As It Happens

Bolivian orchestra stranded on the grounds of a German castle surrounded by wolves

A prolonged stay on the grounds of a German castle may sound like the stuff of dreams, but the director of the Bolivian orchestra that’s been stuck there since March says the group is still waiting for its fairy tale ending.

The musicians arrived to play a Berlin concert just as Germany shut down its borders due to COVID-19

Rheinsberg Palace is a 16th-century castle outside of Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


A prolonged stay on the grounds of a German castle may sound like the stuff of dreams, but the director of the Bolivian orchestra that's been stuck there since March says the group is still waiting for its fairy tale ending.

The 25 members of the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos from La Paz, Bolivia, first arrived in Rheinsberg, Germany, on March 10, with the intention of performing at the MaerzMusik festival in nearby Berlin. 

But the concert never happened. That same day, Germany shut down its borders and announced widespread restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.

So for two months, the musicians have been hunkered down in buildings on the 600-acre estate of the Rheinsberg Palace, a moated 16th-century castle that has been home to generations of Germany royalty and aristocracy.

"We already had like four or five of the people spend their birthdays here," Carlos Gutiérrez, the orchestra's director, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"We have the luck that we can be together. But it's getting difficult, because we miss our homeland."

Wolves and ghosts 

There are, of course, worse places to be stuck, Gutiérrez said.

During the week, the group keeps busy by practising. On weekends, they take strolls through the wooded estate, gawking at wildlife they'd never before encountered — squirrels, deer, and even wolves.

In fact, there are 23 confirmed wolf packs that make their home on the sprawling estate. One of the orchestra members, Tracy Prado, told the BBC she recently spotted wolves during a walk. 

"I froze in fear but they were just play fighting and moved on," she said.

The Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos practises on the grounds of Rheinsberg palace in Germany. (Submitted by Carlos Gutiérrez)

Woodland animals aren't their only companions — if you believe in local legend, that is. The ghost of Frederick the Great, one the palace's former owners, is rumoured to stalk the castle's halls.

Gutiérrez says the group is having fun with the idea that they're in the shadow of a haunted castle. 

"We used to joke like we are listening to some piano in some of the rooms and some of them [say], 'Oh, yeah, it's probably the ghost of Frederick,'" Gutiérrez said. "But it was one of us just playing the piano."

The castle, which has been home to generations of German royalty and aristocracy, even has moat. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Gutiérrez says he has no idea how much longer they'll be confined to the castle grounds. Germany is now allowing international flights, but Bolivia's borders remain closed. 

The Bolivian embassy told the BBC it is trying to get the orchestra on a flight home in early June, but the group has had previous escape plans foiled. 

Meanwhile, the festival is bankrolling their accommodations at a cost of up to €35,000 ($53,320.58 Cdn) per night.

The orchestra keeps busy during the week by playing music together. (Submitted by Carlos Gutiérrez )

Gutiérrez says the musicians are mostly quite young — some are still teenagers — and their parents are getting worried. What's more, some are their family's primary breadwinners.

Bolivia, one of Latin America's poorest countries, is struggling to contain COVID-19, and the pandemic is causing political turmoil. 

Bolivian authorities on Wednesday fired the health minister and opened an investigation of potential corruption over allegations that officials bought ventilators at inflated prices, underscoring the global challenge to prevent graft in the coronavirus pandemic.

It's a strange time to be so far home, Gutiérrez says. 

"We are privileged in the sense that we have common spaces, we can play, we can still make music," Gutiérrez said.
"But of course, we are very worried about what is happening in Bolivia."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Carlos Gutiérrez produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 


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