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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

It Has Been a While Since Visitors Passed This Way

Although I would like to pride myself on being a hearty traveler, I suppose everyone has their breaking point. Late May,wearing my winter coat, in the rain, Bamberg, Germany, I hit it.

The excursion to the eastern Franconia region of Germany was to be a practice run for our campsite routine and an opportunity to sample the legendary brews at the outdoor kellers, or beer gardens. The weather reports depicted low temperatures with the chance of rain, but we had prevailed over an Ireland-like trip through Italy with daily showers and were confident we could do so again.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Then it began to rain. It did not stop. My fingers grew cold despite my gloves — gloves! May! These were followed by my nose and toes. After 24-hours of saturation even the dependable little tent sighed as its seams began to weep. After a long winter and the coldest spring in 60 years, the weather had beaten us down and we retreated, by way of a detour to the “Romantic Road,” back to Belgium.

Perhaps we should have known better than to try our luck at another tourist destination during an excursion bogged down in ill fate. Or perhaps we are the kind of couple of irony who, looking to redeem a trying trip with a little romance, find the Romantic Road closed.

Apparently, as part of the country-wide infrastructure stimulus package, the Romantic Road is under construction.  The detour signs lead us away from the promise of charming towns and idyllic views, past visitor information signs crackled with time and outdated with irrelevance.

Meistertrunk Festival

Eventually we made it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, called the best preserved medieval city in Europe, with which I could not disagree. It was there that we were reaped the rewards of our weather-induced travel traumas.

The only draw back to this gem is that it suffers from serious overcrowding
Frommer’s Germany

Warm and Welcome

Unless, that is, you are there at 5 p.m. on a gray, wet and cold Thursday in May. Why, then you have the city wall ramparts entirely to yourself (they are covered too, conveniently enough). And it will be just you and a handful of random other soggy visitors who catch part of the city’s annual celebration of itself: a parade of locals — men, women and children — dressed up in medieval costume who parade around town and congregate at the Rathaus (city hall) all for their own amusement and not for ours.

Of course, all this whining is meant in jest, at least partially. We saw lovely towns, sampled some of the best beers in the world, enjoyed the historic beer hall culture and ate hearty meats laid atop mounds of sauerkraut. But my memory will be struck with that sense of appreciation for the fact that the locals seemed as peeved about the weather as me. In response, and to my relief, they cranked up those ceramic-tiled ancient wood stoves and kept their places cooking.

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In The Clumsiest People in Europe, Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, of ill-temper Victorian nature, decries this tidbit about Germans: “They do not often drink tea, nor do they know well how to make it. I have heard of a maid at an inn who by mistake boiled the tea.”

Compared to the lashings that the people of other nations take from the tip of her quill, Germany has made out well. (Notably, Mortimer never visited any country she judged, though that did not hold back her willingness to impart an opinion about them.) The worst she ridicules are the German poor, that they “would be well if they were neat and clean.” (Perhaps certain South Carolinians may call her house their ancestral home?) The nastiest habit she derides is the German tendency to read only “novels about people who never lived,” which, of course, is worse than not reading at all.

If the Germans drank little tea in the time of Mortimer, however, they have certainly adopted the habit with high taste and style today. Within a short radius of shopping streets in Aachen, we took tea at one shop and passed two others, delightful and elegant and filled with canisters of enchanting fragrance. We selected two TeeGschwendner blends for purchase: a Weihnachtstee (Christmas), a black tea with bits of almond, along with warming spices, vanilla and orange peel, and Kaminfeuer (Hearth Fire), an herbal rooibos blend with apples, hibiscus and cinnamon.

The apparently new-found German love of tea also presented the opportunity to expose us to a more expected German delight: the gingerbread cookie. After being served a solitary Schokolanden-Welchprinten beside each cup of tea, we were determined to hunt down more. Bakeries on every street displayed dazzling assortments of gingerbread forms — from giant decorated Charlemagne shapes to book-sized hard printen to the delightfully soft, chocolate-covered Welchprinten with its hidden bits of crunchy candy sugar.

We should have purchased more; the little gold-trimmed cellophane package is nearly empty. The loose tea, luckily, should last a bit longer.

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The Bones

The vessel before you contains a relic of utmost historic and religious importance, a vital tie to the past, an object of reverie that has pilgrims buckling. It is . . . the belt of Jesus. Yes, without it, Jesus’ pants would have fallen down, and really who is going to take seriously the word of a profit when his pants are hanging around his ankles? It is also in remarkably good shape for the kind of wear and tear the 1,000-year-old cotton must have gone through, as I suspect Jesus was not a clothes horse with a closet full of color-coordinated belting options.

Just to fill you in on this phenomenon of relics, The Met offers this explanation:

Charlemagne's Arm: With a Picture-Window View

Christian belief in the power of relics, the physical remains of a holy site or holy person, or objects with which they had contact, is as old as the faith itself and developed alongside it. Relics were more than mementos. The New Testament refers to the healing power of objects that were touched by Christ or his apostles. The body of the saint provided a spiritual link between life and death, between man and God . . . the veneration of relics in the Middle Ages came to rival the sacraments in the daily life of the medieval church.

This explanation possesses a small grammatical omission: the present tense. As illustrated in the guide to the Aachen Cathedral Treasury, there are today still pilgrims who travel to view, touch, kiss, be blessed and so forth by the bevy of largely anatomical ornamentation on display at the church of their destination. In Aachen, every seven years there is a big show at which one can steal a glimpse at Mary’s birthing dress, the swaddling clothes and loin cloth of Jesus and St. John the Baptist’s shroud.

Charlemagne's Gold Coffin

But wardrobe relics (secondary in importance) are tame. The treasury tour was not for the weak at heart, as it contained — often in full view — an arm, a skull, a femur, a rib and some hair. Mmmmmmm.

In fact, sitting in their gilded reliquary containers — an arm for the “ulna and radius” and a bust for the cranium, evidently placed just where it should be — I began to wonder how much of Charlemagne was left to lay in his coffin on display within the cathedral.

During the fifteenth century, the cult of Charlemagne enjoyed a revival — perhaps due to the fact that he was the only ruler to inflict any real political, cultural or social improvement for several hundred years before and after his death. This resulted in a popular trade in his personal effects, largely sourced from his coffin, or what remained therein. The man’s remains had been toured around, interned, taken out, refitted for a golden ride, and scattered around once again throughout the 600 years following his demise. Of course, this would explain one point of perplexity that struck me: for a man said to have been well over six feet tall — and thus his other moniker “Carolus Magnus” — there was about a foot or two missing from his fancy gold coffin, perhaps, quite literally.

Charlemagne Bust, Containing His Skull

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