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.