Thursday, October 31, 2013


I took a morning train, and spent the ride alternately loving the views of quaint villages against the backdrop of rolling hills and willing myself not to throw things at the two children screaming at their mother a few seats away. I am generally very easy going and understanding when it comes to kid-meltdowns, but something about this one (and the intermittent-3-hour nature of it) set my nerves on edge. Good thing I had snacks, because reading was out. Plus I was in a seat facing backwards, so reading was out anyway…

Once here, I walked around the town stopping in at various places, including a church ruin, a bridge much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence where the bridge is lined with shops and houses and whatnot, and a church tower (Methodist!) which I climbed to get a good overview of the town and to take some nice photos. (See, I learned from Heidelberg, where I got up on the philosophenweg and thought “oh, I should have come up here first so I could get a sense of the layout.” duh.) Then I wound my way to the Augustinerklocher (the Augustinian monastery). And when I say “wound my way to,” I mean “walked a few minutes.” This town is not very big. Maybe 15 minutes from the train station to the monastery, if you walk more directly than I did. As it is, I did all that other random stuff and made it in less than an hour.

At the monastery I discovered that the tours are only in German, but they’re also the only way to get access to the Luther exhibit. So I went on a tour of which I understood zero words. Thankfully, they gave me a little handout that talks about a few of the major features of the building, so at least when I looked around while the guide was talking, I kind of knew what I was looking at. Of course, most monasteries are laid out similarly, so having lived in one before I knew what was going on. Church, chapterhouse, cloister, refectory, cells, library, guesthouse, etc. It was pretty cool to be in the place where Luther became a monk, to see the spaces he lived and worked, and to get a sense of the town and atmosphere in which he laid the foundations for a radical shift.

Particularly ironic, I think, is that right in front of the altar in the monastery church is the tomb of a previous prior, Johann Zacharias. He’s famous for being the judge that condemned Jan Hus, one of the first reformers, who had tried to translate the Bible into a common language (among other things). It amuses me to think of Luther, remembering his consecration as a monk laying in front of that tomb as he sat a few miles away translating the Bible less than 100 years after Hus was condemned…

I also visited the Cathedral, where Luther was ordained as a priest, and the neighboring (literally, less than one minute walk from one door to the next) St. Severus church. The ornate altar pieces in both churches were simultaneously beautiful and cringe-worthy. The raised pulpit in the Severikirch has no stairs, which led me to think uncharitable thoughts about the Roman church. (It didn’t help that in the Cathedral a few moments before, one of the last things I saw was a reliquary containing some remnant of St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of Erfurt. Martin is known for seeing a poor man freezing and so cutting his big military cloak in half to give to him…and this reliquary was one of the most ostentatious tacky reliquaries I’ve seen—which is saying something because a week ago I was at the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris! So I was already in the give-me-a-reformation-now mindset…) But while I was there, I discovered (by accident!) that tonight there would be a concert—chamber music, mostly brass, as a benefit for something. I have no idea what the fundraiser was for, but I do know that classical brass in a gothic cathedral sounds fabulous. Naturally I went to find dinner and came immediately back to the church…and the concert was so fabulous! There’s nothing quite like hearing brass choir and wind quintet arrangements of Bach, Mozart, Ibert, and even Paul McCartney. I’m pretty sure they were a military band of some kind, and the benefit seemed to involve some church organization that goes camping. So…great. I had a wonderful 90 minutes listening there. The acoustics of that space are indescribably amazing. The concert was so gorgeous that for a moment I was sad I had sold my clarinets to come on this trip. And then I remembered that even if I hadn’t sold them (and was therefore not hearing this concert, because I’d be stay-cationing instead!), I wouldn’t be playing music like that in spaces like this. I’d be looking at the case and feeling guilty. So I’m glad that someone else is making music with those instruments, and I am listening to incredible music made by people who love to practice. :-)

though again, I wish I spoke German! Instead of a printed program, one of the guys (yes, all guys, in uniforms) announced each piece of music and talked about it a bit. Most of the time (not every time) I could catch the composer’s name, and several times I recognized the piece when it began. But I’d love to know what he said, and what some of the ones where I couldn’t pick out the name or title might be.

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