Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Day 10: A Busy First Day in Berlin!

Our first full day in Berlin was packed! We began our day at the Berliner Dom, a cathedral that stands in the center of Museum Island. With the help of Erol Danon (C,W ’16), the Glee Club was able to coordinate singing in this beautiful place of worship! The space was incredibly resonant and the opportunity to perform in such a grand and substantial cathedral was really special for the Clubbers. Immediately after singing, we sat in the pews to listen to a service given in German and English. Though the service was brief, we were able to spend more time in the Berliner Dom as we looked at an exhibit on display within the cathedral that included works of artists such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Our singing in the Berliner Dom did not stop there! Getting ready to move on, the group congregated on the lawn in front of the cathedral – the Lustgarten. With many people outside enjoying the sunny day, we decided to give the public an impromptu performance. The group assembled into a choral bow and spontaneously performed “Let the River Run” and “Go the Distance,” both of which drew quite the crowd!
The Glee Club sings in front of the beautiful Berliner Dom!
Max Scheiber (E,W '15) and Stephanie Garace (C '15)
take pieces of candy from one of Felix Gonzalez-Torres'
famous sculptures in the Berliner Dom.
A look inside the beautiful Berliner Dom! We
sang right in front of this altar! 

We continued our day of singing with a trip to the French Cathedral of Friedrichstadt. Though this cathedral was not quite as full as the Berliner Dom, the Clubbers felt that this outlier was a performance primarily for ourselves – an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful acoustics of this early 18th century cathedral.

After splitting up and grabbing lunch around the Gendarmenmarkt, a square surrounded by restaurants and cathedrals, we moved on to the famous Holocaust Memorial, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The 4.7-acre site is covered with 2,711 concrete slabs (“stelae”) arranged in a labyrinthine grid pattern. Words cannot accurately describe the power of this memorial. The Glee Clubbers were moved deeply by walking through the stelae, and many were moved to tears upon walking through the underground “Place of Information,” an underground site that tells individual stories of the Holocaust. The underground exhibit told the overall story of the Holocaust, but also included individual letters sent to loved ones in times of desperation as well as other artifacts from World War II.
Glee Clubbers walk through the incredibly moving Memorial to the Murdered
Jews of Europe, surrounded on either side by massive stelae.
Our last organized event for the day was a return to the Reichstag for a more thorough tour than our initial rooftop dining experience. The tour took us through the building’s rich history (some walls still have the bullet marks from World War II!) and even into the plenary chamber, in which the Bundestag (German parliament) meets to discuss German legislative government. While we were in this beautiful meeting chamber, our tour guides actually invited us to sing! Again, we sang “Go the Distance” and surprised a few other groups touring the plenary chamber! In addition to the Reichstag’s interior, the tour also took us to the dome atop the Reichstag; upon reaching the top, we had beautiful panoramic views of Berlin!
A look inside the plenary chamber! We sang on this
platform spontaneously for our tour guide as well as
other groups touring the Reichstag. 
The etches left behind by Soviet troops on the walls of the Reichstag
at the end of World War II remain there to this day. One of the etches
reads, "sons of bitches" in Russian.
Having concluded our full day of sightseeing (and singing!) around Berlin, it was time for a quick dinner and then some rest. The Glee Clubbers split up for dinner on the way back to our hostel, and then most Clubbers went to sleep immediately upon returning.
Harvey Huang (E '18) poses with alumnus McLean Baran ('14)
in front of the famous Brandenburg Gate. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Day 9: Guten Tag Berlin!

Though we ran into a few mishaps along the way, we have made it to Berlin! Our day began with an early 9:30am call to allow us to depart for Berlin at 10. Unfortunately, however, our bus driver was an hour late to pick us up, leaving all members of the Glee Club sitting on the streets of Prague with our suitcases as we awaited our bus. Moreover, we ended up adding an additional two hours to the length of our trip due to mandatory stops along the way and spurs of traffic. After a long and hot ride, we finally arrived in Berlin at about 5:30pm, where we soon discovered that the gems contained within this stop on our tour were well worth the wait! 

Since we were running approximately four hours behind schedule, our walking tour of Berlin initially planned for 3pm was moved and shortened to allow us to get to our dinner planned at the Reichstag by 8:00pm. Though brief, our tour gave us a thorough exposure to the incredible history of the city that presents itself in every step you take. The Club was amazed by beautifully grand structures that we visited such as the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Cathedral ("Berliner Dom," which we will be singing at tomorrow!), as well as more nuanced sites such as golden memorial plates for Holocaust survivors laid in stone around the city and a memorial to the book burning in Berlin. 
Our first look at the Berliner Dom!
We are so excited to sing here tomorrow!
Following our abridged tour of Berlin, we arrived at the Reichstag for dinner. We had to show our passports to security and go through several security checks just to enter! After taking an elevator to the top floor, we exited onto the roof of the Reichstag. The Club was overwhelmed by the view of Berlin from this height, and even more overwhelmed by the delicious food that awaited us! We were fortunate enough to enjoy a three-course meal on the roof of the Reichstag, giving us a view that overlooked the entire city. This meal was one of our best on the entire tour! With full stomachs and smiles on our faces, the Glee Club returned to our hostel and immediately passed out, some due to carb comas and others as a result of exhaustion from a long day of travel.  
Our view atop the Reichstag, where we were fortunate to enjoy
a delicious three-course dinner! 
A few Glee Clubbers pose atop the Reichstag, with a beautiful
view of Berlin just behind them!

Day 8: Recruiting Future Glee Clubbers at ISP

Our day began similarly to our day at the Ambassador's residence. With our performance at the International School of Prague (ISP) scheduled for 7:00pm, we had a fairly relaxing afternoon. Again, Clubbers split up and decided to explore various parts of the city. Some members returned to the Jewish Quarter to explore the region and visit the Old New Synagogue, while others walked on Charles Bridge, visited museums, returned to Old Town Square, and went shopping around the city. With this free time, the Penn Pipers busked around the city and made over 1,000 Koruna! One group of Glee Clubbers actually stumbled onto the set of a Czech soap opera and even met the cast! 
Zach Costa (E '15) sings with the Penn Pipers as they
busk in Prague! 
Erol Danon (C,W '16), Charlie McClelland (C '15), and
Vanessa Lam (W '15) pose with the cast of a Czech soap opera!
At 4:30, it was finally time to travel to ISP. After a 45-minute ride, we arrived at the school and entered the auditorium. We were thrilled to discover that the school had a great tech system and welcomed our tech staff to cue our performance! With the band accompanying us and the tech staff live-cuing our show, the Glee Club was incredibly excited to showcase the talent of all of our members for this performance! After warming up and setting the stage, the Glee Club rehearsed our collaboration performance with ISP's youth choir, a performance of "Omnia Sol." At 7:00, it was time for our concert to begin. We performed for a house full of Penn alumni, ISP students and families, and other guests. Our performance was very well received (especially by our younger audience!), and after an hour of singing and dancing it was time to say goodbye to the International School of Prague. The Glee Club was very thankful that was had the opportunity to add female voices to our blend in our collaboration with the ISP youth choir - we even had some female members of our tech staff join us in the collab! 
The Glee Club sings "Parting Glass" in our performance
at the International School of Prague!
Having wrapped up our performance at ISP, we returned to our hostel at about 10pm to spend our final night in Prague. Many Clubbers stayed in the hostel's common area to play board games, while some went straight to bed to prepare for the long trip that followed in the morning and others went out once again to explore Prague's nightlife. It's safe to say that our time in Prague was a success! In just under four days, we saw A LOT of this fantastic city and got a taste of its rich and diverse culture. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 7: Making Friends at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence

Our performance at the U.S. Ambassador of Prague's private residence was one of the biggest highlights on our trip thus far. However, since the group's call-time for the day was 5:00PM, the majority of our afternoon was rather relaxed. With a free morning, many Glee Clubbers took to exploring the city on their own. A few groups traveled to Brasileiro, a Brazilian steakhouse just outside of Old Town Square where Clubbers enjoyed delicious all you can eat "churrasco-rodízio." Other groups returned to Old Town Square and explored the rest of the city from there, while some members chose to sleep in and catch up on some well-needed rest. 

The main event of our day, of course, was our performance at the U.S. Ambassador of Prague's private residence for his celebration of the turn in the Embassy's administration. After traveling about a half hour by tram from our hostel, we arrived at the incredibly beautiful residence of the U.S. Ambassador, Andrew Schapiro. We were greeted at the gate by a security guard who checked our IDs and bags, as well as our guide. After receiving our individual private invitations to the event, we proceeded to the house's main entrance. The Club had about thirty minutes before the guests arrived, and we were given permission to explore the entire first floor and backyard; the space was so massive and grand that this wasn't even enough time to see it all! As the guests arrived, Glee Clubbers enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and drinks served by the residence's staff. 
The Glee Clubbers are greeted in the main foyer of the
Ambassador's residence and invited to explore the first floor!
The group starts to enter the backyard area, the primary
space for the event. 
 After allowing some time for all of the guests to arrive, Ambassador Schapiro stood up and addressed the crowd. He thanked all of the guests for their service and for coming to his celebration, followed by his introduction of the Glee Club. He joked that we were "the oldest 'continually running' Glee Club in the United States, though I'm not quite sure what kind of conditional lies in 'continually running.'" We sang a cappella arrangements of "Country Roads," "Shenandoah," "Go The Distance," and "Parting Glass," in addition to a brief performance by the Penn Pipers. We had an absolute blast singing for the U.S. Embassy, and our performance was very well-received! 
After our performance, the Glee Club poses with
Ambassador Schapiro for a photo!
Na zdraví from the U.S. Ambassador's residence! 
Ambassador Schapiro invited the Glee Clubbers to stay at his home for a bit after our performance, and we were fortunate enough to mingle individually with some members of the Embassy, including the Ambassador himself! Of course, as Penn students, some members were sure to grab business cards before leaving!  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 6: Czeching out the City

With no gigs scheduled for the day, the Glee Club planned a day completely devoted to discovering all that Prague has to offer. We began with the "Good Prague Tour," a walking tour through the city's main sights. One of the highlights, a key stop for any tourist in Prague, was the Prague astronomical clock ["Prague orloj"]. Mounted on Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square, this clock was first installed in 1410 with the same mechanical components that it has today, making it the oldest working astronomical clock in the world! Every hour tourists can look to the clock to find a completely mechanized clock show, the same show that was shown in the fifteenth century! Among many other beautiful buildings and monuments, we passed by the Estates Theatre, a famous theatre at which two of Mozart's operas were premiered; the Jewish Quarter [Josefov], formerly the Jewish ghetto of the town; and the "Old New Synagogue," the oldest active synagogue in Europe which serves as the heart of the Jewish Quarter.                        

Our view of the Prague orloj for the 
hourly clock show!
A quick look at the Old New Synagogue! 

Old Town Square quickly became a point of reference
for Clubbers as we explored the rest of Prague!  
Continuing with our day of tourism, we stopped for a quick lunch break - a choice of goulash, svíčková, or potato pancakes, three traditional Czech cuisines. Of course, once lunch was served the Glee Club followed our tour tradition of singing "Grace," which came as a pleasant surprise to our tour guides.

After our lunch break, we continued with a three-hour guided tour of Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world! Though it is technically a castle, it seemed to the Glee Club as more of a sprawling complex than a single defensive building. The castle buildings span centuries and consist of a royal palace, a cathedral and three churches, a monastery, defensive towers, and more! 

The castle's cathedral was many Glee Clubbers'
favorite part of the castle. Reasonably so,
because its exterior was absolutely stunning! 
... And so was its interior!

Several platforms around the castle offered Glee Clubbers a
breathtaking skyline of Prague! 
Up next, the Glee Club went on a beer culture and microbrewery tour of the city, complete with dinner. This particular tour informed us that in Prague, beer is cheaper than water!

We concluded with a stop at the Lennon Wall, a famous wall covered in street art just over the Charles Bridge. It undergoes continuous change as new street artists paint over the current art, most of which is inspired by John Lennon and lyrics by the Beetles. After our time at the Lennon Wall, we returned to our hostel and immediately went to sleep, exhausted after a long day of discovering the rich culture of Prague.  
A look at one section of the Lennon Wall. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 5: Ahoj, Praha!

We woke up early on our fifth day to say goodbye to Vienna and get on the bus to Prague. Knowing our trip would be a bit lengthy, we decided to break up our roughly four-hour bus ride with a stop at the famous Český Krumlov Castle in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. This stop on our trip to Prague ended up being a major highlight of the trip, as both the city and castle were beautiful! The castle stood high above the city, offering incredible panoramic views from various areas of the castle, interior and exterior. The original castle dates back to 1240, and the castle has since been greatly expanded, evident in the photos below! Click on the individual photos for HQ: 

The view of Český Krumlov from one of the platforms in the castle! Look
at that amazing view! Props to Christian Hopkins (C '17) for getting
this incredible shot!
The Glee Club poses against the backdrop of the city!
Following this, we sang for tourists in this same spot!
The beautiful architecture inside the castle. A significant amount of the interior
part of the castle was covered in frescoes, a technique of mural painting,
instead of actual stone.
This photo highlights Castle Tower, a rounded six story tower within the castle.  
Just outside of the castle, the city of Český Krumlov was full of alleys
similar to this one with delicious food and small stores.
After a three-hour trip to Český Krumlov and then another three-hour trip to Prague, we finally arrived! We checked into our hostel and concluded with a group dinner at LoKal, a restaurant with traditional Czech food. All Clubbers ate soup and svíčková, a staple Czech cuisine comprised of marinated sirloin and usually served with dumplings and cream. Following dinner, many tired Clubbers traveled back to our hostel to get some rest, while others went out to explore the nightlife that Prague has to offer. 
After a long day of travel, the Clubbers rest on our bus ride to Prague.  
All forty-seven Glee Clubbers on tour enjoy a delicious meal at LoKal!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day 4: Don't Rain on Our Parade!

The Glee Club was really looking forward to our fourth and final day in Vienna, as we knew we would be singing sacred music in St. Stephen's Cathedral. We woke up early in the morning to quite a bit of rain, but no one was going to let the weather detract from our huge performance. In separate groups, the Clubbers rode the Vienna Metro to Stephansplatz, a stop in the heart of the city that let us out right in front of the cathedral. We were fortunate to find a market and several cafes in the area surrounding St. Stephen's, so many of us decided to grab some pastries and Wiener Melange (a Viennese specialty coffee drink similar to a cappuccino) for breakfast before practicing. Our host walked us to a beautiful rehearsal space just outside of the church right before the performance where some of us (especially Dan Carsello '16) were thrilled to hear a large orchestra rehearsing Mozart's C Minor Mass! 

A rather wet Glee Club poses in front of St. Stephen's!
Fortunately, most of us had umbrellas.
After about thirty minutes to rehearse and dry off from the rain, it was time to enter the cathedral. Our host walked us through a side entrance close to the main altar, at which point we were overwhelmed by the grandeur of the church's baroque interior. Ornate accents filled the church and the altar itself was magnificently framed by figures of patron saints from the surrounding areas and beautiful stained glass. Given the timing of our performance immediately after the cathedral's daily mass, many visitors were still seated in the pews as we began our performance. As we started singing our thirty-minute set, many tourists who were visiting the back of the church moved up towards the front to hear us, at which point we had a large crowd of people standing to hear us! We sang staples of the Glee Club such as "Amazing Grace" and "Lux Aurumque," as well as some new music such as "Sicut Cervus" and Biebl's "Ave Maria." Words cannot sufficiently articulate the incredible moment shared by the Clubbers in performing sacred music in such a significant place. In fact, several members were even moved to tears by this uplifting performance experience. 

PGC sings in the overwhelmingly
beautiful St. Stephen's Cathderal.
Harvey Huang (E '18) solos in "Wayfaring Stranger"

Immediately after our performance, many members of the audience approached us asking about the Glee Club. It was truly incredible to share our music with so many people! 

C. Erik Nordgren ('00) leads the club in St. Stephen's Cathedral
on his last tour as director. 
Following our performance at St. Stephen's, we moved on to tour the Wiener Staatsoper, or the Vienna State Opera. Once again, we were in awe of the beautiful interior and exterior of the opera house as we went through our private tour. Below, check out two photos from the interior of the opera house!

The interior of the actual theatre! Our guide told us that some seats sell
every day for over 250 euro!
Inside one of the Opera House's halls!