In the winter of 2019/2020, I took four short city-and-opera trips (three days and two nights each time) by train from Frankfurt. This was something I used to do fairly often in December and January, because I typically had fewer teaching commitments in those months than in the months before and after.
Little did I know, when I took these four trips, that they would turn out to be my last bits of travel before the first lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.
In theory, I was well aware of what a pandemic was and that we were bound to have one sooner or later. I had used the concept of pandemics as a discussion topic in my English Conversation courses as early as 2007, and again in 2014 and 2019 and a few times in between. In my blog post Conversation and more there is a photo of me teaching in November 2019 with the words mutation, pandemic and epidemic listed as exotic vocabulary items on the blackboard behind me. But I still didn’t believe we would have a pandemic a) so soon, or b) even in my lifetime, or that it would be c) so severe or d) last so long or e) have such drastic effects on all of our lives.
For me, a pandemic was in the category of catastrophes-waiting-to-happen-that-are-hopefully-going-to-wait-a-while-longer, along with nuclear war, atomic energy meltdowns, global warming and an 1815-style volcanic eruption. In the first two years of the pandemic I successfully avoided contracting Covid-19, but my travelling, teaching and opera-going all came to a screeching halt.
In any case, these were my last four bits of travel before the first lockdown began:
Antwerp 13-15 December 2019
Applause after Rusalka in Antwerp
For this trip I took a German ICE train (InterCityExpress) from Frankfurt by way of Cologne, Aachen and Liège, and got off at the next-to-last stop, Brussels-North, where I changed for a Belgian InterCity train to Antwerp Centraal Station.
At the Antwerp opera house I saw an impressive opera-and-ballet performance of Rusalka by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). This was a very international production by the Norwegian stage director Alan Lucien Øyen, who was also the choreographer.
After seeing this, I wanted to see more of Øyen’s work, so I booked a ticket for a ballet production of his at the Opéra Garnier in Paris for April 2020 — but that production was later cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
See my posts on Antwerp, Belgium.
Lausanne 29-31 December 2019
To get to Lausanne, Switzerland, I took an ICE train going south from Frankfurt, and then I had to change trains twice, once in Basel and once in Bern.
The opera I saw at the Lausanne opera house was La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), in honor of his 200th birthday. Lausanne was my fourth Swiss opera house, after the ones in Bern, Geneva and Zürich.
See my posts on Lausanne, Switzerland.
Bremerhaven 8-10 January 2020
The train trip from Frankfurt to Bremerhaven took nearly five hours, like my trip to Lausanne a week and a half before, but in the opposite direction. Again I had to change trains twice, this time in Hannover and Bremen.
In Bremerhaven I went to the German Emigration Center at the deep-sea harbor on the Weser River, and in the evening I saw a lively performance of the opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Gioachino Rossini. This was Rossini’s twentieth opera, composed when he was 25 years old.
See my posts on Bremerhaven, Germany.
Lübeck 25-27 January 2020
My last bit of travel before the pandemic was also to northern Germany, namely to Lübeck, which has three houses in the city center honoring three Nobel Prize winners: Thomas Mann, Willy Brandt and Günter Grass. I went to two of these, but the Buddenbrooks House, devoted to Thomas Mann and his brother Heinrich, was closed for renovation and expansion.
At the Lübeck opera house I saw a seldom-performed opera called Montezuma by Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759). The libretto for this opera was written by none other than the reigning king of Prussia, Friedrich II, later known as Friedrich the Great, who detested the conquering Spaniards and admired Montezuma for his fairness, tolerance and equanimity.
Lübeck was my seventy-first German opera house, out of the seventy-one I have been to so far.
My photos in this post are from 2012, 2019 and 2020. I wrote the text in 2022.