We left Weimar on Tuesday morning after a quick visit into the town to say our farewells to the wonderful new Anna Amalia library and to see the latest progress with restoration work on the fire-damaged building.
One year after the fire
Renaissance entrance gate to Anna Amalia Library
The bright low sunshine made driving difficult and Jill had serious problems with her eyes – now fortunately recovered. We made our way south arriving at Bayreuth in the afternoon. It made an interesting change to see a town where the major buildings were constructed entirely from sandstone rather than the half-timbering of most of the old German towns we have visited. It has a population of around 70,000 and the town centre is laid out on a very broad scale. The town has had its share of cultural figures. Apart from Richard Wagner, Liszt was also a notable resident. Both are buried there.
Although perhaps most famous for the Festspielhaus, still run by members of the Wagner family, this stood outside the main centre and with limited time, there was more than enough to attract us in the old town. There are two castles, the old and the new – both in very different styles, the new one being built in the 1750s by Wilhelmina the wife of the Margrave (local ruler). She seemed to have held a very influential role in the town, being involved with the construction and management of the opera house, built in the 1740s in a flamboyant baroque style. She was also responsible for much of the interior decoration of the major buildings and seemed to have aspirations for Bayreuth to rival Potsdam. Behind the new palace lie lakes and gardens shaded by avenues of trees where we lingered to avoid the bright sunlight still affecting Jill’s vision.
The extravagant fountain in front of the new castle
The 18th century opera house in Bayreuth
The old castle in Bayreuth
in the Schlosspark at Bayreuth
From Bayreuth we continued a further 20 km. into the “Swiss Franconia” – the high limestone hills to the south of Bayreuth. These are pine clad and deeply cut by steep-sides, twisting river valleys. Four of these meet at Pottenstein where we found a campsite for the night. Once the sun has left the valley floors the temperature plummets and by 7pm we were very cold indeed parked beside the shallow, fast-flowing river Püttlach. (Nearly all campsites seem to have rivers flowing through them!) Too cold to sit outside but we felt very comfortable eating our supper inside Modestine. Yesterday morning however the temperature at 7.30am. was three degrees, there was frost on all the vehicles and the campsite was in freezing gloom from the high surrounding cliffs. We felt as if we were in the bottom of a quarry.
Modestine dwarfed by the cliffs in the Bärenschlucht campsite
Despite the deep, freezing shadows from the towering sides of the different valleys along which Pottenstein lies, we spent a couple of hours in the early morning exploring the little town with its collection of half-timbered houses and a castle perched precariously on a high rock. We made our way up to this and beyond to a lookout point with a weather vane and beautiful views out across the different valleys. The castle was one of the longest inhabited ones in the region and is still in the private possession of a local Freiherr. One of the residents in the 13th century was Saint Elizabeth, who moved there after being thrown out of the Wartburg. Here she was able to continue her good deeds helping the poor. We enjoyed a coffee beside her statue by the river and then continued southwards along country roads.
View up to the castle in Pottenstein
View down onto the castle from the lookout point
Saint Elizabeth looks at her home
We stopped beside the Main-Rhein-Danube canal for a lunch break at a little town called Belngries, too small to feature in our Michelin guidebook, but with its share of gabled medieval and renaissance houses, a striking church with bright green and yellow glazed tiles on its towers and many pavement cafes. The harbour area was very attractively laid out and pleasure boats and the occasional massive barge passed us by as we picnicked in the sunshine.
By the canal at Bielngries
We arrived in Munich in the rush hour but with Ian’s navigation skills we managed to avoid the town centre and made our way to Charlotte and Hans house in the area of Trudering without getting lost once! We have known Charlotte for nearly forty years since she first arrived in London as a teenager to study English and work as an au pair. She discovered amateur operatics and became a devotee of Gilbert and Sullivan, joining the Lewisham Operatic Society and meeting a number of mutual friends who will be following our travels here. For you all then, is a reunion picture of Ian with Charlotte. We hope you enjoy seeing Charlotte again and knowing we have been talking about you all with great affection.
Ian and Charlotte
Thursday 22 September, continued
Charlotte had to work today, some 75km from Munich so had left by the time we woke. Hans is now retired but goes out with his big lollipop and fluorescent jacket at 7.30 every morning to see the local children safely into school. Later he drove us to the tram stop where, armed with a joint day ticket allowing us to use all the buses, trams and subways of Munich, we made our way into the town to see some of the many sights. Munich really is a world city! When Berlin was divided, it took its role as the capital of southern German very seriously. Over the centuries the Wittelsbach rulers brought prestige to the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria and there is also a feeling of almost Mediterranean relaxation and enjoyment of life, with many people strolling or cycling in the streets and parks, and enjoying a beer or coffee in the hundreds of pavement cafes. And the Germans here do work very hard at enjoying themselves. At this time of the year it means dressing up (if you are a man) in short leather trousers, braces, pleated shirt, long socks and a hat, preferably with an extravagant feather in it. Women often wear the Dirndl - a full skirt, often with lace petticoats showing, an apron and a décolleté blouse. Once suitably attired they make their way to the Theresienwiese, a huge open space where the Oktoberfest is currently being celebrated. Originally held in 1810 to celebrate the engagement of the Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa, the Bavarians could not let a good thing die, so it is revived each year with almost a million gallons of beer consumed over the sixteen days. Of course we had to see it all! At first it seemed nothing but a rather large fun-fair with the usual hair-raising rides with their folksy decorations, noisy music and fair-man’s patter. Then we noticed the huge drays drawn by six heavy horses and bearing decorated barrels from the various breweries. These drew up in front of a series of vast beer halls which we found scattered around the edge of the fairground. We entered several of these to be greeted by a babble of noise almost drowning out the oompah bands somewhere amidst the sea of faces seated along wooden tables. A flurry of waitresses dressed in their Dirndls carried half a dozen or more litre tankards to the expectant crowd – it is impossible to buy a smaller measure of beer at the Fest. The atmosphere was all we could have expected. Huge pretzels (knots of salty bread) especially made for the fair, Eisbein (pork joint), sausages and Leberkäse (a sort of meatloaf), were enjoyed as people swayed to the music, waved their huge tankards in the air, sang loudly and occasionally became aggressive and were removed by bouncers, to the cheering glee of everyone remaining!
Star Wars invades the Oktoberfest
The Paulaner brewery dray
Gemütlichkeit in one of the beer tents
Generally though, everything was happy and good natured. However, by this time we were quite exhausted and, unhardened as we are to such huge quantities of beer, we decided to move on to a street café elsewhere for smaller servings and some time to rest. Later we explored the parks down towards the river before returning to browse the shopping areas around the main station and the town hall with its huge Carillon of bells which attracts visitors for its regular displays on the hour when little metal figures move around at the top of the tower.
The new town hall and the Mariensäule
Truffles for sale in the Viktualienmarkt
Eventually we were too tired to do more than find our way to the underground station and doze all the way back to Trudering. Once home we spent a lovely evening with Hans and Charlotte and enjoyed a typical Bavarian dish of chopped baked apples in a sort of spiced pancake accompanied by apple sauce.
Friday 23 September 2005, Munich
No visit to Munich is complete without taking in the Nymphenburg, the summer residence of the Wittelsbachs, which lies within its superb extensive parks. It is a cross between Versailles and Hampton Court, a little outside the heat and crowds of the main city. Tram no.19 trundled out from the city and deposited us by one of the decorative canals, at present almost empty and rather muddy, which lead up to the wide façade with statues, fountains and lakes in front. Begun in the mid 17th century, it was progressively extended for the next century or more. The main entrance hall is clearly intended to impress, high and with baroque decorations in gold framing, ceiling paintings and with large windows revealing the extensive parklands behind. The two wings that can be visited show a series of lavish furnished rooms in the baroque style and also some in the Empire style – Bavaria survived by supporting Napoleon and adopted the severe classical style then favoured in France. Perhaps of most interest was Ludwig I’s gallery of beauties, thirty six finely executed portraits of the most beautiful women in Munich, commissioned by the King during the 1820s from the portrait artist Stieler (1781-1858) and showing all ranks of society from a shoemaker’s daughter to princesses. Ludwig thought that outer beauty reflected inner spiritual purity (well, that was his excuse to his long-suffering queen) Such thoughts did not prevent him from having affairs with some of these ladies including the exotically named Lola Montez, a Spanish dancer, which caused such a scandal that he was forced to abdicate in 1848 - the year of revolutions. There were English ladies among those depicted, one of whom (Lady Ellenborough, if our memory serves us right) went through a series of lovers and husbands before marrying a sheik from Damascus and travelling with him in his caravan (a prototype version of Modestine perhaps).
The entrance hall at Nymphenburg
The gardens from the Palace terrace
The palace parks were laid out in the early 18th century in the style of Le Notre with long straight canals and avenues of trees leading to formal gardens or lakes. They were redesigned in the early 19th century, retaining the main central canal but replacing the straight lines with curving paths, irregular lakes and thickets of trees in the English style. During our walk different buildings appeared mysteriously among the trees, each very different in feel. The Amalienburg is a little hunting lodge elaborately decorated in rococo style, the main rooms with light silver decoration and lined with mirrors. Separate rooms contain elaborate painted kennels for the dogs and a kitchen with Delft style tiles. Further on by the large lake is Badenburg, a bathing lodge containing a pool with large decorated gold taps and games rooms decorated with hand-painted Chinese wall paper. The patterns did not match, indicating that it had been imported and hung, rather than being painted on the spot. Across the lake on a headland was the round Temple of Apollo and by the smaller lake the Pagodenburg, a three storied tea-house, once again in the Chinese style which was so popular in the later 18th century. A contrast was formed by the gloomy Magdalenenklaus, a hermitage deliberately constructed to resemble a ruin, complete with large cracks cut into the brickwork and rendering. The dark panelled rooms were hung with religious prints and there was a grotto chapel decorated with shells, corals and stalactites.
Rococo decoration in Amalienburg
The tiled kitchen in Amalienburg
The royal dog kennels in Amalienburg
Badenburg with a view towards the Temple of Apollo
The Pagodenburg from across the small lake
After lunch in the Palm House café we visited the Carriage Museum which also contains a porcelain collection. Unworldly King Ludwig II (reigned 1864-86), totally unfitted to rule, devoted much of his time to constructing romantic castles in beautiful settings but also produced a series of extravagant coaches and sleighs, covered with gilt figures and scrollwork. (Ian got scolded by one of the guards when his flash went off as he tried to capture one particularly splendid specimen.) All this was totally unnecessary self-indulgence as the Wittelsbachs had already amassed a large collection of carriages and were indeed a two-sledge family. The porcelain collection was amassed by one of the directors of the Nymphenburg porcelain manufactory. Besides the figurines there were many examples of tea services, often with a rich feel through the generous use of gold leaf but in a simple classical style which gave them an almost modern feel.
One of King Ludwig’s state coaches
After a very full, tiring and highly enjoyable day we left Nymphenburg through the woodland behind the castle. Our path led us directly to the Botanical Gardens of Munich which we had been recommended to visit. So late in the afternoon we had the place almost to ourselves and wandered the cool, raked gravel paths through woodland and ferns from around Europe to the fascinating Alpinarium. This is an artificial hill beside a lake where samples of mountain plants from around the world are grown together and include specimens from the Alps, the Himalayas, the Americas and the Far East. There are also enclosed gardens of useful plants such as edible or medicinal plants and vegetables. Another is of systematic botany with plants grouped according to their families. There is a rose garden of colourful blooms in front of the Botanical Institute where around the border we saw several black squirrels chasing each other. These we have never seen before although red ones are apparently common here in Charlotte’s garden.
The Alpinarium in Munich’s Botanical Gardens
When we arrived back home it was to discover that Charlotte had cooked us the special Bavarian dish of Leberkäse for supper. Despite its name we were assured it has nothing to do with either liver or cheese, being a form of very firm meat loaf of sausage-meat consisting of 60% veal and 40% pork, baked a crusty brown on top, sliced and served with fresh salad and salt pretzels.