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1 JULY, 2022

If you are a traveller with a passion for music, especially Western music composed by a rare genius called Beethoven, you will have to choose Bonn. The attraction is inescapable. I went to Bonn to attend a global media meet. Bonn is also the headquarters of the German broadcaster and television network – the Deutsche Welle. Journalism is my profession and a visit to the sprawling media complex was a feather in my journalistic cap. Meeting delegates from across the globe was an added attraction. But, more than the brainstorming sessions at the Deutsche Welle, I was interested in savouring the symphonies of Beethoven flowing from his home, his birthplace. So, I was only waiting for the opportunity to leave the media centre and head towards Beethoven’s house.

As I threaded my way through the squeaky clean streets of Bonn, I was frequently confronted with a face. It was ubiquitous peering at me from almost every nook and corner, in market places, from tall buildings and even from behind glistening foliage that was lush green at this time of the year ~ the German spring ~ when sunlight refuses to fade into darkness even at 9-45 p.m. !

It didn’t take me long to find out whose face it was. Bonn is synonymous with this personage who is its most musical soul it has ever produced ~ Ludwig Van Beethoven ! Bonn was gearing up for the celebration of the 250th birth anniversary of its musical giant. Images of Beethoven were splashed in different parts of the city and preparations were on to pay tribute to the symphony genius whose creations weave magical spell in concert halls and in the minds of connoisseurs of Western music all over the world.

As I drank coffee sitting on the boulevard at the main market centre, I could see a regular stream of men and women hurriedly moving towards the Town Hall in front of which stands tall Beethoven’s statue. They went past it in twos and threes carrying boxes of musical instruments of varying shapes and sizes. I was told they are going to rehearse for the great event.

Beethoven inspires such passion and pride among the people of Bonn where he was born that they were busy finding innovative ways to mark the memorable occasion. The large open space in between the main market place and the Town Hall was dotted with statuettes of Beethoven reflecting various moods of his. This was how the traders wanted to celebrate the birth anniversary. The shop owners put their heads together and decided to build 300 statuettes of Beethoven showing different traits of his character and sell them. The open space in the market was cluttered with the statuettes. But, to their surprise, the demand was so high that they had made over 2,000 statuettes !

As I stood at the door of the house where Beethoven was born, a few yards away from the Town Hall, strange sensations swept through my whole body. I could see in my mind’s eye the musical wizard’s fingers moving on the keyboard of his piano producing magical melodies carried by the air from his room to my ears !

Beethoven was born at a time when Europe was going through epoch-making transformation. He in Germany and William Wordsworth in England were born in the same year ~ 1770 ~ and both were greatly influenced by the French Revolution that unshackled the minds and gave birth to the Romantic movement in literature, music and art.

Individual feelings, freedom of mind and spirit were given free reins like never before. Beethoven’s music is a combination of Classicism and Romanticism, while Wordsworth in collaboration with his friend Coleridge produced the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 that ushered in the Romantic movement in English literature.

However, both Beethoven and Wordsworth eventually became disillusioned with the French Revolution for the excesses and reign of terror that it later unleashed.

Beethoven was an ardent admirer of Napoleon when he was spreading the key message of the French Revolution ~ liberty, equality and fraternity. He composed his third symphony, Eroica , and dedicated it to Napoleon Bonaparte . But, later when his secretary, Ferdinand Ries broke the news that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven flew into such rage that he crumpled the title page of the piece and tore it up. The page had to be rewritten and the extant page had Napoleon’s name scratched out.

A music lover in Bonn I happened to meet took pride in recalling the incident.

I found a curious similarity between Bonn and Kolkata. As in Kolkata men and women, young and old in Bonn too go out of their way to help strangers. Young men and women would fish out their mobile sets from their pockets and find from the Google map the directions and bus routes I needed to take. I approached an old man on the street to help me find the bus route to a destination of my choice. He tried, but he could not figure it out. So, he asked in German a family of four coming in our direction to help. All four of them started finding the right bus and timing from the printed sheet of paper pasted at the bus stop. It was written in German and they translated it for me.

You will find the coaches of long-distance trains from Frankfurt to Bonn spick and span and almost empty except for a few passengers. I met two young women passengers who instantly struck up a friendship with me. The moment they heard I was from India, they asked me about my experience of a train journey in Germany. Obviously, the first thing I talked about was the near-empty compartments. One of them broke into peals of good humoured laughter telling me trains in India must be so packed that people travel even on the rooftop ! That was a pleasant surprise for me. How German women in distant Bonn could be so aware of train services and passengers’ behaviour in India !

By another stroke of fortune I met in the marketplace three women from Jordan. They were also tourists like me and we started chatting. They said they could not move so freely on the streets in their country as they could in Bonn.

Every year the birthplace of Beethoven in Bonn attracts over one lakhs tourists from all over the globe. Still after almost 251 years after his birth, Beethoven remains the most important ambassador of German culture.

(The writer is the Chairman, International Association of Religion Journalists )




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