Since March 10th, a Bolivian orchestra has been stranded in the German palace at Rheinsberg. According to the BBC, the medieval palace is a moated castle, surrounded by “23 packs of wolves,” which is said to be haunted by Frederick the Great.
In early March, the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos flew to Germany to perform three concerts and see some sights, with the total trip expected to last a little over two weeks. Many of the group’s young members had never been out of Bolivia before. But as their plane landed, the orchestra learned that the Berlin region of Germany had announced bans on large gatherings of people.
One member, identified as Carlos, recalled an ominous omen. “Our bus broke down on the motorway. I remember joking that this was bad luck and perhaps our concerts would be cancelled,” he said, “but never did I think it would actually happen.”
The group scrambled to find a way home, but didn’t succeed before Bolivia closed its borders. As Germany also went into a full lockdown, the Orquestra was trapped in a hostel on the sprawling estate of Rheinsberg Schloss, about a 90 minute drive northwest of Berlin. As of this writing, they’ve been stuck there for 76 days.
The castle was first built in the 1560s, and played host to various aristocratic lines until 1734, when it was purchased by the Prussian king Frederick William I. He in turn, gifted it to his son, crown prince Frederick II, later Frederick the Great. This particular Fred spent four years at the castle before assuming the throne. During that span he threw lavish parties with performances by some of the most famous musicians of the day, among them J.C. Bach, son of J.S., and a respected composer in his own right.
Frederick the Great, perhaps unsurprisingly, enjoyed this period of revelry and music more than his duties as a world leader. He called that time in Rheinsberg his “happiest years,” which is why his ghost is reputed to haunt the estate.
According to Orquesta member Camed Martela, age 20, the spirit of Frederick has been a topic of conversation. She said,
“We all joke that Frederick’s ghost is following us and trying to trip us up. I don’t usually believe in such things but it does feel as if there are ghosts on the grounds.”
Luckily, the ghosts are all reportedly music fans. And while the many, many wolf packs may sound daunting, the group’s few run-ins have been more cute than threatening. Tracy Prado, who only joined the Orquesta in December, recently saw three wolves while out walking. “I froze in fear but they were just play fighting and moved on,” she said.
Much scarier is the Bolivian governments response to the coronavirus crisis. “Covid is getting very political back home,” Carlos told the BBC. The Bolivian government, under interim president Jeanine Áñez, delayed the presidential election that was set for May. Later, they made an effort to limit freedom of speech, especially criticism of how the government managed the pandemic. That push ultimately failed, but no new date for the presidential election has been set.
And while Carlos has spent hours on the phone with the Bolivian embassy, little progress has been made in getting the group home. In a recent interview, Bolivia’s foreign minister Karen Longaric was asked directly about the stranded Orquesta. She said her office was focused on bringing home “the most vulnerable – women, children, sick people and the elderly,” and that the Orquesta was a low priority.
For now, there’s nothing to do but wait. “We feel abandoned,” Carlos said.