A picture-perfect day in Schwerin
by Jennifer Hsiao
This morning, we were able to sleep-in and catch-up on some much-needed rest after a day of individually traveling from, various places, around the world to the charming countryside, just outside of Lübeck. Upon waking, Meg cooked an amazingly luxurious brunch of eggs and French toast, topped with strawberries and peaches, and Evan made us some deliciously crispy bacon. With our tummies happy and satisfied, we piled into our cars and headed toward Schwerin, which was a little over an hour’s drive away.
In Schwerin, we were greeted by Jan Ernst, organ professor at the Hochschule for Music and Theater in Hamburg and the organist at the Schweriner Dom. This cathedral is the tallest (steeple) church in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and one of the earliest examples of brick Gothic architecture. Professor Ernst led us into the colossal, beautiful space and took us up the narrow spiral staircase to the organ loft to see the massive German-romantic instrument built by Friedrich Ladegast. This organ, which was built starting in 1868, and dedicated in 1871, is the largest Ladegast in the world (with 4 manuals, 84 sounding stops, and over 5,400 sounding pipes). Professor Ernst also invited us up inside the organ itself to see the pipes, which are mostly still original and remarkably well-maintained.
Alex Ross—a talented organist on our study tour who is also an organ builder with an impressively comprehensive knowledge of organs—demonstrated the sounds of the various stops of the organ for us. After Alex played, we all took turns trying out the organ, playing works by Rheinberger, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Liszt. The organ had a very wide, flat pedalboard, and the key action for the manuals was very (…very…!) heavy, requiring each of us to really sink into the keys with the weight of our arms. Interestingly, this instrument has an Aeoline stop—a free reed with a string-like sound that we don’t find on many other organs in the world. We also enjoyed playing with the crescendo stop, which has a mechanical mechanism for gradually adding stops to create the sense of a crescendo. Amazingly, the stops automatically (physically) pulled out when drawing this knob, as if the ghost of Ladegast was before our eyes! It was interesting to hear the various colors of the organ and very informative for us to be able to experiment with the myriad combinations.
After getting our fill of organ playing, we climbed the 220 narrow, winding steps to the bell tower of the cathedral and admired the beautiful panoramic views of Schwerin. On our way to the top, we also got to see the cathedral bells up close!
After carefully making our way down from the tower, we had about an hour to spare before visiting our next organ. We enjoyed some gelato at one of the little shops in town. Some of us also nibbled on bratwurst and recharged with coffee, enjoying the view of the lake before continuing to Paulskirche (St. Paul’s church), a beautiful church with Neogothic architecture in Schwerin.
There, we met Christian Domke, the organist and music director at the church, who told us about the history of the church and the organ. The church was built from 1863 to 1869 and is largely still original. In 1869, the organ was built by Friedrich Friese III, who was part of an organ-building family. Duke Henry the Lion asked Friese to build organs in and around Schwerin, and this organ is the largest of the 110 organs that he built. Christian showcased the richly varied sounds of the organ with an impressive improvisation. The organ only has 31 stops but it sounded and looked like a much larger organ! We were excited to learn that the famous composer Johannes Brahms actually played this organ! We each took a turn at the organ, trying out hymns as well as works by Brahms, Liszt, Bach, and Mendelssohn.
After playing at St. Paul’s church, we walked to the magnificent Schwerin Palace and wandered around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views of Lake Schwerin and the castle. On the grounds we even found a ready-made picture frame, in which we were able to frame our ideal group portrait! A picture-perfect frame for our day!
Nick, Alex Ross, Rosemarie, Meg, and Chris Porter went to shop for dinner ingredients at the local Lidl supermarket in Schwerin while the rest of us went home to tidy up and rest. After we all came home to our villa, Alex Ross and Nick grilled tasty sausages and vegetables outside, with the help of Meg and Rosemarie. We enjoyed our delicious meal outside on our patio as the sun was setting. Some of us then went for a swim in our pool and relaxed in the sauna before bed. We have an early start to a very organ-packed day tomorrow and are looking forward to the arrival of Cho, who will complete our group.