In Germany at the end of January, it doesn’t get light until almost 8 a.m. Accordingly, when I awoke on Sunday, January 26th, it was not until I had washed and dressed that I threw open the curtains – and then realised that a change of wardrobe was in order. It had snowed quite heavily during the night and I had awoken to a magical kingdom of white.
Today, we were due to travel to the spa town of Bad Steben, spend a couple of hours in the hot thermal baths, and, in the evening, give another a cappella performance in the Kurhaus, the Assembly Rooms of the spa. Now, frankly, thermal baths and all that are not really my cup of tea. Almost everyone else, however – including Ofer and the remaining “Eleven Disciples” – opted for a dip in the warm springs and while I was walking around the picturesque little town with half a dozen others, including a Zamirchor member who had been born there, took full advantage of the opportunity to go a little crazy and “sunbathe” in the snow!
Meanwhile, I and my companions were savouring coffee and the most sinfully delicious cream cakes at the spa café. My choice? Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau), a stone’s throw away from the very region in which it was invented:
After that, Brigitta, from the Zamirchor (who, as I mentioned previously, was born in Bad Steben), took us to see the town, including the home of the famous naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, (who established Germany’s first technical school of mining in the town) and the “New” Evangelical Church (about 150 years old, according to Brigitta) where she – and her children – were baptised, confirmed and married.
I can’t resist pretty picture-postcards of snow-covered villages, can you?
Lunch was served in the elegant banqueting hall of the Kurhaus – the same hall where, later that evening, a reception was held for the concert-goers, graced by the Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Bad Steben in his chain of office, and other local and regional politicians and dignitaries. I am not at all sure that a champagne reception is a suitable prelude to a Holocaust-memorial concert and, listening to all the speeches (or as much as I could understand from the translation provided), I found it hard to banish the cynical thought that, for many of the VIP guests, this was, basically, a photo-opportunity, a chance to demonstrate their progressive, anti-racist credentials. Maybe I’m doing them an injustice. As I said, the whole idea of a champagne reception before the concert felt incongruous to me and possibly prejudiced my thinking – I don’t know. At any rate, the concert was very successful and, afterwards, we were happy to discover that a friend of ours, Wenzel, who had been a member of our choir during his stay in Israel as a volunteer but had been obliged to return to Germany because of bureaucratic problems concerning his visa extension, was in the audience.
This concert marked the end of the German leg of our tour. The following evening, Monday, we had a concert scheduled in Geneva. We were supposed to be leaving Bayreuth at 4.30 a.m. and travelling to Schaffhausen, in Switzerland, there to rehearse Tuesday’s UN Holocaust Memorial Concert with the German Radio Orchestra, before proceeding to Geneva for our third and last a cappella concert at the Liberal Synagogue on Monday evening. Mass resistance to the proposed early start led to a compromise. Twenty singers (five each from the soprano, alto, tenor and bass sections) as well the children from the Zamirsterchen (the Zamir Children’s Choir) would leave in the darkness before dawn to rehearse with the orchestra at Schaffhausen, while the rest of us would hold a piano rehearsal conducted by Ofer in the Zamirhalle from 8:30 – 10:00 and then set out directly for Geneva by coach. We would thus (so it was reasoned) arrive there at 19:00 p.m. with plenty of time for supper and a rehearsal in the synagogue before the concert at 20.30 p.m.
Ofer called for – and, amazingly, got – twenty volunteers. We got back to Bayreuth, if I remember rightly, some time after 23:30 – and I went to bed after midnight, safe and serene in the knowledge that I would be able to get a normal night’s sleep.
Had I known, or even imagined, the chapter of disasters in store for us the following day, I would not have slept so soundly.
To be continued…