Sunday, February 19th
We arrived at Frankfurt Airport after a seven hour plane ride and started out our tour of Germany by taking a boat cruise. The boat went down the Rhein where we got our first glimpse of the city of Bonn. We passed by the Rock of Loreley and learned about the myth. Loreley was a mermaid who used to sit at the Rock. She was so beautiful that she would cause passing sailors to crash their ships into the rock. The tour guide described it as a romantic boat cruise, but we were a group of sleep-deprived teenagers and we couldn’t appreciate it. In the end, besides the fact that it was freezing on the water, the boat ride was a pretty relaxing way to start out the trip. We got off the boat in Boppart where we took a break for lunch. Every day, we were given free time to leave the group and go off on our own. At first we were nervous because we thought it would be hard to order food in restaurants, but we were surprised that almost everyone spoke English and most restaurants had English menus available. We got our first taste of traditional German food in a small cafe. The cafe we stopped in was decorated with clowns in preparation for Carnival, a celebration that is held over a few days in preparation for Lent. We were given over an hour for lunch, but soon learned that in Germany there isn’t such a thing as a quick lunch. As a result we barely made it back to the big group in time. We took the bus to the hotel where we had a short rehearsal. Our dinner that first night in Germany was at an Italian restaurant. After an exhausting day we returned to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.
Monday, February 20th
We started the day off with breakfast at our hotel, the Hilton Bonn. After breakfast, we went to the Tannenbusch Gymnasium Bonn, a college preparatory school. We meant to get an early start to the day, but we ended up being late because four people overslept. We got to the school and we met the students who we were performing with that night. We had a rehearsal and then short break where we had a chance to try some German snacks such as pretzels and giant tubs of Haribo candy. We also got a chance to talk to some of the German students. After this, the students took us on a tour of their school, where we were able to see some of the classes and learn more about what life is like for German students. When our tour of the school was finished, we went the city square where we had lunch. Some of us had bratwurst with bread and others had hamburgers. After lunch we went on a walking tour of Bonn where we were able to go to the Beethoven House. In the house, we listened to a pianist play some of Beethoven’s most famous works, including the Moonlight Sonata. At the end of the tour, we went to Munster St. Martin, a monastery in Bonn. They were doing preparations for Carnival, a festival in Germany while we there so we were able to hear some live music. When the tour finished, we returned to our hotel and got ready for our debut performance at La Redoute, a performance hall outside of Bonn where both Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn once played. The venue and turnout were both fantastic, and we played great! After our performance was finished, we went to Sudhaus, a traditional German restaurant. We had salad and roasted pork with peas and potatoes and we concluded the night with ice cream from the restaurant. Check back tomorrow to see what we do next!
Tuesday, February 21st
The day mostly consisted of a never-ending six-hour bus ride. The day started with an early breakfast after which we headed off for Leipzig. We made multiple stops for bathroom breaks, but most of us would just went shopping for German Haribo gummy candy and chocolates. (Most places we visited served Haribo gummy candies as snacks!) We learned the hard way that you need to pay to use the bathroom as everyone was scavenging around for fifty-cent Euro coins. After a few hours on the bus we stopped at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, where we learned about Martin Luther and the history of the castle. Martin Luther was the first to translate the New Testament of the Bible into German and he started the Lutheran Protestant movement. All over Germany are small castles that have been turned into hotels, restaurants, and/or museums and it was interesting to take a look inside one of the most famous ones. Eisenach is also famous for being the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach. While we didn’t get to go inside, we were able to make a short stop outside the house to take pictures. After arriving at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig, we had our first hour of free time. For dinner we took a walk in the town to one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in Leipzig called Auerbachs Keller. It is well-known as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s favorite place to eat and was even featured in one of his plays, “Faust.” The restaurant had an unusual underground location and all the walls were covered with murals containing the demon Mephistopheles. After dinner we returned to the hotel somewhat early and everyone enjoyed more free time before curfew.
Wednesday, February 22nd
Our first attraction of the day was a bus tour of Leipzig. During this tour, we discovered that our hotel, the Westin Leipzig was a luxury hotel during socialist Germany. Our first stop was the battle of Leipzig monument which is the largest monument by volume in Europe. Next, we saw the Saint Thomas Church, where Bach worked as the director of the boys choir. We passed by the German National Library where more than 1,000 German books are taken in every day. A new building to house the books are built every 30 years. After this bus tour, we went to the Bach museum where we saw original copies of his works. After this, we went to the Saint Nicholas Church where we saw the Porsche organ, the largest organ in the world. It is named the Porsche organ because the car company Porsche refurbished the organ. Lastly, we went to the Mendelssohn House where we were able to conduct a virtual orchestra and listen to some of his music. In the afternoon, we were able to explore Leipzig and get lunch. I tried frittierte krapfen, a German dessert similar to small beignets. We also went to the Panorama Tower, the tallest building in Leipzig. Here, we went up to the 29th floor and we had stunning views of the whole city. At night, we had our second performance at the Mendelssohn Hall, a performance hall that is almost like the equivalent of Carnegie Hall in New York. There was some concern about the amount of people that would come because we weren’t combined with another German orchestra. In the end it turned out to be our best performance. We had a full house and we got a standing ovation from our audience. Our soloists, Laura Clapp ’17, Nivi Ravi ’17, and Janice Louie ’17 were even asked for autographs! After our fantastic performance, we had dinner at Ratskeller, a historic German restaurant located in the city hall of Leipzig. Lastly, we went back to the hotel and rested for our next journey.
Thursday, February 23rd
The day started early as we got on the bus for Berlin. We stopped halfway in Potsdam and walked around Sanssouci Park, a complex of palaces and gardens that were built for Frederick the Great during the 18th century. Afterwards we walked by the fountain in front of the palace but it was raining so everyone then went directly onto the bus. For lunch we stopped in a small town square and the group dispersed into small cafes. Directly from the town we drove to the Musikgymnasium Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a prestigious music school in Berlin that could be equivalent to the Juilliard’s Pre-College program in the U.S.. There, we were able to combine with the German school’s orchestra and rehearse two pieces together. We also practiced our own pieces separately. We were given short breaks where we mingled with some of the German students. We learned that all the students in the school were studying to become professional musicians. Unlike in America, German students choose their career path very early and they all go to specific high schools that cater towards one particular career choice. All the students we met at this school study music and the focus is not on academics. All the members of their orchestra were amazing musicians. While it was somewhat intimidating, it was interesting to hear some of our pieces being played by a more professional orchestra. The conductor of the German orchestra pointed out that even though we speak different languages, we could communicate through music. After rehearsal we arrived at our hotel in Berlin and enjoyed an hour of free time. We went to dinner at a local restaurant called “Nantec.” The last event of the day was going to the top of the Berliner Fernsehturm, a radio tower where we got a beautiful view of the city. We got back to the hotel late at night and didn’t get much free time before curfew.
Friday, February 24th
During our stay in Germany, it had rained almost every day but on our last day, the rain turned into hail. Luckily, our first activity was a bus tour of Berlin. We learned that Berlin was the same size as New York City, but because most of the buildings are relatively short, there is only about half of the population of New York City. We visited the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall- the East Side Gallery. The bus also took us by the New Museum, the Pergamon Museum, and the chancellor’s house. We were also able to stop at the Berlin Wall Museum where we were able to see how people escaped from Berlin. There used to be very strict security along to wall, with automatic firing machine guns. To escape, people needed to be shipped in suitcases or hid in the front engines of cars. We also went to the gate that separated east and west Berlin. For lunch, we were able to explore Berlin on our own. We went to a cafe for lunch and we visited the Holocaust Memorial as well as the memorial dedicated to all of those who lost their lives during the Holocaust. We also went to the Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt, a chocolate store in Berlin where people can custom make chocolate bars. They get to pick the chocolate base and they can add toppings such as nuts or sprinkles. That night, we had our final performance at the French Church of Gendarmenmarkt with the orchestra from the Musikgymnasium Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The performance was good, and we ended the night at Nolle, a German restaurant that was once a train station. During dinner, the seniors made emotional speeches reflecting on their previous trips and this one. The food was excellent and after dinner, we returned back to our hotel to pack for our flight the next day back to New York.
by Isabelle Boucher and Max Yang