Kürten and the Stockhausen Courses: an Introduction (of sorts) -- DAC Crowell


OK...let's say that you've taken the big plunge. You've paid your fees, you've shopped for that cheap airfare, you've budgeted for that all-important spending money, and you are GOING to the Stockhausen Courses for the first time. What do you need to know...I mean, _reeeeeally_ need to know...about this Kürten place and these courses you're headed to? Well, there's a bit...

"Kürten...it's the Wild Wild West of Germany!" -- Antonio Perez Abellán

Actually...no. Sorry, Antonio. It's wild, yes...but not THAT wild. On the other hand, it's not as remote and boondocky as other people would have you believe, either.

Gemeinde Kürten is an area containing a collection of small villages up in the hills of Bergisches Land, several miles northeast of the nearby city of Bergisch Gladbach. There's Kürten-Broich, Waldmühle, Busch, Olpe, probably a few I'm forgetting, and Kürten proper, which is more or less in the middle of it all. The place gets characterized as being 'rural', but the real fact is that it has more of the feel...and amenities...of a distant suburb of Köln, which is what it's turning into these days. So you might see some cows and sheep here and there, but you see apartment buildings, shops, and a golf course too. Nevertheless, it's missing a few things but has a few neat things of its own. We'll get to all of this in a bit.

To get to Kürten is really pretty easy. Mass transit in Germany, if you're not familiar with it, is like a well-oiled machine. Trains run on time, busses go most everywhere, and so on. Here's what I recommend:

If you're flying from outside Europe, fly into Frankfurt. Yes, that's a few hours away. Frankfurt is, however, a cheaper destination for most airlines, and Deutsches Bahn (the train) connects right there at the airport with regular service to Köln. Flying into Köln/Bonn or nearby Düsseldorf might be more convenient and is the more workable option for Europeans, but it's more pricey for most everyone else. Plus, the Intercity train from Frankfurt at about $35 one-way is a big step up in savings when compared to the extra cost of landing close-in. About the only reason for flying into the local airports would be if you're carrying a large and/or delicate instrument and you're renting a car, in which case you're probably not going to read this part. Skip down if you fall into this category.

The train from Frankfurt will deposit you in Köln about 2 1/2 hours later. It's a pretty trip through the Rhine valley, you get to see the wine country, the Lorelei, some picturesque towns, castles and ruins, and so on. When you get to Köln, you then skip to the S-Bahn, which is the local/regional commuter train system run by VRS. VRS also runs the busses, so if you can, buy a ticket (via a vending machine in the station) that takes you from Köln HBf to your stop in Kürten, which will be Waldmühle. You'll save about a dollar over buying a train ticket, and then a bus ticket right after. The S-bahn will drop you at the end of the line in Bergisch Gladbach, and you'll walk across the street to the main bus depot to catch the bus to Kürten. Make sure to take the one that goes by the Waldmühle stop, as this is closest to the school.

When you step off the bus at the Waldmühle stop...especially if you're arriving early and Dettloff hasn't put up any directing signs yet...you will suddenly feel as if you've been led on a big wild goose chase! Sheep...a bakery...someplace called "Hotel Tritz"..."This can't POSSIBLY be the place!", you'll think. Ahh...but it is. Welcome to Kürten. Walk toward the curve in the road ahead, where you see the sidewalk turning into the woods. Then you'll cross a bridge over a stream and walk down a footpath. Just ahead, you go through a gate and into what looks like...and is...a schoolyard. Keep going ahead until you go through the second gate...and then you're there. The office for the courses is in the big school building to the right. Just poke around a bit.

Now, if you're the impatient type, or you have money to burn, or you're hauling a sousaphone/big synth/crate of percussion instruments, you'll want to rent a car. This, you should do in Köln, and then you'll drive from there to Kürten. Can't help you there, though. I will point out, though, that regular gasoline was running about $1 a liter when I was there this past summer. Just do the math, and you'll find that if you're not accustomed to European gas prices, driving a car is going to be a spendy proposition, and it's something you should do only if you just HAVE to do it. Besides, walking around is a great opportunity for exercise. Or at least, that's what Dettloff kept saying...

"But what if I have to get somewhere out of the way?" Ahhh...then you'll want a taxi. Kürten has two taxi services: Jupp's and Taxi Maria Fahlenbock. Everyone seems to use the latter for the most part, and they seem to be used to the odd places that us crazy music people need to get to and from during the courses. Taxi Maria Fahlenbock can also haul large things or large amounts of things to Bergisch Gladbach or Köln, although this gets expensive. Still, those of you who plan on playing that version of "Im Freundschaft" for BBb tuba should keep this option in mind.

OK...so you've made it to Gemeinde Kürten. You're there. You've checked in and gotten your accomodations squared away. The next step is...what's to eat?

Don't come to Kürten expecting 'fast food'. Doesn't exist there, with the possible exception of one place not too conveniently located over in Kürten-Broich. MccyDees has not penetrated the farther reaches of Bergisches Land, so there'll be no Big Mac for you for a while unless you get back on that bus to Bergisch Gladbach. And this, in the end, is probably a good thing.

There are a few restaurants around. They are:

Pizzaria Michelangelo: your basic German pizza joint, which also serves a good dish of pasta. Pretty cheap, pretty fast. Mid-Kürten, on Wipperfurthstr.

Zur Mühle: more in the local style, this place has German food, plus a good selection of East European specialities and a few surprises. Big food, and heavy food, too. Can be somewhat pricey. Same general area as above.

Unknown German place in Kirschplatz: never made it here. However, this is supposedly the 'good' German place in town according to the Stockhausen crew. Up the hill from the intersection of Wipperfurth and Olpenerstr.

La Strada: the joint where everyone goes to hang out. Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, and owners that seem to have some idea of what a restaurant full of music people is capable of. They don't scare easy. On Wipperfurthstr. almost to the village limit of Kürten-Broich.

Kürtener-Grill: Turkish diner-type place in Kürten-Broich, next to the big Raifeissen-Markt building supply store. Didn't look like much to write home about, but appeared promising. About the closest you'll find to 'fast food' here, despite the fact that its relative distance from the school negates the 'fast' part.

Mysterious Greek place: who knows? It never was open this past year, although previous attendees have said it was good. Maybe we'll find out in 2002? Wipperfurth and Olpenerstr.

Also, it should be noted that lunch is available at the school for a reasonable price. This past year, the catering was done by a local Turkish place, Anadalou-Grill, and they served up some tasty and sometimes rather rich Mideastern and Mediterranean fare. Anadalou-Grill also handled the closing banquet, which was an excellent and ample spread of the same cuisine.

For those of you who insist on no meat...ah...you'll likely have a problem. Michelangelo's and La Strada can deal, and the catered lunches at the school also provide plenty of veggie fare, but otherwise this will prove to be a dilemma. However, Kürten has a couple of supermarkets, Hit and Aldi, and you can get plenty to live on there. Plus on certain days, there's the farmer's market in the Burgerplatz, with fresh produce and goodies from the surrounding countryside. And there's a couple of bakeries in Waldmühle and Kürten proper that have an excellent selection of breads and the like. The above options are also suitable and good for those of you looking to save a little cash by eating something other than restaurant fare, as well.

And, if you just need a little snack...something quick...there's the Esso station just up from the corner of Wipperfurth and Olpenerstr. They have a few deli items, cold drinks and pop, candy, junky snack crap, and so on. It's a quick jaunt from the school, and you can grab a bottle of something fizzy and cold and a munchie there before/after the lectures.

Now, I mentioned cash, didn't I? Yep, I did.

I ran into some interesting problems accessing my Illinois bank account via the local ATM machines, also known as 'Geld-automat'. So to be helpful, here's what I learned across a few rather traumatic days...

1) LAG-TIME. The computers that 'know you' in Europe and the ones that 'know you' if you're from elsewhere have some lag between them. From what I was able to discern, there's a lag of about 36 hours or so between what happens to your account at home (if you're from N. America) and what you can do with it at an ATM in Kürten. For some of you, this might not matter much. But if you have to have the folks back home deposit some money for you, this needs to be kept in mind.

2) JUST BECAUSE IT SAYS CIRRUS... doesn't mean it IS Cirrus. Case in point: my card does not work at Raifeissen-Bank. It causes their ATMs to freak out and turn themselves off, despite the fact that their machines are labelled as being on the Cirrus network. But my card works just fine at Kriessparkasse. So if one bank's machine is having conniptions over your card, try the other. There are two banks in Kürten, right next to each other, making this an easy process.

3) IF ALL ELSE FAILS... there's Deutsche Post. Have someone wire you your money. Doing this via the local banks may prove confusional, as there's apparently some odd mechanisms that the local banks have to use in order to access international transfers of this sort that may or may not make sense to your own bank. But international transfers via Post (Western Union, etc) are easily done.

Hmm...now for those things that aren't food and aren't money and don't involve transportation...

Drugs: no, not those. Leave them at home; Stockhausen's music is mind-altering enough. For _actual_ drugs and certain toiletries, there is a well-stocked drugstore in central Kürten on Wipperfurthstr. about a block or so from Hit and Aldi. This 'Apotheke' is capable of handling prescriptions as well as stocking a good selection of the various OTC things such as antihistamines, decongestants, antacids, and so forth that you might need while at the courses. Naturally, if you are dependent on a certain prescription, make sure to carry a copy of this script with you when you come to Kürten in case you lose the bottle in some way (airline screwup, etc).

Tobacco: yes, it's a nasty habit, and I know Stockhausen frowns on it, but some of us (present author included) just have to have their nicotine fix. For this, there is a sundries store next to the Esso on Wipperfurthstr. which sells a good selection of cigarettes and some mass-market cigars, some of which are pretty good. This store is important for another reason, also, because it's your best source of stationary, pens, pencils, and other writing-type implements in Kürten. Lose a pen and you'll wind up here to replace it.

Batteries and other various things can also be found in Kürten easily enough. There's a store roughly across from the banks that sells a wide selection of items from hardware to toys, and whatever you can't find in there you can likely find at Hit or Aldi. Very esoteric things, such as DAT tapes, various computer storage media, and so forth might prove a little problematic, however. Best to do your shopping for these before departing and carry a cache of what you may need with you. Also, for those of you who've bought one of the typical voltage adapters, I should warn you that German outlets are of the recessed variety, and those blocky things will not plug directly into them; you will need to have the 'extension plug' that's suitable for EC use.

And lastly, one indelicate matter...toilet paper. My manager warned me before I left for the 2001 courses that German toilet paper "builds character". While I won't elaborate on what that means _exactly_, I will note that if you have any sort of problem in 'that area', bringing a pack of your own T.P. might be advisable.

OK, we've squared away most of the essential amenities. Next, weather and clothes. They do have a good bit to do with each other in Kürten...

The weather in Kürten during the period of the courses can be a little dicey. Sometimes, it'll be nice, warm, and sunny. Expect this to change, however. More likely is that it'll be rather cool, especially at night, and there's usually a good bit of wet weather during the period when the courses are held. How wet? Well, Stockhausen's assistant Bryan Wolf was looking at a copy of "Für Kommende Zeiten" that I'd just bought and got to the text of "Japan", which begins with the line: "Upwards-rain". Bryan started chuckling and said that the piece was obviously about summer in Kürten.

Well...it's not _quite_ that bad. Think Seattle-type weather and you'll get the idea.

So, accordingly, dress for Seattle. That'll mean that you want a few things for warm (but not hot!) weather, a jacket for the cooler evenings, and perhaps a couple of cool-weather outfits. And the attire during the whole affair is definitely 'nice casual', concerts included, so leave the suit and tie and dress shoes in the closet back home. A collapsable umbrella is also a good idea. And comfy shoes, because you'll likely do some walking. And speaking of walking...

What else is there to do in Kürten? Yeah, yeah...I know -- heresy. We're supposed to concentrate _solely_ on Stockhausen's work while we're there. But the fact is that the country there is very beautiful, reminding me a lot of East Tennessee or the North Carolina Piedmont, and there's lots of places where you can take a couple of hours to walk and let all the info pouring into your head at the courses settle in. I recommend it, in fact. Kürten also _sounds_ interesting out in the woods or countryside, with an interesting pallette of sounds that you don't always get to hear in more urban surroundings. So make some time during the courses to get away from the school for a little while and drink in the same sonic (and otherwise) environment that Stockhausen himself is immersed in. It's an interesting experience.

There's one other thing to do in Kürten, and it's a wonderful indulgence...plus makes for a good few hours off to let the mind and body 'reset', if needed. That thing is Splash-bad.

Splash-bad is a water-park type of affair just outside Kürten which offers a pool and...more importantly...the sauna-baths. And as long as you can deal with the fact that you're hanging around naked with a bunch of other naked people, the saunas at Splash-bad make for the perfect way to bring mind and body back to a good 'zero-setting' and get you ready to plunge headfirst back into more Stockhausen. But I should warn you, these are no mere tweezy hotel saunas, but things that are run so hot and steamy that the watch I was wearing was wrecked by the excessive heat and humidity. Don't let that scare you off, though...

The saunas, when I was there, cost DM 22 plus another DM 5 for your towel, if you don't bring your own. And you must have a towel, otherwise you can't sauna. Naturally, this will have all been Euro-ized by next year's courses, so expect different prices. Splash-bad has several saunas, but what you want is the full-on king-hell experience of the Krauter-sauna, with the manic attendant with the whirling wet towel, tons of honeyed steam, citrus and ice for the skin, and heat that could poach an egg. About 10-15 minutes in this, and then a jump in the cold pool just outside, and you are feeling _good_! Kick back, then repeat a couple of times. Soon enough, you're alive, alert, relaxed, and ready to tear into the most complex score or musical performance you can tangle with! Vocalists should also take note that Splash-bad has an excellent steam room and some very good dry saunas, which some of you might want to avail yourself of if the damp weather starts to play havoc with your vocal apparatus.

Now, with all of these things above to take in account, how much should you expect to spend a day in Kürten? My experiences say about $25 a day should do it, this including lunch and dinner, a snack, and a beverage or two. Doesn't count lodging, though, nor taxi or a trip to Splash-bad. Still, not too expensive, really. This, also, does NOT take into account the bushel-basket of money you should bring in order to take advantage of the direct-sale prices at the Stockhausen-verlag salesroom during the courses. I didn't have the money for it, but you could easily drop a grand or two in that room on CDs and scores and such without even breaking a sweat! And you _will_ want to buy things there. Trust me on that. But even for us poor folks, the Stockhausen-verlag does provide a gift certificate with which you can choose from a list of scores or CDs to get something gratis; you won't come away from the courses empty-handed.

So lessee...clothes, food, money, travel, diversions, other stuff...ah, yes. Karlheinz Stockhausen. The most important part.

My advice for first-timers to the courses is to observe _carefully_. Listen _closely_. You have literally no way to predict when some fleck of pure golden knowledge or insight is going to go sailing by, emanating from the general direction of Karlheinz Stockhausen himself. The lectures and concerts are only two parts of this experience; there is a wealth of other knowledge that comes down in the rehearsals, technical setups, and the like that you just will not find in all the books or articles or what-have-you. We're talking about the man who wrote the book...several times...on loads of techniques and concepts that are now linchpin methodology and knowledge in New Music, people. And what made it into those metaphorical (and literal, in the case of the _Texte zur Musik_) books doesn't totally cover the story. Want to know how to rehearse highly complex music more effectively? Stockhausen knows that. Want to know how to grapple with the technical craziness of a live multichannel sound projection system? He's on top of that, too. Want to see how classics of New Music from the 1950s and 1960s can interface with the technology of the 21st century? Stockhausen's got that covered. And on...and on...and on...

Brusquely put, the code of the day is "shut up 'n' listen!" Do that, through EVERYTHING, and it will be like having a full semester's worth of grad-level coursework pumped through your brain at high-velocity in only a few days. Speed-learning, of the top-shelf grade. At the 2001 courses, the motto was "Lernen mit Fleiss"..."Learning with diligence". But all the time I was thinking, "My God, how can you NOT learn here? It's like trying to take a sip from the end of a firehose...you WILL get a faceful of water, no matter what you do!" The 'diligence' part just seemed to be overkill to me, because as long as you're keeping your eyes, ears, and mind wide-open, you're gonna LEARN!

But don't let that intimidate you. After all, I figure that if you're reading this, you already know that that sort of thing comes with the territory when you're dealing with Karlheinz Stockhausen. Otherwise, you wouldn't even be considering coming to Kürten, right?

No, this is a special, intense, and revelatory several days you'll be spending up in the hills near Köln. Not your average vacation in Europe, not by a long shot. You'll get to hear...and in some cases, get 'inside'...works which you'd likely have to spend a lot of time and travel money getting to hear in concert halls all over the globe. And in all cases, these will be performances done to the composer's exact specifications and desires, something you might not get otherwise. You're going to get one work totally unfolded right before your eyes, too...an analysis that you just _cannot_ get out of some book or in a lecture done by someone other than Stockhausen himself, and one that'll give you insights into more than that piece itself. The rehearsals will show you how some of these pieces literally 'tick' as Stockhausen guides the various performers...all of them being some of the very best in the world at what they do...through the paces of perfecting his work for the concert stage in the Sülztalhalle. Plus in the various clinics, you can even work with some of these people to hone your own skills with Stockhausen's music. And then there's the opportunity to network and confab with top musicians, researchers, theoreticians, musicologists, composers, and people who simply enjoy Karlheinz Stockhausen's work and know that Kürten in the summer is THE place to encounter it. It's a banquet of knowledge and information, and you'll have just as good a seat at the table as anyone else.

Hopefully this answered most any question you may have had about the courses. Of course, some questions can't _really_ be answered until you're there and in the thick of it...but I figure you probably know which ones those are, right? Consider yourself ready...