I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of visiting yet another amalgamation of stone and wood. I understand the cultural and historical significance of these places (being a history major myself, albeit quite a casual one), but I just can’t seem to feel what I’m supposed to feel while visiting these sites. At this time in my life, I find myself wanting to experience something more tangible and less cold and pretentious. I get that these buildings were built-in order to inspire awe and convince their constituents of the validity of their lofty believes, but at the same time, they seem so detached from reality and loom over us, looking down upon us and our existences, that I can’t help but feel put-off under their shadows.

Restoration Reformation

 

As we arrive in Wittenberg, we are greeted with a site all too familiar-scaffolding. As we have journeyed around Europe, it seems that every town we come to has had multiple buildings, mainly ancient sites of worship, that are under restoration. All these extremely old buildings are bound to need repair, especially since Europe blew itself up twice in the 19th century, doing much better the second time around. Also, with the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation coming up in 2017, most of the oldest historical sites in Wittenberg are no exception, covered in enchanting vinyl advertising tarps  and metal scaffolding, obscuring all else from view. I wonder if the tour company had taken this into mind when having us visit. An example of a tolerable museum was seen with the Lutherhaus, which had many interesting things, but at the end day, things are things, animal skins, inks, Earth metals rearranged in order to form some sort of meaning in this absurdly short blink of existence. After a heart-stopping tour (where, at one point, I had to check my pulse to see if my heart actually had stopped and I hadn’t died and entered an agonizing purgatory where I was forced to listen to self-indulgent tour guides who loved to listen to their own voices), there was time to do what we all truly wanted to do in the first place, explore the city on our own and discover what it all meant to us in our present lives. I can say that my previous thoughts on what matter to me presently were reaffirmed with a great afternoon spent in the company of great individuals and great German beer.

Well, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to go with this blog post and I apologize if any sensibilities were offended, but these were my thoughts and I just went with what my fingers were dishing out.

-Michael