Saturday, December 17, 2011

It just keeps getting better

Another amazing day, from beginning to end.   Today we were not together as a group until the evening, so we were all free to choose how to spend the day.  Several members of the group opted to attend Shabbat services at a local orthodox shul (where, it is reported, services lasted in excess of four hours).   Many others chose to spend the day doing some sightseeing.  Group after group splintered off to one part of the city or another.  I chose to go off on my own, walk as much of the city as I could manage, and get to know Berlin.  It was one of the most amazing days in recent memory.  I left the hotel and headed toward an area that was reported to have a great flea market on weekends.  If you know me, you know about my love for flea markets and junk in general, so this was right up my alley.  This flea market was a long stretch of individual tent-like booths, each with more junk than the last.  This really just showed me how different cultures can be very similar, because clearly Germans like what my family calls OPT (Other People’s Trash) as much as Americans do.  I was delighted to find an interesting penguin on one table for just 5 Euros.  In truth, I don’t actually like the penguin all that much, but I figured I could at least add it to my collection and say it came from my trip to Berlin, so that counts for something.

After my browse at the flea market, I continued down the main thoroughfare past the Victory Monument to the Brandenburg Gate.    This was probably a good 30 to 45 minute walk along the edge of the Tiergarten and was absolutely beautiful.  The Brandenburg Gate is an imposing structure, and the view as I approached it was very powerful.   (For those of you not up on your German history, or maybe not even born at the time the wall came down, the Brandenburg Gate is the only survivor of the 18 gateways in the Berlin Wall and now symbolizes its reunification.)  The gate leads through to the Pariser Platz, which begins what was the east side of Berlin.  Now it is the edge of the Unter Der Linden, a main and modern thoroughfare containing shopping, cafes and restaurants.  Crowds of tourists and locals milled about the area, and there was even someone dressed up as Darth Vader on the plaza posing for pictures with the tourists (for a price, of course).  I hung around for a while and then continued my walk until I came to the nearby Holocaust Memorial.  Inaugurated in May 2005, this is an outdoor installation consisting of 2711 concrete slabs varying sizes, through and between which you can walk and observe.  It was very a interesting and moving exhibit.  Thereafter, I continued my walk to Potzdamer Platz.  Formerly another access point between east and west, it is now a bustling commercial area.  Currently there is also a Christmas market installed with many more of those adorable little booths selling everything from woolens to candy.  I browsed there for a while before deciding to return to the hotel to rest up for tonight’s concert.   My day outdoors in Berlin by foot gave me such a great flavor of the city, and I can say that I really find Berlin charming and beautiful.

This evening we performed our second concert at the Jewish Museum.  Although our audience was smaller than the one on Thursday evening, I think we performed just as beautifully, and the audience was very appreciative.  Once again, I was reminded of how the power of music brings people together in ways that no other medium can achieve.

After the concert, the Festival organizers had told us only that they had a “surprise” planned.  Nobody, including Josh and Barbara Gaffin (our manager) had any idea what the surprise would be.  Amazingly, the bus took us not back to the hotel, but instead to the 1198 foot tall TV Tower on the east side of the city.  Built in 1969, the top of the tower is a round, slowly revolving restaurant (think Spinnaker at the Hyatt in Cambridge circa 1980s) with the most amazing view of the city.  There a lovely buffet and flowing beverages were waiting for all of the performers.  It was really amazing, and a festive and wonderful way to cap off the evening.

This trip has been an endless array of ongoing cultural, musical and emotional experiences, so many that I am hard pressed to find the words to describe them all.   But it has also been fun, and funny, and full of goofy, silly bonding moments among the group.  We have had bus rides on which we sang all of the irreverent songs from “Avenue Q”, evenings crowded into someone’s room passing around libations, telling silly stories and discussing all of the usages of certain four letter words, opportunities to watch weird skanky men stalking and trying to pick up half of the women in the chorus, and generally laughing about a variety of things, not all of which were actually funny.  Members who have never interacted with certain other members of the chorus can now call those people friends, and we have all gotten to know one another and grow closer in ways that can only happen on these sorts of trips.  The members of Zamir range in age from 19 to 70, but I have often said I feel as though “there is no age in Zamir”.   We are all friends regardless of age, or what we do outside of the group, and it is a remarkable group of people.  How lucky am I to be included in this family.

Tomorrow is our last day, and the final concert and culmination of the Festival, where all eight groups will perform, each separately and then finally all together as one.  If the music Zamir makes can be as powerful as it is on our own, then just imagine what over 200 singers will be able to do when we all come together.

More photos uploaded onto my Facebook page...

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