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. 

Ludwig's Linderhof - Ettal, Germany

The saying "great things come in small packages" rings true for the splendor of Linderhof.  This was one of the dreams of King Ludwig the Second of Bavaria and the only one of his three palaces that he saw completed in his lifetime.  Fashioning this snow-white palace of Versailles grandeur on the grounds in which Ludwig's father took him hunting on as a child in the Bavarian Alps, Linderhof is a masterpiece of a mastermind.  As the palace came into my view as I walked up the path to the gardens, I was a bit surprised at the size of the palace at first glance.  Ludwig wanted his palace of Versailles, but not of the size of the original.  He wanted to keep a warmth and coziness to this palace more than expansive wings with empty, cold halls, but still grand nonetheless!  From a distance, the exterior appeared to me to be simple, however as keeping to the ways of Rococo style, extremely detailed ornamentation covers the entirety of the palace as you walk through the entry ways into the home of King Ludwig.  Naturally, no photography was permitted inside of the palace, so I got my money's worth by asking the unsuspecting tour guide with complex questions so myself and my fellow viewers could have a few more moments with the priceless antiquities and artwork within each of the four rooms with a "functional" purpose.  Aside from the ornate decorations of the palace, some of the features we take for granted in today's age were some of the more intriguing marvels of Linderhof.  In example, the "air conditioning" system utilizing one of the mountain springs above the palace channeled to bring the water down to the Neptune fountain on the north side of the house.  From there, the water is circulated through a series of pipes underneath the palace to produce cooler air which is then pushed up into the rooms above via fans powered by the running water.  That water in turn keeps heading south and exits as an 80 foot geyser in the water parterre on the south side of the palace every half hour during the warmer seasons. Aside from having an automatic fountain and air conditioning, the genius creation of the "kitchen elevator" was not only brilliant but very considerate to his staff.  The dining table was set upon a platform that could be lowered into the kitchen down below, set with dinnerware and the preparations, then lifted back up for the king to eat his meals in peace without any interruptions.  Not only could the Swan King find peace in his dining room, but also the extensive gardens to include the grotto in which he hosted private concerts and plays in as well, mostly those of his admired Wagner!        

Admiring Alpspitze - Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Rubbing shoulders with Germany's highest point, Zugspitze, the pyrimad point of Alpspitze stands sentry over the valley of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Starting with the picture above and on the left, my first morning in Garmisch I gladly woke up with the sunrise to watch the first light of the sun strike the 8,622 foot summit with its light dusting of snow for the upcoming winter season.  Continuing clockwise, on the same day as the sun went down, I captured this shot of the golden colors of the setting sun adding to the beginning hues of autumn.  As the centerpiece to this photo is the traditional Bavarian farm shed, heustadel in German, which dot the Bavarian countryside in these alpine valleys.  Pictured below on the right is the view that lay before me on my last day spent in the Bavarian Alps.  On the left side of the picture you can see the cables of the bergbahn going up to Osterfelderkopf and that can easily be seen in the night shot as the bright light upon the mountainside.  When I took the cable car up, I was worried about the fog obstructing my alpine adventure, however I would say it made the experience all the more exciting!   Breaking out of a fog bank and seeing either the tops of the pines beneath become smaller or the moutain tops come out of their white shroud added a dynamic to the trip up.  Although I was not able to make the hike to the top due to time restraints, a couple of the descenders I spoke with state it is a phenomenal experience! 

Next time.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Church of the Holy Spirit - Heidelberg, Germany

Rising above the red tile Palatine roofs of the Old Town of the picturesque river city of Heidelberg is the iconic tower of Heiliggeistkirche, or the Church of the Holy Spirit.  As I rode the bus from the train station along the winding streets, this beacon was calling my name, but after touring in the ruins of the old castle first!  For anyone who visits this amorous city, I highly recommend paying the few euros it takes to enter the old castle grounds for this stunning view of the Old Town's beating heart: Heiliggeistkirche.  Once I made my way down the bergbahn from the ruins and out unto the cobbled streets, I answered that alluring call to the ancient sanctuary echoing through the steep valley walls of Odenwald.  

This being my second full day in Germany, my inner explorer was getting more and more brave.  For €2, I made the climb up the 204 spiraling stairs up to the viewing deck which is about two thirds the way up the tower.  The climb was not too bad until that last leg of the climb where the stairwell was clearly more accommodating to the average height about four centuries ago rather than my six foot and some!  That and I also had my pack on which made the climb more of a workout, probably for the better being I had just had three wursts and a pint of beer!  Although the view from the gardens of the castle are spectacular, I would have to say that the view from the tower is the best of the best that Heidelberg has to offer! 

Climbing the Tallest Church in the World - Ulm, Germany

Starting my fourth day of explorations in Germany was like waking up on Christmas morning.  As tempting as it was to skip eating breakfast, I am glad that I did not!  After becoming more accustomed to the ways of breakfast in Germany, I enjoyed my morning course of various cheeses with rich-flavored breads with perfectly smoked slices of ham and sausages along with delicious locally made yogurt with a mix of fresh berries on top... and at the persuasion of my hostess a warm coffee beer!  All in all, this was a great way to kick off the morning's adventures in the amazing city of Ulm!   

Walking the streets with a smile on my face from ear to ear, I made my way to the Ulmer Münster.  What was a quiet sqare the night before was now filled with the market-goers, musicians pumping accordions or struming guitars, and others like me - admiring the heavenly spire crowning the city.  Making a few last minute assesments from the bottom before entering the medieval doors to make the 768 step climb to the top only made me more excited!  After paying the 4€ for the ticket to make the climb, I saw that there was an organ recital as well that morning and added that to the agenda.  After wandering under the 136 arches of the nave and through the intricate choir stalls, it was time for the recital!  Unaware of what was going to be coming from the registers of the organ, the first to be played was easily recognized by most as Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring'.  What came next was a much welcomed surprise to me as the roaring roll of Widor's Toccata sounded through the nave.  While still jittery from the organ recital, I began my epic climb up the winding staircase, mastering all 768 steps - twice technically!  With plenty of views in all directions throughout the climb to take in, I was fortunate in having a clear and sunny autumn day while I wound my way up to the top.  Of all the euros that I spent during this trip, these four were worth their weight in gold a million times over as for the memories I made my way to the heavens above via this lofty stone spire. 

From Angst to Bliss - Ulm, Germany

After spending more time than anticipated in Ludwigsburg, I made a late arrival to the city with the first item to knock of the dream list to see: The Minster.  Stepping out into the bustling train station after night fall was a bit overwhelming and adding to that fact, I did not have any place to stay the night - yet.  Wearing my nerves on my sleeve, I approached the information stand to a wild haired woman by the name of Lotti.  In my best German, I pleaded for help!  With a big smile sweeping across her face, she saved the day!  Glad to help me, she made a few calls to some of the local hotels and hostels in the old town area.  I had been recommended from a friend to stay at a hostel on the Neu-Ulm side, but Lotti knew she could do better, and I have to applaud her on her accomplishments!  She found Hotel Stern for me.  Mapping out the route for me on a tourist map, she explained in both German and English where I had to go during my stay.  I could not thank her enough for all that she did for me as I departed into the night air, not realizing I would see her again in a few days just outside of Garmisch!  Following the pencil markings on my map, I found the Zuhause-style hotel that Lotti scored for me.  With the glow of the bright blue lights illuminating the front, I made my way to Hotel Stern's front door to find one of the coziest places I have ever stayed!  After settling in and tossing down my pack, it was time to go find the Ulmer Münster, the tallest church in the world!  With my camera bag in tow, I passed by the front desk and asked what was the easiest way to the church and the gentlmen chuckled "two lefts and then you can't miss it!" 

Sure enough!  There stood the 530 foot gargantuan shining in the spotlights under the clear night sky, towering above the winding streets lined with colorful store fronts and cafes.  Needless to say, I was on cloud nine as the tower bells broke the silence of the tranquil square below as my aperature took in this magnificent sight! 

Ludwig's Castle - Ludwigsburg, Germany

This impressive palace stands today as one of the most original examples of Baroque architecture in all of Europe, although I find the fact that this royal residence was first laid out to be a hunting lodge of Duke Eberhard Ludwig in 1704 quite interesting.  As the construction progressed, the Duke favored the area and made a few "minor" additions and made the lodge into an new principle royal residence. As the residence was passed down the line, the palace expanded especially under the reign of King Frederick I.  The King enlarged this already regal palace to a size more suitable for his status and stature being he stood at 6'11" and weighed in at more than 400 pounds!  Notably baroque in style, the influences of Rococo and Neoclassicism can be found throughout the 452 rooms of the residence, notably the two chapels and the numerous apartments.  

I highly recommend taking the guided tour offered by the palace, but in addition to that purchase the access tickets to the gardens!  I was fortunate enough to come to the palace while the harvest festival was underway.  Below is one example of about thirty creations made of pumpkins and gourds of all colors, shapes and sizes.  Not only is the palace one of the largest examples of Baroque architecture, it is one of the most complete in original condition.  After touring for the better part of the day, I highly recommend going just outside of the courtyard to Cafe Schlosswache.  There I had the best schnitzel during the two weeks that I spent feasting like a king in Germany!