The Solo Traveller's View


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David Garrett: Ideal and Role Model

An attempted Analysis of a Musical Phenomenon – Part 2

So the question arises: Why did the gods shower this one person with such an abundance of their best gifts? What could have been their intention? That we should see him, and through him be reminded of them? That we should have an image of what man could be, and ought to become? Because at times David Garrett appears a messenger of the truly divine. Listening to him play Beethoven’s violin concerto may convince you of it. That he claims not to be religious is beside the point. There are those who insist that Mozart was not religious, yet his music proves the reality of heaven to all who have ears to hear.

Anyhow, the term ‘religion’ merely refers to our reconnection with the divine – nothing more nor less; a linking of our mind and soul to the godly world of beauty, goodness and truth. In that universal world of the spirit, our material world is embedded like ice floating in water: the same element, but in solid form. And of this invisible world the entirely non-material phenomenon of music has always been both message and evidence. That, I believe, is the reason why we enjoy, love and need music: It is a line of connection to our spiritual home.

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And isn’t this precisely what so many people (both male and female) respond to in the case of David Garrett? That he is clearly not descended from apes, but created in the image of a god? Like it or not – this is my personal conclusion regarding the wellspring of his near-universal appeal. Just go and see how often the sentiments ‘divine’, ‘god-like’ and ‘not from this world’ can be found among those YouTube fan comments:

“He is secretly Apollo. No doubt about it!” – “… plays divinely.” – “… like a god with a violin.” – “… his music is the language of God.” – “Me encanta, parece un ángel tocando el violin.” – “Wie ein junger Gott – als hätte er die Violine erfunden.” – “… transports me to another world.” – “… shows the beauty of paradise.” … And so on. You see my point.

Yet even David Garrett cannot please everyone, as becomes distressingly evident from those very same comments sections. There are usually a few people (mostly male, but not exclusively) who spew acrid bile in response, as if his light were casting a shadow into their soul. Let us be sincerely glad that David has neither the time nor the inclination to read these comments. Those declarations of love and those darts of hate do not reach him. He follows his passion for music with a mature attitude to criticism and a cool disregard concerning the views of those whose opinion matters not. For he has already earned the approval of all those whom he respects most, and that is sufficient.

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“Are the 172 people who disliked this video from ISIS?” one comment asks. It is indeed hard to imagine a mindset that responds negatively to so much beauty. Yet it exists, and the violence of its expression is worrying. That secret deposit of poisonous hate poses the question: What is it that could destroy David Garrett? Naturally one shies away from possible answers, for one wants him to be safe and to make music forever. Yet he himself wears a chunky memento mori on his finger, openly aware that all is temporary. Judging from his intense work schedule and his frequent travelling, a burnout or heart failure will be the likeliest threat as he gets older. It seems improbable that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – figuratively speaking – will dig his grave, since he appears to be so sensible in his choices.

Often has it been said that women love a bad boy; but I suspect they love a good boy even more if he arrives in the shape of David Garrett. The rapacious debauchery of certain rock, sports and film stars does not compare at all favourably with the disciplined coolness he projects. Observe, for example, that he finds the idea of taking sexual advantage of his groupies distasteful; that at televised events he usually switches unobtrusively to water after a first, polite sip from the offered drink; and that he refused to be drawn into a discussion on the benefits of drug-taking for musicians, stating firmly that they were addressing the wrong person for insights on this topic.

All you mothers of sons: Weren’t your hearts swelling with gratitude at that moment? What a fearless role model! David Garrett makes sensible choices look desirable, and it doesn’t seem to be an act. While he certainly knows how to party, he is also aware that it impairs his ability to perform the next day and is not afraid to say so – and, more importantly, to act upon this insight. In his achievements, young people have inspirational proof that self-discipline, dedication and persistent practice are indeed the foundation and the price of deserved (and lasting) success … and, hallelujah, they are prepared to take note.

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Note to the reader: Since writing the above, I have realised that spiteful slander is just as real a threat to David Garrett as it is to anyone who dares to rise above the commonplace. I should have liked him to be exempt from this hateful rule, but bright lights always cast dark shadows.

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Sauntering through Salzwedel

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What will I discover on my day trip to Salzwedel? It is not a place I have ever heard of, this small town at the north-western edge of Sachsen-Anhalt. Yet, like so many other little and little-known places in this region, it turns out to be full of interesting links to history.

Its name already tells a story. Since antiquity, valuable wares were transported over long distances at great cost and high risk to the merchants, for numerous tolls had to be paid and bands of brigands to be fought off. And so it was that only the most precious goods made such an enterprise worthwhile: silk and spices, for example, amber, silver and salt … In any Northern German place name, the ending ‘-wedel’ is synonymous with ‘ford’ (as in Dartford, Castleford, Stratford and Oxford) and points to locations where a river was fordable. In this case, it is the Jeetze River that was traversed by one of the old salters’ roads, along which the precious commodity of salt  Salz  travelled. It is the place where salt crossed the river: Salzwedel.

Here, a fortress watched over this trade route which extended from the salt mines in Halle to the great cities of the North-West, and undoubtedly levied a toll for the protection it offered. Albrecht the Bear of the House of Askania made this fortress, Burg Salzwedel, his temporary home in the twelfth century. He is regarded as the founder of the town, though an earlier settlement in this location is known to date back to the year 800. The fortress of ‘Soltwidele’ is mentioned in surviving documents as early as 1112, and Salzwedel as a town for the first time in 1233. Thirty years later, it is already a member of the Hanse, that powerful union of German tradesmen. (The Hanseatic League was an early insurance scheme founded to protect the guild by spreading the risks of trade while sharing the profits. It also represented and defended the members’ interests abroad and soon became not only a commercial, but also a political influence of the first order, as well as an important cultural factor.)

New Town, founded 1247

Houses of the ‘New Town’ that was founded in 1247

Medieval Alleys

Medieval alleys, beautifully restored …

Gone are the horse-drawn carriages

… but where are the ox-carts and horse-drawn carriages?

But not all was well, as is usually the case when many souls are living together: Salzwedel’s protective ring wall enclosed a divided town. Old Town and New Town (‘new’ meaning it was founded as late as 1247) indulged in a love-hate relationship at close quarters for nearly five hundred years, their rivalry making two town halls and two mayors necessary, as well as separate churches, schools and town gates. A part of the ring wall and two of the old gates remain, but the division was overcome.

Old Town Gate

Steintor, Old Town Gate

However, it was not until 1713 that these segregated communities became one; not by choice, but by royal decree. Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia ordered – which means forced – the two halves to unite to what became known as Hansestadt Salzwedel.

Half-timbered Houses

Half-timbered Houses

This interesting fact is not apparent to the visitor. Instead, one notices the rows of beautifully restored half-timbered houses, with their delicate colours and variations in the pattern of beams, brickwork and doorways.

Redbrick Patterns

Redbrick Patterns

Timber Frame Patterns

Timber-Frame Patterns

Almost life-sized figures, headed by the date 1600, are carved with artistic energy into the woodwork, while carefully lettered verses run along the main beams of house fronts and remind readers of the temporary nature of life, or beseech the Lord for protection from fire.

Carved Beams

Carved Beams

Some buildings even go back to the 1500s. One is in effect walking through medieval alleys here, but without the filth and stench. All is clean and neat and attractive, and strangely bare of people on this Wednesday afternoon. The population of Salzwedel is clearly not in the habit of strolling or loitering.

'Anno Domini 1566 An Kroger'

‘Anno Domini 1566 An Kroger’

An immaculate stretch of new cobblestones is laid out in a quiet lane, still without the filling. The chunky, square pieces of granite fan out in delicate curves with organic regularity, like a pattern found in nature.

German Roadworks

Traditional Cobblestone Roadworks

In a peaceful square of the former Old Town, partly lined by ancient lime trees, the Marienkirche points its spire at the sky. Its slightly crooked tower is the emblem of Salzwedel. Local legend tells of Jan Kahl, a giant, who lived beyond the forest and was angered when the tower was completed (about 1496) and reached beyond eighty metres in height. He was used to being the tallest landmark around and meant to teach those tiny, impertinent humans a lesson by hurling an erratic boulder. It missed the tower, but the turbulence of air and the tremor of earth as it crashed to the ground caused the spire to quake and lose its former perfect uprightness … Unsurprisingly, though, experts remain convinced that the tower’s crookedness stems from deficient trusses.

Seen from this angle, the spire leans towards the viewer

Seen from this angle, the spire bends slightly towards the viewer

Today, the Marienkirche is a historic monument, a national treasure and a fine example of the Redbrick Gothic style that dominates the North-German Plain, since there has always been a dearth of natural building stones in this area.

Marienkirche

Marienkirche

From around 1200 it was constantly altered and rebuilt for three centuries, finally emerging in 1550 as the gothic basilica with five naves we see today, and remaining essentially unaltered in its architectural substance. A wonderful tripartite altarpiece by an unknown master was put up in 1510. It is the largest in the Altmark and shows scenes from the life and death of Christ in thirty-one panels, intricately carved from wood.

Scenes from the Life of Christ, His Death and Resurrection

The Altarpiece

A Renaissance baptismal font in bronze by Hans von Köln was added in 1522. It was designed so that the water could be heated to a pleasant degree, and infants would not shrink back and cry at the very moment of being received into the holy faith.

Baptismal Font

Baptismal Font

1541 is presumed to be the year the congregation adopted the new Lutheran evangelical faith. Before the Reformation did away with such fripperies, the church had accommodated twenty-eight side altars and services often went on simultaneously in different parts of the huge interior. Large numbers of priests were employed to hold masses in rotation, masses donated by individuals, by families or fraternities; and sometimes processions took place while the townsfolk met and worshipped. This lively usage of a great church I should have liked to witness, as a glimpse of the life of past times … The building, though magnificent, seems incomplete without attenders.

In the mid-seventeen hundreds, the prolific and highly-regarded organ builder Joachim Wagner installed a baroque organ. It was to be his last  he died before it was finished. One of his pupils completed the instrument, but it did not survive into our times. Only the original, baroque organ prospect remains and now fronts a more contemporary instrument.

The Organ

Joachim Wagner’s Organ Prospect

The Marienkirche survived both World Wars without damage, but had to sacrifice its bells to the armaments industry. Never before had I realized that bullets or cannons were sometimes cast from church bells, in a perverse reversal of swords being converted to ploughshares … I also learn that in the Second World War, the melting down of the nation’s church bells slyly served the purpose of silencing the powerful voice of Christian religion with its inopportune commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ – under the pretext of urgently needed metal reserves. But the speed with which those bells were later replaced shows how important their ringing remained to the people. Here, too, the full set of six bells has long since been restored. More food for thought can be found in the fact that the youngest of these bells is named Shalom – the Hebrew word for peace.

Near the church, I find the house where the noble family von Westphalen welcomed the birth of daughter Jenny in 1814. Her father was the well-connected district administrator of Salzwedel, but she became more widely known as the wife of Karl Marx. At the age of seventeen, Jenny declined a suitable offer of marriage and later became secretly engaged to Marx, who, four years her junior and the son of a provincial lawyer, was not a good match for a baron’s daughter. Their engagement, reluctantly accepted by her family, was to last for seven years (while Marx matured in pursuing his studies abroad) and they were finally married in June 1843, after a decent period of mourning her father’s death. In Jenny, Karl Marx had found a supportive partner in his struggle for a new world order. Despite her pampered childhood and privileged upbringing, she followed him into penury and a restless and self-sacrificing life, faithful to the end.

Jenny Marx's House

Jenny Marx’s Birthplace

To his grief, she predeceased him: “The letters of condolence I have received (…) are all animated with a spirit of truthfulness and profound feeling in honour of Möhmchen, as is seldom the case in such conventional statements. I explain this with the fact that everything about her was natural and truthful, unselfconscious, never artificial; therefore also her impression on others lively, full of light. Even Frau Hess writes: ‘In her, Nature has destroyed her own masterpiece, for in my whole life I have never met with such a brilliant and loving woman.’”

Their youngest daughter, Eleanor Marx, observed, “It is no exaggeration to say that, without Jenny von Westphalen, Karl Marx could never have been what he was. They were perfectly matched and completed each other (…) And I believe that a tie as strong as their commitment to the cause of the working class bound them – their inexhaustible, indestructible humour.”

Friedrich Engels, long-term friend and comrade, also mourned her loss: “What such a woman, with a keen, critical mind, with such political tact, with such energy and passion of character, with such commitment to her comrades, has accomplished in our movement over almost forty years – that has not penetrated into the public awareness; it is not written in the annals of the contemporary press. It had to be witnessed personally. (…) We shall often enough have reason to miss her bold and clever advice – bold without boastfulness, clever without ever being dishonourable.”

Jenny Marx remains, of all the sons and daughters of Salzwedel, undoubtedly the most impressive  yet I had never even heard of her! But there is still more to learn, this time about a local delicacy:

Salzwedel produces a kind of cake that resembles a slice of tree trunk when cut and is therefore called Baumkuchen, ‘tree cake’. Salzwedeler Baumkuchen has been served at banquets of the European nobility for about a hundred and fifty years to date. It is sold in bakeries specializing in its manufacture, for it requires a large spit-like revolving cylinder on which the batter is brushed and baked in those thin, even layers that give the effect of year rings when cut.

Baumkuchen Bakery

Baumkuchen Bakery

Usually, this ‘trunk’ is made up of fifteen to twenty layers of batter and can be three to four feet in length. It tastes blandly sweet, with a hint of vanilla, and is also sold in various cut shapes, glazed with fondant, covered in white or dark chocolate, or as an uncut trunk, sprinkled with decorative sugar flowers for special events.

Imbued with new impressions and the sweet flavour of bakery products, I leave Salzwedel behind. The road towards Bergen soon passes a large sign commemorating its intersection with the line along which Germany, and Europe, had been divided by the Iron Curtain until November 10, 1989, at midnight.

The former Border

The former Border

Salzwedel, in close proximity to this heavily guarded border, served as base for the helicopter squadron of the GDR’s border control force. Yet its location also exposed it to radio waves and TV news from the West, and it easily received those rays of information that poked holes in the dense veil of a dictatorial government’s … ahem … miscommunication.

What an interesting day this has been!


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Kommunalfriedhof

Friday, 7 February 2014

A visit to Salzburg’s biggest cemetery, opened in 1879 and called the Kommunalfriedhof, is on the programme today. Situated on the outskirts south of the city, it covers twenty-five hectares and contains some 20,000 graves in which about 160,000 people have so far been laid to rest.

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Only a few people are visiting on this sunny morning; they replace burnt-out candles on family graves and spend some moments in remembrance, their heads bowed in silent prayer. I wander along tree-lined paths past the chapel and the crematory, and visit special areas that can be seen at intervals: a fenced plot dedicated to the Dutch soldiers who fought and fell in the last war, a Muslim section, a place for anonymous urns, for Asian graves and others. Each themed section has a different look as one wanders in a time warp from those impressive graves of the imperial era towards our more modest, democratic age.

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The style of this cemetery is quite unlike those I have seen in England, where simple slabs of engraved stone, often leaning with age, are dotted amongst the lawns and yews surrounding village churches. Here, each headstone rises behind a small garden-like plot containing shrubs, flowers, gravel and candles, and there is a striving for individual design and variety.

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As I walk around the extensive cemetery, I study names and dates carved into stone slabs bearing wrought-iron crosses, sculptures of angels, carved wreaths or the likeness of the dear departed on a ceramic oval. The sun’s rays filter through dark branches of trees growing between the graves, and the singing of birds only enhances the quiet and peaceful mood.

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This cemetery is an attractive recreational area and was intended as such from the beginning. Lawns, shrubs and well over a thousand old trees are assembled to create a park for the living and the dead, an inviting space to visit and remember. Lovers could meet here to wander hand in hand amongst the memories of bygone generations. And if it is already this beautiful in the bleak season, what must it be like in the spring? In early summer? I should like to return then, like the swallows …

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Eventually I approach the arcade that runs the length of one side and discover that here the famous and influential members of local families are commemorated in tombs of honour. There are mayors, bankers, architects and judges, as well as members of the aristocracy. Each segment of the arcade is furnished with an impressively decorated marble slab, a sculpture or occasionally even a large painting.

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Wrought-iron lanterns are suspended from chains that descend from vaulted roofs painted in delicate trompe-l’oeil motifs, and the stone floor bears wreaths, flower arrangements and candle holders. There is a distinctly classical, Italian style expressed in art and architecture, and the sunshine that casts deep shadows today reinforces this impression.

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A huge gate of profuse metal curlicues is set into the main entrance here. It was made in 1885 by the locksmith Karl Fiedler according to designs by one Professor Joseph Salb, and a plaque dedicated to the memory of this “Composer of the great wrought-iron cemetery gate” is set into the wall.

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Later, I read that this cemetery is reputedly one of the most beautiful in the whole of Europe, and – now that I have seen it for myself – I have no trouble believing it. With a splendid view of the Hohensalzburg fortress and framed by snow-dusted mountains, it seems a fit resting place for those fortunate people who were born in Salzburg or concluded their lives here … Wish I were one of them!

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