Monday, September 24, 2012

Epic Deutschland Tour, Part 2: Walk, Wall, William

Following our two days in lovely Munich, we hopped on the bus to travel to Regensburg. On our way, we stopped to "hike" about an hour from a war victory monument/memorial to a convent. The Befreiungshalle ("Hall of Liberation") is atop a hill outside of Kelheim (not far from Regensburg) and reminds the visitors to never forget what made the war against Napoleon necessary and by what means the Germans won.



The whole structure is in a very classical style and was surprisingly large.



Importantly for a German monument, I found a list of things that are verboten: leaving the path, crushing cans, talking to your radio, digging up plants, climbing the walls, sleeping in tents, flame, throwing frogs, and bathtub-sized boats. Dog leashes are acceptable, though.


After the war memorial we hiked (entirely downhill) to the Danube River...


...where we found the cloister at Weltenburg.


This cloister (abbey?) is one of the oldest in the country, and maybe in the world, having been founded by Irish or Scottish monks around 620 AD. Allegedly-world-famous beer has been brewed here for nearly as long as the cloister itself has been around, but we found it more impressive for beating the Wieskirche in over-the-top Rococo extravagance.


The clouds pouring out of the ceiling give you a sense of how crazy this building is.



I find the dragon at the altar a nice touch.

The trip from the cloister to Regensburg was short, as was our time there. Regensburg was another three-hour-city on our itinerary, one hour of which is taken up by lunch and, for Regensburg in particular, another 45 minutes went to walking from the bus parking lot across the canal to the city center and back. However, in the 75 or so minutes we had to wander the city, we decided it was the city on our trip we most wished we could have seen more of. The cathedral, for example, is beautiful:


We also visited St. Emmeram's Abbey, with this beautiful tower:


We were hoping to find the palace of Thurn und Taxis, only because we'd seen but not played the boardgame before, but we couldn't get there in the time we had, so we settled for the abbey. St. Emmeram's was a Benedictine monastery founded around 739 AD (and is now part of the Thurn und Taxis complex, so we partially achieved our goal!). St. Emmeram himself (we just missed celebrating his feast day on Saturday) took the blame for the daughter of the duke getting pregnant (not his fault!), so they chopped him to pieces. He rests in peace in this lovely monastery...




...with a model of the building engineer keeping watch.


At the end of our time in Regensburg we drove to Bamberg, yet another ridiculously cute town in Bavaria (Franconia). It, rather a part of it, is called "little Venice" because, well, look:



My suspicion is that regular Venice is much prettier than little Venice, but I've never been. The colorfully painted building above is the town hall of Bamberg, built on a man-made island in the river Regnitz because the church ruler at the time of construction wouldn't allow a civic building on any of his land. It would seem the residents were resourceful. One cute part of the Rathaus (town hall) that I really like--the plaster curtain on the outside of a window:


Bamberg was a nice enough city, though one we didn't really want to spend two nights in. For one thing, we were both feeling sick at this point during the trip and the hot tubs at the hotels always closed before we could get home for the night. To boot, there was a huge festival going on in the city which was really fun, but got a little too crazy by about 10 pm for our tastes. (There is a famous smokey beer called Rauchbier made in Bamberg; it seems that everyone is sure to try as much of it as possible during this summer party.)

Other pretty things in Bamberg include our hotel,

the view of the church atop one of the seven hills of Bamberg,


a tour of the city center (Rathaus at left),


and a statue of Cunigunde, the wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Saint Henry II. Our tour guide implied that she manipulated the weather somehow to save Bamberg either from drought or famine or flood or something like that, but it's nowhere on Wikipedia. Rather, the Free Encyclopedia just says that she walked on hot coals and slapped her niece leaving slap marks across the girl's face for life. Seems statue-worthy.


We went to the cathedral above the city, which was pleasant from the outside.


It also had this tidbit that appealed to my inner nerd: back before measurements were standardized, markings were put on the outside of public buildings so people could see how much they were swindled when sold an "arm" or a "hand"-length of cloth. If you look at the three metal pegs in the stone, to the right of the right-most one you can see a hand or footprint. Apparently enough people thought they were being swindled that the marks are still in the stone. The other two pegs mark off an arm's length. I compared my arm to the markings and have disproved the theory that people a thousand years ago were smaller than me.


Inside the palace was perhaps the only modern art we saw on our trip: for the 1000-year anniversary of the cathedral's construction/completion/dedication/?, little plaster figures falling from the ceiling with flaming red hair. Perhaps they'll continue falling slowly for the next 1000 years?


One other highlight from Bamberg: we found the jumbo pretzels! Actually, we've found (and eaten) quite a few jumbo pretzels in places like Munich and New York City, but we were really happy to find jumbo pretzels sold by a street vendor during the party. Sara is giving a size comparison of jumbo pretzel and human face. We ate it in no time flat.


On our way to Weimar, we stopped in a little village called Mödlareuth, population 50. During the era of the split Germany, the wall ran right through this town on the Bavarian/Thuringian border, preventing families on the west (Bavaria) from visiting their loved one on the east (Thuringia). Even more harshly, those on the east weren't even allowed to wave at or acknowledge those on the west, even though they were clearly visible. Today there's a museum with a short video and a chance to walk around a still-standing section of the wall.



I'm doing my make-Khrushchev-roll-in-his-grave rendition of Singing in the Rain (it wasn't raining) on the Iron Curtain.


And the escape to the west!


The last stop in this installment, the beautiful city Weimar, most famous as the home of the German poet Goethe. There was a large wine tasting festival going on while we were there (I'm noticing a pattern), which made the town a little more lively. There was also some nice live jazz playing in the city square.


As Sara and I were walking around the city, we noticed that almost every building had a plaque for a famous author or musician who stayed there: Bach (JS lived there, F and PE were born there).


Hans Christian Andersen.






And, of course, William Shakespeare.


We don't think that Shakespeare ever actually visited Weimar, since is wasn't of any renown until the 18th century. Perhaps the Weimarians just like the Bard.

Here is the city's most iconic sculpture: Goethe and Schiller, together forever. Actually, Schiller wrote the words to Ode to Joy, the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.


We saw some pretty buildings in Weimar, but didn't do too much wandering. We were pretty tired.



We did take a tour of the Goethe house, which was nice but not overwhelmingly impressive. I liked Goethe's carriage, useful for getting around town perhaps, but not up to German standards of modern transport--I wouldn't want to take it to our next city of Dresden, for example. Stay tuned!


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Epic Deutschland Tour, Part 1: Palace, Puffball, Pool

Two weeks ago we got back from a truly epic trip around Germany. In 12 days we went to 15 different cities: Aachen, Bonn, Würzburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Munich, Regensburg, Bamberg, Weimar, Mödlareuth, Dresden, Berlin, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, and Münster. Tyler made this lovely map so you can really see how much ground we covered and where we were.


The trip was sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the organization that pays Tyler's stipend. Humboldt paid for a tour guide, bus, bus driver, all the hotel rooms, breakfast at the hotel every morning, nine other meals over the course of the trip, and various tours and entrance fees. Not just for us--for 32 other Humboldt scholars and Humboldt-scholar-spouses from Aachen, Bonn, and Cologne, too. So we got to spend time with a whole bunch of other young people from all over the world, most of them married, who are living in our corner of Germany. The trip was amazingly easy, but nevertheless exhausting. Of course, it didn't help that we started the trip jetlagged, having only been back in Germany for three days after our trip to the U.S.

The first town we stayed in was Würzburg, a beautiful little city in the northern Bavarian wine country on the Danube. It had several features that reminded me of Prague.

Exhibit A: Castle on a hill across the river from the old town, with a long white church on the hill to its left.
Exhibit B: Bridge with statues of bishops/saints/etc.
Exhibit C: Town hall with single tower and various fancy clocks.
See what I mean?

There were other nice sights without Prague equivalents, like this church.

On the morning of the second day we took a tour of the Würzburg palace, former seat of the Prince Bishop of Franconia. (People in Würzburg insisted to us repeatedly that they are not Bavarians, they are Franconians--and that the Bavarians don't want to classify them as Bavarians, either.)

The best view of the town is from the palace.

Unfortunately, cameras aren't allowed inside the palace. We saw just six rooms, but they were all magnificent and distinctive. The walls and ceiling of the grand staircase were covered with an enormous fresco that, as our excellent guide explained, showed the four continents (in order of savagery, from most to least: America, Africa, Asia, and Europe) paying homage to the Prince Bishop. The waiting room was festooned with elaborate white stucco reinforced with straw. The master stucco-er had to build most of the pieces--including dragons, curtains, garlands--directly on the wall. Because he used lead white to make the stucco bright and worked on the room for about seven months straight, he went insane and died shortly after it was completed.

On the original schedule we got from Humboldt, the only thing on the itinerary for Day 2 was the drive from Würzburg to Munich. I looked at a map and decided that since that trip would only take about three hours we were probably going to make a stop on the way at Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I totally called it!

We had about three hours in Rothenburg, and as was often the case on this trip during our short mid-afternoon stops, we had to spend some of that time getting lunch. (It was on the tour that I started noticing that the baby was making me SO HUNGRY. That hasn't gone away.) Rothenburg is a lovely though very touristy little town. Part of it was destroyed during the war, but it's been rebuilt in the super cute medieval style for which Rothenburg is famous.

Our first stop was at a bakery, where we tried a local specialty: Schneeballen (snowballs). These are strips of dough deep-fried in a spherical mold and then covered (and sometimes filled) with various sugary substances. We just got cinnamon sugar in the smaller size. Very restrained.

It was blisteringly hot that day, but we were committed to seeing as much as we could. In the main square we found the town hall and St. George fountain. Because Rothenburg is built on a plateau, getting water was historically a problem for residents. So they built a whole bunch of huge, deep fountains and drew their water from them. I don't know how the water got into the fountains, though. The brochure didn't go into engineering.

St. George stabbing the dragon with a long spear in front of the Rathaus.
We've now reached the point in the post at which I get lazy and start writing in captions instead of paragraphs. The pictures are the best part anyway.

Typical Rothenburg street with gate tower at the end.
"Here lived in February 1474 Kaiser Friedrich III for one week." It's apparently a big deal when Friedrich III stays with you, if only for a week.
Fancy gate tower. There are so many of these. The medieval walls encircling the city are still intact.
This is the Shepherds' Church. A group of shepherds built it with their own money outside the city wall. It includes something called a "shepherd's dance cabinet" which is actually in the watchtower nearest the church. Sadly, we didn't get to find out what that means, because the church was closed.
NERD ALERT. For Song of Ice and Fire fans: Rothenburg apparently belongs to House Frey, because their sigil is everywhere!
Rothenburg and environs.
View from a wall walk.
Next on the tour was one of our favorite German cities, Munich! We spent two nights there and did mostly non-touristy things, so we have very few pictures. In fact, the only pictures we took in Munich were at perhaps the most boring stop on the entire Germany tour: the MAN truck factory. We toured the factory on our first morning in Munich as scheduled by Humboldt. It would not have been our first choice of ways to spend our time there.

Cute truck from the early 20th century.
But after the tour we had a whole day free, which we spent in relaxing ways. First we went to the Müllersches Volksbad, a public indoor swimming pool complex built and decorated in Art Nouveau style. It was a nice change of pace from walking around looking and stuff and was quite beautiful besides. Sadly, we forgot to take pictures, but I found a couple that give you an idea of what it looks like, on the outside ...

Photo credit

... and inside. This is the larger and colder of the two pools we saw. It's a bit hard to see here, but the coolest thing about the design is the carved wooden changing stalls that line the pools.

Photo credit

After our swim we met our friend Franz (lovely to see you as always, Franz!) for fancy ice cream followed by dinner at a beer garden beside the pond in the English Garden. Tyler got a Maß (that's the name for the giant glass Oktoberfest beer mugs that hold a liter) of apple juice. He drank it all. Then he felt sick.

So all in all it was a relaxing and successful stay in Munich. And I've now blogged all of three days of our 12-day trip. Luckily for me, Tyler is scheduled to take over from here.