Yesterday morning I returned from my university Music Society tour to Germany. We spent most of our time in Cologne, but on the last day we travelled south to perform a concert in Koblenz. Our repertoire consisted of Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Overture’, Hamish MacCunn’s ‘The Land of the Mountain and Flood’ (i.e. Scotland!), Bruckner’s ‘Locus Iste’, Tallis’ ‘If ye love me’ and Rachmaninov’s ‘Bogoro’. It was an incredible experience, I met some amazing people, bonded with current friends, and had a general ball.
We travelled from Edinburgh on Monday 3rd June and arrived in Amsterdam via overnight ferry the next day, and from there we drove to Cologne. Despite getting lost multiple times once on the continent, the journey – although somewhat exhausting and emotionally draining at times – was a lot of fun, as us innocent Music Society freshers were introduced to some very lewd, crude songs on the bus. ‘Beastiality is Best’, anyone?
On our first evening in Cologne, we found a lovely little Italian eatery, with the cheapest pizzas I had seen in a long time – ranging between 3 and 7 euros each! My pizza was absolutely delicious, and it was great to finally be able to relax with good food and good company after 30 hours of travelling. Afterwards, we went en masse to a local Brauhaus, where we sampled the local Kölsch beer. Although I am not much of a beer fan (but when in Germany…), I had to admire the system the Brauhaus used – rounds of beer were constantly brought to the tables, and for each drink, we kept a tally on our beer mats. At the end of the night, you simply take your beer mat up to a barman and hand over the appropriate amount.
The next day, we performed our first concert at Cologne’s Trinitatiskirche, so we spent a good bit of the day rehearsing for that, but in the morning we had some free time to explore the city. And we did exactly that – not aiming to be anywhere in specific, we wandered for a few hours, discovering all of Cologne’s interesting little nooks and crannies, from fountain-filled parks to traditional German gastropubs, where we had lunch. I tried a “Mälzer-Teller” – a salami sausage served with kale and potato served “Cologne style”, i.e. mashed up with small pieces of pork. I wasn’t that impressed, not being a pork fan, but at least I can say I tried the local cuisine! After the concert that night, we went to a cheap but cheerful local cocktail bar, where all cocktails were only 4.50. Lots of antics ensued…
Thursday was a day off, so we spent the day sight-seeing. We were all quite tired and hungover from the night before, so we didn’t leave the hostel until late in the morning, and shortly after, we stopped to have some pizza on the promenade by the Rhine. After lunch, we went on a cruise down the river itself. The sights were so interesting – Cologne is such a melting pot, and traditional Gothic architecture was juxtaposed with modern plate-glass apartment buildings, with light industrial buildings on the other side of the river. Once the cruise was over, we explored the cathedral, which was stunning. We even went up the belfry and had the joy of hearing the bells rung for a service which was being held at the time – every pitch was only slightly different, and they rang in irregular rhythms, creating an eery, tense sound. I’ve never heard anything so breathtaking in my life, although the deathly silence after the last bell had rung comes a close second. In the evening we went to Cologne’s largest Brauhaus, but it seemed quite pretentious and we weren’t allowed to sing or move seats, so we returned to our firm favourite from the first night.
The last day was spent in Koblenz, where we performed in the Basilica of St Castor. The church itself was stunning, with delicate floral frescos painted all over the vaulted ceiling. After a long rehearsal, we went for lunch, which was accompanied by the dulcet tones of a roaming brass band. Lunch was followed by a spot of shopping, before heading back to the church for the concert. The turn out was astounding (perhaps because the doors were wide open so our music infiltrated the streets outside) and despite entry to the concert being free, we raised over 200 euros in donations…a rousing end to a great tour!
By the time we left the next day, everyone was feeling a little bit worse for wear, but this didn’t stop us having fun on the ferry home. Introducing Julieta: the portermelon (a watermelon filled with port, of course)!
While I am so glad to be home and finally able to rest and recuperate properly, I won’t forget the trip: 1 euro ice creams, Kamps bakery, the cheapest vodka I’ve ever seen, inspiring music, laidback days in the sun, cringeworthy renditions of ‘Muffdiver’ (don’t ask…). I can’t wait for next year’s tour!