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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Germany A-Z: Bamberg

To fight or not to fight? Bamberg is the case for settling disputes amicably, which is a blessing. Few cities have such untouched historical beauty.
 
The city’s state of preservation is remarkable and the fact that it failed to follow medieval practice by building defensive walls is probably a blessing. For fear of destruction it was ransomed during the 15th century Hussite wars (which ravaged many cities) and narrowly avoided disaster in the Thirty Years War, even though the Catholic imperial general Wallenstein was headquartered there. Also, mercifully, it is one of a handful of German medieval cities little damaged by World War II bombing. 

But three arguments continue in Bamberg – whether there are seven hills or six, who the Bamberger Reiter really is, and who brews the best beer. 

First, some background. Bamberg’s old town on the Regnitz has a structural heritage including a largely Romanesque cathedral, Renaissance and Baroque princely residences and well over 2000 listed buildings. But its UNESCO world listing is due also to its medieval layout. The earliest churches form a cross (albeit rough) on the map, a practice that was followed as the Holy Roman empire of German lands stretched eastward in succeeding centuries. 

For Bamberg was conceived by its patrons as a holy city. Its 9th century origins and name it owes to the castle maintained by the Babenberger dukes of Franconia. But the German king and later Holy Roman emperor Heinrich II founded a bishopric in 1007 with a view to spreading the faith – and with it monastic life – eastward. Heinrich was devoted to the notion of monasticism and he and his queen Kunigunde (each controlled extensive lands in the region) ensured the bishopric was richly endowed. Both are remembered by prominent city statues today, both were sanctified and both are buried in Bamberg’s cathedral. 

Bamberg by the 13th century was one of the biggest of Germany’s episcopal principalities and remained so until the Napoleonic secularisation of the 19th century. At times its bishop also held dominion over Würzburg and Regensburg. So far as Bamberg was concerned, the hill Domberg became a clerical enclave. This comprised the cathedral, its episcopal residences (first the Renaissance Alte Hofhaltung and later the superb Baroque Residenz), surrounded by other hills topped by church foundations and overlooked by the Benedictine monastery of Michaelsberg. There is also a Baroque summer palace east of the city and a former episcopal castle that overlooks the city from the west.

The commercial town grew on the flat island described by the arms of the Regnitz and the canal linking the Main and Danube. Such division, like in many episcopal cities, led to later problems between the church and civic leaderships.

A story survives that the 15th century bishops were unenthusiastic about providing ground for a town hall. Honour was duly satisfied all round by creating an island in the west arm of the Regnitz and building the town hall there, reached from either side by bridge. The exterior was recast in Baroque in the mid 18th century with the Baroque wall art and prominent balconies and heraldic reliefs, but its age is still betrayed by its half-timbered south end, the most photographed scene in the city. That argument, too, was settled.

Over six centuries market gardening has remained near the centre of the city, which became known for onion growing and viticulture. Grüner Markt still operates to sell some of the city’s produce. A statue of an assertive, even foul-mouthed market woman known as Humsera marks the spot today – legend has it she won all her arguments.

But brewing was also important, so much so it has been the daily task of the monks of Michaelsberg. Today there are several secular breweries, each with several styles and labels. The style most identified with the city is Rauchbier, a reddish smoked beer of distinctive taste. 

Which returns us to the burning questions: seven hills are named, which fits nicely with Rome. Bamberg also produced a pope, Clement II, who is buried in the cathedral. Though this case seems compelling, the suspicion is that two slopes of one hill are separately christened. But why argue? The important thing is that so many hills mean lots of excellent views, such as from the Rosengarten terrace behind the Residenz or from Michaelsberg itself. 

Who is the Bamberger Reiter, the enigmatic knight of the equestrian statue mounted on a pillar of the cathedral? Traditions associate it with the Hungarian king St Stephen, the perfect medieval warrior whose cult was vibrant and who was pope Clement’s brother-in-law. The charismatic emperor Friedrich II, who built much of the present cathedral, has his supporters. Heinrich himself is a candidate, among other suggestions. This argument will never be settled.  

And whose is the best beer? You be the judge.

#Bamberg   #Germany  
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2015-02-09
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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Seven places in Germany you hadn't planned to travel – but should

Preserved old towns head the #travel delights of #Germany. Many wonders have been resurrected from the rubble of World War II air raids, but one simple guide to finding undisturbed cultural environments is to go where the bombers did not. This holds true for the places below, which are not on everyone’s German itinerary. Seeing your travel pictures, your friends will wish they had known about these treasures.

Goslar: Head off the main rail track and bus routes to see a wealth of attractions built from the riches extracted from ancient silver mines. Medieval German emperors loved this place on the edge of the Harz mountains and built a palace, while the affluent townsfolk built Renaissance half-timbered residences by the hundred around its medieval churches. It is another place almost frozen in time, passed by the march of recent centuries but recognised with world-heritage status.

Wernigerode: While in Goslar, take a short trip to its colourful half-timbered neighbour. Local folk might offer ‘you should make some time to visit Goslar’. Wernigerode has the sort of castle that Goslar lacks, but the partial medieval walls and intriguing centuries-old buildings are common to both. This is the place, however, to catch a steam train connecting with two narrow-gauge lines into the mountains or take a shorter trip around the region with the help of a park full of scaled miniatures of the best-known buildings of the Harz.   
Dinkelsbühl: Get off the Deutsche Touring Romantic Road bus for longer than the timetabled 40-minute stop and consider staying a night at one of the intimate hotels or pensions of this small 17th century town south of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Expect quirky gabled half-timbered buildings, cobbled streets, undisturbed walls and towers. Things are relatively peaceful, with the exception of high summer, when booking would be advisable. 

Koblenz: The most populous destination on this list proves the value of location. Where the world-heritage stretch of the middle Rhine joins the Moselle, cruise ships provide access to dozens of superb castles on both rivers, while the city displays its inheritance of settlement back to Roman times. Here a cable lift crosses the Rhine to one of Europe’s mightiest fortresses, Ehrenbreitstein, which commands a superb view of the river junction. 

Meissen: An S-Bahn ride from Dresden is a medieval town on the Elbe known as the birthplace of the German porcelain industry. It all began high above the town in a castle used by the Wettin line of rulers that lorded it over Saxony for several centuries. The medieval streets, cathedral and town buildings remain. The porcelain tradition also continues and the state-owned factory, open to visitors, goes on turning out precious masterpieces.  

Passau: A town worth going to the end of Germany for. It has most of what visitors expect to find in this country: a lofty and mighty Gothic castle, magnificent cathedral, a medieval old town with narrow and winding lanes, a medieval old town hall with narrow and soaring tower. What visitors don’t expect is the superb location, just inside the Austrian border where the Danube meets the Inn and Ilz rivers, which makes Passau a favourite of cruise passengers and an ideal base for scenic balloon flights.

Wismar: This town in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which shares its world heritage listing with Stralsund, gets neglected because it is off the main travel routes. Its value is in its preserved streetscapes and northern red-brick Renaissance architecture, a legacy of the Baltic trade links of its little-changed historical port, and its reminders of Swedish overlordship in the 17th and 18th centuries.   
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2015-02-06
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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Germany’s churches: Three clues to the art puzzle 

Churches, even mighty cathedrals, are not every traveller’s top attractions. 

Even when they are – and the greatest are usually near the centre of German cities – even richly ornamented churches don’t detain most visitors nearly as long as a good museum or a glittering palace. 
Perhaps it is because churches can seem overwhelming, dazzling and detailed puzzles.

Yet they are, their sacred significance aside, magnificent art museums, because their creators and patrons held that the glory of God demanded the finest artistic sense and craftsmanship. 

The intricacies of their decoration discourage those of us without a good knowledge of the Bible, the stories of countless saints, Renaissance decoration or Reformation history. We wander in, around and out, perhaps pausing once or twice before some striking altar or piece of sculpture.

Assuming a good guide booklet in their native language is on hand, it would occupy several hours of a traveller’s time to take in everything in all but small churches. The initiated will probably take just as long – they more they know, the more they are likely to see.

The best way for a novice to get something out of a church visit (and move on to see the other sights) is to focus on three basics. Following these leads will bring meaning to the experience and bring the visitor closer to the congregations of the past. 

1. Find out for whom the church was consecrated (sometimes there will be more than one saint). Then some of the chief artworks may start to make sense. Most often this is obvious in the name. If a German church is known as Frauenkirche, Liebfrauenkirche, or Unser Lieben Frauen Kirche, it’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A more common designation is Marienkirche. 

2. Identify the dominant architectural style and start noting its features, like the round arches and windows of Romanesque style in contrast to the pointed vaults of the Gothic. Fixing the century of the surviving construction gives a sense of the time scales involved. Germany tended to adopt styles later than France or Italy, and the Gothic persisted in some places until the early 16th century. It’s usual in Germany to find older churches (sometimes much older) once stood on the site, or that interiors, exteriors, or towers have been made over in a later style. For the oldest remains, visit the vault. On the other hand, times of economic depression might prevent updating and stylistically freeze a building in time.

3. Find out which artworks are especially valued and why. Often they will be associated with great names, names that are likely to crop up again in your travels. You can compare the works of masters and, in spite of yourself, take the first step to becoming a fan, if not an expert. Sadly, in the case of medieval churches the genius will probably be anonymous.

With these three themes in mind, the visitor will always grasp something to take away. Soon art styles become quite recognisable and some conventions become familiar. 

Some cautions are in order.

1. Few churches actually charge for admission, which makes them among the cheaper sights to visit. But most administrators appreciate a small contribution to their restoration and upkeep. The contribution box is never hard to find. 

2. Respect worshippers’ right of quiet devotion. Clergy and church volunteers are proud of the value of their churches, but nothing frustrates them more than loud chat or other visitors wandering about during services. At times particular chapels may be set aside for prayer.

3. The main altar should not be closely approached. In many churches it will be roped off altogether.

Last, many churches do not allow interior photography. Several put a nominal charge on the privilege.
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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Germany A-Z: Augsburg

The old commercial city of #Augsburg preserves a legacy of Renaissance buildings, onion-domed churches and narrow late medieval streets that escaped much of the destruction of World War II. 

Augsburg’s influence, particularly through its business affairs, long overshadowed that of its Bavarian neighbour Munich and stretched to the financing of an imperial throne. In these developments links with Italy were critical. 

The city had Roman beginnings, being founded at the order of the emperor Augustus in 15BCE and named Augusta Vindelicorum. Later Claudius built his military road Via Claudia Augusta through Augsburg to the north and the city became the Raetian provincial capital.

Fittingly the symbol of Augsburg, the pine cone perched today on the Rathaus gable, is borrowed from Rome, whence its existence sprang and whose religious politics dominated its years of glory. In the city’s old armoury building is a temporary exhibit of objects from Augsburg’s Roman past, moved the from the Römisches Museum site (under closure for structural reasons). Copies of some items are displayed in the Rathaus and on the south side of the cathedral.

Late in the Middle Ages textiles and cloth drove the city’s commercial growth and formed the basis of the wealth of the Fugger family. Much of the family trade was with Italy and Jakob Fugger (‘the Rich’) learned banking in Venice when young, bringing perspectives on Italian business practice to Germany. He also brought the Italian Renaissance in the shape of a family chapel – the oldest Renaissance building in Germany – in the shape of the St-Anna-Kirche, where Jakob and his two brothers lie. 

The family firm became bankers to the Habsburg Holy Roman emperors. Noted for his work ethic, Jakob the Rich nonetheless created a model of social welfare that endures today – the Fuggerei, a retirement home in several respects ahead of its time and which still operates on the principle of tenants paying peppercorn rents and offering daily prayers for the souls of the Fuggers. 

Belonging to this period are the superb Goldener Saal, main hall of Elias Holl’s distinctive Rathaus and one of the city’s chief attractions. Next to it is the tower Perlachturm, also onion-domed.

The Fuggers’ banking rivals the Welsers were almost as important in business terms and briefly and spectacularly acquired Venezuela as security on an imperial loan. The Fugger-Welser Erlebnismuseum has opened – in a restored Renaissance building – to provide a sensory experience of the world in which these power brokers moved. 

Augsburg became with Nuremberg an archetype of an affluent, independent German city. But from Renaissance times there were two Augsburgs. One was represented by the commercial class of means and political influence, attested by today’s broad Maximilianstraße and its palaces and town houses. The other Augsburg was a class of craftsmen and guildsmen, preserved in the curling, narrow street lines around the city’s narrow canals. The contrast remains evident today.

Augsburg was also at the centre of key events of the Reformation. In 1518 Martin Luther defended his 95 theses for the first time before a senior cardinal, defying the pope. Luther afterwards was forced to escape, it is said from a tiny church by the north-east city wall, where remnants remain today. Oddly, the little Galluskirchlein, which also remains, is now Orthodox.  

At the Augsburg diet of 1530 the so-called Augsburg Confession, co-authored by Luther, was put before the Holy Roman emperor Charles V by Protestant princes as a statement of Lutheran belief. In 1555 acknowledgement by the emperor of Lutheran freedoms in the empire was given effect through the Peace of Augsburg. 

But all this set the stage for the Thirty Years War, which put the city in peril. During one siege up to 80% of the population starved or succumbed to disease. Now, alone among German cities, Augsburg observes a public holiday on August 8, the date a treaty ended the war. 

Other sites are associated with names prominent in German arts, business and technology, including the poet, playwright and director Bertolt Brecht, whose birth house is a museum, Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Amadeus (another house, another museum), the father and son Hans Holbein, and Rudolf Diesel, whose first engine can be visited at the MAN Museum. 

#Germany #Augsburg
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2015-01-31
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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Four reasons why Germany is the place for castles

The art of fortification is much older than any historical record of Germans. Germans did not invent the castle – or the word – and the Normans are more closely associated with its early engineering. But Germany’s legacy of history and geography is many and varied castles to visit and the modern reality is their preservation and accessibility.

1. Germany has lots of castles 
Whether Germany has more castles than elsewhere is debatable. Wales, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Liechtenstein – the last two within the historical scope of German lands – all lay claims to a greater density of castles.
But Germany is Europe’s biggest country, and several estimates of castle numbers there, including structures denoted by German words such as Burg, Festung, Feste (or Veste), Schloß and Pfalz, go well over 20,000 – if ruins are counted. 
The true castle count really depends on the criteria for a castle – an imprecise word that does not translate. If fortification, residence and exploitation of topography are the key concepts, only bare walls and towers on remote heights or inaccessible island strongholds qualify. But from medieval times lords over wide territory kept more than one base and maintained their authority only by constant travel among their vassals. Many never visited some of their castles.
The sprawling German lands became highly feudalised and the feudal system by its nature encouraged castles. It grew up as a network of obligations to and privileges from superior lords – the prized privilege was the right to build a castle. 
In the medieval period the developing German state began to disintegrate into hundreds of lordships. The 11th century struggle for supremacy between German king-emperors and popes induced both sides to turn to the aristocracy for support. Shrewd lords could play off one side against the other for ongoing gains in land and the right to build their own castles. 
The lands the aristocracy accumulated were often unconnected and scattered, each demanding a castle as a centre of power, administration and revenue collection. Church officials also became part of the feudal picture and bishops became princes.
Events seemed to manufacture castles. The crown revived for a time in the second half of the 12th century, but only by building on feudal ties. The return (or loss) of Crusader nobles reshaped feudal loyalties even further. Ever weaker, the German crown now relied on the favour of the great lords. Money and resources, instead of flowing to a powerful central state, went to build up impressive and scattered estates with castles and lordly residences. 
This political landscape of mostly tiny, discrete units continued until Germany only began to unify under the Prussian crown in the 19th century. 
The legacy of hundreds of years and large princely and noble classes was thousands of palaces, castles, manor houses and their households and gardens.

2. Germany has lots of styles of castle 
From the 16th century, the pattern of power changed. Some German states began growing and developing, recognising the need to protect fixed assets. To cope with the improvement in artillery, fortification design emphasised lower building profiles and layouts were designed to best direct defensive fire. Engineering was the key – once mighty walls on the hill began falling into ruin. 
The variety in German castles is extraordinary and tracks the march of history. Early palaces such as Aachen and Goslar reflect the relative security of the period – security that did not last. The Burg or fortress, best exemplified by examples such as Marksburg (above the Rhine south of Koblenz) and Wartburg (above Eisenach) came into its own.
Representing many generations of changing styles from the 12th century on are Burg Eltz in a quiet valley near the Moselle, the nearby Reichsburg above Cochem, Schloß Wernigerode or the Albrechtsburg above Meissen. 
Germany, in the centre of Europe, collected influences readily. In the 18th century, Italian models and craftsmen shaped the Residenz of the prince-bishops of Würzburg, one of Europe’s magnificent palaces. The French model, Versailles, was imitated in the garden layout of Frederick the Great’s Rococo palace Schloß Sanssouci in Potsdam, Berlin’s Schloß Charlottenburg and Schloß Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. The extensive Renaissance and Baroque palace complex of Dresden and the adjacent court church and Rococo Zwinger show both French and Italian influence.
The Romantic period of the 19th century returned to medieval notions and revived the Romanesque and Gothic, producing the famous Schloß Neuschwanstein near Füssen.

3. Germany has lots of rivers 
The expanses of Germany drain many great rivers. When sited above rivers – always key transport and trade routes – castles commanded positions from which to control and toll traffic, a vital source of income. In this way older castles extended their usefulness. It is commonly these that best maintained their medieval character: there was little use in updating or extending them. 
The result is river stretches dotted with castles. Chief among these, and accordingly recognised by UNESCO world heritage listing, is the middle Rhine, with a dense scattering of castles and ruins of various periods. Depending how much time is available to the traveller, parts of the Moselle, the Main and the upper Elbe offer similar experiences to be enjoyed from a cruise ship, walking path or train.  
Most spectacular are the locations dominating river junctions. It would be a shame to miss the view from Festung Ehrenbreitstein above Koblenz, where the Rhine and Moselle meet, and Veste Oberhaus above Passau, where the Danube, Inn and Ilz converge.

4. Germany’s castles are easy to visit 
The accessibility of castles is due to Germany’s dense transport networks and the heritage duty of the state. The organisation of state-owned properties is good and in some states includes marketing of admission passes online. In Bavaria, fortnight or annual passes covering admission are offered by the Bavarian state authority for castles and gardens (www.schloesser.bayern.de). Most of Bavaria’s popular attractions are covered. In Bavaria, visitors under 18 are normally admitted free.
In Saxony a pass with similar benefits (for 10 days or a year) allows two children under 15 to accompany an adult. Visit www.schloesserland-sachsen.de/en/home.
Opening hours at castles and palaces are longer in summer but, given the crowds, there can be waits to enter as well. Tickets at some popular sites are timed or set tours are compulsory. 
Last, many castles are in private hands, maintained by revenue from visitors, or offering accommodation or dining.

For a colourful guide to scores of German castles, palaces, historic houses and gardens open for public viewing, as restaurants or as accommodation, visit the Schenck’s Castles & Gardens website www.schenckguide.com.
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2015-01-29
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From Raven Travel Guides Germany

Germany A-Z: Amberg

The Oberpfalz town of #Amberg , 50 minutes by regular regional train from Nuremberg, comes as a quiet surprise to travellers. 

This town is one of a handful in #Germany preserving most of its circuit of medieval defences (with towers and gateways, notably the Nabburger Tor and Vilstor), late medieval and Baroque churches and a late Gothic-Renaissance Altes Rathaus (1356). 

The icon of the town is the fortification spanning the river Vils between palace and armoury, known as the Stadtbrille (‘city spectacles’), an effect created by the reflection of its arches in the still waters below. 

The town developed as the eastern seat of the so-called Palatine elector-counts and the recast ‘old’ palace (Alte Veste, c 1780) and ‘new’ palace (Kurfürstliches Schloß, c1420) remain, now in administrative use. 

The history of the electors is in the surprising Stadtmuseum in Zeughausstraße, where the feature is the Amberger Liedertisch (c1590), former round table of the town council, etched with lyrics and music and images including symbols of the known planets.

The churches of St Georg (with Baroque interior and high altar - see picture) and St Martin, the pilgrimage church Mariahilfkirche on the hill above the town and the Paulanerkirche are all worthy of a visit. 

Tourist information is available at Stadtinformation, Hallplatz 2.

Amberg offers a quiet break or an accommodation option when Nuremberg fills up during trade shows or other festivals. 
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