We drive on and into the Czech Republic. We immediately notice the difference in the roads, the homes and the countryside. This maybe a developed country but it is a big step down from Switzerland and Austria. On our way to Prague we stop at Cesky Krumlov a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. (The Czech Republic was formerly part of Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1993 into Slovakia and Czech Republic. It has a population of about 10.5m with its capital and largest city, Prague, having over 1.2 million residents. The Czech Republic includes the historical territories of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia.)
There are a lot of tourists in town today. It is hot and sultry. Český Krumlov Castle is located here. It dates back to 1240 when the first castle was built by the Witigonen family, the main branch of the powerful Rosenberg family. Far-reaching reconstructions of the castle were carried out in the 18th century. The old part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was given this status along with the historic Prague castle district.
After parking the car we wander through the old part of the town. Past the bear pit where there resides a very sleepy but live bear and up into the castle. We take a look at the museum and climb up the tower. We try to interpret the history of the castle but it is complicated. According to Wikipedia (abbreviated significantly as follows) its history started with ownership by the lords of Krumlov (representing a branch of the powerful family of the Witigonen) sometime before 1250. The Rosenbergs family had their seat there from about 1300 up till 1602, the Emperor Rudolf II. von Habsburg then owned it later donating it to Prince Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg and that princely family owned it until 1719. A new dynasty – the princely lineage of the Schwarzenbergs – inherited Krumlov at that time. Much later the castle lost its role as the main residence of the Krumlov-Hluboká Schwarzenberg branch and was not regularly inhabited even in the 20th century. In 1947 it was transferred to the Czech provincial properties and after the abolition of the provincial system it became the property of the Czechoslovak State in 1950. Rain falls heavily and suddenly late afternoon and we are almost drenched as we make our way back to the car.
Memory is not good about the Habsburgs (thought it was Hapsburgs) but I know they were a family with some influence in Europe over hundreds of years. Gotta refresh.
The traffic is bad as we make our way to Prague, at one point we hardly move for 30 minutes. There are brief highway interludes at 130k but it takes us almost 3 hours to reach the city and then we have problems locating the keys to our apartment. Finally we are ensconced and happy with the apartment. It is spacious, has air conditioning and a little TV with a number of English speaking channels.
Monday 10th August
After a warm night we get the air conditioning going again and are comfortably cool. I get through awesomely heavy email and diary commitments while Lilly fishes out a passport and cash that fall down a gap between safe and wardrobe, shops at a local supermarket and organizes everything this side of the sun, moon and stars.
We decide on our program today and start with walking 2 or 3 small blocks past the National Theatre (built in the years following 1868 and then reconstructed 1977 to 1983) to the River Vltava which is the longest river within the Czech Republic. Also runs through Český Krumlov where we were yesterday. A completely different colour from the Swiss and Austrian rivers, it looks and smells as if it collects a lot of muck. That does not stop a host of boating and kayaking on the river which we photo from the “Most Legil” bridge over the river.
Along the east side of the river Lilly snaps away up and down and across it. Further along we happen upon the iconic Charles Bridge. Construction of this bridge started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. It replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. Seems reasonably solid to me now but it has a long history and has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1978. There are towers at each end and the bridge avenue “of 30 mostly baroque statues and statuaries situated on the balustrade (constructed late 17th century and early 18th century) forms a unique connection of artistic styles with the underlying gothic bridge”. Of note was the execution in 1621 of 27 leaders of an anti-Habsburg revolt. The Old Town bridge tower served as a deterrent display of the severed heads of the victims to stop Czechs from further resistance.
We wend our way to the Old New Synagogue apparently Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270 in gothic style, it was one of Prague’s first gothic buildings. There is a long queue to view the synagogue so we move on past the St Agnes Convent and start back towards the Old Town Square which is the historic square in the Old Town quarter of Prague.
The square features the Old Town Hall which dates back to the 14th century. It has often featured prominently in the history of Prague and the Czech state. On the opposite side is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn which has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. We couldn’t find the entrance, seemed to be surrounded by all things secular, in particular commercial. There is a medieval astronomical clock (installed 1410) located at the Old Town Hall which still works. The oldest one still working.
On the way back to our apartment for a much needed rest – it is a very hot day – we pass the Estates Theatre which was built during the late 18th century. This building was constructed in a neoclassical style and remains one of the few European theatres to be preserved in its almost original state to the present day.
After a break we catch a 22 tram to the west side of the river and up beyond the suburb of Hradcany.
Strahov Monastery – This massive monastery had its beginnings in 1138 when the local bishop took hold of the idea of founding a monastery of regular canons in Prague. A monastery originated which has inscribed itself in the Czech political, cultural and religious history for all time. It was built first of wood, with stone buildings continuing in order to replace the provisional wooden living quarters with permanent stone. In 1258 the monastery was heavily damaged by fire and later renewed. Several reconstructions have occurred over the 700 years. We walk through it taking pics and also from the front of the Petfin Lookout Tower and overlooking Prague.
An even more massive structure is the Prague Castle which is more of complex of buildings dating from the 9th century. It is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it. We give up the idea of finding the jewels quickly as the Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It occupies an area of almost 70,000 m2, at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide. Among the many buildings in the castle is Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert, a Roman Catholic metropolitan cathedral. This cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the biggest and most important church in the country. It contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
After an hour or so walking, mostly downhill we catch the tram to St Nicholas Church a Baroque church built between 1704 and 1755. It was built on the site where formerly a Gothic church from the 13th century stood. It is closed so we move on via Tram 22.
Prague and the Czech Republic have some iconic and magnificent buildings but many look as if they are in need of maintenance. They are often shabby, sometimes dilapidated and could benefit from government support because of their importance in attracting tourist dollars.
Tuesday 11th August
Our hotel manager has to first move three cars so we can get ours out. There is little room to do anything but he has done this many times before. His skill in reversing vehicles out of tight spots and through a gate onto the cobbled and narrow street is legendary. He finishes with ours and we give him a standing ovation.
A couple of hours later after driving through a dry Czech and German countryside we stop at Dresden (pop 530,000) for a couple of hours looking around. Dresden formerly in East Germany has a long history as the “capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor. The city was known as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo city center.” During the 2nd World War controversial allied bombing killed approximately 25,000, many of whom were civilians. The bombing gutted the city but restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city. Before and since German reunification in 1990, Dresden was and is a cultural, educational, political and economic center of Germany and Europe.
We pick up a city map and outside take pics of the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau a stately home for art in the 19th century and now again today. Its glass dome is called, because of its folded form, “lemon squeezer”. Opposite is the Museum de Festung, a 17th-century fortress where European porcelain was invented. Besides the River Elbe and on a decent chunk of marble sits Ludwig Richter a German painter and etcher who was born in Dresden in 1803 and died in 1884.
Along the river Lilly captures the landmark terrace and river views. It is hot and dry and the water looks more inviting than it did in the Czech Republic.
Over the river two huge and drab buildings house the tax offices and the State Chancellery. There is another impressive building on our side of the river, forgotten its name. Further along we
The Semperoper is the opera house and the concert hall of Dresden and home to the Semperoper ballet. It was originally built in 1841. After a devastating fire in 1869, the opera house was rebuilt and completed in 1878. It has a long history of premieres, including major works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.
Dresden Cathedral is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Dresden. Opened in 1751 after it was decided that a Catholic church was needed in order to counterbalance the Protestant Frauenkirche. It is the most important Catholic church in Dresden after being restored in 1980 from its devastation from the bombing at the end of World War II.
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church, although originally Roman Catholic. It became Protestant during the Reformation and the current Baroque building was purposely built Protestant. It is considered an outstanding example of Protestant sacred architecture, featuring one of the largest domes in Europe. It now also serves as a symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies.
The Fürstenzug is a large mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony, originally painted between 1871 and 1876. To make the work weatherproof, it was replaced with approximately 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles between 1904 and 1907. It is 102 metres long and is the largest porcelain artwork in the world.
Lilly captures most of the unforgettable buildings in Dresden, but the names escape me when I update a couple of days later and I will have to match up some time. Later Lilly reckons Dresden is one of the most interesting cities in Germany, Berlin by comparison being fairly ordinary.
We get into Berlin (pop 3.4m), now Germany’s capital, about 4:30pm and finally find our hotel after negotiating around a major road reconstruction. We are just inside East Berlin, somehow missing Checkpoint Charlie so hope we don’t get a midnight knock on the door by the Stasi or KGB. All in the past now and there are no longer any visible signs of a once divided city and a West Berlin somewhat isolated from West Germany. We must have tested the tolerance levels of locals a couple of times on the way in, once abruptly crossing two lanes of busy traffic to take a turn. It is easy to get in the wrong lane but everybody was very courteous and patient with us.
Wednesday 12th August
We start off this morning taking the Metro from our local station to Brandenburg Gate, notwithstanding that the ticket machine issued a receipt but failed to produce tickets. A couple of guys tried helping and one talked to the office via the machine but no substantive result. At least we have our receipt if asked.
The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical triumphal arch. It is one of the best-known landmarks of Germany. Built from 1788 to 1791 it suffered heavy damage in World War II but is now fully restored. Throughout its existence, the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.
Next stop is the Reichstag building an equally important historical edifice, opened in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was severely damaged in a fire in 1933 and fell into disuse until after German reunification on 3 October 1990. It underwent a reconstruction and after completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.
In the park just across from the Reichstag there is a memorial to the half million Roma and Sinta gypsies of Germany who were persecuted and systematically rounded up and exterminated by the Nazis.
We also stop for photos and reflection at the Holocaust Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Here there are two thousand, seven hundred and eleven gray concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them, along which the ground undulates. We look for an explanation of the site that is supposed to be a memorial to 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. I thought there might perhaps even be something acknowledging historical culpability but there is nothing. I suppose the assumption is that everyone knows.
At Ministergärten is a photo exhibition of the walls along here from more than 25 years ago and the desolate no-man’s land.
After taking pics of the modern skyscrapers in the Potsdamer Place area we take refuge for a while from the sun and heat in the huge shopping mall on Leipzinger Str.
Then catch a 200 bus to Unter den Linden and get off a stop too soon for photos of the Berlin State Opera, Humboldt University (entrance qualifications are humility and boldness), an equestrian statue of King Frederick II of Prussia, The Historical Museum and the Beijing Cathedral. The latter is open for 7 Euro each and I think is the first cathedral demanding an entrance fee. We do not enter on both principle and pocket and note that many others also turn away.
Next is Museum Island at the northern tip of the Spree Island considered to be a UNESCO world heritage site. Five world-renowned museums are gathered in an “extraordinary ensemble”. Maybe, but also expensive entrance fees and long queues deter us and we are starting to feel like a break anyway, having been going for about 4 hours. An extra day here would have been of benefit, I would like to have seen at least the Historic Museum (later I regret not making this one a priority) and perhaps the Pergamonmuseum. The others are the Bode-Museum
Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museum.
After a very tasty lunch at the apartment (Lilly is a marvel) and a rest we take off again. We walk from where we are in Veteranen Str to the Berlin Wall memorial in Bernauer Strasse. The wall was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic the idea was to keep East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. The fortifications were progressively strengthened and eventually the wall completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany.
Before the wall became effective some 3.5m East Germans defected but from 1961 to 1989 only about 5000 tried and there were thought to be as many as 200 who died in the attempt. The wall was eventually torn down, paving the way for German reunification. The memorial extends along 1.4 kilometers of the former border strip. It contains the last piece of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it. It conveys an impression of how the border fortifications developed until the end of the 1980s and shows how many of people crossed or died trying to cross.
Later we catch a train to Brandenburg Tor station and walk part way down Unter den Linden. There is a lot of construction going on, but the city is generally quite shabby and not all that clean. The parks are dry and unkempt and the ubiquitous graffiti gives the impression that nobody cares much. Hideous blue pipes dominate the landscape in some areas, apparently these are used to pump water out of building sites while construction proceeds. They don’t look all that temporary. Twenty five years after reunification and at least parts of the city look drab and colourless as one can imagine it was under communist rule.
We struggle getting home in the evening, taking the wrong train once and twice going in the wrong direction. Not as bad as the Paris metro but the signage in some of the bigger stations is inadequate. Others are obviously also struggling.
Thursday 13th August
First stop today on our way to Dusseldorf (or Daffodil as Lilly described it today) is Checkpoint Charlie in the middle of Berlin. This was the point of entry/exit between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. The building and signs are still present and Lilly snaps away. The crossing had real significance during the Cold War, in particular as it was the site for a confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961. The Soviets made a right charlie of themselves. Checkpoint Charlie has often featured in spy movies and books.
On the outskirts of the city we stop outside the Charlottenburg Palace for photos. The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and was greatly expanded during the 18th century. It looks grand but we have a long day and we move on.
Although we stop for a late lunch in Hannover we do not go into the city or take a look around the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. Instead we both take a nap in the car. The gardens go back to 1666 and we should probably have stopped to view them but the heat and the travel are taking their toll and we have a way to go.
We reach Dusseldorf, after lengthy traffic delays, about 6pm. The German autobahn is good in parts with no speed restrictions. Problem though the speed limit changes so much it becomes disconcerting and our GPS and in-car Satnav are often out of sync with the road signs. We travelled at up to 180 k’s occasionally and still the big Audis, Mercs and BMWs glide past. Got to be careful not to run into the back of the huge trucks that chug along at about 100.
Friday 14th August
We park our car for 24 hours in a handy public garage and take off for a walk through the city. First stop the Johannesskircke, the largest Protestant church in Düsseldorf, is located at the Martin-Luther-Platz. The church was built from 1875 to 1881 in the Romanesque Revival style. It was severely damaged in World War II, but was saved from destruction and in 1953 it was reopened. Seems to serve mainly revival coffee these days from a café before you enter the church. The Lutherans are certainly creative.
Dusseldorf has many modern buildings including the new Ko-Bogen with coloured patterns and sections in the front façade cut out in different shapes for plants. There are lakes and parks almost into the city centre and the overall effect along with the Rhine is of a green and very picturesque city.
Walking through the old part of the city, it is obvious bars are cleaning up after last night’s revelry and there are still a few rowdy stragglers about. Along from Market Platz the Tourist Office opens as the town clock chimes 10am and we are the first customers, with a thumbs up to the beaming staff for being on time. A young lass with impeccable English is very helpful and we have our day straightened out immediately.
Along the waterfront we watch a procession of barges going up and down the Rhine. The mighty Rhine is navigable from the North Sea to Switzerland (past the Rhine Falls??) and is connected to an extensive river and canal network. It is recognised as an integral part of the European transport system. The barges carrying cargo are low in the water and when going upriver move at little more than walking pace.
Passing the Rhine Tower and further down towards media-harbour are mainly third sector businesses which were attracted to move to the Hafen district. Here is some post-modern architecture, most famously three quirky, twisted constructions by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Different but not exactly my cup of tea, although quite a nice setting overlooking a marina.
We walk back along the elegant and expensive shopping street Konigs-allee with all the famous brands. I invite Lilly to buy what she wants knowing of course she won’t take me up on it. Somehow Warren Buffet enters the conversation having just bought Precision Castparts for $37bn. Berkshire Hathaway will use $23bn of its $67bn cash pile and raise the other $10bn. Buffet has always struck me as the sort of bloke that would be unimpressed with buying brands for himself, his indulgence has always been in buying top brands into Berkshire.
We decide to stay another night in Dusseldorf. Our apartment is comfortable, the city seems congenial, it’s a bit cooler after a week or so of heat and we need a break!
Late afternoon we take off again through the city veering a little further north and walking through the Altstadt. Unlike this morning at 10:00am, the place is packed. Restaurants and bars (it is nicknamed “the longest bar in the world”) line the streets and the whole of Europe and other sundries have descended on the old town. We wander down to the river again – a bit further down river – and along the promenade for barge watching.
Altbier is the dominant beer variety in the Lower Rhine region and especially in Düsseldorf. The first producer to use the name Alt (to contrast its top fermenting beer with the bottom fermenting kinds) was the Schumacher, opened in 1838. The market leader in terms of volume sold is Diebels. My allowance tonight runs to a bottle of Diebels and one of Original Schlussel. The beers are a darker copper colour, brewed at a moderate temperature and they taste good. Unusually for her, Lilly likes it too.
Saturday 15th August
Take it easy today. Mainly planning and booking next week or so through as far as Rome.
Watch live streaming of All Blacks v Wallabies, won by ABs and Springboks v Pumas, won by boks.
Sunday 16th August
Take off for Frankfurt via Cologne and Bonn. It rains lightly but steadily most of the day so it is not a day for walkabouts.
First stop is Cologne and of course the Cathedral which is open at one end for the public but mostly closed for worshippers on this Sunday morning. A service is about to start. A World Heritage Site, this is Germany’s biggest tourist attraction with an average of 20,000 people visiting daily. It is described as a “renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture”. Work on the cathedral started in 1248 and stopped in 1473 still unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century and the cathedral was completed, to the original plan, in 1880. This is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires. Its two huge spires give it the largest façade of any church in the world. It’s a grey day and this massive structure is mostly almost black, presumably from the ravages of weather over the centuries. The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing. Repairs were completed in 1956.
Next door is the Roman Germanic Museum which has a large collection of Roman artifacts from the original Roman settlement on the site. The museum protects the original site of a Roman town villa, from which a large Dionysus mosaic remains in its original place in the basement, and the related Roman road just outside. This is an outstanding museum with most of the exhibits described also in English. It includes a section on the medical practices of Roman times and subsequently, with a lot of the instruments that were buried with practitioners, both doctors and dentists It also has a segment on the Roman aqueducts that brought fresh water from the springs in the Eifel Mountains to Roman Cologne. The water is very hard around here and the calcareous deposits in the conduits (some as much as 40 cm thick) were used to decorate churches, monasteries and castles.
We intended to walk around the Altstadt taking in at least some of the 12 Romanesque churches but it is wet and the rain is coming at us sideways – at least we have been to the two sites in Cologne not to be missed.
The Bonn city centre is our next stop, picturesque but wet. We stop at Bonn’s most imposing church and also one of Germany’s oldest, the Bonn Minster. It was built between the 11th and 13th centuries and originally dedicated to St. Cassius and St. Florentius, two soldiers in the Theben legion, legendary soldiers of Rome who martyred themselves en masse. According to the legend at some point during a march, the legion refused to follow the emperor’s orders to kill fellow Christians. As a result, a large number of legionaries were martyred and these two beheaded where Bonn Minster now stands. Their heads lie as giant statues in front of the church.
At the Haus der Geschichte is a museum of contemporary history that attracts around one million visitors every year and is one of the most popular German museums. Excellent presentation of Germany from the end of the war to modern times, with some English text. Well worth a visit, only slight criticism would be of the heavy focus on the political history of both East and West Germany. Probably that aspect of more interest to the locals.
Eventually find our contact to let us into the apartment in Frankfurt.
Monday 17th August
Our apartment in Frankfurt is very pleasant overlooking the Main River which a bit further downstream becomes a tributary of the Rhine. Barges and all manner of pleasure craft ply their trade on the river which we have a great view of from our more than ample windows. Almost reluctantly we decide to view the sights in the city. We are glad we do, the central part of the city has to be amongst the best of Germany’s large cities, at least as far as we have seen to date.
After strolling along the river we find the Romerberg, centre of the historical city. It features many of the half-timbered homes, many re-built in 1986 according to the original plans. The Rathaus or City Hall with its three gabled roof has served as Franfurt’s city hall since 1405. To the right of the square is a significant area of construction where the historical old town is being re-built according to original plans.
On one side of the square is the Old St Nicholas Church, a Lutheran medieval church. It has 51 bells; 4 are used for peals and 47 are used for carillons. The first chapel on its site was built in mid-12th century, the current church dates from the middle of the 15th century. A very kindly officer shows us how to get to the ”opposition’s” Saint Bartholomew’s.
As former election and coronation church of the Holy Roman Empire, this massive cathedral is one of the major buildings of the Empire’s history. Its role in imperial politics, including crowning of medieval German emperors, made St. Bartholomew’s one of the most important buildings of imperial history. The present church building is the third church in the same place. Since the late 19th excavated century buildings can be traced back to the 7th century. In 1867 it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in its present style.
Further along is St Pauls Church and Goethe House, birthplace of the Great German poet and author JW von Goethe. St Catherine’s origins date back to the 14th century and it was consecrated as a protestant church in 1681. In the centre of the Hauptwache Square is a Frankfurt’s grand lock-up, now a café. Apparently it housed many infamous local crims.
Naturally we stop at Frankfurt’s bourse, seat of the German stock exchange where daily floor trading takes place. We take photos of the building and the bull/bear outside and inside ask if we can view the floor trading. Appointment necessary 24 hours in advance. This is the financial hub of the city probably, there are certainly a lot of well-dressed young blokes with crystal balls rushing to and from lunch.
The old opera house is not so old after all but magnificent notwithstanding. Built in 1881 it was badly damaged by bombing in the war and re-built according to the original plans in 1881.
We make our way back through the park taking photos of several of the massive skyscrapers around. The Main Tower apparently has a public viewing platform 200 metres above city streets but we are more interested in lunch and a rest by the time we pass it.
Later we take a drive around and over the other side of the river. Very pleasant drive – we stop only at the Dreikönigskirche a Protestant parish church dating back to 1340. From 1875-1881 the existing chapel was demolished and construction of Neo-Gothic hall church completed.
Tuesday 18th August
First stop today is Wurzburg, the start of the Romantic Road a “theme route” devised by promotion-minded travel agents in the 1950s. It describes the 350 kilometres of highway between Würzburg and Füssen in southern Germany, specifically in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, linking a number of picturesque towns and castles.
At Wurzburg we stop at the Residenz Palace. With its Court Gardens and Residence Square this huge complex was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. It was originally built in its entirety, with short interruptions, almost within a single generation. The shell of the palace was built from 1720 to 1744 and the interior completed in 1780. It was heavily damaged during World War II, and restoration has been in progress since 1945.
On the left bank of the Main river in Würzburg is the Fortress Marienberg which has served as the digs for the local prince-bishops for nearly five centuries. It has been a fort since ancient times. Most of the current structures originally were built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The fortress saw repeated action in the wars of the late 18th and 19th centuries and was severely damaged by British bombs in March 1945. It was only fully rebuilt in 1990 and today, it houses two museums. We take photos of it and of the old bridge leading to it but do not visit as we have a long day.
We continue along the Romantic Road through the towns of Bad Mergentheim, Weirkersheim and Cregligen stopping only at Rothenberg ob de Tauber. This famous town of about 11,000 souls is a well-preserved medieval old town and rightly deserves to be a destination for tourists from around the world. We park and wander around taking photos. The town dates back to 1170. The centre was the market place and St. James’ Church and the oldest fortification can still be seen in old cellars and in the moat. Walls and towers were built in the 13th century and some of them are preserved.
After lunch we stop next at Dinkelsbuhl another of the remaining walled medieval towns. Its timbered buildings give us a strong picture of how many of these towns appeared in the Middle Ages.
Nördlingen is next. First mentioned in 898 it grew to prominence because of its importance in trade in the area. The town walls and fortifications had been built in the 14th century. Nördlingen was the site of a battle between Catholic and Protestant forces in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Nördlingen also sits near the impact point of a meteorite (thought to be about 1.5 kilometres wide) which hit the earth around 15 million years ago. The 24km diameter crater “ring” can be seen quite clearly from the top of the church and in fact we can see it ourselves as we drive towards the town. Apparently the crater that it formed is one of the best-studied in the world. American astronauts underwent geological training here before their trips to the moon.
After booking into our accommodation we walk into the city of Augsburg (popn 276,000) for photos and to try to find a genuine German meal. All we can find are pizza joints and every restaurant seems to be Italian. Hopefully we can find a German restaurant in Italy next week. We finally settle for a burger and Chinese takeaway.
The landmark city hall is a significant renaissance building and the nearby Perlach tower evidently offers a panoramic view of the surrounds but we are too late and anyway too tired for climbing.
Wednesday 19th August
We set out for a roundabout route to Munich first stop the Pilgrimage Church of Wies or Wieskirche, designed in the late 1740s in the rococo style. (Rococo artists and architects are said to have used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque.) It is said that, in 1738, tears were seen on a dilapidated wooden figure of the Scourged Saviour resulting in a pilgrimage rush to see the sculpture. So many folk arrived that the Abbey decided to commission a separate shrine. Construction took place between 1745 and 1754, and the interior was decorated with frescoes and with stuccowork. The church was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. From 1985 to 1991 it underwent extensive restoration at a cost of 10.6 million Deutsch Marks. It dominates the surrounding countryside and is particularly beautiful inside. We stay for a short period of a service that starts while we are there but following Babel did not understand a word of it. That is not to say it fell on deaf ears.
Across country we find the Neuschwanstein Castle, a nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival palace on a hillside not far from Füssen. So do millions of others on this rainy day. We eventually park and stand in line for a bus trip up to the castle, commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. Since it was opened to the public in 1886 more than 61 million people have visited and is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. The palace has appeared prominently in several movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and later, similar structures. It has the magical and mystical quality about it today with the fog and low cloud all about. Entry inside the castle is only available after 6pm (and people who have been, say we are not missing out on much) so we take the bus up and after dozens of photos, walk back down.
Drive on through the Bavarian countryside, into Austria and around Lake Plansee, not far above nor far from this extraordinarily beautiful body of water. Back into Germany where we stop to visit Linderhof Palace, the smallest of the three palaces built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Between 1863 and 1886 a total of 8,460,937 marks was spent constructing Linderhof. There are only four significant rooms inside the palace and we do not go in. Instead we review the gardens surrounding Linderhof Palace. They are considered to be one of the most beautiful creations of historicist garden design and we agree. The park combines formal elements of Baroque style or Italian Renaissance gardens with landscaped sections that are similar to the English garden. The waterfall at the back of the palace falls towards the palace itself and Lilly has problem with the feng shui.
We make Munich shortly after five and relinquish our Audi A1 after more than a month. It has served us well and everything included has been a fantastic asset considering the mileage we have done. Tomorrow we have a day in Munich before taking the train to Venice.
Thursday 20th August
Take the train and 726 bus to Dachau and spend a sobering morning viewing the exhibits and learning more about the brutal treatment of the Jews and others who were incarcerated in the concentration camp there. This is the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners.
The prisoners lived in constant fear of brutal treatment and torture including standing cells, floggings, tree or pole hanging, and standing at attention for extremely long periods. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands that are undocumented. Apparently some 4,000 Soviet prisoners of war were murdered by the Dachau commandant’s guard at the SS shooting range located two kilometers from the main camp in the years 1942/1943. The Poles, Soviets and Jews, of the several categories of prisoners, received the worst treatment.
The camp was heavily guarded to ensure that no prisoners escaped. A ten-foot-wide (3 m) no-man’s land was the first marker of confinement for prisoners; an area which, upon entry would elicit lethal gunfire from guard towers. Guards are known to have tossed inmates’ caps into this area, resulting in the death of the prisoners when they attempted to retrieve the caps. Despondent prisoners committed suicide by entering the zone.
The superficial knowledge we had of a concentration camp did not prepare us for the sheer depravity and brutality of the Nazis. Innocent people were the victims of their racist and Aryan ideologies, their sadism and blood lust. Man’s inhumanity to man. I am not sorry to be mentioning the war. The more we read and see as we wander around the museum and grounds, the less we can understand why it was that these people were so bitter, savage and petty. At the same time their victims demonstrated time and time again unbelievable fortitude, resilience and spirit.
We travel back to our hotel for a rest and then take the metro to the English Garden one station up from University and walk back in the gardens to the university stop. Huge and very pleasant but certainly not manicured.
Back by metro to Marienplatz. It has started raining. We take photos of the Rathaus, the New Town Hall built between 1867 and 1908 in a Gothic Revival architecture style. It covers an area of almost 10,000 square metres and has 400 rooms. In the center of the main facade between the two phases at Marienplatz above the guard house, is an equestrian statue of Prince Regent Luitpold. The bay of the tower contains statues of the first four Bavarian kings.
The Spielzeug Museum takes up one end of Marienplatz. It apparently has an enormous collection of toys, both European and American. No time, we don’t go in.
Just off Marienplatz is St Peter’s Church on the site of a previous church where 8th century monks lived. At the end of the 12th century a new church in the Bavarian Romanesque style was consecrated, and expanded in Gothic style shortly before the great fire in 1327, which destroyed the building. After its reconstruction the church was dedicated anew in 1368. In the early 17th century the 91 meter spire received its Renaissance steeple top and a new Baroque choir was added. We would have liked to have taken photos of the interior which is dominated by a high altar and several art masterpieces including five Gothic paintings by Jan Polack. This is the oldest recorded parish church in Munich and presumably the originating point for the whole city.
On Viktualienmarkt is another church (name?), also impressive inside. We do take photos of the interior.
We walk to the north in the rain to find Munich Residenz the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach. It is the largest city palace in Germany and is today open to visitors for its architecture, room decorations, and displays from the former royal collections. The complex of buildings contains ten courtyards and displays 130 rooms. It also houses the Hercules Hall, the primary concert venue for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The first buildings at this site were erected in the year 1385. It took more than four centuries of development before the giant palace had practically replaced a whole former city quarter with barracks, a monastery, houses and gardens.
Finally we take some snaps of the Hofgarten, located between the Residenz and the Englischer Garten. It is 7pm and we are tired.
Missing from our Munich timetable (after spending much longer than anticipated at Dachau) are the Hofbrauhaus, Deutches Museum and Frauenkirche.