Posted by: rlustig1952 | December 17, 2011

Luke, ich bin dein Vater!

(Comment made by Devin Lawrence when viewing the East German television tower, which has a sphere on it that looks the the Death Star.)

A lot to report but not a lot of time. I will have to do some catching up later.

It’s been a very busy couple of days. Yesterday we went to the Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue for the official opening of the Lewandoswki festival. It is a beautiful building on the inside, rebuilt from its destruction during Kristallnacht in 1938. The Synagogue also has the distinction of being home to the Synagogal Ensemble Berlin, who perform a service incorporating Lewandowki’s music every Shabbat.

The ceremony began with performances by the Ensemble alternating between speeches by Festival organizers and local dignitaries. The Synagogue acoustics were excellent, and the choir made a wonderful sound. I was particularly impressed with their attention to dynamics and their ability to sing loudly without shouting (not as easy to do as you’d think).

Following the opening ceremony, we went right into the Friday evening service. Although much of the service used Lewandowski’s music at appopriate points in the liturgy, there were opportunities to sing more traditional melodies at certain points. I always find it remarkable that it’s possible to walk into a synagogue in different parts of the world and, assuming you have a basic idea of the service structure and text, it’s possible to feel very comfortable with the service.

After the service we returned to the hotel for Shabbat dinner, where we encountered the first real planning problem. There were more people attending dinner than there was seating. A number of Zamirniks wound up standing around a large table where we stood shoulder-to-shoulder and did the best we could. It actually turned out to be a lot of fun “roughing” it, and the generous amount of wine available probably made things a little more tolerable. After dinner some of the other choirs starting singing, and not to be outdone, we broke out in a niggun-style (no words, just “dai-dai dai-dai-dai” or something similar) version of a Shlomo Carlebach song, along with some of dancing while we sang (not as easy to do as you’d think, especially on an empty stomach).

This morning we scattered. Some people when back to synagogue, others spent their Shabbat day in more secular pursuits. I went along with some other chorale members to investigate the Prenzlauer Berg area in the former eastern zone, a section of Berlin that largely escaped bombing during the war so still contained much of the traditional 19th century architecture. It had the familiar feel of a run-down area of a city that had been gentrified – a bustling street market, a nice park, lots of small  shops and restaurants, young families pushing baby carriages, and older couples walking arm-in-arm carrying the day’s shopping. After an excellent meal at local cafe, we headed up the street to catch a streetcar (Berlin has an excellent public transportation system, even by European standards – quick, cheap, and reliable – that puts we Americans to shame) to an area that still had remnants of the original wall and No-Mans-Land. Even thought most everything is pretty much gone, it still presents a stark reminder of what this area was like when it was the focal point of the Cold War.

From there we went to Oranienburg Strasse to see the Oranienburg Synagogue that was Lewandowski’s home synagogue. You can read up about it, but it survived Kristallnacht but did not survive the war, when it was accidentally bombed by the RAF (I understand the pilot was a German Jewish refugee who had joined the RAF). It has been partially restored, but it was not open as it was Saturday. A few blocks away was the location of the central collection point where Berlin Jews were rounded up and deported. There’s a very moving black that explains how 55,000 Berlin Jews, from the very young to the very old, were deported and brutally murdered. There was also a very simple sculpture where it was possible to place memorial stones and say a prayer. It is so hard to walk in these places and not hear echoes of the terror and anxiety these poor people felt.

Our break came to an end because it was time to get ready for our next concert, which was at the Jewish Museum. We didn’t have much time to look around, so I’ll probably try to visit it later on, but we gave a concert in a large space with a large glass wall and glass ceiling and nice acoustics. We performed before a smaller audience than Thursday’s concert (maybe around 50 people), but as before they were very enthusiastic, and we learned our lesson so had a second encore available. (I later learned from someone in one of the other choirs that they had to so 7 (!) encores.)

After the concert we boarded buses ostensibly to head back to the hotel. We had been informed that there was a surprise in store for us, but we didn’t know what it was. When the bus came to a half, we weren’t at our hotel, but were instead were deposited by the TV tower that we had seen earlier in the day (remember the Death Star?). We took the elevator up to the revolving restaurant some 300 meters up, where we had a terrific view of the city lights and had dinner. It was a fun way to end a very busy day.



  1. Nicht nachlassen! Which Google tells me means “keep up the good work.” I’m enjoying this blog immensely.


  2. Rich, registriert die dunkle Seite, dies zu tun ist dein Schicksal!

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