When the Wall fell and West Berlin was suddenly no longer an island, there was no shortage of political and economic challenges. One man addressed an essential question: How do you bring people together? How do you get Berliners and Brandenburgers talking to each other? West Berliner Werner Martin found the answer in music. He founded the Brandenburg Summer Concerts more than 30 years ago. Growing up as a musically gifted pastor’s son in Brandenburg, he brought fond childhood memories with him to West Berlin, the city where he had pursued a career as a lawyer since 1969. On Saturday Martin Werner will be 80 years old and he will be celebrating his birthday in the Paris Bar, in the Humboldt Forum and in the Berlin Cathedral, among other venues – Regensburger Domspatzen will be performing there on his birthday night trips back into town.
Then the moon shone round and full on fields lined with red and blue and white flowers. Stork nests, fields of yellow rape and small villages passed by in the twilight. The melodies of Schubert or Mozart, performed by artists in sometimes enchanted village churches, still lingered in your head. Before that, the coffee table with sheet cakes lured people into a parish garden, after which there was beer and evening carol singing.
We have Werner Martin to thank for the fact that such excursions and encounters were possible in an uncomplicated manner shortly after the fall of the Wall. The celebrant can look back on an eventful life. Even as a boy he was an enthusiastic choral singer and later became the father of five children himself. So many memories of childhood trips to Chorin Monastery with a cake picnic, swimming in the lake and singing together kept the longing alive to experience something like that again.
Again and again he managed to activate his networks, for example to find sponsors for the bus transport, the beer stands, the entire infrastructure of the Brandenburg summer concerts. It all started with a meeting in the Paris Bar under the motto: The worst that can happen is that we have a good glass of wine together.
Since the first music experience in 1990 in the circle of friends in the Chorin monastery, there have been 700 concerts at more than 200 venues in the country. The local circles of friends, who work on a voluntary basis, are always present and have made a significant contribution to the fact that interpersonal encounters were also possible. There were around 800 in Brandenburg just five years after the festival was founded.
From small beginnings, a large, important festival developed over the years, which managed without state funds, which was repeatedly praised by Prime Ministers and Ministers of Education. Manfred Stolpe (SPD), for example, saw it as “one of the most beautiful, successful and also the first citizens’ initiatives that gave leadership and form to the process of growing together”.
After the fall of the Wall, West Berliners were curious to explore the surrounding area, but the infrastructure was lacking. The “classics on a country outing” made it possible to comfortably board a bus at Fehrbelliner Platz and drive to Brandenburg. From his second headquarters, the Paris Bar, Werner Martin consistently ensured that top international artists performed in the village churches, some of which were threatened with decay.
Ten percent of the proceeds were donated to good causes at the performance venues. This was used to pay for new church windows, for example. The supporting program not only included the famous coffee tables in the parish gardens, but also guided tours of the city, lectures, boat tours and carriage rides. That’s how it is to this day. Sometimes, as was the case at this year’s season opening in Luckau, a historic train was used for the arrival and departure.
Spiritus Rector Werner Martin always sat in the front row during his years as chairman, but left the speeches to the respective prime ministers and other dignitaries in favor of the music. Afterwards he liked to sit down with the artists and representatives of the local circles of friends. Without his special personality, the festival could never have become so big and lasted so long.
It was a stroke of luck that his wife Karin had experience in the hotel and catering industry and did not despair when there was no socket for the coffee machine to be found far and wide. While she managed the office on a voluntary basis and made sure that the hospitality went well, Werner Martin welcomed the guests as an integration figure. He was not only the founder, the chairman and the driving force, but also the face of the summer concerts.
His inexhaustible supplies of motivational power not only helped to keep friends, sponsors and patrons in line, but also to inspire them to ever new assignments. It was basically programmed that after his withdrawal from the operative business the transition to a new era would be bumpy. When he turned 70, he collected donations for the bell of St. Nikolai in Luckau on the occasion of his birthday. It was set up in the market square, then slips of paper were distributed with the lyrics to “Praise the Lord”, although of course no one seriously believed that people would sing along, as many had grown up far from the churches under socialism. And then this spontaneous choir formed with great vocal power.
Also unforgettable is the first concert in Poland, in Stettin, with 1000 Berliners and Brandenburgers, with the German Symphony Orchestra and a hearty Mitropa-Brot-Zeit on the train journey home. Even cool managers could hardly resist the attraction of the idylls during the classics on country outings. Under different direction, the coffee tables might have seemed fussy. But they didn’t with the underlying sparks from the Paris Bar.