CYSO’s 2022 Tour of Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, & Vienna is officially underway and we’re featuring dispatches from the road written by members of the Social Media Team. Up first, violinist Alyssa Shih reflects on our first stop on Germany’s bustling capital. As she discovers, Berlin is teeming with history and life, and a one-of-a-kind venue for our very first performance.
And we’re off! First stop, Berlin!
After a long flight to Munich and then Berlin, we were ready to see the sights of Germany. As we made our way by bus, our amazing tour guide, Patrick, talked us through the Berlin we were seeing outside our windows, pointing out features like old bunkers from World War II. Demolishing them would’ve damaged the surrounding buildings, so some of the bunkers have been converted to things like private museums—bullet holes and all!
Our first stop was to be let loose to eat lunch and meet back for a river boat cruise. We split off into groups to feast on kebap, falafel, and currywurst. So much of the street food was fresh and delicious. Even though we were fully in Europe, we were lucky that so many people spoke English. My shy German was often met with friendly reassurance.
We hopped onto a boat for a tour of the architecture of Berlin’s river corridor. Coming from Chicago, which has such spectacular architecture accessible by river, I was ready to see the styles of Berlin. Instead of the art deco and skyscrapers that I was used to at home, we marveled at Neoclassical style around Museum Island, Renaissance and Gothic styles at the Berlin Cathedral, and stark modernism at the parliament library. By the time we got to the hotel for dinner, we were all tired and looking for a good night’s sleep.
Good morning and onto Day 2!
Today was an especially exciting day devoted half to sightseeing in the most iconic parts of Berlin and then our very first concert at the Heilig-Kreuz Kirche. While our driver Giuseppe took us through the city, a guide talked about the history of Berlin. So much of Berlin’s recent past was shaped by World War II and being split in half by the Cold War. Everywhere you can see the remnants of a rebuilding city. One thing she pointed out was that the city is constantly under construction. Berlin will never be a finished city, it is always improving and changing. Pink and blue pipes run around the streets carrying water to and from construction sites.
Even as the city grows and changes, the history remains. The line where the Berlin Wall once stood runs through the now reunited city as a pair of cobblestone bricks. People park their cars on top of the old wall and walk over it constantly, but it’s clearly there. We walked along the preserved portion of the Berlin Wall that features graffiti and works of art. It felt surreal to look up at this historic wall. The Berlin of today is so free and modern that the wall almost didn’t feel real.
There is no forgetting history in Berlin. Monuments litter Germany, but one we toured was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Unlike many memorials, this one was expansive, encompassing a whole city block. It’s made of a grid of concrete blocks and slabs on a wavy floor. From the outside, it looks like a Lego city, but most of the blocks were double my height due to the dips in the floor. Walking through feels both unsettling but completely organized. After walking through the memorial, we visited the Brandenburg Gate and heard about how its symbolism has changed throughout history.
After a quick lunch on our own, it was time to rehearse for our very first concert! As we walked into Heilig-Kreuz Kirche, tired and warm from the summer heat, the first thing I noticed was how the sunlight streamed in from the windows so far up in the ceiling. With such high ceilings, the sound was bound to bounce around and stay resonant for a lot longer than we were used to. The reverb was epic, lending layers to Barber’s Adagio and Walker’s Lyric for Strings, but it also meant changing how we play. I found myself not pulling on my notes as long so it wouldn’t bounce in the church too much. As Maestro said, so much of playing on tour is learning how to adjust.
The fact that we were playing in Berlin didn’t fully sink in until we took the stage. All of the jet lag and stress was worth it. The concert was long but energetic, and we all came away excited to next take on the Gewandhaus. Time to pack up and head out to Leipzig—See you there!
ABOUT ALYSSA SHIH
Alyssa Shih is a Symphony Orchestra violinist and recent graduate from Walter Payton College Prep. Outside of music, she book binds and does graphic design in her spare time. Alyssa hopes to pursue Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences.