The opera Das Rheingold starts with four of the double basses playing a low E-flat, one half step below the lowest E on a bass with standard tuning. In the sheet music, there is the instruction that the four second basses should tune their lowest E string half a step lower than usual.
My questions are: how is this done in practicality? Do the bassists tune one of the strings down, so that it is tuned in an augmented fifth to the next string? If so, do they get the chance to tune it back later, or do they have to keep playing the first act with a very weird tuning that must be hard for the muscle memory?
I have read that there exists a C extension on some basses, that according to Wikipedia is used "by most professional players" in "Britain, the US, Canada and Australia". I guess that this could be used here, but the Wikipedia article makes it sound like this is not a standard utility on most basses worldwide. Even if it is, is this something that existed back when Das Rheingold had its premiere? How would bassists have played it back in 1869?