S: Germany and Austria - 2010
FC: Germany and Austria - 2010
3: Thursday, September 23, 2010 We left Philly on a clear, HOT, night. The plane was late leaving but arrived on time into Munich. A gorgeous day for a drive into the Alps. Lunch in Kochel-am-See: schweinfleisch und tellerfleisch mit kartofalsalat. Benediktbeuern Abbey: a beautiful baroque cloister surrounded by a graveyard, each plot of which was carefully landscaped with flowers (a tradition we saw repeated throughout Austria). No English tours or brochures were available, but we learned that this is the abbey where Carmina Burana was found. Then we took a funicular up the Herzogstandhof Mountain for spectacular views of the Alps, Kochelsee, and Walchensee. Dinner: schweinwurst and sauerkraut in a Bavarian restaurant with a zither player. When He played a song the diners new, a quiet chorus would fill the room.
6: Friday, September 24, 2010 After a hearty breakfast at the Gasthauf Hotel Waltraub, we left for Graswein, where we stayed for the Oberammergau play. A delightful hamlet at the foot of the Alps. With an hour before checkin, we wandered through the village: barns adjacent to homes laden with petunias and geraniums; stretching out from the barn, small pastures inhabited by two or three cows; an airy chapel with wood-carved stations of the cross. A little before 11AM, the tour hostess directed us to our guest house, whose innkeeper unlocked the door precisely at 11AM... German promptness. After lunch at the guest house, a bus took us to the passion play. The writing and acting were better than anticipated. The symbolic/typological approach was profound. For example, when Judas places the rope around his neck to hang himself, he calls upon the serpent to tighten its coils around his neck. When the whole town of Oberammergau spilled onto stage for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, I got chills, both for the pure spectacle and for the 400 year old tradition that was being re-enacted. Judas was played as a tragic figure who never wanted to betray Jesus. His ultimate sin was not betrayal but the refusal to believe in Christ's forgiveness (compared to Peter). The anti-Semetic elements of the play were purged; Pilate's uniform was evocative of the Third Reich. Oberammergau itself was tacky: overrun with curio shops whose wood-carvings were well crafted but uniformly romantic in style. The evening portion of the passion play was diminished by the lack of booklight with which to follow along in English. Back to Graswein by 11:30PM for a night of deep sleep.
10: Saturday, September 25, 2010 The Cloister Ettal, another baroque sanctuary... spectacular, but they're beginning to run together in my mind. It was built to house a found Madonna and Child statue. Schloss Linderhof: the only palace Ludwig II finished beofre his mysterious death. A haunting testimony to a man who craved isolation: a dining table for one that sank into the basement so that Ludwig wouldn't have to interact with the servants; an opera hall for one in a man-made grotto. Ludwig adored absolute monarchy, so this palace is themed around the Bourbon Court, especially Louis XIV. There was even a Versailles patterned hall of mirrors and receiving room/bed chamber.
13: A drive through the Tyrolean Alps to Schwangau, where we immediately headed for our hotel. The drive involved a harrowing journey through hoards of tourists climbing the path to Neuschanstein, which stands just above our hotel on the hill. After checking in, a drive back through the hoards to the Wieskirche, another baroque monument, this one dedicated to a statue of the scourged Jesus that wept. Hankerchiefs and other tokens of miraculous healing lined the chancel. On our way beck to the hotel, we stopped for another zither accompanied meal at restaurant frequented by locals. Bavarian peasant food: spatzel, venison stew.
15: Sunday, September 26, 2010 Up early to tour the castles. Hohenschwangau: built by Maximillian over the ruins of an ancient castle, high on a precipice, surrounded by swamps; a Moorish theme, reminiscent of the Alhambra, but decorated with murals depicting Teutonic sagas; contains a piano played by Wagner when he was visiting Ludwig II. Neuschwanstein: neo-Gothic; a Disneyesque, Michael Jacksonesque, throwback to a mythic German past. Beautiful but, again, lonely... far upon an even higher precipice, striving to be an island. Fussen: a lovely medieval town with a castle (now an art museum) and an abbey dedicated to Saint Mang, its founding abbot who slayed the dragon that had inhabited the land where the monastery is now built (he spared a baby dragon who helped farmers clear the land of mice, rats, and other varmints). A glass cross suspended above the altar contains a fragment of his sternum, along with the rod he inherited from Saint Columbanus. Another beautiful graveyard, once again with landscaped gravesites. They must be cared for by long descended great grandchildren. There were also memorials to the fallen of WWI and, even more poignant, to WWII.
22: Monday, September 27, 2010 Through the Tyrolean Alps to the Zugspitze, where the sun was brilliant above the clouds. Enjoyed a cup of Gluwein in the sub-freezing temperature. Drove back to Fussen through Germany for more shopping and dinner of geschnittene - rolls of spinach, meat, and pasta. Dennis had the leberkasse with an egg. To be a German chef, all one has to do is fry and boil. The food is simple and lacking in vegetables, but hearty none-the-less.
24: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 Innsbruck: a magnificent drive through the Austrian Alps, more rugged than Bavaria. *the Goldendaschl *St. Jakobdome: the central feature of which is a painting of the Madonna and Child by Cranach the Elder. Gold and silver rays emanated around it above the high altar. The pulpit was heavily gilt and adorned with angels, etc. The ceiling had been destroyed by bombs during WWII, but restored, with the exception of a 1950 painting of Christ on the cross and an angel with torn wings to represent the postwar desolation. *the Hofburg (which had been completely furnished and decorated to accomodate a two week visit by the Sisi at the end of the 19th century; also lots of paintings of Maria Theresa and her family of 16 kids). *the krypt of Maximillian, surrounded by bronze statues of kings and emperors, including Arthur of the Britons and another monarch whose codpiece has been polished centuries of fondling sightseers. *Wine on a rooftop bar surrounded by mountains. Dinner, the best yet, at the Ottoburg, a vertical palace owned by Otto. Dennis had the venison stew. I had the tafelspitze (boiled beef). It was prepared deliciously - with vegetables! The room we sat in was paneled with dark wood. *We had planned on an evening in the casino, but we were bounced for the lack of jackets, which made Dennis surly.
28: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 Up a valley northeast through the Austrian Alps to Rattenberg, a beautiful medieval village with a church containing a shrine to Saint Notburga of Rattenberg, the patron saint of servants and peasants who spent her life caring for the poor. The city is surrounded by walls and sits on the river Inn. The Augustiner Museum has a very interesting walk through the attic above the vaulted sanctuary ceiling showing how the vaults are suspended. Lunch in Kitzbuhell, a trendy ski village, then on to our hotel, the Hotel Sonnenberg, outside of Mittersill. The landscape was magical: green cow pastures surrounded by snow-capped mountains; a delicious meal of goose soup, Zweibelrostbratten (roast beef) and Jaggerpfaff (venison) with local ensian schnapps... for not a lot of money. The highest waterfalls in the Alps, with a vertical ascent of about 800 meters.
34: Thursday, September 30, 2010 Salzburg: our hotel, the Weisse Taube, is in the Old City, just of Mozartplatz, an incredible location. Te Dom was built in 1628 and is unique in its grey granite stone carving and sepia paintings. Monumental, without all the pink marble and gilded cupids we've seen so far. We searched through Saint Peter's cemetary for an entrance to Saint Peter's Church, but couldn't find it. Up the funicular to the castle. By this point, we were rushing and couldn't really appreciated it. We are starting to reach that cultural saturation point... but one more tidbit before bed: a violin and klavier duet in the marble room of the Mirabell Palace.
37: Friday October 1, 2010 A tour through Salzburg, including: 1) The Salzburg Museum: multimedia and historical relics serve to tell the fascinating history of Salzburg. 2) The Salzburg Panorama, a painting that is only slightly interesting, but enhanced by a computer overlay that allows you to see how sections of the panorama look today. 3) The Saint Peters Stiftkirche, baroque, of course, but earlier, with paintings instead of murals and statues that stand in neat rows. The tomb of Saint Rupert, the 8th Century Irish missionary who Christianized Salzburg. 4) A hike behind the Festspielhaus to the cliff above the city for spectacular views, expensive food and depressing modern art (by the way, we keep running into large groups of men who seem to be touring this town for some reason.) 5) A hike down to the Mirabell Gardens, where portions of the Sound of Music were filmed. 6) Dinner at Saint Peter's Stiftkirche. I had wild game stew with blueberries; Dennis had roast pork. This restaurant claims to be the oldest in the world, having served Charlemagne,and countless others.
42: Saturday, October 2, 2010 Munich: Waiting on the platform at the train station in Salzburg, we noticed hordes of six-pack carrying, drunk at 8AM, lederhosen-wearing youth on the platform. I assumed they were taking another train to Munich, or perhaps somewhere else, and was glad not to be on their train. At 9:02AM, when our train was due to arrive, one pulled up on the far track. Dennis and I had to race down the platform, down a long flight of stairs and up another - with souvenir laden bags - to catch it. The ride was tame, surprisingly, but we detrained into a pure mob... racially pure, and a mob in the purest sense of the word. We shoved our way through to the taxi stand. Thank God the revelers weren't interested in taking a cab; we had little trouble getting one. Thank God (and Dennis) our rather inconveniently located apartment was far from the madding crowd. I was so relieved to pull up to our building facing the bucolic English Gardens. After settling into our apartment for a four day stay (making it justifiable to unpack), we wandered through the part to the Chinese Turm, we had our first beer garden experience: hordes of men, and a few women, with liter beers in front of them; an oompah band serenaded us from the tower. Afterlunch, we snatched two of the remaining seats for the Barber of Seville and then did a walking tour of central Munich led by a Wisconsin expatriate, Levi. The tour ended with us standing shoulder to shoulder with the Oktoberfest revelers in the Marienplatz, watching the world's largest glockenspiele, with its mechanical re-enactment of some monarch's marriage replete with a jousting tournament where Bavaria defeats Austria. The opera: while the superscripts were German (which didn't matter since I couldn't see them from under the balcony) and while I didn't know the story, the Barber of Seville was completely delightful. A comedy that was performed amazingly well, both the singing and the acting. Also amazing were the number of children all very well behaved. People were dressed to the nines: suits, evening gowns, and formal Bavarian attire.
46: Sunday October 3, 2010 Dennis and I split up for the day. The crowds from Saturday induced me to head for Dachau... that plus a tour through a concentration camp seemed like an appropriate location for Sabbath reflection. The visit was truly sobering. Beginning with the administration building, through the "bunker," the barracks, the religious shrines, and, finally, the cremetorium. To be in a place where such suffering happened so recently. I choked back tears numerous times. I returned to Munich with some time to spare, so I decided to ascend the tower of St. Peter's Kirche. The view at the top is spectacular, but the stair were wide enough for two to squeeze past only with great care. Almost at the top, when the climbers and descenders were in a state of gridlock, I motioned for the woman ahead of me to descend, not realizing the man behind me was so close. I poked him in the eye. I felt awful and he appeared to feel even worse. After attempting to comfort him for a few minutes - what else could be done? - we all continued our ascent, but the accident made it impossible for me to appreciate the stunning views from the top. That evening, Dennis and I went to Oktoberfest. We wandered through the crowds, which were smaller than I anticipated but still more than I find comfortable. The crowds in the three or four tents we visited were sardine-like and loud, not inviting to a mob-phobic person like me. Eventually, we found a seat in the corner of an outdoor seating area and enjoyed a beer and chicken platter for $50, close to the most we have spent for any dinner. A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again.
53: Monday, October 4, 2010 Dennis and I toured the Nymphenburg Palace, the country home of the Wittlesbachs since the early 18th century. The Stone Hall, a grand hall in the center of a sprawling complex of wings and auxiliary palace was stunning. A group of school children was brought into the hall with their eyes closed. The teacher had them sit on the floor while she prepared them with Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Then she invited them to open their eyes and marvel at the architectural spectacle, (albeit this Versailles aping gets a bit tedious after a while.) Ludwig I (a dashing king) installed a hall of beauties, which was fun and included a portrait of the woman who brought him to ruin, Lola Montez. Also noteworthy was the carriage house. The imperial coronation carriage of Karl VII was nice, but paled in comparison to the gilded Rococo carriages, sleighs, and harnesses of Ludwig II, another monarch cast down from his throne for love (in his case of Wagner.) Paintings showed Ludwig being drawn by his horses, always alone in his carriage or sleigh. Again, haunting. I have never seen him depicted with another. In the evening, Dennis and I wandered the neighborhood west an south of the Marienplatz, including Michaelskirche, a renaissance church where Ludwig II is buried, and the Burgersaal, where a women's choir was practicing African-American spirituals. This is definitely the whites country I have ever visited. The best thing Germany could do to atone for their past is to get some dark skinned people in and let them frolick in lederhosen. Next, a tour of the gayborhood. Quiet, unpretentious bars and restaurants. Very comfortable compared to a place like Woodies or Bump, but perhaps that is my insecurity talking.
58: Germans: It's hard to make a judgment based on the city of Munich during Oktoberfest. I find them a bit brusque and disorderly - more like the Chinese than like the British. One can see where the cranky PA Dutch developed developed their attributes. Living in a city like Philadelphia, the cultural mix is so complex. Am I culturally British, German, Irish, African American, Italian, Korean, or Slavic? Probably a little of each, in a way that works in Philly, but may not elsewhere. Younger people, who have accrued less culture, can adapt more easily. In the latter half of my life, I've acquired to much baggage to be nimble. I can practice letting go of some of that, which is, perhaps, the best rationale for travel: it presses you to do this. But traveling at 52 is harder than it was at 25. It's foolish to wait for retirement to travel; at that point, it may not be so fun. 4:30PM: Nurnemburg was definitely worth it. If only I had known how much so, I might have convinced Dennis to join me so that we could share the experience and I wouldn't have had to rush back to Munich. Nuremburg is chocolate brown and gothic... medieval in a way I had previously experienced only in Sienna. A long, winding main street with cobbled tributaries just wide enough for two to pass. A wall with several towers still surrounds the old city. Churches there provide a welcome relief from the Baroque overkill we've encountered thus far. After zipping through too many churches, taking too many photos in the newer rebuilt after WWII part of town, my camera battery died by the time I got deep into the medieval part, closer to the Kaiserburg. | Tuesday, October 5, 2010 After visiting Ludwig II crypt at St. Michaelskirche, I caught a very expensive, but fast, train to Nurnberg. It left 35 minutes late, making the cost per hour of my time in Nurnberg VERY high. We'll see if it is worth it once I get there. Dennis has opted for the Alte Pinoteka or the Residence.
66: After returning to Munich, Dennis and I shared a quiet dinner in a nice bar, relaxing on a rainy evening, having seen everything we have the energy to see. The dinner came back to haunt me at about midnight, the first time in years I've thrown up. Wednesday, October 6, 2010 Got up early, with only a brief sleep, something that may cause problems this afternoon in Philly. We had an elaborate buffet breakfast, which I couldn't enjoy for fear of reigniting my dispepsia. Then we hopped into a cab for the airport, arriving a full four hours before departure. A great vacation, although the stress of returning to work tomorrow morning has diminished my energy the last few days, making me more eager to return home than I would otherwise be. Germany is greener and prettier than I had anticipated; the people a bit less formal and polite... not unpleasant or rude, but just not as kind as North Italians or Southern Spaniards, nor as polite as Brits, nor as beautiful as Parisians, but overall appealing enough. I'd definitely come back. It was nice to have a car through the Alps, but taking day trips by train from a home base is more comfortable... using Berlin, perhaps, as jumping off point for Cologne, Leipzig, or Wittenberg, for instance. The plane is departing almost right on time... German punctuality even on USAir. Assuming we arrive safely and the next year is prosperous, I'll sign off until the next excursion.