Posted by: Hackney Tours | February 1, 2009

Weimar Klezmer Festival: Right Here, Right Now

Germany; Weimar; concert hall

Of all the klezmer joints in all the world…

Happenstance is one of Bookpacking’s favourite phenomena. Within 20 minutes of arriving at Weimar’s quirky student-run Hababusch hostel, we find ourselves in a Klezmer concert. Receptionist Kai checks me in and mentions there’s a Klezmer workshop happening in town; do I fancy coming to a gig?

In no time at all we’re walking through the quaint snow-filled streets of Weimar, passing statues of Goethe and Schiller, before we arrive at  a concert given by the cream of the world’s Klezmer and Romany musicians.

I hadn’t even heard of Klezmer until a few weeks ago in Krakow’s Kazimierz, and now I’m listening to feted musicians from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, the US, UK, Ukraine and Germany. Kai chats to musos who’ve returned to the former GDR town for this winter spin-off from the larger Yiddish Summer festival.

Some of the music is terribly plaintive and the imagination wanders: how many places must it have been played in? From happy family gatherings in cities, to remote farms under threat of Pogrom or even in the nearby Buchenwald death camp.

Thinking about my own recently departed grandmother, I reflect on the mother given an overdose in the Krakow ghetto flat – administered by her son to avoid an even worse death at the hands of the Nazis. A familiar feeling rises up; a sense of loss, of something ripped from the world.

If you believe that locations can somehow store memory and emotion, you might describe it as the silent psychic wail of thousands (millions?) of voices screaming out from a hellish past.

But the coin has two sides, coming back to the now, we finish with a grand finale and uplifting danceable numbers. 10 or so of the mostly muso audience get up and, linking hands, dance around the room in an impromptu Hora and I think back to the wild dancing I saw once at an orthodox Jewish wedding in London, an impressive sight indeed.

Girls present flowers to the band and a standing ovation ensues. As a film crew captures this moment, I feel privileged to be a part of it. I had expected a quiet, possibly even dull Sunday night in Weimar. Life’s all about timing, and it’s always full of surprises.

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