Monday, August 18, 2014

Jet Lag

Well, I have never been so happy to be home as I am this time. It's not yet 6 am and I've been up since 2. I'm unpacked, on my 4th load of laundry, have made a coffee cake, run the dishwasher, answered all work emails and sent a zillion work emails. Nothing like diving right back into life at home. I know I'll crash this afternoon. 

It's good to be home. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Today was the loooooong trip back home, but boy was I ready. We were on the bus by 7 and to the airport not long after that. On the short flight to Zurich, we were given a drink, a roll, and chocolate. From there it was a short train to the next terminal, passport control, and onto the plane for our 9+ hour flight. I hate traveling west. Takes longer, it's usually during the day so I can't sleep, and drags on and on. I love Swiss air though. We got a drink and some crackers, then lunch (tasty eggplant tomato pasta!), then Swiss chocolate ice cream break, then pizza, then chocolate. Lots of food breaks and they take care of you well. Once home, it was through passport control. Crowded, unorganized, yelling workers, unfriendly workers. Typical. Welcome home. Ugh. Then I called my dad who came and picked me up and I went home. I was so glad to see everyone and mostly to see that little fur baby of mine, who was crying with joy and running like a maniac and then climbing all over me. My mom said he was antsy for a half hour before I was home. Not sure how he knows, but he does. Going to bed early, and will post more later.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Not too much to write about today. It was our last small day trip, this time to L├╝beck. I've been here before, but like it very much and still have things I wanted to see. I've never been able to get into Marienkirche because every time I was there it was closed. Today I got in and that in and of itself was worth the day trip. I got to see the fallen bells, the two organs, the old altars and sculptures everywhere. It was amazing and I will need to come back to go in again because I went on overload. After the tour I had a nice lunch and we went back to the hotel. We had a group dinner and then there was this group award thingy. Everyone got some silly award and each time a name was called we were supposed to do the first phrase of the Buxtehude piece we did, in parts, on kazoo. Anyone who knows me and how I feel about such nonsensical junk can imagine how this went down in my books so I won't elaborate. I survived it, but I really don't see why people like goofy crap like that. When this was done, it was one more trip to the grocery store to load up on chocolate, then back to the hotel to repack and get ready to leave. I'm already working on some final reflections but that will be saved for another post.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hamburg again.

Today we did a bus tour of Hamburg. This wasn't so new to me because I've been to Hamburg many times. Hamburg does not make my top five favorite city list, however, I will always be fond of it because it was the very first city I experienced in Europe. I still remember thinking the money was like Monopoly money, being both terrified and excited, not knowing a lick of German, having separation anxiety since Poco and I hadn't ever spent more than 48 hours apart, and overpacking. 50 pounds of luggage overpacking. (I must have thought it was a third world country or something.) So each time I return to this city, it is fun to remember that young naive grad student who showed up in Germany, totally unprepared, and reflect on how I've changed over the years and how Europe has largely help shape who I am today. It's a very nostalgic city for me.

Our tour ended at St. Michale church for an organ concert. I was glad to hear a organ concert, but sad it was so short. One funny note: the fellow from yesterday with the tambourine at the organ? When he heard the Toccata and Fugue in d minor (Bach) he got all excited and stared fingering the pew in front of him as if he was pretending to play. He seemed eager for people to notice this, and was unaware of the Germans sitting behind him giving him dirty looks at making a scene. I rather thought he was just pretending to play and not actually playing the right fingers on the pew because it looked wrong. Much to my amusement, his fingers got more animated when the real organist was playing.... the pedal solo.  

After this I walked around with a small group to see the various sights of Hamburg. We visited the ruins of the St. Nikolai. This continues to be one of my favorite places and I am so glad they left it as-is. It's unreal to walk through the ruins and imagine what used to be and serve as a powerful and visible reminder of the horrors of war. One statue in the corner is powerful and gets me every time. 

You can just see the grief and despair as this fellow mourns the harshness and coldness of how brutal humans can be. It's strange to think about the wars that happen and we say we learn from them, and then war breaks out somewhere else over something else. Sick. We just never learn our lesson. 

From here, we went to the Katarinakirche where I got the CD that they recorded last year but hadn't yet released. I was very pleased to see that the facade was no longer covered with scaffolding. 

By this time I was just with two former CURF professors and I was glad that I could show then the city. I can read maps but have a tendency to get lost so it was great to be able to confidently navigate a city and show then around. When we got to the Jakobi, I died not to play that organ and remembered the time I did play it. I was so tempted to buy the poster that temps me every time, but it was raining and I have no good way to get it back home. One of these days, I'll remember to pack an empty tube and get it back home. 

Then, in the afternoon, we went to the Miniature Wonderland. This is the most amazing museum. I could write an entire book on it. If you want to know more, google it, or ask me to lend you the 4-hour DVD I bought at the gift shop. 

All in all, this was a good day. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Praetorius and a bathroom door. Pass the oxygen!

Today we got up and loaded the bus. Our morning trip was several hours longer than expected thanks to construction. That's life. We had lunch, which was decent, then went to St. Mary (Wolfenbuettel) to find the grave of Michael Praetorius. What a spectacular church. I didn't bother to pay the money to take pictures but just walked around. We sang a piece of his from the steps, and when the guide found out we were a choir, he let us in upstairs to the exhibit. Amazing. A picture of the Compenius organ I played in Denmark one or two years ago was hanging on the wall, which made me all nerdy.

One tour guide said he was buried in an unmarked location on the right side of the organ and that the original stone was stolen. Another said he was buried near the marker under the left side of the organ. Yet another said all that is buried is his head, an arm, and a leg, and the rest of him must be "scattered about". Needless to say, I didn't get a picture with his grave because Lord only knows where his body lies. It was enough for me to be in this church and to know he is buried somewhere in it. 

At the end, the tour guide offered to take a small group up to the organ. I held back, not wanting to be pushy, but several people encouraged me to go so I did. The guide said we could go up to look at the console but only one at a time because they didn't want too much body heat near the pipes. When it was my turn, I was surprised to see pistons and wondered about the action. It killed me not to touch and play it. (One guy later joked that I "looked very pious" but I informed him my folded hands were because I didn't trust myself not to touch.) I stood there in awe with major goosebumps needing oxygen to be so close to such this instrument. I didn't get to play it, but I can say I've seen it up close and personal. I was also able to purchase a CD, which I cannot wait to listen to when I get home. 

There is one other organist on this trip who likes to make sure everyone on the trip knows he is an organist. (Maybe because he's not a member of the church?) When it was his turn to go to the console to look, he went over, picked up the tambourine sitting on the bench, and started shaking it loudly. Aside for being embarrassing, I rather think he doesn't understand the significance of this instrument. I so badly wanted to call Ross or Craig and chat about this since they understand both the significance and depth of the instrument as well as the frustration with American organists who clearly don't get it and spoil it/ give Americans a bad rap for those of us who want to go in and really play. The guide had told us before how serious it was to go one at a time, not to touch, etc. etc, and said he could get in big trouble if he didn't follow the rules. He made it abundantly clear. This guy either didn't hear, or didn't care, and found it amusing to try the tambourine. What. The. Heck. 

After this, we went to our hotel. Got there about 8:00. My roommate went out with other people so I had the room to myself. I decided to take advantage and take a long shower. This hotel, while it is not convenient to city center, is fabulous. Know why?

That is a door. Not made of glass or frosted glass. The mirror is on the OUTSIDE. The bathroom is all in one piece and all behind a closed door. 

The shower doesn't have a million buttons. It looks like this. 

It's not even super tiny. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to shave legs in most European bathrooms? Either the shower is so small that you can't escape the water that you have to turn the water off and freeze, or it's one of those other hotels with a bad door where you don't even think of shaving because you just want to get as much grime off you in 2 seconds lest someone walk in the room on you so figure you're in Europe so shaving and showering are semi optional. Not in this wonderful  Best Western!! Plenty of room in a big shower behind a closed bathroom door to shave your legs and take a proper shower without having to turn the water off and freeze. Oh, and once you are done shaving, you push this little button (not million and no tricks, just push the button) the water stops coming out of the hand held shower head and comes out of this. 

It is like it rains from heaven. A real shower head. O happy day. And as if this isn't good enough, they even have washcloths. In a European hotel. Yep, you read that correctly. No disposable camp washcloths here!

By now I know you are thinking this must be the best hotel in Europe. It gets better. There are free apples and ice cream in the lobby. They give you a free 2-day HVV pass. They have stamps for postcards. They are happy to break the large bills that the ATM gives you but that no merchant wants to accept. They give you mints on your pillows. Best hotel this trip. 

I took a looooong shower, enjoyed my mints and my room to myself catching up on emails until my roomie came back and then I went to bed. 

I feel like a new person. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Turning a corner

Well, it seems that with just a couple of days left, my trip is finally turning a corner and will end well.

Today..... I played an organ. Yes, I actually got to play an organ. It only took being here a dozen days. Never again am I coming in August. That's for sure. I am so glad this organ worked out. It is one of two in Erfurt that I had hoped to play. This was the Volckland. 

Stunning, isn't it? One of the organists met me and just turned his keys over to me. He was kind enough to share with me the history of this organ. This church used to belong to the monastery and one of the nuns helped with the idea for the design of the organ and altar. She had her initials put several places in the church. 

This organ is special because apparently Volckland was only permitted to build organs in a very small area of Germany. The organist proudly showed me his favorite stop that is "like a recorder upside down. Plays like butter." He demonstrated and the sweet sound filled the room and I couldn't help but smile. He sad this organ can sound like a north German or south German organ. He demonstrated and I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. No surprise that I like the north German sound best and when I heard that it of Buxtehude I jumped for joy inside. He left and I sat down on the bench. I played JC Bach, Weckman, Scheidemann, Sweelink, and all my favorites. It was like being home. Being in happy land. Just me, God, and the organ. I was able to tap into that deep part of the music and myself and I got rather emotional when playing through the Scheidenann. I've waited so long to play this way on such an instrument. More than a year. It satisfied that longing I often have to play these instruments, but also left me craving more, and I won't likely get more this trip. So, I stayed as long as I could (3+ hours) and savored every second. 

Joy, joy, joy. Deep down in my soul joy. 

This evening we headed to some monastery not far from here. Is is sort of like the one in Michigan because there are lutheran connections. It was super fun to see the six monks running around the property. We sang a concert and enjoyed a meal afterwards. I sorta wish I would have bought one of the icons they were selling. Oh well. I love monasteries. I love the idea of them and everything. Maybe I should become a Lutheran nun. I'd be good at it, I think. 

We returned to the hotel by 10 or so. I still am just thinking about that organ and feeling so warm and fuzzy and good from that interface experience. Mountain top high and lots of adrenaline today, for sure. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Trying to fall in love again, despite yet another horrid bathroom

Today we got up early and got on the bus to Erfurt. This is another one of my favorite cities and one I have been to many times. When we arrived we did a city tour, which was nice, but I didn't see or learn anything new. After this was lunch. Yummy. Fried sheep cheese squares (like mozzarella sticks but so much better) served over risotto with salad and warm apple strudel for dessert.

After this we did a tour of the Augustinian monastery where Luther was.  I was super excited to go here because last year we saw part, but not all, and the part we saw was largely under renovation. We got the full tour and our guides was fantastic. One of the best I've ever had here. We sang a bit in the little chapel where Luther would have had morning devotions. Goosebumps. We got to see Luther's cell

Of course, my imagination went wild and I started to fantasize about what life we like back then. I know it was hard and not all fun, but it seems so awesome. 

We saw the wonderful church and the original altar from the 13th century that Luther would have performed masses at.

Are those not the most gorgeous windows EVER? I mean, I love my church's windows but these are the real deal. 

Also, look at the side window. Bottom. See the rose? Luther remembered this when he was making his Luther seal. How awesome is that? 

By this point, I had turned into a complete nerd and feeling all happy. THIS is how I should feel in Germany. THIS is why I love it here. I've been missing this desperately. Nice to have glimpses and little reminders on this challenging trip of why I love to come and the country I fell in love with in 2009. 

We walked back to the hotel (more on this in a moment) and then walked around town a bit. The layout of this city quickly came back to me and I was pleased with how well I could get myself, around without getting lost. I found a Rewe and went in. I walked out with this:

Super cheap, and the Schorle and Bitter Lemon are a liter each. Score!!!! I will not make any public confessions of how much I consumed this evening. 

It was about at this point in the evening when I received some most excellent news, which I cannot yet share. Stay tuned and I will share tomorrow, if all goes according to plan. :)

Ok, about this hotel. The Radisson. Tallest building here (or second tallest, I can't really remember.) it is nice enough, with free Internet, standard Europe beds (love) and all that. However.... The "bathroom"? Not so much. I have had bad bathroom experiences in Scandinavia but never Germany. Until this trip, when all the bathrooms are bad and seem to get worse with each one. Our bathroom with the windows at the last hotel. Actually looks kinda good now. You see, this bathroom doesn't have a door either. It doesn't have windows, but it may as well. The toilet and shower sit next to each other, and there is a door that can close either way. So you can have a door to the toilet or a door to the shower. Great, you think, you can manage a little privacy after all. Oh, dear reader, if only it were that easy. 

Here is the door closed on the toilet half 

Yes, that is CLEAR GLASS on most of the door and frosted glass on the center (yippee!). 

Here is the door closed the other way, onto the shower half. 

What in earth were they thinking? Maybe if you had the room to yourself it would work but even with a spouse or a good friend I think this would be strange. I'm rooming with someone I hardly know. We have worked up a system to have the room to ourselves when showering, and I have been making excellent use of the lobby bathroom. The other thing about this shower? 

Like every other barroom this I trip, it's a mystery how to get water to come out of the shower head. Every shower is different and every set of buttons is different. Super crazy. Then there is the small deal off what to do when done in the shower. Since there is no room for clothes or towels in that little shower with the door that doubles as the toilet-door, one must exit the shower to the tiny sink area (with no door, hence the necessary plan of taking turns in the room to shower). This isn't bad enough but here's what you get when you step out 

The tile just ends and the carpet begins. Don't get the carpet wet! And the full-length mirror in the hall? This not only allows anyone in the room to see what you are doing in the bathroom, but means you step out of the shower and there you are. Not exactly my ideal way of beginning a day. The hotels on this trip have been pretty bad, in terms of bathroom facilities. I'm hoping and praying that our hotel in Hamburg has a nice bathroom with a door. Even the hostels I've stayed at with camp-style multi-stall showers offered more privacy than these hotel rooms. Oh, and I forgot to mention that in the little shower room there is a little alcove in the wall with shampoo and lotion and q-tips, as well as a vase with flowers and a fancy Kleenex box, you know, in case you like to blow your nose in the shower with a soaking wet Kleenex. Way to go, Radisson hotel to think of our every need. 

Oh, and one last thing about this hotel. They love the world. They even left a note to tell us that they are trying to cut back on energy because they love the world. Never mind if you, the guest, loves the world or loves light, because here is what you get:

One little light over each bed, and one tiny light in the bathroom. (This is the only time the glass door comes in handy for allowing a little bit of light to spill into the shower so you don't mistake the lotion for the shampoo. This also allows a bit of light to spill into the toilet room so that you can locate the toilet paper. How kind of them to provide a glass door for this purpose.) Seriously, when the sun set, we were in the dark with those tiny bluish-energy-saving reading lamps. Ridiculous. 

But, as I am determined to make the most of this most peculiar trip, I found the silver lining(s).

1) My roommate pointed out that they were kind enough to give us two q-tips, so there is one for each of us. Also, those q-tips, unlike the previous hotel, has cotton on both ends. "Oh, good" she said "that way you can clean BOTH ears." Glad to know the Radisson hotel likes clean ears. And clean shoes, because we got complementary shoe polish and brushes and in the lobby toilet there is a free shoe-shine machine. Clean ears AND clean shoes? Wow, did we hit the jackpot. 

2) Scroll back up and look at my Schorle and Bitter Lemon and Ritter sport. All for less than three euro!

3) The lack of light has caused me to realize just how important light is, and made me reflect on all the epiphany light theme, etc.  so, there is that. 

Until tomorrow....

Monday, August 11, 2014

A free day in Leipzig

Today was a free day. I slept in since our days have been am packed and often start early. Once I had showered and eaten breakfast, I walked the very familiar path to St. Thomas. No matter how many times I visit this city, I go to St. Thomas every day that I'm here and it never ceases to impress, amaze, and giving me goosebumps. After wandering around, thinking about not only the history but about the various times I've been there and how I've changed over the years, I walked back to the hotel to figure out the plan for the day. Unfortunately, and much to my extreme disappointment, the organ I was hoping to play didn't work out. The organist finally got back to me ( I had emailed days ago) that it just isn't possible but any other day would be fine. I seems that August is the worst time to come to Germany and pay organs because everyone is on holiday. 

So, I caught up on some blogging, walked around the city, visited with a few people, and took a nap. The museum that I would have liked to visit again was closed, because of course it is Monday and many museums aren't open on Monday. 

I continue to wrestle with trying to force myself to find the positives and noting that the trip wasn't all bad, and the sad reality that this is by far the most challenging and least memorable trip I've ever been on. I suspect I will think about this for many days once I get back to America. For the first time ever on a Germany trip, I'm ready to be home. I've been ready to be home off and on this whole trip. Odd. 

A dear friend, colleague, and mentor wisely wrote to me in an email a few days ago" I think it's time for you to reacquaint yourself with the Europe you know and love." I think he is spot-on, but sadly, I don't think that I'll happen this trip. It's just too far gone. I think at this point, I make the most of it the few days that are left, and don't get my hopes up that the remaining 3 organs will work out, and then next year, I will come again. I will come alone, with different purposes and different schedule and in a different month. I am already having dreams of being back and falling in love again. I want to love Germany. I do love Germany. I don't love this trip, which is making it hard to remember that I love Germany. I am thankful that there have been some awesome people in the choir to make the trip better because with out them, it would have been totally horrible. I tell myself that the two best things to come out of the trip are 

1) I was able to sing a cantata in Bach's church, which was my primary motivation for coming with this group in the first place. 

2) The course of events has really caused me to reevaluate and reaffirm my position on music ministry and what it is, and what it is not. 

No pictures today, since I've been here in Leipzig a million times. 

This afternoon I met up with some friends who are service here in Leipzig  a missionaries. They took me to their SELK church, which was great to see. They also took me to get some real authentic kuchen, not the commercialized stuff you buy in town. We chatted about this and that, and it was just pleasant to spend time with some like-minded people my age. It was a real blessing. 

After I was done with then, it was dinner, and one last walk around the city. Leipzig, I love you. You continue to be one of my top five favorite cities in the whole wide world. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bach is my superhero

Today was the day we sang at St. Thomas. As I figured it would be, it was a fight between the rush of the surreal experience and the hesitation/inner struggle about the integrity of what was happening. Was this truly worship or just a concert? The tourists went wild with their cameras. People talked and got antsy. I try very hard not to judge, but situations like this makes one wonder. 

When the service began, we walked in, genuflected the altar, then ascended the steps and walked right by Bach's grave to the steps to sing. I got major goosebumps and couldn't believe it was real life. We sang, then headed to the balcony for the cantata. I wish I could just bottle the whole experience. The sights, sounds, smells, emotions. I want to preserve it all to ponder and reflect on later. I experienced so many emotions. The adrenaline rush at the experience. The frustration with camera flashes. The awe of being so close to such a long history. The joy of good string players. The sadness of division within the church. The curiosity of what Bach would think of this all today. It was an absolutely overwhelming surge that left me exhausted, contemplative, energized, thrilled, and disappointed all at once. That sounds crazy, but I assure you it is not. 

I have many pictures of myself and Kantor Bach, but today I was able to take a picture facing the other way. I've wanted such a picture for years. This one just may get put in my office. 

After church, I went to the Bach bookshop and got a little carried away buying stuff. It happens every time. I loose all sense of frugalness and self control in that place. Whatever.  

From here I headed to the wonderful Bach museum across the street that had many neat exhibits including several original manuscripts in Bach's own hand. I needed the oxygen big time. Unbelievable. 

Then my friend Manfred came and he and I spent all afternoon at the Leipzig Zoo. So much fun to see him and really cool to see a German zoo. You can tell things are different because they aren't worried about parents suing for every little thing. There were things there that would never fly in America but here in Europe parents have to be responsible for their own kids and if they get hurt, it's not the zoo's fault. I got REALLY close to some animals, and at the monkey exhibit, the guy told everyone to stay in the middle of the walk way, zip up a bags, and keep your arms to your sides. He said sometimes monkeys will push off your shoulder or head but it will not harm you,  just no sudden movements or you may get bitten. Suffice it to say, this zoo is unlike any I've been to before.

When the zoo closed, we enjoyed dinner together, then headed back to St. Thomas to hear the b-minor mass. Bliss. Sheer bliss. Seated in those pews, looking around, while the music swirled and curled in the air. My emotions went crazy again and my head head was on overload. Bach was a genius. I got all emotional at the Gloria. And the Sanctus. Bliss, I tell you, bliss! There is no way to describe it unless you experience it for yourself. Quit reading my blog, and book the next flight to Leipzig! 

I love this city. A lot. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Leipzig at last

Well, today we sat on the bus for the majority of the morning. We stopped for lunch and I had mushrooms and bread dumplings. Super yummy. Not long after that,  were standing in St. Thomas! It's amazing to me how familiar and comfortable a place can feel that I've spent so little time in. It is also amazing that no matter how many times I enter those doors, I get goosebumps at the sheer depth of history that is in those walls. I opted not to take pictures since I've been here so many times and have so many pictures. The choir gets to first sing from the steps, so we got to enter the chancel area. Of course, the minute the rope came down, a mob of tourists thought they could come up, too. Yikes. It was hair raising to stand so close to Bach's grave and to stand there and sing. I am still wrestling with feelings of anger and frustration about how much this feels more like a performance than worship, but I determined that this is the whole reason I came in the first place and no impatient comment, face, or gesture would ruin it for me. I resolved to put personal opinions to the side and just sing. The next 24 hours of this experience is solely between God and I, not me and the director, and not me and anyone in the choir. Sure, I will still be a part of the group, and all of that, but I'm making this experience my own. No matter what. After our very short rehearsal, we had lots of free time. I elected to hang out with two former CUC profs. I just say, I've really enjoyed getting to know them better on this trip. We found an open air music place and enjoyed drinks, than wandered some more hand had some apple strudel right in front of the Nikolikirche and next to my favorite hotel that I wish I was staying at. We returned home around 9:00.

The hotel we are staying at? Not my favorite. Rick Steve's book describes it as "open floor plan" to the bathroom or something like that. Lets just say there is no door to the bathroom. Not even a frosted glass one like in the other hotel. See this picture? That is the empty open door to the bathroom. See the door? That is the door out of the room to the hallway. Yep, you read that right. 

It gets better.... There are two large glass windows in the shower looking into the room. Yep, you read that right also. Needless to say, we are taking turns using the room to shower. 

All in all, this trip has thus far been a huge challenge. But, I am thankful to be in Leipzig again. I am thankful for good people who I have gotten to know or know better. I'm thankful for a wonderfully strong support system back home who have offered perspective, affirmation, and continue to set godly examples of what faith in action looks like. While I can say with some positive certainty that I won't likely ever go with this church again, God is certainly use it to stretch me in more ways than one.