Guests of young Frederick of Prussia

From: the Bolivian orchestra stranded in a German Castle

Bolivian orchestra

 

“The breathing techniques required to play these instruments for a few hours put you in a kind of trance,” says Miguel Cordoba, who plays the siku flute.

But as soon as the rehearsal finishes they are all too aware of how their life has changed. Because they are not rehearsing back home in La Paz, Bolivia, but in the shadow of a German castle where they have been stranded for 73 days.

The musicians, most of whom have never left Bolivia before, were expecting to spend just over a fortnight this spring touring east Germany’s concert halls.

Instead they are holed up in the buildings and grounds of the sprawling estate of Rheinsberg Palace, a moated castle which has been home to generations of German royalty and aristocracy, an hour and a half’s drive northwest of Berlin.

Rheinsberg_2003_1

As the musicians, some of whom are as young as 17, touched down in Germany on 10 March for their tour, news broke that Berlin had become the seventh German region to impose a ban on gatherings of 1,000 people or more in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our bus broke down on the motorway. I remember joking that this was bad luck and perhaps our concerts would be cancelled,” recollects Carlos, “but never did I think it would actually happen.”

Their three planned performances were cancelled in the days that followed, and as Bolivia’s government announced it would close its borders, the orchestra scrambled to get home but failed.

Germany’s ban on mass gatherings was swiftly followed by a full lockdown, meaning the musicians are only allowed to roam as far as the forest that lines the perimeter of the estate.

So their free time is spent rehearsing in the nearly 600-year-old palace grounds and exploring the surrounding woodland, home to 23 packs of wolves.

Only on Monday did they get the chance to step inside the castle for the first time as tours for the public reopened.

“It’s very different to my home, it’s very beautiful,” says 25-year-old Miguel.

“There are worse places to be trapped. When I wake up, I watch the sun rise over the forest and the lake. Back home, I only hear the sound of traffic.”

But despite the picturesque natural surroundings, the musicians are worried they have been forgotten.

“We feel abandoned,” says Carlos, who’s spent several thankless hours on the phone to the Bolivian embassy trying to find a way to get home.

The group had only been in Germany for a week when Bolivia’s president announced the country’s border was set to close within days, and all international flights had been suspended.

Arrangements were swiftly made by the German foreign office and Bolivian embassy to reserve seats on one of the last flights out of Germany to South America, landing in Lima, Peru.

The group was initially relieved.

“When we were on the way to the airport, we were all in good spirits, laughing and chatting,” says Camed Martela, 20.

But then Carlos received a call to say the flight had been cancelled as the plane was not allowed to land in Peru.

“The mood suddenly became sombre – everyone on the bus went quiet,” he says.

From that moment, the 6,000 miles (9,656km) between Germany and Bolivia seemed further than ever.

Tracy Prado, who only joined the orchestra in December, remembers thinking about her daughter’s 11th birthday which was coming up a few weeks later.

“I had got my hopes up and it was devastating to think I would miss this important day,” she says.

The group decided the only way to cope was to put together a strict practice schedule – three hours before lunch, three hours after, experimenting with a fusion of traditional Andean music and more contemporary genres.

“Indigenous music is all about the principle of community – everybody can take something from what they are and offer it to the group,” says Carlos.

“You feel the same as your ancestors felt when playing these traditional instruments, which is a beautiful thing,” adds Miguel, whose roots stretch back to Bolivia’s Kallawaya people known for their musical healing ceremonies.

Some members of the orchestra speak to their families in Bolivia. For others, communication is near impossible as internet and telephone signals are patchy outside Bolivia’s main cities.

Many of the musicians play a major role in providing for their families financially, and being unable to do this at the moment is exacerbating their anxiety.

In an interview with Bolivia’s flagship station Radio Panamericana, foreign minister Karen Longaric was asked for her response to the orchestra’s case after a distraught mother of one of the musicians called in.

Longaric suggested the orchestra left knowing the borders were set to soon close, although Bolivia had not recorded a single coronavirus case on the day they left.

She also said the government’s priorities were elsewhere – repatriating “the most vulnerable – women, children, sick people and the elderly”.

Carlos says there seems to be little sympathy for the orchestra back in Bolivia.

“People back home think we’re in a fairytale land,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I’ve had hundreds of messages telling me to stop complaining, and that I’m living like a princess in a German castle.”

Camed is disappointed they have not been able to perform as planned.

“We’d been preparing since January so I became quite depressed as I watched everything we’d prepared for get taken away like this.

“The orchestra helped me get back on track after the death of my dad. My family were so proud of me when they heard I was flying to Europe to perform my country’s music.”

The town of just over 8,000 people, also called Rheinsberg, has largely been welcoming towards the Bolivian visitors, if a little bemused by their presence.

“When I leave the hostel alone, I do feel a little self-conscious,” Camed says. “Sometimes I get strange looks and people stop and stare.”

Some go further than a raised eyebrow, perhaps confused by the fact that the musicians appear to be flouting Germany’s social distancing rules, as it may not be immediately obvious that they have been allowed to classify themselves as a family unit.

He says on one of the occasions the Bolivians played a game of football on the meadow directly in front of the castle. They soon found themselves surrounded by six police officers “in full riot gear, just short of a helmet”, says Timo Kreuser, one of three German musicians who helped facilitate the tour and are staying with them.

“They came from from left and right and started to encircle us and things got a little tense,” recalls Miguel.

“In the end, they just told us that we couldn’t congregate in such a large group, but it wasn’t too serious.”

“The police are used to it now, so they just phone me and it’s always resolved,” says Timo.

Timo has been keen to help the musicians, partly to repay the favour of their own hospitality when he was with them in La Paz in October. Violent protests led to the resignation of the president and Carlos and the orchestra helped Timo evacuate to Peru.

Generosity and offers of help have been in plentiful supply from most people.

The kitchen staff at the guest house the musicians are living in come in to work wearing masks and maintain a distance from their Bolivian guests.

“We are so grateful for the food and the roofs over our heads,” says Tracy, who speculates she’s one of only a few in the group who enjoy the local delicacies.

And, of course, they have the woodland to explore. Tracy says she spotted three wolves while out walking recently

“I froze in fear but they were just play fighting and moved on.”

It is not just wolves they look out for.

One of the palace’s former inhabitants was Frederick the Great, who was given ownership of the estate by his father in 1736 before he ascended to the throne, and described his time at Rheinsberg as his “happiest years”.

A close friend of Frederick, reflecting on his impressions of Rheinsberg, wrote “the evenings are dedicated to music. The prince has concerts in his salon, where no-one is admitted unless called”. One of those who performed was reportedly JC Bach.

“We all joke that Frederick’s ghost is following us and trying to trip us up,” says Camed. “I don’t usually believe in such things but it does feel as if there are ghosts on the grounds.”

As the seasons shifted from early spring to summer, the musicians’ heavy clothes packed in anticipation of colder weather were too warm for their long walks around the estate.

But a concerned Bolivian expat in Hamburg has helped out on this front.

“She collected mountains of clothes and sent them to us. We have seven big boxes so far – perhaps too many, we may need to return some or pass them onto someone else in need,” says Carlos.

But despite the generosity and good will, the orchestra worries that its stay cannot be bankrolled forever.

“Accommodation costs are mounting to more than €35,000 ($38,400) a month alone,” says Berno Odo Polzer, the director of MaerzMusik, the festival at which the orchestra were set to perform. It is one of several publicly funded arts programmes which has supported the orchestra’s longer than expected stay.

Germany is allowing international flights again but Bolivia’s borders remain shut for the foreseeable future.

The Bolivian embassy told the BBC it is trying to get the orchestra on a flight to Bolivia in early June out of Madrid.

But Carlos is worried about how things will be once they return too.

“Covid is getting very political back home,” says Carlos.

The Bolivian government delayed the presidential election that was due in March and later tried and failed to force through a decree limiting freedom of expression and criticisms over the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“I’m dreaming of the day I will be at my bed in Bolivia and say, ‘OK, this is over’ but I also know that on that day I will start missing what is happening here,” admits Carlos.

Rehearsing

Source: BBC News https://www.bbc.com/news/the-reporters-52760380

Picture of Rheinsberg Castle: By Amodorrado – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3362268

Stillness #writephoto

Thursday photo prompt

 

weymouth-028

 

“… No, we can’t detect any sign of human or humanoid life anywhere… There is plenty of life in the water, on land too, mammals and birds… plenty of beautiful insects…”

“What about buildings, traces of recent organised activities?”

“There are ruins, covered with vegetation, some remnants of railroads… We have scanned what looks like bombed-out urban complexes, mostly under water, on what might have been the coast line, before the floods…”

“Can you confirm the telemetry: any trace of emissions, radioactivity?”

“All confirmed. Radioactivity is stronger around the old nuke power stations, mostly flooded, but weakening. As our satellites showed, there is no radio emission. Some structures look like ancient observatories, on remote mountains. All dead.”

“Okay, it looks as if there is nothing for us to do here. Just complete the scans, and then come back when you are done. The orders are to continue to explore the remaining planets in the system. Just in case some of them have escaped there…”

 

Between absence and presence

A reading of Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

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This is Mr Murakami’s latest work, published in Japan in 2017, and translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (I guess: a tour de force). First of all, I must say that, in my view, this is Mr Murakami’s most accomplished work thus far, a fascinating, troubling and at time challenging novel. To be sure, long haul readers will find there a familiar atmosphere, but also the unknown. I will not spoil anything, but mention some ideas and metaphors.

There is a young artist, a portrait painter, and his beautiful, estranged wife. There is a, now dead, beloved little sister. There is  a lone timber house, high up in the mountains, which belongs to a famous old painter. There is an owl in the attic. Across the valley, there is a big, strange house, with a stranger owner.

The young artist teaches drawing at a local school. He lives on his own, in the timber house, with the owl in the attic, visits the attic, walks in the woods. Behind a little shrine he discovers a pit, the pit in the woods. There is the start of the quest, with a surprising painting, and a bell.

There is Vienna, at the time of the Anschluss, there is the war in China, but this is the past, with deep consequences for the present. The old painter is famous for his classical formal Japanese paintings, but this one painting…

The novel oscillates between dream and an even more unfathomable reality. There is a lovely, pubescent young girl, her beautiful aunt, and two portraits, or is it three?

Once started this, as with all of Mr Murakami’s work, the book becomes desperately addictive: one dreads the prospect of finishing the book.

Yet the quest has to be completed, through sacrifice and ordeal.

I must add a warning: if readers wish to cross the river, between absence and presence, they must pay the ferryman. So, have your penguin ready!

That’s about the size of it.

Image: der Zeichner (the young draughtsman) by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Depleted #3TC

Three Things Challenge: PL19

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uranium moss dancer

It was getting late. Slowly the officer laid the photo on the table. “Do you recognise what those are?” she asked me with a smile.

On the stage the one dancer started circling the pole. I looked down, and knew. “Hardened tank shells, probably depleted uranium. Fallujah?” I asked. She smiled again, “a little further West I suggest.”

“There is a say…” I replied: “Rolling stones don’t gather moss.”

“Thought not” she replied.

Image source: M1 Abrams battle tank, Wikimedia

Honour #writephoto

Honour

knight

 

The small crypt was still in darkness  as we approached, on that frozen morning of January.  Every year, on the same day, we gather here, on this desolate hill.

As usual, we were silent, as all of us know the place, the rite, the reasons. Besides, had we anything to say we would have done it, without words.

This year, we noticed the trace. Footsteps, in the fresh snow. Our horses noticed also the scent. The scent of a woman. We are rarely surprised by anything. But we were… intrigued.

We dismounted and followed the small path. A crow, perhaps too young to know, or remember, took fright and disappeared in the deep forest.

Our leader gave the sign. In our minds the words of the litany formed:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer…”

Our leader pushed the door open. In ranked order we entered the crypt.

“Fear is the little death…”

As we knelt on the ancient slabs, around our lord and liege, we saw the rose, and the message.

“And when it has gone past me, I will turn to see fear’s path…”

She was here, not that long before us.

The witch, she remembered. Her scent…

“Where the fear has gone there will be nothing…”

Our leader stood up, then we followed him, and drew our swords.

We let our blades rest on the stone, a faint ray of light illuminated the rose.

Our leader bowed. We left the crypt, one by one, leaving him alone with his brother.

Outside, we, wraith knights, waited.

The snow fell.

We prayed.

Every year, on the same day, we gather here, on this desolate hill, since our lord passed away, and we brought his body here, all the way back from the Holy Land.

“Only I will remain.” 

 

 

In the Pale Light of Winter #fivewords

Weekly Writing Prompt #175

rypgos

charcoal, shade, pale, wake, lucid

The rain fell, almost silent, but she could hear the little stream, outside, through the open window. She called the instant the lucid wake: those minutes before the first signs of the pale dawn. Then, everything is clear, the events of the past days in sharp relief, as if lit from inside. His smile, the fire on the beach, the shade under the pine trees, the smell of charcoal. But this wasn’t yesterday, it was years ago, her already distant past. And then it had been Summer…

Then the wine had tasted better, the air cleaner, the waves softer. His skin was like the sun itself. Where was he now? The lucid wake: she was alone, all fires long dead.

She could hear the little stream. Winter would end, another Spring would come.

 

Image source: https://wallpapersafari.com/winter-beach-scenes-wallpaper/

Spectral #writephoto

Spectral

spectral

 

The old mill stands still, in the frozen landscape; there, they worked, had fun, sometime loved. Now, there is only emptiness, silent stones, pale ghosts recounting long forgotten stories. All round lived once a multitude, poor but hopeful. Children were born, iron was cast, dreams were woven. Why they all left, what was their fate, did they lose faith? We dare not ask the ravens, and shall never know.

Beginnings #writephoto

Beginnings

dawn

 

He knew where they had met, but he was less certain of when that was. He remembered the small town, and the woods, above all the woods, where they walked, kissed, watched the sun rise, the freezing dawns, enlaced, forever at one, with each other, and with the trees.

She was the one, and those were their beginnings. They watched the sun set, the skies on fire. Her grey eyes reflected the light. He had felt so strong then. He was, so they called him. She watched him go, such a breakup in her heart…

Now, after all the death, the sand, the blood, he was back. Alone, at the end, a fallen hero.