Sep 11 2011
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the Pittsburgh Symphony completed its European Festival Tour 2011 in reunified Berlin, Germany at the Berlin Philharmonie, home of one of the world’s greatest orchestras. At 2:30 pm, a memorial event took place at the Berlin Rathaus, or Town Hall, in the former East Berlin. The ceremony began with Samuel Barber’s Adagio played by violinists Mark Huggins and Christopher Wu, violist Randoph Kelly viola and cellist Anne Martindale Williams. Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit spoke, and was followed by U.S. Ambassador, Philip Murphy.
Remarks from the Reverend Scott Corwin of the International Baptist Church were followed by sacred texts from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i and Christian faiths. There was a performance of Sweet Coexistence, put together by a group known as JUGA, an acronym for the Jung, Glaubig, Aktiv Initiative; and a series of readings of messages of life and hope written by 9/11 family members and read by students and friends of the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin. The ceremony closed with a brass quartet of Charles Lirette and Chad Winkler trumpets, James Nova and Murray Crewe trombones playing Paul Hindemith’s Morgenmusik.
I enjoyed speaking with the very popular Mayor Wowereit, who is up for re-election next Sunday. He is openly gay, which was controversial at first but is now just a fact. He’s widely regarded as having done good work for the city and no one expects his rivals to win next week. The ceremony was covered by several major networks.
I met my former class mate Ken Nein, who sang in the Thiel Choir and now teaches English and works for a school library in Berlin. Ken was recently honored by the Mayor’s Office for his volunteer work with a school library. We walked from the Rathaus in the former East Berlin under the television tower built by the communists and known as “the Pope’s revenge” because of the bright cross it reflected on a sunny day in the non religious Eastern bloc.
Berlin on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a lively place. Walking down the famous boulevard of the Unter den Linden past the Berlin Opera, where Daniel Barenboim has conducted. It’s now closed for restoration. Past Humboldt University, the Berlin Cathedral, and the Komische Oper and on to the Brandenburg Gate, I ran into the Rabbi of Berlin whose brother is a Pittsburgher, Rabbi Itkin. I’d seen the Rabbi at the 9/11 memorial just an hour earlier. He radiates a cheerful energy in this city which wiped out its 140,000 Jews during Hitler’s regime. The members of JUGA had performed Sweet Coexistence again in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan commanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
I stopped to admire Marilyn Monroe at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Hitler’s wax model has been a hot spot in years past. It was attacked once and now resides behind glass. There were used books on the sidewalk in front of Humboldt University. Souvenir vendors sold one item I didn’t remember seeing in other countries—gas masks. I seriously thought of buying one. It seemed like it could be useful at a staff meeting or the Christmas party or maybe even Halloween, but not being certain about fitting it in the suitcase I held back. The beer wagon was rambling down the Strasse. This blog has some video of a similiar Bierbike, a pedal-powered beer wagon in Cologne a few years ago during Karneval. Here it was again, Berlin style. Eight guys sitting at a bar drinking beer and pedaling. Slowly. Seems like just the vehicle to get you to a Steelers game. Or to keep a beer belly at bay.
If you have a reservation at the restaurant Käfer on top of the Reichstag, you can be whisked to the dome designed by British architect Norman Foster avoiding the usual long wait for tourists. It’s amazing to stand on top of the Reichstag, where a famous photograph was made near the end of World War II as Soviet troops on the roof took down the Nazi flag. Some say the Russians faked the photo, but it’s a symbolic one just the same. A dramatic thunderstorm rolled up while we were on the roof, but a taxi driver arrived just in time in the deluge saying, “I don’t give rides to wet passengers.” He took us to the Philharmonie just the same, where Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony thrilled the packed home of the Berlin Philharmonic and its great maestros Simon Rattle and Herbert von Karajan. I spoke with composer Wolfgang Rihm at intermission. His music is formidable, but in person he is very gentle and good-natured. He said that he was delighted to have had the chance to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in Wiesbaden and in Berlin. The Berlin Festival is featuring 13 of his works, and he’s producing a steady flow of new offerings as “the most important composer after Stockhausen in Germany today,” according to Dr. Winrich Hopp, the Director of the Berliner Festspieler, who also said it had been ten years too long since the Pittsburgh Symphony was last at the Philharmonie.
At the last bow, Manfred Honeck pulled retiring violist Isaias Zelkowicz from the orchestra to give him his flowers. There’s a café backstage where the players lingered, enjoying a Berliner Kindl pilsener, and a large quantity of sweet cakes provided by the Philharmonie. The Berlin orchestra’s famous logo adorns instrument cases backstage. The walls are decorated with massive photos and text in German in English detailing the history of the places the orchestra has played and recorded in Berlin including the Altes Philharmonie, reduced to rubble in 1944, and the Jesus Chistus Kirche in the suburb of Dahlem, where Herbert von Karajan made hundreds of recordings for the Deutsche Grammophon label.