My first memory of Hamburg is a televised performance that I saw around 1980 of a Haydn trumpet concert in the St Michaelis cathedral. I have wanted to see the Michel, as it is locally known, ever since.
After we had been caught out Bach-less on a trip to Eisenach, I came prepared this time round. Days before leaving home, I slipped Haydn into CD slot three. I would be able to select that on my own even while dashing down the Autobahn at ridiculously high speeds. It was just as well, as the rest of the family characteristically fell asleep minutes after leaving Celle, allowing me to the bring the Wheels of the Bus to an abrupt halt and enjoy some local radio while cruising along the Autobahn through a heavy thunderstorm. By the time we reached the outskirts of Hamburg, the skies had cleared and we crossed the Elbe River with trumpets blowing while the golden spires of various churches glimmered in the sun.
While driving, I could not actually distinguish St Michael, but I was pleasantly surprised to see its spire facing me from behind the trees of the Planten un Blomen park when first glancing out of the huge windows of our hotel room. I particularly enjoyed hearing its bells chime late at night and early in the morning.
The next morning we arrived at St Michael to be on time for the daily trumpeter. Each morning at 10am, a trumpet voluntary is blown in each wind direction from the viewing platform of the church tower. It was over in seconds, and frankly, hardly worth the effort.
St Michael had a turbulent history. The first large church was consecrated on this site in 1661. It burnt down in 1750 after being struck by lightening. Its replacement was a baroque masterpiece that burnt down in 1906 after some careless soldering work. The 1912 replacement was completely destroyed during the Second World War, and the present church, completed in 1952, followed the designs of the 18th-century baroque church. The spire is 13-m high, with a viewing platform at 82m. The church clock, with a diameter of 8m, is the largest in Germany. The hands are 5m and 3.6m.
The interior is a beautiful northern German baroque masterpiece. It almost looks restrained, at least when compared with baroque in southern Germany. It is mostly white, and the church is very bright and a far cry from the brick Gothic marvels of northern Germany. I particularly enjoyed the marvelous organs – there are three – but regrettably was not able to attend a noon concert when all three are put through their paces.
We were already heading for the exit when a school choir, never my favorite kind of music, started to sing. We stayed to enjoy the marvelous acoustics of the church, which, on reflection, increased my regrets at failing to make it to the noon concert.