A Musical Christmas in Germany

Can anyone imagine what Christmas would be without music? Does anyone want to? The first time I went to Germany at Christmas my head was full of dreams about cities and markets and wonderful things to buy—dreams that came true immediately on my first evening in Munich at the big Christkindlmarkt in the Marienplatz. I was completely dazzled, and then (as I wrote in my first post):

All of a sudden it was 5:30 and out onto the balcony of the Neues Rathaus stepped a brass ensemble. As they began to play—Christmas music, though nothing I recognized—everyone in the square just stopped, turned toward the musicians, and listened. I still get goose bumps as I relive the moment. It turns out that every evening at the same hour a different local choral or instrumental group is invited to play. I had thought the market and its setting couldn’t get any better, but it did.Advents_Musik_RHBalkon

And so, I began to pay attention and seek out more opportunities to incorporate more musical experiences in my German Christmas travels. It couldn’t have been easier.

For example, the performance on the town hall balcony in Munich is hardly unique. Many–probably most–other cities also have nightly live-music mini-concerts at their main Christmas market. I definitely suggest you check the schedule of any markets you plan to visit so you can arrange to be present at the appointed hour.

P1000098There’s also music right out on the streets—amateur choirs, kids with instruments. You won’t be able to plan for this, except to enjoy it when you encounter it.

And, of course, churches offer some of the best opportunities to listen to Christmas music: organ concerts, vesper services, and Adventsingen, where Christmas carols are sung—sometimes by choirs, and sometimes by the audience. I attended an Adventsingen one Sunday morning at the Berlin Cathedral and it was packed. I knew only a few of the carols but, since we were given the music, it was easy to follow and sing along. It was also amazing.

Certain churches have famous choirs, which are generally in residence during Advent. I’m thinking particularly of the Kreuzchor at Dresden’s Kreuzkirche and the Thomanerchor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, where J. S. Bach presided for 27 years. The Vienna Boys Choir also performs in Germany during Advent. In many cases you will need a ticket to attend their concerts.

Of course, this being Germany, the great Christmas classics such as Bach’s Magnificat and Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah are always on the program in some concert hall or cathedral. You’ll need tickets for these as well.

For myself, one of these years I would very much like to attend the Alpine Advent Singing in Altötting in Bavaria. There are a number of different programs on a variety of dates and the town of Altötting itself looks picture-book charming and–being in the Alps–will probably have lots of snow.




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