City events: Nymphenburg and Kocherlball, Munich

This week I went to a wonderful concert in the Johannissaal in the Nymphenburger Schloss (castle). It was one of a series of “Liedkunst – Kunstlied” (The art of singing) featuring Angelika Huber (soprano) and Stephan Lin (tenorio), accompanied on the piano by Tung-Hsing Tsai. The room with very high ceilings has room for about 100 listeners, the adjoining concert room Hubertussaal is much larger, for about 220 people. Both grand rooms belong to the oldest part of the castle, the “Brunnturm” from the 18th century, which even today houses one of the oldest mechanical fountain pumps for the large central fountain outside. It was also the home of the elector’s well-servant (kurfürstlicher Brunnknecht) who checked the pump regularly. Both rooms can be booked for events, many good concerts are given on a regular basis.

The castle itself is worth visiting, there are guided tours for visitors. In another wing of the castle you will find the entrance to a great museum “Mensch und Natur”, all about evolution, dinosaurs and animals, birds and human beings all around the world. Entrance is 3,50 for adults, you can book a birthday party or special group tours for kids with specialized Museumspädagogen (educational personnel). There is a fun shop at the entrance with minerals, books, mugs. etc. Downstairs is a large room for school classes with lock-up boxes for their bags and jackets.

If you don’t feel like being indoors, the expansive park behind the castle is great for a nice brisk walk along the canals. In the fall there are the golden leaves, in the winter you may go skating on the canals (safety depth permitting). Some smaller pavilions are tucked into the corners of the park. The Palmengarten Café is not far off.

Around the corner you can enter the Botanical Garden with its lovely café and terrace. Try to be there in February/ March for the butterfly show!

On Sunday July 21, if you are an early bird, you can try out the “Kocherlball” (Cook’s Ball) in the Englischer Garten at 6.00 in the morning. This is a tradition going back to the 19th century when the cooks, gardeners and maids had to get back to the mansion when the rich masters arrived from morning mass. So they organized their ball plein air very early around the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) in the English Garden. Naturally, you will want to wear your best Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses to fit in while whirling around. And if you don’t know how to dance, the Hofbräuhaus organizes free dance lessons to learn all the important local dances. Join the 10,000 others having a ball!

City trip: Füssen, Allgäu – near Neuschwanstein

We took the regional train, a two-hour ride from Munich, on a fine morning to Füssen. Passing the ticket window for tickets to Neuschwanstein, it is only a 4 minute walk to the center. Our group met in front of the Tourist Info Point at the Kaiser-Maximilian Platz. In front of the Info Point there are seven steles or columns with a loose basalt stone on top that dances in circles when the water is turned on. From there we walked to the old part of the town center. There are many lovely little colorful shops. Unfortunately, city planners have evidently not found any solution to keep the loud rumbling through traffic out of the center of town.

Our first stop with the guide was at the town wall built of river gravel from the Lech and wooden beams, of which several parts are still standing. Then we proceeded to the city church St. Mang (Magnus) who slew a dragon (= the evil) as shown on all images and frescoes. St. Mang ostensibly came from Kempten together with St. Gallus. It is legend that his corpse was found in a perfect state of preservation. In Rosshaupten they still have many traditions with horses, where he passed through.

The church is painted white on the inside, with many lovely frescoes and niches depicting saints and Biblical scenes. It was built by Johann Jakob Herkomer after he had been to Rome and Venice in 1717. The stucco was was done by Dominik Zimmermann and the altar by Josef Obermüller where you can see twin portraits on either side of bishops.

In the center you will walk past many enticing shops with beer, wine, clothes, ice cream, bakery goods, market halls, everything. Check out the wheat and baker’s fountain with the bronze flour sacks to sit on.

The name Füssen probably does not originate from Füße (feet) but from fons (lat: fountain) or fauces (lat: gorge). The fountain shown below is the symbol of Füssen. The tourists staying overnight are about 1.3 million whereas the city’s population is about 13 000.

The Sebastiankirche ( St Sebastian’s church) was originally a plague church and built close to the town wall with the Old Cemetary on one side, where you can read interesting epitaphs.

The Holy-Ghost-Hospital Church was built in the 15th century in Gothic style, but burned down in the 18th c. It was later rebuilt in the Rococo style with colorful frescoes of the Holy Trinity. The tripartite window was an idea of J.J. Herkomer and his assistant Zimmermann. The frescoes on the inside show the seven Christian sacraments, in the four corners of the ceiling yoou can find the four (in those days) continents: Africa, Asia, America and Europe. You will also see the seven virtues such as Wisdom and Piety. Holy St. Catherine is the patron saint of the rafters.

Johann Jakob Herkomer was a master artisan of marble, especially the red kind. Marble is basically limestone, which was a long chapter of the town’s history, as can be seen in the old limestone factory with the gigantic smokestack amid all the cultural ‘pearls’. In 1861 the factory produced hemp and rope and twine, now called “Mechanische Seilerwarenfabrik Füssen” using the water power of the river Lech.

Within the Benedictine monastery there are beautiful library / refectory rooms, many lovely statues, a tower with a view and many great exhibits of building lutes and violins. Only the oldest son was permitted to become a lutist.

Our last stop was the castle with its painting galleries and tower with many steps. Take time to stop in the courtyard to look at the painted windows and turrets. If you need a refreshment, there are several great ice cream parlors with gelato e caffè!

Special exhibit : Utrecht, Caravaggio and Europe

We met in the somewhat cooler morning to see the special exhibit on Caravaggio in the Alte Pinakothek on Munich’s Museum Mile in Schwabing. The admission fee is at €12 with no reductions, but the works assembled are definitely worth it.

Caravaggio’s real name is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the place his parents were from. Living from 1571 – 1610 in Italy, he is one of the greatest masters of painting light and shadow. Quite often the source of light is a candle or lantern, covered by an arm or shoulder, and giving all the faces around a beautiful golden glow and intensifying facial expressions.

Below is a video detail of Christ’s entombment / Christi Grablegung. This large painting is only given out on loan for a maximum of four weeks. Caravaggio also excelled in painting the muscles of the human body, the difficulties of carrying the heavy corpse to the tomb, the pale tones of the dead, the soft hues of the robes and linen cloths.

The map is one of Rome in the 17th century, the place all aspiring young men wanted to go to. There they could meet and greet other artists and copy their works – a copy was considered an honor in those days, although of course the ensuing work would have its own details, such as in St Peter’s crucifixion where St. Peter lifts his head before hanging upside down, one worker crawling under the cross to lift it on his back, the end of the beam hidden in folds of cloth unlike the original.

Many paintings shown here are by contemporary artists such as Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerard van Honthorst, Dirck van Barburen, Jusepe de Ribera, Valentin de Boulogne and more.

Below are paintings of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns and the two men who are pushing the crown on with poles and gloves as if this was a regular job.

Above you can see Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple of merchants and money-lenders. Notice the grouping of the bad people to the left and Jesus’ heroic figure on the steps on the right.

Below you see a young lady or a gypsy with a young man, allegedly telling his fortune. Instead she is stroking his hand, a pleasant sensation, which will finally give her his ring off his finger.

The last paintings depict two young boys playing a flute. The right one is carefree with a recorder and loose-fitting clothes. The left one is seen from the back, anonymous, playing a transverse flute in the uniform of a soldier. These two paintings show a sharp contrast between the two situations, which is why the soldier boy is turned away. The flute player loved joyous music before, now he must play marches.

The Caravaggio exhibition really makes you look very much closer at all the details!

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 Rose island at Feldafing, Starnberger See

We left at 9.00 in the morning to catch the cool air for hiking, as it was pretty humid and a hint of thunderstorms approaching from the west, i.e. France and the Atlantic, which is our usual weather direction in Central Europe, the others being the British Isles, Russia and even Sahara dust storms across the Mediterranean.

Taking the train S6 from any one of the central stations of the Stammstrecke, you are whisked down south to the Lake Starnberg. We got off at Possenhofen, next to the Sissi Museum. Sissi, the pet name of Elisabeth who married Emperor Franz from Austria, loved this area. She went for walks, horse riding, boating and other pastimes. You may know the movie with Romy Schneider, which consolidated her fame as an actress. There is also a Castle Possenhofen, but it is private property. You can peek into the garden and watch the fountain, but not visit.

We walked down the steep hill past the youth hostel to the expansive lake. Many are the spots that bathers use to climb into the cool water and swim among the fish. Some are grassy, some pebbly, some steep and some flat. In between you will see stand-up paddlers and farther on there are small and large marinas full of boats covered with tarpaulins.

After about half an hour we reached Feldafing (also a train station) and bought tickets for the ferry (€4). The tall, muscular young man pulled out the metal ramp, let us climb aboard and told us the history of the Rose Island. In prehistoric times there were Pfahlbauten, lake dwellings built upon stilts, dated to about 3700 B.C. Meanwhile they are covered by silt and mud, as are the ceramic jugs and other items. Signs and ropes indicate the area that must not be touched. They are now inscribed in the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.

King Maximilian II of Bavaria acquired the island and had Peter J. Lenné design the villa and the rose gardens in the 1850s. Later, his son Ludwig II would entertain his friends there such Empress Sissi of Austria, Richard Wagner and the Zarin Maria Alexandrowna. The single building on the tiny Rose island, the “Casino”, can only be visited with a tour guide, every hour on weekdays and every half an hour on weekends, beginning at 12.15 (€3,50). It is advisable to reserve your tickets beforehand, otherwise bus groups will have gotten ahead of you and you’d have to wait several hours or go back. Young couples make reservations for the Gartensaal for their wedding (max. 30 p.)

The gardener lives in another small house with a tiny museum. The roses, cultivated since the 1860s, have nice smells, many white and pink and red ones, with benches and trellises all around. June is the best time to visit. Some trees, beech and thuja, are extremely old and worth looking at.

When you arrive at the Glockensteg of the Lenné Park again, do stop in at the Strandbad restaurant and savor one of their home cooked meals with fresh potatoes from the farm. Then you can don your bathing suit and hop in the cool lake!

City trip: Augsburg, Germany

Our group met at the train station in Munich, from there it is only about an hour to Augsburg. We started with the visit of the St. Anna Church in the center. The main part of this 13th century church is Protestant, there are even portraits of Martin Luther at the west end, but the lateral church and the east end with the Fugger family tombstones are Catholic.

In the lateral chapel the ceiling is much lower and you can see wall frescoes. This shows that we are in the oldest part of the church. Note the Gothic arches of the ceiling. Different stories of saints and dragons are depicted.

In the main part of the church, the Protestant part, everything is larger, lighter, has an entirely different look. The walls have been whitewashed and only a few portraits adorn the walls. The altars and ceiling frescoes are still very Catholic, but the rest is mostly unadorned. Take a closer look at the red wax altar which was made for the church.

The east end holds the epitaphs according to designs by Albrecht Dürer of the Fugger family, bankers and merchants from Swabia in the 15th century, the ones who made Augsburg’s fame and built houses for the poor. This group of houses edified by Jakob the Rich in 1521 is called the Fuggerei, still exists and still offers homes to about 150 destitute people for less than a euro a year. The Fuggerei is not far from the center, within easy walking distance.

After visiting the St. Anna and walking up the Luther stairs to the tiny museum at the top, we went outdoors and walked through the streets and markets which were getting ready for the festive season.

Landshut also has a university and one of the largest and most famous institutes for ceramics with a nice park all around. Later on, we did a tour of the Schaezler Palais in the Maximilianstraße. It was formerly the city dwelling of the banker Benedikt Adam Freiherr von Liebert. The architect Karl Albert von Lespilliez built a small facade towards the street which stretches all the way to the back and has a long rear wall. You will find many unique paintings and works of art plus a wonderful rococo ballroom. The word rococo comes from the word rocaille, i.e. French baroque with curves and undulations.

Our last stop was the extremely modernized church St. Moritz remodeled by British architects John Pawson in 2013. We were very impressed by the simplified architectural elements. Stark white walls, dark statues, circular light holes in the ceiling and flickering candle flames create a wonderful atmosphere.

Not too far off you can visit the “Augsburger Puppenkiste”, the famous house of marionettes like Jim Knopf and Lukas der Lokomotivführer.

Paphos, Republic of Cyprus: Archaeological Park

We flew down to Cyprus at the beginning of November and had a very enjoyable week with lots of sun. It was hot enough to go swimming, but cool enough to go on day trips. The ocean was unfortunately too turbulent to go in without crashing into the pier, due to the heavy storms over Europe, but the swimming pool was fine. From most hotels you can easily catch a bus at a nearby stop and travel to the city center for a very low fare. Near the bus station you will find the entrance to the mosaics in the Archaeological Park (the reason why we chose to stay in Paphos). These mosaics stand on the list of World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.

It is advisable to carry along some water, as the area of the mosaics in ‘NeaPaphos is quite extensive. The mosaics, some in the open, some under excavation and some in the four very large Roman villas (House of Dionysus, Aion, Theseus and Orpheus), are very well preserved. The villas are usually built around an atrium with a proclinium in the front.

Other constructions have also been uncovered, an agora, the basilica of Panagia Limeniotissa – “Our Lady of the Harbor”, a Hellenistic-Roman theatre, the Saranta Kolones (40 columns) fortress, an asklipieion and a necropolis. If you are lucky, you can watch the archaeologists working. The opening times are from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm. Currently the entrance fee is €4,50.