By Erin Regier
Today was a day that I was both looking forward to and dreading. Today we visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Located right outside of Weimar, Germany, this camp is nestled into a gorgeous dense forest on Ettersberg (Etter Mountain) According to the informational video we watched before touring the camp, over 56,000 people died in this camp. It was unreal to me that such a beautiful setting could hold such an ugly past.
For the duration of our tour of the camp it was overcast, drizzling rain and quite chilly. Although it was not great weather for being outdoors, it somehow seemed fitting. As I walked through the area that used to hold the barracks and holding cells, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be prisoner in this camp during the winter. Here I was, shivering in my snow boots, fleece lined leggings and ski coat (not to mention a full meal in my belly!) and I was miserably wet and cold. The prisoners held here had nothing- just ill-fitting shoes and clothes and an empty stomach. Yet still they were expected to put in a 10 hour workday or face certain death. I can’t fully comprehend how terrible that must have been.
Although it was an unsettling and difficult place to visit, I feel like this was an important and moving experience for the entire choir.
Tonight we gave a concert in the oldest church in Weimar, the Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche St. Peter und Paul. This church was built in 1200s and has such a rich history. During one of the breaks in the concert, Open Road (the men’s a capella group) sang a song that I found especially meaningful for today. The lyrics are taken from an inscription found scratched into the walls of a hiding place of Jews during the holocaust and are as follows:
“I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love,
even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God,
even when He is silent.”
After a rather emotionally draining day, these words bring me hope!
By: Madelyn Weaver
Today was an eventful day. The previous night we had our first home stay experience of this tour. From my experience and from what I have heard from others it went great and the people were so kind, hospitable and gracious and filled us to the brim with food!
This morning we all met at the Horsche factory. This factory makes farm machinery and is owned by the extended Horsche family who helped set up our visit and concert in Schwandorf. When we got there they had more food and drinks awaiting us along with free hats! They gave us a short presentation of an overview of their history, who they are, the various things they do and where they are located (including the headquarters in Schwandorf and a few areas in the US one being Harper KS!). After the presentation they took us on a tour of their facilities and then brought us back where they served us even MORE food! Being sent off with happy hearts and tummys because of how kindly the people of Schwandorf had treated us, we started on our way to Weimar, Germany.
This was a few hour bus ride and upon arrival we were given the afternoon and evening off. Because of the location of our hotel and it being towards the outskirts of town with no restaurants or shops besides a market in reasonable walking distance, we were also given the option to take our bus downtown at 4:30 to explore and find something to eat. A lot of us took advantage of that and then came back to the hotel for the rest of the evening.
That’s all for now,
Tomorrow is a busy day filled with tours and a concert so there will be much to tell!
Traveling to Schwandorf today! We’ll be spending lots of time on the bus during our last week and this is the start. Our drive today is almost four hours. After we arrived in Schwandorf we had about an hour of free time and most of the choir went and walked the main street of the town to stretch their legs and see the city. Schwandorf is absolutely beautiful, even though it was raining pretty steadily! It’s a bit bigger than Newton in population and has what I would call a small town feel. After our free hour we headed to the Mennonite church in town where some of our host families had provided snacks and supper. We had some amazing soup and salad along with coffee and tea; it was incredible how generous all of the people were!
Our concert actually took place in the Catholic church in town due to size restrictions. When we arrived at the church I was taken aback by the amount of people who were already there. We arrived at the church about an hour before the concert was supposed to start and many of the pews were already full. By seven o’clock, thirty minutes before the concert, there was standing room only! The balcony was full and every pew in the main area was full, we even opened up the pews that had been reserved for us and there were still people standing for the entirety of our concert. I have never felt as blessed as I did in that moment.
After our concert we went to meet our host families, tonight was our first homestay of the trip! Some of us were in groups and others by themselves; it was amazing to see how many people were willing to open up their homes for us to stay. I stayed with a family of three along with Kyle Riesen and Tim Regier. They were so incredibly gracious and kept offering us food and drinks. Even though they didn’t speak much English we still managed to have conversations about their work and where we go to school and many other things. It was nice to be directly immersed in the culture and I’m looking forward to many more homestays in the next week! Tomorrow we tour Horsch and then move on to Weimar! More to come soon!
By Emily Harder
Second blog post coming to you from the one and only Emily Harder. This evening we completed our third concert, located at Johannes Kirche in Berlin. As always we could have done things better but the audience was gracious as ever making our jobs that much more rewarding. As we were singing our last song, The Lord Bless You and Keep You, I glanced over into the audience and noticed a man wiping a few tears away from his eyes. The sighting amazed me and reminded just how powerful music can be.
The rest of my day was spent exploring the streets of Berlin. Today was our free day so people were doing various things, including visiting the zoo, going to museums, and just discovering what all Berlin has to offer. I began my day by attending a short service at the Berliner Dom, which is perhaps the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Also maybe the largest. From there we wondered through an artist market, finding some great gifts for ourselves and our loved ones. Stumbling upon some breakdancers performing for a crowd was definitely a major highlight of my afternoon. While my legs are a bit tired from the long day of walking, I’m extremely happy with all that I got to experience today. Hope all is well in the States or where ever else you are reading this from. More to come soon!
By Erin Regier
A reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar.
If they were to give an award for most tours completed in a day, I think the concert choir might take the prize!
We began our day with a tour of the German parliament building. The main attraction was the giant glass dome, complete with spiral walkways ascending to the very top. The history behind the dome was interesting, but for me the real highlight was the view. From the top of the dome it was possible to see most of the major landmarks in the city!
After that we moved on to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. We began the tour by walking through a field of concrete slabs; each one differing in height. It was a solem experience, realizing that each slab was representing lives that had been lost. As we exited the field, choir members commented on how the experience made them feel “lost, “uneasy” and that it had an “impersonal” feel. The rest of the museum is underground. It highlighted many individual’s stories throughout the musuem. While emotionally draining, it was definitely a worthwhile experience!
Last we visited the Pergamon Museum, which houses many life size reconstructions of ancient monumental buildings. It was mind-blowing to be able to visualize these ancient buildings, as well as to see some ancient artifacts!
It was a jam-packed day, but a great way to get to know the city and its history. With one more day left in Berlin, I’m excited to continue this adventure!
Playing Dutch Blitz to pass the time at the hotel.
Blogging today is Madelyn Weaver.
After three exciting days in Gdansk, Poland and a total of five days in Poland it was time to head to Germany.Yesterday we had one last delicious buffet breakfast from our hotel and then we packed up and headed out. The ride to Berlin was quite a drive, lasting about eight hours. On the bus we filled our time with tales of the tour, listening to a few poems to center ourselves, eating snacks and taking naps!
When we arrived it was about supper time and so we got to go out into Berlin to get something to eat and explore. I tried currywurst for the first time. Currywurst is a bratwurst covered in a ketchup curry seasoning mix and it was delicious!
Poland was a really great experience and I am excited to see what Germany has in store!
Outside view of the Malbork Fortress, a Gothic castle that is the biggest brick fortress in the world (construction beginning in 1274).
Today was our third and final day in Gdańsk, Poland. We spent the morning in Malbork Castle, a castle built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. We had an animated tour through the three castles on the land that lasted almost four hours. Never did we visit one place twice so you can imagine how large this castle really is! The castle is currently being rebuilt and renovated still from the loss of 50% during World War II.
This evening we had our concert in a small little white Mennonite church in Gdańsk. This church was special to quite a few of us in the choir because it is likely the congregation that our ancestors were a part of, even if the church was a different one. Those of us from Whitewater and Elbing (two towns east of Newton) have strong roots in Gdańsk, which used to be West Prussia. The audience for our concert was very receptive, the people are so gracious and delighted to have us sing for them. They even went out of their way to give us dinner after we sang, which was absolutely amazing. It’s a truly humbling experience to be able to sing for people who may not be able to understand but still come and listen because they appreciate us.
After the concert many members of the choir went out into the town to meet people and experience the culture. A few went out to the Baltic Sea, even though it was raining, and from what I hear had a wonderful time. Tomorrow we leave for Berlin, you’ll hear from us soon!
By Braden Unruh
Dlugi Targ, a street near our hotel in Gdansk, aglow at night.
While in Gdansk, Poland, our choir had the opportunity to explore and learn about the history of the city. We enjoyed a guided tour that highlighted the city’s development throughout history. An especially important stop on the tour was at St. Mary’s Church, located near our hotel. The church, which began being constructed in the 14th century, is to date the largest brick church in the world. The building is a wonder, architectually and acoustically - just ask any choir member upon return.
We were able to sing two pieces in the space. What followed was incredible. Merle, our tour manager, points out that even though our choir doesn’t speak the language of who we are singing for, we as a choir can connect with them through the universal language of music.
We definitely spoke in such a way when we sang in the space at St. Mary’s. Most of the people who were in the church at the time stopped what they were doing and listened to the sounds we were making – the rich harmonies, melodies; the seemingly everlasting echo that ensued a break in the piece. It is doubtful that many, if any of the people in the church connected with the words we were singing, but we definitely spoke and touched people through the universal language of music. It was an experience that we will likely remember for a long time, if not the rest of our lives.
By Abby Schrag, sophomore Nursing student, Newton, KS
Choir members Ariel Silva and Aaron Tschetter mimic a statue in Lazienki Park.
Today we left Warsaw and traveled 5 hours by bus to Gdansk. We kept ourselves occupied during the ride by doing our first installment of “Tales of the Tour,” a time for us to share random funny, embarrassing, or meaningful experiences with the whole group. We heard stories ranging from several males unexpectedly finding themselves in the women’s restrooms to getting yelled at by policemen for jaywalking in Warsaw, to meeting very gracious and welcoming audience members after the Warsaw concert. We also learned a bit more about the history of Poland and sang lots of loud, silly songs.
We arrived in Gdansk around 15:00 (that’s 3 pm for you who don’t read European time, as we are becoming accustomed to!). Gdansk is a port city on the Gulf of Danzig and boasts of having the largest brick church in Poland. After we arrived we were able to explore the city a bit on our own. Tomorrow will consist of a formal tour. I can’t wait to see what all the city has to offer!
By Allison Rudeen
Choir members pose for a picture at the base of a Christmas tree that is next to the Royal Castle.
It’s hard to believe that today is already our 3rd full day of tour. Between the jet lag, the sightseeing and our first concert, the time seems to be moving so quickly!
I know that I personally want to take in as much as I possibly can of the cities and the cultures that we are visiting. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to make the most of it! As we depart Warsaw and travel to Gdansk today, I think we all are thinking of ways to make the most of the time we have left on this tour.
For me personally, one of my promises I made to myself was to seek out new experiences- whether that be new foods, places, or people. I want to do things that I can’t experience in the U.S.
I asked a few others what they were looking forward to on the rest of the tour. Following are a few of their responses:
“One of the best parts of choir tour is getting to know everyone in the choir. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most”- Casey Schunn
“I would like to share new meals with lots of different people”- Renee Reimer
“I can already tell that we’re growing closer as an ensemble and I’m excited to see that continues. Also I’m excited to be out of country for the first time!” -Jill Siebert
“I hope to get to know choir people a lot more. I also don’t want to go into stores that I can go to in America. I want it all to be different.”