Royal Bavaria

Trip Start Nov 25, 2010
Trip End Feb 23, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Friday, December 10, 2010

As we journey ever further south, traversing great distances along the German countryside, the periods spent sitting in a train carriage are often relished rather than abhorred. The vast Bavarian landscape is something of great beauty, dotted by numerous small villages and liberally dashed with pockets of evergreen forest that appear like intricate inkwork upon a blank canvas in the white of winter. I consider train travel to be one of the finest ways to see a country - and most likely the same can be said for those going by car. Although often quicker, there is something so sterile about flying from point to point; a certain experience that one is deprived of. You miss out on seeing those places between places - towns you'd otherwise never visit and pockets of civilization perhaps too tiny to even warrant mapping against the sprawling landscape. And whilst fine cities, art and architecture may lose their magic over time, the wonders of the natural world never cease to amaze, always viewable through a train car window. That being said, amazing feats of human accomplishment have hardly outstayed their welcome this early in, and our current destination is positively overflowing with just that.

Upon arriving in Munich, capital of Bavaria, the difference between the city and Nuremberg was already quite staggering - simply from standing amidst the hustle and bustle of its central train station. From the old of Nuremberg’s cobblestone and timber-framing to the new of Munich’s sleek, modern look. The city is an architectural cocktail of different styles of building, with historic Gothic and Baroque structures standing side-by-side with ultra-modern department stores. With the prospect of a vast, new city to explore fresh in our minds - and the added benefit of a hostel room that seems more like that of a hotel - spirits were high before we even hit the streets. There’s something about the vibe of a big city that sets it apart from life in the slow lane and small towns. Whereas the German towns we’ve visited are not without their own charms, making for beautiful picturesque getaways, we couldn’t see ourselves spending longer than a weekend or so in some of them. Munich, by comparison, is a proverbial treasure trove of never ending delights, always with something new to offer, uncover and explore. Weeks could be lost here, and quite easily so, with not only the liveliness of the sprawling cityscape to keep you company, but its excellent location, moments away from the Bavarian alps and other points of interest.

Our first day in Munich was spent simply wandering the surrounding central area of Karlsplatz and Marienplatz. Clumsily stumbling our way into the central shopping district of immense, open air streets and pavilions lined with all kinds of wonderful stores and goodies, it’s refreshing to find ourselves in city built with large crowds of people in mind. Night time in Nuremberg saw the most popular regions of the city's winding, narrow streets cluttered with people shuffling about like cattle. This is not the case in Munich, with large open areas of space to accommodate its population of millions. We arrived at the Marienplatz to the delightful chiming of forty-three bells that filled the city with song, the ‘Glockenspiel’ of the New Town Hall alive with a display of moving, brightly painted mechanical figures that reenact the city’s history at eleven every morning. The square itself is, like so many others in Europe, marvellous. The heart of Munich, the Marienplatz dates back to the Middle Ages when markets and tournaments were held in the square, however it now finds itself host to the city's largest Christmas market and quite literally a plethora of clocks and towers that dominate the skyline. It was all too easy for us to spend hours wandering about the surrounding region, admiring the scenery and taking in the smells of fine German food cooking. From the top of the Glockenspiel, which thankfully had an elevator, we could see all of Munich before us under clear blue skies, stretching onward forever out to the alps in the distance and Austria.

The city is home to more than thirty world class museums, however we found only the time to visit a mere two of them. The Deutches Museum, located on a small island along the city’s Isar River is the German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology, covering thirteen hectares of exhibits. It’s something like Perth’s Scitech, only for adults and on crack, with seemingly thousands of hands-on exhibits covering ninety or more rooms. There was enough enormous machinery, androids, spacecrafts and robots within to make Lewis giddy as a school girl, including robotic replacement limbs that bring those in such a predicament one step closer to becoming a Darth Vader-esque badass. Similarly, exhibits on nano technology proved fascinating and those on space flight successfully ruined the magic in explaining how weightlessness in astronauts causes periodic vomiting, bloated faces, weakened leg muscles, blood flow issues and loss of sensation among other discomforts. Meanwhile, the Pinakothek der Moderne - a modern art museum - made for an interesting evening, displaying famous works by Picasso, Braque and Dali, among others, as well as the usual shit that a two year old could have done. I’ll refrain myself from boring people with the details, but I enjoyed it.

Church and cathedral hopping appears to be becoming quite the European pastime, and our time in Munich proved to be no exception, with us visiting the exceedingly lavish Church of St. Peter and the Church of Our Lady. Perhaps what made these churches most fascinating is how different they are to any other we’ve visited so far, both inside and out. The exteriors of the churches are designed very plainly, without rich Gothic ornaments, whilst the interiors open up to grand stylings of white marble and gold. Most notably, they were not quite as, say, frightening as other churches and cathedrals, hanging dead or dying Jesus’ from every cold, stone wall. Rather, the interiors appeared quite pleasant and, dare I say, happy, with fantastic painted murals covering the ceilings, grand white columns and immense shrines of holy depictions in silvers and golds. We also happened across an interesting curiosity within the Church of Our Lady in the form of a cemented footprint found amidst the marble tiling at one end of the room. We were to discover that according to popular legend, this is the devil’s footprint, the builder of the church having made a deal with the devil in aid of the church’s construction. The devil’s only stipulation in request of his aid is that the church must not have windows, however the ‘clever builder’ tricked the devil by positioning the columns so that windows were not visible from the spot where the devil stood in the foyer. Upon discovering he had been tricked, the devil could not enter the already consecrated church and stomped his foot furiously, leaving the dark footprint which remains today. Either that, or some kid stuck his foot in the cement for a laugh. I'm not sure what to believe.

The real attraction to this region of Germany, however, surrounds the mystique of King Ludwig II, the so-called mad king of Bavaria. An eccentric recluse, King Ludwig II lead his family to financial ruin upon taking the throne. Living in his own private fantasy world, the king had a longstanding love for art, architecture and construction - an interest that lead him to spend almost the entirety of his family fortune designing and constructing various lavish castles and palaces unrivaled in their majesty by those of any other in Germany. We first visited Nymphenburg Palace on the outskirts of Munich, the ‘holiday house’ of the Bavarian royal family during the summer months and birthplace of King Ludwig II. The interior of the place is everything you’d expect from a palace, really. Vast, open rooms with all the golden royal trimmings, marble staircases and brilliant painted murals on every ceiling. Of particular interest in our grand tour was the birthroom and bed of Ludwig II, as well as the ‘Gallery of Beauties’, a room filled with the portraits of women from all walks of life, handpicked by the former king as the lands most beautiful women - and many of them surely mistresses. Although now located on the outskirts of modern Munich, it was originally countryside as far as the eye could see, and the palace gardens cover a whopping two-hundred hectares of forest trails with a swan in every pond for a leisurely mornings stroll.

The Munich Residenz, located in the cities most beautiful square of the Odeonsplatz, is the actual royal palace itself; home of the former Bavarian monarchs and the largest palace in Germany with almost every room available for viewing. Although badly damaged in World War’s I and II, the palace has been reconstructed and many of the original rooms still survive, with each representing a wide variety of styles and architecture that reflects the palaces many years in operation - each successor to the throne adding their own personal touch to the palace grounds. With over one-hundred-and-thirty rooms in the palace and each so vastly different and beautiful in their own respect, it would be impossible to recount all the wonderful treasures within. Perhaps the grandest of rooms, however, is that of the ‘Antiquarium’ - or Hall of Antiquities. Built in the fifteen hundreds to house Albert V’s antique collection of Roman statues, it is the largest Renaissance hall north of the alps. Upon first stepping into the hall it is literally breathtaking, defining and surpassing the very word magnificence. With it's brilliant tapestries, archways and marble flooring, the intricate ceiling paintings of Bavarian landscapes and holy imagery above blend perfectly with the wood finishings and busts of Roman emperors below. It is,of and in itself, worth the visit to the Residenz - a true wonder and piece of art that is a testament to human architectural achievement. Although amidst the first of the rooms you enter within the Residenz, and certainly the most beautiful, the perpetual labyrinth of wonders that is the palace does not disappoint, continuing to surprise you at every turn with something new to gawk at. Among the best of the remaining chambers includes a brilliant fountain decorated and largely constructed entirely by sea shells, with even the doors in and out of the room receiving the same treatment; a grand hall of portraits of Bavarian rulers past, surrounding the family tree of the royal bloodline; a perspective ceiling painting that gives the illusion of continuing upward impossibly high and a hall of mirrors. Most disturbingly of all, however, is a large walk-in safe of holy golden relics, containing the various necrotic body parts of saints. Believed to protect the holder of such relics, eerie decrepit hands clad in what remains of long since rotted flesh sat side-by-side skulls draped in silks and bones suspended in gold. The centrepiece? A golden tomb decorated by gems and cut glass encasing the - still visible - mangled bodies of three babies, believed to have been those of the first-born’s slain by King Harrod of biblical fame.

To complete our tour of royal Bavaria, we took a day out of Munich to visit Fussen and Schwangau, towns in the shadow of Ludwig II’s most infamous castles. Located by the foot of the alps, the immense castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwangau sit opposite one another upon the mighty mountainous terrain that paints the morning fog with unreal pastel blues, purples and greens. The scenery surrounding the castles is beautiful unto its own, the village located beside a shimmering lake of perfectly flat, glass-like water that forms a basin below the snowy peaks. Hohenschwangau was the first of the two castles we visited here, and the site wherein Ludwig II grew up, being the former royal palace. Built upon the foundations of an old medieval castle, the site has something of a medieval theme throughout in its various paintings and murals, King Maximilian - Ludwig’s father - being a great appreciator of the Middle Age period. It is also liberally decorated with depictions of swans, being the emblem of royalty at the time, with the castle itself translating to Highland of the Swans. A fascinating tour guide led us throughout the complex, experiencing the variety of specially themed rooms, such as the ‘Turkish room’ of the king’s wife, his travels throughout Turkey and Greece having inspired him to decorate it so. The former chambers of Ludwig II is decorated by a wall to wall mural of water nymphs and a starry sky overhead. The various personal ‘additions’ and ingenuities to the room really give you a feeling for his eccentricity and eventual retreat into the fantasy world of his mind. There is even an original telescope from his bedroom, still pointing toward Neuschwangau across the way, from where he oversaw the construction of his castle masterpiece that led him to ruin. An additional curiosity, the castle contains a a mound of crusty bread and salt in a dish, way past its prime at over one hundred years old - having been a gift to the king, as was custom in Germany, and kept as a good luck charm.

Neuschwangau castle, located upon a higher cliff face opposite Hohenschwangau, is a sight to behold, its views over the lakes and villages of the region unrivaled. The interior, however, was never finished, with only one third of the castle actually completed after seventeen years of construction before Ludwig ran out of money, leading to his being declared unfit to rule and eventual mysterious death. What remains within, however, is so dumbfoundingly magnificent, you wish he’d been able to ruin his family ten times over just so you could bare witness to the final product. Its few constructed rooms rival even the Residenz in terms of architectural beauty, each room built with its own unique theme and style in mind. The king’s personal bed chambers alone took four years to complete, with a team of carpenters working round the clock. It is entirely carved from a brilliant rich, ochre wood, the linings of the walls depicting intricate patterns whilst the enormous bed displays hand crafted spires and towers of miniature castles jutting out from its canopy rooftop. A secret door leads into a man-made cave passage and private garden with a view of the waterfall outside cutting through the alps beyond. The man’s throne room is suitably egocentric; a tall, dome-shaped ceiling above entirely dressed in golds that depict holy images with bright blue, marble columns of royal gemstones supporting the entire structure against a mosaic flooring of over two million pieces. Meanwhile, his private concert hall calls to mind the Antiquarium, a large stretch of open room decorated by scenes of nature, greenery and jungles, immense chandeliers hanging overhead to illuminate the space. All in all, it is truly a staggering accomplishment that must be seen to be believed, if not for its setting alone. Crazy or not, Ludwig II is a pretty cool dude.

Considered to be the beer capital of the world, you can also bet we did indeed indulge in a pint or two that even I could not resist. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps its only Australian beer that tastes like swill after sampling a few of the local flavours. Either that or Germany has finally made me a man. The remainder of our days were spent exploring the city and just enjoying its various offerings, with many an hour lost gallivanting about fields of snow in Munich’s immense English Garden - complete with a paradoxical Chinese Pagoda. All in all, I think I could honestly spend many a week in this place, and shall definitely put it straight to the list of destinations to visit again one day. For now though, there’s plenty more Germany to see and tomorrow I must heed the call to Heidelberg. Until next time.

Tom, out.
Slideshow Report as Spam


daddy Cool on

Welcome To the World of BEER !!!!! Fellow Man!

XxGiddyRoboGurlxX on

I had some Australian Becks the other day and it was drinkable. Made me suspect that the key shitty ingrediant in beer is its Australian-ness. This would also explain why that carton of Emu, so long ago, was so. effing. bad.

scrib on

Dude, there's no Neuschwangau – it's Neuschwanstein, right across from Hohenschwangau. Nice pics though.

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