Sunday, August 10, 2008

Farmers Market

I'm taking a break from my European Trip journal to post this. St. Mary Orthodox Church will be putting on a farmers market starting at the end of August and continuing on through September on each Saturday in that time. If you have the time, please come down and have a look or two.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 7--Schloss Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern family was one of the most powerful families in Europe up until the aftermath of World War II. Its family was from the Schwaebischen Alb formally, but one of its branches (the Franconian) eventually married into the Brandenburg families, establishing themselves as electors of Brandenburg and then later into Electors of the state of Prussia, then kings then kaisers of the German Empire formed after the Franco-Prussian War. Schloss (castle) Hohenzollern was the birthplace of this mighty family which produced such excellent generals and rulers as Friderich Wilhelm I "The Great Elector", Friderich II "Der Grosse" (The Great), King of Prussia and Kaiser Wilhelm I.

THe Hohenzollern family is like most other European ruling dynasties clouded in mystery. The first actual reference to the Hohenzollern is an obscure reference in a thirteenth century chronicle. This particular fortress which is outside the modern city of Hechingen was constructed around the 1100s. Though not as imposing or breathtaking as Lichtenstein or any of King Ludwig II's castles (like Neuschwanstein), this is still an impressive fortress with an excellent view of the area.

My mom decided not to go with my sister, dad and I. She decided to spend some time with my uncle and Joyce to walk around Mehrstetten and to reacquaint herself with old friends and old times, which, to no surprise, was her main reason for going. We left about 9:00 am and arrived an hour later. Surprisingly, we did not once get lost on our trip there. Up until that point, we were still finding out how to navigate German roads which are not as well marked as roads here are. It provides a challenge but we eventually got used to it, thanks mostly to my excellent sense of navigation (and to Steph's too!). While trying to get a distant photo of the burg (fortress), overhead we heard jets practicing maneuvers. They were F-15 strike eagles. I tried to get a good photo of them by the castle, but I couldn't focus fast enough. Damned auto focus!

We got to the burg. It is only about a 10 minute bus ride up, though you can walk it if you choose. We chose the bus out of consideration for my dad whose foot was really still bothering him. To his credit, he walked in a lot of pain and was quite stoic about it. I probably would have complained incessantly. The burg is layed out with any number of entryways each with its own portcullis, drawbridge. The ingenuity is that each entry way is not above the other one so if an invading army wished to besiege the fortress, their troops would have to wander to the other end of the fortress for the next entryway which would give the defending troops and archers a number of chances to shoot the invaders down. However, an interesting thing was that all of these winding roads winded to the left and not to the right. If you go to most buildings and even homes with winding paths or staircases, they wind to the right. This is obviously a defensive mentality. THe reason most wind right is so that invaders would find it very difficult to bring their shields into play and would have to essentially use their shields in a backhanded motion. Quite peculiar.

There is very little left of the old medieval castle. The only part that remains is the chapel of St. Michael, built in the early 1400s. The towers and courtyards and new chapel was largely the work of Friderich Wilhelm IV, king of Prussia, who, on a journey to Italy, stopped at Hohenzollern to acquaint himself with his old roots and had the castle reconstructed. It does look positively medieval and thus more authentic which is more than I can say for King Ludwig and his idea of medievalism! There are any number of watchtowers and over the last entry way you can spot two soldiers. I have no idea who these two guys are but my guess is that they are perhaps images of Burchard and Wezil von Zollern, knights who may have been the progenitors of the Hohenzollern line from teh Burkhardingers. The name Zollern may have Italic roots. Zolle is plural for zolla which is a turf. Thus Hohenzollern means "high turf" or something to that effect.

The first place we visited on our tour (which was all in German though he did speak very good English as well) was the ancestral hall. To give you perspective, I would call your attention to the movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" where Sirius Black's family is drawn out in an extended family tree in the room. Such was the case here except even more so. The lineage starts with Graf (Count) Friderich and shows the two branches of the Hohenzollern Family which split in the 12th century. Those in red represent the Swabian line who remained in southern German (and who remained CAtholic) and the blue represent the Franconian line (who embraced the Reformation) who later became the kings of Prussia and German Kaisers. It also shows the various connections via marriage to other royal dynasties such as the Hohenstaufens who were the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Hapbsurgs, who were the dukes of Austria and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire from 1387 until the HRE's demise in 1804 by Napoleon, the Badens, a dukal family, the Wurtemburgs, another dukal family as well as many others. Most castles you visit have protective coverings on the floor such as rugs or plastic sheets. Not Hohenzollern. Here we were required to wear slippers over our shoes as we navigated our way through the castle.

We then went to the Count's Hall which is both a banquet hall and ballroom. It resembles the interior of a church and this is no accident. The neo-gothic vaulting and spandrels and the red marble columns are very reminiscent of the church of Saint Chapelle in Paris, which the architect had visited and admired. The place is filled with what look like side chapels, one dedicated to famous Holy Roman Emperors and another to two bishops. The marble in the spandrels is a very deep blue, almost serene. Concerts are still given in this hall. What it would be like to see one there.

We made our way to the library which is not really much of one. THere were no books and it was not a very large room. What is notable about this room is the history of the castle in the frescoes. One of them shows the legend of the "White Lady." According to tradition, the "White Lady" comes to bring food and medicine to the soldiers of the castle as they are besieged, but she brings death to the members of the Hohenzollern family. The legend goes that a certain woman, a countess named Bertha or Kunigunde or even Agnes, was widowed and left with two young children. She fell in love with Albert, the burgrave of Nurenburg, a Hohenzollern and thus of the Franconian line that became the soverigns of Prussia and Germany. This was in 1381. Albert returned her love, but would not speak of marriage, because of "four eyes" that stood in the way. Bertha interpreted this to mean her children from her previous marriage since they would have the inheritance rights to her previous husband's titles and lands. If children were born to Bertha and Albert, those children's rights would supersede. In a madspell like a Medea she killed her two children and wrote to Albert what he had done. Albert had meant his parents (their four eyes) stood in the way of marriage, not her previous husband's children. She went to Rome to do penance, founded a convent where she stayed for the rest of her life doing penance and was later buried beside her children whom she killed. But this woman, who is not a screaming Banchee, comes to announce death to rulers but gives solace to wounded soldiers. Napoleon is even said to have had an encounter with her as he was on his way to Russia in 1812, when almost his entire army was destroyed by the cruel Russian winter. He stayed at a Prussian castle. On his way back to France, with that palace being the only possible place for refuge, he refused and found other quarters.

The parlor area is not a very large area, but is very green in the upholstery on the couches and the curtains. Pictures of the Great Elector, Friderich Wilhelm and the first Prussian King Friderich Wilhelm I adorn the area. Also here, you can see the current descendants of both branches of the Hohenzollern line, the Swabian lives in his castle in Singmaningen, a town not far from Mehrstetten.

Teh bedrooms are very Spartan compared with the lavishness of King Ludwig. They look more like what we would call servant's quarters. But, I guess you go with what works.

The rest of the tour focussed on reception rooms which housed portraits of the important Hohenzollerns, most notably Friderich II Der Grosse. I was intrigued to find that Queen Victoria's granddaughter married into this line and was a great painter. One of her portraits, that of her son and heir to the throne hangs in the room. THe child died at 11.

After the tour, we went into the museum where there were numerous relics of various Prussian monarchs, most notably Friderich. THere you saw medals, his decorations, his swords, suits of armour and even his transverse flute (he was a very good flute player; even J.S. Bach and his son C.P.E. Bach said so). You could also see a replica of the crown of the King of Prussia and imperial crown. There are only replicas left because the place was looted in a burglary in 1956. The originals still have not been recovered.

In 2001, a new discovery was made in the foundations--casemates. These are small caverns which provided shelter for the defenders from military attack. These date from the 1400s which is also the time that the cannon first started to make a consistent appearance on the battlefield. These housed soldiers during the 30 Years WAr which eliminated more than 1/3 of the population of Germany at the time and were quite impregnable. More work has yet to be done.

After the tour, we visited the Christ Chapel which was built by Friderich Wilhelm IV in the late 1800s. Unlike St. Michael Chapel which is CAtholic (the Swabian line remained Catholic), the Franconians became Lutheran and this chapel, which is more impressive than ST. Michael, in my opinion, originally housed the tomb of Friderich II der Grosse, but it has been moved to Potsdam since 1991 since that was where Friderich wanted to be buried. Of course, he wanted to be buried elsewhere where I couldn't see it! Typical!

It was a spectacular castle filled with history and great views. I even got to go up int he tower and took some good aerial shots. LIke I said, I'll get those up and published hopefully fairly soon.

After we got home (we did get lost on the return trip somehow), we didn't do much. Mom had a good time with Emil and Joyce and had managed to do some laundry. WE just hung around the farm for the rest of the day, playing with the dog, Terence. It was a good day.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle and King Ludwig II

I actually just returned from my trip to Europe no more than an hour ago. I'm working on doing my laundry and going through my stuff. Sadly, I seemed to have misplaced a poster of the Hohenzolleren kings of Prussia and emperors of Germany as well as my nice expensive watch! Anyhoo, here is one last entry which I did acutally do while I was over in Germany, but just never had the chance to put up here. Enjoy. More to follow including pictures, when I get all of those sorted out.

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria; King Ludwig II

We headed down to Bavaria a little late than we wanted to. We also had some difficulties navigating. We decided on a more scenic route as opposed to going up to Ulm and taking the Autobahn down to Fuessen where Neuschwanstein castle is. This is the very castle which Disney copied for Disney World which I’m sure is in some violation of copyright. We didn’t anticipate a number of detours (umleitung) for this scenic route so we ended up going west and u-turning back east and then caught the Autobahn. It added another hour to what should have been a two hour trip. We got to Fuessen near 12:00. We let my dad off so he could find where we needed to find tickets and we parked (which was very difficult). Spaces were very narrow and it took a good five minutes to help my sister get into this very narrow space between two cars that were crammed into their spaces like sardines. After that, we crammed some sandwiches down since there would be no point in getting food there as it would be very expensive. We finally found dad who was at the hotel where you bought tickets to go into the castle. You could see the castle and it looks splendid from where we are, perfectly situated in the Alps. I’m sure the splendour only increases with the autumn months. We found dad and he told us that the first available tours to go into Neuschwanstein was at 4:05. I was disappointed by this and thought that had we left earlier and gone the route I suggested that this could have been avoided.

But, in retrospect, I’m more than happy that such was the outcome. My sister and I went to the Mariensbrueche which is a bridge which overlooks a river with waterfalls that run by the south valley of the castle. It was about a fifteen minute walk but we stopped so much along the way to get pictures from different angles of the castle and look at the Alpensee, the lake which is to the west. You could also see Hohenschwangau, which is another residence of King Ludwig II, though built by his father Maximilian II and was his residence as a child. It’s not quite as splendid as Neuschwanstein but from the top overlooking the countryside, it’s indeed a great sight.
We got to the bridge and assumed that was all the further we could go. We were wrong. There was a trail that allowed you, if you were brave enough (some of it was pretty treacherous), to go up a hill to give you an even greater and more splendid view of Neuschwanstein and the surrounding areas of Fuessen. Stephanie and I must have climbed up nearly ½ a mile, but it was worth it. Stephanie did great considering that she was going uphill on the rocks in sandals. However, that doesn’t even begin to compare with this one woman who was wearing such a short dress and red stiletto heels that must have given her an extra lift of 6" off the ground (she wasn’t on the trail, but on the bridge and it was a windy day and a steep trail). Going on these broken trails gives you a great opportunity to also visit with people. We met a person who was from Arizona and another who said his mother was from Kansas City, Kansas and his dad from Kansas City, Missouri. Small world!

We got in our pictures (a lot of them) and then headed over to the castle to go on our 4:05 tour. I entered the courtyard and got my first glimpse of the wonders of Neuschwanstein. Despite its wonders, it was never completed. If you go to the terrace overlooking the courtyard you can see, marked in the stone, the places where Ludwig II wanted to build a medieval-style donjon or keep, but was never started. As soon as I took a picture, my camera died on me (and I don’t have a digital camera by the way; I’m old fashioned and I think my camera takes better pictures than any digital can, besides where is the art in that?). My batteries had died and fortunately, the snack place down the road had two CR2 batteries for sale though it did cost me €18. That’s nearly $30. I could have gotten them both in the states for $10! I guess there is profit to be had! OK, problem solved with the camera.

While we were waiting I did some reading on this place and the ruler who had it built. King Ludwig II is probably best described as "the man who wouldn’t be king." Ascending to the throne at age 18, with little experience in government or even basic socialization skills, Ludwig had spent his childhood in near isolation except for his servants in the area around Hohenschwangau. He loved wandering this area and even remarked that the natural beauty of the area easily surpassed the many works of art he decorated Neuschwanstein with. He was also a dreamer and was very much enamoured with a romantic past. He wanted to build a medieval castle on the Schwanstein, where two previous castles had existed but were destroyed and left dilapidated. His father, Maximilian II, first had plans to rebuild on this area but never started. It’s interesting to consider what Ludwig means by medieval. Though there are definitely medieval features in the castle, particularly a lot of neo-Romanesque, most of it is very post-classical, post-medieval and post-Renaissance. It’s an amalgam of numerous, and often conflicting, styles but a symmetry is achieved with all of the contradiction.
Ludwig was in love with all of the legends of both Germany and those of the Greeks and the Romans. This particular castle was inspired by his love for the music of Richard Wagner. Wagner’s operas primarily deal with Germanic medieval legends such as the Ring Cycle (based off of the Nibelungunlied), Lohengrin, Parsifal, The Flying Dutchman, Rienzi, etc. His castle is adorned with frescoes of scenes from these operas and frequently arranged for concerts and operas to be performed here with Wagner conducting them himself. Wagner did accept the invitation, but that inspired a lot of vituperation from the aristocracy and clergy who regarded Wagner and his music as that of the Teufel (Devil)! It was even rumoured that Wagner and Ludwig II were involved in a homosexual relationship, but that has never been conclusively proven.

What is known is that Ludwig II was a loner. I suppose that is why I can empathize with him. He was engaged to marry his first cousin, the Princess Sophie of Austria (her sister, the Empress Elisabeth, was actually the closest thing Ludwig had to a confidante or friend), but a few months later and without explanation, he terminated the marriage though the marriage cart had been built and the honorary medallions had already been minted for distribution. From that point on, Ludwig would confine himself to a schedule that would minimize public appearances and he would work into the early hours of the morning and not wake up until about 1:00 pm.
His palace then seems to reflect much of what he considers the ideal existence, one that he could never have. It is easy to dismiss him as crazy. In fact, to remove him from power, four psychiatrists of the day diagnosed him as mentally ill without so much as examining him! Although it seemed he did not want to be king or have anything to do with government, when the Bavarian Parliament ordered his removal from Neuschwanstein, which was still under construction though he was living there, he pressed for everyone to recognize his rights as king. Nonetheless he was arrested later and several days later he and his primary psychiatrist, Dr. Gudden, were found dead, having drowned in the Chimessing Lake outside of Munich. No one knows the exact circumstances of his death, whether it was suicide or a murder-suicide or what. Nevertheless, King Ludwig II will probably always be remembered as a crazy person. Only in this world where the dreamer and misfits are so alone, can they also be deemed as "crazy." (Un)fortunately, he is in good company.

The castle is quite impressive. The first main room we visited was his throne room which actually resembles more of the interior of a Byzantine Church. Behind the throne is an icon of Christ surrounded by Seraphim, his mother and John the Baptist. This symbolizes that while on earth, Ludwig II has his power derived from Christ himself. Below this icon are 6 kings and emperors from various European nationalities who were made saints. The ground is a mosaic depicting all the animals that live in the Schwanstein area. It is made up of over 200,000 square blocks (2 cm x 2 cm). There are additional icons of St. George and the columns are of blue Slovakian marble. Truly an impressive sight to behold.

We also saw his bedroom and his dining area. Everything in these rooms is made to reflect the royal splendour and also to show his love for the ancient German legends which were made popular to him by the music of Richard Wagner, who never visited the castle. I especially liked the music room which was particularly designed so that the operas of Wagner could be performed. The tapestries and backdrops all have scenes from various Wagner operas. It is clear from the main tapestry that King Ludwig II particularly preferred "Parsifal", Wagner’s last and greatest opera, centered around Parsifal or Perceval, in the English tradition, who finds the Holy Grail and helps to heal the Fisher King. The acoustics are magnificent, almost perfect. The great thing is that concerts are still performed in that room to this very day. I’m definitely going to have find out when those are and plan a trip around it. Finding anyone to perform Wagner in the USA is nothing short of impossible. The Europeans, for all their faults, still have a decent appreciation for what constitutes good music.

The place is nothing short of miraculous and is a testimony to one crazy person’s vision. It is overkill, definitely, in some areas and no one would be wrong to say that a man who had an annual income of 5.5 million marks every year spent way too extravagantly. When he died, he owed more than 20 million marks in debt! Maybe that’s why he refused to give up his throne (he didn’t want to be put in prison by his creditors!). If you ever go, tours are available in both German and English and there are any number of written guides to help you navigate.
Tomorrow’s update, if I ever get to it, will be of Hohenzollern castle in the Schwaebischen Alb.