Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kölner Dom - Cologne, Germany

Known to the Roman Catholic world as Ecclesia Cathedralis Sanctorum Petri et Mariae, the High Cathedral of Saint Peter dominates the sky line of the ancient city named 'Kölle' by the locals and the world by Cologne.  The name itself is derived from the Latin word for "colony" as it began as Colonia Agrippina, after the mother of Emperor Nero.  I first caught glimpse of this grand medieval cathedral as the train crossed the Rhein over the Hohenzollern bridge to the main train station of the city.  As one leaves the Köln Hauptbahnhof, the only obstacle between you and the renowned monument to everything of Gothic architecture is others standing in the plaza left breathless and in awe of its beauty.  Undergoing nearly five centuries of construction, the cathedral is a treasure of countless value to those who step under the world's largest church facade into the nave of stained glass windows of vibrant color reaching heights more than 60 feet, giving heavenly light to the choir that sang the evensong as I made my way throughout the nave.  After climbing more than 500 spiraling steps to the top of one of the spires, hearing the soothing songs of the choir with the pipes of the organs nestled high up in the galleries above, I can understand why the Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in all of Germany!  


Standing as the tallest building in the world for four years only to be surpassed by the Ulmer Münster a few hundred miles away, the Cathedral was laid out to be a place of worship fit for the Holy Roman Emperors.  Today, the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and the resting place to many how have served the church throughout the long history of the cathedral.  One of the most notable sarcophagus of all Christendom is the Shrine of the Three Kings.  The triple sarcophagus gilded in gold and ornamented with silver, bronze and various gemstones is said to encase the bones of the three magi, more commonly known as the Three Wise Men.

Climbing the Cathedral - Cologne, Germany

As one of my trademark enterprises when I travel now, making the climb to the tops of medieval church towers and mountain tops give an equal thrill and sense of wonder every time!  Climbing the 533 steps from the plaza ground below up to the near top of the twin Gothic towers was a tremendous and most memorable experience!  With a breath-taking view of the ancient city that began as a Roman outpost and the expanse of the river Rhein being crossed by unique bridges was definitely worth the few Euro!  The construction of the magnificent structure began in 1248 and continued over centuries until completion in 1880, surviving numerous wars from conception and after with the extensive bombing of the city during the second World War.  Today, der Kölner Dom or Cathedral of Cologne, stands as the largest Gothic church in all of Europe and has the second tallest spires following the Ulmer Münster, but the tallest of all Roman Catholic Churches.  The two giant spires reaching above the cruciform sanctuary give way to the church in having the largest facade of any church in the world and I would go as far to say the most beautiful as well!  

Making time in the belfry to hear the bells strike time is always a worthwhile stop, plus it lets you catch a break from climbing the stone spiral stairs for a few minutes!  Being the cathedral likes being at the top of lists, the "Dicke Pitter" in the Kölsch dialect or Bell of Saint Peter is the largest free swinging bell in the world.  Weighing in 24 tons, the bell is quite large as you can see in the picture above with people standing on the other side of the casing.  Aside from being a record holder of many titles, the climb to the top stands out above most as far as memories made up the winding ways to the top of this Gothic wonder.

Night in Minga - Munich, Germany

Arriving in the Bavarian capital city in the evening after spending five days in the quiet mountain town of Garmisch during the peak of Oktoberfest was quite the change of pace!  For my two night stay in Minga, the Bavarian name for Munich, was spent in the borough of Au-Haidhausen.  That borough lies just on the east side of the river Isar across from the Altstadt or "old city" of München.  Perfect place to explore the heart of the city and also a safe stumbling distance after partaking in Oktoberfest jamboree.  On my must see list for this trip after Neuschwanstein and the Ulmer Münster was Marienplatz, the true heart of the city and under the crowning tower of the new city hall of Munich or "Neues Rathaus" in German.  The city hall is heralded as one of the most beautiful municipal edifices of Europe with its elaborately decorated Gothic Revival style adorned with a manifold of statues of the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavaria overlooking the square below.  As I entered the square from the east, I was welcomed by the brick twin towers topped with copper tiles of the Frauenkirche and the aroma of fresh pretzels large enough to serve as meals!  After grabbing a bite to eat and a crisp local brew to compliment, I continued my night time adventure around the medieval town filled with sounds of music from accordions, fiddles, and flutes filling the air with traditional tunes.  The most notable musical experience of the night came from the plaza of the state opera house as two men in the traditional Bavarian garb dueled off with their accordions fanning in and out, trying to outdo the others symphonic rebuttal.  Walking down the buzzing and bright Maximilianstraße, I found to be a path of Bavarian history and culture.  Terminating at the Maximilianeum, the street is lined with opera and music halls, monuments of Bavarian notables and shopping such as Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Gucci.  The Maximilianeum was built under the instruction of King Maximilian II as a home and school to Bavaria's gifted pupils and now serves as the house of the State Parliament.    

After passing the Maximilianeum on my way back to my hotel, I found myself in the Wienerplatz or Vienna Plaza.  In the center of the triangular common space stands an important beacon of Bavarian culture "der Maibaum" or maypole.  The tradition of setting a 'may pole' dates back as far as the 16th century in Bavaria and is a deep running tradition for the area as the poles are painted with the colors of the state, white and bright blue and are adorned with symbols of the local trades and industries.  As seen on the pole on the left reaching high into the night sky giving challenge to the spire of Sankt Johannes kirche down the way.  But one of the most defining symbols of the city is the Mariensäule or Mary's column.  Standing in the heart of Marienplatz, the gold-gilded statue celebrates the end of the Swedish occupation after the Thirty Years War.  As the first column of this style depicting the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven as she stands with one foot on the crescent moon north of the Alps, has inspired countless other statues of the like in the German kingdoms since 1638.  Regrettably, I only spent three days in the city, but I can without a doubt agree with the many ratings of the city stating it to be the "most livable" and "most happy" of cities in the world!

Oktoberfest! - Munich, Germany

Walking under the Willkommensschild, or welcoming sign, to the parade grounds of Theresewiese, I was filled with the same excitement as the other six million and more annual visitors to the Bavarian celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and his bride Therese in 1810.  The grounds themselves are named in honor of the bride, Theresewiese, which translates to "meadow of Therese" and house the numerous beer tents with the capacity ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 seats for beer lovers from all around the world.  Aside from millions of liters of Reinheitsgebot abiding beer being served, the festival offers enjoyment to all with the carnival rides and games for the youngsters and shopping and activities for everyone.  All of that combined, my favorite part of the 16-18 day festival is the seemingly endless stalls of Würstl, Weißwurst, Brezen and two of my biggest guilty food pleasures - Apfelkrapfen and Riesenauszog'ne!  With this event being considered the most celebrated event of Bavarian culture, the traditional dress is a common sight walking about the festival.  I purchased a Bundhosen, which are longer and traditionally more decorated than the shorter Lederhosen, and went about the festival with my traditional alpine hat with the proper accent of pheasant plumage piece and the knee high stockings and Haferl style shoes as any good first-timer ought to do!

Of the fourteen tents that were scattered throughout the Wiesn, I made my way into the Löwenbräu-Festhalle with a few Canadians and Aussies that I had befriended out in the waiting area outside.  I found it interesting that the waitresses came out an selected the individuals that they wished to serve.  Being the tent I spent the day enjoying Municher brews in housed around 5,700 seats for beer lovers, I can see why the waitresses would like to choose who they get to contend with in the organized chaos to ensue!  

Seeing the traditional Lederhose and Dirndln (yes, Bavarian-German plurals get a bit crazy on occasion) walking about the streets that are filled with the sweet aroma of the Lebkuchenherzen, the gingerbread cookies with sweet messages of love on them, makes for an captivating cultural experience!  I also learned that this is a moment where Bavarians can let their complex dialect shine despite the wish of the rest of Germany who often are confused by their linguistic oddities, but luckily for me, I have been exposed to the Alemannisch ways prior to visiting! One of the common Bavarian messages you can find on the "love cookies" is "I mog di", Bavarian for 'I love you', but be careful who you give one to because it means 'I want you' literally but since when do lustful feelings come into the mix of consuming a few liters of beer!?  Speaking of liters of beer, the amazing feat of the beer-toting waitresses of the beer tents that carry the "Maß" which is a one liter mug nine or ten at a time through a mass of caroling connoisseurs. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spaten delivers to Oktoberfest - Munich, Germany

As I was leaving the festivities for the day, I did not expect to see this come around the corner!  A team of six Dutch Drafts dressed in silver bells bringing a well-stocked wagon for the Spaten beer tent.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Schloss Hohenschwangau - Schwangau, Germany

Standing guard atop a small rocky hill, the Schloß Hohenschwangau, or 'high swan county castle' in English, was the childhood residence of King Ludwig the Second, mastermind of Neuschwanstein.  The castle was built by his father, Maximilian II, from the ruins of the 12th century fortress of Schwangau.  Set in the southern reaches of the Bavarian kingdom, in fact the Austrian border lies between the forested hills above the castle and the rocky mountain tops at behind them, the castle was the summer residence for the family and the hunting paradise for Maximilian.  
I snapped this shot from the western outlook of Neuschwanstein in the late afternoon and was fortunate enough to still have some fog hovering in the valley behind the golden home of kings.  I did not have enough time to go explore the castle being I had spent most of my time in Ludwig's castle and the bakeries of the village below.   But, it is on the list for the next Germany trip!

Neuschwanstein - Schwangau, Germany

After gazing into beautiful image of this castle set in a winter scene in my grandmother's home, I had dreamed of visiting this fairy-tale place.  I will openly admit, I had been working out my plans to visit Germany since I was about 12 years old and Neuschwanstein was always at the forefront of priorities of destinations.  As the bus left from Garmisch and passed through the Bavarian countryside flanked with the momentous Alps, I sat in my seat anxious as a young child waiting for Christmas to come.  When the bus made a left hand turn to head south and passed the iconic Church of Saint-Coloman, I could barely contain myself for I caught a glimpse of the "new swanstone" turrets rising out of the mist.  Once the bus came to a stop in the parking area, my heart was about to beat out of my chest, firstly because the castle was near, and secondly, we had parked right next to a chocolate shop and a Bavarian bakery!  After warming up with a hot chocolate made with heavy cream (healthy as can be!), one or four pastries, and a handful of chocolates, I was ready to start my journey upward!  I had a few hours until my allotted tour time, so I headed for the Marienbrücke first.  Pictured below on the right, is the bridge King Ludwig had built for his mother Marie to enjoy on her daily walks through the fragrant forests of Bavaria.  For me, the bridge served as an excellent viewpoint to take in the ever-changing landscape as the rain gave out to the sun to shine on the white stone castle.

Now for background history on this mystical mountain castle, Neuschwanstein was the dream of the Bavarian King Ludwig the Second.  The King was a friend and great admirer of Richard Wagner and drew inspiration from Wagner's operas for styling this dream "Palas" of Bavaria.  After years of sketches and drafting how the castle would look, where to build it and how to build it, the end product resulted in this Romanesque Revival fortress set atop a rocky outcrop above his parent's castle in southern parts of the kingdom.  With the "swanstone" white marble coming from a nearby quarry to fit the majority of the building project, other stones such as the white marble for the windows came from Salzburg, Austria, and the sandstone came from the neighboring kingdom, Württemberg.  The cornerstone was set on the fifth of September 1872 and then the construction ensued on the colossal project until the "topping out" ceremony in 1880, denoting the completion of the structural work but the undertaking of the interior would remain unfinished even to this day.  At the time of the mysterious death of King Ludwig II, the royal living spaces along with a few corridors and halls were completed.  Having only spent 11 nights in his dream refuge from the outside world, the castle's construction would go on but lacking the grandeur that the Ludwig would have desired.  The king had used his private funds to build this dream sanctuary of his rather than using the public funds of Bavaria, but had to resort to taking loans as revisions to the construction led to more costs than anticipated.  In the end, King Ludwig II had accrued a debt of 14 million marks in 1886 and the one remedy the royal family thought of to pay of the debts was to open the majestic castle to the world which was the one thing the King was trying to escape.  

I visited the castle in early October, and in the time that I waited in my "express" lane for the tour, I would estimate eight groups ranging from 25 to 40 people would enter in the halls of the castle.  With that being said, millions had passed through the Square Tower's massive door to venture into the fairy tale castle among the towering Bavarian Alps.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rococo Wonder of Wieskirche - Steingaden, Germany

Looking out from my rain-drop spattered window from the bus through the rolling green hills of Bavaria, I was not sure what to expect from this small pastoral parish.  Stepping out from the bus, the rain let up as if on cue for me as I ventured up the path to a set of rough grain grey wooden doors. However, the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" could not be any more applicable then for the Wieskirche.  Entering into the interior of the church through a side door of the narthex, the splendor of this small alpine sanctuary unfolded before me.  The story behind the founding of this shrine is as unique and beautiful as the structure itself.  An old, wooden statue depicting Jesus on a column after being flagellated was said to be put in a back room in storage after years of service to traveling pastoral priests appeared to have tears shedding from the eyes.  Falling out of adornment, the statue was once again revered by pilgrims from afar as the word spread of this miraculous statue.  Two years after discovering the teary eyed Savior, a small chapel was constructed in 1740 to provide a place of worship to the incoming pilgrims from as Italy.  As the numbers of worshipers continued to rise, the Abbot of the Premonstratensians called for a more deserving sanctuary for the statue of the Scourged Savior.  The abbey had an answer to their call in 1745 for an architect for the task at hand and his name was Dominikus Zimmermann.

Zimmermann began his work on this magnificent masterpiece in the heart of the Bavarian Alps in 1745 and completed his work in 1754, leaving behind one of the most spectacular structures of rococo style from the Baroque Period.  As I stepped into the church under the striking frescoes above and the alabaster adornments crowing the stark-white columns was truly a heavenly experience!  The detail within the paintings with the stucco work framing their image and the wood carvings give true praise to the sacredness of the old statue that gave life and inspiration to this small countryside church of Wies.  

Beauty of Bavaria - Oberammergau, Germany

"Open to the World" - Slogan of town Oberammergau.

Nestled in the picturesque Bavarian Alps with the signature point of Kofel standing tall over mountain villages below, this quaint village is known for its beauty from the natural landscape, local craftmanship and people.  Along the cobble-paved streets are the world famous Lüftlmalereien or story-telling frescoes on the traditional style alpine homes.  Towering over the red tiles of the houses is the iconic onion dome steeple of the parish church of Saints Paul and Peter.  As I wandered along a few of the trails into the foothills, the steeple stood out as a beacon any time that I looked down below to the village.  Home to the world renowned Passion Play, the city has a profound devotion to their faith as they do their surrounding natural beauty.  With that tie, every ten years the Passion Play is performed entirely by locals with a cast and crew upwards to 2,000 people with the pristine mountain views as part of the background set.  The tale of the Passion Play begins in 1633, as the bubonic plague swept across Europe.  The residents of the small mountain village are said to have pleaded and made a vow to God if their villagers were spared from the plague, they would dedicate a play to the life and death of Jesus.  Seeing a drastic drop in the number of dead following their plea, the tradition of hosting the Passion Play started.  The production is held in each year ending in zero making the most recent performance performed in 2010, marking the 102nd session of the Passion Play.  

On the eve of the 26th birthday of King Ludwig II, a special peformance of the Passion Play was held just for him.  Four years following the honorary performance, the King gifted the massive statue depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the people of Oberammergau.  The statue stands nearly 40 feet (12 meters) tall and overlooks the village below as seen in the image at the top of the page.  As I walked along the Ammer, the glacial fed river that wends through the valley bottom to the path to the "Kreuzigungsgruppe" or the crucifixion scene, I was in awe of the sweeping green pastures, forested mountains, and curious cows.  As part of the alpine catholic custom of Gipfelkreuz, or summit crosses, the top of Kofel (pictured to the right) also is adorned with a cross bearing the crucified Jesus Christ.  I hope to make the hike up to that summit on a future adventure to Bavaria only to justify eating more of the delicious gelato! 
Above are only a few of the many Lüftlmalereien that tell traditional tales of Bavaria, children's fables known throughout Germany or even family histories of people of Oberammergau.  Another common sight among homes in Bavaria are windows skirted in mounds of geranium flowers.  While I ventured from the stone paver streets to the fores paths, I crossed the river Ammer and was amazed by the crystal clear water!  Knowing that this water came from high mountain glaciers, I can only imagine how chilled the water is but these ducks did not seem to mind at all! 

The Moorish Kiosk of Linderhof - Ettal, Germany

When I set out to explore this palace of a Bavarian king, finding a this elaborate "kiosk" was the last thing I imagined discovering while walking about the grounds!  Built in Moorish Arabica style by an architect of Karl von Diebitisch of Berlin for the 1867 International Exhibition and bought by a German railroad magnate Henry Strousberg.  Following the Exhibition, the structure was up for auction and King Ludwig could not out bid Strousberg.  However, after some time had passed, Strousberg had a few misfortunes and went into bankruptcy, not any bit suspicious on Ludwig's part in my opinion, and then the King finally was able to move this mysterious piece into his garden collection.   

The sheer detail within every inch of this structure was incredible.  The fact that it had been built in Berlin, moved to Paris for the Exhibition, then back to Germany only to be moved two more times until the final placement at Linderhof, and still is in remarkable condition to this day!  As a collection of various pieces, one of the most impressive is the Peacock Throne, which can be seen in the top right picture.  When I asked the curator what the value of the throne itself was, she responded with "Priceless... along with a few million Euro and a first born son."  Needless to say, this beautiful piece of art is unique in style and striking in the colors that the thousands of pieces of stained glass give the gilded room endless mystery and admiration as do the mountains that stand high over the gardens of Linderhof.