"During the preparations for our private trip, we delved into the life of Bach and its geography so deeply that we couldn't believe there was no official cycling route connecting all of these places."
We are a community of people in every profession and sector using music to create more value in towns and cities all over the world. In the special series #InConversationWith, we talk to accomplished members of our community and uncover their journey.
This story features Anne-Luise Oppelt, Co-Founder, Bach by Bike.
Profile at a Glance
Full Name: Anne-Luise Oppelt.
City, Country: Berlin, Germany.
Work Profile/Designation: Co-Founder, Bach by Bike.
Anne-Luise Oppelt is a freelance classical singer (a mezzosoprano) that lives in Berlin, Germany. She performs as a soloist in opera and concert, working across Germany and Europe. She is also the co-founder and tour guide of Bach by Bike, a travel agency operating sustainable guided musical cycling tours and concerts mostly along the places where Johann Sebastian Bach lived in Germany.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your career and the many projects that you've been involved in these past couple of years.
Even though my work as a singer cannot be completely separated [from running a music tours agency], I'm going to focus in this interview on my professional work at Bach by Bike.
In the last 10 years my colleague Mareike Neumann and me went from being music students at the conservatory, who were enthusiastic about cycling and Bach´s music, to creating our own independent travel agency offering guided cycling tours and operating concerts with our Bach by Bike Ensemble.
I met my friend and later business partner Mareike when I was studying violin at the Music University of Detmold. We discovered our love for Bach´s music and for cycling while being room and classmates. When, in 2010, I moved to study voice at the Weimar Music University (a place where Bach lived for many years) we thought to cycle along all Bach´s places of life for our summer break.
Already during the preparations for our private trip, we delved into the life of Bach and its geography so deeply that we couldn't believe there was no official cycling route connecting all of these places. Bach lived in a very limited area in the three states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt in a perfect cycling distance of 400 kilometers.
When we first cycled along our self-created Bach-route with a stack of books in the bags, we told already to all the local stakeholders and (soon after) the local politicians about our idea to establish this route. They were all very supportive and thought it was a great idea:“if another state starts, we will follow” was the general quote. Unfortunately, until today no state stepped out and started to build official signs for this route.
So, when in 2012 we got asked by a community college to offer a guided cycling trip we didn't hesitate and from then on guided groups along the Bach-route. We collaborated with several travel agencies for the booking-issues but finally decided in 2020, with a lot of time during lockdown, when all our concerts where cancelled, to be independent, since the largest amount of work, the networking, logistics, creating and development of the trip and it's artistic content had always been in our own hands. Being independent gave us all the freedom to expand our ideas for tours and connect our music with the tours.
Since we are independent, we are also supported in new ways than what we initially expected. For example, we've won the Music Cities Award for Best Use of Tourism in 2021, the OPUS KLASSIK innovation award in 2022 and by received state funding for a concert project in 2022. We also receive more and more requests to collaborate with festivals for classical music throughout Germany.
What ate the projects that you're working with Bach by Bike right now? Tell us a little bit about them.
We developed a unique journey from Bach’s birthplace Eisenach to his place of death, Leipzig. The tours, depending on the variant, include not only Eisenach and Leipzig, but also Mühlhausen, Gotha, Wechmar, the Bach family’s ancestral home town, and Ohrdruf, Arnstadt, Dornheim, Erfurt, Weimar, Naumburg, Weißenfels, Halle and Köthen. During the tours, you will visit the regional Bach-Festivals such as Bachfest Leipzig, Bach Biennale Weimar, Köthen Bach Festival and MDR Music Summer.
On long-distance bike paths, we discover the charming landscapes of the Thuringian Forest, Ilm Valley, the wine-producing area Saale/Unstrut and the Saxonian Burgenland. We explore museums, memorials and many original, preserved places, such as Dornheim Church, Bach’s wedding church. In addition, we meet people who, often on voluntary basis, protect Bach’s heritage. Guided tours of organs, exclusive visits, intimate concerts and – for those who enjoy singing – sight-reading of Bach chorales during breaks round off the trip. In 2023 every tour includes a festival or a concert; we listen to top-class concerts in the end or during the tour (Bachfest Leipzig, Bach Biennale Weimar, Köthen Autumn Festival – Köthener Herbst, Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci).
We have developed a sustainable tour concept and pay our tour guides, musicians and local partners fair wages. The well-stocked travel package includes a full-service luggage service, packed lunches and selected, bicycle-friendly hotels along the scenic route. Upon request, bicycles and E-bikes can be hired. Bach by Bike is open to special requests from groups and individuals.
Overall, the classical music business in Germany appears to be often very traditional and slow in reacting to contemporary needs and creativity. So, I'm very happy that through Bach by Bike I get to meet festival directors and people who are open for this kind of innovative music performing and create great projects with them together, a win-win for us artists, for the festival and the audience.
How does your work impact the music ecosystem of your city? Do you have any milestones that you’d like to share?
We bring live music and an audience from all over the world to places where there is rarely music or where there is little attention for the great original musical heritage and therefore not many visitors.
We create a sustainable music life by bringing people by bike but also by involving all the local stakeholders. They open doors to hidden places for us, they collaborate for concerts, they guide our groups with their special local knowledge and they are always trying to make everything possible, because they know us since 10 years now. They know that our groups are really interested and want to get to experience not only the surface (like many bus tourists do, that don't stay overnight).
An example for an innovative collaboration is a concert we operated in 2022 at Wiederau, a little village 30 km South of Leipzig: we applied for a state funding, which we then combined with a private sponsoring of former Bach by Bike cyclists, and made the almost impossible possible: there is only one cantata by Bach who names a town in it's title “Angenehmes Wiederau, freue dich in deinen Auen!” (Pleasant Wiederau, rejoice in thy meadows!). We performed this cantata in its original place (for the first time in 30 years and maybe the third or fourth time ever) in a concert free for the audience, combined with a premiere in modern times of a Telemann cantata. The church of Wiederau gave the venue for free and we collaborated with a baroque orchestra from Leipzig. Speakers at the concert where our conductor (a Bach-expert from Leipzig) and an inhabitant of Wiederau. The local ladies of the church prepared snacks and cakes, and since there is no train station, the public was invited to cycle there from Leipzig and have a nice day trip. In the audience were about 80 guests from Leipzig, Berlin and even Munich.
What is the main challenge that you've faced in your work running Bike by Bach? Do you have any valuable lessons to share from that experience?
The main challenge is to keep one's chin up facing all the bureaucracy and financial difficulties of becoming a travel agency and concert operator and trying to make culture accessible for everybody. To not give up despite an enormous workload, aside from our work as musicians. We learned to take small steps at a time, while working out all legal issues of building up a company. Also, we learned to get help by specialists and pay for being sure that everything is made in the right way. We also learned to work on our own financial risk, never knowing if our application for a funding will be successful or if we enough participants sign up to pay for the costs of a travel. It is possible to keep up with a project despite of much uncertainty.
We also face extremely complicated logistic challenges while combining everybody's needs, geographic distances and opening times of venues and are dependent on our great collaborations (including cycling-friendly hotels, rental bikes, guides, festivals, museums…) because with a cycling group you never know what happens.
One of the biggest challenges happened when one of our ex-travel agencies tried to steal our name and idea; we had to sue him and defend our intellectual property and brand at court. We felt a great support and thank justice that we won the case completely and learned that it is worth to fight for your ideas.
What would you like to see discussed more regarding music cities topics? What do you think are the most pressing topics to address?
Music needs to be part of society, stay/get accessible for everybody and get fairly salaried for the stakeholders, especially the artists. The last point is a great topic right now in the German music scene because salaries have been very low in the last years at most venues, also when funded by the state. We feel the artist's views, needs and contribution to the music business are often ignored by politics, very clearly during the pandemic.
In Germany there need to be more music lessons at school, and in a different way. Our very rich music culture with the most theatres, concert halls, choirs and orchestras of the world should stay lively and must be safely supported by the state. Many people aren't offered access to music anymore. More music would bring peace to the humans and the world.
Concluding, we would like to stress the topic of secured state support for music institutions and artists and accessibility to classical music and live music which has a relevance for everybody. The support of an official Bach-cycling-route is one example to enable a new experience with music for a new audience and bring music to cities.
What are the most interesting projects that you’ve come across lately using music to involve the local community?
Cycling concert Potsdam: as a part of the Festival Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci, the cycling concert day is a great project at Potsdam. We were part of it in June 2023, performing at 3 stations during the day, and we were amazed by the cyclist´s crowd enjoying live music in various places indoor and outdoor of the beautiful city of Potsdam. We believe that a city can hardly be alive more than during this day with short concerts from 9 am -7 pm, with musicians and cyclists everywhere. Offering three different routes with a theme relating to the city (we performed at the route connecting the places of the Bach family) involving up to 30 artists in one day at approximately 25 venues in the city, including the park and castle of Sanssouci, drew almost 1700 people to take part in this concert, many of them not the “classic” concert audience with their children.
Orchester des Wandels: Forest Concert at Bonn, created by the “Orchestra of Change” a society formed by members of German state orchestras, dedicated to making the music business sustainable. The forest concert was open for free to the public and invited even families to listen to music performed in the middle of the nature, a place which many of the locals might have never experienced before.
Weserfestspiele: a festival for church music created in 2022 for the first time. Church music is a very important and traditional part of Germany´s music heritage, being of course mainly influenced by Bach 300 years ago. The Weser-Festival brought together the church music of many cities in the federal state of Lower Saxony, with concerts combining local musicians and guests. Their goal was to make church music come alive for a new audience, invite people to visit new places and to call to participate in music, be it in one-day choir or in a musical installation. They asked us to create 2 cycling tours connecting the cities of Bremen, Bremerhaven and smaller villages as well as Stadthagen, Bückeburg and Loccum in different routes, and of course with a concert in every city.
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About Bach by Bike:
Bach by Bike is a travel agency lead by two musicians offering musical guided cycling tours mainly along the places where Johann Sebastian Bach lived.
Bach lived in what is today Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. As a world-famous
composer, it is extraordinary that his life and work took place almost entirely within this
limited area. The tours include the birthplace Eisenach and are leading almost
chronologically to the deathplace Leipzig. Bach by Bike also cooperates with different music festivals who like to connect their concerts with cycling and thus with a sustainable tourism.
We studied together at the Music University of Detmold.
Mareike is a violinist with the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, a baroque violinist and member of Ensemble Horizonte for
Anna-Luise is a freelance mezzosoprano in Berlin. She is performing as a soloist in opera and concert.
We founded the Bach by Bike Ensemble, which aims to perform at (open air-) places where concerts are rarely taking place, in order to bring musical life to those places, if possible connected to cycling tours.
Connect with Bach by Bike: