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PilS

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Pils

In 1973 I was invited to travel to Germany with a subset of a singing group I was in called The Cantana Academy. We were going to sing at several locations, stay with locals in a town near Dusseldorg called Hocdahl Milrath. I was 17, drinking age over there. The group other than the other 17 year old were all adults, and I think all over 25 years old. The subset that was going to Germany, called The Cantata Academy Vocal Consort was all over 30 and maybe 35.

 Cantata Academy at the time was mostly composed of professional musicians. It was not a requisite of membership but it seemed to be almost universally true. The other 17 year old and I were both singing at a synagogue for holidays, festivals, and the sabbath. We got paid $20 each for a three hour service. About once a month this included a 3 hour rehearsal. There were 4 or five special rehearsals for the High Holidays services.  

 Cantata Academy sang mostly from the following groups of music, American Choral Music, arranged Spirituals, Early Sacred Music, and Madrigals. I am sure that we ventured out of these genres, but I can’t think of any instances.  We often sang with little rehearsal. This was the professional part of this. You had to be able to read and the expectation and practice really improved my ability. Non-singers probably don’t have an idea what this means. Simple reading on a piano is in some ways simple, the music says “F” and push down the key. In singing you have to know what it sounds like before you open your mouth and produce the note.  I think that the basic skill is harder with voice, but once things are difficult it is a truism to say that they are difficult.

 The trip was amazing. Mostly this was people we met, but it included the choir. I have so many stories about it. 

We paid for our tickets months in advance. The travel agency had a distant relative working there. I did not know them, I do not remember their name. But when we went to get the tickets there were no tickets. The travel agency was closed. Rumors were that they took the money and scrammed. I have no idea.

 I was in high school. My parents were out of the country. The rest of the choir decided to drive to NYC on Monday and leave from there anyways, purchasing new tickets. This was Saturday. The other high school student and I moped around wondering what we should do instead. We thought about camping. Sunday night I get a call saying that one of the members would loan us money for a new plain ticket. My parents were out of the US and I could not contact them. This loan $250 , !!!Thank you Ernst !!! at a time when minimum wage was $1.65 an hour seemed like too much to borrow without asking them first.  So when it first came up I thought that I could not go. Then it dawned on me. 

It was July and in September would be The High Holidays. I was a paid singer in a choir at Sharey Zedek synagogue and the High Holidays were going to pay $250. I decided that with a payback plan I could go.

The group was leaving 12 hours after this decision. There were a bunch of things that needed taking care of that I had planned to do on Saturday. One was to get American Youth Hostel memberships. Fortunately Bernie Borenstein was the local president and he went and got my membership. My middle brother did something nice for me and washed my laundry. In the morning he made me an astronauts breakfast, steak, eggs, and Tang®. Tang is fake orange juice.

We drove to NYC in two cars. On the way we stopped somewhere for dinner. The cars were fun. Horace, tenor, and Fred , the director could be funny. But the cars were intense. Most of us went in for dinner, but Tom, who I think had had more than enough togetherness went into a bar.

We were ready to go and had to get Tom. Fred told us what to do. Steve and I went to the back of the bar and yelled, "Dad, come on, lets go. Mom's been in the car crying for two hours!". Tom who was balding went red as can be. He could not decide if he was laughing or if he was mad.

Anyhow we got to Germany. We sang with Wuppertal Men's Chorus once. They were spectacular. We sang at an old folks home, and a couple of concerts at churches. The Altenburg Dom (cathedral) had the most spectacular acoustics. It was so much fun to sing there.

So we went to bars. The locals only drank Hannen brand Alt. An alt is a light bodied dark beer. But when there were out of town they often could not get it. They would ask in bars, what kind of beer do you have? The answer would be a list and it always ended in Pilsner. When the list was done they would mutter, OK give me the pee pee wasser. The bartender would invariably answer, "What?". The the would say in an audible voice, "Pils".

I grew up in a town that was almost completely Jewish. I lived a few houses down from a couple that met at Auschwitz. When I said that I was going to go to Germany I got some pretty forceful responses. They were understandable, even if wrongheaded. Growing up I saw the still photos of corpses, photos of the camps being liberated, one or two movie clips. They had a pretty big impact.

 I think a lot about hatred. This sort of hatred can be very deep, very uncontrollable, and it is understandable. When someone is out to kill you hatred is a pretty easy response. But it clings. It is easy to also blame, hate, subsequent generations, and to carry this feeling from generation to generation.......It is a mistake. Sometimes I think that people that hate know this and do what they can and do not pass it on. I wonder if my father was an example of this. I really don’t know. He seemed to not like anything Japanese. Nothing. He probably would not have held it against an individual, but I could see him harden up if I talked about pottery. He never said anything and really hid it, if it was there.  If he hid it I suspect he knew how unbecoming this hatred was. 

 While talking about hatred, there is also the other side. We were talking about politics with a friend of mine from Japan and she said, “Japan and America will never have a problem while my generation is still alive”. She told us how at age 50 if she was upset she would mix up some dried powdered milk. She loves the taste and it was the best quality food she would get regularly as a child. It was special. Each box was also stamped saying that it was given by the people of The United States. I have read reports that it was awful, but when people are hungry.... 

Germany, So I had been at the bar. It was late afternoon. I was walking home and way down the street there was a man in a uniform walking towards me. I am pretty controlled most of the time and have a firm foot in the logical portion of my being so I knew that the low level fear that seemed to creep in was just my subconscious grabbing hold. I kept walking. Then my hands started to shake. I told myself, "this is stupid". I kept walking. The shaking got worse and worse. It did not improve until I saw him walk up to a house and deliver the mail.

People were very nice to us. We met some nice teens and a man born in 1950 who when he found out we were Jewish told us, " I knew a Jew once". I looked at Steve with disbelief. I don't think that this young man intended anything out of the statement, but it sure showed little thought. We laughed about it, he was nice.

Anyhow, for years I missed Hannen Alt. When I started to brew, I aimed for my memory of the beer. Then I found an imported bottle of it. It was much different from a keg but I could tell I was on the right track. Sugars in malts really vary. Like coffee the speed of the roast is important, as important as the color. Really carmalized sugars do ferment, at least some of them stay in the beer . They also can leave a sweet taste and viscosity to the beer. Some dark malts are full of caramely sugar with lots of body and others have less body but more darker roasted colors. The darkest ones seem to make a lighter finished product with less sugar, and viscosity. Rather than using two cans of carmelly malt I brewed with on very dark can of malt and one light. I was not a purist and did not extract the malt from the grain myself. The real purists have to grow the barley themselves and pull the plow. It can get rather like ham radio hanging out with beer brewers. The radio people, some of them, can be heard saying things like, “if you didn’t build it yourself, then its not ham radio.” I figure that if you did not make your own vacuum tubes or resistors you aren’t dedicated enough to your hobby and its not really ham radio. I have to be careful about sarcasm. Too often people think I mean it. It is dangerous.

I don’t drink much beer. That is a story in itself, stetching back almost as far as this one. But I do go through about 10 bottles a year. It seems to be increasing a bit. Should I worry?

 This evening I am drinking a pee pee wasser, Pilsner Urguell. It really is pretty good. 

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Page last modified on August 13, 2021, at 03:38 PM