Herrenchiemsee Palace Diary

Herrenchiemsee14
I traveled to Herrenchiemsee on a full-day excursion offered by Gray Line in Munich, the city where I was staying. I had been so impressed with Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace that I longed to see more Bavarian castles. Herrenchiemsee’s location on an island made it sound remote and romantic.
First, we took two boats to the Island of Fraueninsel, also called Frauenchiemsee or Ladies’ Island, a tranquil environment of 38.8 acres with 300 inhabitants and no crowds. The church with the distinctive onion-shaped tower was constructed in the 11th or 12th century during Romanesque times. The archway around the door dated back to that era. Romanesque frescoes inside the church hailed from 1130. The interior also included Gothic and Baroque characteristics. During the 14th century the flat wooden ceilings of the three naves were changed into star-shaped and net rib vaulting. A new high altar was added during the Gothic period as well.

Even though fires broke out in the convent during 1491 and 1572, the damage was mostly confined to the exterior of the building. Two Renaissance altars were built in the 17th century. The Gothic altars were transformed into Baroque creations during the 17th century as well.

Church interior on Ladies' Island

Church interior on Ladies’ Island

The church has three naves, nine bays and 11 altars. There is a gallery with heavy Romanesque groin vaults. The round arched arcades are situated on rectangular pillars. The half columns have no capitals or plinths as well. The aisles of the main nave boast star-shaped rib vaults. The sacristy features Late Gothic vaulting and is two stories high. The altar stones are Late Gothic, but the altars’ upper structures are all Baroque in style. The high altar is High Baroque, created in 1694. In the middle of the 19th century the original altar was taken away, and a painting of The Risen Christ Appearing to His Mother replaced it. The upper part shows the crowning of the Virgin Mary. Saint Benedict, Saint John the Baptist and Saint George are a few of the holy characters who make appearances on the high altarpiece.

An altar in the church on Fraueninsel

An altar in the church on Fraueninsel

We did not go inside the monastery, but I knew it had been founded by Bavarian Duke Tassillo III in the 8th century, making it the oldest monastery in Bavaria. In 830 about 45 nuns lived in a convent on the premises. Perhaps the monastery’s most famous abbess was Irmingard, a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne, living in the 9th century. A reliquary of the abbess’ remains is located in the church. Her life is still celebrated on the island. The convent holds the distinction of being the oldest still existing convent in Germany. As of 2007, about 30 sisters resided in the monastery.

A picturesque cottage on Ladies' Island

A picturesque cottage on Ladies’ Island

We also saw the picturesque cottages on the island and the fishmongers’ stands. The island was so serene. It made me feel at peace with myself and with the world. I felt as though I could accept the joys plus the hardships life had thrown my way. I had a strong feeling of self-acceptance. If only I could take strolls around this island every day, my life would be so much more balanced and much less stressful!

A statue adorning a fountain in the garden

A statue adorning a fountain in the garden

Then we took another boat to the New Palace and Old Palace of Herrenchiemsee. Tourists, notably absent from the Ladies’ Island, had flocked to the New Palace. Created for “mad” King Ludwig II, Herrenchiemsee’s New Palace is a copy of Versailles, though it does differ in some respects.

A statue decorating a fountain in the garden

A statue decorating a fountain in the garden

King Ludwig II created his own fantasy world because he was dismayed that he could not be an absolute monarch. 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. Soon after Ludwig became king, the government experienced a financial crisis, and Ludwig II withdrew from society, hiding in his own special, imaginative realm.

A fountain at Herrenchiemsee Palace

A fountain at Herrenchiemsee Palace

Very few of the interior furnishings of Versailles were original; they had been destroyed during the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Therefore, Ludwig II could not make replicas of the authentic interiors of Versailles. He traveled to Versailles on two occasions. Construction began on his new rendition of Versailles in May of 1878. (King Ludwig II would die under mysterious circumstances on June 13, 1886.)
First, I visited the ornate garden. The fountains with stunning statuary impressed me as did the parterre with ponds. I saw marble statues of animals, of gods Diana and Venus and of Fata and Fortuna. Curiously enough, the garden was not an exact replica of that in Versailles. In fact, the statues of Fata and Fortuna had been greatly influenced by the gardens at the Spanish royal palace of San Ildefonso, Segovia.

The Latona Fountain in the garden of Herrenchiemsee

The Latona Fountain in the garden of Herrenchiemsee

The Latona Fountain is based on the fountain at Versailles, though. Latona, who had given birth to Apollo and Diana, stood proudly in the center of the fountain. Below her were the farmers she had turned into frogs plus tortoises and toads. After giving birth to Apollo and Diana, Latona wandered around the land. She came upon a pond and was very thirsty. However, the farmers would not let her drink from the pond. So, she changed them into frogs. I loved the sculptures of the frogs and tortoises. The figures of the animals seemed so playful rather than merely majestic. They brought a smile to my face.

The New Palace from the garden

The New Palace from the garden

Then came the tour of the New Palace. The guide explained that there is nothing Bavarian in the palace. Everything was inspired by Louis XIV or Louis XV. We walked up a grandiose staircase that was a replica of the one at Versailles, the version that was destroyed in France during 1752. Stucco marble and statues, paintings, a crystal chandelier and a marble fountain showing Diana with two nymphs all added to the grandeur. However, there was an intriguing 19th century element – a glass roof that somehow complemented the classical characteristics. I was surprised that the skylight did not look out-of-place or mar the elegance of the staircase.

The parterre in the garden

The parterre in the garden

In the Bodyguard Room I saw copies of halberds from Versailles. The ceiling fresco boasted a mythological theme, showing the triumph of Mars as the god peers at a burning city while gripping a white-and-red flag. Stucco marble paneling gave the room a sort of charm. Notably, no guards had ever been stationed in the Bodyguard Room.
In the First Antechamber the white and gold paneling was stunning. The ceiling painting glorified Bacchus and Ceres, who was the goddess of agriculture and fertility, among other things. I was fascinated by the Cornet Cabinet made with the Boullete technique, which was a French way of sculpting. The cabinet was inlaid with dark brown tortoiseshell and showed off gilt bronze figures. The professional and eloquent guide opened the cabinet. I expected to see some ornate jewels inside. However, it was empty because King Ludwig II had never said what he wanted to store there.

The parterre in the garden

A beautiful fountain in the garden

The Second Antechamber included large bureaus, and the chandeliers seemed to enlarge the size of the room in a mirroring effect. Overall, there were 50 chandeliers in the palace, made of Bohemian lead crystal and gilded bronze. A bronze statue showed King Louis XIV on horseback. I was enamored by the detail of the horse’s mane and the riding boots. The draperies astounded with green silk and golden embroidery.
The State Bed Chamber was not a copy of the one at Versailles. It was, in fact, much more lavish than its French counterpart. The space featured a gold leaf gilded bed. Red velvet carpet with designs of suns covered the steps leading up to the bed. How I would like to sleep there! The red velvet textiles were made utilizing needlework and gold embroidering and boasted scenes of Venus and Cupid. However, King Ludwig II never slept there. He intended it to be only a copy of Versailles, not his personal bedroom.

The lavish State  Bedroom at Herrenchiemsee

The lavish State Bedroom at Herrenchiemsee

A life-size portrait of Louis XIV graced the Council Chamber or Conference Hall, carved in gold and white paneling. The Bourbon lily design was displayed on the carpet and curtains. The largest clock in the palace was in the room, too. There was at least one clock in every room in the palace. This particular clock, made with inlaid rosewood designs and gild bronze fittings, had been constructed for King Louis XIV. The ceiling painting portrayed the gods at Olympus. I took note of the white horses rearing up as though they were frightened of something.

The Conference Room

The Conference Hall

The Hall of Mirrors was impressive as well. The Hall of Peace and the Hall of War were copies from Versailles. They were overwhelming. Some 2,200 candles were in the rooms. It had taken 30 to 40 servants to light them. The space also featured 35 chandeliers. The ceiling frescoes were stunning, copies of frescoes from Versailles showing battles with the French in the Spanish Netherlands, which resulted in a peace treaty during 1678. Both the Hall of Peace and Hall of War were decorated in stucco marble of various hues, and each hall boasted the busts of four Roman emperors. The halls there measured in total 98 meters in length. They were six meters longer than the ones in Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors

Next we saw the private apartments built in the style of King Louis XV, but not totally faithful to the rooms at Versailles. The Second Rococo style of the rooms had been influenced by 18th century French and German palaces. King Ludwig II actually lived there from September 7 to September 16, 1885.

The Bedroom was decorated in blue, King Ludwig’s favorite color. I recalled that the elegant bedroom in Neuschwanstein was also decorated in this color. The bed was two meters and 40 centimeters long with a width of one meter and 80 centimeters. (Ludwig II stood one meter and 93 centimeters tall.) Statues of Venus and Adonis also featured prominently in the room. The ceiling painting dealt with mythological figures. When candles had been lit in this space, the blue globe light resembled moonlight. What an atmosphere that must have been! The space featured two secret doors as well.

A bedroom in the palace

A bedroom in the palace

The King’s Study was dedicated to Louis XV. I was enamored by the 1884 roll-top desk that was a replica of a desk that Louis XV had owned. How I would love to compose pieces on that! It was the most valuable piece of furniture in the palace, inlaid with 16 kinds of wood. Two astronomical clocks decorated the room. A half-ton chandelier was on display, too. Green velvet curtains showed off gold embroidery.

The captivating Meissen chandelier

The captivating Meissen chandelier

The King’s Dining Room featured the most expensive chandelier and floral décor. The 18-armed Meissen chandelier was breathtaking. It showed off flower buds in various colors and tiny birds. The chandelier had been assembled in the room from small pieces. It was one of the most original chandeliers I had ever seen. Below it were white flowers in a vase made of porcelain.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

The table was called a “Tischlein-deck-dich.” It could be lowered when servants needed to set it and then could be hoisted back up, so Ludwig II could dine alone without servants interrupting him. It reminded me of a similar sort of table at Linderhof Palace. White and gold paneling added to the room’s opulence. A porcelain cabinet in the corner of the room also proved intriguing. This space had taken its look from a room in the Hotel de Soubise in Paris.
Overall, King Ludwig II had planned for there to be 70 rooms in the palace, but only 50 rooms had been completed. The king’s private entrance was unfinished, too. I could hardly imagine the grandeur that would have pervaded if King Ludwig II had been able to build all 70 spaces.

Hadrian's Villa near Rome

Hadrian’s Villa near Rome

During the tour I thought back to my visit to Hadrian’s Villa in what is today Tivoli near Rome. Emperor Hadrian’s immense villa had imitated places and locations around the empire that he had liked the most. For example, there was a copy of the Nile at its estuary, two Greek valleys, several Athenian sites. In total, there had been 30 buildings, including temples, palaces, a theatre and libraries. I thought about how the architecture reflected his inner turmoil and how Herrrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace reflected Ludwig II’s troubles.

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian’s Villa

Next I visited the Ludwig II Museum in the palace. In this museum I saw some intriguing artifacts. I was impressed with the long, blood red with silver trim wedding robes made for King Ludwig II and Sophie, Duchess of Bavaria. I could imagine them clad in those lavish robes if they had actually got married. Ludwig’s death mask was on display, too.
In the portrait of Ludwig as Grand Master of the Order of Knights of Saint George, the “mad” king looked devilish, angry even. Perhaps he had just been reminded that he would never have absolute rule in his kingdom. In the picture he was clutching a scabbard with one white-gloved hand.

A colorful tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

A colorful tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

I also spotted a tiled stove in playful, cheery colors. The stove was decorated in a mixture of green with yellow as well as gray with red and had been originally placed at Neuschwanstein, where I had set eyes on a similar tiled stove. I saw other ornate Meissen vases and sculpture as well. The models of stage sets exhibited Ludwig II’s passion for Richard Wagner’s music. In fact, there were many artifacts from Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace. One room boasted the original furniture from a bedroom at Linderhof. The original boat from Ludwig II’s winter garden that had been situated on the roof of the Residence Palace in Munich was on display, too.

A young King Ludwig II of Bavaria

A young King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Lastly, I visited the Old Palace – the Augustinian Monastery that was founded around 1125. The current monastery buildings dated from the Baroque period, though. The complex consisted of four wings with an almost rectangular courtyard and rose garden. Perhaps it was best known as the setting for the drafting of Germany’s new constitution in 1948, paving the way for Germany’s identity as a republic. Now there is a history museum dealing with the constitution on the premises, but all the placards were in German, so I did not understand it.

The Baroque hall in the Old Palace

The Baroque hall in the Old Palace

My favorite room was covered in Baroque frescoes, an array of dynamic figures in bright colors. Another space was Ludwig II’s Study with intriguing furnishings. While it did not compare to the New Palace in grandeur, the Old Palace had a welcome sense of simplicity and a variety of objects and furnishings on display, not adhering to one, specific theme.
I took a break and sat outside on that beautiful, sunny day and drank some water. There was no doubt about it. Herrenchiemsee was one of my favorite palaces (or castles, as it is often called) though I liked the romantic, 19th century Gothic style of Neuschwanstein even better. Herrenchiemsee definitely ranked up there with Czech castles and chateaus. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and elegance of the palace. I was very satisfied with the tour guide that led our group through numerous rooms. The articulate guide had spoken perfect English and had described each room with contagious enthusiasm. In fact, all the guides that had showed me Bavarian castles and palaces had been excellent, giving vivid descriptions and pointing out intriguing details.

My favorite Bavarian castle - Neuschwanstein

My favorite Bavarian castle – Neuschwanstein

The garden was outstanding, too, with fountains and sculptural decoration that enthralled me. The parterre was stunning as well. I could sit on a bench in this garden all day and read a good book, often gazing around me at the remarkable, calming scenery. I loved those tortoises and frog figures on the Latona Fountain most of all.
The magic of Herrenchiemsee would stay in my mind forever. Versailles had been so crowded when I visited some years ago on one unusually warm February day. It had not been possible to soak up the atmosphere with a throng of tourists elbowing me for positions to take the best photo. During the tour of Herrenchiemsee, I was able to appreciate the elegance of the rooms without fighting my way through crowds as there was only a fixed number of people allowed on each tour.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

The mysterious circumstances of Ludwig II’s death came to my mind as we waited for a boat to take us back to the bus. 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 New Palace from the Latona Fountain

The New Palace from the Latona Fountain

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

Advertisements

Harburg Castle Diary

HarburgCastle9

While I was staying in Munich, I went on a Gray Line tour of Harburg Castle, a medieval Bavarian gem and then on to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the most picturesque towns in the world. I had been very satisfied with the Gray Line Munich tour I had taken to Palace Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle some months earlier.
Harburg Castle is one of the best preserved, oldest and largest castles in south Germany. In addition to the rooms open to the public, it houses the archives of the Oettingen-Wallerstein branch of the family that took control of the property in 1731. Spanning the 11th to 18th centuries, an art collection is on the premises, too, but unfortunately is not open to the public. Harburg Castle dates from the 11th century. It was first mentioned in writing during 1150.
Standing on the grounds, you can feel its history. Death penalties were carried out here, and bloody battles were fought here. The Oettingen Princes owned the castle for some 700 years. The Prince’s Building even goes back to the first half of the 10th century, where the archives are now located. The two towers were first mentioned in writing during 1150 but are actually much older, dating from 600 or 700 AD. The portcullis was built in 1752. Nailed behind it is the skull of a wolf, the last wolf ever shot in the region. The granary served judicial purposes from 1806 to 1852.

HarburgCastle1
A significant part of Harburg’s history began when Ludwig III von Oettingen gained Harburg in 1251. The Oettingens made the castle their home after 1418. The clan made a name for itself in the military and in politics. Construction of a two-storey hall took place in the late 15th century. In the early 16th century the Oettingens took up the Protestant faith as the Reformation greatly influenced the history of the castle.
The Schmalkaldic War, pitting the Catholic Habsburgs against the Protestants in their Lutheran Schmalkaldic League within the Holy Roman Empire, was fought from 1546 to 1547. The Imperial troops won, triggering devastation for the castle during 1547. Still, the teachings of Martin Luther had already spread throughout the lands and could not be stopped by force.
Things did not fare as badly during the Thirty Years’ War, when it was not heavily damaged, though the area was in ruins. The Oettingen-Oettingen line of the family were elevated to princes during 1674. There was much reconstruction in the 17th century. Pillaging occurred during the Spanish War of Succession from 1701 to 1704. The castle soon rebounded, though. More repairs were carried out in the early 18th century. That’s when the Banquet Hall was built and the church was given a Baroque appearance.

HarburgCastle6
In 1731 the Protestant line of the family ended, and the Catholic branch the Oettingen-Wallerstein line took charge. During the War of the Second Coalition, which was fought between the Austrians and Napoleon’s armies, much pillaging took place. In 1797 a military hospital was located on the premises. The Austrians were unable to protect the castle on June 24, 1800, when Napoleon’s troops captured the decisive victory. Even though there was much damage, that day is now celebrated at the castle as it was a blessing in disguise. Under French rule the 18th century was a time of imperial visits and reconstruction. Kaiser Franz II, the last Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation paid it a visit in 1766. Napoleon even rode by the castle in a carriage during October of 1805.

We did not go inside the Castle Church of Saint Michael’s, but I read that its Baroque interior hails from 1720 and 1721. A Baroque pulpit and ceiling frescoes are a few of the highlights of this church. The tomb of the Oettingen-Oettingen line of the family has been under the pulpit since the 16th century. The church is still used for services. Now the church’s denomination is Lutheran. Take a good look at the well that is 450 meters deep. It took an hour to get water from its depths to the ground.
The castle featured many intriguing devices used during wartime. One loophole in its side was situated so that the defender could throw hot water on the enemy and burn him. Quicklime was often used, so that the opponent would go blind immediately. Another window in the wall had a beam to which a soldier could hook his weapon. Then there was a loophole that consisted of a wooden wall within a wall. It could swivel around so you could see in all directions. The hole was too small to be seen by the enemy.
We went inside and saw many richly decorated shields. Because people could not read or write, symbols of various clans decorated the shields. One featured the color red for blood and a yellow X for money. Three more showed a donkey, two wheels and a wooden shoe, which reminded me of an advertisement for L.L. Bean. A black shield with a red cow head symbolized the family of Cow Mouth, which would certainly not be a popular name in today’s world.

HarburgCastle5
Then we entered a room that featured a stunning chair that was 500 years old, symbolizing that the person who would sit in it was very powerful. The richly decorated ceiling was made for another castle in Italy in 1750, and the princely family bought it in 1920. The Habsburg clan is not missing from the castle, either. (They seem to be present in all the castles I visit.) Decoration of ladies’ portraits in circular frames showed off females from this distinguished clan.
The two family trees also caught my attention. One dated from the 17th century and was painted on linen. The other dated from the 18th century and was painted on cow skin. That one was made with one hair of a pig. I could not believe it was possible to design a family tree with one hair. What exquisite craftsmanship! I thought of my own family tree and how many questions it posed. If only I had all my ancestors accounted for as the Oettingens did on theirs. From where exactly in Bohemia were my Czech great grandparents? Who exactly were my Mareš ancestors, and from where in Moravia were they?

HarburgCastle10
Situated in many castles, life-size portraits also decorated the room. I recognized Charlemagne. The next room was in front of the first keep. Each wall was 2.5 meters thick, and below each wall it was three meters thick. The inside room was 9 meters deep. Because it was so cool there, it was possible to use it as a sort of refrigerator. A man went down to the fridge with a rope around his stomach and brought the food up. A dungeon was also below us. There’s no way I would want to be stuck down there. Other spaces featured weapons and hunting trophies. A beam was 1,000 years old while a middle pillar was 800 years old. A clock had a 24-hour face.
I was intrigued by the tour but disappointed that it was so short. It would have been nice to have seen at least four or five more rooms. The castle had such a fascinating medieval flair and some stunning objects, but people only got a glimpse of its character. Still, the castle was architecturally intriguing on the exterior and interior. It was worth visiting if you are combining it with a day trip somewhere else. It proved an excellent stop on the way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Still, I considered Karlštejn Castle, Křivoklát Castle and Pernštejn Castle in the Czech Republic to be superior because you were able to take extensive tours and get a real sense of their medieval character. On the way to Rothenburg, our tour guide, an eloquent, friendly woman, told us that Michael Jackson at one time had tried to buy Harburg for 25 million euros. At the last moment, though, the deal fell through. I, for one, was glad. Who knows if he would have opened it to the public at all?

HarburgCastle8

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

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.

Neuschwan4
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.

Neuschwan7
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.

Neuschwan8
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.

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

Regensburg Diary

A view of the town from the Stone Bridge

A view of the town from the Stone Bridge

 

My boss at a languageschool where I had taught had praised Regensburg back in 1997. Ever since then, I had wanted to visit the historic town, but the trip kept being postponed. Then I went on a one-day excursion with arsviva to Bamberg, Germany and got my first taste of the wonders of Bavaria. (I only have faint memories of my visit to Munich when I was nine years old.) I was so enthralled with Bamberg that I just had to explore other towns in Bavaria. So, during October of 2013, the next time I had a few days off work, I took the train to Regensburg.

The direct train only took a little over four hours to get to the only preserved medieval town in Germany. On the train I acquainted myself with the history of this architectural gem. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, Regensburg did not experience much destruction during World War II, enabling it to keep its medieval character. A Roman military camp was located there as far back as 179 AD, and the Romans would greatly influence the town for 300 years. During the Middle Ages, emperors, dukes and kings had frequented the town. After it became a part of the Carolingian Empire, Charlemagne visited Regensburg three times. Regensburg acquired the status of a Free Imperial City in 1245 and also was a bustling trade center. The town lost its independence and became part of the Duchy of Bavaria in 1486, but soon the tables turned again, and Regensburg regained its independence.

The facade of an architecturally intriguing building in Regensburg

The facade of an architecturally intriguing building in Regensburg

When the Turks overtook Constantinople, this Bavarian city was no longer a gateway to the East, triggering financial hardships. As a result, according to the unwritten law that blamed minorities for economic difficulties, the Jews were expelled in 1519. During 1542 Regensburg became a Protestant town. The town became a household name once again when the Imperial Diet political gatherings took place there for 150 years, from 1663 to 1806, when the assembly of estates held conferences at the Old Town Hall. Electors and princes were among those present for the meetings.

During Napoleon’s reign the town found itself in dire straits. The Imperial Diet was cancelled in 1806, and Regensburg was stripped of its independence once again. In 1810 it became a part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. From 1945 to 1949, the town was the site of the largest displaced persons’ camp in Germany, with mostly Ukrainians in residence. And to think that throughout all those centuries, throughout all those trials and tribulations, Regensburg never lost its medieval flavor!

The Hotel Kaiserhof across from the cathedral

The Hotel Kaiserhof across from the cathedral

My hotel, the pistachio-colored Hotel Kaiserhof, was situated across from St. Peter’s Cathedral, a Gothic wonder. The clean, no-frills, comfortable room sported a double bed, even though I was paying for a single room. I had stayed in other singles the size of a closet in various hotels throughout Europe. It was refreshing to find myself in a room that was spacious enough, though not large.

After unpacking the necessities, I headed straight for the St. Peter’s Cathedral. The first cathedral in the town had hailed from the end of the eighth or ninth century, but it fell victim to a fire in 1273. Then this cathedral was erected in a Gothic style inspired by France.  However, there were interruptions, and the cathedral was not completed until 1872, some 600 years later. The west façade boasts two towers while the cathedral has a triple-choir design. The nave is short and has five bays. I had read that the architectural design of the cathedral had influenced Peter Parler’s plans for Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, my favorite cathedral in the world.

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral

The medieval sculptural decoration on the façade, which dated from around 1400, was breathtaking.  On the train I had learned that this sculptural adornment ranked among the most impressive artistry of the Middle Ages. I gazed up at the main portal with its stunning tympanum and the 22 reliefs focusing on the Virgin Mary’s life.

On the south portal I was awed by a scene showing St. Peter being scooped out of prison by an angel.  I could hardly believe that the relief hailed from 1320. The tympanum of the south façade boasted plentiful rich sculptural ornamentation as well. Reliefs decorated the buttress fronts, too. I spotted St. Peter in a boat, a rendition that I knew appeared on the current coats-of-arms for the cathedral chapter.

However, it made my stomach churn when I saw a sculptural figure of Jews suckling from a pig. I recalled reading that Jews had been expelled from the town in the 16th century. The anti-Semitic artwork reminded me of the anti-Semitic and racist portraits of a Jew, an Arab and a black man stricken with diseases in the library of the Hrádek u Nechanic Chateau in Bohemia. I also recalled eating in a pizzeria in downtown Prague a few years ago, when a waiter told me that Neo-Nazis were marching through the Jewish Town. I also thought of the prejudice against Roma in Czech society today. So many centuries later and religious and racial tolerance were still serious concerns.

The rich ornamentation on the facade of the cathedral

The rich ornamentation on the facade of the cathedral

Upon entering the cathedral, I was instantly transported back to the Middle Ages. It was dark and gloomy except for the light that the stained glass windows let in, giving the cathedral an airy quality. Made from 1300 to 1370, the windows had a mystical aura. I felt as if the light cleansed me spiritually, as if it cleansed my soul. I was so entranced. I could not believe I was looking at original Gothic stained glass. I had read that one window portrayed scenes from Christ’s childhood while another showed scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul. Pictures of saints decorated the windows, too. Some of the stained glass came from the original cathedral that had burned down. That part was in Romanesque style, dating from 1230.

The vibrant colors inside the cathedral

The vibrant colors inside the cathedral

Then I took notice of sculptural figures of St. George and St. Martin on horseback. They were remarkable works of art hailing from the 14th century.  I also saw something I had never seen before – creepy creatures with human heads in niches near the main entrance. Called the Devil and his Grandmother, the figures supposedly kept away any evil spirits that might try to wander inside. Bishops’ tombs also made up the interior. A stone sculpture of a Madonna and Child above one altar was created in 1320. A huge colored wooden crucifix dated from the 16th century. The main altar was silver and was made glorious by busts of St. Mary and St. Joseph as well as Saints Peter and Paul.

On one section there was a relief of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech saint who was thrown into Prague’s Vltava River from the Charles Bridge on the order of Bohemian King Wenceslas IV, who was married to Joanna of Bavaria. The Queen’s confessor, John of Nepomuk would not tell the king what his wife had said to him in confidence. I thought of the many times I had walked by the five-haloed statue of St. John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge. Once again focusing on this cathedral, I was amazed by the ribbed vaulting designed with crossing piers. There was a Late Gothic pulpit, and exquisitely carved Baroque stalls adorned the nave.

One of the side altars in the cathedral

One of the side altars in the cathedral

Another highlight of the interior for me was the Smiling or Laughing Angel, one of the Annunciation figures. Enthusiastic about bearing exciting news for Mary, the angel was absolutely jubilant, and the sense of pure happiness that emanated from the sculpture made me joyful and thankful for everything I had in life. The joy was characterized by a sense of innocence, and it brought to mind the happy moments of my childhood. Opening Christmas presents in my grandparents’ house as Grandpa pretended to be Santa Claus, striking out batter after batter in Little League baseball, riding my sleigh in the fresh snow near our townhouse, reading Paddington the Bear books over and over, holding my Paddington and Snoopy stuffed animals, receiving an autographed picture from one of my favorite baseball or ice hockey players, hugging my mother and knowing that everything would be okay. I was amazed that a sculptural figure from the late 13th century could depict emotions so poignantly.

Downtown Regensburg

Downtown Regensburg

Then I walked around the center of the town, admiring the large patrician houses, some even with towers. One building dating from the 14th century even had a fresco of David and Goliath, created from 1570 to 1580. Dating back to the 12th century, the Stone Bridge measures 30 meters in length and includes 15 arches. I tried to imagine knights of the second and third Crusades marching over the bridge on their way to the Holy Land. The views of the river and town from the bridge were incredible. I loved the small street called Kramgasse, next to my hotel. Once home to shops of grocers and junk dealers, now it flaunted luxurious shops. The oriels on the buildings intrigued me. 

There were other delights in this colorful, vibrant town, too. The Fountain of Bishop’s Court was built in 1980 and showed a priest giving a sermon to geese while a fox nabbed one goose by the neck.  In the tale the priest is an impostor, the Devil pretending to be a man of the cloth. It made me think of the false friends I had known through the years, the times I felt betrayed by people I had trusted.

View from the Stone Bridge

View from the Stone Bridge

I explored Neupfarrplatz, where the homes of 500 Jews had once been located until their expulsion in the early 16th century. The homes were gone now, and stylish shops lined the square. A reminder of the Jewish presence in the town, a relief showed the floor plan of a Jewish synagogue that had once stood near the middle of the square. I felt an emotional connection with the relief. It was modern and fresh, yet also represented the lost history of the town.

The Goldener Turm, built from 1250 to 1300, included the highest patrician tower in the city. Part of the Old Town Hall dated from the 13th century and had a tower, too. I was intrigued by its Gothic windows. Patrician houses also lined Haidplatz Square. Emperor Karl V had been a guest at the architecturally captivating Goldenes Kreuz building. I also gazed at the Porta Praetoria Roman gate from 179 AD with its stone arch and side tower. As I walked through the center of town, I was surprised that Regensburg had so many tea shops and bookstores. A teetotaler and a literature addict, I wandered through each one. The varieties of teas offered were astounding.

In the morning I ate croissants in the hotel’s quaint breakfast room and headed for the Collegiate Church of Our Lady of the Alte Kapelle. A farmer’s market was in progress in the square where the church was situated. All the fruit and vegetables looked delicious. 

The interior of the Alte Kapelle

The interior of the Alte Kapelle

I knew the church dated from 875, when a grandson of Charlemagne had it erected. The medieval sculptures decorating the main portal did not prepare me for the strikingly different interior. I gaped at the 18th century Baroque and Rococo ornamentation. This was definitely one of the most beautiful chapels I had ever seen.  It was light and airy, full of vibrant colors that emitted joy and hope. The main painting depicted the Pope handing Holy Roman Emperor Henry (Heinrich) II a picture of the Virgin Mary.  It was only possible to see the two naves and six bays through an iron grille, unfortunately. I longed to walk through the chapel and peer closely at each decoration.

The Alte Kapelle

The Alte Kapelle

The stucco work was astounding, and the white walls were adorned with putti. The frescoes narrated described the legend of how the church came into being. They also celebrated the Virgin Mary as the patron saint of the church and glorified the founders of the church, Emperor Henry II and Empress Cunigunde of Luxembourg. Emperor Henry II had believed in centralized authority and had strongly supported the Catholic Church. Due to his devotion to the Catholic Church, Pope Eugene III canonized him in 1146. He was the only German bestowed this honor. His wife Cunigunde was involved in politics, participating in the Imperial Diets in Regensburg. She is said to have performed miracles, such as walking over flaming irons. One fresco showed the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven, surrounded by angels and saints. The main altar was decorated in rocaille and focused on the Virgin Mary. God the Father was perched on a globe above her, and a dove symbolizing the Holy Ghost also appeared.

It fascinated me that this church retained elements of the Middle Ages and at the same time celebrated the Baroque and Rococo periods with a flourish. I could not get over how the 18th century styles gave the chapel a sort of weightlessness and airiness that so poignantly represented joy and hope for me.  It was uplifting. I was in an ever better mood when I left the chapel, after staring through the grille for at least a half hour.

Next I found my way to the Emmeram Abbey. I would be touring the Thurn und Taxis Palace adjacent to it later in the day. The monastery had gained independence from the bishopric in 975 and did not lose its independence until 1803. Then, at the beginning of the 19th century, the abbey was secularized. The King of Bavaria gave the Thurn und Taxis family the monastery because the postal services that they had managed for centuries had been nationalized. I had read that the stone reliefs on the north portal, dating from the Middle Ages, were the oldest north of the Alps.

Religious ornamentation on the facade of a building

Religious ornamentation on the facade of a building

The complex was named after the bishop Emmeram, who had lived in Regensburg in the 700s. Inside frescoes told his exciting life story: He had worked as a missionary for Theodo I, the Duke of Bavaria and was much respected throughout the realm. Then the duke’s unwed daughter confided in him that she was pregnant, and she did not want to tell the duke who the father was. Emmeram advised her to lie and say that he was the father. Then he set off on a pilgrimage to Rome.

When the duke’s daughter told her father the news, he had his son and followers chase Emmeram. When they caught the pious missionary, the duke’s followers tied him to a ladder and chopped him into pieces, slowly torturing him. Then the duke found out that Emmeram was not the father of his daughter’s child and ordered his body to be bought back to Regensburg. Emmeram was made a saint.  I also saw fascinating altars and a crypt dating from 780, showing off masterful Romanesque architecture.  The high altar hailed from 1669.

My next stop was the palace. I had to use an audio guide at the palace because the tours were only in German.  I was disappointed that the Electors’ Fountain was covered in scaffolding. I wanted to see the sculpture of Emperor Arnulf bearing a scepter and shield and the eight coats-of-arms standing for the Holy Roman Empire and the seven electors who selected the emperor.

The architecture of Regensburg

The architecture of Regensburg

Upon entering the palace, we came to a monumental marble staircase. The guide spoke animatedly for some minutes before my audio guide started. The German-speaking tourists were enthralled with whatever he was saying. Then we went up one of the 14 marble staircases in the complex that was the largest residential palace in Germany. It included more than 500 rooms. A ceiling  painting looked as if it was about to burst with color above the staircase.

The Thurn und Taxis clan dated back to the 13th century when the family was named Tasso. During the end of the 15th century, Francesco Tasso created the first postal system going from Innsbruck to Brussels. It took a week for the mail to reach its destination. The key to its success was that the rider and horse were changed at each postal station. For his ingenuity, Tasso was given nobility status by Emperor Maximilian I and thus became Franz von Taxis in 1512. By the end of the 18th century, the postal system was flourishing.

Then bad times came. At the beginning of the 19th century, most of the postal service was nationalized. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to the Thurn und Taxis’ control of the postal service in 1815. After the Napoleonic era, the family managed the postal service once again, but only until Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor of the North Germany Federation in 1867. A very conservative politician and nationalist who did not favor democracy, the prominent Prussian statesman was responsible for forming the German Empire in 1871.

A fascinating facade in downtown Regensburg

A fascinating facade in downtown Regensburg

I was intrigued by the grotesque figures on the ceiling of the Conservatory, also called the Winter Garden. Female figures represented the seasons, though winter was conspicuously absent. I noticed that a sickle and grain stood for summer. The Brussels’ tapestries in the Large Dining Room were astounding. The Throne Room featured a throne from the 18th century and tapestry decoration. The Ballroom took my breath away. Its wall paneling, frames, balustrades and stucco ceilings boasted Rococo and Neo-Rococo styles. Faience Neo-Rococo stoves were present, too. The Ballroom, created in 1730, had been transported from Frankfurt to Regensburg in 1890, when the Thurn und Taxis clan moved to Regensburg. Even the glass chandeliers had been equipped with electric lighting at the end of the 19th century. I liked the idyllic landscape paintings hung high on the walls and the rich white decoration that included garlands and putti as well as plant and ribbon motifs.

I noticed a portrait of Elizabeth of Austria, often called Sisi, in the Balcony Room. Because her sister Helene was married to Crown Prince Maximilian Anton von Thurn und Taxis, she had often stayed here. The sisters’ father had been a Bavarian Duke while their mother was the daughter of the Bavarian King. I had read how uncomfortable Sisi had felt around the ceremony of royal life and how she had been a free spirit who had traveled around the world. I thought about Franz Joseph intending to propose to Helene but changing his mind and asking for Sisi’s hand in marriage instead. And I thought of Sisi’s assassination in Geneva, when an Italian anarchist stabbed her while she was taking a walk. And I remembered reading about the lavish funeral with all the pomp and ceremony that she had despised.

The gate to the Stone Bridge

The gate to the Stone Bridge

The Silver Room featured a silver chandelier with cupids holding candles. The tapestry with a battle theme in the Gobelin Salon got my attention as well. The Yellow Salon exploded with color. It was decorated in Rococo style and dated from about 1740.  I tried to imagine members of the noble family playing music here, the tinkling of piano keys or rich melody of a clarinet. I was happy whenever I saw yellow because it was my Mom’s favorite color and the color of the kitchen walls in my parents’ house. I recalled all the earnest conversations I had with my Mom, seated at that circular kitchen table, sipping green or black tea.

The Green Salon had served as a bedroom for Princess Therese from 1812. I was mesmerized by the bed decorated with four swan figures on its legs. I loved the detail of the feathers and long necks of the swans. A curtain was adorned with gold bees. Both the swans and bees were characteristics of the French style that dominated this room. In the Czar Nikolaus Salon a portrait of Princess Theresa von Thurn und Taxis showed the 37-year old clad in a chemise dress and wearing pearls in front of a forest. I noticed an exquisite blue with gold tea set in another room.

Then we came to a contemporary art exhibition of portraits of the living family. The portraits of four women and one young man had blinking eyes. I thought it was a good idea to put portraits of the current family in the exposition, but I did not understand why their eyes were blinking. I guess it was meant to emphasize that they were living, that the tradition of the family continued, but it seemed out-of-place with the décor of the other rooms. Then I saw the House Chapel that had once been a bedroom for Crown Princess Helene. After the Princess’ death in 1890, her son Prince Albert I had it reconstructed into a chapel. The alloyed coats-of-arms decorating the windows impressed me.

Regensburg's cathedral dominates the skyline.

Regensburg’s cathedral dominates the skyline.

Next we entered part of the cloister. I imagined monks walking through the round Romanesque arches while singing hymns. I saw statues dating back to 1200. I imagined how the room had looked in the Middle Ages with its then colorful decoration depicting biblical stories. I admired a Neo-Gothic tomb chapel as well. Another wing featured high and thin Gothic arches. The cloisters were certainly full of architectural wonders!

After touring the palace, I visited its museum. I saw a Japanese lacquered cabinet from 1690 and took special notice of the exquisite Asian landscape scenes on the front. White gold porcelain featured floral motifs. A ceremonial carrying chair also caught my attention. Medals from the chivalry Order of the Golden Fleece that was founded in 1430 and 55 richly decorated 18th century snuff boxes also made up the exhibition. One room was decorated with Biedermeier furniture, dating from 1815 to 1848. The furniture was not positioned against the walls in order to encourage communication. The highlight, though, was the white with gold porcelain service set from the early 1700s, made by a Viennese manufacturer that had only been in existence for 30 years. It was the only complete service of this manufacturer in the world.

The Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall

I had a late lunch at an otherwise empty café near the monastery. It was decorated plainly and appeared to be a place for locals as the menu of five entrees was written only in German. I imagined that the restaurant would be packed on weekdays. I chose the Wiener Schnitzel and received a generous portion. It was delicious. I had dessert at the oldest coffeehouse in Germany, the Café Prinzess, where I managed to find a free table despite the crowd. I ordered almond cake and green tea. Surprisingly, service was not slow. The cake and the green tea were excellent.

Soon it was time for the English tour of the Old Town Hall across the street from the coffeehouse. I got a free ticket because I have a press pass and would be writing about the exhibition. However, only the torture chambers in the cellar were open that day. The lavish rooms once used for the Imperial Diet were closed for a conference. Two tourists complained that they had to pay full price for their tickets, even though the Imperial rooms were off limits that day. They decided to come back the following day when both parts of the tour would be open. I was leaving the next day, so I had no chance of seeing the Imperial rooms on this trip.

For almost 150 years from the 17th to the beginning of the 19th centuries, the Imperial Assembly had held political meetings in this building. But the Imperial history of the town was above, in those lavish rooms that I could not see. I descended into the torture chamber, which helped paint a portrait of the history of the town. I peered down at a dungeon that was three meters deep with no light. A Jewish gravestone served as the toilet seat, another reminder of the rampant anti-Semitism that had riddled the town. Once again, I recalled the 1519 expulsion of the Jews.

An ancient door at the Old Town Hall

An ancient door at the Old Town Hall

I also saw a so-called spiked rabbit, consisting of spikes on a wooden chair. I could not imagine the pain a person would feel seated on those spikes. It was too awful to think about. Some prisoners were locked in a neck iron, exposed to the public in a pillory. I also saw a timber cell without any light.  Prisoners sentenced to death stayed in the Dead Man’s Cell, where there was light and fresh air. An opening allowed family members to touch the incarcerated’s hands before the execution. A big beam balance from the 16th century kept the merchants honest. If merchants cheated customers, they went to the pillory.

The instruments had been used from 1530 to 1781, during three centuries. It was difficult for me to imagine that such horrific methods had been used for such a long time. Then again, in in today’s world there is waterboarding. When the accused was detained, he or she might have heard a concert taking place in one of the Imperial rooms above, but the prisoners were never tortured to musical accompaniment.  

The Romanesque portal at St. James' Church

The Romanesque portal at St. James’ Church

I walked around town for the rest of the day, the history of the town seeping into my soul. The next morning I had a little time before I headed to the train station. I was disappointed that I did not have a chance to visit any of the museums, especially the Historic Museum that told the tales of the town from as far back as Roman times.

First I walked to the Church of St. James, which was built by Scottish monks in 1150. The church still retained its Romanesque style. The entrance portal was pure Romanesque, richly decorated with sculptural figures and grotesque symbols. The architectural gem was encased in glass, so there was a physical barrier between the viewer and the object. I could understand the need to protect such an ancient treasure, but the glass barrier restricted the visual communication with the viewer. I gaped at the entrance portal for about a half hour. The interior was austere but beautiful.

Next, I headed for Dachauplatz, trying to find the remnants of the Roman wall as they were marked on my map. A small section of the wall that did not even come up to my knees disappeared into a parking garage. Modernization had destroyed some of the historical roots of the town, replacing significant reminders of the past with an eyesore common in the contemporary world. I was very disappointed that a car park had been built in the historical center of the town, marring the cityscape. I had read that in the past a monastery had been on the premises.

The decoration on the Romanesque portal

The decoration on the Romanesque portal

As I had made my way to Dachauplatz, I had taken note of all the various architectural styles of the buildings and the artwork adorning the facades. Standing on the square, facing the Historic Museum, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been present in 1945, near the end of the war. Residents had taken part in a demonstration, eager for the Americans to take over the city. Some protestors were executed in that same square.

Soon it was time to take the train back to Prague. I yearned to visit the town again and to get to know Bavaria even better. On the train a pleasant surprise awaited me. I began chatting with the woman seated across from me, an American world traveler in her sixties on her way to Prague. It turned out that she also loved reading mysteries and adored cats. As we discussed many topics, I realized that the best thing about traveling is the people you meet on the way to your destination. We would keep in touch, for sure.

I returned to Prague, elated, ready to face the long winter ahead with energy and enthusiasm and ready to plan a spring trip back to Bavaria.

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

 

Another look at the Romanesque portal of St. James' Church

Another look at the Romanesque portal of St. James’ Church