Leipzig and Berlin, the cradles of much Western music culture, are inspiring cities for the visitor.
Berlin has three top-level opera companies with the famous Staatsoper now back in its traditional home on Unter den Linden. Recently I was lucky enough to score a ticket to see an amazing (and expensive) production of Turandot with a huge cast on stage controlling a giant puppet.
Leipzig has not only the world-renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra, but a top-ranking opera company, Oper Leipzig, and a wonderful boys' choir, the St Thomas Boys' Choir, at St Thomas Church. This year Oper Leipzig set itself the monumental task of producing all Wagner's 13 operas within a six-week festival period. I was lucky enough to see Lohengrin at the end of June, in a new production that was enthusiastically reviewed by the audience and critics alike.
Wagner was brought up in Leipzig and although he didn't live there all his life, his legacy remains strong in local culture - along with masters such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Strauss, all of whom lived and composed much of their music there.
For the visitor, all this musical history can be enjoyed by a walking tour along the "Music Trail", which meanders around the laneways and streets with clever signs built into the cobblestones... and plenty of good coffee houses on the way. Then there are heritage landmarks where composers lived and worked, like the Schumann House and the Mendelssohn House, the latter with an interactive room where you can conduct the virtual orchestra, reading the score from a tablet on the podium.
Together the performances in Berlin and Leipzig comprise the German musical feast for opera lovers. But my advice: don't attempt to go this year. Programs for 2023 are now out, and there are many more treats in store in expectation that travel will be back to normal by then. We hope!
In both cities you'll find an Adina Apartment Hotel close to the opera and most musical attractions. These hotels are great for Australian travellers because you get more room to spread out, plus there's a decent pool in each location, an in-room laundry and a kitchenette. www.adinahotels.com
Here are some suggestions if Europe is on the agenda this year.
If you can avoid it, do not travel in the peak northern summer period...it's chaotic. Same applies to school holidays at both ends: watch out for September/October vacation periods and Christmas.
If you simply have to go, lash out and buy business class tickets from Australia and within Europe. The investment will be worth it, physically and mentally. Consider the train for travelling within Europe but be aware they are also experiencing delays. A first-class ticket generally gives you access to a lounge waiting area at the station.
Be very cautious about booking anything using points for the foreseeable future... some airlines are trying to generate revenue by "cancelling" redemption tickets and persuading passengers to buy a ticket instead. If you already have a business class redemption seat, they may try to downgrade you to economy and offer to refund your points. They tried this with me, but I insisted and they finally, magically, found a seat for me... but four days earlier than planned. But I had no choice.
If you have mobility problems, ask your doctor for a letter and book "special assistance" in advance for check-in and on arrival. This will provide a wheelchair service, or at least a buggy, to get through long airport corridors and security.
Make sure your travel insurance covers cancellations, delays and the like - and read the fine print.
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