Coffin-style Violin Case

News Page – 2021 Spring – continued

History of C.A. Bauer coffin-style violin case as told by Colin McMechan

In 1969, my Irish father, William Cecil McMechan was given a violin that was made by Gottfried Blohmer, the grandfather of my German mother. This was the ninth violin that was handcrafted by Herr Blohmer who was the chief forester for a castle estate in the mountains of Saxony.

Gottfried Blohmer and Elisabeth Blohmer (née Timaeus)

Gottfried Blohmer and Elisabeth Blohmer (née Timaeus)

Grandfather Gottfried was very musical. In his spare time, he travelled from his work and home in the Erzgebirge mountains (the birthplace of the hand carved Christmas nutcrackers) to sing as a member of the opera chorus in the historic Semperoper, Dresden.

The WWII firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 destroyed my mother’s childhood home and its contents. The “Blohmer” violin, however, was fortunately rescued and eventually passed into my father’s hands.

I was a young boy traveling with my parents to visit relatives in East Germany when my father received the Blohmer violin and its coffin-style case. Pops was a bit of a daredevil in those days and took the chance of smuggling the instrument across the Iron Curtain. This is his account of the caper:

After World War II, a wall was built that divided the city of Berlin into East and West zones. Several control points in the wall were established to allow travelers to move back and forth. In 1969 Rosemarie and I went to visit relatives in East Germany, which was then under Russian control. When it was time to head back to the West, we decided the most convenient exit was through Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie.

Now, the relatives we visited offered us some valuable family items to take to Canada. One item of particular interest was a violin. This instrument was not only well made and beautiful, but also the last one in the family, made by Rosemarie’s grandfather Blohmer.

It was forbidden to take anything of value out of the country without permission, which was rarely granted. Here we were, determined to take the violin with us:  no permission, not willing to bribe – to bribe may have landed us in the clink – our plane out of West Berlin was scheduled for later that day.

The officious young Customs soldier was most keen to see how much West money we had spent in the Eastern Republic to ensure we’d spent the minimum required for our visit. He was so engrossed that he did not see the elderly couple in the lineup struggling with their luggage after they had cleared customs. Quick thinking Rosemarie, raising her voice objected to no help being available with their luggage. Turning to me she commanded: “You help these old people, Wilhelm”! 

It immediately dawned on me what to do. Grabbing some bags and the violin, I carried them to the Western part of the station. The luggage owners understood our ruse and discreetly waited for us.”

My parents have always lived adventurously with values reflecting a global perspective. Affected by separate wartime experiences, their marriage was an unorthodox pairing inspired by reconciliation, peace and justice, and rooted in a life-long search for truth as Quakers. My father became an electrician in Belfast. After his young and growing family emigrated to Canada, his trade morphed into a career in technical teaching that led him to seek work opportunities in the West Indies and Africa. During one such work trip to Tanzania with the Canadian government in the 1980s, Pops brought along the Blohmer violin and case. As it turns out, he played the Blohmer in Africa more than he ever bowed it in Canada.

When my wife, Catherine Hawkins decided to focus her musical interests on playing fiddle during the early 1990s, Pops placed the care of the Blohmer in her hands. We had a bunch of work done to the violin by Victoria luthier, Kim Tipper. Kim convinced Catherine to purchase a more protective case for the instrument.

Catherine has since played the Blohmer at the former Conservatory Fiddles and fiddle camps in B.C. In 2007, Nikki Chooi also played “Danny Boy” on this instrument during Victoria’s farewell fundraiser concert that we sponsored for him at Alix Goolden Performance Hall before he headed off to Curtis School of Music and a celebrated career as a classical violinist and concertmaster.

Colin J. McMechan, Shirley British Columbia, Spring 2021

Photos by Colin J. McMechan