My Summer 2012 Germany Tour

Berlin – Magdeburg – Verden – Bremen – Worpswede

Long before we left Germany last October, I was busy making plans to return.  I eventually was able to line up 5 concerts to play within a two week time span, both in the region around Bremen, where we lived, and also in a couple other cities.  My non-musician friends were almost incredulous to hear that one could, in effect, pay for one’s vacation this way.  As you will see, it’s a pretty busy vacation schedule, though…

I landed in Berlin and loved the chance to have a little down time in a city that we’ve always found to be exciting and full of things to see and do.  My first days in Berlin, intoxicated with the idea of being anywhere without small children to take care of, and able to do whatever I wanted to do the entire day long, I wandered around some hip neighborhoods,


found myself tasty meals, checked out a museum with a very cool collection of self-playing instruments (picture to come…)

and generally enjoyed being back in  Germany.  I practiced the second evening in the Wilhelm Kaiser Gedaechtnis Kirche, a very famous modern church with striking blue windows on all walls.  I’m quite used to practicing alone in churches at night, but the experience had an entirely different feeling in this building.


On Wednesday, I met my friend Barry (he was just coming from a concert in Italy), and we took the train together to Magdeburg, where he is the cathedral organist.  I was left alone in the church to practice all night (though I really felt like I’d rather read a book and go to bed early, what with the jet lag and all…), but I ended up getting quite a bit done.  The Cathedral is a gigantic place, full of history, stories, artwork, nooks and cranies, and also, during the daytime, tourists.  It has a huge acoustic, and a fairly new organ from 2004 – a beautiful 90 stop symphonic style instrument by Alexander Schuke, which sits up very high in the back balcony.  It looks rather tiny from down below, but the distances mask the real size of it.  On has to take an elevator to reach the organ loft!



The next day, I also got to see and play the newest organ of the cathedral, located in the Remter, or the Winter Church.  It is a lovely little instrument built by Goeter-Goetz and voiced by Rosales. 



Another night spent practicing till late in the church alone.  The cathedral organ is quite different in it’s size and scale from what I usually play, but my registrations ending up working quite well, and I felt comfortable enough to play about as well as one could expect, with a new program, jet leg, etc.  An unusually friendly and outgoing (for Germany) audience was quite complementary afterwards, as we all sipped drinks in the courtyard of the cathedral.

Saturday morning I was off early, back to Berlin, to play the 5pm Orgel Vesper.  After running through my program in a stifling hot church, I determined the best thing would be a leisurely dinner and relaxing phone call with my family, as opposed to more time spent practicing. 


The concert went well, though the extreme heat – up high in the organ loft, with no windows to open! – did affect my concentration.  However there were again some very kind audience members afterwards who went out of their way to complement me, and that felt good.  The church put me up in a kind of high-end retirement home that night, in the ritzy shopping district near the church, so my room was quiet and undisturbed by parties or obnoxious neighbors!

Sunday I was of on the train to Bremen, our old hometown.  I enjoyed being on the express ICE trains again – in 3 hours across the country, with time to read, write, or sleep.  I met up with friends on Sunday once in Bremen, and found my quarters – the empty apartment of  good friend, who was visiting family in the US during my trip to Germany!  Monday I practiced at the Unser Lieben Frauen Kirche in Bremen, saw more friends, and wandered around favorite haunts.  (here – the Bremer Dom, or Cathedral in Bremen)

Bremer Dom

Tuesday morning I was up early to take the train off to the tiny village of Cappel, where the original Arp Schnitger organ is always a favorite place to visit.  I had a few delightful hours in the church, and really enjoyed playing Bach, Buxtehude, and Sweelinck.


Wednesday morning I practiced at another favorite church – Bremen’s Martini Kirche, where the Ahrend from 1962 never fails to amaze and delight.  It was even sunny that day, and I got one of my best pictures yet of the organ facade, built in the 15th century. 


That afternoon, I took the train out to Verden, a small town 20 miles outside of Bremen, where there is a gigantic cathedral and an original German Romantic organ from 1916.  This instrument looks (my husband the engineer says) somewhat like an airplane console, with the dials and colored knobs.

Verden Spieltisch

That evening, I spent the night in the guest room of  church parishoner’s home in Verden.  She lent me her bike to ride to the church to practice in the evening, and after my practice session, returning over the bridge which crosses the Aller River, I looked back and saw the full moon shining out over the imposing Dom, which rises up over everything else in town.  The little picturesque houses lining the river twinkled in the twilight, and I heard the crickets chirping in the rushes by the river.  I regretted that I’d forgotten my camera, so I can’t share the scene, but it remains imprinted in my memory. 

Thursday I practiced much of the day, feeling quite stressed by how different the organ was from past experiences, and how much work it took to set up my music there. (no combination action on this instrument!)  However, the concert ended up going quite well.  My friends who came – organist and non-organist alike – were very complementary, and I was pleased.  Tillman Benfer, the cathedral organist, also congratulated me heartily, so I took that as a good sign.  My parents had just arrived in Germany the previous day, and we enjoyed seeing each other.
Family in Verden

Friday I saw more friends, practiced more, and played another concert, in downtown Bremen.  Hilger Kespohl has organized an organ recital series at the Unser Lieben Frauen Kirche every week for 8 years.  This is a church in the middle of the old part of the city center, right beside where the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians stand, and he almost always gets a good crowd for his concerts on Fridays at 5pm.  This isn’t my favorite organ, but I have played it over the years often enough to enjoy it, in a homesick for all things Germany kind of way.  There ARE beautiful windows in the church.  Here’s a picture of the church tower with the daily flower market.


After a successful concert, friends from the church we used to attend in Bremen, where I played organ and directed the choir, held a party for me.  It was a great evening. (Thanks to Detlef and Annette!)


Saturday was another practice day, this time in Worpswede, a small village known for the artist’s coloney that sprung up here at the turn of the century.  The artists loved painting the landscapes of this area and the light.  The Zionskirche has had an old and lackluster organ for many years, and 10 years ago the organist started working to raise money for a new instrument. After much hard work, this spring they received a beautiful new instrument, modeled on an organ that stood in this church centuries ago, and built by one of Germany’s premire organ building firms – Juergen Ahrend Organ Builders.  The instrument is small, with only 20 stops, but beautiful in every way, and a joy to play especially works of 17th century Germany.  (it’s in the back balcony, and was quite awkward to take a good picture of, I’m afraid!)


Not being one to take the easy way out, in addition to Bach and Buxtehude, I programmed works by Jehan Alain and Charles Ives as well!  These ended up being a real challenge for my page turner and registrant, but she was more than capable of the task, and this concert too went very well.  The organist Ulrike Dehning was on vacation that week, but she asked my former professor, Harald Vogel, to be there to watch over the concert.  I enjoyed seeing him, and he was looking as healthy and happy as ever.

Vogel and me-small

Another evening with friends, and my two weeks were up.  Monday morning saw me again on a fast train back to Berlin, where I got my plane, and my meandering, very long (and much cheaper…) trip home.  Tuesday morning at the Grand Rapids airport, it was great to see my parents-in-law, as well as Esther and Isaac, who welcomed me home with lots of squeals, hugs and kisses.