Erfurt was fantastic but it was time to move on. Our next destination was Weimar and we made it to the town within 40 minutes of leaving Erfurt but, something was going on in the place which made it impossible to park. We drove around a short while looking for a parking space but then gave up and continued on to Moritzburg in Saxony. From what little we saw, Weimar for all it’s history and culture didn’t really appeal.
Most famous for it’s Baroque Castle, Schloss Moritzburg is a pretty moated castle with four large round towers situated some 8 miles from Dresden. Initially it was a hunting lodge built for Duke Moritz of Saxony between 1542 and 1546. It seems this the forests and lakes in this area were favourite hunting grounds of the Electors and Kings of Saxony.
Almost 200 years later Augustus the Strong of the Saxon House of Wettin (who became Elector of Saxony and King of Poland), wanting something of a pleasure palace, had it converted into the magnificent Baroque castle it is today. It was not open to visitors when I arrived but the inside is supposed to be spectacular. It has more than 200 rooms and seven extravagent halls. One room known as ‘The Feather Room’ has many thousands of multicoloured feathers of exotic birds on display. Another, the Banquet Hall has a collection of 71 red deer antlers some of which are 400 years old.
I don’t know much about Augustus the Strong but I read that he was a patron of the arts and it was he who transformed Dresden into a major cultural centre. He was enormously strong (as is suggested by his name) and he is rumoured to have sired more than 300 illegitimate children with a host of mistresses – seems a lot.
The House of Wettin used the castle as a residence from then on with the last owner, Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony, using it between 1933 until 1945 when towards the end of WW2 the Wettins were evicted by the Russians. Some of their most precious art treasures were buried in the castle park by the Prince and his sons but these were almost all discovered and carried off by the Soviet troops. What they didn’t find was unearthed in 1996 by some amateur archaeologists who discovered a number of boxes containing jewels and gold ornaments.
Except for the castle and it’s grounds there is not a great deal to Moritzburg but there are a number of cafes and a couple of bars (one being the hotel) and I did enjoy a nice beer sitting in the hotel gardens.
Next time, it will be Dresden, not Moritzburg. From all that I have heard, Dresden will certainly be worth coming back to.
And this is where, as so often happens, our plans changed. A pleasant, very interesting and well travelled German couple whom we met in Bacharach recommended we visit Erfurt and Weimar. He is a sportswriter who amongst other things is paid to trial new motorhomes all over the world and his wife was until recently an English high school teacher – no prizes for guessing whose job we most covet. With people such as this, you listen and you respond. We turned the Van around until it was facing Erfurt and off we went. Great decision!
Erfurt is Thuringia’s capital and it’s largest city with a population of 200,000+. The city made it’s money in the Middle Ages as a a trading centre for Woad (a then rare and very expensive blue dye) and it was, no doubt, helped in this regard by being a staging point on the Via Regia (i.e a pilgrim route set up by the Holy Roman Empire and which forms part of the Camino de Compestela) that stretched from Frankfurt am Main to Leipzig and the Polish border. It has a well preserved medieval centre and has been home to some very special people including but not limited to:- Martin Luther (theologian and religious reformer who was ordained in Erfurt); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman and all round good egg); Johann Friedrich von Schiller (poet, playwright, philosopher and a mucker of Goethe’s) and; Johann Bach (composer and musician).
Talking of musicians, if the number of buskers playing classical (and not so classical) music in the city is anything to go by, the music tradition in Erfurt is in safe hands. They were everywhere during my morning visit into the city and again during the afternoon and evening when I returned with Vanya. Sounds odd but one of my favourites was a young fellow playing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” on a cello.
One of the city’s most popular tourist sites and the place I made for first during my recce is the Kramerbrucke Bridge. It is a unique medieval stone arch bridge over the Breitstrom (a branch of the River Gera) which dates back to 1325. Much later, after the bridge had been lined with timber framed houses owned by the city’s merchants, it also became known as the Merchant’s Bridge. It is a wonderful looking bridge with the groundfloor of the houses now converted into shops, cafes, etc and the upstairs into apartments which are still lived in to this day. It is easy to understand it’s popularity.
At the east end of the bridge, on the Wenigemarkt, stands the Agidienkirche (the Church of Sankt Aegidius). For a few cents, visitors can access the Methodist Church which is now the Agidienkirche but, I was told by the curator that I must not ascend the 33 metre high Red Tower. Why on earth not? Other people were up there. Well if you’ve seen one Methodist Church, you have seen them all (they are remarkably spartan) and so; immediately after I had made a brief inspection of the church itself, I set off up the Red Tower and I was rewarded with some fine views over the city. On the way out I discovered that the Agidienkirche is fitted with closed circuit tv. The curator had a fair bit to say to me and it wasn’t all polite but, it was worth it.
From the Agidienkirche I set off down the narrow alley formed by the properties on the Kramerbrucke. I mentioned previously that the properties are now given over to cafes and craft shops and, yes, there is also the odd tourist souvenir shop but, there is one particular place which simply has be visited. It is the “Haus der Stiftungen” and it is easily recognisable. It is an original property built in 1578 and it is run by a foundation which serves to promote the bridge. Entry is free and visitors are welcome to wander around the inside of the building.
One thing I did start to notice as I circled around the back of the bridge (looking for photo opportunities) were a series of rather incongruous ‘statues’ of various cartoon characters. Subsequent research revealed that they feature in a very popular TV programme on Germany’s Children’s TV Channel (KinderKanal or KIKA for short) which is run out of Erfurt. Vanya and her dog Beanie will be interested in those.
To the west of the Kramerbrucke is the Fischmarkt, a particularly picturesque square of mostly renaissance buildings which were originally dwellings. The city’s more modern Rathaus (Town Hall) also sits on this square, as does the Kunsthalle (Art Gallery) and an interesting statue, Der Romer. This statue was put there in 1591 and is of a Roman soldier holding the city’s flag aloft. I had no idea that the Germans made it so deep into Germany.
My primary interest during this first sortie into Erfurt was the Cathedral of St Mary which sits on the Dom Platz (no surprise there) but, en route I passed the Theatre Waidspeicher, a converted woad store which in 1986 was renovated and converted into the Erfurt Puppet Theatre. This theatre, using homemade puppets and props, puts on plays of fairy stories, adaptations of children’s books and modern dramas for children (during the day) and adults (in the evening). Judging by advertising outside the theatre, I suspect some of the performances for adults will be quite racy.
I made it and the 12th century gothic style cathedral of St Mary, built on the site of the much older chuch of St Boniface, is everything I expected it to be; as is the smaller and older Sevirikirche alongside it. Unfortunately I was unable to take any decent photos of the front of the Cathedral and/or the Sevirikirche. The ‘Cathedral Steps Festival’ takes place on the Dom Square in front of the two churches every year during July/August and the festival stage and grandstands for this years open air operatic performance was already up and blocking all decent photo opportunities. My understanding is that this year’s performance will be Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ but I swear I could hear some of Berlioz’s ‘Damnation of Faust’ being rehearsed whilst I was sitting on the square drinking a weissbier. Strong stuff that weissbier!
Overlooking the Dom Platz and the Cathedral and the Sevirikirche is the large Baroque Zitadelle Peterberg. However, I’ve seen enough fortresses on this tour already and elected to give it a miss. Anyway, I prefer castles to fortresses.
Vanya wasn’t so keen on Mainz but she has an aversion to larger towns and was always going to feel disappointed after Bacharach. I, on the other hand, didn’t mind it but the city has a wonderful cathedral and there was a beer festival on over the weekend we were there.
We booked into a city centre camp site just over the river from the Old Town. The main bridge across the Rhine was a stones throw from the camp site and the beer festival was at the other end of it. Perfect location and planning!
Founded at the confluence of the Rhein and Main Rivers by the Romans in the 1st century, Mainz (previously Mogantiacum) is the capital of the Rhein Palatinate region. More than 80% of the city was destroyed by allied bombing in WW2 but, to see it now, you would barely believe those figures. It was quickly and carefully restored. There is one church, that of St Christoph, adjacent to the Karmerliterplatz, of which only the outer shell remains and that has deliberately been left standing in memory of the victims and the destruction of the city during the heavy bombings of 1942 and 1945.
Anyone visiting Mainz old town will very quickly find the Marktplatz, just follow the crowds of people. In this square and the surrounding area is a large part of Mainz’s history. There are a number of beautiful pastel coloured buildings, the marktbrunnen fountain, the Gutenberg Museum and most important of all, the Mainz Dom (St Martin’s Cathedral). It’s worth going to the old town to see the cathedral alone.
Almost next to the Cathedral is the Gutenberg Museum. In case you don’t know, Mainz was home to Johannes Gutenberg who in the early 1450’s invented metal type printing. This means of mass printing revolutionised publishing and it perhaps comes as no surprise that Mainz is home to both Germany’s first ever newspaper and the Allgemeine Zeitung. William Caxton subsequently built on Gutenberg’s device and introduced printing into England.
After fully exploring the Markplatz and the area thereabouts I headed off to walk the eastern side of the old town. There I found so many stolpersteine (see previous blogs on Bacharach and Rudesheim) but, more uplifting, I stumbled on the Evangelische Christuskirche (the Evangelical Church) where, inside, a string orchestra was rehearsing. Don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t the church which so fascinated me although the church building is impressive. No, Evangelicals are a bit too fundamentalist for me, I was captivated by the music being played. Sadly, I didn’t recognise the music but it was an enjoyable 30 minutes just listening and watching. I don’t think I have ever seen a conductor work so hard to get his points across to the orchestra.
On the way back to the camp site I paused at the beer festival down by the riverside. There were some 20 to 30 kiosks selling different predominantly German beers and a handful selling snack foods or wine. Needless to say, I stopped and tried a couple of the local beers (three to be precise) and a really cold Vinzentiner Weissbier won the day.
We were ready to take a second boat trip, this time down river. We wanted to go to Boppard (which had been recommended to us by a local) but the boat time tables worked against us and so we settled for St Goar. That was a shame because Sankt Goar proved to be something of a disappointment. Certainly, you don’t want to believe all the hype on the internet about Sankt Goar having the wow factor and being a real up and coming tourist destination, etc. It really doesn’t and it really isn’t.
The best part of our boat trip to Sankt Goar was the journey there and back. It took about an hour heading downstream and an hour and a quarter heading back and this section of the Rhein (between Bacharach ans Sankt Goar) is even more picturesque than that which we experienced two days ago. Moreover, sitting and doing nothing while drifting down the Rhein is actually very pleasant.
On the way we passed the two small picturesque towns of Kaub and Oberwesel, numerous almost obligatory castles for this part of the Rhine (one of which, the Pfalzgrafenstein, is particularly eye catching) and, of course, we passed the famous Lorelei or Loreley Rock.
The 132m Lorelei Rock sits on the right bank of the Rhein just up river of Sankt Goar (or, to be more precise, Sanktgoarshausen because Sanktgoarshausen is on the right bank and St Goar sits directly opposite on the left bank of the river). It’s a fairly irrelevant little hill not unlike many others on the banks of the Rhine but, it was made famous in the ballad “Zu Bacharach am Rheine” where a stunning young girl named Lora Ley, after being shunned by her lover, sought revenge and caused the death of numerous men. She was arrested and banished to a convent but, on the way to the convent, she asked to view the Rhine landscape one last time and then jumped to her death from the rock. There is another more modern story about Lora Ley sitting on a rock by the Rhine brushing her hair and distracting passing sailors and so causing them to crash and drown and, as if to support this theory, just to the south of Sanktgoarshausen is a statue of a girl sitting on a rock, brushing her hair. I favour the first story.
A little bit about Sankt Goar. The town is named after a Celtic missionary who settled in the area in the 6th century. He was subsequently made the patron saint of innkeepers. It is a small town but it’s castle, Rheinfels, was once the largest in the area until French revolutionary troops sacked it. Rheinfels was subsequently repaired and is now a tourist hotel. The town’s only other claim to fame is it has the world’s largest free-hanging cuckoo clock suspended outside a souvenir shop near the catholic church. We stood outside the shop at eleven o’clock, video camera at the ready, waiting for the cuckoo to show, but once again we were disappointed.
After walking around Sankt Goar we hopped on to the car ferry and crossed over to Sanktgoarshausen where we found a nice little cafe and sat drinking coffee in the sunshine until it was time to catch the boat to Bacharach. That was very pleasant.
And so we set off on a boat trip up and down the Rhine. This was not just any part of the Rhine; it was along a part of the 65 kilometre stretch running from Rudesheim to Koblenz which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s historical significance – there are so many castles.
We travelled upstream with a day return ticket to the small town of Rudesheim am Rhein; passing Lorch, Trechtingshausen, Assmannshausen and Bingen on the way and; we had the boat almost to ourselves.
The journey took us almost 1.5 hours and was both pretty and interesting. We passed numerous castles on the way and received a brief history of each one over the ship’s tannoy system but don’t expect me to remember them all. There were simply too many.
Rudesheim is okay but nowhere near as authentic nor as welcoming as Bacharach. Many more cruise ships dock in Rudesheim and it has become very touristy. A cruise ship docked moments after us and, in no time, a throng was heading off towards the north of the town in the direction of the Niederwald Monument. I can understand that; the Niederwald is an impressive sculpture with, no doubt, fine views up and down the river but it was enough to turn us in the other direction.
At the heart of Rüdesheim is Drosselgasse, a long two metre wide cobbled alley lined with original timber-framed buildings. The alley is now full of souvenir shops and cafe bars but it is as close as you’ll get to the original in Rudesheim which now attracts three million visitors a year.
Vanya, Nala, Beanie and I spent almost 5 hours in Rudesheim before rejoining our boat for the journey back to Bacherach. That would be about right if you were to include the Niederwald Monument in your stay.
We made a short stop at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum (it is different!). We went for a stroll around the outside of the Bromserburg Castle which is now a wine museum and we discovered yet more Stolpersteine.
Just outside 20 Rathausstrasse are four Stolpersteine in the names of Karl Keller and his family. I’m sure there are others elsewhere across the town. Karl was a cobbler born in Bacharach (related to Willi Keller mentioned in the Bacharach blog) who fought for Germany in WW1 with the 97th Infantry Regiment on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. He was wounded in action and was decorated with the Iron Cross but that didn’t save him nor his wife and two children.
And so to Bacharach on the Rhein. We were going to stay for a day, have a quick look around and then move on. That’s not how it panned out. We stayed four awesome days enjoying everything about the place; our campsite (we had a great spot overlooking the river); and the town itself (Bacharach now figures up there among our favourite places to have visited during our European Tours – Matera, Obidos, Vannes, etc); and most of all, the German people whom we met and talked to during our stay (locals and holidaymakers alike). Indeed, Vanya now sees Germany in a totally different and much more positive light than when we toured Bavaria and this is due largely to the German staff and customers of the Kurpfalzische Munze bar.
Bacharach is picturesque little town of less than 2,000 people on the left bank of a scenic stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley some 50km south of Koblenz. It started life as a wine trading and shipping station in the middle ages. We visited a number of towns in the area during our stay but none were as pretty as Bacharach. You don’t need to take just my word for it. The great French novelist Victor Hugo, who visited the town in 1842, was moved to describe Bacharach as one of the world’s prettiest towns.
There are two main thoroughfares through the town, the Oberstrasse and the Langstrasse both of which run parallel with the river. They each have narrow cobblestone streets and half timbered houses many of which date back to the 15th century. The oldest house in Bacharach, on Oberstrasse, dates back to 1368 and has been renamed Altes Haus (Old House). Oberstrasse contains most of the town’s principal buildings (the church, the town hall, hotels, bars and shops, etc) while Langstrasse, closest to the river, is now largely residential.
It is believed the town’s name is derived from the Roman god of wine and revelry, Bacchus, and certainly this area has long been associated with wine production, particularly white wines. The hillsides around Bacharach are rich with vineyards. We got to sample quite a few Riesling wines whilst in the area.
Most visitors to the town will sample the region’s Riesling in a local Weingut and two in the very centre of the town which came recommended are Fritz Bastian’s Weingut zum Gruner Baum and Weingut Toni Just Hahnehhof. Each appears to offer good value tasting sessions. However, whilst in Bacharach, we chose to sample the local wines (including some by Fritz Bastian and Toni Just) in the less formal setting of the town’s bars and hotels where we could meet and talk with some of the locals. It is more expensive this way and we do perhaps miss out on some inside information about the wine from the wine producers themselves but, there’s no better way to enjoy the stuff. The atmosphere in a welcoming friendly bar such as the Kurpfalzische Munze, drinking what the locals drink, and meeting and talking to them easily surpasses what sometimes can be sterile wine tasting session with other tourists.
A little more about the town. Towering above Bacherach is the Burg Stahleck castle (520m above sea level) which was destroyed in the late 17th century (some say by an invading French army and others say it was on the orders of the Archbishop of Cologne) but, it was rebuilt in the 20th century and is now a Youth Hostel and open to the public. You can take tea and cakes on the castle terraces whilst taking in some fine views down the Rhine. Having said that I think that the Postenturm, which is not as high and easier to get to from the town centre, makes for a better viewing point.
Just below the Burg Stahleck is the Wernerkapelle ruin, originally a pilgramage church built between 1289 and 1430. This ruin has a particularly dark history. It started with the murder of a teenage boy, Werner of Oberwesselin, in 1287. He worked for a Jewish family and, with anti-Semitism rife in the area at that time, the Jews were blamed for the crime. Retaliation saw some two dozen local Jews killed. Rubbing salt into the wound, the catholic church subsequently made Werner a saint and the Wernerkapelle was commisioned.
Sadly, Anti-Semitism has been rife throughout Europe for most of the last two thousand years. Bacharach was again touched by it once some 90+ years ago after the Nazis took power in Germany. This was brought home to me during our stay in Bacharach when, whilst walking along Langstrasse, I chanced upon some Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) in the names of Willi and Emma Keller. Stolpersteine are small brass plates inscribed with the names of individuals who were victims of Nazi persecution. They are usually built into the pavement outside the building where the individuals last lived and are intended to keep alive the memory of the ordinary people (my words). Willi and Emma Keller were brother and sister who lived at 43 Langstrasse in Bacharach before being seized and deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. They didn’t survive Theresienstadt. The stolpersteine are part of a pan-European commemorative ‘art’ project and an increasing number are being placed throughout many countries in Europe. I have previously seen them in Hungary, Nederland and Germany. There are others in Bacharach (and we saw them in some other towns we visited in this part of the world) but, credit to Bacharach and the other towns for supporting this initiative. Many towns simply will not tolerate them.
I simply cannot finish this blog on such a sad note. A few more photos of a very pretty town:-
In this area it is almost de rigeur to take a cruise either up or down the Rhine. We did both; first of all heading up river to Rudesheim on the right bank of the Rhein and then, two days later, down river to Sankt Goar on the left bank and Sankt Goarhausen on the right. Those boat trips are covered briefly in separate blogs.
Situated on the southern end of the Romantic Road, within walking distance of the Austrian border, Fussen is a small, pretty town on the banks of the River Lech with a history of violin and lute making (you can learn all about that in the town’s museum). Don’t get too excited about the Romantic Road – there is nothing in the least romantic about the road(s). It is simply a 300 mile mix of roads between Wurzburg and Fussen, stylized by a group of travel agents in the 1950’s who were out to promote Bavaria.
None of the above is to suggest you shouldn’t visit the area and especially Fussen. Fussen has it all – a medieval old town complete with it’s own castle (the Hohes Schloss), sitting in the shelter of the Ammer Mountains amongst numerous lakes; it is very pretty in it’s own right and; well placed for visits to other similarly pretty towns and, of course, to the likes of the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles.
I walked from Brunnen to Fussen along a good path on the banks of the Forggensee, passing through the villages of Schwangau and Horn on the way. The weather was brightening all the time and the walk was delightful, taking no more than an hour and a quarter even allowing for photo stops. A walkers path goes all the way around the Forggensee but I imagine that walk would take about 6 hours. It’s a sizeable lake.
The old town in Fussen is small but enchanting. It could probably be walked in an hour or so but I was keen to make the most of it and took the best part of 4 hours wandering the old town, the castle (it was just 4 Euros for entry), the Lechtfall, the Baum Garten and the town’s principal churches.
For me, Die Heilig Geist Spitalkirche (the Church of the Holy Ghost) stands out from the others in the town as being one of the most unusual and impressive churches I have seen. The original 15th century church was destroyed in a fire in 1733 and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it was constructed in the style of the monastery church of the Franciscans of Dillingen and with the exterior being adorned with colourful frescoes.
The high point of the town (quite literally) is the Hohes Schloss, a one time retreat of the Bishops of Augsburg, which sits alongside St Mang’s Abbey. Access to the castle courtyard (which is a masterpiece of illusion) is free but there’s a charge of 4 Euros to go inside the castle. It is worth 4 Euros for the views over the town alone but from inside you can also access the state art gallery.
I found a cafe-bar before leaving Fussen and, while reflecting on the numerous photographs I had taken during my day in Fussen (and there were lots), enjoyed a particularly good Apfel Strudel. That was always going to help me cover the ground back to the Van in no time.
We opted to stay for a couple of days at the 5* Camping Brunnen at Schwangau in the Allgau region of Bavaria. It is almost equidistant between Die Konigschlosser (i.e. the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) and the town of Fussen. Two days would allow us to catch up on some chores and visit both castles and the town.
Because of poor weather the dogs had been denied their regular exercise and I took them with me on the 12 mile round trip towards Neuschwanstein Castle, passing the Hohenschwangau Castle and the church of St Coloman on the way.
The first castle we saw up close was the Hohenschwangau (no time to dwell here but in any event it looked closed) and then it was on to St Coloman.
My primary target that day was Neuschwanstein, a most elaborate castle sitting on a rock ledge over the Pollat Gorge in the Bavarian Alps. It was built by order of Bavaria’s so called “Mad King” Ludwig II; construction beginning in 1868/69 but not being quite finished before Ludwig died in 1886. Ludwig II was a great admirer and supporter of the composer Richard Wagner and much of the castle was inspired by Wagnerian characters. Indeed, Neuschwanstein is German for New Swan Stone and the Swan Knight is the principal character from Wagner’s Opera Lohengrin.
While Neuschwanstein’s look is that of a medieval castle, it was equipped inside with state of the art technology at that time. For example on every floor of the castle there were toilets with an automatic flushing system (water being supplied from a spring some 200 meters above the castle) and an air heating system for the whole castle. Today, it is one of the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe with over 1.3 million people visiting. It is said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Another quite remarkable project of Ludwig’s was the Linderhof Palace. This then very private palace was designed as a refuge for an increasingly reclusive king to hide away in. Being designed for just one person, Ludwig himself, the palace was tiny with just 10 rooms (4 of which were for servants) and the dining table was designed to accommodate just one person. If you think Neuschwanstein is a fairy tale palace, this has to be seen to be believed.
Ludwig II’s situation was tragic. It seems he became obsessive about his personal projects and indifferent to state business. It is said too that he was unable to rein in his excessive spending; so much so, his government advisors started plotting against him and, very suddenly, had him diagnosed as clinically insane, and therefore incompetent. Although he had no prior diagnosis of ‘madness’ he was declared mentally insane by four separate, government-sanctioned psychiatrists and removed as King. Historians don’t know for sure how ‘Mad’ King Ludwig died but not long after, his body was found floating in Lake Starnberg alongside the body of his personal psychiatrist, Dr Gudden.
Time to head back to the Van. The dogs are wiped out.
Oberammergau is a small town of 5,000 people in the Ammer Valley at the foot of the Kofel Mountain. The town is known primarily for it’s Passion Play which is held every 10 years and to a lesser extent for it’s woodcarvers (there are lots of them) but it deserves a mention too for once being the home of a certain Franz Zwinck.
Franz Zwinck was a house painter who focused mostly on exteriors and who lived in Oberammergau during the late 18th century. It was he who started painting the frescoes, common throughout Bavaria, which so enhance the appearance of the Region’s pastel coloured buildings. The frescoes are known as Luftlmarelei and are named after the house he lived in and presumably painted: Zum Luftl. Not many people know that.
As already strated, Oberammergau is best known for it’s Passion Play which was first performed in 1634 and has been performed during every year ending in a zero since then with exceptions only of 1920, 1940 and 2020. The play in 1920 was postponed to 1922 because of post World War 1 austerity. The play in 2020 has been postponed to 2022 because of Covid and the play in 1940 was cancelled because of World War 2 but, countering that, extra productions were staged in 1934 (300th anniversary) and 1984 (350th anniversary).
The Play came about after a man returning to the village in 1633 for Christmas brought the bubonic plague with him. He and countless others died until the surviving villagers made a pledge that, if God were to spare them any more deaths, they would stage a passion play every 10 years during which they would re-enact the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is said that the deaths stopped from that moment and that those then sick with the plague all recovered.
So began the Passion Play which now directly involves over 2,000 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians – all of whom must be residents of Oberammergau – and which nowadays attracts the best part of half a million spectators to 100 performances during the period May to October.
Like so many places we have visited during this tour, Covid has seen to it that most places are empty of tourists. That proved to be the case in Oberammergau too. After a very pleasant wander around a remarkably empty town, Vanya and I adjourned to a baker coffee shop and enjoyed some quite wonderful cakes with our coffee – If I’m honest, I ate all the cakes.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is not the town it once was and proved a big disappointment; so much so we were in Ettal before noon.
Our next stop after GaPa was to be Oberammergau and weren’t going to stop in Ettal but it is such a beautiful little village and it was on the road to Oberammergau, the Alpine road, that we simply had to pause.
The biggest surprise about Ettal is it’s Benedictine Monastery. It dominates the village and I parked up to investigate this magnificent building (well, it’s a collection of buildings really) and…
Ettal Abbey was founded in 1330 by the then Emperor Ludwig but is now a Benedictine Monastery with a community of 50+ monks. What is unusual about this monastery is that in 1618 the Duke of Bavaria granted a concession allowing the monks to produce and sell beer and since then increasing sections of the monastery have been given over to the production of beer on a commercial basis. Parts of the monastery are now a brewery!
And it doesn’t stop there; it also has a distillery! Indeed, Ettal is almost as renowned for its spirits (as in spirits for drinking) as it’s beer; some made with or at least flavoured with local fruits (e.g. various brandies and of course Kirschwasser) and others made with neutral grain spirits (vodka). What a find!
We couldn’t stay long but there is a museum within the complex that I would very much like to visit when next passing through. I would also consider staying over in Ettal given it’s close proximity to both Oberammergau (5 minutes drive) and the Lindhof Palace (10 minutes drive).