Romanesque and Gothic South Bohemia Diary

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

I went on another tour with the Czech travel agency arsviva at the beginning of May in 2014, this time concentrating on Romanesque and Gothic architecture in south Bohemia. We would explore many churches in villages, and I would finally see more than the bus station in Písek. After so many years in the country, I had seen all the most popular sights. I yearned always to always something new, something that would give me a new perspective on life and art, and I thought that traveling to Romanesque and Gothic churches in villages and visiting Gothic castles would be just the way to do that.
First we stopped in the village of Mirotice, which happens to have two main squares. Most villages have only one. The bus stopped across from the new town hall, which was only about 50 years old. We walked to St. Giles’ Church, Romanesque in style. There are not many churches in south Bohemia with Romanesque features. It hailed from the middle of the 12th century. I admired the lattice Romanesque window on the tower.

St. Giles' Church, Mirotice

St. Giles’ Church, Mirotice

The church had an intriguing past. In 1497 the worshippers had been of the Utraquist faith, who had been Hussites asserting that both the bread and wine should be given to worshippers during the Eucharist, but from 1664 to 1694 Catholics had prayed there. I recalled that the Utraquist branch of Hussites had triumphed over the radical Hussites during the 15th century Hussite wars.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to go inside (we would visit the interiors of most of the churches on our itinerary, though, thanks to our guide), but a Baroque makeover occurred in 1694. PseudoRomanesque reconstruction followed, from 1870 to 1872. I loved seeing elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It amazed me how Romanesque and Gothic elements could survive so many centuries, through all the trials and tribulations of Czech history.
Then we meandered along some narrow cobblestone streets to a museum on the site of the former building where artist Mikuláš Aleš had been born. Aleš had made a name for himself as one of the top 19th century Czech painters and illustrators, among other accomplishments. It fascinated me that in such a small village there could be any intriguing sights, let alone two. I felt as if the village was revealing its secrets to me.

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The next church we visited was dramatically perched on a hill by itself rather than in the midst of a village. The Church of Saint James the Greater in Čížová boasted a ground plan with early Gothic masonry and Late Gothic supporting pillars. It had never had a tower, which was an oddity. Baroque decoration greeted visitors inside, but we did not have the chance to see this interior. The churches we were visiting were not open for the general public. It was difficult to obtain official permission, so that someone would open them for us. Just seeing the exterior was breathtaking enough. And later we would see many interiors.
There is another intriguing feature of the church as well. The tombstones of Knight Ludvík Lorecký and his two sons, who were murdered by serfs in 1571, are in the church. I wondered if the serfs had revolted because they were hungry or overworked. I wondered who the knight and his sons were. Did they hail from this village or did they just happen to die here? How did Lorecký become a knight? Were his two sons knights, too? How old were they when they died? I fascinated me how so many questions could arise from a church in such a small town.

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

I was very excited about the next stop, the town of Písek, where I had only been at the bus station. For many years I had wanted to explore Písek, but I just never had the time or had never made the time. Actually, I had been under the impression that there was not much to see except for the Stone Bridge that was the oldest bridge in the country, even older than the Charles Bridge in Prague. In Central Europe only Regensburg’s bridge was older. I fondly recalled my several days discovering stunning medieval architecture and visiting a lavish palace in Regensburg not that long ago.
Písek’s history may go back to the 12th century. There was a castle in Písek, built by Czech King Wenceslas (Václav) I, before the middle of the 13th century. The town was first mentioned in writing during 1243. During the Middle Ages, in the 14th century, Písek prospered because gold was found there. Wenceslas’ son Přemysl Otakar II continued to expand the town during the 13th century, and Písek also played a significant role in the Czech lands under Charles IV’s rule during the 14th century. Czech kings often stayed in Písek.
In the 15th century, during the Hussite wars which were fought between various branches of Hussites, with monarchs helping out the moderate Hussites, Písek was controlled by the Hussites, followers of Bohemian priest and reformer Jan Hus who were battling against the moderate Hussites and other world powers, until 1452. The town flourished during the 16th century, becoming very wealthy.
During the Bohemian Revolt from 1618 to 1621, the town supported the Protestants, who lost to the Catholics, so Písek was severely punished. (Some of the Protestant nobles had protested when the staunchly Catholic Ferdinand of Styria became King of Bohemia, triggering the revolt.)

Buildings on a square in Písek

Buildings on a square in Písek

The 18th century brought the plague while during the 19th century there were more positive developments, namely the National Revival, a cultural movement promoting the Czech language, Czech culture and Czech nationalism. More Czech cultural groups and Czech schools were built during that golden age.
Písek focused on industrialization during the second half of the 19th century and even holds the honor of being the first Czech town with permanently installed electric public lighting. While Písek experienced rosy days during the democratic First Republic, the tragic era of Nazi rule followed. On May 6, 1945, the US army liberated Písek. Under Communism factories dotted the town. Písek was badly damaged during the 2002 floods that ravaged the country.

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

First, we visited the deanery’s Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, which hails from the second half of the 13th century and was constructed as a pseudobasilicia with three naves and a five-sided presbytery. Its tower reaches 72 meters. Inside there was an astounding 18th century Baroque chapel dedicated to John of Nepomuk, a Bohemian saint who drowned in the Vltava River, murdered on the order of King Wenceslas in 1393. Above the altar in this chapel I saw vedutas of the town.

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The main altar of the church was Neo-Gothic, from the 19th century. A copy of the statue referred to as the Písek Madonna was located on a side altar. The original, dating back to the 15th century, was stolen in 1975. The pulpit hailed from 1887, and its six-sided cover featured sculptures of five angels. I noticed that one was holding a harp and another was playing the flute. The organ loft went all the way back to the beginning of the 16th century, while the organ was much younger, dating from the early 20th century. I also admired the richly carved 17th century Baroque candelabras. The pewter baptismal font was in Renaissance style, from 1587.

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

There were many Gothic characteristics of the church as well. It boasted sturdy, early Gothic ribs and portals. The presbytery, the northern tower and the three naves hailed from the second part of the 13th century, and the sacristy dated from around 1300 while the southern tower could be traced back to 1489. One of the windows was forged in the 13th century. The Gothic wall paintings were spectacular. I could hardly believe that they dated from around 1270. I peered closely at the 13th century rendition of a suffering Christ with figures of angels carrying a cross, nails, scourge and a crown of thorns. The triumphal arch was painted during the first part of the 14th century.

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Some participants followed the guide to the castle, but I joined a group of women to get a bite to eat. We found a basement pub with cozy wood paneling. After lunch we walked through the town for a short while. I noticed a small Renaissance church with amazing sgraffito on one of the three main squares. It was called The Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross and had a very short tower. The church was all that was left of a monastery founded at the same time as the town itself. It had been destroyed in 1419 during the Hussite wars, when Písek was full of Hussite supporters. Unfortunately, it was not possible to walk through the church; we had to look through a grille. Still, the interior was more than impressive.

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Plague Column nearby hailed from 1715 and was crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary with a total of nine saints making appearances. The town hall was Late Baroque, built from 1740 to 1750. We did not have much time before we had to meet at the Holy Trinity Church in the cemetery park, but we did get a quick look at the medieval castle, now a museum with a variety of exhibits. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when, so many centuries ago, King John the Blind (Jan Lucemberský) declared Písek a free royal town at this very castle. (By the way, there was nothing wrong with John the Blind’s sight. The term “the blind” refers to “fighting blindly” or not giving up.)

The castle in Písek

The castle in Písek

We had time to walk through the exhibition about the Písek countryside during the 19th century and then went downstairs to the space with the larger-than-life portraits of Czech rulers. Oddly enough, the painter had depicted all the Czech leaders with the same serious expression, nose and chin. The original sculptural groupings from the Stone Bridge were kept here as well. I had trouble taking my eyes off them. They were astounding.

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Then we left the museum and crossed the Stone Bridge over the Otava River. The oldest bridge in the country was like a miniature Charles Bridge with evocative statuary. The town cemetery had been founded in 1549, and the deceased were buried there until 1950. It was changed into a park during 1975. The Holy Trinity Church, mostly used for concerts, had a very different sort of interior than the others we had visited. It was decorated with brightly colored, abstract wall hangings and a new organ, donated by the 20th century world traveler and author, Jiří Hanzelka, who was best known for his travels to Africa and South America. There was also a remarkable pulpit with intarsia.

The ceiling of the church

The ceiling of the Holy Trinity Church

The holy place had become a concert and exhibition hall during the 1980s as the Communists had stripped it of its Renaissance identity, destroying the main altar and other furnishings, including the Renaissance organ loft. This destruction was just one example of the Communists’ lack of respect for religion and art. I am so glad I had not had to live through totalitarianism. Later, thankfully, the church’s Renaissance wall paintings had been restored.

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

In the bell tower we saw tombstones from the 1300s. Renowned Czech historian August Sedláček was buried in this cemetery, too. He compiled the 15-volume work Castles, Chateaus and Fortresses in the Czech lands, which was published at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The next stop was Putim, probably most famous for being mentioned in Jaroslav Hašek’s mammoth, early 20th century, anti-militaristic novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, featuring soldier Josef Švejk, who exhibits passive resistance and may or may not be an idiot. Scenes from the 1957 film based on Hašek’s satirical masterpiece set during World War I in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been shot in this town that was founded in 1205.

The church in Putim

St. Lawrence’s Church in Putim

But that was not Putim’s only claim to fame. The 1908 film Jan Cimbura was based on the life of a Putim farmer by the same name. I saw his modest but impressive grave from 1898. The movie, adapted from a novel by Catholic priest Jindřich Šimon Baar, takes place from 1848 to 1898, examining 50 years of the life of a good Christian and farmer in south Bohemia.

Jan Cimbura's grave in Putim

Jan Cimbura’s grave in Putim

In St. Lawrence’s Church I admired a Gothic window, wooden Gothic vaulting, Gothic masonry and a 13th century portal. The furnishings were much younger, though. The main altar was probably created around 1650, and the other parts of the interior most likely were made around 1700. The impressive tombstones inside the church dated from approximately 1600. One of the bells, called St. Andrew, was original and hailed from 1553.
This church had a characteristic that I had never seen anywhere else. It had two main altars with different seating arrangements for each altar. It fascinated me how it appeared to be two churches built into one. I read that one part of the church had been for Catholics while the other part had been designed for Utraquists, It certainly had an intriguing ground plan.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň also boasted Early Gothic construction. The western tower dated back to the beginning of the Middle Ages. While the village was first mentioned in writing during 1227, the church was founded in 1254 as it was originally late Romanesque. The furnishings were much younger, though. The interior was Baroque from 1720 to 1721. Two elegant white columns framed the painting at the main altar, Classicist in style, dating from the 1800s.

The pulpit in St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

The pulpit in St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

The organ of St. Giles' Church

The organ of St. Giles’ Church

Then our itinerary took us to the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec, which also had experienced a Romanesque birth. On what is now the sacristy was originally a Romanesque church with apse from the 11th century. There was a Gothic window, too. What impressed me most were the Gothic frescoes on the walls and the vaulting of the sacristy. They dated from 1340 to 1350. In the presbytery Hell was pictured with a burning tower and the devil, and Heaven made an appearance, too. On the north side the life of Saint Catherine was depicted. I loved the stars and angels on the ceiling.

The interior of the church in Myšenec

The interior of the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

In the small sacristy there were more Gothic wall paintings. The figure of a prophet had been rendered on an arch. On part of one wall there was a pictorial narrative of the legend of Saint Markéta along with the figure of the devil. Arcades and pillars appeared in the renditions, too. Our guide, who had extensive knowledge of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, explained that the paintings in the sacristy had not been created by the same painter who decorated the presbytery. I wondered if there were even more than two contributors to the artwork, who they had been and how they had come about to decorating the church’s interior.

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

That was not all there was to see in Myšenec. Between homes 54 and 8, we gazed at the remnants of a castle and the arch of a gate. The castle had been established by the Přemysl dynasty in the 13th century. I wondered what it would be like to have part of a 13th century castle ruin joined to one’s modern house. It reminded me that history was so connected with the present and how ancient history made up such an important part of each village’s identity. It was fascinating how the two different architectural styles of modern and Gothic played off each other. The Gothic walls and arch looked like an odd extension of the house. They were certainly unique.

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Albrechtice nad Vltavou was a real gem, perhaps my favorite, if it was possible for me to choose one sight over the others. The church was originally Romanesque from the 12th century and still boasted Romanesque masonry. The tower was Romanesque in style, too. The Romanesque wall painting inside was incredible, dating from 1200 or earlier. On the triumphant arch there were frescoes of The Last Judgment with Hell and Paradise. You could see pictures of Christ rising from the dead. The wall painting was restored during the Nazi Occupation, from 1941 to 1942. I hadn’t been aware that any reconstruction occurred in churches during the Protectorate. There were small, exquisite Gothic paintings in the church, too.

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

But that was not all the church had to offer. It was surrounded by 85 small chapels behind each gravestone. Each one was unique. They jumped out at the viewer with their bright colors and vitality. Parish priest Vít Cíza, who served there from 1819 to 1854, had had the innovative chapels built. The first chapels were erected in 1841 and took five years to complete. Renovation took place in the middle of the 19th century. I had never seen a cemetery that actually looked cheerful. By erecting these chapels, it was as the cemetery was celebrating the lives and the individuality of the people rather than merely mourning their loss. This was the first time I had visited a cemetery and had not been depressed.

The murals at Albrechtice

The chapels at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

Next we visited Zvíkov Castle, which I had seen several times during my long-time stay in the Czech lands. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit it again as I had not been there for at least 10 years. Like the castle in Písek, Zvíkov had a royal palace, four wings and an inner arcade in the courtyard. The crown jewels were even stored there until Karlštejn Castle was finished under Emperor Charles IV’s rule during the middle of the 14th century.

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

Set on an island, Zvíkov was first mentioned in writing during 1234. King Wenceslas (Václav) I started to build it in the first part of the 13th century. Construction on the Royal Palace began around 1250. Emperor Charles IV had it renovated during the 14th century. After that there were several owners, including the notable Rožmberk and Švamberk clans. Then came darker days. It was conquered during the Thirty Years’ War, and then Zvíkov was used as a warehouse. It was not until the Schwarzenbergs took control of it in 1719 that renovations occurred. In the 19th century the castle became dilapidated again, but reconstruction in 1880 put Zvíkov back on the Czech castle map.

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

I was most mesmerized by the bright, vibrant Gothic wall paintings in Saint Wenceslas Chapel. They dated from 1480 to 1500. There were also exquisite 15th century frescoes in the Dance Hall. They showed a festive, dancing scene below pictures of the four electors of the emperor, including the Czech king. I admired the Lombard chairs, seating with high decorated backs, in the Knights’ Room. That furniture hailed from Renaissance days, and I thought it looked so distinguished. The Gothic altar was also very impressive.

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

Our last stop was the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice, which had Gothic masonry but was furnished in the Baroque style of the 18th century. However, the stunning Gothic Madonna on a side altar dated from the second half of the 15th century. The ceiling was from the Renaissance era, resembling the ceiling of the cemetery church in Písek. The tower had been erected in Empire style during 1821. The altars and sculpture hailed from the second half of the 18th century. The Baroque Chapel of Saint Barbara was stunning, going all the way back to the first half of the 18th century. Then we were in for a real treat. The man in charge of the church played the 15th century organ for us. Its rich, colorful sound filled the holy space.

The main altar in Čimelice

The main altar in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

The ceiling in Čimelice

The ceiling at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

We also saw a chateau and pond belonging to the Schwarzenbergs, but the chateau had not been restored or was not open the public. The red and yellow colors of the façade reminded me of the magnificent exterior of Dobříš Chateau near Prague.
I had found this tour fascinating. I had learned so much about the Czech lands as well as about Romanesque and Gothic architecture and art, thanks to our remarkable guide, who was so knowledgeable and well-organized. I had never realized that villages had so much history. Each village had its own character, its own identity, its own story to tell. It amazed me that the history of these villages was rooted in Romanesque or Gothic eras. I have lived in the Czech lands for more than 20 years, and it still is difficult for me to fathom that Gothic and Romanesque art and architecture could survive so many centuries, so much turbulent history, so many wars.

The chateau in Čimelice

The chateau in Čimelice

During the tour I was most impressed with the Gothic wall paintings, especially in Zvíkov’s Saint Wenceslas Chapel, in Myšenec and in Albrechtice nad Vltavou. I also was enamored by the stunning arcades and vaulting at Zvíkov Castle. I was enthralled with the stunning arcade chapels on the cemetery walls at Albrechtice. I could not believe that a cemetery could be so full of life. I also was glad that I had seen parts of Písek other than the bus station. Písek really was a charming town.

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

During my many years in the country, I had seen the major castles and sights in south Bohemia – Hluboká nad Vltavou Chateau, Český Krumlov Chateau, Třeboň Chateau, Vyšší Brod and Zlatá koruna monasteries and others. But I had never explored the villages. I had never even thought they were worth exploring, to tell the truth. Now I knew that every nook and cranny of the country had its own rich history, its own secrets to reveal.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle

 

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Palace Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle Diary

Neuschwanstein Castle and its fairy tale appearance

Neuschwanstein Castle and its fairy tale appearance

During my stay in Munich in April of 2014, I could not pass up the opportunity to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams – to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, a fortification I had been first drawn to as a Disney-crazed child. Back then, while watching Sleeping Beauty and other fairy tales, I never imagined I would someday see it with my own eyes. After I moved to Czechoslovakia in 1991, I quickly became a castle addict, and Neuschwanstein always ranked high on my list of the places I wanted to visit.
I also had desired to see Linderhof Palace for many years. When I was nine years old, on vacation with my parents near Munich, my Mom and Dad went on a trip to Linderhof Palace while I opted to stay with our family friends and play with my ever-growing collection of smurfs. As an adult I would long to see the opulent Bavarian palace.
I took Gray Line Munich Tours on a one-day excursion to both locations. While waiting in line for the bus to arrive, I met two Americans, the retired couple of Gary and Brenda. I was always thankful to meet kind people during my travels.

The facade of Linderhof Palace

The facade of Linderhof Palace

However, they were not the only nice people I met. A 17-year old American high school senior named Caleb sat next to me. When I told him I lived in Prague, he apologized that he had never heard of that place. It was clear to me that Caleb was intelligent. I wondered how much emphasis the American school system – Utah, in this instance – put on teaching students about events in Central and Eastern Europe – not much, it seemed. That was a big mistake, in my opinion.
On a whirlwind one-week trip to Europe with his parents and four siblings, Caleb was set on becoming a pediatrician. It was rare that I met teenagers who were motivated and focused. I recalled teaching some classes of teenagers English in Prague. Some read magazines in the back of the classroom or slept with their heads on the table during the entire class. Others just sat there, not doing any work, just hoping knowledge would come to them without having to make any effort. It made me so happy to meet a teenager like Caleb. Of course, I had taught some motivated teenagers, but not many.

The facade of Linderhof Palace

The facade of Linderhof Palace

Our guide, Lucy, provided us with background information about Bavarian King Ludwig II, who had the palace and the castle built. King Ludwig II created his own fantasy world because he was dismayed that he could not be an absolute monarch. He really did not have great power in the government, which was administered in Berlin. Ludwig II could not accept his royal post in a constitutional monarchy. He idolized French King Louis XIV, who led France for 72 years as the most powerful decision-maker in that realm. The Bavarian king also adored Richard Wagner’s operas, and art dealing with themes from the German composer’s works dominated Neuschwanstein. Soon after Ludwig became king, the government experienced a financial crisis, and Ludwig II withdrew from society, hiding in his own special, imaginative and theatrical realm.
On trial on June 8, 1886, the king was declared mentally ill and legally incompetent to rule. The statements for his defense were not taken into consideration. His death was mysterious. It seemed to jump out of a Sherlock Holmes whodunit. Five days after hearing the verdict, Ludwig took a walk with his doctor. He did not have any of his guards accompany them. What happened next? Nobody knows. Later both bodies were found in the water. The mystery may never be solved as the Wittelsbach clan will not allow Ludwig II’s corpse to be exhumed.
The only palace of Ludwig II that was completed during his reign, Linderhof Palace was designed according to small French summer palaces. Ludwig spent eight years there. The moment I saw Linderhof, I was gaping at its Baroque façade. Yet even the beautiful exterior did not prepare me for what I saw inside. To say the Second Rococo style interior was ornate was a drastic understatement. I was dizzy, overwhelmed by the lavishness of the palace.

The park at Linderhof Palace

The park at Linderhof Palace

We walked up a majestic marble staircase flanked by two lions sporting the Bavarian coat-of-arms. First came the Music Room, adorned with a richly decorated gold-with-white harmonium, officially termed an Aeolodicon pianino. It resembled an upright piano. I tried to imagine watching Ludwig play Wagner’s compositions on it. He must have been so passionately moved by the music as if in a trance. Actually, Ludwig had presented the harmonium to Richard Wagner as a gift, but the composer had rejected it.
The Music Room was sometimes also referred to as the Western Tapestry Room, though there were no tapestries in the space. The Rococo wall hangings only looked like tapestries. I noticed a life-size figure of a peacock; Ludwig had adored peacocks. The stucco ceiling adorned with gilded gold leaf also captured my attention.
In the Silver Waiting Room there was an impressive picture of Versailles. I knew that Ludwig had been captivated by that French chateau. I thought back to my trip to Versailles, that warm February afternoon about six years ago. I had been on cloud nine. The Small Throne Room was opulent, too with a Bavarian coat-of-arms embroidered above the throne. I liked the second waiting room because it was decorated in purple silk that gave the space a certain vitality.

A spectacular fountain at Linderhof Palace

A spectacular fountain at Linderhof Palace

Ludwig’s favorite color, blue, dominated the King’s Bedroom. The bed and canopy were covered in blue velvet. The combination of dark blue with gold embroidery strongly appealed to me. The bed was huge – eight feet long. Ludwig had been 6 foot 4 inches tall. The half-ton chandelier could hold 108 candles. The frames of the Meissen mirrors were decorated with figures of birds, angels and flowers, for instance. Apollo greeted visitors from the ceiling painting.
Since Ludwig was a recluse, the Dining Room was set for only one person. It made me think about how many times I ate lunch alone and how I actually enjoyed being by myself in a restaurant, not hurrying through the meal, sipping tea while reading a book or studying a foreign language. Everybody in the Czech Republic thinks it is so strange to see a woman seated alone. I wondered if Ludwig enjoyed eating alone, too.
However, I read that often there were four or five places at his table because Ludwig often had imaginary guests, among them King Louis XIV of France. (No, I have never had imaginary guests while at lunch) The dining room table could be lowered to the ground floor, similar to a dumb waiter. Large Meissen vases also adorned the space. I recalled the collection of Meissen that had impressed me so much in Dresden’s Museum of Porcelain the previous year. I noticed a pineapple at the top of the Meissen chandelier. It was a delicate touch.
The East Tapestry Room did not consist of any tapestries, either. Just like the West Tapestry Room, it flaunted wall paintings rendered on coarse canvas that resembled tapestries. The wall paintings took on themes from Ovid’s book The Metamorphoses. Apollo and Aurora made appearances in the space, too.
The Hall of Mirrors was breathtaking. This was where Ludwig II used to settle down with a book about France. Or he would peruse poems written by Friedrich Schiller or Alexander Pope. The Bavarian king even let his pet chamois loose in the room for a while but put a stop to it when the exotic pet broke a mirror.

The remarkable fountain at Linderhof Palace

The remarkable fountain at Linderhof Palace

The ornate golden mirrors gave the impression that I was looking down an endless corridor, as if I were looking into a seemingly never-ending hallway I had to walk through to get to the next stage in my life. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I tried to imagine the room at night during Ludwig’s reign. It must have looked so dramatic and eerie with so many candles burning. As if that wasn’t enough to gawk at, there were also 94 vases decorating the walls. (There used to be 97, but three were stolen.) Nymphenberg style porcelain rounded out the room. The most valuable object in the palace was the white chandelier carved with Indian ivory – a truly exquisite piece.
Soon the tour ended, but we still had time to take a look at the gardens, though not to examine them closely. The 19th century garden was a mishmash of Renaissance and Baroque styles, featuring three terraces, cascades, and wooden pavilions, for instance. There was a grotto, a Moorish pavilion and a chapel on the premises, among other places. We saw the gold-plated bronze fountain featuring the goddess Flora, who was accompanied by cherubs. A fountain spewed water 30 meters into the air. I would have loved to have seen the grotto, but there was not time.

A stunning fountain at Linderhof Palace

A stunning fountain at Linderhof Palace

Next we were off to the castle I had dreamed about for decades. We had to walk up a steep hill to get there, and it reminded me of the approach to Karlštejn Castle near Prague. On the way I admired captivating views of the countryside. Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig’s parents had lived, was visible, too. I wondered if Ludwig enjoyed living so near to his mother or if sometimes it was too close for comfort.
Neuschwanstein Castle, was built from 1869 to 1892 in Romanesque Revival style and is still unfinished. The interiors were completed by 1886. Ludwig paid for the castle’s construction with his private funds, and he borrowed some money for his fantasy home. The 19th century was a popular time for castle building or rebuilding, and the historicism style which copied older styles was trendy. Ludwig II moved into this fairy tale abode in 1884, but he only actually lived there 172 days.

Looking at the upper level from the courtyard

Looking at the upper level from the courtyard

Ludwig’s creation looks like a castle should look, I thought to myself, passing through the gate sporting the Bavarian coat-of-arms. Towers, turrets, balconies, pinnacles, gables, sculptures, frescoes – the exterior seemed to resemble a stage set. In fact, the plan for the castle was made by a stage designer – Christian Jank, though Eduard Riedel served as the architect. I loved the simple geometric Romanesque forms and the Gothic style that made me feel as if I had stepped back into the Middle Ages. I almost expected to see knights jousting in the courtyard or King Ludwig II reading a declaration from a balcony. Ludwig, indeed, had transformed the theatrical world into a reality of marble, brick, limestone and sandstone, for instance. The castle courtyard was even based on a stage set from Lohengrin, a medieval fairy tale opera by Wagner. I loved the rugged cliffside location that was so romantic.

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The main courtyard consisted of two levels. The Rectangular Tower in the upper courtyard soared 45 meters into the sky. The Knights’ House encompassed three storeys while the massive Palas was five storeys high. After admiring the exterior for about a half hour, it was time for the tour to start. I was so enamored with the exterior and could not wait to see what the inside beheld.
The Throne Room had no real throne, but it did hold many other artistic delights. The space was designed in the style of a Byzantine Church. A rendition of the sun dominated the cupola. Beneath it were figures symbolizing pre-Christian cultures, such as those of Rome and Greece. On one wall there was a large painting of Jesus Christ with six European holy kings below him. I spotted the Czech patron saint, Wenceslas, among them. On another wall Saint George was slaying the dragon. The 12 Apostles also made appearances. The room was decorated with red silk and gold embroidery. The gilt bronze chandelier weighed 2,000 pounds and was four meters high. Made of Bohemian colored glass, it held 96 candles. Even the floor was a masterpiece, decorated with motifs of animals and plants.

The main gate at Neuschwanstein Castle

The main gate at Neuschwanstein Castle

What impressed me the most in the King’s Bedroom was the Neo-Gothic bed’s richly carved wood canopy of pinnacles that resembled Gothic church spires. A Madonna and Child painting adorned the headboard. The sink was shaped like a swan, a design inspired by Lohengrin, the Swan Knight in Wagner’s opera. Ludwig had fantasized about becoming this knight of the Holy Grail. The furnishings in the room featured blue silk embroidered with designs of lions and swans.
The wall paintings depicted scenes from Wagner’s operas. They were so colorful and vibrant. In the King’s Bedroom scenes from Tristan and Isolde decorated the walls. I recalled learning in college that the score of this romantic opera by Wagner steered Western music in a new direction, away from tonal harmony. The castle’s guide told us that it was in this very room that Ludwig was informed that he had been declared mentally ill and could no longer rule.

Massive Neuschwanstein Castle

Massive Neuschwanstein Castle

The Dressing Room featured an illusionistic ceiling painting of a garden scene. The curtains were made of violet silk, richly ornamented, embroidered with gold. The king’s jewelry box was impressive, too. The murals depicted scenes from the lives and verses of Walther von der Vogelweide, the most prominent Middle High German lyric poet who lived from 1170 to 1230 and Hans Sachs, a 16th century poet, singer and playwright.
The Living Room was all about Lohengrin. Wall paintings inspired by the opera dominated the walls. A swan figure featured prominently in the room. Even the door handles were shaped as swans, an exquisite detail, I mused. A vase was swan-shaped, too.
There was an artificial cave grotto, too. It resembled a stage set for one of Wagner’s operas. When Ludwig ruled, it had been equipped with electric lighting and even had a waterfall. The guide told us that, though the castle had a medieval appearance, it incorporated modern technology of that time period. There were two telephone lines, one to the post office and another to Ludwig’s mother. The toilets had automatically flushed, and the stove had modern features. There was running hot water, too.

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In the Study the wall paintings were based on the Tannhauser opera in which Knight Tannhauser had been obsessed with Venus, caught under her spell. Then he wants to marry Elizabeth, but he cannot tell her about his evil deed. In a singing contest he praises Venus, and the others are disgusted with him. Tannhauser takes off for Rome to ask the Pope for forgiveness. The ending is not very uplifting. Both Tannhauser and Elizabeth die.
Soon we came to the most important room, the Singers’ Hall. I gazed in awe at the 96 pine wood panels with paintings of the zodiac. Scenes from the legend of Parsifal, a knight who searches for the Holy Grail, adorned the walls. I also admired the coffered ceiling. Interestingly, the space was not furnished during the king’s lifetime.

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I was flabbergasted at the unique and lively interior. It was as if I were walking through a dream. I could not believe that these fairyland furnishings were for real. It was like something out of a Disney film filled with knights, kings, bards and maidens in distress. Then we went down many stairs, stopping on the way to take photos of some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.
Finally, we reached the kitchen, so large for making meals for one person. It had groined vaulting, and the stove occupied the central area. There was a roasting oven, a small spit and a fish tank, for instance.
Below it we came upon one of the most beautiful decorated tiled stoves I had set my eyes on – it was made of colored glazed tiles from 1880, designed by Julius Hofmann. The exquisite object resembled a tower and was crowned with a lantern dome.

A magnificent tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

A magnificent tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

It was hard to leave the castle of my dreams and say goodbye to all those turrets, towers and gables. I was happy that I had realized one of my dreams, and I had just visited two of the most fascinating places I had ever seen. On the bus I was seated next to friendly people with Brenda and Gary to one side and Caleb on the other. I knew I would always remember this beautiful, sunny day. I felt as if nothing could go wrong.

Something did, though, but not to us. At about 6 pm our bus had to stop on a road in the Bavarian countryside because there was an accident ahead. Traffic was at a standstill in both directions. I saw a motorcyclist on the ground, his leg oddly twisted. He was trying to move his head up, so he was conscious. The driver of another stopped vehicle was seated Indian-style next to him. Someone from another car hurried to the injured man and covered him with a blanket.

The spectacular view of the countryside from Neuschwanstein Castle

The spectacular view of the countryside from Neuschwanstein Castle

Pieces of his motorcycle littered the road. It had been smashed to smithereens. The car he had hit head-on was in a field where a farmer rode on his tractor as if nothing had happened. It took 10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. The police also came onto the scene. Caleb had finished his first aid training a year earlier and explained how the bystanders and then the ambulance workers were treating the motorcyclist.

Me on the upper level at Neuschwanstein Castle

Me on the upper level at Neuschwanstein Castle

Then I felt guilty for enjoying my day and realized once again how life can change at any moment. Just think how that moment of impact with the car changed that motorcyclist’s life. Who knew if he would walk again? What if he died on the way to the hospital? What if he went into a coma and never woke up? And here I was, having fulfilled a life-long dream, still overwhelmed by the breathtaking sights and remarkable tours of the palace and castle. And I was surrounded by nice people I had been lucky to meet.

The countryside surrounding Neuschwanstein Castle

The countryside surrounding Neuschwanstein Castle

Our guide Lucy approached each person, apologizing, saying there was nothing she could do and asking if people had any urgent connections to make in Munich. She stayed calm and knew how to handle unexpected situations – that was clear. I had been so impressed with her during this trip. That was something else to be thankful for – I had had a great guide who introduced me to these amazing places.
It turned out that we only had to wait about an hour before resuming our trip back to Munich.

When we got there, we said goodbye and I saw Caleb’s father gathering his family in front of the bus. I mentioned to him that he had such a wonderful son, so intelligent and so intrigued with the world, determined and willing to learn. I told him how I had come across teenagers who were lazy, rude and lacked any sort of motivation or interest in gaining knowledge. I had tears in my eyes as I spoke to him. I was that moved by meeting a teenager who I am sure would make the most of the bright future ahead of him.
I was so exhausted that, while walking back to my pension, I tripped in the middle of a street. The cars were stopped, but I fell on my knees and the joints of three fingers. My knees were sore, and my joints were bleeding. Still, I was able to walk without any pain, I had not fallen on my face and my glasses were not broken. I felt very lucky and very thankful.

The view from Neuschwanstein Castle

The view from Neuschwanstein Castle

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Museum of Antiquities Photo Diary

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In April of 2014 I visited Munich’s Museum of Antiquities (Antikensammlungen) with its majestic façade of Corinthian Columns and the proud figure of Bavaria protecting the artistic creations. I was entranced with the diversity of objects. I looked in awe at Greek vases, bronze statuettes, jewelry, gems, sculpture, terracotta figures, ceramics and gold work as well as artifacts made of metal and glass. The time periods covered ranged from the Cycladic Culture of the Aegean region from the 3rd century BC to the Late Antiquity era from the 5th century AD. I was especially bewitched by the sculpture and Greek vases, but each object had its own exciting story to tell.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Glyptothek Museum Photo Diary

During my stay in Munich during April of 2014, I visited the Glyptothek Museum, which features Greek and Roman statues. The marble masterpieces hail as far back as the Archaic period of 6th century BC through the Roman Empire and the Late Antiquity period from the 1st to 5th century AD. The façade of the museum fittingly looks like a Greek temple. The interior is modelled after the design for buildings at a Roman bath. Vaulted ceilings and large windows punctuate the 14 halls in which the sculptures are creatively placed, free-standing. The spatial depth of the rooms made me feel a certain intimacy with the ancient treasures. There was no barrier between me and the works of art. I admired their beauty and skillful craftsmanship from various angles as if it were alone with the sculptures, as if the sculptures were speaking only to me.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Nuremberg Diary

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

I had just returned from almost a week in Bavaria, and I was going back on White Saturday to Nuremberg for a day trip with arsviva, the Czech travel agency I sometimes used. I had traveled with them to Bamberg, where I had been enchanted with the fishermen’s houses of Bamberg’s Little Venice, the gushingly Baroque Böttingerhaus, the Early Gothic nave of the Imperial Cathedral with its Christmas Altar and the majestic New Residence Palace with its ornate Imperial Hall. The same guide that had put us under Bamberg’s magical spell was leading us through Nuremberg, which now was biggest city in the Franconia region, with a population of 500,000.
On the bus the guide gave us some background about the city. Nuremberg started out as a fortress in the 11th century. While medieval Nuremberg was an important town along the trade route to the east, it was not without its problems. A pogrom in 1349 wiped out almost half of the Jewish population in the town. The pogrom took place after it was decided to demolish the Jewish quarter in order to make room for a central square.

A historical building in Nuremberg

A historical building in Nuremberg

The year 1356 brought prestige to Nuremberg, which became an imperial city thanks to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV’s declaration of the “Golden Bull.” The emperor also declared that the first imperial diet when the seven electors were choosing a new German king would take place in Nuremberg. Emperor Charles IV also visited Nuremberg more than 50 times. The imperial crown jewels were stored at the castle in Nuremberg from 1424 to 1796. Nuremberg favored Protestantism from the 16th century. The seven electors held the imperial diet there until 1542.
Many inventors and artists lived in Nuremberg. Albrecht Dürer worked there in the early 16th century. Sculptors Adam Kraft, Veit Stoss and Peter Vischer decorated the town with their magnificent medieval creations. Martin Behaim invented the first globe, and Peter Heinlein made the first pocket watch in Nuremberg.

One of Nuremberg's unique fountains

One of Nuremberg’s unique fountains

The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the town, even though Nuremberg remained neutral. Then the town experienced financial problems and soon found itself broke. Nuremberg was made part of the Bavarian kingdom in 1806. During the 19th century, the town focused on industrialization.
Nuremberg would become the site of the National Socialist Party’s rallies in 1927. The Nuremberg Laws, enacted in 1935, denied Jews basic rights and German citizenship. Adolf Hitler was very fond of the city. The Allied Forces’ air attacks in January of 1945 destroyed 90 percent of the historical center and more than 2,000 people lost their lives. Many of the artworks had been moved to the Art Bunker under the castle, and thus were saved. The Nuremberg Trials that put the leaders of the Third Reich on the stand took place from 1945 to 1946.

The Congress Centre

The Congress Centre

First, we stopped at the gray, massive grandstand, where the Nazi Party Rallies had been held from 1933 to 1938. Bigger than Rome’s Coliseum, it included 60 hectares and had 28 40-meter high towers. We saw the exterior because on a day trip we did not have time to go inside the Documentation Center of the National Socialist Party Rally Grounds, where there is an exhibition about the Third Reich. Albert Speer’s architecture was so dehumanizing. Gray, drab and disintegrating, it lacked any human feeling, any feeling of life. Speer’s buildings did not even last 50 years, and they were meant to last forever.
I would have loved to have visited courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg Trials had taken place. I wondered what it would have felt like to have been in that courtroom during the trials, to have watched death sentences being handed out to Wilhelm Frick, Hans Frank, William Keitel and others. Even the death penalty was not a harsh enough sentence for what these Nazis had done.

The facade of the former arsenal

The facade of the former arsenal

Then we got back on the bus, and soon we were left off at the German National Museum, which was on the itinerary much later in the day. As we walked from the German National Museum to St. Lawrence’s Church, we passed Mauthalle or the former imperial customs office dating from 1500. Opposite it was the façade of the Renaissance former imperial arsenal, adorned with coats-of-arms and dating from the 16th century. I took notice of its two round dome towers. The guide pointed out a magnificent oriel on one building. There were about 80 oriels in the city.
On the way to the church, we passed by many stalls in the Easter Market that made the town lively, even jubilant. The sun was shining, and it would have been impossible not to feel cheerful in this environment. Stalls offered vegetables, flowers, postcards, soft pretzels and much more. I was especially drawn to the huge soft pretzels, which I had devoured during my stay in Munich the previous week.

The facade of St. Lawrence's Church

The facade of St. Lawrence’s Church

Soon we came to St. Lawrence’s Church. During the 13th century, a Romanesque basilica had stood on this site. The rose window between the two 82-meter towers fascinated me. The tracery of the window was remarkable. A wreath surrounded the window. Certainly one of the most beautiful Gothic facades I had ever seen, the façade dated from the mid-14th century. The buttresses and spires that looked like pinnacles made a strong impression on me, too. A decorative gable was situated above the rose window. The main entrance boasted such elaborate sculptural decoration and reliefs. The sacristy, two stories high, had a stunning relief on the façade. I noticed a sundial, too. One sculpture from 1912 showed a monkey reading The Bible.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

When we went inside, I was so overwhelmed by the spaciousness and weightlessness that I just stopped in the choir, ignoring the group for some minutes, and just stared. The Late Gothic choir and the Gothic vaulting amazed me and made me dizzy with awe. Everything seemed so harmonious.
What dazzled me was the choir carving of the Annunciation, with larger-than-life size statues suspended from the vaulted ceiling. It was the work of master sculptor Veit Stoss. I noticed Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, a dove fluttering over her head. Four angels seemed to float over this grouping. Fifty roses decorated the wreath framing the scene. The rosary beads included 63 pearls. Reliefs also adorned the ornate wreath. The flowing golden drapery of the figures also caught my attention. To see the carving suspended gave me an even greater feeling of weightlessness. It was as if the sculptural grouping was ascending to Heaven, rather than rooted on the ground, on Earth.

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence's Church

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence’s Church

The High Altar was stunning with a crucifix from the 16th century. The tabernacle, more than 20 meters high, entranced me. Pinnacles represented a crown of thorns. The reliefs were remarkable. I was awed by the latticework and tracery.
One of Nuremberg’s oldest sculptures, the Beautiful Madonna, showed the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus with bright smiles as the Virgin Mary looked lovingly at Jesus. The pulpit was Neo-Gothic. The Late Gothic brass chandelier in the nave was authored by Peter Vischer in 1489. Life-size Apostles also made appearances. It is possible that Stoss created the stunning sculpture of Archangel Michael wielding a sword in his right hand. I was especially drawn to the folds in the figure’s drapery and to the curls in his hair.

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence's Church

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence’s Church

Stained glass windows hailed from medieval days, reminding me of the cathedral in Regensburg with its brightly colored windows that brought light and knowledge. The stained glass of the rose window boasted decorative designs. The background of the Krell Altar showed the oldest rendition of Nuremberg, dating from 1472 to 1483. The town looked so realistic and detailed for that time period. I recalled the 17th century maps and vedutas at Mělník Castle near Prague, and how realistic and detailed they had looked.

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

During World War II the sculptures and other artworks were hidden in the Art Bunker rock cellar under the Imperial Castle. Although the building was damaged in the Allied Forces’ attacks, the two towers, the western façade and the walls remained standing.

A portal of St. Sebald's Church

A portal of St. Sebald’s Church

Next we visited St. Sebald’s Church, which was founded in 1230. The stained glass windows left me in awe. I saw another relief by Kraft, this one depicting the legend of the Holy Cross. The bronze font hailed from 1430. Below it I saw a relief of apostles and saints while the four Evangelists were positioned above the font. But the highlight was St. Sebald’s Tomb, almost five meters high. It took 11 years to build this masterpiece by Peter Vischer. The Gothic reliquary hailed from the 14th century. The tomb was decorated with portrayals of four dolphins and 12 snails, for instance.

St. Sebald's tomb

St. Sebald’s tomb

The figures of Mary, John and the crucifix on the main altar were the work of Stoss. I was enamored by the glass stained windows, some of which dated back to the 14th century. It was a bit disappointing that the upper part of the windows consisted of panes of smoked glass. On one of the memorial tablets there was a view of Bamberg, another Bavarian city that was dear to my heart. St. John and Apostle Andrew were depicted, and I marveled at the curls in Andrew’s hair and the folds in his drapery.

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald's Church

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald’s Church

We came to the main square, bustling with Easter stalls. In front of us was The Church of Our Lady, built on the site of a synagogue that was demolished in the early 14th century, when the Jewish quarter, which had been located here, was abolished, and half of its inhabitants were murdered. It was hard for me to believe that Emperor Charles IV, the beloved King of Bohemia, had permitted the demolition of the Jews’ homes or, most shockingly, did not stop the 1349 pogrom that resulted in the deaths of so many Jews. Yet I had read that the Christian prelates supported anti-semitism, and his actions toward the Jews probably made him seem pious and dutiful to many of his subjects.
The architect of the Church of Our Lady was Peter Parler, who had been responsible for completing St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague, among other significant works. He had certainly left his mark in the Czech lands. While the church had been damaged in the Allied Forces’ bombing of the city in 1945, part of its exterior remained intact. The west façade, the portal, the choir, some of the outer walls and the sacristy did not suffer the terrible fate of its other sections.

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

We spent some time studying the exterior. It boasted a stepped gable and neo-Gothic pinnacles plus a five-story tower. In the center the Virgin Mary was depicted with Jesus. Other figures surrounding them included Adam and Eve. Emperor Heinrich III stood out with his crown, orb and scepter. The German imperial eagle made an appearance on the balustrade. The portico boasted gilded statues, and the tympanum was richly decorated. We came to the north side with the depiction of the Foolish and Wise Virgins.
The building was one of the first hall churches in Franconia. Inside, a Star of David decorated the floor, symbolizing the expulsion and murder of the Jews during the 14th century. The main attraction, though, was the Tucher Altar, from the mid-15th century. It was one of the most significant artworks in the time period before Dürer. I loved the gold background of the triptych. It represented the divine and also gave the panel painting a certain vibrancy that attracted me. In the central panel I saw a crucifixion scene. Mary and John were depicted below it. John seemed mesmerized by the scene with Jesus.
On the right inside panel two holy hermits were talking to each other. I wondered what they were saying. Were they complaining that they were lonely and did not like being so isolated from the rest of the world? Or were they happy that they were recluses? I tended to be alone, and sometimes I wondered if I was really happy or if I had just accepted it as my fate. The gilded tabernacle at the base only dated from the 1980s. It was made to look like a torah roll in recognition of the pogrom.

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The choir featured life-size statues. Our guide pointed out to us Saint Ludmila and her grandson Saint Wenceslas, Czech saints. Wenceslas’s mother, a pagan named Drahomíra, had Ludmila, a Christian, killed because Ludmila had taught Wenceslas to be Christian. Wenceslas became duke of Bohemia and had a rotunda built to St. Vitus – later it would become Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. It was not so strange that Czech saints were represented in the German church. Emperor Charles IV, who established the church, was also King of Bohemia, and his mother came from the Přemyslid family, a dynasty that had ruled Bohemia from the ninth century to 1306. Besides, Bohemia had been a mixture of many peoples, cultures and languages.
In the center of the choir I saw the 15th century creation Madonna with Rays as rays of the sun shone on the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In the portrayal the Virgin Mary was stepping on a human face as she stood on a crescent moon. There were also 18 sculptures of tranquil angels gripping candlesticks on the sides of the choir. One of the keystones featured a rare scene of Jesus going to school as Jesus was portrayed as human. In the nave I found some epitaphs by Kraft.

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

We had some minutes before the noon scene at the clock, so we admired the Beautiful Fountain, constructed at the end of the 14th century. Over 17 meters high, it boasted 40 stone figures on four levels. At the bottom there were the seven arts and philosophy. The Four Evangelists made an appearance, too. The seven electors, Hector, Alexander and Julius Caesar were also sculpted in the central part. Old Testament figures were also present along with Charlemagne and King Arthur. The top part showed Moses and the seven prophets. The well was a copy from the early 20th century. The original was in the German National Museum. I admired the decoration and latticework. There was also a Wishing Ring that could be turned, and many gathered around the well climbed up the steps to turn the ring three times for good luck.
We watched the noon scene at the clock tower. Trumpeters announced the arrival of Emperor Charles IV, and the seven electors paraded around him three times, symbolizing the “Golden Bull” decree that made Nuremberg the seat of the first imperial diet when the seven electors selected a new German king. It was nice to see King Charles IV appreciated in a country other than the Czech lands. I decided I must come to the famous Christmas market in this square someday. It must be enchanting. I tried to imagine knights’ tournaments that had taken place in the square so many centuries ago. Or I tried to imagine the days when the imperial crown jewels had been shown to the public on this square. History sure seeped through the heart of this city.

Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

Before lunch we went to admire the Italian Renaissance style Old Town Hall, which hailed from the 17th century. The figures of Wisdom and Justice adorned the façade. We even got inside to the Great Council Chamber, which was not often open to visitors. Renaissance in style, it was 40 meters long. I admired the timbered ceiling. It was a reconstruction. The original had had burned down in 1945. I thought of all the council meetings, trials, balls, imperial assemblies and signing of peace treaties that had taken place here over so many centuries. If only I could have been a fly on those walls! Another Old Town Hall dated from 1330 and was an example of Gothic architecture. Visitors could tour the dungeons underneath it.

The interior of the Old Town Hall

The interior of the Old Town Hall

For lunch I found a small café where I could munch on a sandwich after devouring a large soft pretzel from a stall.
Next up was the medieval castle. Dominating the city, it looked romantic, perched on a rocky hill. The castle dated from the founding of the city, before 1050, when a fortress was situated on the site. Every German emperor set foot in this structure from 1050 to 1571. The imperial crown jewels had been stored in this fortification with four towers.

While walking uphill toward the ticket office, the views of the rooftops and town were superb. Half-timbered buildings were on the premises, too. I liked the look of these buildings; they reminded me of cottages and had a very intimate quality. It was possible to climb Sinwell Tower, though I did not feel like trying to conquer my fear of heights on this day.

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Soon we entered the Imperial Palace. The highlight of the interior was the Romanesque double chapel, hailing from the 12th century. Twin chapels, featuring a hall structure with two spaces on top of each other, are rare; there are only about a dozen in all of Central Europe. The emperor and his entourage entered from the Gothic portal of the upper level while the commoners came inside from the outer courtyard. On one capital there was a grotesque decoration of animals’ heads spouting leaves. A 15th century statue of the Madonna was on the main altar. Statues of four rulers were also present in the chapel. In the gallery above there were three bays with groined vaulting.

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

What impressed me most in the other rooms were the ceilings. The Knights’ Hall had an impressive massive joist wooden ceiling with no less than 30 crossbeams. Wall paintings from 1490 decorated both sides of the Late Gothic portal. Christ represented as a ruler was portrayed above the arch. The Emperors’ Hall featured a black-and-yellow ceiling with depictions of the imperial double eagles. Coats-of-arms adorned the ceiling, too. A small green stove caught my attention, too. Allegories of the liberal arts and portrayals of emperors decorated it. The Imperial Reception Hall had a painted imperial eagle painted on its ceiling. Its wall paneling was adorned with rosettes. The ceiling hailed from the 15th century, and the furnishings were Renaissance in style.

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

An exhibition featured how the emperor interacted with the empire and with the city. It explained the Golden Bull’s significance, the role of the electors and how Nuremberg had flourished during the Middle Ages.
After the tour of the castle, the other members of the group went to the German National Museum, the largest museum of German art and cultural history. I opted to visit Dürer‘s former home, a 15th century house that now was a museum dedicated to the artist. Dürer was so dear to my heart. I also did not think that two hours was enough time for me to visit the German National Museum, where the largest collection of pianos plus paintings and sculptures through the ages, were exhibited. I was also tired. I had woken up at 3 am, and I wanted to visit the museum when I had more energy and would appreciate the exhibits better.

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

The Dürer Museum displayed reproductions of the artist’s copperplates, portraits, etchings, sketches and woodcuts. The furniture hailed from the period when Dürer lived there, from 1509 until his death in 1528. It was a small, though intriguing, museum, and I also learned about Dürer’s life. I did not know that at the German National Museum originals of his work were displayed, but I was glad I had gotten a glimpse into the life and work of an artist I truly admired.
I had about a half hour free after that, so I sat at the outdoor seating of a restaurant and had one of my favorite foods, a hamburger. I watched the comings and goings of people at the Easter Market, which was filled with such joy and celebration. I loved seeing the city while a market was taking place. It gave the town even more energy. Then I walked down a few of the narrow, picturesque streets before heading to our meeting place, the German National Museum.
I was more than satisfied with the day trip. We had had a superb guide, and the sights had been remarkable. I loved the churches the most, especially the rose window and the Annunciation grouping suspended from the ceiling. I bought a booklet about the city and found out that there was much more to see –a tour of underground Nuremberg and the Art Bunker ranked high on my list along with the German National Museum. Yes, I knew I would be coming back to Nuremberg.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald's Church

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald’s Church