For most, the pandemic lockdown has been an endless carousel of staring at the same four walls, five houseplants, and six unwashed pairs of underwear we've been reusing since March. Not so for some unfortunate souls, who found themselves stuck in foreign lands when the travel bans hit, surviving off nothing but hotel scones and terrible WiFi. But no one's quarantine experience is quite like that of a small Bolivian orchestra, which is close to spending its third month stuck inside an ancient palace surrounded by wolves, German stormtroopers, and the ghost of an old Prussian king.
Stop me if you've read this Stephen King novel before. In early March, the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos, a Bolivian traditional instrument orchestra whose audiences are exclusively tenured humanities professors on a first date, was set to tour Berlin. But before they could break out the charango lutes, the country enacted its coronavirus lockdown, marooning the 20-odd musicians, some of whom had never been abroad. "Our bus broke down on the motorway. I remember joking that this was bad luck, and perhaps our concerts would be canceled," recollects one of the players, presumably right before he heard a wolf howl and thunder crackle in the skies.
Stranded in the small hamlet of Rheinsberg, the orchestra had no option but to seek refuge in the old Rheinsberg Palace, the former home to generations of Prussian kings. Once locked in their $38,400 a month accommodations, the fairy tale experience soon made way for feelings of abandonment. The troupe found that they were not just sequestered by social distancing guidelines and an actual moat, but also the 23 confirmed wolf packs that roam the grounds, as well as German police officers in riot gear eager to remind their foreign guests of the country's strict group bans.
To stave off castle fever, the players rehearse rigorously for six hours a day, though given the fact that most traditional Bolivian music sounds like the score to a horror film ...
... that probably does little to lift the mood. And all play and no work makes Bolivian musicians a bit paranoid. In between exploring the empty sprawling grounds and testing all the wall sconces for secret doors, some of the Orquesta have started half-joking they're being haunted by the ghost of Frederick the Great, Rheinsberg's most famous former resident and quite the musician himself. Hopefully, the Bolivian embassy will be able to repatriate its musicians in June, before the specter of Old Fritz makes the orchestra come play with him forever. And ever. And ever.
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