The Bolivian Orchestra Stranded In A German Castle

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The Bolivian Orchestra Stranded In A German Castle

The sound of panpipes, flutes and snare drums fills the rehearsal space of the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos.

“The breathing techniques required to play these instruments for a few hours put you in a kind of trance,” says Miguel Cordoba, who plays the siku flute.

But as soon as the rehearsal finishes they are all too aware of how their life has changed. Because they are not rehearsing back home in La Paz, Bolivia, but in the shadow of a German castle where they have been stranded for 73 days.

The musicians, most of whom have never left Bolivia before, were expecting to spend just over a fortnight this spring touring east Germany’s concert halls.

Instead they are holed up in the buildings and grounds of the sprawling estate of Rheinsberg Palace, a moated castle which has been home to generations of German royalty and aristocracy, an hour and a half’s drive northwest of Berlin.

As the musicians, some of whom are as young as 17, touched down in Germany on 10 March for their tour, news broke that Berlin had become the seventh German region to impose a ban on gatherings of 1,000 people or more in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our bus broke down on the motorway. I remember joking that this was bad luck and perhaps our concerts would be cancelled,” recollects Carlos, “but never did I think it would actually happen.”

Their three planned performances were cancelled in the days that followed, and as Bolivia’s government announced it would close its borders, the orchestra scrambled to get home but failed.

Germany’s ban on mass gatherings was swiftly followed by a full lockdown, meaning the musicians are only allowed to roam as far as the forest that lines the perimeter of the estate.

So their free time is spent rehearsing in the nearly 600-year-old palace grounds and exploring the surrounding woodland, home to 23 packs of wolves.

Only on Monday did they get the chance to step inside the castle for the first time as tours for the public reopened.

“It’s very different to my home, it’s very beautiful,” says 25-year-old Miguel.

“There are worse places to be trapped. When I wake up, I watch the sun rise over the forest and the lake. Back home, I only hear the sound of traffic.”

But despite the picturesque natural surroundings, the musicians are worried they have been forgotten.

“We feel abandoned,” says Carlos, who’s spent several thankless hours on the phone to the Bolivian embassy trying to find a way to get home.

The group had only been in Germany for a week when Bolivia’s president announced the country’s border was set to close within days, and all international flights had been suspended.

Arrangements were swiftly made by the German foreign office and Bolivian embassy to reserve seats on one of the last flights out of Germany to South America, landing in Lima, Peru.

The group was initially relieved.

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“When we were on the way to the airport, we were all in good spirits, laughing and chatting,” says Carmed Martela, 20.

But then Carlos received a call to say the flight had been cancelled as the plane was not allowed to land in Peru.

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“The mood suddenly became sombre – everyone on the bus went quiet,” he says.

From that moment, the 6,000 miles (9,656km) between Germany and Bolivia seemed further than ever.

Tracy Prado, who only joined the orchestra in December, remembers thinking about her daughter’s 11th birthday which was coming up a few weeks later.

“I had got my hopes up and it was devastating to think I would miss this important day,” she says.

The Bolivian Orchestra Stranded In A German Castle

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