Category Archives: Germany

Christmas Markets in Europe


This photo is of skaters at one of the great Christmas markets, the one that takes up the main streets of Munich. As I sadly and angrily think of the carnage this week at the market in Berlin, I thought I’d post some photos of markets I’ve loved over the years–not that I ever buy much.  The point is for people to be together, enjoying the season and laughing at ice and snow.


Vienna has some of the most beautiful markets, each with its own unique flavor. The one at the Rathaus–the City Hall–is the largest and has the most festive lights.  For weeks before Christmas, it’s packed day and night with happy people strolling, eating and drinking.


Inside the august halls of the Rathaus, the Christkindl angel speaks with thrilled little children. In Austria and Germany, the angel seems to serve somewhat the same function as a visit to Santa in the United States.  But it has not become a big photo op–it’s just a chance visit, all the more thrilling because it can’t really be planned.

Children sign up for gift workshops in the Rathaus, making presents for their loved ones.  No hovering adults are allowed.  I would love to receive a lopsided gingerbread man from the baking workshop.


My favorite Vienna market is the one in the plaza of the historic Karlskirche.

The Karlskirche market is especially kid-oriented.  There’s a big straw play area with animals ready for the bolder kids to pet.


One of the most popular activities at Karlskirche is to lead a gentle llama around on a leash.  As soon as I find the photo, I’ll post it! Meanwhile, I’ll dream of being in Austria or Germany again at a Christmas market–hopefully in snow.

I haven’t posted in awhile because on my last trip I caught a nasty virus which took awhile to overcome.  Am I discouraged about traveling? Not a chance.  I’ll be on a plane again as soon as I can. And I’ll be praying for world peace and harmony.

Join me next time for more explorations in European art, history and culture!



Ludwig at Linderhof

"King Ludwig II of Bavaria," Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

“King Ludwig II of Bavaria,” Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

“Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria was found dead in Lake Starnberg on June 13, 1886. He was 40 years old. The cause of death is still mysterious, but his death was convenient for a lot of people in Bavaria, where he had pretty much given up on the day-to-day business of governing. Government of Bavaria ground to a halt while Ludwig spent all his money (mostly his own personal fortune) on increasingly theatrical castles and palaces. He had been declared insane the previous day and was in some kind of royal “protective” custody.

After a couple of misses, I was finally able to visit Linderhof Palace, King Ludwig II’s favorite home, at a time when the grotto was open.  I was anxious to see it, especially after watching Luchino Visconti’s very fine film Ludwig, about the life and mysterious death of the notorious Bavarian king.


Ludwig built Linderhof as his own personal getaway.  In fact, it was the ultimate bachelor pad.  But he enjoyed the place in solitary splendor; he rarely if ever had visitors.  He built a special music room for his favorite composer, Richard Wagner, but Wagner never saw it. The grounds are breathtaking, and because the palace is quite small, each room looks out onto a beautiful manicured view with pristine mountains in the background.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof Palace

In Visconti’s 1972 film Ludwig, the king is played by Visconti’s real-life romantic partner and muse, Helmut Berger.


The film shows Ludwig lounging around in his grand surroundings with hand-picked servants and a handsome young actor. Filming took place in the palace, so watching it is like having a tour personally conducted by the very strange and romantic Ludwig himself. His bedroom (intentionally) recalls the bedroom of King Louis XIV of France. This is a one-man palace; there are no guest rooms.  The help stayed in outbuildings, invisible to the king until they were needed.

It is hard to say how accurate the life story is.  But it is certain that Ludwig was an eccentric and  dreamy romantic.  His people loved him, but he was not much of a king when it was time to hang the ermine in the closet and get some work done.

One of Ludwig’s very few friends was his cousin, the Austrian Empress Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi. She was famously married to the Emperor when she was only 15, and spent the rest of her life wanting out.  She is played by Romy Schneider (who also played Sisi in the very silly but entertaining semi-fictional series of Sissi movies).

The grotto was built up the hill behind the castle.  The entrance looks like a fort a very ambitious child might build.


But the grotto itself is as jaw-droppingly weird and beautiful as it was in Ludwig’s day.  He had Wagner’s operas performed inside for his own personal pleasure.  The water was heated, so that he could swim in it if he tired of being rowed around in his gilded shell boat.  And the lighting could change colors depending on his mood, or the mood of the opera scene.

Ludwig's Grotto

Ludwig’s Grotto

The grotto is still festooned with the floral swags that Visconti’s movie crew put up.  The film has a fantastic scene where an Austrian actor is taken into the grotto to meet Ludwig, who wants him to recite dramatic speeches 24/7.  Helmut Berger, as Ludwig, floats out of the gloom in his shell boat, wearing a dark overcoat and a black Homburg–with an enormous diamond brooch pinned to the side. He fixes the actor with an imperious, piercing stare. The actor tries hard to be Ludwig’s New Best Friend, but the friendship ends badly and Ludwig is alone again.

Nearby Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles are justly famous, but they are overrun with tourists.  Armed with a Bavarian Castles Pass, I actually went to Linderhof twice during my last trip.  One day it was rainy, the next it was sunny.  I can’t say I had the place to myself, but there was time and space enough to ponder the mysterious life of Ludwig.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Fanny and Felix

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, 1842, portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Public Domain

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, 1842, portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Public Domain

November 14 is the birthday of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, older sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn.  As children in a wealthy and refined family in Hamburg, Fanny and her brother shared a passion for music.  They were at least equally talented.  One of their teachers, Carl Friedrich Zelter, actually seemed to think Fanny’s was the superior talent.  In 1816, he wrote to his friend, the great poet Goethe, the  “…oldest daughter could give you something of Sebastian Bach.  This child is really something special.”

Fanny was a composer as well as a fine pianist. But like so many other women, she found herself automatically kept at home, out of the way of anything so vulgar as publishing and performing music for pay.  Her father commented about Felix, in a letter to Fanny.  He wrote, “Music will perhaps become his profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.” That was easy for him to say.  Living with those infuriating limitations must have been hard for Fanny, as it was for Mozart’s talented sister Nannerl a century earlier.

Fanny Mendelssohn, sketch by her fiance, Public Domain

Fanny Mendelssohn, sketch by her fiance, Public Domain

Fanny made a good marriage and continued to compose as best she could.  Her brother Felix “generously” allowed some of her compositions to be published under his name. He had at least one embarrassing incident as a result.  Queen Victoria, at Buckingham Palace, announced to Felix that she was going to sing her favorite of his songs, “Italien.”  He was forced to confess that it was actually his sister Fanny’s song. Served him right, if you ask me.

Fanny’s husband, the painter Wilhelm Hensel, encouraged her composing and playing.  Her brother relied on her for critiques of his works in progress, and she collaborated with him on various pieces–probably more than we know.


Things have changed for gifted women.  Recently, the prodigiously talented singer-songwriter Taylor Swift changed over from country to pop music, against the advice of her agents. Then she defied a music streaming outlet, Spotify.  She decided that the outlet didn’t give proper recognition, control or compensation to artists, and she could manage nicely without them. Her new album, “1989,” is available at Target and other outlets.  I wish her success.

A Kinder, Gentler Church: Strasbourg Cathedral


Among the many wonders of Strasbourg Cathedral is the Tower of Angels.  The breathtakingly beautiful column reaches from the cathedral floor all the way to the vaulted Gothic ceiling.  It was sculpted between 1225 and 1230, early in the 400-year span of time it took to build the cathedral. The subject of the column is really the Last Judgment, but it has a startling twist on the usually-dire subject.


The four Evangelists appear on the lowest level, with angels above them, then the dead rising, then finally Christ.  My criticism of the column as a teaching tool for the faithful is that it’s hard to see the pinnacle, the figure of Christ, and get the point. But helpful placards provide close-ups and explain, in several languages, what is going on.


The Christ figure at the top is not sitting in splendor on a grand throne.  He is not giving anyone a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Instead, this Christ bestows a gentle welcoming smile on everyone. This is a humble figure, a figure of loving understanding and compassion for the always-messy human condition.

I thought of the tower and its message this morning as I read the bold new statement by Pope Francis concerning the future of the Catholic Church.  Full disclosure:  I am not now and never have been a Catholic.  I visit cathedrals and churches for their art, traditions and history. Wherever I’m living, I attend whatever Protestant church seems the most socially active, inclusive and forward-thinking. But like many non-Catholics, I’m impressed by the current Pope. (Actually, he had me as soon as he decided to wear regular shoes instead of red Papal slippers.  Then when he chose to live among regular priests instead of in the much-fancier Papal Apartments, I decided he was worth a listen anytime).

In his latest statement, cited in the article below, the Pope said, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.”  He has consistently shaken things up by insisting that the church should boldly reach out into the world with love,  compassion and creativity.  His vision is that the church is a place of refuge for all, not a place of harsh judgment. This is not a new idea, of course.  But it’s one that can certainly use a new champion.


In September, I found the French city of Strasbourg so lovely that I’m planning a side trip there, on my way home from Vienna in December. Strasbourg is just two miles across the border between Germany and France.   I’ve scheduled a day and a night there. I’ll wander through the Christmas markets, which have been held at the base of the cathedral since medieval times. And I’ll spend time contemplating the season inside this most warm and welcoming of cathedrals.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!

Affordable Europe: An Old Mill in Lindau


What’s your dream trip to Europe?  Some people dream of a once-in-a-lifetime trip in 5-star hotels, being waited on hand and foot, eating leisurely gourmet meals, and being chauffeured around by private guides.  That’s not me. This is the first post in an occasional series about how I manage to travel (almost) as much as I want.  Of course it’s never enough!

My dream trip is my next trip, and I’m lucky enough to be always planning a trip. (Having a spouse who accumulates a ton of frequent flier miles helps).  I’ve crossed the pond again and again, until it’s become second nature, discovering new places and revisiting old favorites.  I want to go my own way, trying my best to look and act like a local. (Europeans value their own treasures; they do a lot of sightseeing themselves). When I’m gazing at a spectacular cathedral or wandering in a museum full of priceless art, I don’t want to be thinking I have to be sure to take it all in at once.  Instead, I want to be thinking that this sight and plenty of others will be waiting for me next time.  By traveling in a reasonably frugal way, I do very often return to favorite places, learning more and delving deeper into the reasons I love them.


Years ago I picked up one of the very first books by Rick Steves, Europe Through the Back Door.  It’s updated every year.  I’ve been using Rick’s principles and his excellent guidebooks ever since, and have taken enough trips that I’ve moved beyond his basics.  Nowadays, though, I mostly avoid his featured hotels–just because they tend to be all booked up and full of other Americans like me.  I’m in Europe to mingle with Europeans.

After airline tickets, the biggest expense of European travel is lodging.  I’m a keen student of Tripadvisor and other online resources.  Nowadays there are so many reviews and pictures available, posted by actual travelers, that it’s pretty easy to find nice affordable places to stay with no unpleasant surprises.


One such place, on my last trip, was the Landhotel Martinsmeuhle just outside Lindau, Germany. (With either a car or knowledge of easy public transportation, I very often seek out places just outside the center of the action). Lindau is on the northern shore of the Bodensee, the large lake known as Lake Constance on its southern shore in Switzerland.  The Arlberg area of the Austrian Alps starts just a few miles away on the westernmost shore. The Swiss Alps and the tiny country of Liechtenstein are also a short drive away.


Landhotel Martinsmeuhle has been in the same family for generations.  The large main building was once a mill, converted to tourist rooms decades ago, when a big selling feature was having a sink with running water in all the rooms. Bathrooms from that era were shared.

Now, all the lovely, quiet rooms have private baths. It is still a working farm on a small scale, but the real focus is on keeping guests happy. There are pretty country details everywhere.


There are charming resident animals:  a friendly dog and at least two pretty, attention-seeking cats, goats, a pony, ducks, and rabbits. There are extensive gardens and bikes to use in the surrounding countryside. The buffet breakfast, included in the room rate, is generous enough to set me up for light eating the rest of the day. It includes goodies like homemade preserves from berries on the property.


The charming restaurant serves delicious evening meals. As a bonus the restaurant serves as a kind of living room where guests are welcome to mingle with the owner’s family and friends who stop by to visit.  There is a pretty library for use by guests.


The rates at Martinsmeuhle are less than what I typically pay for a forgettable interstate motel on a road trip in the USA. Europeans have been welcoming guests for generations.  They’re good at it, at all price levels.  TIme to work on my next trip!

A Lion for Luck

The Munich Residenz, home of the Wittelsbach dukes and kings, is guarded by bronze lions.  Locals and tourists alike stop to touch one or more of them for luck. (There are a total of four). Actually, tourists make a big production of touching the lions, pausing to take pictures.  Locals just casually brush the lions with their fingers as they pass, often without even looking at them.


Why are these particular lions considered lucky?  One story goes that the tradition started when a young student protested the behavior of King Ludwig I and got away with it. Ludwig I was the grandfather of “Mad King Ludwig II,” builder of the fairy-tale castles Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.  Starting in the 1830s, Ludwig I’s subjects grew restive, like other people in Europe at the time.  They demanded reforms.  Ludwig I was not an astute politician–in the past, kings did not need to be.

However, Ludwig I was a great womanizer.  That would not have been so bad, but one of his mistresses was the beautiful dancer and actress Lola Montez, who was not exactly discreet.  She used her influence with the king to press for liberal reforms, then pressed for severe repression when rebellions started getting out of hand. Lola Montez was only her stage name; she was born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland.  In defiance of popular opinion, the married Ludwig I went everywhere with her in public, made her a countess, and gave her an independent income.  This situation went on for a little more than a year.

Lola Montez, public domain

Lola Montez, public domain

The story goes that a young student was so incensed by the king’s flagrant behavior that he wrote a complaint and nailed it to the main door of the Residenz.  (Did he get the idea from Martin Luther?)  When the offending document was found, the king demanded that “the writers” be found. Apparently the king believed the dastardly deed required more than one offender, and he put out the word to arrest all the usual suspects.  The student promptly wrote another document claiming sole responsibility–and signing his name.  He nailed that one to the door, too. When he was hauled before the king, Ludwig I had to admire the student’s nerve and style.  So the student was let go.  On his way out of the Residenz, he gave one of the guarding lions a pat, and ever since, people have touched one or the other of the lions for luck.

King Ludwig I of Bavaria, public domain

King Ludwig I of Bavaria, public domain

It’s an amusing story, but Ludwig I’s own luck as a king ran out.  In late 1847, there were widespread student rebellions.  Lola Montez persuaded the king to close the university. Soon he was forced to not only reopen the university, but to abdicate in favor of his son Maximilian II.  Lola Montez fled Bavaria.  She eventually ended up in America, where she had a successful career as actress, erotic dancer, and lecturer.   Ludwig I may have had the last laugh, though. He lived on for another 20 years, pursuing his interests in women and the arts, free of the bothersome business of governing.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!

And for Royal Backyard Barbecues…

Actually, I’m making that up.  My second-favorite crown is this one, from about the same era as the crown in my last post.  This one is more modest–and looks easier to wear.  Perhaps it was made for a young princess.  Or perhaps a well-dressed queen needed a whole wardrobe of crowns, for both formal and casual occasions.


This crown looks to be from the same era as my all-time favorite, but when I took a picture of it I broke my own rule of always taking a picture of the caption. Both of these crowns are in the Munich Residenz Treasury, or Schatzkammer.  I always think I will remember details, but it doesn’t always happen.  For this crown, I’ll just have to say that it’s very old, very beautiful, and it beckons my imagination back into medieval times.  I’m sure those times are much more pleasant to imagine than they ever were to live through, even for royalty.

Like many museums, the Munich Residenz has a lively interactive children’s program where kids can dress up in historic finery.


Maybe museums should also have an interactive adults’ programs, for dreamers like me.  I’d be first in line to try on the silks, satins and jewels of days long gone!

A Beautiful Jail is Still a Jail: Rupert Mayer in Ettal

Father Rupert Mayer was a war hero and an outspoken opponent of the Nazi regime.  My last post described how visitors flock to his bronze bust in St. Michael’s Church in Munich to honor his memory.


After imprisoning him in Landsberg Prison (where Hitler himself had once spent a few months before he came to power), the Nazis sent Father Mayer to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  However, they were reluctant to actually kill such a well-loved figure.  So in 1939 they sent him to remote Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the border with Austria.  He spent the rest of the war under house arrest, forbidden to preach or speak in public.

Another Nazi opponent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spent the winter of 1940-1941 at the Abbey.  He worked on his book Ethics while there.  I can imagine conversations between the two brave men of conscience during long winter nights.

The little village of Ettal is close to the Austrian border, with spectacular mountains and lakes all around.  The area is so beautiful that King Ludwig II chose it for his favorite home palace, Linderhof, just a stone’s throw away. The village is pretty, surrounded by biking  and hiking paths. There’s a tempting bakery and a couple of cozy old hotels, one of them run by the monks.


The monastery has a turbulent history of its own, having been secularized at times. But for most of the time since the 1300s, monks have welcomed visitors, brewed a world-renowned beer, distilled herbal liqueurs, and made cheese. Since the 1700s, they have run a well-regarded college preparatory school with free tuition. In summer, people bike over from nearby towns like Oberammergau and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  They picnic in the grounds and tour the distillery and cheese-making facility.

The Baroque church is spectacular, with a dome painted to imitate the heavens.  


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not under arrest during his time in Ettal; he was able to carry his message of resistance out into the world after he left.  Shortly before the war’s end, he paid with his life.

I’ve been to Ettal twice, both short stops in winter, within a year or two of a terrible scandal.   Both times were in December; probably the students were on holiday break.  In 2010, abuse of students by a few monks during the 1960s through early 1980s was exposed and presumably dealt with.   The village was friendly, but the church and monastery felt secretive and closed-off.  Although the church doors were open and candles were lit, no one was around.  I was glad to take a quick look and leave. I’m sure summer would be much more pleasant and informative.

Reportedly some of the Ettal community members were actively involved in plots against Hitler during the war. The buildings are huge and sprawling. I can well imagine plots and secret meetings in the honeycomb of hallways, classrooms, monks’ cells, and dormitories. Ironically, the place where the Nazis confined Rupert Mayer was probably one of the safest havens for those who tried to plot the downfall of the regime.

Father Rupert Mayer was a man of action. I’m sure the worst part of his long confinement was being unable even to preach from the pulpit of the beautiful Baroque church. He was so dangerous to the Nazi regime that he had to be silenced, even in the remote backwater of Ettal.

Pulpit detail, Mattana photo, public domain

Pulpit detail, Mattana photo, public domain

Join me next time for more explorations into some of the byways of European art and history.

Visiting a Hero in Munich: Rupert Mayer

When I stepped inside historic St. Michael’s Church in Munich, I was surprised to see a constant parade of people stopping before the bust of a particular man in the hallway.  Young and old, in a hurry or taking time to linger, they came with suitcases, shopping bags and school book bags.  Some would stand for a few minutes and say a prayer.  Some would just briefly touch a well-worn spot on the bronze sculpture.  All of them were honoring a remarkable man, Father Rupert Mayer.


Father Mayer was a Jesuit priest born in 1899.  He served as a chaplain in World War I.  He was first sent to a military hospital.  At his own request, he went from there to the front, literally crawling through the mud of battlefields under fire to minister to soldiers–both Catholic and non-Catholic.  He served in France, Poland and Romania.  In 1916, he lost a leg in a grenade attack.  He was the first military chaplain to receive the Iron Cross for bravery in battle.

As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, he consistently spoke out against them, both in public places like beer halls and in the pulpit.  In 1937, the Nazis first put him under house arrest, then jailed him several times in Landsberg Prison.  Next they sent him to Sachsenhausen concentration camp for several months.  Many church leaders of various faiths were killed during the course of World War II, but Father Mayer was apparently too well-known for the Nazis to dispose of him so easily.  In Sachsenhausen, his health was failing.  The Nazis did not want to make this popular man a martyr.  So he was finally sent to Ettal Abbey, deep in the Bavarian countryside, and kept confined there, forbidden to preach.  When the war ended, he returned to Munich to a hero’s welcome.  Unlike many opponents of the Nazis, he lived to see them defeated.

The war was barely over when Father Mayer died in 1945.  He actually died while celebrating Mass at St. Michael’s Church, of a stroke.  He is honored there with displays from his life.

Rupert Mayer family photos and artifacts in St. Michael's Church

Rupert Mayer family photos and artifacts in St. Michael’s Church

Rupert Mayer was beatified in 1987, a step toward sainthood.  Many people would like to see him made a full-fledged saint, which would require a verified miracle. For me, a life like Rupert Mayer’s is miracle enough.  I am sure that many people who stop to visit his statue are remembering not only him, but countless others who stood against a murderous regime in the darkest hours of the twentieth century.


Munich today is cheerful and prosperous.  Shoppers, tourists, students and business people hurry through the downtown pedestrian area, intent on enjoying their lives.  Many of them duck into St. Michael’s Church, though.  Like so many others, I paused and placed my hand on the worn spot on the bust of Rupert Mayer. The bronze was smooth and cool to the touch.

Join me next time for more reflections on the art and history of Europe.

Trying on Royalty for Size

The best art and history museums everywhere have entertaining programs for children–after all, children are the future. I’m always happy when I see kids having a good time at a museum. For instance, the Residenz in Munich gives kids a chance to dress up as royalty from days long past.


The Residenz was the ancestral home of the royal Wittelsbach family for generations. “Mad” King Ludwig was born somewhere in its warren of grand bedrooms, salons, music rooms and chapels. Having slogged my way through the corridors twice on two separate trips, I can understand why he went “mad” enough to escape to his personal castles at Neuschwanstein and Linderhof. Away from Munich, he could at least live on a more human scale.

The palace is so huge and confusing that the audio tour considerately offers an escape hatch: a sign about halfway through informing the visitor that the shorter tour is complete, and the full tour is optional. The first time, I didn’t think my tired feet could take any more polished marble corridors. The second time, I made it all the way through and found it worthwhile. Still, although it’s a nice place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there.

I doubt that Ludwig enjoyed dressing up as much as the kids visiting his home these days. I’m glad to see kids at the very entrance of the Residenz having a good time imagining life in days long past. I hope they all develop a taste for history.

This post is an experiment. I’ll soon be traveling, and I wanted to try posting using nothing but my trusty phone. If you are reading this, the experiment worked!