Our next several stops were all in Germany. Germany has the strongest a cappella scene in all of Europe, so we find ourselves here on every trip. We’ve made a lot of long-lasting friends along the way, and we visited a few of them on this leg of the journey.
First, we did a fast-and-furious run of workshops with choirs directed by our friend Ulrich Diehl. Uli runs ten (count ‘em, ten) choirs, and we worked with three of them in two days. Uli has some great choirs, and we enjoyed working with them.
“Crescendo” (click here for website)
“20vor8 Chorisma” (click here for website). Uli the director is centre, in the back.
“Tonikum” (click here for website)
Uli is also a excellent host. We got to catch up with him and his lovely wife Helga, his good friends Bruno and Peter, and Britta, a soprano in his own group (and also a flight attendant) who graciously lent us her apartment while she was on assignment in, of all places, Chennai (where Suba’s family comes from).
Our next stop was Hamburg, home to our friends Martin and Kathrin Carbow, and their kids Titus and Mia. But on our way, we stopped in Ahrensburg for a workshop with Take Four …
“Take Four” L-R: Georg, Joern, Patrick and Thomas (Click Here for website)
… and a brief stop in Lubeck. On our way there, we learned a few things about German trains. Overall, Germany is known for promptness and efficiency. This is true… except when it comes to the local trains. They’re known for occasionally running, well, a little slow. Uli’s friend Peter told us that he had missed a connecting train when the first one ran late. It turned out to be a foreshadowing tale for us…
We’ve developed quite a collection of photos like this…
When our train ran late, we found ourselves stranded in a tiny town called Bad Oldsloe. At 11pm. With the next train due in 90 minutes, our stomachs grumbling, a sky full of rain, and the town closed down for the night. We broke down and took a cab to Lubeck. Twenty minutes and 50 Euros later, we were tired, but warm and dry, and eventually fed.
Up next, Hamburg. This was an even-faster trip: we arrived at 8pm, spent a great night catching up with Kathrin, spent the next day giving masterclasses to Kathrin’s students at the Marion-Dönhoff Gymnasium, gave a concert that night, and had a late-night dinner.
While out for dinner, we saw a guy who looked liked this:
This is a stock photo. Our guy said he was “allergic to cameras”.
He banged his stick on the floor a few times and gave a little speech in German. Everyone applauded, and gave him a few Euros, as if he were a musician passing the hat at a club. We were mystified. Kathrin explained to us that he was “Auf Der Walz” (on the waltz): a carpenter’s apprentice, bound for three years to wander the countryside and work only for food and shelter. The tradition has existed since the Middle Ages, and it’s considered an honour for someone to house one of these journeymen.
After this incident, and great meal, we jumped on a midnight train to…
Chapter 3 – Spain
But before we get there, some thoughts on the Train to Spain (far away from the Rain).
When booking this tour, we decided that, once in Europe, we would only travel by train. There are advantages and disadvantages to this.
Planes take hours. Trains can take days. If you’re in a hurry, just fly. And surprisingly, flying is about the same price as the train, for a fraction of the travel time.
If you have time between destinations, there are plenty of advantages.
First, no expensive cab rides to a remote part of town, arriving two hours ahead, checking in, customs, and endless standing in line. With the train, you walk to the centre of town (where you’re likely staying anyway), show up half an hour ahead, find your train, and get on. It’s that simple. Second, it’s spacious and civilized. Instead of being crushed-in like cattle, you can (with a few extra Euro) get your own compartment, stretch out, and enjoy the beautiful countryside (or watch movies on your laptop). No crappy plastic airplane food. You can make your own picnic with food from a nearby market, complete with a bottle of wine. And for anyone with an environmental conscience, it’s a much better choice: flying creates about eight times the carbon emissions as the train.
Of course, since the trip is longer, you may wish to take a night train… or two. Even better: instead of losing a “travel day”, you can enjoy a full day of working (or sightseeing), get on a train that night, and wake up the next morning at your destination.
Hamburg to Barcelona takes nineteen hours by train. A helluva day… or two night trains, with a daytime layover in… Paris, the half-way point. Sign us up.
It sounds great on paper, and overall, we enjoyed it. But there were a few snags here and there. First off, since we had a concert that evening in Hamburg, we couldn’t get directly to Paris. We took a 12:30am train which arrived in Koln at 5:30am…
The night train, rolling away in Koln
… then had to change again in Brussels at 7:00am…
Just enough time for a quick yawn-and-stretch
… then to Paris. (Oh, yes. Let’s not forget that the Spain Train left from another station, a half-hour subway ride across town.) By the time we arrived for our Grand Sightseeing Day in Paris, our bags safely stored at the next train station, we were underslept, overtired, with the ground beneath us still rumbling and rattling thanks to our “train legs”.
So, instead of traipsing through the Louvre and the Champs Elysees, we did what most good French folks do on a beautiful sunny Paris afternoon. We found a nice park along the Seine, and had a nap.
(Fortunately, we’ve been to Paris a few times. We earned the nap.)
Then we spent some time wandering the city. Still no Louvre.
Then, back on the train for the Paris-to-Barcelona leg, complete with wine, cheese, bread, and a good nighttime laptop movie. No early-morning changes, and the train was an hour late, meaning an extra hour of sleep. It’s the first time we actually wanted to arrive late somewhere.
Up next: Chapter 3 – Spain. Tune in as Dylan and Suba meet a Spanish barbershop group, go to a Catalunyan Indie-Rock concert, and find themselves in the middle of the Spanish Revolution.