Travel Post! Germany, with a Medieval Music Festival

Saturday was another slow start for us, followed by a long drive north and east to Freyburg for a festival.  We provisioned ourselves for the road with bread, fruit, tomatoes and some glorious capsicums that reminded me of tulips from Dutch paintings.


And then my friend’s mother, M, who was sharing the driving, and who would get along very well with the Italian side of my family, brought even more provisions, apparently feeling that we might starve without her intervention.

My friend A has been wanting to get me to the Montalbane Festival for Medieval Music for years, and I’ve never been in Germany at the right time.  This time I was – but we had that book launch to attend on the Friday, and Freyburg is a long way from Dedesheim.

So rather than going with our original, more sensible plan, of driving up on the Friday and attending a modest selection of offerings on each day of the Festival, we had elected to drive up on the Saturday afternoon, and then attend EVERYTHING on the Sunday.


So we drove, and drove, and drove, north and east, past lots of castles, including the Eisenach, which is where Martin Luther threw an inkpot at the Devil, and you can still see the stain on the wall (we did not stop to look at the stain).

And finally we reached Naumburg, where we would be staying.  We did this with a surprising lack of wrong turns – my friend A has been to Montalbane many times, but apparently never without getting lost or delayed on the road.


For my friend A, the whole area is Camelot country, and while she has never actually seen the Holy Grail there, it is only natural that one will encounter obstacles on the search.  We speculated that perhaps the fact that we were three women travelling together – very auspiciously Arthurian! – was the magical factor this time…


We had rented a little house in a very East German style, with two storeys and windows that look like eyes.


We put down our bags, then went out for a walk, followed by a drive to Freyburg to pick up our festival tickets from the church…


… and investigate the local castle, right before they closed the gates.


And then we went home, had a quick look at the soccer (but of course), and then went to bed.


Sunday was rather glorious.  Our first stop that morning was the morning service at St. Marien zu Freyburg/Unstrut (which was also where the concerts would be held).  It was, apparently, a proper, Lutheran morning service, but a very musical and mediaeval one.  There were interludes of early music played on the fiddle, the oud and several other instruments that I couldn’t see, or recognise from their sounds, though I think there might have been a dulcimer involved.  There was a trio of men who sang Gregorian chant and a wonderful three part Alleluia.


A told me that many of the musicians in this service were Syrian refugees who were being housed in the area, which was a nice touch.


As for the congregation (which was largely composed of concert goers and musicians), we sang too, very old hymns, all unaccompanied, including Luther’s credo, and lots of more ancient hymns with no particular time signature.  My friend recognised one or two of the hymns, and one sounded to me like something I might have heard Bach riffing on at some point, but they were mostly unfamiliar to me, and notated in a slightly modernised medieval style that I’d never seen before.


What was wonderful about this was how well it worked – the congregation sang very willingly and strongly, despite clearly also being unfamiliar with the music, and the sound of untrained but confident voices (the voices, probably, of people who sing in church and a choir or two) in the beautiful old church was really something.  And, astonishingly, despite the lack of accompaniment, the wheels only fell off the wagon once, when the pastor changed key in between responses, and we weren’t sure whether to follow him into the new key or continue with the old, and we went everyone in his own way, which is to say that we like sheep went astray…


After church, we walked down to a local cafe for ice cream, but were principally excited by the rather beautiful dragonfly that was sharing the courtyard with us.


Then we went for another little walk down to the lock on the river.


And along the riverbank, to admire the town walls.


We went for lunch at an extremely German Greek restaurant. I was highly amused by the menu – I’ve never seen so much pork on a Greek menu before.  And no lamb.  And a tendency to serve reasonably Greek food with very German accompaniments, like potatoes cooked with butter and cream and lots of garlic sauce…


The weather was beginning to look threatening, so we made our way quickly back to the church, to get good seats for our next concert.


This was was by White Raven a trio who are really more about Irish folk music than early music.  This cannot be held against them, however, as their harmony was perfect and their performance lively and fun.  Their lead singer, Kathleen, is Irish and has a glorious accent with which to tell her stories and explain their songs.

To my amusement, they also sang ‘All the fine young men’, by Eric Bogle, who is, technically, an Irish singer, but is really very well known to me as an Australian singer, and the composer of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’.  A was somewhat bemused to fine herself in a concert of medieval music in Germany, listening to a piece of music that featured in its lyrics the name of the train line that had been her local one when she had been an exchange student in Melbourne…

The view from outside the church...

The view from outside the church…

After the concert, we drove to Zscheiplitz Castle in Weissenburg, because it is important to maximise one’s castles when in Europe.

Sometimes a tower is just a tower.

Sometimes a tower is just a tower.

There, we went for a longer walk, to admire the cherry trees.


We could look out over Freyburg, and even see the church in the distance.


And we could admire A’s Camelot country.


Which really is beautiful.


There were old cannons at the top of the hill, which seemed out of place somewhere so peaceful, but apparently Napoleon came through the area during his retreat in 1813.


There were towers to climb…


And gardens to explore…


There were secret doorways to investigate…


A church tower to point out…


And more views…


Some best admired through windows.


A took some absolutely gorgeous photos, particularly of insects and birds – anything really fabulous you see in these Germany posts is likely to be her work.


We returned to Freyburg for our third and final concert for the evening, which was by the Early Folk Band and was called “King Arthur: Tales from the Table”.

This was enormous fun and more than a bit over the top.  The five musicians played a variety of instruments including fiddle, harp, crumhorn, recorder, celtic bagpipes, drums and mandolin, and alternated between singing old ballads that were (in some cases extremely tenuously) related to the Arthurian court, and then bursting into instrumental pieces, often with dancing.

The stories of the songs were narrated in German before each song, in a quite amusing style, and this was necessary, as those which were not in middle English were Scots.  And then anyone who wasn’t singing – and sometimes even those who were – would start acting the songs out, with toy swords, knitted helmets, cloaks and crowns, with bagpipes standing in for a dead horse at one point.  The acting was shamelessly hammish and the whole thing was an absolute delight to watch, not least because the musicians were clearly having a fantastic time too.

I also liked that they had the original words of the ballads in the program, but skipped the more dubious verses (and provided no lyrics at all to the rather smutty song about the peacock following the hen).

On this high note, we came home and watched Switzerland draw with France (oh la la, c’est pas possible).


(It is, apparently, particularly pas possible for people to score goals in soccer.  We have seen far too many nil-all games.)

This table ornament scored more goals than Switzerland.

This table ornament scored more goals than Switzerland.

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1 comment for “Travel Post! Germany, with a Medieval Music Festival

  1. Heath Graham
    December 4, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Fantastic. 😀

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