Keeping up the series of exchange visits between Waltham St Lawrence Silver Band and Musikverein Friesheim (MVF), our German partners from Erfstadt, near Cologne, a coach set off from the Neville Hall just after midnight on Friday 2nd June for a long weekend, heading for Dover and the ferry to Calais. On the previous visit to Friesheim in 2013, we became acquainted with driver Ken, a former bandsman. He enjoyed the experience so much he stayed in touch, joining us for the MVF visit to England in 2015, and made sure he'd be the one to take us on this next trip. Ken had borrowed an Eb Bass, and joined us on stage for the performance at the end of the visit.
To give the driver a proper rest break, and also ensure we would not be arriving while many of our hosts were still at work, there was a long stop in Valkenburg, Netherlands, which boasts attractions including castle ruins and cablecars, as well as seemingly endless cafes and restaurants.
The bus arrived on schedule at the Gasthaus in Friesheim, a former inn that is now owned by the community. It still has a bar, and a large hall at the back where MVF regularly presents concerts, and where the two bands met up later that evening for a joint rehearsal. Meanwhile, instruments were unloaded and placed in the hall, and guests met up with their hosts, some making new acquaintances, many renewing old ones. After a brief period of general socializing (keeping the bar quite busy), people were whisked off to their hosts' homes for an evening meal, then returned to the Gasthaus for the rehearsal, followed by more socializing, and more beer.
Day two of the visit was devoted to tourism and culture. The Waltham visitors, and some MVF members, were taken to Bonn in the morning, where they made a brief visit to the House of History, followed by a walk along the banks of the Rhine, taking the route of the "Walk of Democracy". This passes many buildings that used to be involved in the government of the Federal Republic at the time when Bonn was the capital of West Germany.
In the afternoon the group visited the Konrad Adenauer house in Rhöndorf. This fairly small house was home to the first post-war German chancellor, who is greatly respected for his achievements in rebuilding the country. It contains many striking mementoes of his career, while also bearing witness to his humanity and humility.
The evening saw a gathering at Friesheim's Westminster pub for a major cultural event: karaoke. There were some fine performances in the course of the evening, including those by conductor Jim Pullen and by the horn section. Some others are best forgotten. Once again, the beer flowed freely. A presentation was made in the course of the evening, when WSL chairman Jane Lynn handed over a framed photo of the band and two cases of English wine.
The main event of day three would be the local wind music festival in Urfeld, between Cologne and Bonn. The group stopped for a stroll around a botanic garden and arboretum near Cologne on the way to Urfeld, and once at the venue, enjoyed the snack meals and cakes served at kiosks by local volunteers, who also staffed the busy bar. The stage was taken in the late morning by local bands and school groups, then the MVF presented a 90-minute programme. Waltham followed them on the stage, presenting their own 90-minute programme. This opened with Rimsky-Korsakov's Procession of the Nobles, and included solos by Gerry Townsend (Summertime) and Jane Pullen (Over the Rainbow). The programme also included Ticket to Ride, Soul Bossa Nova and Birdland. As tends to happen during open-air concerts in Germany, there were several mini-breaks while glasses of beer and other drinks were passed around the band.
Finally the bands joined together to perform a set conducted alternately by Waltham's Jim Pullen and MVF's Martin Kirschhartz: Sons of the Brave, Chorale and Rockout, Bandology, Libertango (arranged by Martin), and Hootenanny. It was a great sound, and was thoroughly enjoyed by both players and audience.
Monday 5th June arrived, and having made their rounds of farewells and assembled for a group photo at the local war memorial, it was time for the Waltham band to set off for home. The mystery mid-journey break venue turned out to be the Atomium in Brussels. Arriving on schedule at Neville Hall late in the evening, the coach was quickly unloaded, and people dispersed, with nobody in any doubt that the visit had been a great success, and that the bands would be continuing their co-operation whatever comes out of the Brexit process. To MVF we say "Vielen Dank! Auf Wiedersehen in 2019!"