Louis Lewandowski Festival, Berlin 2015

Choir photo

David Druce choir blog of 2015 Berlin Trip
THURSDAY 17/12
The choir started gathering from 6.30am at the corner of Pangbourne drive and Stonegrove in Edgware. Not cold at all in fact mild for this time of year.
Russell checked everyone’s passport to make sure no surprises at Stansted.
Tony the driver texted me to say traffic bad so he will arrive just after 7.00am and true to his word the coach arrived at 7.05am. Roll call and away by 7.15am to our historic second trip abroad.

Allan is concerned that some of our group might need to swap seats on the plane for wives to sit next to their husbands but this can be sorted once we’re aboard the flight.

Berlin at Night

Berlin at Night

We reach the M25 and then the M11 in good time without traffic issues and arrive at Stansted just after 8.00am. For those who  have hand baggage only, we make our way through Security. Others check in their luggage into the hold.

As 9.50am approached, the board flagged gate 30 and we made our way to the monorail. Our transport czar Russell did a sweep of the area and spotted some choristers who hadn’t
noticed the boarding gate was flashing so rounded them up for the trek to the monorail. A few minutes later we were all safety transferred to the gate area but still had a walk to the departure lounge. Russell and I fully expected to be at the rear and were chatting at the back of the queue thinking all the choir were ahead of us when all of a sudden Harold appears behind us looking very sheepish. What happened I said. Took a wrong turning and ended up lost!
Safe to say he finally found us just in time otherwise he would have missed the flight!

All now on board and plane took off at 10.45am. I have an aisle seat and am sitting next to Max. Across the aisle is Harold. The Ryanair flight was full so we were a bit squashed but the flight was okay and we arrive early at Berlin airport.

We all finally retrieve our cabin baggage, exit the plane and make our way to passport control. Then onward past the luggage carousel, those with hold luggage collect their cases and then

Berlin Crowne Plazza Hotel

Berlin Crowne Plazza Hotel

we make our way to the exit barrier. No one in sight carrying a card marked choir or LLF. Russell checks the coach park and the coach is there so after reporting back, we all climb aboard the coach and make our way to the hotel about half an hour away ably driven by our driver Katia.

We settled into our rooms.
The three Davids (Druce/Rome/Silkoff) then took a cab to the Pestalozzi Strasse Synagogue in order for Davids Rome and Silkoff to rehearse their solo piece Retsei bySchlossberg. The rest of the choir transferred by coach a bit later.

17-12-2015 Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue - opening concert

17-12-2015 Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue – opening concert

Lewandowski Opening Ceremony was a tiring experience but DavidRome and David Silkoff did us proud with a fine rendition ofRetsei. The Pestalozzi Strasse Synagogue is a beautiful building.

We then returned to the hotel for our first evening meal. The organisers laid on a very tasty dinner which started quite late. We met and chatted with other choir members. I met Yair Plesser the manager of the Jerusalem Cantors choir whom I had been in email contact with earlier in the year.

There was a bit of a BALAGAN when getting the food from the buffet but there was plenty of grub, nice and hot, to feed the hungry choristers and wives. We had a mass choir rehearsal at the end of the meal where Regina Yantian took us through the two music

17-12-2015 Mass Choir rehearsal

17-12-2015 Mass Choir rehearsal

pieces. The Russian choir seemed to operate on one level only CON BELTO! So we all practised singing softly and managed a fair performance at the end.
There followed a heads of choirs meeting where Nils, the head of the festival went through the plans for LLF 2015. I met Carolyn who we had corresponded with and asked if she could provide me with a large box or crate for our music books and tallaisim for our Shabbat service project. One of the rooms in the hotel was a store room for the LLF and she allowed me to choose the biggest box which she emptied for me. We then passed the word around the choir for all Shabbat music books and tallaisim to be deposited in the box before the tour started on Friday morning. I turned in but some choristers stayed up late in the bar.
FRIDAY 18/12
On the Friday morning armed with my tallis and tefillin, I walked to Joachimsthaler Strasse Synagogue (Ashkenazi Orthodox) early at 7.40am primarily to memorise the route for Shabbat but also to meet with Chazan Arie Zaloshinsky. We went through the music for Ein Kamocho – he had some difficulty with the Shema tune as we sing in a major key but he is used to singing this in a minor key. We also discussed where the choir will be positioned for the Shabbat service. Shacharit followed at 8.00am and I walked back to the hotel around 9.00am in time for the tour.
LLF arranged a tour of Berlin by coach during Friday morning. We saw many iconic buildings and memorials including the famous Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. We saw the remains of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie and the HolocaustMemorial. The tour included a visit to the Jewish cemetery where we sang Shuvi Nafshi by the Matseiva of Louis Lewandowski.

Weissensee Cemetery

Weissensee Cemetery

After the tour back at the hotel we had some free time until Shabbat commenced.
But there was one more task to complete. To take the box and also a large holdall to the Joachimsthaler Synagogue. So with the help of DH and AW we took a taxi the short distance to the Shul. However when we got there the security personnel tried to stop us from stopping directly outside the Shul. So while the taxi driver was remonstrating with the official, we got out of the car, opened the hatch and removed our gear taking it straight through the door to the building. Firstly we had to pass through a security chamber controlled by security
guards. It was only when the outer door closed that the inner door opened. We then proceeded

 Joachimstaler Straße Synagogue

Joachimstaler Straße Synagogue

down a corridor and through the back door of the building into the courtyard. The Shul was a separate building on the other side of the courtyard area and with the front door open we quickly deposited the box and bag in one of the rooms off the vestibule near to the main Shul and then
returned to the entrance of the building and took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, mission completed
I had managed to book the foyer area just in front of the hall where supper is served so we davened Kabbalat Shabbat and followed this with a rehearsal when we went through some of the Saturday evening concert pieces a capella of course!

I also briefed the choir on the contents of heads of choir meeting from the previous evening including the arrangements for the finale Sunday concert which had to run like clockwork!
After the rehearsal, we had a rest until 8.00pm when the organisers laid on a very tasty Kabbalat Shabbat dinner. We continued to network and chat with other choir members but because of the BALAGUN when getting the food from the buffet the previous evening, Nils instructed us to go to collect the food, table by table, which worked much better. There was still plenty of food nice and

Presentation of Festival Ceramic Plaque by Nils Busch-Petersen

Presentation of Festival Ceramic Plaque by Nils Busch-Petersen

hot to feed everyone. Plenty of singing by all and we performed Yom Zeh and Adon Olom. Most of us were exhausted so back to our rooms for bedtime!
Half way through the mission!
SHABBAT 19/12
After breakfast we left the hotel at 8.50am to walk to the Shul. Upon arrival, as the Rabbi was giving a Shiur in the Shul, we sorted out the line-up of the 4 rows of choristers in the lobby area and when the Shiur finished, showed the choir the seating plan. We then adjourned upstairs to warm up our voices and for last minute instructions. At 9.30am we went back downstairs and
joined the service. We sang from Ein Kamocho to the Leining with Chazan Arie and then we took the rest of the service with DR singing until Kekedem and DS davening until the end with Henry singing Yismechu.

I couldn’t help but feel a lump in my throat when at certain points in the Shabbat service, the Rav stood up and led the congregation word for word through some of the prayers. There was a particularly poignant moment when they recited B’rich Shemay!! At that point one could see the bigger picture and feel the raw emotion!! At the end of the service some of the
choristers of the Jerusalem Cantors choir came to me and said how much they enjoyed the service especially Leigh’s kedusha!
We finished the service a little late at 12.45pm (I was aiming for a 12.30 finish). We then placed our music etc back in the box and holdall and sat in the side rooms for lunch.
Plenty of singing ensued, and after Birchat Hamazon lead by Henry, we walked back to the hotel for a rest before our big concert later on today.
Straight after Shabbat we piled onto the coach and were taken to our concert venue nearby.

19-12-2015 Stilwerk Concert

19-12-2015 Stilwerk Concert

Stilwerk is a beautiful designer shopping centre with a hall on the top floor. All choristers should have brought their 2 music folders for 1st half and 2nd half. As Henry exited the coach he commented that there will always be someone who brings the wrong folder and alas upon checking, Bernard brought his Sunday folder instead of the 2nd half folder!! Carolyn tried to help by sending a colleague to get the right folder but unfortunately another wrong folder was brought so he had to share music.
We had to make some alterations to the stage area but after sound checking everyone and warming up our voices, we adjourned to a separate area until we lined up for the start. We had a very good turnout audience wise that really appreciated our music. The overall sound was wonderful and Michael the sound engineer was brilliant! We even sold some of our CDs!!
We all had a fantastic evening but the organisers still had a surprise in store for us. Immediately

19-12-2015 Berlin Parliament Building Reception

19-12-2015 Berlin Parliament Building Reception

after the concert we were taken by coach to the Berlin State parliament building where we were wined and dined and some of us went on a tour of the building. Eventually we made our way back to the hotel and turned in after a very busy day.
SUNDAY 20/12
First thing on Sunday morning DH AW and myself went back to the Shul to collect our folders and tallaisim. This time our plan was to do a round trip in a cab from the hotel to the Shul and back. We stopped just a little way beyond the Shul because of the security. We clambered out and made our way through the double doors while our cab driver moved the cab to the other side of the road. We entered the separate building on the other side of the courtyard area and quickly collected the box and holdall which we had stored the previous day in one of the adjoining rooms to the main Shul. We carried them to the front of the building and had to run the gauntlet of the very officious security guard stopping us loading the stuff into the boot. We did manage this eventually and took the cab back to the hotel, mission completed!
The organisers laid on two sets lectures for choristers only from 9 – 10 am and 10.15 – 11.30 am. These were optional as some choristers wanted to be with their wives and do some shopping
so the instruction was for us all to meet back at the hotel in full choir uniform at 11.45 am after the lectures finished.

Rykestrasse Synagogue

Rykestrasse Synagogue

The choir piled into the coach about 12 noon with Gabriel one of the organisers and we drove to the Rykestrasse Synagogue, Germany’s largest synagogue, which is located in the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood in the Pankow borough of Berlin. Johann Hoeniger (de) built the synagogue in 1903/1904. It was inaugurated on 4 September 1904, in time for Rosh Hashana. The
synagogue stands off the street alignment and is reached by a thoroughfare from the nearby front building. We all had our LLF passes around our necks and the security staff searched us as we entered the grounds of the Shul.

We were allocated a slot of 20 minutes to rehearse starting at 1.15 pm but because we got there early we started at 1.00 pm. We were first shown where we would be seated and then we
practised standing up and sitting down on a given command. Then we had to practise walking on and off the stage. We then sang some pieces accompanied by David Silkoff. At 1.30 pm we had to vacate the stage and we now had free time until 3.15 pm when the mass choirs would go through the two Lewandowski pieces. Most of us went for a walk around the  immediate neighbourhood.

watertower in Prenzlauer Berg

watertower in Prenzlauer Berg

We visited the oldest watertower in Prenzlauer Berg, the oldest in Berlin, that was completed in
1877 and was in use until 1952. Below the water tank were the homes of the operators of the
tower, and these apartments in the landmark of Prenzlauer Berg have been then renovated.
At the beginning of the Nazi era, the water tower was used by the SA as concentration camp for communists, socialists, Jews and others, where they could be interned without trial and murdered. Then it was converted to “SA-Heim Wasserturm”, where it was used as a dining room and lounge, and the power house as a dormitory. In autumn 1934 the SA home was closed and the site transformation started. The area became a public park, the power house was blown up in June 1935 and at its place, there’s now a playground.
After our walk we went to one of the restaurants, sat down and had a drink and relaxed until just after 3.00 pm when we made our way back into the Shul. Our plan was to rehearse all 4 pieces immediately after the mass choir rehearsal. We would either transfer to the cloakroom or if that was occupied, Mark found a place to rehearse at the top of the stairs to the right. We went through our paces in the main Shul and found out that we were going to be on first. We sang the 2 pieces from our seated positions – we were the length of the first row – and practised standing and sitting together with the other choirs.
By 3.45pm we were finished and initially went to our first rehearsal rendevous point but that was already taken so we quickly climbed the stairs to our alternative area and went through Shomeir and V’shomru. We then had to move to the opposite side of the stairs to sing V’hakohanim and Hineni. The rehearsing went well so nothing else to do now but to relax and move into position about 10 minutes before the 5.00 pm start.
The evening started with many speeches in German. Our choir took to the stage and before our 4

20-12-2015 Grand Finale Concert Rykestrasse Synagogue Ralf Wieland President of Berlin House of Representatives

20-12-2015 Grand Finale Concert Rykestrasse Synagogue Ralf Wieland President of Berlin House of Representatives

piece solo spot, we sang Ma Tovu with the other choirs. Then I stepped up to the conductors’ rostrum and took the choir through the 4 pieces, two a capella and two with accompaniment from David Silkoff. My only concern was that I was too far away from the choir but we performed amazingly well. All soloists were outstanding and the choir sound was enhanced by the building’s fantastic reverb! So with great acoustics, we sang from the heart and audience really appreciated us by their tremendous applause. As we exited stage left so the next choir made their entrance
from stage right.
It was a long concert but each choir had their own style and sound and the variety was there for all to enjoy. After an interval, the concert began with the second half and the final mass choir Adon Olom was sung just before 8.00 pm.
At the end there was a buffet reception in the large foyer of the Shul and what seemed ages later, we started making our way out of the Shul to the corner of the street where we thought

Presentation by Choir to Melvyn, David and Russell

Presentation by Choir to Melvyn, David and Russell

the coaches would be. However both Russell and Mark made some recons up and down the
street but no coaches were visible so we checked with Gabriel who was also exiting the building. He spoke to Carolyn and it turned out that the coaches were a couple of streets away. So we made our way to the coaches and finally returned to the hotel for our last night in Berlin. Everyone felt on a high given our outstanding performance and some of us adjourned to the bar to try and relax with a drink or two. The adrenalin was still pumping and we must have chatted for a couple of hours before finally going to bed.
MONDAY 21/12
All of our time is free time today until the coach takes us to the airport at 3.00 pm. Some of us decided during breakfast that we would meet up for lunch around 1.00 pm at the Bleibergs restaurant about 10 mins walk from the hotel. John and I decided to visit the Jewish Museum so we took a cab and arrived about 09.45 am. The doors opened at 10.00 am and we spent over two hours walking round, viewing and discussing the many exhibits. We got a cab back to the hotel and I had to pack and vacate the room. I placed my suitcase in the secure area and about 8 of us
bleiburgsenjoyed a tasty lunch at Bleibergs.

Then back to the hotel, retrieved case and finally boarded the coach. One last roll call on German soil an then we were taken to the airport. We went through security and then found some seats where we waited and had a drink until the gate was called. We boarded the plane and after an uneventful flight landed at Stansted. We made our way through passport control and those of us with hold baggage collected suitcases off the carousel. We then walked to the coach park where Tony was waiting to take us home.

3 thoughts on “Louis Lewandowski Festival, Berlin 2015

  1. Enjoyed the experience very much It was especially moving at the synagogues and very good to have prayed in them this was a real mitzvah! Extremely interesting country with a lot of history and look forward to going back there to see the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Centre

  2. Memories of the Festival

    Stilwerks Concert.

    returning to our secured room at the interval to find the door locked and the organizers not being able to find the key. After a long wait the key arrived and the door was opened only for us to see there were not enough chairs to allow all of us to sit down. Barry however found a deck chair stacked against the wall which he erected. He then laid on it with his eyes closed as if he were sunning himself on a tropical beach.

    Lunch Boxes
    We were given a large cardboard box which only contained a small bottle of water, a banana or an apple plus half a bagel with a selection of fillings none of which were to my taste or edible. The booby prize I received one day was a box containing 2 half bagels!

  3. I was very privileged to sing as part of what is now our world-famous choir, but I was particularly privileged to have the honour of conducting the service and performing at the Lewandowski festival weekend. Thank you for inviting me to do so.
    Irene also thanks you for her having the opportunity to be part of our group.

    Yours very sincerely

    David Shine

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