#31 Friday 21 June



Woke to a beautiful looking day, but feeling shell shocked, we mentally settled into a laundry morning interspersed with a Vodafone top-up and a slow-service breakfast locally at The Brunswick, a newish complex of small shops, cafes, offices and residential. At the next table, the waiter delivering poached eggs on toast, made apologies to the customers as they’d run out of poached eggs and he’d had to make them himself! (???)

A chill in the morning air stopped me from checking out the plaque recognising the conductor Sir John Barbaroli.

The hotel laundry was in the basement in a tiny room with a noisy exhaust fan within a labyrinth of subterranean rooms; the washing machine had its own sense of timing but the dryer was reliable and effective.  Gary’s ironing service was worthy of commendation too.

With a pre-arranged appointment to meet Blake at his work place – Universal Studios, 4 Pancras Square, Kings Cross – we started walking in that direction and found ourselves in the mighty Kings Cross/St Pancras Station.  It has – and the surrounding area – has certainly developed since the 1970’s when I lived in London.

This statue applauds the man who fought to save the station from demolition and the other man stands in awe of adapting the old to fit the new age.PHOTO_20190621_115412


The surrounding area – the Coal Drop Yards and The Granary – is a combination of re-purposed old buildings, creative gardening and open spaces, including an open-air picture theatre, moving water, and a contemporary take on supermarketing.



Honours students were displaying their models of architecture for the future.

We waited for Blake outside his building by the lily pond with welcome shade from advanced trees.PHOTO_20190621_131203

We lunched at Dishoom – described as ‘an Indian menu in hip Bombay-style cafe’.  Blake ordered enough for 10 and we ate it:  top food, top atmosphere.

Bye Blake; hello Fiona.  We had a loose arrangement to walk the canal from Little Venice to Camden Town with our Sydney friend, but once it was firmed up by Whatsapp, our challenge was on: to efficiently use several tube lines and arrive at the meeting point at the same time.  This is the new look underground Kings Cross end…PHOTO_20190621_150022

Starting at Little Venice, there was more conversation than viewing and wrong canal taking; only two options…

Recognising our mistake as the walk became increasingly less beautiful, we made amends and enjoyed the walk alongside the Regent’s canal, the houseboats, the passing feasting people, huge mansions with manicured gardens and guard dogs, hyenas and warthogs in the zoo, eventually arriving at the crowded, noisy, tattooed, ugly, souvenir-filled Camden.  The walk had been on the fast side as Fiona needed a tube station to get her to her Stockwell home and off to dinner.  In the two & a half mile walk, Camden was the only option.

A hasty farewell, a couple of photos, then an unpleasant crawl through the worst of the worst to my mobile phone shop for its top-up.  Manda was conveniently shopping in the area and Gary was finally able to meet the person he’d been emailing for years.  Amanda and I were students at Trinity College and shared houses and life during my three years in England.  

She acknowledged that her driving might be considered ‘hair-raising’ and 3 point turn at peak hour in the high street because of eggs was definitely a highlight!

We had bubbles from the Loire Valley, red from Spain, and home cooking, and close to 11pm we bounced down the hill to Tufnell Station.  The rest was a tired blur.


#28 Tuesday 18 June

#28 Tuesday 18 June  Cologne (Köln) to Leipzig

09:13    dep Köln             ICE 2441 to Dresden,  Platform 2a & c  – and the platform diagram of coaches was correct:  1st class at rear of a quite short train; one coach on two levels; we’re on the upper level and sitting in the direction of the train.  We’re in the “psst!” section – i.e. no noise.  Very quiet; just the tapping of computer keyboards initially. No wifi!

09:32    Solingen Hbf

09:44    Wuppertal Hbf  several stations belonging to Wuppertal prior, including Zooologischer Garten; great views down an extensive valley; population 350,000; Aspirin and Vacuum Cleaners invented here; greenest city in Germany with two thirds green space in the municipal area – 10 minute walk max to a woodland path or park; a ‘must see’ next time

10:00    Hagen Hbf

10:23    Dortmund Hbf   lush approach then industrial; 8th biggest city; ‘new’ and newer buildings on either side; 98% buildings in city centre were destroyed March 1945; 1110+ aircraft hold the record for a single raid on a single target!!; replaced its coal and steel industry and is now the most sustainable city; our carriage is filling up but it is still “psst!”; Gary’s pastry paper bag was deafening…

10:44    Hamm (West)    flat and farming approach (no animals); rail graveyards; now it’s my turn to pierce the air with morning tea, and Gary is adding Velcro to the sound picture emanating from seats 104 & 106; a momentary explosion of wrappers and laughter from elsewhere; slow train only 163kms/hr

Pockets of stationary wind turbines; paddocks of solar panels; paddocks of young corn?; industries and towns devouring the natural; worthy of a nap

11:18    Bielefeld Hbf     still in North Rhine Westphalia; pop 341, 000; was the linen producing town with the bank issuing money made of linen, silk & velvet; the few church spires conspicuous amongst ‘new’low-rise residential housing

Westphalia – think Candide/Voltaire

11:44    Minden (West)

and from here it went downhill.  Our train through to Dresden (via Leipzig) was cancelled and the train we were on diverted to Hanover.  Change of trains/change of platforms i,e, down the stairs, up the stairs.  Not too long a wait but a very full platform and no indication which end of the train our carriage would be.  Of course we waited at the wrong end.  Our reserved seats were not applicable and it was first in best dressed.  We grabbed a compartment and joined two long-legged friends, a blind man, and a disinterested one.  It was confining.  Mr disinterested (but practical) got off eventually and I moved to his seat, next to Gary, and next to the window.  Train inspectors have a habit of closing compartment doors and the further we went, the hotter.  Blog in bag; water drunk; legs packed away; no map; no idea where or when Leipzig might appear and we were blessed with the German speaking railway man speaking the English with German words inserted.

We re-arranged ourselves from right-angled to vertical then easily found our way to our hotel just across the tracks.  It was 30 degrees.  Surprise surprise – we’d booked a room, not an apartment, so no fridge, no kettle, cup, tea or coffee (which is pretty standard in Europe but not what we’d booked elsewhere).  Clean though, comfy enough, ideally suited, and the windows open fully.  (Yes we could jump out of the 6th floor.)

Left the hotel to go sight-seeing to get a feel for tomorrow which must be Mendelssohn focussed with a performance of Bach St John Passion in the church where he first performed it in 1742 in the evening.

We walked through a nondescript park (it does have a Richard Wagner Memorial statue in it) and past a very austere building which turned out to be the Opera, built in 1960.PHOTO_20190618_200342BUT in this expansive open area that opened out in front of the Opera entrance, the Augustusplatz,  was the most exciting contemporary architecture (with a pseudo church frontage) that Gary and I have ever unanimously gone wow over.  It is the University; founded in 1409, and incorporating the ‘Augusteum’ which is based on the St Paul’s Church which was blown up in 1968 by the Communists.  We circumnavigated the building going ‘wow’ at every turn:  so many angles, shapes, textures – glass, metal, moulded x?, stone; student-life energy  spilling out of the inner courtyard into the surrounding narrow streets.

What else:

The old city hall – site of the Bach vs Council conflicts, and the famous authentic JS Bach portrait by Elias Gottlieb Haussmann. PHOTO_20190618_172646

St Nikolaikirche – re Bach, but also the site of the birth of the  Peaceful revolution of 1989 leading to the fall of the Wall

St Thomas Kirche – Bach’s other church

Riquethaus – copper elephants; oriental pagoda PHOTO_20190618_190605

Mendelssohn house – just to find it in preparation for tomorrowPHOTO_20190618_201744 (2)

Gary has fallen head over heels for this city; Barcelona is no longer the front runner…PHOTO_20190618_200620

#25 Saturday 15 June

Berlin to Amsterdam by train: dep. 08:34 (six hours,30 minutes)

Accommodation: Amsterdam ID Aparthotel, Naritaweg 51, Westpoort

Gary was up way before the alarm and our pre-departure was spent taking it in turns to look for trams to the Hauptbahnhof from our window to check their regularity on a Saturday morning. We crossed the street as our tram arrived.  As is our norm we were at the station well ahead of time but it allowed us the calm of coffee, fruit salad, finding the lockers for our brief return in a few days time, and accessing our platform. The announcement on the platform in two unintelligible languages including English indicating the complete re-order of the coaches meant that when the train arrived it was necessary to go against the barrage of suitcases and bikes in order to access the very last carriage.  Four minutes later it departed.  We were the only passengers in our six seater compartment and had window seats facing each other.  The board outside indicated three other passengers would join us along the way.  Two did, on their way home to Rotterdam.  From then on, this blog stopped.

They were an interesting couple with multiple language skills and topics covered included climate, politics, indoor farming, tourists, Tasmanian devils and tigers, and Brexit.  She was a very sprightly 81, had visited Tasmania and has a sister living in Perth.  He was a reluctant long-distance flier, but incredibly well traveled in his past working life, and with a couple of houses scattered across Europe.  They changed trains about 30 minutes before our train pulled into Amsterdam Centraal.

The outer suburbs were not attractive; the low rise residential buildings were a sad reflection of a previous generation.

The station was not designed for international visitors and Gary didn’t warm to it at all.  He’d done his research for getting to the Hotel from the Station and the Info woman told us and sold us something different.

On her instruction we caught a no.22 bus to the end of its line at Sloterdijk wondering all the while why we’d booked accommodation miles from the centre and miles from the station and miles from the concert we go to tomorrow.  And unlike all our other temporary homes, this one was surrounded by characterless contemporary buildings, no eating places and one tiny Spar food market – but it did sell milk!  Thank Goodness! And clearly labelled Still Water.

We were warmly welcomed and our apartment is lovely; lots of big windows and natural light, and a table to sit at (amongst other things like a bed etc etc).  But Gary needed an injection of jolliness; even leaving our room and getting lost in maze-like corridors with lots of doors on our floor, soured him further.

The walk to the transport hub (Sloterdijk) isn’t an issue but getting tickets for the tram, bus or train from there, is.  The ticket machine only speaks Dutch and the glare on the screen cancels out word recognition.  We were told one could pay when boarding a tram but with credit card only; our driver was so cranky however (with us, with credit cards, with life???) that we traveled for free.

Liking Amsterdam was increasingly becoming an impossibility.

We were on a no.19 tram and with map in hand.  Gary couldn’t catch the tram stops names and was becoming concerned about how we’d find our way home.  He’s been spot on and so reliable with directions thus far; I was starting to think that Amsterdam was going to be his ruin.

We decided that we’d get off after the fourth canal, and get off we did.  No dramas.  In a good temperature we walked in a straight line on a street that could have been in any city; pretty ordinary and unpleasant, so we turned to the right and from then on the ice melted and the attraction of this city gradually exposed itself.

Gary concentrated on the tiny cars and infinite brands of electric bikesPHOTO_20190615_175214

and I saw the canals, the house boats and the wonderful buildings, so typically Amsterdamian.

We were walking the area known as Jordaan and ‘the 9 streets’, criss-crossing the canals and passing boutique and arty shops, tiny cafes, lounging people, good vibes.  Early on we passed a tiny restaurant ‘The Twisted Indian’ and somehow managed to find it hours later, and we ate there.  It was great food and a convivial atmosphere.PHOTO_20190615_192417 (2)

With natural ease Gary guided us back to the street where the no.19 tram ran and after a short wait we were coming home, pleased this time to have successfully bought our tickets.

The car park – bicycle park was like a glistening diamond and Gary could have stayed there sifting through the brands and inspecting those not yet available in Australia.  He’ll be dreaming bikes tonight.

#23 Thursday 13 June

Berlin Wall Day and meeting up with Blerta and Sophie (Interkultur/Verdi Requiem Barcelona)

Highlight: Gary and the BIG yellow bus

Took the U Bahn to Wittenberg Platz.  That was the easy bit.  Gary stepped confidentally in an unknown direction and we trotted down a semi-pedestrianised major street (Tauentzienstrasse) towards – in the far distance – a church that had lost its steeple.

PHOTO_20190613_101943 (2)

We passed an interesting sculpture, PHOTO_20190613_101648 but the further we walked the more insecure I became about our direction, and with a definite time for meeting Blerta & Sophie, out came Ms Google. In her recognisable fashion, she turned us around to eventually take us almost in the direction we had been heading. (Gary knew this!)

We found the address (31 Pariser Strasse) but were confounded by a small shop frontage Travel Agency and intercom for a collection of residences.  All sorted with a phone call; out came Sophie and Blerta arrived from elsewhere.   She recommended a café on their street so for an hour, two Tasmanians were sitting outside at a Portuguese café with an Albanian and a Luxemburger, happy and chatty.


From there to walk to through the Tiergarten to the Brandenburg Gate. The area we were in was super exclusive with top-end furniture showrooms and all the names associated with high fashion and jewellery.

The buildings were photogenic and the tree-lined streets with inviting open-air eating added to a delightful atmosphere.  This was the Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

It took a while but we found our way back to the church with the ruined steeple which turned out to be incredibly significant. This was the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Breitscheidplatz, and adjacent, the new church from 1961, which took our breath away and reduced me to tears.

The ruins still bore witness to the once rich interior with wall and ceiling mosaics emblazoned in gold. PHOTO_20190613_130040

The interpretation signage acknowledged in plain language what a hideous mistake Germany had made.  (Again, the words of our woman from Halle, our audience neighbour, resounded.)


With the organ playing and knowing that we would see something special, even though the outside was drab and of the 60’s, we entered the octagonal church. Nothing could prepare us for this.  The light of the world was filtered through umpteen tiny panes of coloured glass, predominantly blue, and we were cocooned in a space that seemed intimate, but in reality can seat 1000.  We were both overwhelmed and even after the final cadence, sat in wonder.

Outside it was hot and touristy and icecream time. Little did we know we were sitting in the area where in 2016 the truck ploughed into innocent people at the Christmas Market.  How unexpected life can be.

We skirted the Zoo and entered the Tiergarten immediately after the Landwehrkanal; a bit tired and leg and foot weary by now.  Bear this in mind when we’re still traipsing the streets at 7pm!  The birds were happy but my attempts to record them were interrupted by happy tourists.

Following essentially the Lichtensteinallee and photographing some absolutely brutal bronze sculptures along the way we arrived at the Victory Column (the Siegessäule) which is central to 5 major roads.  Celebrating which victory I asked?  Gary to the rescue: designed after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish – Prussian War; however by the time it was inaugurated in 1873, Prussia had also defeated Austria, and France. These were called the Unification Wars and inspired the addition of a bronze 8.3 metre high, 35 tonnes ‘Victoria’ – the Roman personification of Victory just to be clear… to the column of four solid blocks of sandstone.  And it was moved here having previously stood in front of the Reichstag.

With the miniature Brandenburg Gates ever so slowly growing bigger, and opting for the uneven paths within the gardens, we made slow progress.  The sight of 29 tourist buses lined up did nothing to speed us up, and our arrival at the towering gate was underwhelming for Gary.  We both needed refreshment not architecture and history.

The revised plan now focussed on Potsdamer Platz and choices for eating.

The Berlin Wall came into the conversation, but it was not immediately in sight which surprised Gary. Although subtle, the indication of the wall marked in the road and pavement by a different material, clearly indicates the curious positioning of the wall; not straight but very crooked.

Very hot and sticky and shade-less.

The stark grey blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe provided some relief but the sad reality vividly expressed in the underground museum was only hurriedly surveyed.

The bits of remaining Berlin wall (the total German divide was 830 mile long) were ignored as the umbrellas of eating beckoned us.  Potsdamer Platz is an area of buildings designed by top international architects and out of all the options our innocent choice was a restaurant called ‘Corroboree’ – yes, an Australian restaurant.


From here I could see where the TSO Chorus celebrated after the Mitsingkonzert 2017.  Observations elaborated upon:  Ketchup on the table; no ‘hamburger with the lot’; no recognition of Australians dining; fish fillet resembling a farmed rectangular fish; Fosters coasters and beer; chips immediately reminding me of the chips at the Somerset Drive-In, and a welcomed reference to ‘extra’ cold beer.  Of course, it was only slightly colder than tepid.  We relished this experience nonetheless all the while entertained by the pianists having a go on the communal piano; this one was distinctively red, others in railway stations have looked quite inconspicuous with the players being of greater visual interest.

New resolve – so close – let’s look at Checkpoint Charlie even though my recollection was of a ghastly dirty area infested with tourists. We followed the line of the wall and it was here that Gary stepped out in front of a bus.  Hmmm – that old Australian ‘look to the right’ for traffic habit is hard to break!  No harm done; the bus made lots of noise, Gary’s leap was worthy of a Road-Runner Cartoon, and our hearts could be seen and felt pounding from either side of the road.

Checkpoint Charlie lived up to its reputation: lots of scantily dressed young females donning army hats and posing provocatively next to a boy soldier.

The interpretation wall however came up with the answer to our biggest question:  which side was East, which side West? PHOTO_20190613_182903

And so, the aim of the day was achieved.

A U Bahn and not a U Boat finally took us home. We ventured out later to try out the nearest Laundromat and discovered Volkspark Weinberg – a green area brimming with happy people, happy dogs; a happy community, and the surrounding area, Rosenthaler Platz, equally interesting with the bustle of busy open air restaurants.

We had wine in the most curious glass (they were almost thimble-size…) and wished we’d found this area sooner.




#24 Friday 14 June

Berlin Day #4

Highlight:  carbonated gherkin drink

Started the morning with a visit to the Post Office in Alexanderplatz to send home what turned out to be 6.9kgs of paperwork!  Obviously heavy in a carrying bag,  we opted for the U Bahn (one stop), then followed all the exit signs, emerged from underground, and got lost.

Finding breakfast for two different breakfasters was equally frustrating but then our mission turned to finding traces of Felix Mendelssohn in Berlin.  Our route took us past the Berliner Dom, built during the years 1894 to 1905 in the Italian High Renaissance style, bombed in 1944, rededicated in 1993 after considerable construction work, and with completion of the restoration of the dome as recently as 2002. PHOTO_20190614_104320

After the simplicity of the Lutheran Churches I found the busy-ness inside irritating.  The 270 steps up to the dome and the outside viewing circle gave me a new focus though – my health and well being, and Gary’s survival! Once outside, the sight of Berlin’s enormous city on a clear blue sky day, was wonderful. I recalled a line in Richard Strauss’ lied “Die Nacht” –  “nimmt vom Kupferdach des Doms, weg das Gold”  – the night taking away the gold of the copper roof of the dome.  It obviously wasn’t night, but to take photos I was resting on the aged copper edging which, unlike in Strauss’ song, was polished from human contact and brilliant in the sun.PHOTO_20190614_112755


From there across the Spree river and canal (so much construction/restoration work), chanced upon the Pierre Boulez/Barenboim Concert Hall but couldn’t see anything inside other than the foyer, and deviated from our path to find lunch.  We were now in the shadow of the two mirror image churches, the Deutsche Dom and the Französische Dom (the German and French churches) and the Konzerthaus:  the Gendarmenmarkt.  Lunch was memorable:  my Erdinger beer was almost black; Gary’s was a light colour and cloudy; we ate Berliner classics – currywurst, and meatloaf and potatoes with a fried egg.

We left clean plates and with new energy (and so much information about the Berliner Dom and its Protestant congregation thanks to Gary and Google) we took to Jägerstrasse to find Mendelssohn:  nothing.

Next plan was to trace his family’s Judaism and so the exquisite gold dome of the New Synagogue was an attractive destination.  Another detour, this time to Dussmann, das KulturKaufhaus (the culture department store) to buy Mussorgsky and Schmidt: nothing.

Although tired, very hot and thirsty and literally ‘over it’, we persevered, making our way back to the river and the first refreshment producing umbrella we could find.  Icecream is good for many things but it didn’t unravel my overlapping toes that have been a feature throughout Europe, so when we got up, a slow shuffle was the best I could do; a pace that was not agreeable with Gary’s legs. It seemed a long and unhelpful river to skirt but eventually after all the iconic museums had passed we crossed the river, considered the refurbishment of huge prior palaces into high-end residential, and found the Synagogue.  PHOTO_20190614_160802No photos allowed inside; one mention of Moses Mendelssohn; more stairs up to the internal wooden dome; lots of security…

Kept the map in the handbag and with Gary’s expert direction found our way home – with more enjoyable content than the day thus far had produced.  We were in Scheunenviertel – an alternative village atmosphere with designer boutiques, galleries, eateries in crumbling buildings, green spaces, and hazardous footpaths.  This was a quarter that long ago was full of barns full of hay for the nearby livestock market at Alexanderplatz.  We found ourselves in one of the many interlinking courtyards, typical of the area, this one famously the Hackesche Höfe and Gary got the advertised ‘best coffee in Berlin’ and I ordered a refreshing carbonated gherkin drink [???]PHOTO_20190614_172818

How street corners can lead you into different worlds.  We thought we’d hit Nirvana last night when we turned left to go to the Laundromat and discovered a great community; to the right is the filthy busy Tor street with a Netto supermarket, but behind our accommodation is today’s welcome discovery, which now with research is adding a preface to my Mendelssohn story.

In our door at 7pm with no desire to see the city lights.

#11 Saturday 1 June

Today was the final rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem with a full line up of soloists, orchestra and chorus.  The start time was delayed by 45 minutes to allow for rehearsal of the new soloists.  We met up with Nadeena and Marie firstly in the Palau’s eating area and then across the Carrer de Saint Pere – the pedestrianised and vehicular lane way immediately outside the Palau’s main entrance  – and I marked up my score with ‘Sits & Stands’ which had been discussed at the very end of Friday’s rehearsal.

And so at 11am we heard the replacement tenor, Hungarian, Laszlo Boldizar in ensemble with the original soprano, Iwona Sobotka (who had performed in WA in February), the replacement mezzo Agniezka Rehlis (who we would hear again in Berlin at the Komische Oper) and the bass we heard on day one, Francisco Crespo , who replaced the bass printed in the program as he withdrew due to illness.

It was an unsatisfying rehearsal for choristers as much of what we sing wasn’t rehearsed – and the rehearsal finished early (noting it started late).

But the day was exquisite and we took advantage of the early finish and assembled straight away in the courtyard and did a pop-up performance of Matthew Orlovich’s My Nurse and I on the tiered section.  Our blue platypus folders sparkled and the choristers excelled.  There was huge applause when we finished as the courtyard was packed with choristers who chose to exit the Palau via the courtyard.  Unbeknowns to me, Simon Halsey was also in the courtyard, and he spoke to us afterwards.

From singing to seeing and sipping, and a group of us headed to the top of the building with ‘eyes’, sat by the pool with a jug of cava, and thought life was pretty good.

From here Gary & I got our first good view of the Sagrada and the city skyline. PHOTO_20190601_134342

A bit of random exploring followed, a fabulous salad for lunch,

PHOTO_20190601_142007and chance meeting with Tony & Gill and icecreams, home to change into performance mode, and then back to Palau for the 5pm performance.

The foyer was a press of people as choristers (not ours) had forgotten their tickets,  friends had the wrong tickets for entry, some of the scanners weren’t working and everyone was stressed.

Climbed closer to God for our audience seat (curiously as hot as hell though) ; the performance was thunderous at times and intimate at others.  The timpanist and bass drummer in the Dies Irae were appropriately energised and dramatic, and the soprano’s pppp top Bflat in the Libera me section was perfection.  The combined sound of all forces in all dynamics was clear and rich and the superb soprano and mezzo soared above the 1300 choristers.

On stage left were the Rundfunkchor men with the Catala men on stage right.  The women of these professional choirs were positioned in the three rows much higher up and in their two groups separated by the organ pipes.

The 1300 choristers occupied the downstairs area, the first balcony and some of the second level boxes as well.  Sight lines for tenors & basses on the floor were excellent , but horrendous for any woman beyond a front row upstairs.  The audience filled any gaps, but mostly in a central block at the very top.

Post performance we all gathered in a Turkish restaurant close by; Simon Halsey popped in to say ‘hi’ and congratulate us for what we do, and to express his wish to work more in Australia.  The night was young and even when it was old, Spaniards were still out and about.


#12 Sunday 2 June

Early train Barcelona to Montserrat (serrated mountain) then the Cremallera (rack railway) to the Monastery

  • to see the Black Madonna
  • to view the ‘Red Book of Montserrat’
  • to walk

    first sighting of this magic mountain

the Basilica

looking up

the funicular ride up from the monastery to Saint Joan

walking and the signs of early summer

higher and higher

as we descendedPHOTO_20190602_131458


Great day even if the ‘Red Book’ was under lock and key and the tourists were prolific and the day was hot; so good to walk; so interesting to watch the rock climbers scale the seemingly smooth and crevice-free mountains; so good to be free and happy and to have made the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna.

#20 Monday 10 June

HALLE – arrived 19:01 Sunday by train from Dresden                                                                                  accommodation in Lessingstrasse 8, City-Hotel Am Wasserturm GmbHPHOTO_20190610_213510

This accommodation needs its own chapter!!!

Monday was Handel Day in our itinerary.  We mapped out our route to Venue #1 and with plenty of time to find it, and have a coffee, stepped outside to an already warm day. We were the only people in Halle at 9am.  Had Monday ceased to exist?  Even as we passed the University there was not a soul and the little corner coffee hangouts of students were lifeless.  Not until much later did we realise it was Whit Monday…

Satisfied that we’d found the Neues Theater, plastered with posters for the on-going Handel Festival, we walked further to the Marktplatz.  Again, deserted.  Handel was alone on his pedestal.  PHOTO_20190610_183517The church and a separate tower with bells grabbed our attention as did a reluctant hospitality worker who sold us (an awful) coffee.  Rushing now (of course) we realised that the Neues Theater was not our first concert venue.  Surprisingly Google sent us directly to the Löwengebäude, Aula der Martin-Luther-Universität; the lion-guarding University building.PHOTO_20190610_131859

Canadian diva, Karina Gauvin, with the French ensemble, Le Concert de la Loge.  An 11am concert for a singer – astounding; over 120 minutes of virtuosic Handel and his contemporaries – super astounding; the ensemble – brilliant; performance critique rating 12 out of 10 for those works she knew…  Yes, she read some of them and one doesn’t travel across the world to watch someone reading, but for those arias she knew backwards , they were dramatic with appropriate staging elements, like entering in the intros and eye-balling the audience, or confronting the musicians, or storming the stage with fury.  This was an outstanding concert in a superb acoustic. PHOTO_20190610_105222PHOTO_20190610_131054

Concert #2 in the Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche at 15:00.  Enough time for lunch in Marktplatz which was now a calm sea of mostly tourists, then Handel’s Agrippina – a 3 act opera performed in concert (not staged) with Christopher Rousset’s acclaimed ensemble, Les Talens lyriques, and a line-up of 8 soloists, the soprano Ann Hallenberg (Agrippina) being the only recognisable name.  Immediately chalk and cheese.  Two harpsichords both facing upstage with Rousset occasionally playing but mostly pseudo conducting standing up.  The orchestra was most definitely led by the female concert leader, who was a knock-out! Initially her cheeks revealed her tongue cleaning the recesses of her mouth from a lunch, and throughout, her eyes flirted with members of the orchestra, or she was dozing and on occasion almost missed entries, or she was mouthing a conversation across the platform.  The ensemble was untidy and most players looked disinterested; they certainly didn’t play the drama.  Even the continuo cellist played his music, not that required to support the action.  PHOTO_20190610_181818

The singers were capable most notably Agrippina, Ann Hallenberg, and Eve-Maud Hubeaux as Nerone.   Tonnes of arias, tonnes of recit:  really boring to watch; really hard to stay awake; really hard seats; really hot.  At interval, had Gary mentioned leaving I wouldn’t have said ‘no’, but we agreed to move from our central visible 4th row to an anonymous back row position in order to wriggle freely.  It meant parting with a lovely German woman who was passionate about Handel and seemingly very knowledgeable about all 45 operas (but not his oratorios) and the three German festivals celebrating the composer, and who was emotional in her expression of love for Dresden and the significance to all Germans of the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche.

It finished (with us in our booked seats) three and a half hours later.  We left.  The door handles were beautiful.

Concert #3 19:30 St. Georgen-Kirche.  This looked a little tricky to find and still feeling the anxiety of earlier in the day we promptly headed off – hungry, and with an ominous sky.

The steeple and colour of the church distinguished it and we arrived in good time. PHOTO_20190610_184554

Thankfully this venue had freshly prepared salty pretzels with melted cheese, and we devoured several with a couple of semi cold beers.  Interesting venue – a shell of once a large church – currently used as a youth venue.  The stage was illuminated with magenta lighting and out came the Clara Ponty Quartet; Clara on (mostly) piano and vocals, and the three others in the group covering bass guitar, drums, percussion, and wind instruments including saxophones and flutes of different sizes.  Billed as ‘Handel in MInd’ it was seriously lacking Handel and was more about her current and next albums.  It was OK.  PHOTO_20190610_185701

The excitement of rain and thunder and lightning enlivened us and made for a quick two kilometre walk home.

DAY NINETEEN Sunday 9 June

With a 17:10 departure from Dresden by train to Halle, there was a queue of activities to be knocked over.  We’d seen Dresden from the hop on, hop off bus on Slothful Saturday, initially missing the commentary about the Zwinger, Kongresszentrum, Taschenberg, and Theatreplatz whilst we sorted out Gary’s ears, and then settling into physical inactivity to enjoy the sights.  The Grosser Garten – a mixture of planned and wild foliage is a ‘must walk’ for next time; the Volkswagen factory with its multi levels of production visible to the outside world looked interesting; the Hygiene Museum, both because of its name and posters I saw elsewhere seems worth a visit, and I earmarked the Pfunds Molkerei because of mention of the hand painted Villeroy & Boch tiles in this milk shop.


The topics of mowing and milk have been constantly in our conversations:  nothing is mown (some evidence of slashing) so public gardens and verges are overgown and untidy, and acquiring a vessel of fresh milk for Gary’s morning coffee is the proverbial needle in a haystack.

So it is with interest that I read that Paul Pfund traveled to Dresden in the late 19th century with his wife and six cows in order to supply the city with healthy milk. “The ornate Pfund dairy is a symbol of the Saxonians lust for life”  according to a gourmet magazine.  From the bus, this tiny shop looked crowded and we were incapable of making a decision to alight.  So much so that we didn’t even get off to inspect Dresden’s version of a cable car, which is now of special interest having researched it, due to it being a suspended railway.

So Sunday appeared, packs were packed with clean clothes and more printed material, and we hot footed it to the Kreuzkirche to hear the famed Dresden boys choir. It was a normal Sunday service but not normal for us.  From the outside the church wears the patina of history – the scars of conflict, the resolve of those who restore, and the filth of industrialisation –  but inside it was starkly clean and simple and uncluttered:  no stained glass; no gold adornment; no carved woodwork. Either side of the altar were (potted) trees – a life force – and either side of them,  simple iron gates through which the children were  guided mid-service.  (what a good idea…) The procession of choirboys, young and adolescent, gave us a close inspection of the human instruments that would produce the most beautiful sounds as required by the order of service. 

The signage at the portal clearly states ‘no visitors’ but we were not alone as tourists were indiscriminately vacating their seats.  We sang hymns (in German) (or more precisely, I sang and Gary urged the words to pass by quickly) and we sat through the sermon (in German!) out of politeness, as it followed the reason we were there –  to hear Bach’s Cantata BWV 34 O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (O eternal fire, o source of love) written for Pentecost Sunday, and scored for alto, tenor & bass soloists, 4 part choir and an ensemble of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani and strings and basso continuo (organ), in this instance the Philharmonisches Kammerorchester Dresden.  The sound exploded from behind us in the gallery with the ‘big’ organ, and it was breathtaking!!!!!!  The boys choir had exited the altar when the children of the congregation were led out, but through the opposite iron gates.

Gary’s interpretation of this ‘interlude’ was to entertain the congregation and provide relief; for me it clarified why liturgical music was written, and on Sunday 9 June in Dresden in this plain church of immense beauty, this music was surely a pathway to God for the believers.

The other Dresden pathways were filled with runners and barricaded streets: a ‘fun run’ of varying lengths through the old city; frightfully hot for 22 kms on cobbled streets.

The Green Vault – Grünes Gewölbe – of the Dresden castle had been recommended and we jagged a midday entry.  WOW!  A highly secured collection of the treasures of Europe; 3,000 items collected by Augustus the Strong and put on display when he opened his private rooms to the ‘public’ in the 1730’s.  It is a sequence of rooms displaying objects according to their material: from amber furniture through to extraordinary jewels and immeasurably precious diamonds, and along the way, ornate silverware with polished coral handles; microscopic ivory carving and solid gold vessels – the list is endless and the rooms themselves are a sight.  This is not a familiar gallery: this is almost indescribable.  And there was strictly NO  photography.

Next stop – the Frauenkirche that dominates the square; the church that inspires the world to be a better place; the symbol of hope and a future; the church that was as good as totally destroyed in the bombings of February 1945; the church that the people of Germany rebuilt stone by stone, some 12,000 tonnes of sandstone.  The outside is a patchwork of new and original stone and the awesome stone dome is monumental and an awesome architectural feat. PHOTO_20190609_142919

PHOTO_20190609_134355Inside was nothing like what we imagined; the colours were pastel and the design circular – and it was full of happy snappers…  We need to return and hear a ‘choir of angels’ emanating from the dome.PHOTO_20190609_141937

Despite the promise of 263 steps we climbed to the viewing platform and were rewarded with a matchless view across Dresden and beyond.





[Our apartment entrance was in the concealed corner of the carpark]


DAY EIGHTEEN Saturday 8 June

All this holding hands must be responsible for the slow start for Dresdeners and the city’s visitors on a Saturday morning.  We didn’t think we were up and about ‘early’ but this city was most most definitely asleep when we ventured out for coffee – and it was unexpectedly cold so any shop light on drew us in.  There was only one and it was adjacent to the Kreuzkirche, which would take on significance the next day.

I was out of sorts so it was a grumpy coffee, but on the walk home, the discoveries dissolved my mood.  The Stallhof of the Dresden Castle, the oldest surviving Renaissance courtyard in Europe, built in the late 1500’s, has undergone numerous alterations according to fashion and function, fire damage, war damage, and restorations, and for us it was gleaming white and blue with animal heads protruding from Tuscan columns in a very long row.

The outside wall on Augustusstrasse has a large mural of a procession of the rulers of Saxony, and also scientists, farmers, families et al, originally painted in the 1880’s, and later replaced with 23,000 porcelain tiles.

Then the bells started ringing.  And ringing. And ringing some more.  We were now on the steps leading up to Brühlsche Terrasse and watching the enormous bells in the Hofkirche tower.  The slowing down and eventual silence was great to watch and to hear; the rhythm of the bells getting out of rhythm and the clapper striking the bell that one last time before it ceased swinging.

The terrace edges the Elbe River and out came our cameras.  There were also copses of trees planted geometrically which suited me.  People were gradually filling the spaces and promenading, and unlike the Charles Bridge in Prague, this area was free of earring sellers, souvenir merchants and caricature artists.

Saturday was Supermarket Day and the highlight was a random half bottle of drinkable wine.

Saturday was also Laundry Day and we notched up another 4 kms through walking our washing  to the ECO Express Laundry on Königsbrücker Strasse opting to take a yet untraveled path across the Carola Bridge.  On the return we passed the new Jewish synagogue, dedicated in 2001, and replacing the main synagogue which had been burnt to the ground by the Nazis in 1938. It is a cubic structure without windows referencing the first Israelite temples, and its walls are slightly out of plumb.

With the Frauenkirche tower in our sights we arrived in the Neumarkt for the final 30 minutes of the finale to the 2019 “Dresden sings and makes music”; an open air concert with a soprano and bass soloists, Dresden choirs, and the Elbland Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thomas Runge, the choir director of the Staatsoper.  The audience had printed booklets with text and music and were invited to sing along, finishing with Land of Hope and Glory and with the option to sing in either German or English.   Those around me gustily sang in English and so did I: how patriotic!