The choir of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork travelled to Germany in Easter week. At 4.30am on Thursday, 25th April the coach to Dublin Airport departed from the Cathedral. On board were 30 young choristers, 9 adults singers, 6 supervisors, a priest, an organist and a conductor. Some were more bleary-eyed than others at that time in the morning but all had woken up sufficiently to negotiate their way through airport security and Ryanair check-in. By 2pm local time all had arrived at the accommodation in Lübeck and were ready for an ice cream.
Lübeck is geographically not unlike Cork, as the group kept trying to tell the guide the following day whilst doing a walking tour of the ancient city. The Altstadt is built on a marshy island and the river flows into the nearby Baltic Sea. It was of course a major trading port and seafaring plays a major part in the history of the city. The main features of the city, unlike Cork perhaps, are the seven spires of five enormous churches, all made from brick and which have dominated the skyline for centuries.
The choir’s first service was in the largest of these, the St Marien Kirche, where the composer Buxtehude was famously the organist in the late seventeenth century. Every Friday a service for peace is held at 12.05pm, just after the famous astronomical clock has struck its noon bells. The service follows the Coventry Litany in recognition of the Second World War bombs which fell on English and German churches. Canon Daniel Nuzum led the short service in partnership with their Lutheran Pastor and fittingly it was effectively bilingual. The choir sang appropriate music including Charles Wood’s Nunc dimittis in B flat for six voices.
Lübeck’s real claim to fame is its Niederegger Marzipan which can be found in every shop in the city. Fortunately not every chorister was a fan, some preferring airport Toblerone bars to sustain their singing instead.
The weather was glorious as all headed for the nearby beach the following day. German beaches are very civilized affairs with beach huts laid out in straight lines and children being seen and not heard. That didn’t worry the Cork group too much as everyone enjoyed a packed lunch whilst building sand-cathedrals.
Saturday evening’s service in Lübeck Cathedral was Choral Vespers. A candle for the new week was lit akin to Jewish tradition, and the Gospel for Sunday morning was read. The choir sang a mixture of music both appropriate for Easter (Stanford’s When Mary thro’ the garden went) but also a Magnificat for Evensong.
The journey to Hamburg on Sunday morning for our third and final service took about an hour. The choir sang Kodály’s Missa Brevis from the organ gallery of the Sank Petri Hauptkirche and the experience of being surrounded by the pipes on all sides was a new one for most. The Pastor’s enormous ruff was the source of envy to the choristers who suddenly felt that size did indeed matter.
It was schnitzel all round for lunch in a traditional North German restaurant where model boats hung down from the ceiling. The authentic option of pickled herring was avoided by all but the very brave. After calling in to see the Hamburg Rathaus, the group headed back to Lübeck to pack in readiness for an early start on the journey home the following morning.