Wednesday, November 22, 2006


OK, I've always believed that Bach had it over Mozart because Back was more spiritual and emotionally deep. Well, on Sunday I attended Mass at St. Hedwig's Cathedral, a very German Catholic Church near the hotel in what was East Berlin. To say the Cathedral was "spare" is an understatement. It had the decor of a Quaker Meetinghouse. No statues, no artwork. Just a simple alter and had wood and wrought iron pews. There wasn't even any cushions on the kneelers. These Germans are tough. Other other hand, the choir was magnificent, probably the richest, most beautiful choir I've ever heard in a church.

A poster announced that there would be a performance of Mozart's Requiem that evening. So, I trekked back to the church that evening through an appropriately gloomy, rainy evening. The performance was breathtaking. This is a piece that Mozart composed as he was dying at the age of 35. While it was commissioned by a mysterious figure who visited Mozart dressed in grey, the story is that Mozart was very aware of his own mortality while he wrote. So, the spiritual depth was every bit as present as in Bach's music. The piece alternately violent and sombre, but stunning throughout.

So, as we reached the conclusion of the piece, I was anticipating the rapurous applause that would ensure, of which I would be an enthusiastic participant. After the last note was played, you could hear a pin drop in the church. I had the sense that everyone was holding his or her breath. The conductor stood still facing the orchestra and choir for an extended period. Then, he turned and bowed slightly to the audience. Audience members quietly shuffled to the feet and exited the church quietly. I was amazed. Not one errant hand clap. Apparently, Germans don't clap in church. It was wierd.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach is my favorite composer. I discovered the breadth and depth of his music with the help of Prof. Robert Greenberg through his Teaching Company audio lectures. Bach's music is intensely spiritual and moving. His St. Matthew Passion can bring you to tears. The Goldberg Variations sound very modern, almost jazz-like. And the Brandenberg Concertos are among the most familiar classical pieces in existence, but they always sound fresh. And this is just a tiny piece of his life's work. During the time he was the capellmeister at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, he had to produce a new classical piece every week for that Sunday's services over the course of three years, a stunning accomplishment. I recently heard advertised a CD collection of all his work. It consists of 140 disks.

So, one benefit of the misguided advice found in the guidebook referenced in the previous post is that I frantically searched for something outside of Berlin to visit before I left the U.S. I discovered that Leipzig is only an hour train ride from Berlin. Moreover, St. Thomas Church continues to hold services and there was one at 3 pm on the Saturday of my arrival. So, I landed in Berlin, dropped my luggage at the hotel and immediately set off for the train station to travel to Leipzig.

In Leipzig, my taxi driver spoke no English, so I took out my biography of Bach and pointed to the picture on the cover. He quickly delivered me to St. Thomas Church where there was a small line for the service. I paid two dollars for a program and found a seat in the middle of the church, which was filling up fast.

What followed was a full Lutheran service with a short reading, a moderate length homily of which I understood not a word and lots and lots of music. Much of which was composed right on that very site.

I have pictures of the visit but the blog is not letting me post them. Hope to be able to in the future.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

An American in Berlin

In preparation for a business trip to Berlin, I consulted a travel guide called The Rough Guide to Berlin. Here's how the book described the city:

"No one would come to Berlin for light-hearted sightseeing: this is a profoundly scarred city... Berlin isn't a city where you can simply stroll and absorb the atmosphere...[P]oints of interest are, almost without exeption, sombre."


And here I'd actually extended my visit to allow for light-hearted sightseeing. Guess I'm going to have to stock up on the anti-depressants.

So, here I am, on the ground for two days, and my first advice is to never, ever buy a guidebook of the "Rough Guide" genre. Boy do they have it wrong. Berlin is a fascinating city, rich in culture. The architecture is breath-taking and the history runs very, very deep. To the extent there are "scars," they are the kind of scars that are consciously preserved for the amazing stories they tell. These stories are the fundamental stories of the 20th Century. The Kaiser Wilhelm Church, with everything but the steeple bombed away in WWII, preserved as an anti-war memorial. The remnants of the Berlin Wall, the guardhouse at Checkpoint Charlie. Amazing stuff. It's not for nothing that John Kennedy declared, "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
So rather than figure out what to do with myself in this "sombre" city, I find myself concerned that I do not have enough time to fully appreciate it. Sure will give it a try, though. Details to follow.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Marshall Nails It

The best thing about blogs is that, every once and a while, you find some writing that perfectly articulates feelings or opinions you have that you can quite find the words to express. Josh Marshall did that for me today in his blog in describing a disheartening reality check that weighs down my optimistic anticipation of a good day for Democrats next Tuesday. Here's the key paragraph:

"I hope that when the political history of the last half century is written it will show, as it should, that the Republicans engaged in a brand of divisive electoral politics that pitted Americans against each other: white against black, men against women, rich against poor, native born against immigrant, straight against gay. Republicans deserve to be tarred by history for exploiting our weaknesses, our prejudices, and our lesser selves for their own political gain. But those are still our weaknesses and our prejudices. We own them. And it is our lesser selves that have succumbed to the Republican political pitch and been willing to be exploited. Removing the Republicans from power will only be a temporary fix unless we fundamentally fix ourselves so that no one, no party, no movement can exploit those same weaknesses again."

I have been saying that my fondest wish in life, beside all the personal stuff about kids and family and stuff, is to live long enough to see the judgment of history on the Bush Presidency. Can there possibly have been a worse President?