Project Elijah – Germany 2006

I can’t believe I have failed my faithful readers so shamefully! Here we are, a month after the end of our concert tour of Germany, and I still haven’t written it up.
Well, time to make amends…
As a brief introduction for those who have not read my previous entries, I should explain that the choir to which I belong, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (, recently took part in a joint project with the choir and orchestra of the Christian Academy of Music and the Arts from Stuttgart, in which we performed Mendelssohn’s oratorio "Elijah". The first part of the project took place in Israel, during the month of September this year. The two choirs performed the oratorio twice at Jerusalem’s Henry Crown Auditorium and then at the Performing Arts Centre in Rishon-le-Zion, all three times with great success. In addition, members of our choir hosted the members of the German choir and orchestra in their homes over the weekend, in order to enable the Germans, members of an evangelist Christian church, to experience a Jewish family Sabbath.
The second part of the project involved a tour of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir in Germany, where we performed all over the country – in Stuttgart, Munich, Leipzig and Berlin – together with the German choir and orchestra.
What follows is a journal of that tour.
Day 1
Saturday October 28th. It’s 22:30 PM. We have a bus waiting for us outside the Jerusalem Theatre to take us to the airport. Our flight is at 5:30 AM. (In point of fact, it doesn’t actually take off until well after 6:00 AM.) For the first time in my life, I buy absolutely nothing in the Duty Free Shop.
After an uneventful flight, we land at Frankfurt, where buses are waiting to take us to Stuttgart. On the way, we have a stopover at Heidelberg, where a tour guide is waiting to show us the town and where we are to have lunch.
I am somewhat surprised to discover that nobody else from the choir seems to have heard of "The Student Prince." The tour guide, however, tells us that it is performed in Heidelberg every summer and is very popular there.
Heidelberg is actually very pretty – see the attached photos! I take a number of what I call "postcards".
It is then time for lunch. We wander around the Old Town, eventually settling down in various cafes and restaurants (each to his or her own taste). After all I have heard of the exhorbitant prices in Europe, I am delighted to find a little cafe serving coffee and cake for a mere 3 euros. While the coffee is not particularly good, the cake turns out to be an enormous slab of pastry with raspberries and cream, enough for two people.
Clearly, this trip is not going to be one for skimping on calories…
From Heidelberg, we proceed to Stuttgart. After arrival at our hotel, where we are to stay for three nights, there is barely time to unpack our suitcases before leaving for the Gospel Forum, which is where we are due to have supper with our hosts and then hold our first rehearsal on German soil.
Arriving at the Gospel Forum, we are warmly greeted by our German friends. This is the time to confess that I have had my reservations about visiting Germany at all. There is, of course, no need to explain why. The reasons should be obvious. However, the deciding factor in my decision to take part in this trip was the fact that we are to perform in Leipzig, where my father was born. My feelings about Germany and Germans have therefore been put on hold, temporarily. In any case, the members of the host choir were almost certainly born after the war, and I hold no grudge against their generation. Nevertheless, our German friends are all devout Christians and I cannot help but wonder what is going through their heads as we sing Section 5 of the oratorio: "Denn ich der Herr, dein Gott, ich bin ein eifriger Gott, der da heimsucht Väter Missetat an den Kindern bis ins dritte und vierte Glied derer die mich hassen…" (For I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.)
Tonight’s rehearsal is with Monica Meira Vasquez, of the German choir, ( who, as her name attests, is of Brazilian origin), and takes place in a room known as "The Blue Chapel". Meanwhile, in the main hall, our own maestro, Ronen Borshevsky, is working with the orchestra. We work till 22:30 PM or thereabouts. (Don’t forget, we haven’t slept for over 25 hours…)
Finally, we are taken back to our hotel. It has been a very long day.
Day 2
Today, we are going sightseeing. The weather is still quite pleasant – 15 degrees Centigrade or so – and the sun is shining. This morning, we are to visit Würzburg and Rothenburg. We arrive at the fortress of Würzburg mid-morning. Our (unofficial) guide is the father of Nuki, from our choir, who was a tour-guide in Israel and now lives in Germany. He tells us a great deal of local history. We then wander about the fortress, where I take lots more pretty pictures, before moving on to the Old Town. There, we while away a pleasant hour or so in the market. I love markets, but never buy anything. It does, however, provide further photo opportunities – beautifully arranged fruit and vegetable stalls, flower sellers, and who could resist the dancing dog?
The trouble is, Würzburg is a very long drive from Stuttgart, where we are supposed to be back by about 17:15 PM for supper and another rehearsal with our hosts. Perhaps it would be better to skip Rothenburg – but no. It’s on the programme and to Rothenburg we shall go.
At Rothenburg, Haggi, our indefatigable general manager, hands out the lunch-boxes provided by the hotel. (I don’t know why they call them "lunch-boxes". They are actually paper carrier bags, each one containing a carton of mineral water, two sandwiches, a Granola bar and a piece of fruit.) We are pressed for time so it’s "eat as you go."
Rothenburg is a town of considerable importance in Jewish history, being the home of the "Maharam" (Rabbi Meir ben Baruch) of Rothenburg. Rabbi Meir, a famous scholar and halachic authority of the 13th century CE, was held to ransom by the Emperor Rudolph, in an attempt to extort money from the Jewish community, but refused to allow them to buy his freedom, foreseeing that this would only lead to further such demands. He therefore died in captivity in 1293 CE. However, we see nothing that would connect the town with Rabbi Meir. Instead, we discover a town almost entirely given over to Christmas. While there are still shops decorated for Halloween, many more are already bedecked with the tinsel trappings of Christmas. This is a town that takes Christmas very seriously. It boasts a Museum of Christmas, and next door to that is the Käthe Wohlfahrt shop, a shop devoted exclusively to all things to do with Christmas. The shop looks small from the outside, but inside – it is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. Narrow aisles lead ever onward, inward and downward. Shelves are covered with Christmas decorations, toys, bells, artificial snow. In the centre of the shop is an enormous Christmas tree, decorated with hundreds of twinkling fairy lights. The sales personnel are garbed in dirndl skirts and embroidered blouses. In short – a child’s paradise. And as far removed from Rabbi Meir as could be.
We get back to Stuttgart at least an hour and a half later than scheduled. We arrive at the Gospel Forum, where we are to have supper and then a rehearsal, to find that our German friends have already eaten and Ronen is working with the orchestra. I gobble down my supper – not really a good idea when one has to sing for a couple of hours, but there you are… Tonight’s rehearsal also goes on till about 22:15 PM. 
Back at our hotel, it’s party time. Michael, a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir (one of our component choirs, to which I also belong) has invited some of us – mostly from the chamber choir – back to his room to celebrate his birthday. Celebrations, whenever Michael has a hand in them, usually involve a fair selection of – let us say, liquid refreshment. I accept the invitation, but decline to partake of the alcohol and declare my intention of making do with orange juice. When, later on in the evening, I ask for some wine, someone reminds me of this. I point out that, while I did indeed say that,  I didn’t actually make any vows. For some reason, everyone seems to find this hilarious.
Our birthday greetings to our host include the wish that if and when he ever becomes Pope, he may adopt the name Oratorius the First.
Another long, long day…
Day 3
Today is the Big Day, our first concert. We spend the morning in rehearsal at the Beethovensaal in the Liederhalle, a huge auditorium, seating about 1,600 people. The stage, too, is huge – with seating for the choir in a spacious gallery above the orchestra, which puts quite a distance between us and the conductor.
For tonight’s concert, in the host choir’s home town, Monica will be that conductor. 
After rehearsal and lunch, we go back to the hotel for a rest. This will turn out to be the only one of the four concerts where we actually get to rest beforehand.
We arrive at the concert hall shortly after 19:00 PM, already dressed in our concert finery, which, in my case, means a full-length formal evening dress in black velvet and chiffon. Backstage is something of a rabbit warren (although not nearly as much as a labyrinth as the Gewandhaus will prove to be).
To cut a long story short, the concert is a great success. We are rewarded with enthusiastic applause and  return, "tired but happy" to our hotel.  It has been an excellent start to our concert tour.
To be continued….. 

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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