On our last full day in Germany, having completed our War Requiem performances, eight members of the choral division took a day trip to Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany. With limited internet access in Detmold, most of us had not had a chance to do much research on Hannover before we embarked on the 9:01 train, so we were grateful for the "Red Thread," a tourist guide similar to Boston's Freedom Trail, which takes visitors past a number of Hannover's great historical, cultural and commercial landmarks. With two Red Thread guidebooks in our hot little hands, we began to follow the painted line through the city.
Here's the thing about Hannover: it was majorly destroyed by repeated air raids during World War II, so a lot of the architecture is new. We visited the City Hall (Neues Rathaus), which sustained minimal damage, and is one of the few older buildings remaining. There we saw models of the city from four different times: 1689, 1939, 1945, and 2000.
We were most moved by the 1939 model, in which the city was intact and beautiful, and the 1945 model, which showed in great detail the devastation of the WWII air raids. The 88 air raids killed more than 6,000 people, and destroyed over 90% of the city center.
As a result of all the destruction, most of the city has a more modern feel than Detmold, where we had been living for the last week. In fact, there were only about 40 houses left standing after the war, and they were moved to one area of the city, now called "Old Town," which is accessed by a beautiful stone arch, and really does make you feel as if you've momentarily stepped back in time. Nonetheless, Hannover has not forgotten the damage of World War II. Near the opera house is a memorial to all the Hannovarian Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis. It lists each person by name, and indicates where and in what year they were sent by the Nazis to exile or to concentration camps.
About 20 minutes away from the memorial is the Aegidienkirche, a church which no longer has a ceiling, but whose walls still stand. The church was not rebuilt after the air raids, but was left as a memorial, and a current installation has colored glass panes strung across the otherwise empty windows, indicating the lost stained glass windows. A bell gifted by Hannover's sister city, Hiroshima, rings from this church at four different times during the day to remind the city of its loss. The bell rings at five minutes past the hour so it will not be drowned out by the other bells in the town.
It would have been a very different experience to see this town before our two performances of Britten's War Requiem in Detmold. It's one thing to read about the effects of war. It's another thing to come that close to them. Although we were spared any grotesque imagery of human injuries or deaths, seeing the destroyed buildings and how the town has had to rebuild itself over the last half a century has changed the way I'll perform the War Requiem in Minnesota and in the Quad Cities.
On a lighter note, we singers were delighted to come upon the Hannover Opernhaus, where they were currently presenting Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. We couldn't see the inside of the theatre itself, but walked around the lobby briefly and loved the statues above the entrance depicting great poets, playwrites and composers. Across from the opera house is the GOP Variety Theatre, where famous performers such as Marlene Dietrich have appeared. We were happy to take our Kaffee und Kuchen at the Markthalle (covered market) at the center of the city, which houses vendors (cheese, fruit, bread, meats and more), and many casual restaurants. The market was crowded with locals who had popped in for a bit of afternoon wine or coffee, and we stopped to do the same.
We had a great time, and perhaps when we return it will be for Hannover's Oktoberfest, which is the second largest in the world...
-Anna Degraff, Doctoral Candidate in Vocal Performance