Category Archives: Germany

• Pilgrimage Church of Wies

Visit: 10th March 2018

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Last autumn two of my friends, Gokul and KC, moved to Munich to start new jobs. They joined Ross, Nowell and me in Bremen in January – but now it was time to meet them in Munich. The plan was not to stay in Munich but to hire a car and get out on the road, visiting four countries and two World Heritage Sites in one weekend.

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We spent the first night in rural Bavaria, where the only bar within a 20 mile radius that was open past midnight was run by some gentlemen from Tennessee. The next morning we were up early to visit the Wies Kirche. Located in southern Germany close to the Austrian border and the Alps, it is an isolated church located apart from any town or village. This was I think done deliberately in order for it to benefit from the bucolic scenery that surrounds it.

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Though small, the church is a fine example of the Rococo style. Built in the mid-18th century, this was a time when painters produced little of lasting significance, ceding the stage to architects and composers. The church was constructed as a site of pilgrimage after the area begun to be visited by people who had heard of the local statue of Jesus that wept. Originally made as an ordinary carving of Christ in chains, it was considered too graphic for the local community and hidden away. A local woman decided to store it in her bedroom (a little creepy?) but was shocked one day when tears emerged from its eyes. The church today houses the famous statue and has been visited by countless Christian pilgrims ever since.

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Gokul declared himself “very disappointed” with the church on account of its size, and I suppose I can see where he was coming from. The ornateness of the carvings and the colour and detail in the ceiling make it quite special, though, even if it is more compact than most famous church buildings. Perhaps that was why we were the only ones visiting at the time?

After finishing at the church (which was free to enter) we got back in the car and headed on toward Switzerland, Austria and the Alpine foothills around Lake Constance.

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• Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen

Visit: 12th-14th January 2018

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Bremen, in northwest Germany, is a Hanseatic city that came of age in Medieval times as a centre of commerce. It was inscribed on UNESCO’s list in 2004 as a testament to the development of civic life and the autonomy and sovereignty of the city. To this day it has resisted being subsumed into one of the neighbouring German states. The city is technically its own state – the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. With an area of 160 sq miles and a population of 670,000, it is the county’s smallest by both measures.

Ross, Nowell and I flew out on a cheap Ryanair ticket from London Stansted and were joined by some new lads trippers. Gokul and KC both went to business school with me and now live in Munich, so I invited them to join us for a weekend of beer and sightseeing.

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The highlight of Bremen for many visitors is the Beck’s brewery, now operated by global brewing behemoth ABI Inbev. Gokul was excited to see how its famously efficient main shareholders 3G Capital run a business from the inside – but unfortunately we weren’t shown the modern production area but rather some set-piece museum displays and a former brewing room. It ended well, though, with a couple of free beers each in the Beck’s bar. The locals drink something called Haake-Beck, which is more flavoursome than the normal Beck’s product known elsewhere.

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We had cause to sample plenty of different beers on both the Friday and Saturday evenings. My favourite bar was in the vaulted halls of the Ratskeller, which is the basement of the city’s town hall on the UNESCO-inscribed marketplace.

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The marketplace by day is very pretty, with its key sights being the Rathaus (above), the cathedral (below) and the the statue of Roland (top). Roland is a local mascot of sorts, found in a number of cities of the former Holy Roman Empire. Roland is said to have been one of Charlemagne’s warriors who died a hero’s death standing his ground against a Moslem ambush in the 8th century. The statue itself was erected in 1404 and stands 5.5 metres tall. The purpose of installing a statue of Roland in the square, his sword drawn and facing the cathedral, was to remind the powerful prince-archbishops of the church (one of whom burnt down the original wooden statue of Roland) to respect the freedom of the city.

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This was the third Hanseatic WHS I have visited since October. There are several more  on my to-do list, but before I get Hansa fatigure I think it’s time to give the theme a rest for a while. See:

• Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

Visit: 28th/29th January 2017

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My first World Heritage Site of 2017 was in Hamburg – though you wouldn’t know it from the title. The Speicherstadt district of the city is an area of waterside warehouses similar to Liverpool‘s centre. It is not the most exciting of places so I needed an exciting companion, who took the form of Teutonophile and former Hamburg property-owner Peter Nowell.

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Our plan was simply to spend one night in Hamburg and then go home again. This being Germany the plan centred around drinking beer, but upon arrival our first move was to stop at local favourite the Mö-Grill for an oversized sausage in an undersized bun.

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I had chosen us a hotel in the Speicherstadt district as I like to stay as close as possible to the WHS itself and preferably within its limits, if possible. The water in the photographs is the Elbe river, and the warehouses that sit on its islands and banks were originally built between 1885 and 1927. The buildings, which display a coherence of style that impressed UNESCO when it was inscribed in 2015, stand testament to the development of large-scale international trade in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

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Significant damage was inflicted in the Second World War, leading to a a general reconstruction of the area in the 1950s and 60s. Today many of the warehouses seem still to be tenanted by import/export businesses. Interestingly, most of the proprietors’ names written above the doors are of Islamic origin.

32276371670_c4b2277a1c_b Also included in the WHS inscription is the Chilehaus, which is a Modernist office block just across the water from most of the warehouses. To me it has a more obvious architectural merit than the warehouses, though I believe Nowell prefers the latter.

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Our night out in Hamburg was quite enjoyable, basically consisting of drinking from early-afternoon onward. We started at a Bavarian brauhaus drinking out of one-litre steins but we came to realise that the Hamburgers do not do it this way – preferring more sensible half-litre glasses for their beers.

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I had half-planned for us to visit another WHS in the nearby Heanseatic city of Lübeck, but our late night put paid to that. My overall impression of Hamburg (which is also Hanseatic, just not obviously so) was of a pleasant enough city but not a terribly exciting World Heritage Site compared with others. As it is the second largest city in Germany is it fair to call it the Birmingham of Germany? Birmingham doesn’t have a WHS (yet…), but whilst Hamburg has a claim to the Beatles I’ll take ELO over the ‘Fab Four’ any day.

• Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

Visit: 22nd August 2015

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On a Saturday morning in August we set off early from Heathrow to Düsseldorf on a classic one-nighter in North-Rhine Westphalia. The objective was to visit three very different World Heritage Sites. Cologne Cathedral would be a revisit, whereas the Rococo Palace at Brühl and the industrial complex here in Essen were both new to us.

Arriving at DUS at about 10.30am, we boarded a train northwards towards the Zollverein Coal Mine Complex. The attractions of an industrial WHS are not, perhaps, obvious – but the weather smiled upon us, which made it a much more enjoyable experience than it might otherwise have been.

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Zollverein was a major coal mine and steel-milling site, inscribed on the UNESCO list for its testimony to an age of German industrialisation. That didn’t work out particularly well for the world, but it was certainly an important factor in the story of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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But Zollverein is notable for more than just its scale. The buildings, whilst functional, are also considered to have great architectural merit. To quote UNESCO, German culture was at the time moving “from Expressionism to Cubism and Functionalism”, culminating in Bauhaus, which “combined form and function in a masterly way”. The buildings in the photos – particularly the coking plant in the first three – were designed and built in the inter-war years, during the German economic boom that came with the Versailles-infringing rearmament. It was poignant, wandering among the disused railways tracks that criss-cross the site, to reflect that we were walking through the engine room of Germany’s build-up to the Second World War.

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Nowadays the site is a cultural centre, with many of its buildings turned into museums or gallery spaces. It is still sprinkled with mining paraphernalia, like the enormous drill-bit, above, and the fearsome-looking machine below.

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In addition to the fine weather another factor helped make what could have been a dreary experience into a rather pleasant one. There was a German gourmet food festival going on (apparently not an oxymoron!), with dozens of stalls selling food mostly consisting of pork. We took the opportunity to try currywurst for the first time, and washed it down with a welcome glass of Pilsner.

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• Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

Visit: 24th May 2015

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We arrived from Bamberg into Würzburg railway station surrounded by local youngsters dressed in Dirndls and Lederhosen. Perhaps there was some kind of folk event going on that weekend, we thought, or perhaps this is just how young people like to dress in Bavaria. If the latter, I wondered if they wear these clothes out of a desire to preserve traditional customs, or if it is just some sort of semi-ironic outfit just to wear on a pub crawl (a bit like we English do for ‘pub golf’).

After checking into our hotel and meeting Danny’s girlfriend Tina, we headed straight for the Residence – the grand bishop’s palace that is the focus of this World Heritage Site. It was commissioned in 1719 by Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, who was effectively a sort of local king. Kenneth Clark visited it in his series Civilisation, in which he wondered how much the local people forked over in tithes and taxes in order for the bishop to build such a marvelous abode. The main reason Clark was there was the palace’s renowned ceiling, painted by Italian baroque master Giovanni Tiepolo.

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This fresco is the most famous aspect of the Würzburg Residence, for it is painted on a large expanse of vaulted oak ceiling that is completely unmarred by any columns getting in the way. This was possible thanks to the innovations of the palace’s 32-year-old chief architect, Balthasar Neumann, in his design of the grand staircase.

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Tiepolo painted himself into the fresco as well as his son (also a painter) and Neumann, who is depicted with a cannon. The reason for this is that in response to criticisms by rival architects that his ceiling would never hold its own weight, Neumann retorted that the ceiling would hold even if a cannon were to be fired beneath the vault. Although his claim was never put to the test, Neumann become associated with the cannon.

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There are over 300 rooms in the residence, many of them restored since destruction in World War II. In either a stroke of luck or a symbolic vindication of Neumann’s design, the staircase managed to survive the war completely unscathed. The sumptuously decorated rooms of the Residence put me in mind of Blenheim Palace, which was built around the same time.

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All-in-all, though, we came out of the Residence feeling a little underwhelmed. We had expected something grander, I think: a more impressive fresco with the wow-factor of those in the Sistine Chapel – however unrealistic that now seems. It was impressive, of course, but not what we had hoped. But there was more left to see. On a small sign I spotted an arrow pointing to the Residence’s Hofkirche, or Court Chapel (above). Again the work of Balthazar Neumann, this chapel really took our breath away, being impossibly ornate and riotous with colour and shape. Inside an inconspicuous wing of the Residence, Neumann took a rectangular space and transformed its interior into three overlapping ovals. Like with Gaudí, there are few straight lines. The overall effect is one of majesty, which must be so difficult to achieve in such a small space.

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Although I noticed through a window how impressive the Residence’s gardens were, unfortunately we became too fixated on getting a beer in the palace’s bar to remember to look around. As for the Residence Square referred to in the title of the WHS, I believe that is just the car park in the foreground to the picture at the top.

After leaving the Residence we went on the enjoy the general hospitality of Würzburg with our local guides. The photo above shows us engaging in the local custom of drinking Riesling on the town’s oldest bridge (shown below). It was a nice day for it, and made a pleasant change from all that smoked beer and lager that one traditionally drinks in Germany. We went on to have a surprisingly good meal at what turned out to be the Brauerei-Gasthof Alter Kranen – it was probably the best meal I’ve ever eaten in Germany. We followed that up by drinking in the town’s pubs until daylight came around again, which signified that it would soon be time to head back Nuremberg airport and thence home.

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• Town of Bamberg

 Visit: 6th-7th August 2010, 23rd-24th May 2015

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Bamberg is a small town in Bavaria, in the region known by proud locals as Franconia. Inscribed on the UNESCO list due to its Slavic connections, its architecture and its links with the 18th century Enlightenment, it is known among beer lovers for its sheer variety of brews in that beeriest of countries, Germany.

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Ross, Nowell and I used one of the plentiful May bank holiday weekends to go to two WHSs in Bavaria: Bamberg and Würzburg. We flew into Nuremburg but spent no time in the city, instead heading straight for the station and catching a reassuringly expensive intercity train to Bamberg.

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Upon arrival we met up with Ross’s English friend from Luxembourg, Danny, who has recently become a resident of Würzburg. It was great having him with us as he is a fluent German speaker and a fellow Teutonophile for Nowell to get along with. He is a particular fan of the local fare, which not all of us can claim to be (there is only so much pork and sauerkraut that your average Brit can take).

It so happens that this was our second trip to Bamberg – Ross, Nowell and I visited back in 2010 with a larger group of lads (back when we had more friends) on our way north from Munich to Berlin. Amusingly we seem to have posed for a photo in exactly the same spot on both trips – see if you can spot the differences below (apart from the fact that I am the only one appearing in both pics).

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The most famous beer in Bamberg is the Rauchbier, which literally means ‘smoked beer’. Legend has it that a monastery once caught fire whilst its stores were full of barley. When they had put out the flames the monks decided it wasn’t worth putting it all to waste, so decided to go ahead with the next brew as planned. What resulted was a beer with a deeply smoky flavour, reminiscent – depending on your point of view – of anything ranging from a smoking a fine cigar to drinking a packet of used fags. Nevertheless, we got stuck in – and it was only I who moved swiftly back onto lagers and pilsners.

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Bamberg is also known for its onions, apparently – something I only learned this time around. The town was where onions were first cultivated in Germany on an industrial scale, and their copiousness is presumably what led to the town’s local dish being a meat-stuffed onion, which you can see below.

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After a few more of the local drinks we were done – I can assure you there was no repeat of the excesses of our last visit when our younger selves were probably not the most considerate guests the town has ever known (though I’m sure they are pretty used to that kind of behaviour, being an out-and-out beer town).

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After a night in a ruinously expensive hotel we were well-rested and ready to take on some sightseeing (and light beer-drinking). One sight we completely missed last time around was the 13th century cathedral. Bamberg has an important ecclesiastical past – indeed, it was at one point intended to become a ‘second Rome’, and assigned as the seat of a bishopric.

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The town is built around two rivers, so can feel a little Venetian (in fact there were a couple of gondolas plying their trade that we spotted). The medieval and baroque town houses and buildings are well preserved and most of the streets remain cobbled. Of all the buildings, the town hall, or Rathaus, is the most impressive to my mind.

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As for the Slavic connections, Bamberg played a role in the past a link between Central and Eastern Europe, which explains its rather Polish feel. In the 18th century Enlightenment it was home to the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the author E.T.A. Hoffmann – on whose work ballets including The Nutcracker and Coppélia were based.

Although a pleasant town, if you are not a real beer afficionado seeking to check out the offerings of each of its 11 breweries, Bamberg is quite doable in one night. After narrowly missing the hourly train to Würzburg, we spent the time drinking local lagers and playing list-based drinking games on the platform … a finer activity on a summer’s day I haven’t yet found.

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