From our lovely discovery of Frankfurt, the journey takes us west to the quaint, old farmer’s town of Kriftel. Unlike Chicago with its urban sprawl, the borders of Frankfurt are true to themselves, and where the city line is placed, the metropolis stops. This means just a few kilometers from the Frankfurt Hauptbanhof, you can find delightful German villages, blossoming with pink and red roses, unbroken cobblestone, and Ma-and-Pa restaurants with the most divine schnitzel.
The cheapest lodging I could find in my preparations was a single room in a villa-style house in Kriftel. Although it may not be the most convenient proximity for research at the Bahá’í Haus der Andacht (about two villages over), I have taken the opportunity to relax my lifestyle over the past week, take in the beautiful landscaping of every residence in this village, and master my pronunciation of the greeting “Hallo!” for when I pass the elderly couple that seems to always be picking at their garden.
I first appeared to the villa host (a lovely mother of four named Joan) as a genuine mess, my two bags extending off my sweaty body. And from there, I was whisked away by the S2 Subway to Hofheim, where I would somehow discover the 403 bus to take to me to Langenhain, the hometown of the European Continental Bahá’í Haus der Andacht (House of Worship). I remember passing through these small villages, signs everywhere directing cars to the local churches, or even displaying a Bible quote in German.
It wasn’t until the bus ascended to the peak of it’s route that a few signs began announcing the Bahá’í House of Worship. I exited the bus and walked about a few yards out of the residential part of Langenhain to what appeared to be vast farming fields and forests.
And, finally, there it was:
This lemon-press-looking, incredible, space-ship type, white building is placed in the far corner of a large grassy field. It was June 23, and the Bahá’í community had put on their 24th annual Sommerfest. The Sommerfest (summer festival) is a staple of German culture; it can be considered under the Volksfest (carnival) category, being a secular, celebratory gathering, although some German church parishes may host their own summer festivals. Similar to a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) or Oktoberfest (you all know what this is), a Sommerfest will feature various stands where community members can purchase food, such as bratwurst, fleischkäse, küchen, etc., partake in exciting activities, for example a bouncy house, slides, and swings, and spend time together under tents or in the kind, reemerging summer Sonne (Sun).
For two and a half decades now, the Langenhain Bahá’í community has been welcoming local Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike to the temple grounds for their own version of a sommerfest. I found this to be the coolest thing and incredibly pertinent to my own research on the incorporation of local culture into the global framework of a Bahá’í space! The Sommerfest trope–traditionally one of German folk culture–was reframed in a Bahá’í setting, and thus the Sommerfest’s community-building nature is used as an expressive tool of Bahá’í teachings on interpersonal unity and the divine joys of human consonance. Suddenly the secular becomes the sacred.
I was simply in awe; hundreds of people of all ages, races, and religious backgrounds were picnicking, making music, and laughing together under the sun, all with the Bahá’í Haus der Andacht in the background. Since then, I have found myself at two other Sommerfests around the area (I swear they are EVERYWHERE), so I can attest to the electric community energy that was unique to the Sommerfest at the Bahá’í Temple grounds.
As if this was already not an incredible experience, I was fortunate enough to go to three devotional services in the Haus der Andacht that were scattered throughout the eight-hour duration of the Sommerfest and featured the “Stimmen Bahás,” a Bahá’í choral ensemble established in 2001. Ameli Dziemba, a skilled Bahá’í musician and founder of “Stimmen Bahás,” conducted a four-song repertoire that was repeated at each devotional service along with various sacred-word readings. It was explained to me that the “Stimmen Bahás” ensemble has 60 active singers from all around Germany or surrounding countries, and they meet a few times a year to rehearse and present choral devotionals during larger events, such as the Bahá’í Sommerfest. Only approximately twenty members of “Stimmen Bahás” were present to sing at the Sommerfest devotional services.
Both the choral selections and the readings were in various languages including Arabic, German, and French, which is one way that this specific House of Worship expresses multiculturalism and globalism. The music itself varied in styles from German folksong to choral jazz to church chorale, and with even a hark to Taize choral music. I will speak in greater depth of the songs themselves in a future post.
To cap off my kick-off event for my journey of Bahá’í music research, Ameli Dzeimba was gracious enough to sit down for a long conversation with me under the blazing sun. I got to hear more about her journeys with music and the Bahá’í faith and the moments in her life when the two paths intersected, if not converged. I find this conversion so fascinating, specifically when the religious component emphasizes oneness and human consonance, like Bahá’í. The divine experience of harmonizing with one another, both literally and through the metaphor of music. This is so incredible: the creation of choral music is Bahá’í in nature, and Bahá’í teachings are–in a way–very choral in nature. I am hopeful that this coming summer will allow us to explore this wonderful conversion of music and faith, as it manifests in different Bahá’í communities around the world.
Until next time,