!This is where you will find my daily postings about our trip to Germany. I will be posting every night after room checks, so they should be updated around dinner time in KC each day.
Thursday, March 10
It is the night before the trip and I couldn't be more excited. Our wonderful trip chairs, JD Kinney and Christy Higgins have done a fantastic job with all of the details. Now all we have to do is get everyone to Germany!!! I'll probably not be able to post again until we get to Munich so Bis Bald und Gute Nacht!
Friday, March 11 to Saturday, March12
Well, other than a delay from one flight from Dallas and a lost trip jacket, the travel day (and a half) went as well as ever! No lost passports, no lost luggage and everyone got to Frankfurt Saturday. Even the later flight that we didn't think would be able to tour Dachau before it closed landed early, skipped lunch and made it to Dachau in time. So all 170 of us met up in Dachau.
Dachau.....What a chilling visit we had there. This is a haunting place that everyone needs to see. As we entered through the wrought iron ARBEIT MACHT FREI (work makes free) gate, the stark grounds are a gripping reminder of a dark time in our world. They have a wonderful welcome center with a 20 minute video showing clips and photos of the horrors that went on there. We then toured the barracks, crematorium and gas chambers. Our students were reverent and respectful as we toured the grounds with very little sound.
After Dachau we loaded the buses and went into downtown Munich for dinner. We ate at a huge Beer Hall/Restaurant called Der Augustiner. It was begun in the 1300s by the Augustine monks. Our guide told the story that they started off only making beer, but soon everyone got too hungry so they opened a restaurant. We had an authentic German meal of potato soup, sauerkraut, and roasted pork in dunkelbier sauce and dumpling.
After dinner we checked into our very modern hotel, had a little free time and went to bed.
It's midnight here now so I'm going to do the same. Bis Morgen!
Sunday, March 13
What a quiet night we had last night. It was evident at breakfast check-in that almost everyone slept like a rock! As we gathered at the buses this morning for our departure to Neuschwanstein Castle, we knew it was going to be a brisk day. I was actually excited about the forecast of possible snow as I have been to the Alps in the snow and there are very few better winter views in the world!
We loaded the buses for our hour and a half ride to the castle.
About 45 minutes into our trip, the sides of the Autobahn were covered with snow. For the remainder of our ride in the countryside grew more and more beautiful. As we approached the little town of Schwangau, Bavaria which is home the Neuschwanstein Castle, we new it would be a special day. Perched high above the town is the former home of Kaiser Ludwig (look him up, it's too long a story to include!) He built the castle for his home, as i guess the amazing castle on the hill across town was no longer sufficient. Unlike most of the castles in Germany which were built in the Baroque Era, this was begun in the late 1600's and took 17 years to build. He fashioned it after all the older castles and it is spectacular! Then the snow began!!! Perfect!
The only downside of touring the castle is actually getting to it. Imagine a 30 minute walk up a hill steeper than coming south on Main Street from Union Station in KC, except that it is a constant set of Ess curves. That was our challenge, and everyone rose to it. We were all pretty sweaty even at 27 degrees. Then you can imagine how quickly that sweat turned to shivering as we stood for around 20 minutes in the Alpine Wind waiting to take the tour.After a fairly quick, but jaw-dropping guided tour of royal decadence through the inside of the interior palace, we had the much easier task of making a descent on the same mountainous winding lane.
We then had almost 3 hours of time to tour the little town of Schwangau and find somewhere to eat. There were so many places to eat, it was difficult to pick a cafe. Some of it depended on how big a crowd had gathered inside to wait for a table. As I kept walking toward the entrance to the city we drove in on, the sea of blue SME Tour Jackets (shoutout to John and Cynthia Sheridan for finding the perfect jackets for 28 and snowy and 58 and sunny, and Dan Bolen and The Bank Of Prairie Village for supplying us with them) grew more and more sparse and I found a seat right away with some SMEasters at a cozy little cafe called Allgauer Stuberl. I had my first Bratwurst of the trip (far from the last) . NOT disappointed!
After lunch and free time, it was back on the buses to get ready for our concert about 20 minutes away at Bad Kohlgrub. This charming little Dorf had the same sort of feel as Schwangau, without the immediate frame of the alps. We unloaded the buses with all of our concert attire and went into the town beer hall/community center to get our logistics, warm up, rehearse a few things, and change for the concert.
The local arts council had invited the community for our concert and it was exciting to see all the curious German people file in and fill almost all of the seats in the place. After we were introduced (I was called "Doctor Foley" so I will now claim to have an honorary doctorate from Bad Kohlgrub) From the first note to the last the students, weary from a heavy day of walking (my Fitbit read 22,487 steps today) , were focused and we gave the energetic local crowd a wonderful, hour-long concert .At one point I looked to my left out the window and saw that the view out there was the sun setting over the silhouette of an Alpine skyline. That was OK I guess. I introduced our songs in German, and even though I did a pretty good botch job of it, the energetic local crowd appreciated the effort.
After the concert was over and the house cleared, we changed out of our concert attire and stayed there to have dinner. Tonight's fare was German Goulash which was beef and spiral noodles on top of a another tasty dark sauce and a piece of cake. After dinner we had our nightly meeting outlining tomorrow, collected our stuff, and loaded the buses to ride back to Munich and our hotel to settle back in and have room checks.
Parents and Friends know this......Our students made us all as proud as they could possibly have done today. I am constantly impressed by their maturity, teamwork, and ability to positively represent SME here in Germany.
I will leave you with the anecdote of the day relayed to me by one of our parents.....
During our concert as we began to sing Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus", an older gentleman, who we later found out had fought in WWII, put his hand on his wife's knee and she looked at him and a began sobbing.
Whether we are performing it or listening to it, Music has incredible power to lift us up, heal us when we need it, and make us better every day!
I'll type back at you tomorrow
Monday, March 14
Fasten your seat belts, this was quite a day!!
Today we loaded the buses to travel to Salzburg, Austria. With all of the refugee issues in Europe, there is a temporary hold on the open border policy in the European Union, so we were prepared to stop and show our passports at the border. As it turned out, it seems Austria is not that worried about it and Germany is happy if you leave!
After a 2 hour bus ride we arrived at one of my favorite cities in the world, the home of Mozart, Salzburg. Waiting for us to unload the buses were our local guides. We immediately set off on our walking tour of the city (23,265 on the Fitbit today). We saw several sites used in The Sound Of Music, saw a beautiful church on every corner (there are 100 churches in the small city), and crossed the river to the medieval part of town. There we serpentined through narrow streets an alleys, all of which are lined with ornate brass signs depicting what they sell.(so many people couldn't read or write, that was how they knew where to go). It was fun to see the students get more and more excited seeing things that were built as early as 600 AD. We ended our tour at the Birth House of Mozart. It is a very small museum with relatively little to see, but still intriguing to be in the childhood residence of the one of the great musical geniuses of all time.
Then we had around three hours to explore, get lunch, and shop. It seemed the most popular approach was to buy a Bratwurst from a vendor in the Marktplatz, and then find a cafe for some Strudel or Sachertorte and a Kaffee. That left plenty of time to climb up to the Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress on the top of the hill (their claim to fame is they were never overtaken in many attempts).From there you had the most amazing view of the entire city. As the students descended you could see the wonder and smiles on their faces, having seen a vista unlike any other many of them have experienced.
So we could have ended there and been more than thrilled with the day, but it just got better!
We met in front of the Salzburg Cathedral, the first structure having been built in 774 AD. After many changes, from destructive fires to reconstruction projects and the building we see today was completed in 1628. This was the church where Mozart was baptized and later wrote and performed much music there in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg..
Originally, our itinerary included a short 20 minute informal sing in the cathedral. But we ended up doing a full concert there on risers about 20 feet below the organ loft where mozart often played. I have to say, this was an incredible thrill. Everything sounded better in there. The anecdote of the day is the way one adult on the trip described the sound: "When you held a chord, I really thought I could see the notes rising up into the dome." That pretty much described it perfectly. I had programmed Mozat's "Ave Verum Corpus" specifically because we were singing there. I knew it would be a wonderful experience to channel into the history of that space. I have to tell you that two notes into the song, before the choir had sung a note, I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I always tell the kids that Music is a force of nature that is always there. We just have to tap into it. I couldn't explain the emotions that took over, but i knew they were special. It was such an amazing opportunity and experience for us. Afterwards , I fielded many hugs and thank yous from the students. I'm pretty sure some of them had a musical experience unlike anything they had before. The driver from my coach came up to me afterward, pointed to his arm and said "Gänsehaut". That is the German for "Goose Skin". I knew exactly what he meant. From the moment i walked in that building I too had goosebumps!
After the Concert we walked up to the Stieglkeller, home of one of the oldest and most famous beers in Austria for dinner, We had a great meal of Soup, Vegetable Lasagna, Turkey and Strudel. When we are all done with dinner, we invited the restaurant staff to come out so we could sing to them. Boy did we sound terrific all spread out in that wooden room? We talked over the logistics for tomorrow's trip to Berlin and then boarded the buses back to Munich. Remember how I said Germany is happy if you leave? We'll they are a lot more picky when you enter. Our coach drivers are amazing, knew this, and we made like the MAGI and "took another way home". We crossed into Germany on a less traveled way and didn't even have to stop at the border. As we made our way back to the Autobahn, we say the huge back-up at the border checkpoint. It probably saved us an hour!
Tonight was "Moving Night" so when we got back to the hotel, they went right to their rooms to pack and go to sleep. It's an early day tomorrow.
Speaking of that, It's 12:15 and I'm going to bed.
Tuesday, March 15
We had an early wake up today because we had to catch a train. Two trains actually. One from our hotel to the Munich Hauptbahnhof (Their version of Union Station), and then the bullet train from Munich to Berlin. We loaded everything we didn't need for the day onto the coaches, which were driving up to Berlin to meet us. I'm proud of our kids because we were ready to board with everyone at both stops.
We had about six hours on the train, which was really relaxing and fun. Speeding through the picturesque countryside of Germany, seeing beautiful little towns on hills and a wonderful snowstorm near Nuremburg was a very different way to travel. After several stops at other cities to drop off and pick up passengers, we finally arrived in Berlin.
With no luggage to unload, we were off quickly to exit the station and load on to local coaches for about a two hour driving/walking tour of the city. We are going to some very specific things tomorrow, so this general run around the city was a nice introduction. It is a very different place than the cities we've been in so far! Berlin is HOPPING! Big city, crazy traffic, and insane bicyclists. Some of the specific sights we got to see were the Parliament Building, Their version of the White House, The Brandenburg Gate, and the Holocaust Memorial (although our guide said they don't call it that, they call it the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of WWII.) We also drove by Checkpoint Charley. They still have it preserved as it was, complete with an American MP in WWII Uniform. Then we drove to the section of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. They invited artists from all over the world to come and paint their own interpretation of what the wall and/or its fall meant. It is quite a mural.
After the tour we checked in to our nice hotel we ate a great dinner of Salad, Potatoes, Baked Chicken, Couscous and Rice, followed by Vanilla and Chocolate Pudding and Fruit. This was the first meal it I think almost everyone found enough that they liked (picky teenagers!)
All the students are checked in their rooms and I'm off to bed.
More Berlin Tomorrow!
ONE CORRECTION FROM YESTERDAY
Upon up-close inspection of the Checkpoint Charley site today, while the museums and displays around there are very good, The guards at the station are two german guys in a Russian and American uniform trying to get you to take their picture for money. Disappointing!
Wednesday, March 16
Do you want to know how to make 120 teenagers love you?.....Tell them they get to sleep in until 8:00! (trust me, it only works in Europe)
That's how the day began. We all felt a little more rested today. We even had time for an early morning running group to run and get back for breakfast at 8:30.
After breakfast we loaded the coaches and left for the Pergamon Museum. It is in an area of Berlin called "Museum Island". It was built from 1910-1930. This is a museum of Antiquities. There are relics from the 2nd century B.C. from the Pergamon Altar, The Market Gate of Miletus from Ancient Greece. It also includes an Islamic Art Museum, and a Middle East Museum. What I thought was most impressive was the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from the entrance of Babylon, constructed in 575 B.C.It is mind-boggling to see things so old.
After the museum tour, we walked over to Alexanderplatz to the base of the Fernsehturm Berlin (Berlin TV Tower). It stands right next to the Marienkirche where our concert was to be tonight. From there we dismissed the students to have a few hours to get lunch and explore Berlin. The tour yesterday gave people a good idea of where they might like to spend more time. Some went to the museum under the Holocaust Memorial, went back to see the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charley, Others took the time to sit and have a nice German lunch in a cafe and do some shopping. Regardless, it was a great time had by all.
We met back under the TV Tower to go to our coaches and get our performance clothes and go in the church to get ready for our concert. As we entered the Marienkirche, we knew this would be a great place to sing. Inside huge stone pillars leading up to arches in the ceiling gave the framing for our concert on the front steps of the altar. The original Church was built in 1292. It had many revisions over the centuries, but because almost everything in Berlin was heavily damaged, it was restored in the 1950's to it's present state. We dumped our stuff in the dressing area, and took about a half-hour to warm up and get our logistics in place. Then we went and changed and waited for the audience to enter.
Here comes the cool part.....
This was no ordinary concert. This was a collaboration of a local arts council with the Berlin City Mission. It was a benefit for the mission as they are really trying to care for the refugees coming to Germany to flee persecution in their own countries. Not that the present day population is responsible for the atrocities of WWII, but these people really want to change old thoughts about Germany so it can come to be known for being open to all people.
The director of the Mission introduced the concert and introduced us. The our students opened their mouths and changed some lives. Our first set of songs by German composers sounded so good in that space and the audience was truly enjoying it. Then the Chamber Choir came out for their set and the momentum continued.The moment in this set that was most moving to me was our piece "All Works of Love" with a text from Mother Theresa. I had programmed this piece for another event The Chamber Choir did in KC, but as many of you know about me, I don't believe in coincidences, so I'm certain now that I chose that piece for tonight. Here is Mother Theresa's text....
If we have no Peace,
it is because we have forgotten
that we belong to each other.
All works of Love
are Works of Peace
I explained the text to the audience in German before we sang, and after the song they applauded for about a minute (which is a very long applause)
After the Chamber Set, the Choraliers kicked off our American Music set with Up the Ladder to the Roof and just about did blow the roof off at the end! We sang Eric Whitacre and a few Spirituals to close out the concert. The Audience was on their feet, so we sang Old Irish Blessing as an Encore. The students had been asking if we could sing it this week and it was the perfect ending to a beautiful night of music and outreach. The concert raised over 1000 euros for the mission, so the SME Choraliers can be counted as high school students doing something productive over spring break!
One side note...There was an SME Choralier and Chamber Choir Alum who lives in Berlin in the Audience. She found about about it on Facebook! Small world!
After the concert we changed and walked to a local restaurant for a great buffet dinner of Salad, Pizza, Wienerschnitzel, Currywurst, Pasta and Dessert. Everyone chowed down after a long and fulfilling day. Then back to the hotel for meeting and room checks.
Off to Wittenburg and Leipzig tomorrow.
Sorry for the lateness of this...WIFI wouldn't work, not even my hotspot!