© Charlotte Schreiber


Sabine Meyer and her love for Lübeck

It is an early morning on the Trave. The barges are still moored at the shore, a light wind is blowing over the water. Once ships from all over the world used to enter the harbour, today they are tourist boats leaving for trips.

On the banks of the river Trave we have an appointment with a woman who was already infatuated with Mozart in her childhood and found a home in Lübeck 25 years ago: the clarinetist Sabine Meyer. With her we board a small electric boat to circumnavigate the Old Town, which is shaped like an island. The world-famous soloist knows that from the water you have the best view of the city's seven church towers, of the staircases and round gables of architectural gems, of Lübeck's unique brick architecture. She has often shown friends her adopted home from the waterways, together with her husband, the renowned music professor Reiner Wehle. He is travelling this week, Sabine Meyer is alone in Lübeck for a few days. A rarity. She is usually the one who travels the world with her clarinet: China, Korea, Australia, then again Europe. About 160 days a year, for 70 to 80 concerts. "In my being on the road, Lübeck radiates something secure, something warming," she enthuses about the tranquil city, whose medieval core has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. "I like to come back home every time." Despite its manageable size, the city of culture has an incredible amount to offer: the museums, the art collections from the 19th and 20th centuries, the orchestra, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the theatre. "Yet the city itself is not a museum, not just a backdrop. It is alive. And its narrow streets contrast wonderfully with the vastness of the Baltic Sea. Sabine Meyer holds her face in the wind, closes her eyes. A small moment of self-submersion. Contemplation is possible for the busy woman above all in music - in music and on the water. The boat glides along almost silently, the mirror images of the houses tremble in the Trave. Each of them has its own story to tell of the Romanesque age, the Renaissance, Classicism, Expressionist reorientation.


Blick auf die Aussichtsplattform der St. Petri

Between the Beckergrube and the swing bridge the atmosphere gets more and more maritime. Old-timer ships sway on their moorings in the museum harbour. Old sailboats from the last 150 years lie here. The town, which is built so close to the water, brings to mind a line of poetry by the poet Mascha Kaléko, which she wrote to her husband in the 1930s: "The others are the wide sea. But you are the harbour." Yes, Lübeck is a real home port for her, Sabine Meyer says. She was born in Crailsheim in Baden-Württemberg. As a little girl she first practiced the violin diligently before switching to the clarinet. At the age of 21 she was already playing in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and in 1983 Herbert von Karajan brought her to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In the following years she became a solo clarinetist in great demand and was awarded several ECHOs – Germany’s most foremost music prize.


Aufsicht auf die Fassade des Holstentors

We drive past the famous Holsten Gate and the lively Malerwinkel. The green spot at the river Trave is idyllically situated and lives up to its name. "Like in Italy!" The musician points to the laundry on the bank, which is hanging to dry on several hundred metres of rope in front of the Old Town houses. A little later we moor, Sabine Meyer invites us to her house. The musician couple lives in a lovingly restored house, between North German brick Gothic and stately merchants' houses, right next to the imposing Cathedral. The high ceilings transform the hallway into a light living area. A Renaissance oven stands in front of 500 years old brick walls. "Cartwrights lived here and slept in tiny rooms," says the landlady, "the extension is even older. One wonders: who lived here? Who was born here? Who died here?" On a wing chair in front of the fireplace we see two clarinets, on the other side of the spacious living room a grand piano. Modestly hidden and close together, the ECHO awards stand on a richly decorated 17th century wooden cupboard as if they were discarded goblets. Nine of them are now in Sabine Meyer's possession. And how many clarinets? On the way up to her practice room she begins to count – she’s got 20, one of them made of real boxwood. She plays a short tune. "A finger exercise", she laughs shyly, almost apologetically. A finger exercise? Rather a lament, as expressive as moving. It is a communicative act, a pas de deux, a dialogue between musician and instrument. She arranges the timbres with masterly virtuosity, sometimes powerfully dynamic, sometimes tenderly fragile. The sound takes over the rooms, from the music room to the gallery, down the stairs into the living room. After the instrumental interlude a brief silence followed by a grateful smile. "You always get something back from the room you play in." This is true on the big stage just like here at home.


We set off for a walk through the Old Town. Small passages branch off from the winding alleys. Sabine Meyer walks briskly over the cobblestones, radiating the attitude to life of the city: lively, cheerful, open-hearted. Concordia domi foris pax is the inscription on the Holsten Gate - "harmony inside - peace outside". Lübeck is like a large residential community, she says. Again and again neighbours greet each other. You know each other, chat briefly. "An incredibly art and music-loving couple lives here." Meyer stops in front of a property. "The two promote new music above all and organize regular house concerts." Two passers-by look into a narrow alley, carefully pull out their cameras. Meyer wants to take away their shyness: "You should go further in! - "Is that allowed just like that?" Unbelieving faces. "Yes you may! It'll be much nicer back there!" The electoral Hanseatic citizen is happy to welcome interested visitors. "Sometimes they stand in front of my door, sniffing at the climbing roses. Now and then I invite them to take a look at the house from the inside."


Hellgrüner Gang, Dunkelgrüner Gang, Cathedral churchyard, purgatory: the street names tell of earlier times, of medieval life in the Hanseatic city. The Große Petersgrube is without doubt one of the most representative streets. In several interconnected building complexes, it houses the University of Music, where Meyer and her husband have been teaching for 25 years. The well-known lecturer enters the building as if it were her second home. "Isn't it incredibly beautifully restored?" High ceilings, stucco, braided style. "I have to go up there now", Sabine Meyer apologizes and offers her hand in farewell. One last question: "If Lübeck were a piece of music ..." "Vivaldi", she says and leaves us towards the clarinet room. "A variation of the 'Four Seasons', as diverse as the city."

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