Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Week in Germany: Wednesday

25. 01. 2012

Here  I am back on the train again. This time the destination is Munich. We are pulling out of the Nürnberg station as I type. Next stop Munich in an hour. Bob is on another train somewhere out there. The travel agency used by the bank did his tickets; then I purchased mine on the same trains. Except for this ticket. I could not find his train on the Deutschebahn schedule. When I queried him, he queried them, and they said the time and number of his train had been “changed” by DB since his tickets were booked. Sounded fishy to me. And sure enough while we were standing on the platform, we discovered there were in fact two trains to Munich leaving four minutes apart. I think I got the better train since I arrive 20 minutes before he does.

Last night was spent in Frankfurt, leaving me with most of a day on my own here. With no particular plans I headed towards the Goethe House Museum. The street map indicated a winding greenway connecting the New Opera House and the Old Opera House that would lead me eventually to the city centre. The walk was kept interesting by some public sculpture.
Where there is a Goethe, there is always a Schiller
These ladies looked uncomfortable without their bathwater
Not a clue what it means, but very eye catching

Frankfurt's Old Opera was destroyed in a bombing raid. A New Opera was built in the early 1950s, and the Old Opera was left as a ruin until the 1960s when plans were made to raze what was left for an office development. The citizens rallied, raised funds, and an exact replica of the beloved Old Opera opened in 1981.

The Goethe House Museum proved to be a wonderful treat that kept me occupied for hours. Four floors of beautifully appointed rooms, filled with interesting objects and art. Visitors are allowed to walk around on their own at their own pace, so no annoying tours and very few ropes to get in the way.
The exhibit about Goethe and his family is very well done, and in English along with German.
The house was originally a medieval half-timbered structure, but Papa Johann
 used some of his inheritance to update to a modern style

Goethe was born in the house in 1749 and looks to have had an ideal childhood immersed in the social and cultural life of the city. His paternal grandfather had made a fortune by marrying a widow with a brewery. Papa Johann lived off his parents' money in this fantastically beautiful house and occupied his time buying paintings from local artists and collecting books. He had the good sense to marry a daughter from one of the town’s leading families, thus acquiring social standing to add to the lustre of inherited wealth.
The back entrance used to enter the house

The lovely puppet theatre little Johann received when he was 4 years old is on display and between dreaming up plays for his puppets and reading his father’s science book collection, his career path was established early. Papa Johann however wanted his son to become a working lawyer, but whenever he was sent off to study the law, he preferred the company of writers, painters, and philosophers, so father-son relations became strained.
An astronomical clock built by a local craftsman
According to the guidebook, the bear falls
over when the clock needs rewinding. 
Papa's Library that held his collection of 2,000 books.
The all important puppet theatre
Along with the house, the Museum also has a collection of paintings of the period. Not exceptional art, but interesting as a background to the artistic developments of the time with Sense and Sensibility and Sturm und Drang all the rage among aesthetes resisting the pull of Classicism. The paintings aren’t all mediocre as there are three Casper David Friedrich’s, including a small moonlight with swans that is mesmerizing.

The general wisdom is that Frankfurt is not very interesting for exploring, but I have had a good time without making much of an effort to investigate what's on offer. I just found a website Frankfurt on Foot that has a great walking tour of the city and a great blog filled with ideas for visitors and expats that I will turn to next time I am in Frankfurt.

I arrived in Munich a few minutes ahead of schedule, but Bob’s train took a different route and arrived 45 minutes later. Fortunately our hotel is right next to the train station, and we were able to have an excellent bite to eat and some local beer in the buzzing bar. I'm so glad to be back in Munich, one of my favourite cities.

A Week in Germany: Tuesday

24. 01. 2012

If Monday is Men’s Night Out in Cologne, then Tuesday morning is inexplicably when middle-aged women put on Halloween costumes, wander around  the city in large groups, and light votives in the Cathedral. Ah, it turns out Cologne has Carnival, and this is the beginning of the celebration, which explains the dissonance of witches lighting votive candles.

Cologne is a very Catholic city. Germany may be the home of the Reformation, but the Counter-Reformation also took hold, and the opposing forces have always held a fragile balance. A few years ago we went to a talk by a historian who had just written a book on how churches maintained a balance within cities and towns when both sides wanted the nice old local church or cathedral in the Post-Reformation era. Church sharing was not uncommon.

Cologne was a very powerful Catholic city during the Middle Ages, and a great place to visit very old churches today. When we were here several years ago I found a book, with English text, that included a walking trail of a dozen Romanesque churches. It was a spectacular way to spend a day. I am not a big fan of gold embellished, over-ornamented Baroque churches, and in Germany, most old churches have been Baroqu-ed to remain fashionable with the Counter-Reformation crowd. Thankfully, Cologne’s oldest churches seem to have resisted that trend.

Last time I was here I spent all day on the Romanesque churches, and had little time left over for  Cologne's Cathedral. So this time I began my day with the Cathedral. A tour in English begins at 10:30 every weekday morning, and because this is not a busy season, I was the only punter on hand. The guide said, since we were both there, he may as well give me a private tour. I’m so glad he did because there are so many small treasures in the building, I might not have recognised their significance.

Most cathedrals are built in sections over extended periods of time, but Cologne took 632 years and two months according to the official guidebook. There was a 300 year break between the 16th and the 19th centuries when the north tower, the nave and the transepts were left unfinished. During Napoleon's occupation of the city, grain and forage was stored in the structure. In 1815, Cologne became part of Prussia and repairs and building works began again. The last stone was laid in 1880.

The first important thing about the Dom is how much light filters in because the curtain walls are nearly all glass, and I was lucky to be visiting on a sunny day.

My guide said there is evidence that the master mason of Amiens Cathedral in France is responsible for the design, and his remit was to make the Dom taller and brighter than Amiens.

There is still some medieval glass with the superb colours achieved by glassmakers whose secrets have been lost. This glass was removed and stored before the bombing raid that shattered windows and vaults. There are some brighter than bright 19th century windows donated by King Ludwig I of Bavaria that knock your socks off as the sun streams through reds and yellows, but the most interesting window is as contemporary as you can get, a window designed by Gerhard Richter for the south transept. Small squares of beautiful colours with a pattern designed digitally. In a new technique, the squares were bonded to a sheet of plain glass, so it is high-tech artistic double glazing.

And because it was a sunny day, I could just capture the wonderful colours of light reflected on the stone work from the window.

Reliquaries were the secret to success for medieval foundations. Cologne latched on to one of the most sought after: the Three Kings, yes The Magi themselves. Constantine’s mother was a very busy archaeological detective. I knew that she had found The True Cross, but I didn’t know that she went on to find the Magi. They were first sent to Milan, but when Barbarossa captured Milan, with aid from the bishopric of Cologne, the relics were translated—which is the proper term I learned in the class on reliquaries I joined last autumn—to Cologne. The city became an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Compostela  to pick up a blessing from the Three Kings who were housed in a three coffin size reliquary of beaten silver coated with a fine layer of gold in the earlier Romanesque cathedral.

The reliquary is still in place behind the high altar, but surrounded by a strong metal grille screen. On this day there were repairs underway in the choir, so that area was completely closed off. My guide told me that the last time the reliquary was opened, in the late 19th century, the remains of three people were found wrapped in cloth that was determined to be from Palmyra in Syria and dated to the 1st century. The pilgrimage income was the also the pot of gold used to begin construction of the new style Gothic Cathedral to replace the old Cathedral on the site.

In this 19th century mosaic floor by the pottery firm Villeroy & Boch,  Hildebold, who was Archbishop from 787 to 818 is holding a model of the old cathedral.

Other important treasures include the 14th century altarpiece of St.Clare.

The Adoration of the Christ Child by the Three Kings painted in the 1440s by Stephan Lochner for the city's Rathaus Chapel. The attribution is known because Albrecht Dürer made a note in his diary when he visited Cologne and saw the altarpiece. Cologne's oldest patron saints are depicted on the wings, Ursula on the left and Gereon to the right.

And the remarkable Gero Crucifix, named for the bishop who held office from 969 to 976, and commissioned this sculpture for the earlier church. The Christ figure is six and a half feet tall, and probably was displayed in the centre of the chancel arch of the nave. The marble base and gilded sun are Baroque embellishments. A singular crucifix, and one with a dead Christ, were the equivalent of contemporary "shock art" in the 10th century, and had a profound influence on subsequent religious sculpture. It is a very compelling work with it's stretched and strained muscles and slumping belly of a man suffering a tortuous death.  
Cologne's Krippen is also still in place in the entrance hall, and I read local custom is to leave them on display until Candlemas, February 2, the celebration of Jesus being presented to the Temple elders. So now I know the deadline for putting away my last Christmas decorations next week.

Cologne's Krippen is large and local and funny.
A Cologne setting
With a lazy farmer waiting to rent out his empty stable
In a Roman city
Where an elephant takes the Magi
To Cologne Cathedral
To be met by public servants in reflective gear

Cologne was settled by the Romans in the 1st century and became an important capital city of the Empire with its vital bridge across the Rhine. There are Roman remains everywhere dotting the city.
Random stones outside the Roman Museum
The North Portal to the Roman City

Since I still had a few hours left in Cologne, I decided to pay homage to the traditional patron saints of the city by dropping in at their churches.
A lovely modern window in the porch at St. Ursula's
 My favourite is Ursula, a 4th century Romano-British princess who set off across the English Channel with 11,000 Virgin handmaidens for her arranged marriage to a pagan prince of Brittany. A storm at sea made her decide to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Pope, who then joined her, and they all set off for Cologne which was under attack by the Huns. Ursula was martyred and her 11,000 Virgins were beheaded according to a 5th century inscription.  I stopped off at St. Ursula’s church, the site of the massacre according to the inscription, but it was the early afternoon closure time, so I could just peek into the sanctuary. The last time I was in Cologne I saw the church’s special treasure room with the relics of the 11,000 housed in golden Baroque splendour. It is overwhelming, but not in a good way. My favourite depiction of the Ursula legend is Hans Memling's painted shrine in Bruges.
This is the Gothic apse end of St. Gereon's, not the Roman Dome.
Then I popped over to nearby St. Gereon's, the other traditional patron saint depicted on Lochner's altarpiece. Gereon does not have much of a story. He was said to be a soldier of the Theban Legion, ordered to Gaul to put down a revolt in Burgundy. The legion had been converted to Christianity in Egypt and were martyred in Switzerland en masse by the emperor for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods before a battle. An interesting strategy if the idea is to win the battle. Somehow Gereon and his attachment made it to Cologne and were beheaded there c.304.  Gereon may not be very interesting, but his church makes up for that with a domed nave built on Roman walls under the direction of Constantine's mother, the busy Helen, to commemorate the Cologne soldiers martyred shortly before her son converted the empire.

On the way between the two churches, in the heart of Cologne's financial district, I passed a small Holocaust monument by the side of the pavement. I haven't been able to find any information about the piece.
My personal interpretation runs along the lines of a religious figure, a nun,
turning her back on the evidence of anti-semitic genocide
And turning her Christian principles into a piece of old leather
to be tossed on a pile of shoes, which have become an evocative
 symbol used in so many memorials to the Holocaust.
The day was winding down, but I still had time for one more stop before I needed to catch the train back to Frankfurt. St. Andreas is a fantastic treasure house of the late Romanesque. In the crypt a Roman sarcophagus holds the remains of the scholar priest Albertus Magnus who died in 1280.
Scientist, Philosopher, Theologian
Watched over by a medieval scribe
The crypt also has a Stations of the Cross sculpted in stone is low relief that I find beautiful.

The sanctuary is said to be perfectly proportioned

with superb stiff-leafed Romanesque carving around the capitals and cornice

 and wall paintings in the nave chapels.

Finally, there is the golden Shrine of the Holy Maccabees, from the early 16th century, that commemorates the remains of the Jewish mother who watched her seven sons martyred for refusing to eat pork, a tale told with variations in detail, in the Talmud and in the Christian Apocrypha's 2nd and 4th Books of the Maccabees.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Week In Germany: Monday

23. 01. 2012

A day totally without interest.

Up early in response to Bob’s wake up calls, the ringing phone and the wall hung jumbo screen TV springing to life at the same time. He is now on his meeting packed business trip. Surfed the internet to run out the 19 euros we paid for 24 hours of internet access so we didn’t miss Sunday with the grandchildren. Worth every cent.

This morning’s news is mostly of the What Will We Do With the Problem Called Newt variety.  Bob tells me he is surging in Florida now. Not very surprising as he is a good old Southern boy who would have great appeal for Floridians who vote Republican. In other words not the grandmothers from New York.

A giant breakfast to hold me through the day. Had a nice chat with the friendly Texan who fries up the eggs at the breakfast buffet. He came to Germany in the mid-1980s as a GI, and never wanted to leave. We agreed on the joys of ex-patriation. He said his problem is remembering to speak English when he visits Texas. At least I don’t have that problem. I just have to modify idiomatic usage, like the time I insulted Megan by saying a day was very dull, meaning the weather was grey and looked to remain colourless all day. Of course she thought I was whinging about her efforts to keep me entertained. And then there is whinging, a great word, far better than whining. I did see twee used by an American writer recently. Maybe it was in a review of Downton Abbey.

And those were the interesting parts of the day. After that I went to the train station in Frankfurt, met Bob, took a train to Düsseldorf, waited in the Düsseldorf station for Bob to return from a meeting, and then we took a train to Cologne where we are spending the night. Frankfurt’s train station has a terrific magazine shop and a nice waiting area to sit. Düsseldorf has an okay magazine shop, but does not have a single chair or bench in the whole station. They do have a Dunkin Donuts however, but Dunkies also has no place to sit, so I had to go to Starbucks with my concealed donut. I went with a traditional glazed because most of the varieties on offer were heavily iced, many in garish colours.

I can’t say much about the Cologne train station other than it was very crowded because it was rush hour, so we were in and out. I can say that Cologne’s gigantic wedding cake of a Gothic cathedral knocks your socks off when you step outside because it is right there.

A question could be posed as to who thought it would be a good idea to put a train station, now a very large and busy train station, on the front steps of a Gothic masterpiece?

We had dinner at a Brauerei —a brewery restaurant—recommended by the hotel’s desk clerk. The restaurant was inexplicably filled with groups of men having dinner together. Maybe Monday is Men’s Night Out in Cologne.

And now it is time to end this wholly unremarkable day.

A Week in Germany: Sunday

22. 01. 1012

A day of mixed results. . .
Grey and blustery with a bit of rain thrown in . . .

Newt Gingrich, the new Saviour, or at least this week’s version of a Saviour desperately sought in all the wrong places . . . is all over the news with his resounding victory over the eminently unlikeable Mitt Romney in South Carolina of all places, but maybe not too surprising since the tendency to follow the heart and embrace free love has a recent history in the state.

And through a stupid trip down a single step, I managed to crunch my knee on a very hard marble floor.  So far just a bit bruised and swollen, but not conducive to the start of a week traveling through Germany.

The better side of the day’s spectrum was enough to compensate for the gloomy weather, politics, and knee. To begin at the day’s beginning, in Germany you can always eat liverwurst at breakfast, and the yogurt is thick and sour, and heavenly when sweetened with a little honey and some dried fruit. I just read an article in today’s New York Times saying that Americans are finally tiring of the sweet, chalky ooze available in supermarkets as yogurt and sold with specious health claims that are contravened by one look at the ingredients list on the container. Instead they are turning to thick Greek/Turkish-style yogurt creating an employment boom in upstate New York in both dairy farming and yogurt manufacture.  Win-Win all around.

Next we grabbed our Frankfurt MuseumTicket, 2-days of free entry into 34 museums in the city. The best bargain pass I have ever seen, especially since the helpful young man in the tourist bureau suggested we buy the 23 euro family pass instead of the two single adult passes that would add up to 30 euros. I rather think they might want to work on their pricing structure if they wish to make an equitable donation to the member museums. The 23 euros didn’t even cover our two admissions to the Städel, Frankfurt’s art museum.

Our hotel was conveniently located near the Main where there is a pleasant walkway that passes through the city along the banks of the river.
The Main as in Frankfurt-am-Main

The Pedestrian Bridge leading to the Museum Quarter
 on the South Bank of the river. The Kaiserdom Tower
in the background

And the Städel was our first stop today, and the scene of where my knee hit the marble. The museum has just reopened after a refurb and a rehang of their Old Masters and their Modern Collections. The Contemporary Collection reopens next month. The museum overall does not have a top tier collection, but some of its treasures are top tier, especially in the early Flemish collection that fills the first room. A bit from everyone important: van Eyck, Campin, van der Weyden, Bosch, Memling, van der Goes. A truly astounding room to begin the walk around.

And there is a Vermeer which I have never seen, and appropriately it is The Geographer.

The real reason for this trip to Frankfurt is because the last time I was here, many years ago, I was on a mission to see all the Vermeers, and Frankfurt’s Vermeer was one of the last on the short list of Vermeers. But it was a Monday, and the Städel is closed on Mondays. Ever since, I have been saying, “I have to go back to Frankfurt to see that Vermeer.” And now I have. I hadn’t even remembered that it was The Geographer. There have been so many Vermeer shows in recent years with paintings borrowed from all over, I think my mission has been completed. I will have to check the very thin volume that contains all of Vermeer’s output when I get home.

Next we came upon a surprise treat at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Museum. I have long been a fan of medieval German wood sculpture, notably the work of Veit Stoss and Tilman Riemenschneider. But it turns out there is an even more legendary sculptor, Niclaus Gerhaert who taught the others their craft.
St George slaying the dragon.

The exhibition was amazing with dozens of pieces collected from all over the world. There are only a handful of fully documented attributions to Gerhaert, and some are site specific such as a tomb cover in Strasbourg, but his workshop was highly prolific, so most of the works were ones he at the least had a hand in carving. The Liebieghaus website contains some of the pieces from the exhibition if you click on the photos in their link.

After a full day of art, the sun was setting and the rain was spattering, so we headed back to the hotel for another dinner, and a busy evening with the weekly video chat with the grandchildren. Lavinia is a full day Montessori student, doing the Kindergarten curriculum; Eloise is walking; and poor Christian has been sick with a tummy bug, but he could still smile for the camera.

And finally the Patriots game was televised on ESPN North America, so Bob could see them barely pull out a victory. Another all-nighter for the Super Bowl in a few weeks, I guess.