Weekend trip: Weltenburg monastery, Befreiungshalle, Donaudurchbruch

We set out early before the sun would get too hot and arrived in Kelheim at about 10.00. This town of 1600 has plenty of well-marked parking lots, n°5 Wöhrd (green) being the closest to the passenger ships with n°4 Donauvorland (red) a bit beyond and free of charge for longer stays. We checked the departure times of the ships and headed up the steep hill to the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), an elegant and high rotunda overlooking the town and the Danube Gorge.

The Bavarian King Ludwig I had this building erected from 1842-1863, first by Gärtner, then upon his death, by Leo von Klenze. It stands on top of the Michelsberg to commemorate the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon’s troops. The different hues of yellow and cream are supposed to produce a certain color effect from the distance, much as an impressionist painting. The golden shields held by the 34 Victory angels created by Ludwig Schwanthaler are supposedly the melted bronze of the cannons.

You buy the tickets (€4,50) at the bottom, walk up the hill and steps and enter a turnstile. You can walk on the bottom floor, climb the 132 steps half way up or all the way up to the section that Leo von Klenze added.

After our visit of the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), we drove down to Kelheim and had an excellent lunch for about €12,- per person at the Weißes Lamm (White Lamb), fresh asparagus and Schnitzel. Then we bought tickets, €4,-, for the Archaeological Museum around the corner, formerly a grain silo.

After an hour or so in the museum, we were glad for some fresh air and wandered over to the landing of the five ships officially permitted to travel through the narrow gap, 80 m wide, between the chalk cliffs towering over the Danube. The little blue train takes tourists around town.

We paid about €12,- each for a return ticket and shoved our overnight cases on board. The crew serves delicious food, coffee and cake, beer and water and everything was very clean and shiny. You will hear a tape in English and German telling you that the current runs at 2.5m/sec, that the deepest spot is 20m down, that private craft may not go through certain parts, that one or another cliff is called “Napoleon’s suitcase” (left after the battle) or the “Virgin” or the three round boulders are the “Three Brothers”.

At the far end you can see the monastery Weltenburg, founded by St. Columbanus disciples as an Iro-Scottish cloister in the 7th century to be missionaries in Bavaria. The monks, currently 11, have changed to the rules of the Benedictine order. The Abbey grew to more prominence in the 18th century and a larger church dedicated to St. George was built by the famous brothers Asam (paintings al fresco and stucco) from 1716 to 1739. 1803 led to the secularization of the buildings which were reappropriated for the village, until King Ludwig I reinstated the monastery, which became independent in 1913.

Nowadays, after its big renovation, the Abbey invites backpackers, singles, seminars, families etc. to stay in its simply furnished, but comfortable rooms, dining area and cafeteria (€85,- for two). Among the weekend courses offered there is learning to paint al fresco and talking about Christian topics. And yes, there is internet!

You can also toss your cell aside and tarry in the church, stop in the shop for books and Weltenburg cookies, buy a ticket for €2,50 to see the historical exhibition including a 60-minute tour of the brewery, sit in the restaurant Klosterschenke (closes at 7 pm sharp when the ships have stopped running!) and enjoy a delicious Brotzeit with a Maß of beer (1 liter, the word derives from ‘measure’) or roast pork, a Bavarian specialty.

The Maldives

Originally we had intended to fly to another destination, but couldn’t find anything we liked, so we followed the advice of a colleague and decided to try the Maldives. We were in no way disappointed! We landed in Malé airport and a boat took us out to Coco, one of the 1200 atoll islands which form a large circle.

We especially love the climate, about 30°, mostly sunny, not so humid and moreover, no “climate change catastrophes” such as tsunamis or typhoons or earthquakes. The people in charge of Coco (my good friends) have transformed this island into a lush paradise of palm trees, flowers and walkways between the island villas and the boardwalks to the water villas, which are more costly, but worth their money.

Coco offers about 5 fantastic restaurants, cafeteria and à la carte, a beauty salon, a diving school, meet and greet evenings, a turtle research center, several shops, e-carts to get to the other end, a large pool. several beaches and many other things.

At the research center you can talk to the marine biologist about how turtles are often caught in fishing nets or plastic waste. They sell adorable stuffed turtles and the proceeds go towards the research. The corals are unfortunately also bleached in many spots since 2016, when the water temperatures rose worldwide. Yet they are altogether still in better shape than, for example, the Red Sea. Many are growing back, due in part to the efforts of the research center.

The snorkeling is wonderful in this clear green-blue water, there are masses of colorful fish, turtles, manrays, small sharks and corals of every hue. You can take boat trips, learn diving, arrange for a massage with aromatic oils, book a table and order fresh fish at one of the open air restaurants, watch the natives dance or just relax on a beach. Hopefully this atoll will now be flooded some day when water levels rise!

Open-air farm museum in Großgmain, Salzburg

We boarded the bus early to drive south-east to Salzburg in Austria where we were planning to take a tour around the open-air museum of beautiful old farm houses and sheds from different centuries of five regions: Pongau, Pinzgau, Tennengau, Flachgau and Lungau.

The tour with one of the family Fuchs lasts about one and a half hours and the walk can be extended to seven kilometers around the farm houses and up the hill to the Alm houses. You can also board the little train that chugs all around the terrain and has several stops, free of extra charge (currently 11,-€).

In the entrance area and in the General Goods Shop you can buy all sorts of books, guides, souvenirs and local produce such as walnut liqueur, old-fashioned sweets, household appliances, postcards and the like.

a lovely 17th century house
a Hanichl fence: dried fir branches cut to measure
a balcony is a Hausgang here – note the wooden shingles on the walls
thriving plants like fennel, lettuce, beetroot, onions, carrots, herbs like parsley, sage and thyme and flowers like aquilegia, phlox, sunflowers, lilies, tagetes, zinnias, lemon balm/ melissa, forget-me-nots, also currants and boxtree
the hole in the box-seat is for chickens to get inside in the winter
nails were too expensive to forge to save the split shingles from a storm, so long poles and heavy stones would keep them in place
this stone wall is gaily decorated with swirls and “trees” made with black stones on white

Our treat after alle the walking and trying to remember all the construction details was heading back to Ruhpolding to the Windbeutelgräfin and ordering from a long list of cakes and Windbeutel – puff pastries full of whipped cream / ice cream / fruit / eggnog. Each was decorated as a Lohengrin swan and absolutely gigantic. There are tables indoors and out, display cases with doll houses, Mozart busts and flower stencils all around, quite picturesque and worth a stop!

City trip: Passau in Bavaria

Passau is a small town in Lower Bavaria, well-known for its geographical situation at the confluence of three different rivers in three different colors : the Danube (Donau) which sometimes reflects the blue sky, the black peat swirled in by the (schwarze) Ilz and the green Inn. As you can tell in the photos, we visited just when it had rained a lot and many roads and passageways were flooded, so the river water had more of a muddy hue.

The buttresses (arc-boutants) over the narrow alleyways between the buildings actually support the walls on either side. Older walls have flowers growing out from between stones and some wooden doors show elaborate carvings. The alleys lead up from the waterside to the higher areas of the town. The colorful cobblestones are part of an art project leading to different ateliers; just recently the Passauer had their first Art Event. Passau boasts a Modern Art Museum, the Cathedral Museum, a Roman Museum and a wonderful Glass Museum near the Rathaus.

The Gothic facade of the Rathaus (Town hall) is a kind of trompe-l’oeil: behind it eight smaller buildings are hidden. Formerly lovebirds had to climb up and down stairs trying to find the Justice of the Peace. Nowadays lovers can find his door much more easily in the adjacent new building on the right of the plaza.

The Cathedral /Dom St. Stephen is the original of the diocese St. Stephen in Vienna. Burned down in 1622, it was rebuilt by the baroque architect Carlo Lurago , the stucco by G.B. Carlone and the frescoes by C. Tencalla. Visitors can walk into the courtyard and buy a ticket for €5 for the 11.00 or 12.00 concerts. The magnificent music is played by one of the eight organists on the largest organ in the world. It consists of five different sized organs in the choir loft, the fifth is ensconced in the vault. From the bottom you can only see some small holes in the ceiling. All of the 17,974 pipes and 233 stops have meanwhile been coordinated into the central console. So one organist can play any one organ from his bench up in the choir.

For very good lunch with a great view we drove up the hill to the Brauerei Hacklberg (brewery). Mine was pork filet with noodles and a crème bavaroise with raspberry fluff for dessert. They have many rooms, a large beer garden, a shop and brewery tours.

After lunch we headed down again and walked around building due to the fact that the walkways were flooded to the boat dock. Seeing Passau from the water with a cup of coffee is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Our last stop was the fortress Veste Oberhaus. Unfortunately our bus chose the wrong road and in the first especially steep and winding curve we got stuck with white smoke billowing out of the motor vent. Our driver carefully inched back down close to the precipice and we all started breathing again when he backed into a forest road and turned to go find a regular street leading up the hill.

At the top of the hill there are a youth hostel, football fields and other buildings. One group was doing a drama course with a “freeze” game. The fortress has a tower to climb (or take an elevator) and a large, sunny terrace café with a birds-eye view of Passau and its confluence of three rivers.

Quick and healthy: asparagus with potatoes and ham

Here in Central Europe May is the month of asparagus and strawberries and rhubarb! In France they tend to eat more of the green kind that is only peeled at the bottom end. Here in Germany both kinds are sold, but the fat, white stalks are the most common, from Pörnbach, Abensberg or Schrobenhausen, although they are also sent up from Greece. The first ones arrive in April and the last harvest is traditionally towards the 24th June, Johannistag (St. John’s).

One kilogram usually costs about €12. I’d suggest buying about 5-6 stalks per person. I use a special peeler (cf. photo) and peel first the ends, then the top end while staying away from the shoot which doesn’t necessitate anything. The yellowish in-between layer must also be peeled away. Then the bottom end is cut off, a little more if the end is tough.

My asparagus are cooked in a large skillet, but professionals use special cylindrical pots so the bottom is cooked longer than the bud. I cook mine for approximately 10-11 minutes in salted water, some people add in a bit of sugar, some like them more al dente and cook them a minute less.

Meanwhile wash some potatoes with flaky skin and cooked them in salt water for about 20 minutes depending on their size. I poke them after 18 minutes or so to check the degree of softness.

You can make your own sauce hollandaise out of butter, shallots, egg yolks, vinegar, salt & pepper, whisked creamy in a bain-marie. Or you simply buy a packet of sauce hollandaise, also as fat-reduced, and heat it along with the asparagus, adding a splash of lemon.

Delicious accompaniments are cooked honey, smoked, lemon-pepper or serrano ham, also small veal scallops or beef tournedos.

Strawberry-rhubarb delight

This cake is light and refreshing, just the thing for a warm summer day. You will need some time in between the different steps of making it, but you can space it out and do other things, as each step is fairly quick. Here in Germany the strawberry and rhubarb season is from May to June 24th, St. John’s Day or summer solstice. After that you should no longer cut the rhubarb stalks.

If I am hard pressed for time, I buy a Biskuitboden at the supermarket. You can also bake the cake layer:

  • beat 3 eggs light and fluffy
  • slowly add 125 g sugar until the batter stiffens
  • carefully fold in 125 g flour, 75 g starch and 1 tsp. baking powder
  • bake at 175°C on the 2nd lowest rack for about 18-22 minutes

Meanwhile peel 3-4 rhubarb stalks, cut off the ends, cut into pieces and gently heat them with the juice of half a lemon and 150 g sugar for about 8 minutes until tender.

Pull the pot from the stove and add in 500 g strawberries, washed and without leaves, cut in half if you wish.

Take a packet of gelatine which has soaked for ten minutes in 3-4 Tbsp. of water or juice and stir the gelatine into the warm (not hot!) fruit. Let the fruit and gelatine cool until almost cold and not quite jellied.

Whip 300-400 ml heavy cream, add in some sugar if you wish. Fold the whipped cream into the cold fruit. Pour the fruit and cream onto the cake layer with a cake ring placed firmly on top. Put the cake into the fridge and let the fruit topping set over night.

Enjoy with hot coffee or iced tea!

A walk along lake Starnberg : from Tutzing to Seeshaupt

We set out with about 40 participants to walk approx. 12 km (7.5 miles) around Lake Starnberg near the German Alps. The reason there are so many lakes at the foot of the Alps is because the glaciers moved down and ground out many depressions and moraines which gradually filled up with water, rocks and pebbles. (Anecdote: when Napoleon and Montgelas came to Munich, they would have liked to clear the pebbles out of the river Isar, only they couldn’t, as they continually wash down from the Alps.)

Our walk started in Tutzing, down to the swimming areas, on a path winding past houses and through high hedges, sometimes along the main road. The famous Buchheim Museum is here at the water’s edge, with interesting modern art and sculptures.

Most often we walked through lovely parks like the Bernrieder Park with blooming meadows, very old oak trees, a babbling brook, at times a wooden bench near a path leading down to the water.

Wilhelmina Busch-Woods, an heiress of a brewery (Anheuser) in St. Louis, Mississippi, bought large parts of Baron von Wendland’s property near Bernried. She and her first husband owned two large farms with horses, she had her own ship and finally furnished a small castle with antiques in Höhenried. Oh, not to forget, she accumulated three husbands as well. She later created a Foundation to allow the general public to walk through her Bernrieder park after her death in 1952.

When we finally reached Seeshaupt at the south end after three hours of walking, we were quite happy to enter the restaurant for a very good lunch. I had a look at the small church nearby with its light yellow and white hues.

We then drove on to Gut Kerschlach, a very large farm with many horses, dog training, horse carriage rides, meadows, gardens, an empty specialty shop, sausage production, a bakery and a large café. As we were tired from our long walk, we were especially glad of the coffee and cakes on offer!