The J.S. Bach Tourist

4. The Lüneburg Heath

I live in the North of The Netherlands in a suburb of the city of Groningen, former member of the medieval Hanseatic League, like Lüneburg and Lübeck, and as close as you can get in Holland to places where Johann Sebastian Bach used to live. Lüneburg, where Bach spent some of his formative years, is only a few hours from Groningen by car.

On the Bach trip with my father in the summer of 1995, we had skipped Lüneburg and Lübeck, because these cities were too far from the other Bach areas we wanted to visit, namely Thuringia and Leipzig. I had planned to make up for this omission by visiting the northern Bach sites this summer (1996) with my father, but he had died on June 1st. So, I had to wait till our short fall break to visit northern Bach country with my wife Charlotte (46), my son Benjamin (7) and my Floridian nephew Clint (18).

The first part of the trip, from Groningen to Bremen (N. Germany) was the same as of the trip with my father the year before. This time, I was not travelling in the overwhelming light of the summer of 1995, but in the more modest but warm and copper tones of fall. I missed my father and wondered if he had ever made it to Lüneburg in his life. Probably not. I am sure that he had never been to Lübeck, because he had told me last year that had never been there and that he was looking forward to visiting the city of Thomas Mann with me.

Thanks to his good singing voice, Bach got a free education at the school connected to the Michaeliskirche in Lüneburg (1700-1702). As a senior high school student (as we would call him) there, Bach used to walk to Hamburg (30 miles to the North) and perhaps to the court in Celle (30 miles to the South) with its French orchestra. To reach these places, Bach had to cross the great Lüneburg Heath in different directions.

In order to get a good idea of the Lüneburg Heath, we stayed overnight in the middle of it in a charming village called Undeloh. From there, you can cross the Lüneburg Heath by horse or by bike. The Lüneburg Heath is a treat for all lovers of nature, particularly for those Bach tourists who want to watch birds instead of churches after a while. We rented some good bikes in Undeloh and enjoyed the austere rolling heather fields, which are at their most beautiful between the middle of August and the middle of September. There were biking trails everywhere and while crossing the heather fields, I thought how convenient and fast it would have been for Bach to have a bike in his efforts to undergo Dutch influences in Hamburg or French influences in Celle. Bach, however, was born too early for the bike, so that he had to walk long days for his Dutch influences (the young man on the picture to the right, although he knows how to play the electric guitar and although he is roughly of Bach's Lüneburg age, is not a baseball-capped reincarnation of Sebastian, but my nephew Clinton Kromhout from Vero Beach, Florida).

Celle is close to the former concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, so that Bach's Lüneburg Heath saw some of the most appalling atrocities of human history in our century. During my own life time, the Lüneburg Heath was given another noble destination, namely, during the Cold War, as the theater of the decisive tank battle against the Russians, if that were necessary. Much to the relief of all people who dislike nuclear war, it didn't turn out to be necessary, so that, like in Bach's days, the Lüneburg Heath still belongs to the sheep and the honey bee.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Eisenach 3. Ohrdruf
4. Lüneburg Heath 5. Lüneburg 6. Lübeck 7. Arnstadt
8. Dornheim 9. Mühlhausen 10. Weimar
11. Köthen 12. Leipzig

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