Bonn – West Germany’s Temporary Capital

Unfortunately, Heidrun has very poor lung quality and finds she cannot cope with much walking so on Wednesday 15 we went with Horst for a further exploration of Bonn. (I am writing this as we are sitting recovering at the end of the day, listening to Beethoven’s 9th.)  We wandered in the beautiful piazzas of Bonn – called a platz in German. They are surrounded by superb and ornate buildings some which escaped the bombing in the war, others built again since. The overall effect is a lovely city.

We visited the Bonn University, passed the Town Hall, absorbed Beethoven Platz and explored the main catholic cathedral which was bombed but is beautifully re built. It has a fantastic cloister, as good as many cloisters in Rome, and part of the original structure.   Notable feature of the Cathedral is that the pre-Easter theme was around faith the size of a mustard seed with its potential for growth.  Over the alter was an enormous banner displaying an ear of wheat and on one side was a small garden and with trees conjuring up the same growth idea.  Very innovative, particularly for a Cathedral!

We visited another church close by which is an offshoot of the Catholic Church. This resulted from the Vatican council of 1852 at which the Catholic Church endeavoured to establish the infallibility of the Pope, and administrative rule from Rome. This group call themselves the ‘old Catholic Church’ to maintain their independence. This particular church in Bonn was taken over from the Catholic Church by the ‘old Catholic Church’ in Germany and has become the Bishop’s congregation for the Catholic Church in Bonn. They actually have married priests, and some female priests. It seems it has been mainly something in Europe and not very wide spread. The Netherlands, Belgium and Poland were mentioned by the priest on duty as other countries in which the ‘old Catholic church’ exists.

We had lunch in a German restaurant. We started with a German beer – Bitburger – then typical meals. Alan had sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, with slices of meatloaf, sausages, and mustard. Ann had goulash in a loaf of bread – literally goulash poured into a round loaf of which the top had been cut off and replaced. We swapped half way through and both meals were delicious.

We went then to the house where Beethoven was born in 1770 and lived till he was 22. At 22 he went to Vienna and stayed there until his death at 56. We first listened for 20 minutes to a digital rendering of Scene 5 of Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera. It’s hard to describe. On a screen were projected the 4 protagonists. Florestan, Leonora, Pizarro, and Rocco. Each had a moving digital shape which stood for their character, a swirling spiral, a vertical flowing strip, swinging ‘chopsticks’, and a rotating hollow ball – all quite abstract. A Leonard Bernstein recording of the selection from the opera (with English surtitles) was played as we watched the abstractions play out the character interactions. You are probably none the wiser – ask us to tell you more about it when we next see you!!  You will be able to get a little musical sense of the Overture to Beethoven’s only opera here, as well as the best known image of the composer.  (Sorry about the pre-Beethoven ad!)

We joined the museum guided tour in English with an extremely good guide, a woman of about 45, who clearly loves Beethoven, and is steeped in his life. We could have listened to her for hours as she related stories from different parts of his life. We looked at a painting of his grandfather, who was a well known singer and conductor of the royal orchestra. His father was also a singer and it was he who gave Ludwig his early musical education. He, unfortunately, became an alcoholic and ruined his voice. The family were the van Beethoven’s who had originally come from the Netherlands. Beethoven had a difficult life. His mother died when he was 17 leaving him to contend with his father and his two remaining brothers – other siblings had died in childhood. He played viola and violin, but his instrument was the piano. We saw his original viola, and a piano and an organ he had played. He went to Vienna when Napoleon had conquered Germany and any support for musicians had vanished. In Vienna his teacher was Joseph Haydn and for a time Antonio Saliari, and he was able to establish himself. He noticed his deafness in his early 20s after which it progressed fast until he was completely deaf at age 28. At that time he became depressed. We saw a letter he wrote then to his 2 brothers telling them that if he died they should make sure that others knew that his behaviour over the last years had been due to his growing deafness. In fact he took hold of himself and was able to lift his depression enough to continue with his career. A couple of things probably assisted. Beethoven started the idea of conversation books. If people wanted to communicate with him he asked them to write their questions in the book so he could respond. He also used ear trumpets – the guide let us use one – and that enabled him to hear better what people had to say.
A good day in Bonn. We ate a light supper, and chatted some more with Heidrun and Horst.

The entrance to the Building where Beethoven was born and lived to the age of 22.

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