Wanderung, tradition, and Innsbruck

Well, I haven’t been able to write very much over the past few days because I’ve been extremely busy here in Bavaria. A lot has happened, and hopefully I can remember most of it.

Sunday was a really beautiful day. The sun was out, and it was quite warm. What a perfect time to hit up the Wanderung, or hiking trails. In order to walk them, one must get to them first by taking a lift up the mountain. Sounds scary, but it really isn’t. The trip takes about 20 minutes or so, and there are waterfalls and trees all around you as you ascend. Once at the top, there is, and I’m convinced now that these are in every possible small corner of Bavaria, a café, as well as hiking trails taking you further up, around, or back down the mountain. There was also a small cattle ranch up at this high elevation. The cattle still wear their cowbells, and it was so neat to hear them ringing off in the distance. Denise and I decided to hike a little further up the mountain, but not too far seeing as how we are both a bit out of shape.

One thing that struck me, and made us both feel quite incompetent, was how many local elderly people were hiking great lengths both up and down. There were both men and women, probably in their 70s, hiking even further than we could! And it was not just one or two, it was more like 10 or 20 that we saw, so it must truly be a normal thing here. I guess we Americans are not exactly conducive for Wanderung like this, especially with all of our urban sprawl. Who wants to go hiking through the streets of cities? I’m sure that if I lived in Bavaria, I would hike the mountains all the time!

We ended up eating at the café, having the best sauerkraut ever, and a couple of beers: Dunkelsweißbier to be exact. And yes, I finally tried out my poor German-speaking skills and was quite a bit more successful than I thought I would be. Unfortunately I made the mistake of trying them out in front of quite a large group of people on our tour. Now they seem to think that I know everything, and they ask me questions constantly, which, usually to their disappointment, I cannot always answer.

Coming back down the mountain was an equally great experience. The view is incredible!

We came back and had dinner on our own. Our little group of people decided to go Italian that night. Did I say little? There were about 12 of us. I wish I had gotten the whole dinner on video, because everyone was acting like your typical obnoxious Americans in a foreign country. It was hilarious. The wait staff only spoke a small bit of English, so I did my best to translate here and there. However, they were also extremely busy, so my speed was not good enough for them. It is also difficult to translate words into German when their English counterparts evoke an air of uncertainty. Also, when the staff came to the table to settle up the bills, our deficiency in math skills seemed to shine brightly. The difficulty in translation didn’t help matters. Eventually, I just told the waitress, “Verzeihung, wir können nicht zählen,” which translates to “Pardon us, we can’t count.”

Sunday ended with a fantastic Bavarian show, with traditional music and dance. They called it Heimatabend, or “Home Evening”, when German people celebrate their heritage. This really hit home for me because it made me feel a connection with my roots. I had had a little bit of the tradition, slightly Americanized of course, when I was little and visiting the extended family. This reminded me of being very young, but took it to a whole different level, being so much closer to the roots of tradition. It was a fun time, with beer and dancing and oompapa music. I found myself tearing up here and there as the night unfolded. They had traditional Schuhplattler Dancing, as well as Goaßlschnalzen, which is the cracking of coach whips to music.

Monday (yesterday), we went across the Austrian border to the town of Innsbruck. This town is completely butted up against the alps, and has no room for expansion. It is a beautiful medieval town, that has modernized quite a bit, but it still manages to hang onto its old tradition with its “Old Town” center. Of course, the old town is a pretty major tourist trap, mostly made up of shoppes and restaurants. Overall, the feel of the area is one of nostalgia. While everyone seemed to be interested in the walking tour, Denise and I decided to tool around the city on our own. We visited the famed golden roof in the middle of town. By the way, this area is very interesting because it was once a walled city, but as it changed over the years, buildings were built into the walls, but keeping them mostly intact. Also, we visited the Wiltener Basilika, a Baroque-styled Catholic church with beautifully carved walls and painted ceilings, but with no stained glass of course.

We spent most of our time walking, people-watching, and sitting at a café, where I had the best apfelstrudel of my life. It was a very relaxing day, aside from the long bus ride. When we got back for dinner, I was told that the local music teachers’ band, with whom we have a joint concert on friday, will not have a pianist, since he/she suffered a bad burn. They asked me if I would substitute. I very graciously accepted! Today, I am taking it easy because tomorrow will be extra long, since I get to rehearse with the local band tomorrow night. It is a big band/swing group, which is right up my alley! I can’t wait.

OK, it looks like I’ve written enough. Between sleeping in and writing here, I’m already running out of daylight. Plus I’m starved, and it’s a beautiful day! Time to get out!

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Castle of Madness

Today made for one interesting day in Bavaria! We visited Herrenchiemsee, a castle built by the maddest of kings, King Ludwig II. More on that in a bit. It seems the real story involves the process of getting to the castle.

The bus ride to Lake Chiemsee was a fine one. Once we arrived, we needed to get on a boat that would take us to the island where the castle stands. Apparently, our fearless tour director made quite the faux pas making us go ashore onto the wrong island. The band was playing, and things were going well. However, when we got off, our tour director didn’t even seem to recognize that the island was the wrong one until after the boat was pulling away from the dock. We had to wait another 30-45 minutes for the next boat, which took us back to where we started, and then finally to the correct island. What an ordeal. I asked if perhaps we were on the wrong lake.

Arriving on the island, there was clearly no castle in sight. Apparently, King Ludwig II liked seclusion. We walked through the canopy of forest, which eventually opened up into a vast garden grounds complete with 3 gigantic fountains. As I looked around, I thought to myself, “This reminds me of Versailles in France.” To my amazement, I ended up finding out that the King was infatuated with everything French, especially Louis XIV, and his castle of Versailles. Ludwig wanted to build an exact replica, and in 1878 that is exactly what he set out to do. The only problem was that he eventually ran out of money. The castle is unfinished, which is why you only see the main portion without the two extra wings like Versailles has.

I thought it was quite amazing how recent the building had begun on this castle. 1878 is not really that long ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures inside the castle and the museum, but let me just say that it was unbelievably ornate, with lots of gold leaf everywhere.

One of the best parts of the day was finding out that King Ludwig II was very patriotic, and as a result he really loved Richard Wagner. Wagner’s death mask is held in a small case inside the museum underneath an enlarged playbill for “Tristan und Isolde”. I think we were the only ones from our group to even acknowledge that it was there. Everyone else missed it. Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed inside, so I just have to file it away in my memory.

What an amazing place to visit! And what rich history! Today was a great day. Tomorrow it looks as though we will be hitting the mountains and a Bavarian show in the evening. Before that, I have to get up and play a faux church service at 9:30am. Time to get to sleep. Bye for now!

Greetings from Bavaria

Finally got some rest here in Germany. I think I’m starting to recover from the jet lag. However, it seems to keep coming back now and then. Immediately after we arrived yesterday, I thought I was going to die of exhaustion. I got very little sleep on the flight, and to top things off, it took forever to get everyone together in order to move on to our hotel. We arrived at 7:30am, but we had to wait around until about 1pm before we could go anywhere. The main reason for this was that our tour guides were actually arriving after us. They were not already waiting for us like a professional would be. Anyway, we are here, and things are much better today. The food is good, and the beer is great!

Today we visited the Farmer’s Museum in Amerang. It was really quite interesting because it celebrates 500 years of farming, an amount of time that would be very foreign to even the oldest and most experienced American. It was amazing to find out that 500 years ago, people lived in conditions where in order to heat your house, you needed to light a fire inside the house, but that the materials used to hold the fire were made of wood. Essentially, a wooden fireplace! To keep fires from burning down the house, they coated the wood with mud. On top of all of this, there was no such thing as a chimney, as it had not yet been invented. So you basically walked around inhaling smoke all over the house. It’s a wonder that there are descendants of these people! They must have been very strong!

However, in all of this, as time marched on, technology, however crude, made people’s lives better. That was its goal. And even now I couldn’t say that I would have been brilliant enough to even think of the crude advancements that were made way back then. It took a certain kind of brilliance, which was probably pretty rare then as well.

Overall, it showed me that the point of advancing technology has always been the same: It exists to make our lives easier. And so we should never be afraid of it.

Well, we just got done playing a two-set night, and we have to leave tomorrow at 9:30 to go for a lake cruise and look at castles! Ah Europe! Good night!

Best Concert Ever!!

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Well I just got home from the most amazing concert ever! John Williams conducted the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl! What an orchestra, and what a genius! The program was full of fantastic music: Lots of pieces written for the Olympics, since we just finished up with the London 2012 Summer Games. Bugler’s Dream and Olympic Fanfare and Theme opened the concert, after a prelude of The Star Spangled Banner, of course. John Williams also brought out The Olympic Spirit, and later Call of the Champions complete with chorus.

A few other memorable notes were music from War Horse, music from Tin Tin synchronized to film of historic sword-fighting scenes, and guest violinist Gil Shaham playing music from Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof.

But the greatest of all the night was a rare treat celebrating the 30th Anniversary of E.T.! Maestro Williams actually conducted the 15-minute Finale, Adventures on Earth, synchronized to the film!! This made my entire lifetime! I think it is the greatest piece ever written, and I got to see it performed live at my first John Williams concert! Unbelievable!

I can’t believe that he is 80 years old, and that he can still conduct with energy and passion the way that he does. I can only hope that I could aspire to be even one-tenth what he has become! He encored with music from Star Wars, including the Main Titles and the Imperial March. I felt like I was attending a nerd rock concert. There lightsabers and Star Wars t-shirts everywhere you looked!