Tag: Germany

Detour: The Palaces of King Ludwig II

When visiting World Heritage Sites in Bavaria, King Ludwig II’s two palaces Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee and the castle Neuschwanstein offer a nice detour. Many tourists actually believe one of those to be a World Heritage Site, but wrongly so. Equally wrong are those who consider it a copy of Disney’s Cinderella castle. But let me start at the beginning…

Ludwig II lived between 1845 and 1886, and ascended to the Bavarian throne in 1864. He was a generous patron of the arts and initiated and financed many architectural and artistic projects. The older he became, though, the less he bothered with matters of state and was considered to live in a sort of dream world, hence his nickname ‘Märchenkönig’, or fairy tale king. He was considered mad by many contemporaries and eventually declared insane and deposed as king. Shortly after, he was found dead on the shores of Lake Starnberg, but the initial explanation of suicide by drowning did not hold when it was discovered that there was no water in his lungs. The mystery probably won’t be solved any more, and whether Ludwig II truly was a little mad or just a misunderstood eccentric, Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee make for excellent sightseeing destinations.

Neuschwanstein probably is the most famous of the three, and often mistaken for either a World Heritage Site or a copy of Disney’s Cinderella castle. The amount of misinformed drivel you are confronted with by accidentally listening in on tourists’ conversations could make your blood freeze. But don’t let me get carried away by this, one of my pet peeves.

What Neuschwanstein Castle certainly is, is one of the most photographed castles in the world. I have visited Neuschwanstein Castle twice so far, and both times I was more than a tad frightened of being trampled underfoot by the hordes of visitors. The sheer number is mindblowing; 1.5 million visitors per year, according to Wikipedia. But then Neuschwanstein really does offer everything people look for in a castle:
It is situated in a lofty spot in the mountains (though not so high up you couldn’t reach it), it has lots of towers and turrets, and nooks and crannies, and once you have made it up, there are spectacular views across the foothills of the Alps and the Allgäu region. Not to forget the legends that still keep popping up of a deranged king trying to build an idealised version of a castle, only to committ suicide (or be killed, rather) before it was even finished.

Despite having visited the castle twice, there is much more to see. I would especially recommend taking some time for longish walks in the area, because those would provide stunning views of the castle from different viewpoints – and the landscape itself is beautiful and makes for a perfect holiday destination, especially if you’re into hiking, biking or paragliding.

 

Building works on Herrenchiemsee – or more correctly, Herrenchiemsee New Palace – were begun in 1878 and, as with Neuschwanstein castle, never finished due to Ludwig II’s death in 1886. The palace is located on Herreninsel island within Lake Chiemsee and offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and especially towards the Alps mountain range. Despite the rather large number of visitors I encountered, the island offers quiet and tranquility. You can walk through woods and fields, or take a trip on a horse-drawn carriage. I even saw several young deer when I was there. Due to the size of the island, visitors aren’t all lumped together all the time, except for the waiting areas for the boat transfers to the Fraueninsel island and the mainland.

Most remarkable about Herrenchiemsee palace is that it was planned as a copy of Versailles. I think that similarities in the garden’s layout are certainly there, but it would take a lot more to even come close to Versailles’ grandeur. Notwithstanding, Herrenchiemsee palace is striking, and in my eyes it gains most through its situation: If I had a chance to build myself a palace, I would definitely enjoy a location surrounded by woods and water.

 

Linderhof palace is perhaps the most extravagant of the three building projects, and shows Ludwig II’s eccentricity best: It sports a hermitage, grotto, Moorish kiosque and Morroccan House, as well as lavish interior design inside the palace. Linderhof is also the only building project that King Ludwig II saw completed. The palace grounds are situated within the Ammergebirge Nature Reserve, which makes for beautiful surroundings, and the palace was actually built on the site of an old hunting lodge. To be honest, though, I believe I would have preferred the unspectacular hunting lodge over the overwrought style of the new palace…

 

All three palaces are easily accessible from Munich, though not in one day. As they are each located in beautiful surroundings, I would recommend at least an overnight stay for each rather than just going for a short trip from Munich. Neuschwanstein is located close to the World Heritage Site Pilgrimage Church of Wies (or Wieskirche), which I’ll soon write about, as well.

 

I would like to thank the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen for granting me a photo permit for exterior photographs at the three palaces and for providing additional photos (see captions above for details).

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Würzburg Residence with Court Gardens and Residence Square

Built between 1719 and 1744, with the lavish interior finished by 1781, the Residence in Würzburg is a superb example of a Baroque palace. The team of artisans and artists from Germany, Austria, Italy and France surpassed themselves here and created a variation of the Baroque style called Würzburg Rococco.

The Residence in Würzburg is a breathtaking example of the Baroque style and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1981, together with the Court Gardens and the Residence Square. I couldn’t say that I am a huge fan of Baroque architecture or art, but I admire the craftsmanship and detail, nonetheless.

In my opinion, the style was taken a tad over the top here, but even if you don’t like the style or just consider it all a bit too much, the overall effect cannot be denied. Even I was left gobsmacked on entering the huge hall with the staircase – there is just so much to see that you can’t help stopping in your tracks and craning your neck while trying to take it all in. The ceiling and overall décor within the court church had much the same effect. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold and marble in one and the same place.
The Bavarian Palace Department kindly provided me with the following two photographs to showcase the amazing interior:

 

Apart from the architectural design and built-in features, there are many artefacts to be viewed, chief among them paintings and intricate furniture, but also an indoor carousel for the children who lived in the residence. Curious to see were also the many rooms or even flights of rooms that were designed to follow a common theme. As we’re talking about a palace here, this wasn’t merely done through a little colour-coordinating for pillows and curtains, but basically everything in those rooms is matched, from colours over carved furniture to paintings, mosaics or murals and whatnot.

In all honesty, though, I have to say that I enjoyed the Court Gardens even more. This may, in part, be due to the fact that it was an absolute scorcher of a day when I visited. Luckily, there are many benches througout the gardens, so that you can stop and rest and just take in the views inbetween strolling around. Despite the Court Gardens having a rather artificial feeling to them (which is typical of the Baroque area), there are enough huge trees to make the layout bearable. Admission to the gardens is free, by the way.

 

Unfortunately, there is a disappointing aspect, as well: The large car park in Residence Square is quite an eyesore and rather blemishes the front view of the Residence. The Residence is a definite must-see, though, despite the flawed car-park situation.

 

I would like to thank the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen for granting me a photo permit for exterior photographs of the Residence and the Court Gardens and for providing two photos of the interior (see captions above for details).

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Bamberg

Bamberg is a splendid example of a central European city with a medieval centre. Located between Würzburg and Bayreuth in northern Bavaria, it offers well-maintained historical buildings, water in the form of the river Regnitz and countless nice places to stroll around, eat or drink.

When I visited Bamberg, I was extremely unlucky, weatherwise: It was raining cats and dogs and just wouldn’t stop. Not the best conditions for sightseeing or taking photos, so I will definitely have to undertake another visit at some stage.

I learned that Bamberg was a very important town in the medieval and early modern eras, due to its links to the Slav peoples and – with growing prosperity and massive building projects – its architectural influence on other central European countries. I definitely wouldn’t have expected this, before coming here – to my shame, I had somehow always thought of Bamberg as just another example of a medieval town. How wrong one can be!

The criteria for Bamberg being a World Heritage Site are as follows, according to the UNESCO WHS website:

‘The layout and architecture of medieval and baroque Bamberg exerted a strong influence on urban form and evolution in the lands of central Europe from the 11th century onwards.’

It continues to say that

‘Bamberg is an outstanding and representative example of an early medieval town in central Europe, both in its plan and its surviving ecclesiastical and secular buildings.’

In the 18th century, Bamberg became a centre of the Enlightenment and was home to such famous figures as the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. I was in for another surprise, there.

The World Heritage area in Bamberg is distributed over three parts of the city: the Bergstadt (hill city), the Inselstadt (island city) and the Gärtnerstadt (market gardeners’ district). In addition to the architectural heritage, Bamberg houses three documents which are part of the world’s documentary heritage. Information on those can be found in the entrance hall of the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg (i.e. the state library).

 

Due to the never-ending downpour, I couldn’t leisurely stroll through the historic centre as planned, but very nearly jogged through it. Despite the lack of fun in that, the special atmosphere of the historic centre still shone through. I hope that the few photos I managed to take can actually convey what a pretty city Bamberg is.

Apart from the very well maintained historic buildings, Bamberg has a number of cafes and restaurants on offer, so it is possible to intersperse sightseeing with breaks. I imagine this to be especially nice on a sunny day, when you can actually sit outside. Another definite bonus in my eyes is the proximity of water in the form of the river Regnitz.

One thing annoyed me immensely, though: I cannot for the life of me fathom why city planners would situate huge, ugly parking lots in front of some of the most beautiful historic buildings. I know that space is hard to come by in cities, but surely there has to be another solution, rather than have all those cars blemish the views of the historic town centre?

 

Even though I couldn’t enjoy my trip to Bamberg as much as I had hoped due to the poor weather and the necessity of catching an early-ish train, I can say that it is well worth visiting.

 

I would like to thank the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen for granting me a photo permit for exterior photographs of the New Residence and the Old Court and for providing two photos of the New Residence (see captions above for details).

 

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Detour: The Art Nouveau Swimming Pool in Aachen

When in Aachen, most tourists naturally focus on the cathedral, which was Germany’s first World Heritage Site, and on the lovely historic town centre. And who would blame them – Aachen is one of the prettiest German cities I know and despite the cathedral often being overshadowed by its much larger and more well known ‘neighbour’, the Kölner Dom in nearby Cologne, I personally find Aachen Cathedral prettier.

However, a little detour within Aachen is quite in order: One really shouldn’t miss a visit to the public swimming pool Elisabeth-Halle, which is an Art Nouveau gem.

 

The pool building is located in the town centre and was built between 1908 and 1911, making the Elisabeth-Halle over a hundred years old and, more importantly, one of Germany’s few remaining Art Nouveau pools. Many were destroyed or experienced a change of function, unfortunately.

So, even if your hotel accommodation does not have a pool, don’t forget to bring your swimming gear on a trip to Aachen. You’ll feel transported back in time on visiting this pool, starting right on entering. The entrance hall is huge, and it only gets better the further you go inside. You’ll be awed by the high ceiling, which makes for an especially nice swim when the sun is out. With the many large windows, it feels a little like swimming outside when the weather is nice.

The changing rooms are amazing as well, charmingly old-fashioned and situated all around the pool and on two storeys, due to the height of the building. Apart from the main pool, there are several others, not all of which are still in use. In former times there were also so-called ‘Wannenbäder’ available, i.e. tubs, which could be used for small money by people who did not have proper bathing facilities in their accommodation. They can still occasionally be viewed and I found it quite interesting to see the individual small rooms, each with its own tub. Nowadays, they aren’t in use anymore, as modern facilities in houses and flats leave this former ‘Bäderkultur’ (bathhouse culture) unnecessary. There were also sweating baths and down in the cellars there was even a bathing facility for dogs! =)

 

When I undertook a guided tour of the building, I was quite astonished to find out that the cellars were used as air-raid shelters during WWII, you can still see some of the signage. I think I would have freaked out if I had had to spend any long-ish amount of time down there. The tour of the cellars was worthwhile, in any case, as we were given a huge amount of information on how a public pool actually works, regarding the layout, the running of it, the heating and the water hygiene regulations.

 

I really recommend a visit to the Elisabeth-Halle when you’re visiting Aachen, it makes for quite a change to swimming in regular, modern pools. Don’t worry, though, the showers etc. were all modernised a few years ago, its only the building and design that are retro.

The city’s webpage for the pool is only available in German, I’m afraid, but it does state the address, opening times and contact details, which should be helpful even to people who do not speak German.

 

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Zollverein Coal Mining Complex (Zeche Zollverein)

When I was growing up in a small, leafy municipality near the Dutch-German border, the German area known as the Ruhrgebiet was still the epitome of ugly. The snooty inhabitants of better-off areas left no doubt about the industrial Ruhrgebiet’s shortcomings, its ugliness and dirt, impoverished inhabitants, and a certain university taking first place in students’ suicide statistics. Getting older, however, I heard more and more differing voices. It seemed that the inhabitants of the Ruhrgebiet actually took pride in their working class background, its rough charms  and underdog status. This is a little simplified, naturally, as the Ruhrgebiet isn’t a small area (4.435 square kilometers with 5.1 million inhabitants, according to Wikipedia) and the landscape, people and traditions do vary. On the whole, this label of a rough, but ultimately warm-hearted place and people still sticks, though.

What a lot of people, including myself, have not or have only slowly realised, is the fact that the “ugly duckling” has started transforming itself. Nowadays, there are many huge, green areas throughout the Ruhrgebiet, offering lovely local recreation areas, which twenty-odd years ago nobody would have expected to remain alive and green in this part of the country.

The coal mining complex known as Zeche Zollverein, located in the city of Essen, is a good example of such re-purposing. Zeche Zollverein was active between 1851 and 1986, oftentimes the most productive German coal mine per annum and generally offering up millions of tonnes of coal each year, and employing up to a thousand workers. Although the buildings and remaining machinery naturally look industrial – how could they appear any different? – the surrounding area at Zeche Zollverein is… green.

 

I was dumbstruck on finding out that the former mining complex now offers a recreational area for people living in the vicinity, who go there for walks or cycling. I can’t even say how many parents I saw pushing their prams or walking toddlers and dogs, something I wouldn’t have expected at the site of a huge former industrial complex. There even is a small swimming pool, which I already wrote about. Dotted throughout the site, you will also find sculptures and other arty installations. You can enter the grounds (and pool!)  free of charge, making the site even more accessible to locals; if you want to visit exhibitions or take guided tours, there are fees to be paid, however.

When I visited, I participated in a guided tour of the coking plant, which was extremely interesting, and also highlighted the dangers faced by the workers, even in modern times. I then visited the Ruhr Museum, which showcases not only the cultural and industrial, but also the natural history of the Ruhrgebiet. The museum is situated within the former coal washing plant, providing a fascinating backdrop to the exhibits. People interested in product design are bound to love the Red Dot Design Museum. In winter, you’ll find an ice rink in the old coking plant and stalls with all sorts of christmassy food. In case you get tired of walking, there is a bike hire station on site and a shuttle bus service is also provided.

 

In sum, I have to say that I will need to visit again: Spending a day or a couple of hours will give you a good first overview over the heritage of the coal mining industry. The whole of the former coal mining complex, however, is so huge and offers so many facilities, exhibitions and guided walks, that one day just didn’t suffice.  To me, the site is especially fascinating through its mix of industry and nature and art – and even food, by way of several restaurants. The former industrial site has been thoroughly incorporated into modern life, blending the past and the present and allowing for the history to be experienced and touched, not just looked upon. What more can you ask of a heritage site?

 

 

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Taking a Dip in a Colliery

The swimming pool at Zeche Zollverein in Essen just has to be the craziest pool I have ever visited – if there is one place I wouldn’t expect a pool, it has to be a colliery.

Zeche Zollverein (or Zollverein Colliery, as it is also known in English), is a World Heritage Site that depicts the tough working conditions which could be found in collieries throughout the Ruhrgebiet (or collieries anywhere else, come to think of it). And smack in the middle of the former coking plant, there sits a small swimming pool. To keep in line with the industrial heritage, it has been fashioned from disused freight containers, but it seems a little out of place, nonetheless.

 

The pool was created by Dirk Paschke und Daniel Milohnic in 2001, and has since become something of a fixture, being open to the public every summer, free of charge.

There is a lifeguard on duty, and when I visited the pool was crowded with local kids – they obviously enjoyed the pool and I think it is a marvellous idea to combine a heritage site with everyday life. After all, heritage sites and historic monuments have become just that because of the impact they had on peoples’ lives – so why not fuse old and new?

If you happen to be visiting the area in summer, take your bathers along and take a dip at this fancy pool!

Do you know of any other World Heritage Sites that happen to have their own pool?

 

Please note that this blog post was first published on my previous blog ‘Inside Chrissie’s Mind’ on November 12th, 2015.

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Climbing the Roof of Aachen Cathedral

A week ago, my friend Jessi and I were in for an extra special treat: we had a chance to participate in a guided tour of Aachen Cathedral (Aachener Dom). This wasn’t one of the regular tours, though, but one which took us into the framework and right onto the roof.

The tour was led by the person in charge of the cathedral building, Mr. Maintz. His title in German is Dombaumeister, but translations are a bit tricky. A Baumeister is a master builder, but a Dombaumeister is more than that. Back in medieval times, this would have been the master builder (or architect, maybe) in charge of planning and building the cathedral. Nowadays, a Dombaumeister’s task is to preserve the building and repair it, where necessary. Mr. Maintz, in fact, isn’t actually a builder, but an engineer and has two colleagues who help preserve the Aachener Dom – three people for such a large and important monument really don’t seem much, I thought. Apart from being the Dombaumeister, Mr. Maintz is an excellent tour guide and managed to convey a wealth of information – even to someone like me, who has hardly any knowledge of the natural sciences or engineering.

 

He explained, for instance, that he is in charge not only of the actual building (i.e. the stone structure), but also the heating and that this involves various aspects, such as keeping the interior of the building between certain temperatures and degrees of humidity, so as not to compromise the wooden structures, furniture or the artefacts within the church. He even stretched my grasp of chemical processes by explaining how and why stone erodes, or how to fight woodworm.

Our guide also gave a detailed account of the different building phases and the various materials and skilled labourers at hand. It is to be noted that the original building, the palatial chapel, was built around 800 AD in a style and size which was entirely unusual for this area. This is, in fact, one of the reasons that Aachen Cathedral was the first German historical monument to be awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, back in 1978. There are several other superlatives to be found here, as well: The stained glass windows in the Gothic choir cover an area of 1.000 square meters (nearly the size of an Olympic swimming pool) and have a height of 25 meters, thus being the highest windows from the Gothic period. And if I remember correctly, the building of the palatial chapel was – at the time – the highest north of the Alps. Considering that Aachen at that time was neither a large nor an important town, it is quite astonishing that such an ambitious building project was undertaken here. But such are the perks of being an emperors’s favourite abode…

 

Mr. Maintz then led us into the attic and explained how the large and – for this area – unusual structure was held together. It involved foundations five meters deep and huge iron bands around the building, as well as a deflection of pressure from the roof into the ground. If you want to find out more, I’m afraid you’ll have to read up on it or do a tour yourselves, as I don’t have sufficient knowledge of engineering to explain this properly. Apart from that I would’t want to steal Mr. Mainz’ excellent description of how statics work, which involved a grapefruit. (I kid you not.)

The highlight, of course, was being able to walk along the galleries on the roof. We had breathtaking views of Aachen and the surrounding area, and it isn’t every day that you get to climb around on a cathedral. I very much doubt that the 30 German kings that were coronated in Aachen between 936 und 1531 had the privilege. But then again, they wouldn’t have had cameras, anyway. =)

 

If ever you get a chance to participate in this special tour, do it! I am almost certain that you will not regret it, as you get to visit areas of the cathedral that are usually out of bounds and you are provided with lots and lots of information about the cathedral and its 1.200 year old history. Oh, and the proceeds actually go to preserving the cathedral, which is a pretty good thing, as well.

 

Please note that this blog post was first published on my previous blog ‘Inside Chrissie’s Mind’ on October 28th, 2015.

 

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