Hello, everyone! The Dins are currently in transit to Paris from Strasbourg, and we have had a fantastic time here. In just four short days, we performed at pool parties, middle schools, conservatories, and pubs, and saw monuments, cathedrals, castles, and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. Strasbourg is a very unique city, located just west of the French-German border in the northern part of the country. It is in the historic region of Alsace, a place with its own culture and even its own language that is neither entirely French nor German. Strasbourg, captured by Germany during World War II and returned to the French in December 1944, was later selected to be the seat of the Council of Europe because of its strategic location. It also boasts the headquarters of the European Parliament and is home to a very large community of diplomats who work together to keep the European Union stable. Independently it is the site of a massive Gothic sandstone cathedral that was the world’s tallest building for 250 years until 1874. Our time here was appropriately steeped in history, but we took time to enjoy ourselves in the present as well.
Our first day in Strasbourg was an early morning. We woke up in Wohlen, Switzerland bleary-eyed for a very early train out of Zürich. Traveling to the central Wohlen station with our student hosts, we bade them goodbye and began traveling through the region bordering France, Switzerland, and Germany. It was not very long, perhaps three hours, until we arrived at the Strasbourg train station. Before we went into the city, though, we were invited to a pool party in a nearby village graciously hosted by Luther L. Weathers III and his partner Jacky Freiss. The two manage a wonderful farm house owned by Jacky’s family for generations, and they have decorated it beautifully. After an excellent luncheon of only the finest Southern-style barbecued ribs and pommes frites washed down with the local Crémant d’Alsace, some swimming in the heated pool, and of course a few songs, it was time to head out again. We traveled by tram into the city center of Strasbourg and re-convened with our hosts at the home of Molly Tennis, president of an expat group called Americans in Alsace. This house was to become a central meeting point for all occasions in the days ahead. Molly, one of the kindest hosts we have had yet on our trip, gave a short speech and we were introduced to our homestays. We then walked back to the homes in which we would be sleeping for the next few nights and collectively passed out.
The next day we had a relatively relaxed wake-up call – we didn’t need to be anywhere until 2 pm. We took some time to explore the city in separate groups, ate lunch, and re-convened at Molly’s place for some rehearsal. We later headed over to a rehearsal for our upcoming gig at the Cité de la Musique the next day. We were to perform with two youth choirs and an all-female group, and we were assigned a round to all sing together called “Le Cœur des Gens.” The French lyrics were occasionally difficult for some of the Dins, but we did our best to learn them in the time that we had. We traveled back to our homestays and ate dinner before heading out to a local middle school, College International de l’Esplanade, for our first gig. This was a longer performance to benefit a trip to China for local students. An impromptu Din impression of the Strasbourg cathedral was particularly well-received.
On the third day of our stay, we woke up much earlier and showed up at Molly’s house at 10 for our first excursion through Alsace. We drove about an hour north to see the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, one of Alsace’s many castles dating back to the Middle Ages which was restored to its former glory by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the early twentieth century. Today it is a major tourist destination, enchanting visitors with its dramatic views outside and ornately furnished rooms within. After taking an innumerable amount of pictures of all of the castle’s halls and towers (even in heavy fog), we grabbed lunch at a nearby pavilion and headed back to the city. Our later afternoon was spent alternately relaxing at Molly’s and sound-checking for our Cité de la Musique gig that night. Our gig was interesting, with all four of the groups mentioned above sitting on stage throughout everyone’s performances, but we were very well-received by the crowd. This was in no small part due to Jacques’s oration skills in French – he often had the audience reeling with laughter. After the concert, we ended up autographing and selling a fairly high number of CDs. It felt great to reach out to so many people.
Our final day in Strasbourg was theoretically a rest day, but it also started early. In the morning we drove to another picturesque Alsatian village called Ribeauvillé, where we were welcomed at a house called Le Manoir by Bob Heuer and Mark LaFata. Original plans were to go on a hike to check out the ruins of three castles surrounding Ribeauvillé, but because of the rainy weather we instead toured the beautifully decorated private home of Bliss Hebert and Allen Klein, two more opera figures, downstairs. Bliss and Allen were very kind hosts and provided some interesting lessons on the history of Alsace while showing us around their place. To thank them, we performed a few songs for them. Later in the day, as the weather improved, we walked through Ribeauvillé and through trails in vineyards to a smaller and less-traveled village called Hunawihr. Seeing the timeless French countryside was a real gift for us. After returning to Strasbourg we dined at Molly’s with hosts for one final night and went to perform a few songs at an Irish pub, where the owner Alan joined us as a soloist in the folk song “The Water Is Wide.” It was a late night, but a fantastic way to end a great stay in Strasbourg.
Tremendous credit is due to our homestays: Molly Tennis and Olivier Seguin, Lynn Kramer and Charles Moll, Kathleen Rokosz, Victor and Juliana Benedetti, and Ana and Mark Gorey. Thanks also to Luther and Jacky, Allen and Bliss, Bob and Mark, and the US Consul General of Strasbourg Amy Westling for hosting and/or promoting us during the past few days.
Ethan Craigo #237