In 1996 the choir ventured abroad for the first time, to Epsom's twin-town Chantilly, near Paris. Since then, a long summer weekend 'tour' has become part of the programme and the Society has visited Chantilly, Ghent, Bruges, Beauvais, Klagenfurt, Norfolk, the Lake District, Aix-en-Provence, Bristol, Rouen, Barcelona, Lille, Caen, Lucca, Bruges, Utrecht, Reims, Ypres and in 2013, Cologne

Cologne 2013

Written by Angeline Frontin

I was excitedly looking forward to this summer’s tour to Cologne, especially since I’d never been to Germany - that was until Tony approached me in his usual quiet manner and asked "if I would write this year’s review". My first reaction was to hesitate, then a little voice inside me said why not, so here I am writing my first review for ECS magazine.

It would seem that our prompt start would provide the benchmark for the timekeeping for this trip. We were able to leave eight minutes earlier than the allocated 7am start. Our new driver seemed very proficient, quiet and gave brief specific information on a need-to-know basis and we had a good and trouble free journey arriving in Cologne at 5.45 local time in brilliant sunshine.

My first impression of the city of Cologne was that it was as vibrant as our tour information described. Like all modern cities it was busy with lots of traffic, plenty of shops and young people everywhere. Large buildings littered the skyline, in between the intricate church spires and steeples in the distance. We were all peering out curiously, and as I looked out I was wondering which was the Cathedral, and would I be able to venture out of the hotel and find my way around without getting lost.

Our hotel put us smack bang in the centre of Cathedral Square, which is the main thoroughfare to and from the railway station as well as the Cathedral, in a cobbled stone pedestrianised area which was a hub of activity with backpackers and street performers mingling with the public in and out of the train station. We were set down on the far side of the square so navigating our way was like an obstacle course, but we managed it with good humour. When I saw Yvonne blend into the crowd on her motorised scooter I knew I’d have no worries. Staff were warm, welcoming and helpful if somewhat overwhelmed by our invasion of the reception area. Our rooms were comfy though noisy as we had the privilege of overlooking the square which was a hub of activity 24/7.

The warm evening meant we were more than ready for our welcome drink. We assembled at the given location - "Brewhouse". This place could seat over 1,000 and it seemed to be at full capacity, teeming with people and noisy. I elected to sample the local cuisine not knowing what to expect.

Fortunately Sarah (L) had been learning German so I relied on her to interpret and make recommendations. The grilled pork knuckle came well recommended, which Sarah chose. It was amusing to see her tucking in to this man-size portion which drew comment from the waiter "It's bigger than her", and which she duly finished. I was pleasantly surprised with my choices of food and sampled as many local dishes as I could over the coming days.

Our first concert scheduled for Friday with midday mass at the Cathedral was to be preceded by an 11.30 rehearsal outside our hotel. However, it was quite ironic, and amusing to me, having originated in Trinidad (the land of steel- band and calypso) that a lone street performer on a steel drum in the square made this rehearsal impossible, as his off key renditions resonated across the square resulting in a quick warm-up in the hotel reception instead. In spite of this we made it to the Cathedral and gave a sterling performance according to the feedback from Robin. I certainly enjoyed singing there

I later found out on our cathedral tour that ECS were extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to perform in the cathedral as it required special permission from Cologne’s municipality as the cathedral does not belong to the Archdiocese. Therefore, I must take my hat off to all those responsible for oiling the wheels.

Our second concert in Freidenskirche later that evening was a mixed bag performance-wise, and I can't say I enjoyed it, though the setting was magnificent. We struggled with performing some pieces especially the English Folk Songs and our German pieces. Robin will know how many semi-tones we were down. However, the audience seemed receptive and appreciative. There were some redeeming moments for me though in our delivery of Adrian Payne’s I hid my Love, and witnessing Adrian being acknowledged for his work. And singing Chilcott’s God so Loved the World saved the day.

The weather remained warm throughout and Saturday provided time to explore individual interests. I took the easy option and spent my time on a boat trip along the Rhine, having various landmarks pointed out in the commentary. I also visited El-DE-Haus museum which was the headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo and which remained intact during the war in spite of most of Cologne being flattened by the bombings. I was fascinated and at the same time overwhelmed by this place. The museum houses a permanent exhibition of the political and social life of Cologne during National Socialism with lots of reminders of its dark history. There was also the obligatory shopping for the original Eau de Cologne and other mementos before meeting for the group meal.

The group meal enabled me to sit and talk to people I had only previously given a fleeting glance or nod. A public firework display was scheduled for that evening, although no-one seemed to know the reason for this. Local people seemed excited about it and one local told me she "had travelled over 80 kilometres to be there and an estimated one million people would be attending". The crowds were already assembling as we made our way back from the meal which was my cue to get indoors and stay put especially since we had an early start on Sunday.

Sunday meant we were at the end of the tour and coming home. We were packed and left on schedule but there was still morning mass at the St Apostein Church to sing. Would we be up to it? I think we were, judging from the applause that rang out after our rendition of "God so Loved the World". I think we ought to make this our party piece. With mass ended we mulled over the high and lows of this performance. Before we knew it we were aboard our coach heading home with another enjoyable ECS summer tour behind us.

These tours would not be possible without all the planning, effort and persistence of so many people. So to them I want to say thank you all for a job well done and for adding to and enhancing my life experiences.

Photographs by Clive Richardson and Peter Humphries

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