Alles in Ordnung!
The advance party made its way to the Departure Gate on Thursday morning 14th October 2016. Many months of preparation had gone into this trip and now we prepared to board the plane for Cologne/Bonn Airport to start an adventure on German soil.
The memory of the last trip to Bilbao two years previously, still gives us a warm glow of happy memories. We fervently hoped this one would too but dared not express this desire openly in case the “magic” didn’t work this time.
Our destination, Hotel Collegium Leonium in Bonn – a Neo Gothic building opened in 1903 as a seminary- makes a good impression on first sight. Checked in, some of us wasted no time discovering the environs of the city while others lingered and settled in.
Our first dining experience, at the end of a long day, took us to Brauhaus Bönnsch Restaurant in downtown Bonn famed for its German cuisine and micro brewery. The beer was served in unique crooked glasses resembling a joy stick. The food was plentiful and the beer went down well, or so I’m told.
Next day, we were joined by the remaining members of the choir and took the train to Köln (Cologne) for what was to be one of the highlights of the weekend. We were given special permission to sing in this famous cathedral which added an extra frisson of excitement to the visit.
Köln Cathedral is a sight to behold. Its Gothic spire hovers over the city and can be seen for miles around – a useful reference point for those of us with little sense of direction. The guided tour of this most hallowed building was enlightening. The received wisdom was that all of Cologne was destroyed except the Cathedral, during WW2. Not altogether true! The cathedral didn’t escape the aerial bombing, nevertheless (some say, miraculously) it remained standing. The cathedral houses the remains of The Three Kings and was once the most important pilgrimage site in Europe. It was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1996.
In the middle of the tour there was an interruption. We were given the nod to take our places. The moment had arrived when we were given the privilege to add our voices to the generations before us, in praise and exultation. The appropriately chosen – Sanctus from Schubert’s Deutsche Messe, Irish Blessing and Bruckner’s Locus Iste wafted upwards in the vastness of the cathedral. The voices were blended, sweetened and transformed into a sound which left the random visitors transfixed. For us it was a once-in–a-lifetime experience. As the tour resumed, somehow our minds were otherwise engaged.
How to follow that? From the sublime to the Lindt Chocolate Factory perhaps, a bicycle ride through the city, some retail therapy? Very shortly, it was time to head back to Bonn for a rehearsal in preparation for Saturday’s Concert. Not everyone made it on time, but sin scéal eile, as they say.
That evening we sampled the delights of Tuscolo Ristorante and a dizzying display of pizza flipping, not to mention more beer and more singing.
Saturday we took our planned trip by boat on the Rhine disembarking at Königswinter. Heading towards the main attraction, the Drachenfels Mountains, our plans were scuppered somewhat when we learned that the train journey to the top would take more time than we could afford. However, unfazed by this, a number of people calculated that they would make it back in time and decided to take the oldest train in Germany with a cog wheel, to the top. They were handsomely rewarded with splendid views and made it back down in time to return. On the return journey, we sang as many water-related songs as we could think of and even enacted a romantic scene from the Titanic with Riccardo and Ann M. taking the lead roles. This was all for the benefit of Marcella, who had arranged the trip.
Back on terra firma, a quick turn around and brisk walk took us to St. Cyprian Old Church where we were greeted warmly by the host choir Multikultichor Bonn and later by a packed church anticipating an good evening out.
Our M.C. Máirín charmed the audience with her German script which she delivered seamlessly. Our programme was wide ranging in its appeal consisting of songs in German, Irish and English. The host choir entertained us with a varied song choice culminating with the combined choirs singing Blowing in the Wind, a tribute to Bob Dylan who had been announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The evening was rounded off in great style as we mingled with our newly made German friends for dinner and a singalong which lasted well into the early hours. Before we parted company, we received an unexpected treat. To celebrate the 5th season, Carnival, a large white–painted branch with little treats hanging from it was carried around to the tables.We were delighted to receive one as a souvenir of the occasion. A nice touch!
Finally and all too soon our departure day was upon us. For those who hadn’t visited Beethoven’s birth place, there was still time to explore. A small group had the priviledge of singing Locus Iste, under the watchful eyes of the man himself, from a portrait on the wall where we sang. I’m sure he would have approved! Before leaving the hotel, we gathered in the foyer to sing farewell to the two hard working and accommodating receptionists who were unable to attend our concert the previous night. It was an emotional moment.
A short bus journey took us to the airport. To while away the tedium at Gate 22 we decided to entertain Ryanair customers with a final blast of song. Some airport officials looked on perplexed but no arrests were made this time!
On our return, the Dolce Whats App thread was on fire with tributes to all involved in the planning and execution of the trip. One wag remarked “If Carlsberg did choirs, it would be Dolce.” How true! It was WUNDERBAR.
A Cautionary Tale of Two Cities
It can only be attributed to the heady experience of singing in Köln Cathedral that five choir members found themselves leap on to the first train they saw on the platform, which was to take them back to Bonn.
Scrambling aboard, breathless and in a skittish mood, they relaxed, exchanged anecdotes about train journeys and occasionally glanced out into the fading light. After a while and with no familiar landmarks coming in to view, a strange feeling of unease gripped the carriage.
It was thought appropriate to ask a fellow traveller if the train was heading to Bonn but unfortunately the reply got lost in translation. There was nothing for it but to abandon the train and seek advice from the uniformed officer at the next train station. A return to Köln was indicated and from there an express train to Bonn. All the way back, there were hoots of laughter at the foolishness of the situation combined with anxious glances at watches as time ebbed away.
A moral dilemma then presented itself at Köln station. Should they turn up late for the rehearsal or risk travelling on the wrong ticket and feign innocence? The awful humiliation of being caught and heavily fined for travelling without a train ticket to Bonn filled them with trepidation. On the other hand being late for rehearsal could have far reaching consequences too. With little time to ruminate and with the blessing of a high ranking official from Dolce, who was in the party, an Irish solution to a German problem was found. “Sure we’ll run the risk and hope for the best,” she said. They boarded the train and collapsed into their seats in an agitated state hovering between hysteria and terror.
Then the inevitable happened. A ticket checker was seen boarding the train. It was time for Fight or Flight! In a moment of panic, the only German speaker among them was nominated as spokesperson. Before she could demur, the ticket collector was standing at her elbow. They exchanged some words. Meanwhile the others looked away into the distance. After what seemed like an age, the conversation ended. With a sideways glance at the four miscreants across the aisle the railway employee moved on. No one dared speak until he had left the carriage. Breathing slowly returned to normal. Despite some arm twisting and mild threats later on, she vowed never to disclose what transpired between them. A close shave with the German police authorities was averted! But there was still one more hurdle to overcome- the Walk of Shame up the centre aisle of Die Alte Kirche – late for a Dolce rehearsal. There was nothing for it but face the music and so they did.