Partir?

DSC_0449

 

How to leave the city? Setting aside the why (perhaps one day?) how is the question. Maybe the correct answer is: we don’t, ever, we may be elsewhere, but our minds and hearts stay here. Maybe we’ll reminisce, as Frederick writing to Voltaire, much, much later (in fact many wars and forty years later) about Rheinsberg: I had the happiest years of my life there… It is impossible to forget anything: the tree-lined streets, deserted on Sundays, the granit monuments that remind us of the terrible events, the canals, the lakes, the sand, the Spätis opened all night, the parks, the crows… The little markets, the narrow lanes, a city from where one can travel, on an old bike, away from traffic, and lose oneself in deep forests…

We will long for the museums, the concerts, the sheer grandeur of those avenues, history always present, without fuss, without pretense. In many ways we won’t leave, even if, three months from now, there will not remain more than a shadow of our presence here, perhaps a stolen bike in some flee-market.

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

Of a broken box and a small town

2479439_web

In the past two weeks my writing output (I did not want to say “literary”) was badly affected by the collapse of my old Mac, bought in 2009. This was the tool for my writing before and after a first (disk) failure, back in 2018. I was then lucky enough to find a local expert (in Gesundbrunnen) to fix it, without loss of anything. So its life was extended by about a year. Ha! the anxiety, those precious manuscripts! I have now bitten the bullet, and got a so-called refurbished recent version of the same, so that I can now, for a while, avoid the usual trap of “too old to be updated etc.” Hence new MacOs and new virus protection. Even an updated version of Scrivener. Sigh… The “migration”, although assisted courtesy Apple™, was an experience… It’s all there as far as I have been able to ascertain, so far. I am now full of enthusiasm, and I am even considering a major reconstruction of my first novel, still languishing on the Cloud (more about this for another post).

In the meantime, on a beautiful and cool Sonntag we have discovered another treasure of Brandenburg, the town of Eberswalde. Treasure because of the location (slightly north-east of the city of Bernau by Berlin, and easily accessible with the regional train, well designed for carrying lots of bicycles), along two beautiful canals, the Finowkanal and the main Oder to Havel canal. Superb riding country, much loved by cycling enthusiasts all year round. The Finowkanal is on its length the site of magnificent industrial buildings in ruins, notably a paper mill dating back to the XVIIth century (and still working in 1991 when the vultures came in), and an electricity generation plant. This inspired me to write about it, and seek its history.

Now let’s go back to work!

Image: old paper mill in Eberswalde, source: Technikdenkmal in Eberswalde

Eberswalde bei Wikipedia.de

Looking back… #Iamwriting

Berlin_Kunstbunker

 

Last winter, there was ice on the windows… Perhaps, now, we miss that cold edge to the air?

The long walks along the river, the parcs, the lakes. A cold Sekt on a bench, long rides in the vibrating forests, the discovery of ancient sites, the monuments to deep history…

The storm. Each day counted, a boat trip on the lake, an hour in the museum, Luther, Sans Souci… Ruinenberg…

Yes, some short stories, but the novel is still beached, going nowhere. Does it matter?

No, it was a good year. Each day counted, 1937, a look into a recent past, and, wrapped in mist, a further away time: what ghosts roam in those older streets?

Discoveries: characters to make alive, tales to tell, dreams to repeat.

Inspiration: each new dawn, nature fighting back, art… The dark Muse.

Books? Turing, Wittgenstein, The Plot Against America, Silk Roads, Musil…

We are grateful for every morning, in the City of Faust: a Moveable Feast…

Photo: Air-raid shelter in Berlin at the Reinhardtstraße. At the present it is used as a private museum for contemporary art of art collector Christian Boros. On the top of the shelter is a reproduction of the Barcelona-Pavillion.

By Times – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3950214

 

“Suspicious, but still benign…”

IMG_20160728_110251155

 

When they left the S-Bahn station a thin drizzle was falling on the deserted sidewalks of Wedding. It was about 1:30 in the morning, there was hardly any traffic, dawn was still some hours away. They were tired of carrying their luggage: it had been a long journey, all the way from the other side of the other capital… But home was now very close!

On the plane they had celebrated with a half-bottle of half-cooled champagne, just happy to have made it, through the grid-locked roads, the late and overflowing trains, the idiotic obstacle course through duty-free (!) at the airport.

As usual, they felt happy to be back, under a sky that meant, for them, peace and love.

And then there was that diagnosis: something not right, but not so wrong that they should worry, for now. They were not going to, as they had long learnt that being suspicious was an attribute of free people. And so it went for these cells inside him, and their mysterious behaviour.

As she opened the door, they kissed. This was not their last trip.

Picture: ancient bell, Invaliden Friedhof, Berlin Mitte, ©2017 Honoré Dupuis

As if the good fairy… #5words

Weekly writing prompt #104

DSC_0358

 

Long ago, the ice withdrew, leaving behind deep lakes, the river and magic white sand… Today the village stands, as though the city wanted to hide, where the fairy made sure people had a fine view of the ancient valley.

In my journal I noted: “Lübars und das Tegeler Fließ”.

Inspired by the Secret Keeper’s prompt, five words, and a visit to the commune of Lübars, in the Berlin borough of Reinickendorf.

Photo: the parish church, Lübars

Control #TheDailyPost #MaiFeierTag

Today’s Prompt, May 2, 2017

IMG_20170501_122842267_HDR

As we approach the well known street, the crowd gets denser, perhaps quieter too, as if listening to itself. There are many people here, young and old, in pairs or small groups. The air is crisp and the sky peppered with cotton-like clouds. Will it rain? People chat, laugh, stop at little stalls that sell food and drinks. Some carry flags, or small hand-written panels that proclaim peace, or the end of time.

We walk hand in hand in this familiar city, our home. We stop at a band, listen for a few minutes, walk on. There are speeches, some photographers stand on ladders, for a better view of the human sea. More people are coming. Residents sit at their windows, admiring the show.

At the limits, barring motors to access the streets, stand the city police, calm, reflective, attentive. Girls smile. Little ones in push-chairs look at the sky. You look at me and say: “You see, this is a great holiday, and all is in control!”

Picture: Sunday morning, May 1, 2017, Brandenburger Tor (Honoré Dupuis) 

Pillage #DailyPrompt #WritersWednesday

So much to see, so little time…

img_20160914_170156709

 

History walks along the quiet streets, ghosts hide in the corridors of museums: our steps resonate in the night, so much to explore… The story ripens, enriched by the findings, tombs of soldiers, standing knights in corners of baroque churches, damsels hidden in wooden scarves and dark mantels. Renaissance painters, medieval crosses, Japanese swords, enough material for many books.

Will there be time to pillage so much wealth?

Photo: Alte Museum, Berlin – © 2016 Honoré Dupuis

Prelude #Cityscape

tumblr_oag4m0jikm1v4z2vro1_540

Exploring a city is like discovering a lover: the unknown sounds, the long avenues, the blind windows so much like eyes shut, the undecipherable scents… Then there are the enticing corridors, the forbidden cellars, the lovely peaceful cafés hidden behind trees, as islands of lust. The city does not yield easily: one has to be patient, one has to enjoy the foreplay, wait for the moment, the right time, observe and love.

The city is full of strangers, as many alive and as many ghosts, like the thoughts and dreams in the mind of the one we seek, as puzzling and provocative. She has its angry, even furious, side: thunder and lightning, when the pavements become hostile, the noise unbearable. She can reject the presumptuous, ignore the fool, she’s sovereign on her territory, she does not forgive.

Although many claim to possess her, she has no master. She has seen murder and rape, she knows much about war, about invaders… In our eyes she’s more alive than ever, risen from the flat sands, slowly stretching her wonderful limbs…

Image: via lightsindarkuniverselightsindarkuniverse.tumblr.com

From Suburbia to the Centre, and back again #amwriting

IMG_20160602_103623008

Planning a move is exciting, and also threatening. So much can go awry, the unexpected lurks at every corner. We have inhabited this parcel of suburbia for a long time, longer than we originally thought, for sure. And, now, we are about to leave this bit of the funny island for  the city of Faust, right in the middle!

We found, hopefully, the place, where to live, to dream, to love, to write… and to wander. More than a room, with a view. All the signs are there: the path through the urban, and ancient, gardens, the waterfall, the dark, deep waters of the canal… the bikes everywhere.

Not far is the river, the few remnants of the old wall, the new shiny skyscrapers: the fight with the Devil, who’s alive, and determined. The new book has a title, and a hero, more mature, a little bruised, and loving it. There is a diary to keep, and the photoblog.

In the meantime, we still have the city of Moloch, to enjoy. Later, we’ll be back. Peace.

Image: Engelbecken (Angel’s Pool), Berlin Kreuzberg, © 2016 Honoré Dupuis