Situated along the banks of the Danube…
directly on the border between Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria stands the old city of Ulm. The city is actually two cities, one for each side of the Danube. Ulm or alt Ulm lies on the Baden-Württemberg side and new Ulm or Neu Ulm stands on the Bavarian side. We had wanted to visit this charming old place for quite some time but because of how far from home it is, it was not always an easy task as it was too much of a trip for a normal weekend. Thankfully we had been invited to spend the weekend with some friends of ours in Stuttgart and since Ulm was nearly directly on the way home, we decided to make the trip. The city is world famous for its church, the Ulmer Minster, a church of Gothic Period origin which boasts the tallest steeple in all of Europe at 161.5 meters (530 feet!) it was, up until 1901 when the Philadelphia City Hall was completed, the tallest building in the world.
Even though its worlds tallest building status has been stripped, it is today still the tallest church in the world. Of course, that may be why it took over 500 years to complete. If you feel like seeing the stunning view of the city and are up for a climb, you can access the top of the steeple via 768 stairs nearly all of them of the spiral variety. If you decide to climb the steeple I must warn you it is not easy and will require a certain level of fitness to make it to the top. We went up with our Gopro on my chest, I’ll upload a video to the Youtube channel when I finish editing it. As it as it is very windy at the top, I would bring a windbreaker and make sure you have a camera retaining strap. Once you make it to the top you’ll be greeted by an incredible view of both the new and old cities. below the minster in the old town are many more things to see, museums, countless examples of wonderful Gothic and Franconian or Swabian architecture and that’s not even the half of the sites.
Also close to the monster is the lovely and quaint Fischer Viertel, or Fisher’s Quarter, a collection of wonderful Swabian buildings all situated along fishing canals leading to the river. One such building is called the “Schiff Haus”. It is a circa 1500’s Swabian style house that was built in a rather peculiar way, it leans towards the canal it is situated on. It is a restaurant today and if you want you can try to walk straight on the especially sideways upper floors. We were lucky enough to visit during a city fest within the tight streets and enjoyed food and local folks music. The city is a must visit if you find yourself in southern Germany the beautiful views and old city are accompanied by a host of activities on the new side of the river I only wish we had been able to spend more time than a couple hours here rest assured we will be back.
Until Next Time,
Along the Czech Border…
Stand a range of mountains that form a natural border wall. The largest of those is called the Arber but even though it is the largest, it is far from the most challenging to ascend. The Osser ranks much higher on that list. The Osser was the first of the Bavarian mountains I ever climbed back in 2013, the way to the summit is only 3.5 Kilometers, but it will still take 4 hours both ways and that’s if you manage to keep the same pace both up and down.
The Osser looms tall above the towns of Lam and Lohberg in the Bavarian forest National Park and at its very summit, much like most of the mountains in Bavaria, sits the Schutzhaus, or protection house which marks the border with The Czech Republic and serves as a resting place for hikers and wanderers to stop and have a beer and some food before continuing on their way. There are many ways to climb the mountain like almost any other and some are easier than others. We did not take the easy path.
If you are looking for a training hike then the Osser is for you. You will ascend over 500 meters in 3.5 Kilometers, that’s a steep grade and it almost never relents. There will be times where you think the path is becoming easier, only to become just as hard or harder within another minute. It can be demotivating but the view is well worth the work. An even more challenging route would be to climb bot the smaller and larger Osser all at once. there are paths that connect the two but if you are planning on that way you will need someone to pick you up on the other side because the path ends in another place.
The path itself is barely a path and more of a stairway in some places, the roots of the trees stand exposed and act as steps up to the top. The moment of clarity that you will be making it to the top within the next 30 minutes is when you reach “the Meadow”. About 5 years ago a huge storm hit Bavaria with seriously high powered winds. The winds were so strong in fact that they tore whole sections of forest down from the tops of some of the taller mountains on the border. The Osser was one of those mountains. The meadow is full of young growth trees and bushes where there were once large, strong trees. You can still see the carnage of that storm laid out across that meadow. The carcasses of the unfortunate trees lay in every corner, but in that clearing you catch your first glimpse of the summit.
The first time I climbed the Osser I was not expecting the hike that I got and nearly turned around, but that day there was a Czech/Bavarian friendship fest at the Schutzhaus and from that meadow, I could hear the music from the summit. That inspiration proved to be all that I needed and that day I stood at the top of the Osser, that was nearly 3 and a half years ago.
This time, I got the opportunity this time around to see an incredible sight; the movement of weather from the Czech Republic to Germany. As we stepped to the top of the mountain, I looked to the Czech side and saw that the entire valley was full all the way nearly to the summit with clouds. At some lower points the clouds started to spill into the valley where the town of Lam stands, you can see in the picture below. It was an incredible view and one that I will always remember. The weather seemed to follow us down the mountain on our way back but when we where sheltered by the back side of the mountain, we stood under the clouds.
This Time I had a companion, My friend the traveling squirrel joined me! I am happy to report that I caught a couple of photos and also that he will be accompanying me on all of my future wanderings! Get excited, because more cuteness is to come! Stay tuned for much more fun from the woods! Next time we will climb the Lusen, in the Czech Republic, and this little guy will come with us!
Keep Wandering, Friends,
Way back in 1412…
A man lay dying at a chapel between town of Koetzting and Arnbruck, deep in the Bavarian woods. It was customary for a priest to be summoned in order to give last rights to the dying, but the nearest priest was in Koetzting, about 7 Kilometers away. The priest said he would go but being that the roads were dangerous to travel on alone, he stated that he would not go unless he had an escort to ensure that he would get to his destination and back to Koetzting unharmed. Horsemen from the area volunteered and all together, the priest and his escorts rode to pay the man his last respects and returned to Koetzing safely soon after. From that year on, it became a tradition, every year over 900 riders from around Bavaria come to Bad Koetzting (the modern name of the town) to ride in the Pfingstritt.
Pfingstritt occurs every year on “Pfingsmontag” or the Monday of Pentecost and begins in the very center of Bad Koetzting. The Bishop of Regensburg heads up the formation with his large delegation and rides the whole way to the old chapel in Steinbuhl and then back again. The riders will stop from time to time to pray and move on again towards their destination. When the Bishop and his riders arrive at Steinbuhl the Bishop holds holy Mass and the whole group rides all the way back to Koetzting. The whole process takes 12 hours from start to finish.
The riders wear a special “tracht” or traditional outfit and carry various banners representing the saints or the city they come from. But the riders aren’t the part you want to hear, its the horses. These aren’t your average run of the mill race horses, the horses who participate in this show are of the humungous draft horse variety; giants meant for pulling timber or carriages. Every horse’s mane has been elaborately decorated with rope and twine and their tails are also spotted with decoration and sometimes braided.During the ride, all of the city is shut down completely and the main road between Bad Koetzting and Steinbuhl is closed and reserved only for the ride. It is meant as a pilgrimage these days, and every year more and more riders join in what I can imagine to be an incredible experience.
In true German form of course, there is always an excuse to have a party, and what better excuse than this? After observing the ride, onlookers can join the fest in the city or watch the horse competitions tied to it. Enjoy a beer and music while you wait for the riders to return or join in on other festivities around town.
If you happen to find yourself in Bad Koetzting, Germany during the week of Pentecost and want to see something spectacular, this tops the list. Make sure to also plan ahead so that you can find a place along the route and remember to go during a year when they hold the horse competitions, another awesome sight to behold.
Until next time,
During the Weekend of Pfingsten…
A religious holiday known as Pentecost elsewhere, the city of Regen in the Bavarian woods is overrun with musicians and dancers. For 4 days every 2 years, Drumherum is here. Every street corner, every tavern, every inch of every street within the city center is full of life. since 1998 this festival has been a testament to the wide and varied folk music styles of Bavaria, The Czech Republic, Poland and even more. The smells of fresh food fill the air while the incredibly talented musicians practice their art.
Even if you are not a fan of the folk music, you can watch, and even take part in traditional dances of the region like waltz and Zwiefach. you may even run into a group performing a special dance known as “schuhplatteln” a highly technical and difficult dance which I suggest you look into. I will also post a video of the dance to the blog so you can see for yourself. The Festival is perhaps made even better by its setting.
The city of Regen is deep in the Bavarian woods and nestled into a valley which is dominated by the river which bears the city’s namesake. The river splits at a pair of long islands which serve as parks during normal times, but at Drumherum the islands are full of musicians. Some are organized bands playing in stages venues spread throughout the city, but most are simply musicians who decided to come and play at a corner, maybe compete with fellow musicians. It is a paradise of music. You may even be able to see some unique home made instruments which have no real name.
Beer, of course is a huge part of this festival just like any other and the local brewery turns out big to provide what I can only imagine to be the largest amount of beer they will sell all year. All this is of course, leading up to the big party of Pfingsten, Pfingtritt. Join me next time and learn more about the celebration!
Best wishes on the Road,
While on the Autobahn…
on the way home from our trip in Stuttgart I noticed one of the many signs you will often see on the Autobahn here in Germany. It is a large brown sign with a picture of a landmark on it that lets you know there is a point of interest at the next exit. It was rather early in the day still and I was in a mood for adventure, so I pulled off and we found ourselves in the city of Ludwigsburg. To say I was not expecting what we would see is a vast understatement because the “Point of Interest” in Ludwigsburg is one of the most incredible palaces I have ever seen.
The Ludwigsburg residence was built originally in the very early 1700’s as a hunting palace. This was a common practice for nobility as hunting was a popular hobby among the higher class at the time. At some point during the construction, Duke Eberhard, the duke of Wuertemberg decided that he wanted to make this place his primary place of residence rather than stay at the palace in Stuttgart. Therefore, the palace was expanded via the building of a much larger and grander New palace about 300 meters away from the Old one. The project continued to grow as it was decided that the outbuildings that stood between the two buildings would all be joined into continuous wings in order to connect the two palaces and by 1733 you had the enormous, 4 winged palace that you can see today.
At a glance from the street, there are several incredible things you will notice about this residence. Firstly, the royal gardens have been completely kept as they were before the turn of the 20th century, the outside is incredibly well maintained, the original low wall and gates still stand letting you know you are entering a place of incredible importance. This palace has some features that make it unique and also had the fortune of not being destroyed during the second world war like so many of the stately palaces in Germany. A couple of the things that stand out about this place is the private theatre inside with all the gadgets and effects contraptions of the 18th century still intact and functioning and the two large chapels built into the outer structure +which were incredibly extravagant for being originally built as protestant.
We decided to take a full tour of the structure and were we ever surprised at just how extensive the tour would be. The tour began on the new side at one of the two incredible grand entry staircases which led to the two respective sides of the palace, the King’s apartments, and the Queen’s apartments. after entering a room they called the Knight’s chamber, where in former times you would be checked for weapons and prepared to meet the King or Queen, we were taken into the Long Hall. The Long Hall is a typical large ballroom with incredible fresoes and plaster marble adornment that make the room look like it belongs in a temple. The room was used both as a ballroom and a dining chamber for official meals. after the Long hall we were taken to the Queen’s apartments where the original interior and furnishings gave us a true impression of how the upper crust of society lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. The particularly amazing thing about these apartments is that the bed chamber actually had in it the original bed. For those of you wondering why this is a big deal, it is because in almost no palace that I have ever been to are the original beds still there on display, or even still in existence. Most palaces use the bedchambers to display other period furniture as a filler piece in the absence of the original furnishings but here at Ludwigsburg the furniture is 100% original. once the tour has guided you through the remarkable rooms of the Queen we were lead down a hallway to a dor at the end of a roughly 200 meter long hall which served as a gallery of the ancestry of the family. These kinds of rooms are common in palaces like this because they would demonstrate the important lineage of the family, which would legitimize them for titles and positions above their station. Nearly every major family at the time had a gallery like this but most are not so grand as this one. the hall was covered by polished plaster marble work and every portrait was a part of the wall and labeled with prominent plaques detailing who each picture portrayed. after such an incredible tour, we thought we had nearly reached the end, we were wrong.
At the end of the gallery hall was a door leading to the private theatre/opera house of the King. Here the King (who had a love for the theatre) would watch and sometimes even act in plays put on by the best composers and acting companies that money could buy. The theatre is very typical of other opera houses of the era, a large stage with multiple tiers of back drops and a viewing gallery with balconies all around the walls made of wood. The stage and all the multiple gadgets of 18th century special effects are still present and, most incredibly, in working condition! Our tour guide was kind enough (Since we had a small group) to take us up on the stage where you could see the trap doors which brought characters up from seemingly no where, the rails on which the multiple giant painted sets would roll on and off the stage, the ropes and pulleys and machinery that made this all possible. remarkable. After showing us the stag, our tour guide upped the ante even further when he offered to take us below the stage to see all of the working man driven machinery that made all of this possible. I have never been so impressed and in awe of a building and tour as I was this day. We were even able to turn the wheels of machines which made sound effects for the plays. As an interesting side note, our guide told us that Cassanova had attended plays here and was amazed by the visual and audio effects.
To conclude our tour, we entered one of the two chapels and got to see them from the perspective of where the King would have sat during service, really cool. Finally we were lead into the old palace which is much smaller and not so overtly grand as the new one, but still unique and beautiful. Out the back of the old palace another palace was visible. It was explained to us that the King still wanted a hunting lodge, so another one was built only a short walk from the main residence for that purpose. Looks like we have another reason to return to Ludwigsburg.
If you like history, if you enjoy seeing masterfully crafted buildings that take you back to another time, this is one of the best places to do that. Luise and I were both amazed at the expansive nature of the place and the remarkable manner in which it has been preserved for tourists. I would highly recommend that if you find yourself on A81 through Baden Wuertemberg, seek this place out and do yourself the favor of taking a tour.
Till next Time,