It’s 6:30am in Koblenz, and I’m on the hunt for coffee. While I’ve no pretensions of finding a single origin pourover, I did happen upon a bookstore – yes, a bookstore, at a train station, open before 7am on a Saturday. I admit my New Yorker sensibilities were slightly thrown by my ability to find nine different classical music magazines among the shop’s selection, while I sipped a coffee that resembled mulch steeped in hot radiator fluid.
After arriving in Koblenz and grabbing a quick lunch with my boyfriend, I set out on a run around the city. There’s not a great deal in Koblenz to be honest. It’s a small university town, stocked with all the standard clothing shops and grocery stores that one would expect from miniature metropolis. Restaurant dining is more or less the same, offering pizza, pasta and steaks. It’s not dissimilar from cities in England like Gloucester or Ely – medieval market towns, exhibiting a certain paradox between the visage of historic architecture and the advent of commercial materialism. In essence, there’s nothing remarkable about the city by German standards.
Also unremarkable are three churches in the Altstadt (old city), two Catholic and one Lutheran. Each is home to an recital standard instrument, each being practiced or taught on a Friday afternoon. A small theater sits not far from the river, complete with tiered boxes and lit only by electrified chandeliers. It boasts a professional opera company and orchestra capable of grinding out either the same standard repertoire as the Metropoliton Opera or New York, or lesser known singspiele such as Marschner’s Der Vampyr (think Fidelio meets Interviews with a Vampire), and selling good seats for €15. As I said, it’s a typical small German city.
The train is now passing through Cologne, as we’re en route to Kiel for a performance of an opera by Leclair. It’s not a normal vacation by any stretch, as we’re not museum hopping or hitting any major tourist traps. At the same time, traveling around and witnessing the cultural diet of these smaller cities has that same whiff of voyeurism one gets when heading someplace new. Of course, I could see organ recitals and operas in New York ad nauseam, but there is something encouraging about seeing this level of art in cities that aren’t populated by millions of people – places where your morning cup of coffee isn’t necessarily more important than your cultural institutions.