Day 1: Wednesday August 31st, York to Rotterdam - a perspective from your Chairman with additions and edits by James Elliot.
Well, what a start!
Racing around GPs trying to get an emergency appointment to have prescribed different antibiotics as the first prescription was not working for this poor Chairman. Last minute success, however, typically - who lives the nearest, is the last to arrive, then in his confused infected state the Chairman forgets his passports so had to go back home to retrieve, eventually arriving to a full bus of eager travellers with a round of applause!
However we arrived at the ferry on time to be met by Berry and Rob Askew joining this happy throng. The gangway to the ship was faulty so we had to remain on the coach whilst passport control came on board to do the necessary checks. They were in for a tough time when “Sweet Caroline” came through the radio, as we all burst into song - including our new Border Force companions! Then onto the Pride of Rotterdam, 700 feet long and with room for 1,300 passengers
The food was great but then came the bombshell - we asked permission to sing - we were denied! Rotters!! Despite careful challenges and negotiations they were adamant. However after a few wines and beers courage took hold so we duly assembled. Just as Berry was tuning us in, she was almost rugby tackled by a man in a white uniform stressing we must not sing! Booo we heard from some passengers - why not was the cry! Letters of complaints, get it on national news – let’s go viral to report P&O denying a choir a 50 year old tradition of entertaining their passengers.
We whimpered into more drinks with a scowl before retiring to bed singless.
Could I let this go? No way! Let me understand the policy and see what’s going on. I asked, what was the best way to formally complain. I then was introduced to Emile the manager. It turns out that they have had a few experiences with a bad choir, some poor singing and piano playing which led to passenger complaining. This led to a blanket ban of all singing unless given prior approved and formal booking. So, I asked, are you in charge of the ship on our way back - yes he replied - I gave him our business card and asked him to enquire whether we could sing - I would wait until he replies before unleashing an avalanche of poor P&O comments from my disgruntled members.
Three hours later, I get a call from Head of UK Entertainments P&O, stating that they have looked at our website. Some staff remembered the choir singing on previous expeditions, and they would be delighted to give us formal billing (name in lights) on a scheduled programme on the journey back - result!
Day 2: Thursday September 1st, Rotterdam to Münster
Docking at 8.00am on a fine warm day at Rotterdam Europoort, Europe’s largest port. After 25 miles of quays, cranes, oil refineries and chemical plants we were out onto the European autoroute system. It took some time and several abortive attempts to find a half-useable service station. And we thought our motorway services were rubbish! Finally, our first stop was a comfort break at a Macdonalds and for many it was the first time ever to use a touch screen to order a cup of coffee!!
Our main stop before Munster was for a delightful break at the Steinfurter Bagno to be met by Elke, Klaus, Gunter and Peter from MarQant - they had brought enough sausage and cake for hundreds - as a vegetarian I enjoyed the cake and I know several of our members consumed more than a handful of sausage! We had a personalised tour of the Eighteenth Century concert hall standing alone in landscaped gardens. The acoustics were wonderful, and we sang “Little Lamb” and “Let there be Peace”. Afterwards our brilliant driver Mike bedazzled the less tech savvy with an amazing display of his drone-flying skills, and even deployed it to take some aerial photos.
Arriving at the Hotel Movenpick after a 40 minute drive, again on schedule - large spacious clean, close to the Aasee and 30 minute walk to the centre - perfect. Some ventured out, some stayed in, all culminating with a warm welcome from our MarQant friends who joined in some terrific singing in the bar area - thus reminding us of why this has lasted over 50 years and why this is such a great occasion.
Mūnster, population ca. 300,000 (so somewhat bigger than York) is considered to be the cultural capital of Westphalia. The ü umlaut means that it is pronounced “Muunster” – I was once gently told off for pronouncing it “Munster”. [JE]
Day 3: Friday September 2nd, Munster
A bus was provided for us to the Rathaus (City Hall) where we were greeted by Bürgermeisterin Angela Stähler and the MarQant welcome party, where we were led to the Friedensaal (Peace Hall).
A fascinating talk was given by Angela describing the significance of the room, with Ruth on hand for translation. This was followed by a brave attempt at a speech in German by Michael and Janet and, given the smiles and round of applause, I think we got away with it! We handed over gifts for Angela and the Oberburgomester Marcus Lewe who was unable to join us.
The Thirty Years War and the Friedensaal (Peace Hall). The Thirty Years War broke out in 1618 with an event known as the Defenestration of Prague, where Protestant noblemen threw three envoys of the Holy Roman Emperor out of the window of the fortress. This triggered a conflict between Protestant and Catholic princely states, between them and Imperial forces and which ravaged central Europe. Some eight million people died (about a quarter of Germany’s population at the time) as a result of rampaging armies, disease and famine, and which drew in intervention from Denmark, Sweden, Spain and France. Simultaneously the Dutch had been fighting for freedom against the Spanish Empire since 1568. The Treaty of Westphalia ending the war involved complex negotiations in both Munster and Osnabruck, with Catholic delegates assembled in the Friedensaal and Protestant ones in the latter city. A linked but separate Treaty of Münster was signed here recognising the independence of the Netherlands. [JE]
What followed was an amazing impromptu performance of us singing with members of Marqant on the steps of the Rathaus. We pulled in the crowds with renditions of “Let there be Peace”, “Die Nacht”, “All the Saints” and “Hakuna Mungu”, all accompanied by the good citizens of Munster dancing and clapping in the streets!
Drink and lunch was heartily consumed at the Althaus Gasthof after which we were left to meander before walking or catching the bus back to the hotel. Free time to chill and relax and explore.
In the evening most of the choir attended a barbecue at Buddas Farm -great fun was had by all – food, beer and wine flowing and much singing, including a rip-roaring rendition of Ian Reavill’s “Ich bin ein Musikante”. After some consternation when it was discovered that we had no musical director on hand, Helen Smith gamely stepped up to the plate to conduct in the gathering darkness. With the assistance of illumination from Peter’s mobile phone, we contributed with rousing performances of “Mermaid” and “Jolly Roger” among others. Other groups enjoyed a pleasant evening playing shuffleboard and singing old Music Hall numbers.
Day 4: Saturday September 3rd, Mūnster
Today a free morning and another splendid buffet breakfast in the hotel. Some chose to rest, others to explore the churches and markets. Some walked through the enormous and beautifully-maintained Friedhof (cemetery: literally “peace yard/ courtyard”) nearby.
Following a brief rehearsal it was clear that we were going to be playing to a full house.
The afternoon rehearsal was concluded by 4pm, whereupon some stout (sound?) fellows located the nearby Gaststätte Töddenhoek for a swift pre-concert drink. Their spontaneous rendition of “Landlord fill the flowing bowl” so impressed the staff that they were rewarded with a free glass of liqueur [JE].
The concert opened at 5pm in the splendid but rather hot concert hall. The “Phil” opened the first half with “Down by the Riverside”, which was received with rapturous applause which typified the rest of the evening. For Schubert’s “Die Nacht” we were joined by MarQant, a highly emotional moment.
The second half was off to a great start with “Music in the Air”, whilst our rendition of “Die Gedanken sind Frei” clearly went down well for our gallant attempts at singing in German. MarQant’s part of the programme was augmented by two superb soloist, the soprano Julie Klos and the baritone Marc Cole.
Porgy and Bess: a wartime story As we sat in our reserved places and listened to Marc Coles, I wondered how many in the audience knew of the story of the European premier of Porgy and Bess. This took place at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in March 1943 when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany. The musical was staged by the company as an act of deliberate defiance to the Nazis and their racial policies. Porgy, with its story of the African-American inhabitants of Catfish Row, was deemed unsuitable for its portrayal of non-Aryan characters. The show ran for 22 nights until the Gestapo finally twigged, and closed the Theatre down with threats to destroy it if any more performances were held. In the aftermath, the Danish Resistance frequently jammed Nazi propaganda radio broadcasts by interrupting them with the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So” [JE]
All ending in a joint singing of “I’m Gonna Walk”. The refreshments afterwards were well consumed and yes, you’ve guessed, it more singing!
An earlier than expected bus journey home had to mean another visit the hotel bar for some great conversations with Ruth and Elke.
Day 5: Sunday September 4th, Munster and Nordkirchen
To Church on another hot and cloudless day. Ruth Koch’s local church, the Kreuzkirche (Holy Cross) is a large and impressive Gothic Revival Catholic church of about 1902. We attended the All Saints service, whereby those who were sick and those who requested it received a personal blessing and gift from the priest. We opened with “Lily of the Valley” - we were told the most beautiful version yet. Our small group of men sang during communion and we ended the service with “Gods Choir”. We proceeded then to sing “Softly”, “Cornerstone” and “Music in the Air” - the acoustics made for a most haunting and beautiful sound.
Then of course it was time for lunch and an expedition to the Schloss Nordkirchen. We stopped off on our way at the Hotel Clemens-August at Aschenberg, wherein copious amounts of beef goulash were served - rumour has it that several members consumed four bowls full - it was delicious. After singing “Happy Birthday” to David Lampitt we proceed to the Castle - whereby some of us had a guided tour of this beautiful historic building and some sat and had coffee and ate ice cream.
Schloss Nordkirchen, the “Westphalian Versailles” emerged in its present form by about 1700-1730. It has had various owners, including the Prince-Bishops of Munster and Haydn’s patron, Count Nicholas Esterhazy. Part of it is now a training school for tax inspectors. [JE]
The Gala Night was set. What a night. All food and drink was bought by our hosts. A champagne reception followed by speeches and gifts. MarQuant Vice Chairman Tono suitably set the scene, describing the long history and firm friendships that have developed over the years. He welcomed our guests from Lochem, paid due reference to Berry and Helen, and gave a special mention to the significance of Janet Waggott as President. I then proceeded in my best German to thank everyone for their generosity. I presented Tono with a framed picture of the 40th anniversary celebration concert in the York Minster Chapter House, together with a porcelain plate embossed with a picture of the current York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir. Janet then spoke in her best German and presented a certificate from our Lord Mayor as well as gifts for Tono, Ruth and Elke. What followed was two hilarious sketches led by Ruth. One was of a German radio announcer attempting to recount the doings of a group of English aristocrats. She followed this with a razzling and dazzling “Hey, Big Spender!” Then came our own ‘Unsound Fellows’,( Mike W, David L, Martin S and Rob S.) with “Drink, Drink, Drink”; David Pike with a German aria; then “Deliah” by Joe “snake hips” Rutherford. What followed can only be described as a West End-quality medley of “Les Miserables” performed by Berry, Graham Kay, Larry Gibson and Rob Smith. Berry’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Larry’s “Bring Him Home” were particularly moving. All ended with the entire hall joining in a rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing”. Of course, the “Phil” ( with some Marqant members) had to step up to conclude with jolly renditions of “Marina”, “When the Saints” and “I’m Gonna Walk”. Rumour has it that drinking and singing continued in the bar well after midnight. Day 6: Monday, September 5th, Münster, Gouda, Rotterdam Europoort. A leisurely breakfast, then a 10.30am departure from the Movenpick. We were waved off by Peter, Tono, Elka and Ruth among others. On our return to the Ferry we were kept amused by two more quizzes thoughtfully provided by Roger Grey. Then there was a brief stopover at the same lorry- litter- and scrubby grass- strewn services over the Dutch border. This was followed by a two hour break in Gouda, famous for cheese of course, but I have to give a mention to the Church of St John. The longest church in the Netherlands, with 72 large 16th century stainless windows. The City Hall in the centre of the Market Place is a 14th Century beauty with its animated chiming clock. The cheese shops of course had to be visited (if you like cheese). Who needs to buy lunch when there are seven different types and several variations of each type of Gouda cheese to taste as samples! A few of the less adventurous spirits simply settled down in the Kruim cafe and chocolatier for a chat and sandwich, hiding from the heat under some pleasantly shady oak trees. Kruim, it turns out, as well as being a café and delicatessen, shares its premises with the local children’s library.
Gluten-free Germany: an extremely short guide. Those of us on a gluten-free diet have to avoid wheat and wheat-based products. So no beer and no bread in a country famed for the abundance and quality of its beer and the amazing variety of its breads. Gluten-free beer, though now fairly widely available in the UK, is seemingly unknown in Germany. So whenever I enquired “Haben Sie Bier Glutien-frei? I was greeted either by a look of blank bewilderment or a smile and an apologetic, “Es tut Mir Leid, aber Nein”. One waiter explained to me that it was so uncommon that a friend of his drank ordinary beer and suffered the consequences. However, I’m particularly fond of Riesling, so no problems on the wine front. Also, any spirits are fine, including whisky, as the distillation process destroys the gluten content of wheat or barley. Food-wise, no bread or cakes. Tono’s sausages at Steinfurter Bagno were ok though, as they didn’t contain wheat (at least, I assumed they didn’t!). At the hotel on Sunday I was at least able with my intermediate level German to explain to the waitress “I kann nichts wietzen essen”, whereupon she kindly checked with the kitchen. As she confirmed that the Gulaschsuppe indeed had no gluten, I had three guilt-free bowls to make up for lack of bread. [JE]
On the bus we paid a fitting tribute to Dave Parkinson. He has done an incredible job over the last two years in highly challenging circumstances. However, he organized everything to perfection. We presented a voucher to Jeanette and Dave, along with our sincere gratitude. No serious problems were encountered on the return trip to the ferry, and this we boarded with little fuss. Now for the big sing! As atonement for barring us from singing on the way out, P&O have made us the highlight of their official programme. I have agreed they can use photographs for their social media profile, which includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin: so a worldwide impact!
The singing was terrific and the ovation and shouts for more from the audience was a delight to behold! We sang “Jolly Roger”, “Run”, “The Mermaid”, “Hakuna”, “He Ain’t Heavy” and others!
The trip was of especial significance to Sue Elliot, whose unpleasant and traumatic end to our last excursion to Mūnster resulted in her collapsing at Dusseldorf Airport and having to be hospitalised for a week with a severe stomach infection. However she still remembers with profound appreciation and thanks all the support she received from Choir members at the time. In addition she was encouraged by numbers of individuals who expressed their concern and support on this present occasion. She had been dreading a repeat for most of the week, and only began to feel relaxed towards the end of the trip [JE].
Day 7: Tuesday, September 6th, Hull and York
Breakfast, a little hanging around but no more than expected, then onto the coach for the journey home. By now a welcome cooler climate and evidence of rain. Straightforward journey back.
Signing off now - it has been a special and significant experience for everyone. I am proud to be the Chairman of this magnificent community and looking forward to many other great occasions.
Mike your Chairman: with grateful thanks to James Elliot who has added value and content to this account and edited mine of course!