Enjoy Jazz, 13th Edition: Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Germany, October 27-November 1, 2011

Enjoy Jazz, 13th Edition: Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Germany, October 27-November 1, 2011
John Kelman By

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Enjoy Jazz Festival
Mannheim/Heidelberg/Ludwigshafen, Germany
October 27—November 1, 2011

It's always great to return somewhere that has become an annual port of call, but it's particularly nice to return to Germany's Enjoy Jazz, that atypical jazz festival which—rather than running for a week and concentrating a whack of shows in that short time frame—runs over the course of seven or eight weeks, giving jazz fans an opportunity to experience a wide variety of performers, but at a more relaxed pace (usually one per night) allowing them to, well, enjoy the jazz. While the 2011 edition has gone somewhat against past type (and come under some local criticism by folks who are upset at having to choose ) by often offering two or three shows in the same evening—ranging from mainstreamers like saxophonist Sonny Rollins and, moving a little away from the center, guitar icon Pat Metheny, to more electro-centric artists like Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and intimate chamber jazz trios like that of bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, his brother/saxophonist Felix and cellist Anja Lechner—Enjoy Jazz's constituents may not truly appreciate just how lucky they are to have to make so few choices. It's still only possible to see one show in an evening, since they run largely concurrently, and across the greater region that encompasses Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

It is hard not to enjoy returning to a festival staffed by hard-working people who make journalists feel at home and who, over the course of years, develop the kind of professional relationships that make it impossible to say "no," when the invitation comes each year. It's also not exactly difficult to accept being put up at the same hotel every year, especially when that hotel (the quaint Hollander Hof) has virtually the same staff and provides the same room every year, facing the picturesque, centuries-old bridge that spans the Neckar River, running through town. And when it's autumn in Heidelberg—especially old Heidelberg—it's no major challenge to enjoy the stunning surroundings, where the leaves have turned to golden yellows and vivid reds, both across the river and along the city's heralded Philosopher's Way, as well as up the hill where the centuries-old ruins of the Heidelberg Castle look down over the city of roughly 135,000 people (nearly 30,000 of whom are students at Heidelberg University, the country's oldest educational institution).

And if the hospitality of the festival and hotel isn't enough, the city of Heidelberg also welcomes foreign journalists to Enjoy Jazz, by providing the opportunity to learn about the city's 800-year history direct from a personal guide. And when the city provides the same guide as they did in 2010, it's just one more indication of the kind of continuity that makes a return trip more than a little special, and that makes wandering old Heidelberg by day as rewarding as attending Enjoy Jazz by night.

Heidelberg is home to many things old, but it is also a place of innovation. Taking a ride up the Neckar River on the largest solar-powered boat in the world is just one relatively small example. Strangely silent and completely emission-free, the boat can now accommodate up to 250 people (after a renovation more than double its capacity since 2009), with a built-in bar/restaurant and plenty of covered seating for those who want to stay out of the elements. The 50-minute ride travels from one end of Heidelberg to the other, passing under the three bridges that traverse the Neckar River and providing a great view of the city and outlying areas, including the Castle, situated about one-third the way up a hill that features nature trails and some tremendous panoramic perspectives of its own.

Having visited the castle in 2009, it was still rewarding to make a return visit in 2011, especially with the added context provided by Charlotte Frey, an expat American now living in Heidelberg who, as she did in 2010, made the history of Heidelberg come alive with vivid descriptions of past events, recounted in the present tense as if they were happening now, and making them all the more alive and real. Her ability to tie events together in the larger context of European history creates a broader and even more engaging narrative.

It's easy to forget how European royalty connected and intersected, with much of it revolving around German history, and how the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism ultimately drove massive change across the continent, though stepping out of the funicular that travels up to the castle, the sense of history is immediate. Built at the turn of the 13th century by Elector Ruprecht III (who ultimately became King from 1400-1410), it was originally a fortified fortress made even stronger in the early 14th century, when Elector Ludwig V added the North Tower, its walls a seemingly impenetrable 20 feet thick.

The castle was more than just a defensive structure, however; it was, indeed, a place fit for a king (and a queen), with its huge courtyard and lovely wooded surroundings. When Friedrich V married Elizabeth Stuart (mother of Mary, Queen of Scots), he built an upper story to the tower that served as a theater, while an artillery garden served as the Princess' private park. That Friedrich managed to erect The Elizabeth Gate overnight in 1615—a surprise present for the princess' 19th birthday (they married at 16)—was as much a symbol of what could be accomplished by a feudal system, as it was of his clear love for her—a love that was rare at a time of arranged royal marriages that were more often done for political convenience or strategy.

Unfortunately, the idyllic circumstances were not to last, with Friedrich and Mary being forced to abandon the castle just 13 months after his coronation, triggering the 30 Years' War (1618-1648) and the first of three events that ultimately, over the coming two centuries, left the castle in ruins. Still, even in its largely non-restored state, Heidelberg Castle provides a window into a past that's particularly profound for North Americans, with their far shorter history. Even such practical matters as clean water find their way into the history of the Castle, which has (according to the Guinness Book of Records the largest wine barrel ever constructed. When the 58,000-gallon barrel was built in 1751, a clean water source was simply not available to the castle and its many workers, so a low-proof wine—the alcohol acting as an anti-bacterial agent—was used in its place.

With the weather comfortably in the late teens (Celsius) and only the faintest hints of rain throughout the weeklong visit, it provided strong evidence for the argument that music is not just fundamental to who you are, it's fundamental to where you are as well.

Chapter Index
  1. October 27: Empirical
  2. October 28: Claus Boesser Ferrari/Thomas Siffling Duo
  3. October 29: Lorez Raab :XY Band
  4. October 30: Theo Bleckmann's Hello Earth!
  5. October 31: Ingrid Lukas
  6. November 1: Pat Metheny Trio 10>11
  7. Wrap-Up


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