Thursday, June 30, 2011

Berchtesgaden And Eagle's Nest

On Friday, June 24, Gina and I traveled to Berchtesgadenland (above) and the infamous Eagle's Nest (below), Adolf Hitler's unique lair atop Mt. Kehlstein in the beautiful Bavarian Alps.

Tucked into the southern reaches of Germany on its border with Austria, the local legend claims that the angels responsible for locating God's natural wonders were startled by His orders to make haste and dropped them all around Berchtesgaden. Along the way, we motored past Lake Chiemsee, the largest lake in Bavaria.

Arriving in the alpine village after a two-hour bus ride, the tour proceeded immediately to special busses for the trip up the mountain.

The steep and dangerous road is closed to private traffic, and the only road that compares in my mind is the one up Pike's Peak. Once at the top, we entered a long tunnel (below) leading to a brass-encased elevator for the remaining ascent to the summit.

Built as a 50th birthday present to Der Furher, Eagle's Nest was completed in a span of 13 months by 3,000 laborers -- mostly Italians -- as a diplomatic meeting place. Of all the places in Germany that suffered from its association with Hitler, Berchtesgaden is perhaps the most tainted.

The German leader, who already had a small home in nearby Obersalzberg, had established a part-time headquarters and would bring the Nazi Party brass with him.

Though it was a mostly cloudy day, the view from the top of Mt. Kehlstein and Eagle's Nest was nonetheless impressive (below is the view of Konigssee, or King Lake).

Although the Allies flattened Hitler's Nazi headquarters at the imposing Berghof in Obersalzberg in the final days of WW II, Eagle's Nest was strangely spared. Our tour guide Bridgit noted that because of its obscure location, many children -- including her own mother -- was sent to Obersalzberg for protection from the Allied invaders.

At the base of Mt. Kehlstein below Hitler's mountaintop eyrie is the "Documentation Center," a museum that provides an incredibly thorough look at Hitler's initial appeal to the German people, his odd politics, the German resistance movement and Nazi death camps.

Gina and I toured the eerily elaborate underground bunker system (below). I wondered what it must have been like to wait out an Allied bombing raid in these bizarre catacombs.

In an odd twist of irony, Der Furher reportedly suffered from vertigo and rarely visited Eagle's Nest.

You'd think that Martin Bormann -- the key Hitler henchman who engineered the building of Eagle's Nest -- would have checked in with his boss before going to all the trouble.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Castle Keep

Although Germany has many castles, the most spectacular are the ones built by the "fairy tale king," Ludwig II: Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein. We saw two of three of those and also witnessed the Nymphenberg castle in Munich and viewed the Hohenschangau castle across the valley from Neuschwanstein.

On Thursday, June 16, Gina and I took a bus tour to the Nymphenberg castle (below) located a few kilometers from our hotel in the Alstadt. Begun in 1664 as a villa, the palace and gardens were expanded over the next century to create the royal family's summer residence.

The main palace building consists of a large villa and two wings with sumptuous period rooms. The Queen's bedroom contains the sleigh bed where Ludwig II was born. Outside, the royal gardens could seriously be mistaken for a splendid English-style park.

Right off the bat, the high point of the tour is the Sheonheitengalerie (Gallery of Beauties) housed in the former apartment of Queen Caroline.

Approximately 38 portraits of beautiful women -- chosen by King Ludwig I -- gaze from the walls.

Some were lovers of Ludwig I: all were beautiful.

The gallery includes portraits of Helene Sedlmayr, the shoemaker's daughter, wearing an elaborate frock selected by the king, and Anna Hillmayer (above) and Anna Kaula (left).

Other portraits include the notorious courtesan Lola Montez, 19th century gossip columnist Jane Lady Ellensborough and English beauty Lady Jane Erskine.

Herrenchiemsee, an elaborate replica of the Palace of Versailles, is a tribute to Ludwig II's hero and role model, Louis XIV, King of France. Located on an island on Lake Chiemsee, the castle was never intended as a residence and Ludwig II spent only 10 days there.

Typical of his other elaborate and ornate castles, Ludwig II spent more time and money on his tribute to the French Sun King at Herrenchiemsee than both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein combined.

Linderhof (above) was Ludwig II's primary residence, a small but splendiferous palace: the only castle he lived to see fully completed.

Wedged into a green hillside with fountains, gardens and elaborate statues, Linderhof was also inspired by Louis XIV. Jewels, artwork and a large chandelier are the hallmarks of the structure. An artificial waterfall (below) cascades outside his bedroom, providing cooling during the summer months.

The gardens and outbuildings surrounding Linderhof are almost as elaborate as the castle itself. The oriental style Moorish Kiosk (below) is where Ludwig II would hold court, viewing nightly entertainment.

The Venus Grotto, a man-made cave with a stage set inspired by Wagner's Tannhauser. Sadly, toward the end of his life, as Ludwig II became more despondent and introverted, he spent his nights reading while sleeping during the daylight hours.

Ludwig II spent his formative years at the yellow-painted Hohenschwangau (below). His father, Maximilian II, rebuilt what remained of a 12th-centry castle built by the Schwangau Knights and converted the exterior to a neo-Gothic style castle.

It would seem inevitable that young Ludwig II would be influenced by all the medieval imagery; in this case, the acorn didn't fall too far from the tree. But Ludwig II would take castle-building to a whole new level with Neuschwanstein.

Arguably the most famous castle in the world is the one that Disney used as his model for Disneyland -- Neuschwanstein.

Ludwig II planned the castle himself, eschewing an architect while employing a stage designer. The structure demonstrates the elaborate stylings of a genius and a madman. His vision was to recreate the world of German mythology through the operatic works of Richard Wagner.

The centerpiece of the castle is the Minstrel's Hall (above), a lavish stage created to reenact the stories of old through Richard Wagner's music. Every room in Neuschwanstein is elaborate but King Ludwig II's bedroom is the one that takes the taco: a huge gothic-style bed (below) crowned with intricately carved spires that took 13 woodcarvers over a dozen years to complete.

Neuschwanstein also features a gaudy artificial grotto, a Byzantine throne room and an incredible mosaic floor containing over two million stones. Every window in the palace provides jaw-dropping views of the Bavarian Alps and the plain and lake below.

Some of the best views of the castle were from a short hike up the trail above Neuschwanstein at Marianbruke (Mary's Bridge), where Gina posed for a shot (below). The bridge spans the Pollat Gorge over a waterfall just above the castle.

Ludwig II was a romantic and a renaissance man who was likely born just a hundered years too late. Like so many of his grand schemes, Neuschwanstein was never finished and the last ruler of Bavaria spent only 170 days in residence before his death in 1886.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fairy Tale King

Beloved ruler? Inspired castle-builder? Crazed spendthrift? Dejected loner?

King Ludwig II (left) was likely all that and more. Born Prince Otto Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm in 1846, he was the son of Bavarian ruler Maximilian II (below, right). At age 18, he assumed the throne upon his father's death.

Ludwig II, who grew up in in the Hohenschwangau castle adjacent to Fussen in the German Alps (below), was an enthusiastic ruler at first, but Bavaria's days as an independent country were numbered.

In 1871, the first German Reich was created, unifying Germany under William I of Prussia.

Because Bismarck provided him with a hefty allowance as a consolation prize, the enigmatic ruler was free to imbibe, scheme castle plans and view concerts and operas in private.

Truly a renaissance ruler, Ludwig II adored Richard Wagner and built the German composer an opera house.

Ludwig II was also fascinated with French culture and King Louis XIV in particular, which provided him with the inspiration for his fairy tale castles at Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein. It was this very obsession that ultimately spelled his doom.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, it was his allowance -- and not the state treasury -- that was depleted.

Nonetheless, his cabinet -- growing increasingly antsy over his prodigious spending -- decided that Ludwig needed to be marginalized. They had a psychiatric evaluation conducted on the progressively despondent ruler, and he was diagnosed as unfit to rule.

Moved to a residence on Lake Starnberg, Ludwig II and his psychiatrist were found drowned a few days later. Conspiracy theories abound, and the circumstantial evidence was conflicting and incomplete.

King Ludwig II was gone, but his legend was just beginning. This year, Bavaria celebrates the 125th anniversary of the beloved ruler's death.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Little Bavarian Village

One of my many reasons for coming to Germany was to visit the little villages that abound in the Bavarian Alps to see how they compare with the Northwest tour destination of Leavenworth near our recreational property in Plain, Washington.

On our way to a couple of the castles built by King Ludwig II, we stopped in the town of Oberammergau. Though a little more than twice the size in terms of population, the town is very similar to Leavenworth, with traditional painted buildings and woodcarving shops aligned against a setting of high peaks and dark forests.

Since the late 17th century, villagers have performed the Passion Play every year ending in a "0" as a celebration of being spared from the black plague. Real villagers -- not professional actors -- perform the play, and the local thespians grow real beards and hair for their parts. The next performance will take place in 2020.

The visually stunning house facades feature religious images (below) but also include fairy tale motifs from the Brothers Grimm like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. The town also has too many woodcarving shops to count and other knick-knack stores as well as amenities for tourists and townspeople alike.

The real visual art, however, was the incredible mountain scenery surrounding the village. Upon leaving Oberammergau, Gina (above, with our tour group) and I concluded that the town was a dead ringer for our adopted hometown of Leavenworth, Washington.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Haus Of God

Outside of Italy, Germany has some of the most spectacular churches, cathedrals and abbeys that I personally have even seen. There must be at least a half a dozen houses of worship in the shot above alone, including the yellow St. Dominic's Abbey in the foreground.

The German national constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the primary faiths are Catholicism and Protestantism, along with a burgeoning Jewish and Muslim population.

Bavaria, however, is over 80 percent Roman Catholic and the churches here are some of the most ornate and elaborate anywhere outside the Vatican.

In 2005, for the first time in almost five centuries, a German -- Joseph Ratzinger (right), the Archbishop of Munich -- was elected Pope. Fittingly, he chose the name of Pope Benedict XVI. Needless to say, His Holiness is quite popular in these parts.
In the Altstadt (Old Town) in the Munich city center, the twin copper onion domes of Frauenkirchen (Church of Our Lady, above) are visible for miles. The red brick exterior of the church belies the soaring passage of light on the inside of this splendid house of worship.

Adjacent to the front doors of the church is a footprint cast in the pavement (left); legend has it that the devil lost a bet with the architect of Frauenkirchen and stomped out in disgust.

The tomb of Ludwig the Bavarian (Ludwig I) can be found in the choir.
Aside from the intricately beautiful stained glass windows, Frauenkirchen also features numerous paintings and sculptures. Excellent views of Munich and vicinity are afforded from the top of the towers.

Not far from Frauenkirchen is St. Peterskirche, founded in 1732. Located across the Marianplatz from the New Rathaus, St. Peterskirche (Church of St. Peter) is truly gothic in its exterior design, though the inside is relatively subdued compared to some in the neighborhood.
However, the church has a magnificent high altar and visually stunning statues, such as this one of St. Peter (right).

Along the city's main shopping strip, the Michaelskirche (St. Michael's Church) is one of Munich's most fantastic cathedrals.

The cathedral's tall ceiling is huge and has no supporting columns.

Beneath the main church is a crypt featuring the tombs of the ruling Wittelsbach family. St. Michaelskirche is the final resting place of Ludwig II, the most beloved king to ever rule Bavaria.

As spectacular as all these churches are two smaller "hauser mitt Gott" (houses of God), the Asamkirche (St. Johann Nemopuk) and the nearby Damenstiftskirche (Women's Collegiate Church), both designed as private chapels by the prolific Asam brothers, who lived next door.

Both baroque in style, not one square inch of either church is unembellished. The Asamkirche is particularly compelling (below), but not to be outdone, the Damenstiftskirche has a full size rendition of the Last Supper (above).

Unfortunately, both the Catholic and Protestant denominations are losing worshipers, which is more than likely attributable to a 8-9 percent tithe paid by those who belong to each faith.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Munich: Home Of The Monks

Arrived in Munich, Germany (above) on Tuesday, June 14 after a full 24 hours of travel from Eugene via Amsterdam. Two days later, my daughter Gina arrived from Poland "on holiday" following the conclusion of her tour of duty in Radom teaching English.

Munich is the capital of Bavaria -- one of 13 German states -- and the third-largest city in Germany. Founded in the 8th century by Bendictine monks who were drawn by the area's fertile farmland and its proximity to Italy, the city of 1.3 million inhabitants derives its name from the medieval "munichen," or monks.

Officially sanctioned by the government in 1158, the city prospered at first but was hit hard by the bubonic, or "black," plague in 1349. After 150 years, the epidemic subsided and local residents celebrated their good fortune with a ritualistic dance called the "schafflertanz."

The performance is now repeated every seven years but is reenacted several times daily by the little figures of the "glockenspiel" (left), a carillon in the city center. A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a freestanding bell tower or belfry of a church or other municipal building. The device consists of at least 23 bronze bells, which are played in a series to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord.

In the 1800s, Munich experienced an explosion of monument building with the creation of spectacular architecture and wide Italian-style boulevards (below). However, when King Ludwig II ascended the Bavarian throne in 1864, his many grandiose projects bankrupted the royal house and threatened the government's piggy bank.

In a odd twist of irony, many of those projects -- including numerous castles, palaces, museums and opera houses -- now contribute greatly to the economic heartbeat of Bavarian tourism.

Munich has experienced tough times, but the last 100 years have been particularly difficult. WW I practically decimated the city by starvation, and the Nazis rose to power in the Bavarian capital. Allied bombing missions nearly wiped Munich off the face of the earth in WW II (more than 80 percent of the city was destroyed). The 1972 Olympics began as a great celebration of German democracy but tragedy struck when 17 people were killed in a hostage shootout.

Today, however, the city thrives as a great metropolis and world village. During Oktoberfest, more than six million visitors flock from around the globe to hoist a glass of beer to this compelling city; it's a hip spot with a mellow attitude that somehow manages to coalesce spectacular alpine scenery with a Mediterranean joy of living.

A delightful combination of the past and the present, Munich is a city of lederhosen and laptops.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lovely To See You Again, My Friends

With a 180-degree turn in the weather compared to their last trip to Eugene, the Moody Blues played to a somewhat damp crowd of fans on Wednesday, June 1 at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre in Alton Baker Park. During their 2009 visit, organizers delayed the starting time of the concert from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m. because -- dig this -- it was too hot.

No foolin': it was well over 100 degrees with a sharp sun glare positioned directly in the bands eyes, and everybody -- even the audience -- was relieved when they delayed the starting time by an hour. This time, it was cold and wet, which did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of the small and slightly soggy crowd.

The music was great as always, but one of the lead singers, Justin Hayward, had some trouble hitting the high notes, admitting as much to the audience. "Feel free to help me" with the harmonies, he pleaded to the crowd politely. His female back-up singers and a few in the audience gamely picked up the slack.

Turns out the band had to cancel the previous night's show in Boise because a "key band member" was sick; I suspect it was Justin Hayward. All in all, though, another memorable show: Jory, Rebecca and I had excellent seats close to the stage. Can't be afraid to pay top whack for prime ducats.