Germany 2016 Report – Kassel, Weimar and the Nazis

Hello My Friends,

As Ben and I drove down the autobahn, going south through the rolling hills of Germany, it started to rain more and more. We were scheduled to do a drum circle at an outdoor  “Unity through Diversity" cultural celebration festival in the central German city of Kassel. When we got there, the rain slacked off a bit but the weather was still blustery and unpredictable so the drum circle had to be cancelled.

I consider myself a local in Kassel, as I have spent a week in the same area of town every year for 14 years. We parked the GEWA drum van at the museum site at the bottom of the famous Kassel walkway. The wide double-sided walkway has steps on both sides of a long mini park that leads 7 blocks up the hill to the old train station. I could easily see what were my usual hotel room windows only two blocks up the walkway. Every year I stayed in that same top floor, corner room of this hotel and looked down on the walkway, the museum and the park next to it, where the cultural celebration festival was now being rained on. Nope! No drum circle today in Kassel.

I was a little heart-broken that we wouldn’t be doing the scheduled DC here, as I’ve drummed with this community once a year for a good portion of my professional facilitation career. We had scheduled the Kassel festival DC as a “hit and run” where we would unpack the drums, set up and do the circle, pack the drums up, and drive on to the next city. So Ben and I had a little coffee break and a quick hang out with Mathias Reuter and the VMC Playshop graduates who had showed up to the cancelled event, and then we drove on to our next town Weimar.

Mathias Reuter and Professor Bernd Nentwig are partners in 'Percussion+m', which has organized all my Playshops in Germany. Mathias lives in Kassel and had set up the rained out drum circle there.

Professor Bernt lives in Weimar, pronounced “Vi-mar,” where our next community drum circle was scheduled.

The professor works at the famous Bauhaus University, teaching architecture there for over 20 years. He also works as a driver architect. He has been to nearly all of the 3-day Germany Playshops in Kassel and hosted the 2015 ‘first' 6-day Germany Playshop. So far he has done over 130 community drum circles as well as many corporate circles and refugee focused rhythm events.

Nazis March to the beat of our Drum Circle

Every year in a small southern town in South Carolina USA, on a fine spring day, the KKK (Klu Klux Klan), would gather in the center of town and march down the main street with their sheets, flags and hate. And every year the towns people, who were not KKK, would line the sidewalks of their main street and yell hate back at the KKK marchers; which is exactly what the KKK wanted.

One year, a small university situated near that town called up the VMC office and asked if I could do a community drum circle the same day of the scheduled KKK march. I said YES! So instead of spewing hate at the KKK marchers on the main street, the whole town went to a park only a block away and joined me in a rhythmical community celebration.

The KKK did their march, but not one person, NO ONE, was on Main Street to cheer or jear them. It was empty of people. The KKK marchers could hear us, but while we were focused into the circle, we could not hear or see them. So the KKK marched along an empty street while the town celebrated unity through diversity in their noisy drum circle only a block away.

It was a good day!

FLASH FOWARD to today. It’s the day before Germany annually celebrates the reunification of the country after the war.

Arriving in Weimar we drove to the Drum Circle venue, a community center in the middle of town called Mon Ami (French for "My Friend”). Professor Bernd asked us if we would be interested in being involved in a small spontaneous protest gathering before the community drum circle. As a person who taught drumming at a university for 16 years, I had been involved in a few rhythm event protests in my time, so I said “Sure!!”

The Professor sent out a message (in ten languages) inviting the Weimar drumming community to join the protest. We got a good response. Getting out of the van, I noticed that there were police cars and vans everywhere, along with a whole lot of police. Some were putting on riot gear, bullet-proof vests, padding and face masks.

As it turned out, a scheduled Nazi Party parade scheduled that day, starting as the Nazis gathered across the street from the community center and then turning into a parade that would meander through a certain designated part of town.

This has happened every year at this time, for the last 10 years.

Even though the German government and other political parties have tried to ban them, the National Socialist Deutschland Party is an official political party. “Nazi”  is short for National Socialist.

As Ben, Professor Bernt and I unloaded our drum equipment into the community center, the police were setting up barricades between the gathering of Nazis and the anti-Nazi protesters. Whenever the Nazis gather publicly, the community arrives with noise makers, whistles, drums and wooden spoons beating frying pans, to make noise whenever the Nazis try to use their hand-held loud speakers to speak.

Once we roadied the equipment into the drum circle venue, with the help of volunteers, we brought out three large surdos, a base drum bag full of frame drums, boxes of mallets and REMO sticks, sound shapes and percussion, and held a mini standing drum circle in the middle of the anti-Nazi protest. I made sure that I was the only one with a cow bell and a big stick.

Now we had a never ending, nice and noisy, drum circle to cover up the Nazi hate speeches. It was a whole lot of fun. We were on one side of the street and the Nazis were on the other, with riot geared police and barricades between us.

I took a break from facilitating the ongoing circle once in awhile. With the Professor or Ben taking over the facilitating, I went to the barricades to catch myself a glimpse of a real Nazi. But all I saw was a massive mob of skinheads in a sea of black leather and red painted posters. They were milling around like a bunch of army ants crawling over each other in a mosh pit.

When they finally finished their hate speaking, the Nazis gathered into sort of a military formation and started stomping away as if they were in a parade, but they were unconsciously marching to the beat of our stand up, mom-dad-and-kids anti-Nazi drum circle.

It was a good day!!!

Weimar Culture Visit

When they rebuilt the city of Weimar after the war, they tried to to rebuild the city as it was, rather than replace the bomed-out buildings with the “Quick Build” square boxes that the “Lend Lease” program was throwing up all over Germany in the 1950s. So the city is almost as beautiful as it was before the war.

Weimar was a focal point of the German Enlightenment period. It was the home of the leading characters of the literary genre of what is called "Weimar Classicism.” Two of the writers were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who wrote “Faust" and Friedrich Schiller who wrote "Die Glocke," (The Bell).

In the 19th-century, famous composers, like Franz Liszt, made a music centre of Weimar. At the same time, artists and architects like Henry van de Velde, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Walter Gropius came to the city and founded the Bauhaus movement. The Bauhaus movement was the most important design school of the it’s period, and it still influences modern design and architecture today. Just look at the integration of industrial design and art in the Apple computer over the last 20 years. In the 1920s, Art Nouveau also originated out of the Bauhaus movement.

For a quick culture tour, Professor Bernt took us to the Bauhaus University's Walter Gropius room. The room was a perfect example of all of Gropius’s design principles. Gropius designed it as an office for the director of the university, but the problem was that there were so many professional architects from all around the world coming to see the room that the director had to move out to a different office.

The Refugees Who Are Not

The Community Drum Circle that we held that evening had a full mix of the mom-dad-&-kids from the anti-Nazi drum circle earlier in the day. Plus there were a number of the professor’s students from China.

The Mon Ami community center was the same place we held the drum circle for the refugees last year, at the end of the 6-day Playshop. The Professor has held a number of "refugee circles” here. Now that the refugees have been settled in and integrated into the community, the professor no longer refers to them as refugees. So I can say that we also had a few people who came to Germany from the Middle East at our event as well.

As usual after I did the opening drum call, Ben, Professor Bernd and I co-facilitated the rest of the drum circle event.

There are two events during the drum circle that Professor Bernd facilitated that I took notes on...

#1 - With one shill playing a soft base rhythm foundation, the Professor did a call and response with the hand drummers using just his fingers or hands on the top of the drum heads to make rhythmical “Swishing” noises on the drum heads. COOL!

#2 - We did a 16th note rumble facilitating accent notes around the circle in the “In the Round” style that you all know.

He was using the accents alike the “Base Ball Stadium Wave” until the wave got back to the “original initiation spot” when everyone hit the “ONE" as the accent note passed around the circle again. It was a great accent build up.

At the perfect time during the event, Ben did a great “Soft" Layering In a Dialogue Song across the circle in a star fashion. He deliberately picked out and showcased the right combination of sounds, timbers and players.

Ben had been paying attention to the players and knew who to pick and when. Once he got his Dialogue Song going, he let the groove settle down and the rest of the circle participants listened to it for awhile before he invited anyone else to join in. That simple facilitation created a fantastic rhythm and sound dialogue that raised the musicality of the circle for the rest of the evening. Then he just Got Out Of the Way…..

It’s a Musicians tour, so now we have packed up the GEWA drum van and are driving away from Weimar into the night onto Berlin.

Life is a dance...   Arthur