Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Deggingen Abbey all dressed in autumn

I should have posted this a very long time ago, but I forgot the details of the place and instead of doing my online research then, I just pushed it under the rug. Nevertheless, here it is and here as well goes the short, simple description of my visit one Sunday (or was that a Saturday?) about five years ago to the abbey of Deggingen, located in central Baden-Württemberg, and a lovely drive from Stuttgart.


The Ave Maria Chapel of Deggingen.

It was a gorgeous, late-autumn morning and a friend and I drove out of Stuttgart along a beautiful route lined with forest-filled vistas boasting one of the most beautiful Indian-summer days I had yet experienced in Germany. Yes, 'Indian summer' - Germans seem to have reinvented the meaning of that phrase to refer only to the colorful autumnal foliage, rather than the original way we North Americans use it. I've given up telling them what it really means, but it doesn't really matter. Regardless, the car ride in itself was worth every kilometer and the abbey proved to be the cherry on the cake (chocolate of course) of the day.




The abbey is located in what is known as the Schwäbische Alb (google it ;-). Its Chapel of the Ave Maria was constructed between 1716 and 1718 by a Capuchin Order of monks. In the early 20th century, the monastery itself was built. Today only a small handful of brothers and their pastor live there and offer pastoral care to the community.




The chapel of the Ave Maria itself is known as a pilgrimage church. It belongs to the parish of Deggingen, which can be seen in the background in the photo below. Several of the stations of the cross are also shown in the foreground leading up to the sanctuary.




The abbey buildings are of a simple, yet elegant design. Nestled against the forest which surrounds the abbey on three sides, the pale-lemon paint on the walls of the buildings contributes to the charming scene it creates for approaching visitors.






The chapel ceiling




The golden-orange showpiece above the altar in the photo above is of the Ave Maria. It is late Gothic. I learned from Wikipedia (perish the thought) that it was done by an unknown artist of the 15th century.




The setting of the abbey is indeed lovely and serene. It is still a place of pilgrimage and I can understand why. Since we were there in the fall, apples were for sale everywhere. I really like it when, depending on the season, you are walking along and come upon a table with apples or cherries that are either bagged or are in a little carton and a small sign on the table tells you how much money to leave in the tin for the purchase, and no one is around to make sure everyone is honest. That is trust, and I dare say it is probably usually honored. I've gotten some good fruit that way!



Getting there:

- You can take a regional train (RE) from Stuttgart main station to Geislingen station and then a 22-minute bus ride to the "Abzw. Ave Maria". This would take you about 2 hours. 

- The other rail option is to take an inter-city (IC) train from Stuttgart to Göppingen and then the bus for a 1:45-minute trip.

- Lastly, there is an inter-regional express (IRE) which is the fastest from Stuttgart, though it still includes the bus; this is about one hour altogether. I would take this one. The walk from the bus stop to the abbey is very nice. It isn't far at all.

- Otherwise, you can rent a car and find it yourself. Don't forget the navigator. After you turn off the main road there is a parking area below the abbey at the end of the drive.  




Saturday, May 16, 2015

Herrenberg - whose church leans heavily over its half-timbered houses




Looking up from the Market Square over Herrenberg's Town Hall to the massive Stiftskirche
above.




Before 1749, there were two tall spires where the single onion dome and
its white foundation sit today. 


Up in the tower of this late-13th-century Protestant church of Herrenberg 
is the Glockenmuseum, or Bell Museum.


                                         



The imposing façade of the ancient church - known as the Stiftskirche, Collegiate Church, or Protestant Church - dominates the skyline of the entire town. Its tower can be sighted from quite afar as one approaches via car or train, or even by foot across the fields. Steps are everywhere in Herrenberg. I would imagine no skinny legs here. People are probably in pretty good shape. Access to the homes and shops is directly from the steps themselves which could be awkward for guests who aren't thinking as they step outside from a successful cocktail party.                                                           
I have been down here several times from Stuttgart. It really is a nice day trip. Hiking is certainly possible all over this area. Of course, Germany as a country is well suited to hiking, biking, etc. what with all the designated paths throughout the country. Herrenberg is a stone's throw from the famous Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, as it is called around here.


The Market Place of Herrenberg, beneath the shadow of its massive church above.


Half-timbered houses, or "Fachwerkhäuse" are to be found all throughout this lovely
Swabian town south of Stuttgart. 





From the terrace in front of the church itself one looks down over the rooftops of Herrenberg. I would like to see the town from this angle after a heavy snowfall.

Look at those doors! They are pretty solid. The stone around them is also to be admired. I cannot
make out the rest of it, but the word or name above the door on the right, "STEINHAVER"
means "stone carver", so either he lived here, worked here, or both. Or, he just left this advert
over the door for all to know who did it. Good for him. 


More about the Stiftskirche



Have a look at the doors above. The Stiftskirche of Herrenberg is known for more than its 13th-century founding and bell museum high in its wide tower. It is also known for the fact that it is very slowly sliding down the side of the hill on which it sits. "What" you say? That's right, have a look again at those doors above. It's more than just a shot of two old doors. Look at the stone "framing" around the actual wooden doors. See how the center divider between the door arches is leaning to the left? You can see less of the top-right hinge on the left door than the bottom-right hinge on the same door. This is a side door to the huge church tower. Look below and you can see how high and heavy the tower must be. Mind you, there are certainly higher churches in the world, but not such large and wide ones constructed on the side of a hill like this. The clues are subtle, but when pointed out, one begins to wonder if, when, and how that tower might come down on the half-timbered town below.

Well, not to worry. Certainly the authorities have long known of this threat, and precautions have been taken which will certainly be observed for years to come. Much restoration was done to this effect throughout the 1970s. During this time the foundations were shored up and galleries which were added in the 19th-century were removed. The church had been sliding 1mm per year down toward the town due to the unstable hillside on which it is perched. One millimeter may not sound like much, but keep in mind that Herrenberg's church has been sitting here for more than 500 years! That's roughly 500 millimeters, and one of those millimeters would have been the final straw. 

The onion dome atop the tower that is seen today was built in 1749 when the former double spires were taken down and the single top was put on instead.





I couldn't resist throwing this in.
She graced a storefront window in
the town below. 

The choir stalls were carved in the 17th century. I particularly like the figures carved into them. I have seen these in many such stalls dating back a variety of centuries. Some I have seen boast quite humorous depictions - even yawning monks, but not here. 


Fachwerkhäuse, or Half-timbered houses

Herrenberg boasts many of these beautiful structures. Most of the half-timbered houses here were created in the Frankish style of Fachwerk. The oldest house in the town is of the Allemanisch style. Like so much of Württemberg and Baden, Herrenberg was burned to the ground during the devastating 30-Year's War in the first half of the 17th century. When the city was rebuilt, the merchants and inhabitants did not want all their homes to look the same. Therefore, the styles of Fachwerk on the buildings were intentionally made to be different. As you walk around the city, there are placards on the sides of many of the buildings explaining the names and styles of the beam work. 



Here are some shots of half-timbered houses I saw in Herrenberg. The house in the above left is the kind I like to come across in my travels - especially when my iPhone is charged since 90% of my photos are done with it. The amount of windows all over the house and their different sizes intrigue me. When seeing buildings like this one, I like to stand outside and try to figure out the purposes of such little windows such as the one directly above the front door. I mean, how short are the people who can even walk on that floor when compared to the windows and floor above it? 




I have often heard said that in some places, some of the taxes on home owners were determined by how many windows one had on one's house. I don't know if that was a universal rule, but it sounds interesting. Perhaps even window sizes were considered in the tax assessments of the day, hence, the different sizes. On the other hand, though, windows must surely have been added at later dates and in a half-timbered house, the space between the external timbers would have needed to have been taken into consideration as well. Who knows - the point is, they are fun to look at and let the mind wander back to what life was like long ago.




The house, above right, is behind the church. The ground floor contains the workshop of the church. It is quite large and takes care of all sorts of repairs, restorations, etc. Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg instructed that all the houses be "cleaned", or covered up. Perhaps the Fachwerk looked too primitive and the plastered fronts appeared more solid and stately; I don't know. I do know that in most cases I would differ with the duke. Now, why the rest of the houses down below in the town are not plastered over today, I do not know. Perhaps they were restored to their original beauty in more modern times. Simply based on the size of the structure, imagine what wooden designs are behind that plaster. In any event, it is indeed a substantial structure. The sheer amount of windows across the two main floors are something to ponder. Would like to have seen their tax bill.



As we hiked back down to the city from the Schloßberg (more information below), we came out into a clearing with fields and what appeared to be a farmhouse. The style of the house impressed me; I couldn't resist a shot of it (above left).



When walking around behind the huge church, one comes across a path that climbs further on up the hill above. At one time a castle was here - the Schloßberg. Some of the gates and parts remain as you make your way up by foot. There is a fine overlook from which you can see quite far over the city below and toward the Black Forest which is in the western horizon. The Schloßberg offers a café terrace, but the fortress itself is not really much to see in itself. The view, however, is worth the climb.

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Getting there:

To Herrenberg from Stuttgart main station: three to four local trains run per hour to Herrenberg, ranging from 30 - 40 minutes. No ICE's stop there, although they do pass it on the way to Zürich. 


Friday, May 8, 2015

HEIDELBERG CASTLE - FROM THE OTHER SIDE

The Ruins


Heidelberg Castle

At some point in our lives most of us have seen the ruins pictured above of the world-renown ruins of Schloß Heidelberg, be it in a history book, travel brochure, or on a visit to Germany. But, how many have seen the "other side" of the castle, what it looks like from behind, or even heard the story of how this large castle became a ruin in the first place? Let's have a look at some of other angles and views of Heidelberg Castle from within the grounds of the castle itself. 


Black and white images of Heidelberg Castle. I took the photo above from a square in the Old Town below. The photo below is within the castle itself after passing through the arched entrance into the Innenhof.  



The above ruined façade is what one first encounters upon entering the castle from the river front. It is to the left after coming through into the inner courtyard. 


  

The sentinel's box in the photo on the left is just before the main entrance to Heidelberg Castle. When entering the castle, one would have been easy target for anyone posted in there, watching as you made your way into the entrance gate (see below). These little boxes on the outer walls here remind me of similar ones found on castles I've visited along the coasts of Portugal and Spain. The tower on the right has had its roof rebuilt. It is one of the main gates from the mountain side of the castle. 


The Coat of Arms above the main entrance of Heidelberg Castle.
Note the garter band around the center which reads, "Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense"
Ring a bell? That's right, it is also the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
of England. Can you guess why it is in the Elector's  coat of arms here?





When visiting, just stop and make a point of looking at the figures in the niches included within the historical walls of this great fortress. All throughout the castle ruins one comes across a variety of military leaders, dukes and electors chiseled within them. Fortunately, selected parts of the castle have been restored, including many of the statues seen there.






Much still remains of the former moat around this side of the castle, as can be seen in the two photos above. To enjoy a better view of the ruins up close and to get a vivid picture of how the castle was destroyed, a walk inside this huge moat is necessary. Some climbing can actually be done on the castle's ruins from down in there. 

Seen from down on the riverfront and the town, this tower ruin is one
of the most famous parts of the entire scene sitting on the side of the
mountain above. At this view from behind, it makes you wonder how
the rest of these bricks are even holding on! Compare the size of the
person enjoying the view from the ramparts with the overall structure. 


The sheer number of stones is remarkable. You don't need to look hard at these two photos (above and below) to see them. You can well imagine how many meters thick these broken walls are; I mean, look at the density. Think of how many explosives were required to split this and the other castle towers! This wasn't done with just any old canon ball during battle. No, this was planned and calculated several years after the last major battle following the French defeat of the armies of the Elector whose seat Heidelberg Castle was. 

Photo taken from down within the castle moat.

As I stood there, staring at these incredible, thick walls, I thought about how the demolition was carried out back in those days. It goes to show how remarkably powerful and resourceful  military people of that day were in tackling the major challenges before them. They knew how to fell such massive constructions; they knew the weak points, or how to accentuate them, and bring these mighty structures down. I guess if they can build them, they would certainly be able to bring them down as well. In the case of Heidelberg Castle, its destruction took place over a period of four years during the 9-Years War of the Palatine Succession. 







The Gardens



These balustrades are probably mixed with original and reconstructed pieces. This massive garden was evidently something else in its day! As can be seen in these several shots, the terraces were of two or three different levels and once upon a time contained all sorts of different gardens and patterns. 


It is nice to enjoy a stroll along them, imagining how they once looked when in their full glory. Despite the destruction of the castle, these terraces seem to have been pretty well left in shape. Over the past 300 years since the fall of Heidelberg Castle, these former gardens have at least maintained their original integrity of shape and outline. 


The gardens were built between 1616 and 1619. They were designed by Salomon de Caus for the Kurfürst Friedrich V, who had them built for his wife. They were destroyed by the French in 1689 during the 9-Years' War. It's terraces can still be enjoyed today.





Heidelberg Castle suffered the effects of fire three times. The first was in 1689 during the 9-Years' War of the Palatine Succession, which was the first time the French came through Heidelberg and defeated the Elector's army at the castle; in 1693, when the French returned to effectively destroy the castle as well as the city below enough to put the castle completely out of foreseeable military commission; and, again, in 1764 when it was struck by lightening which made it completely uninhabitable. 

From then on, stones from the castle ruins were used by Heidelberg citizens for the building of homes. This was not unheard of in history. Even parts of the Great Wall of China were used by locals for such similar purposes. This trend stopped at the beginning of the 19th century when the Count de Graimberg began the process of conserving what was left of the castle.



Without a doubt the photo above is one my favorite in this series. The lush green of the forest and overgrowth on this sunny day, engulfing the simple but lovely arches of the terrace are very pleasant to my eye. I stood where I was on one of the garden terraces just taking in the view. It reminded me of a Roman ruin almost, but in this case the stonework looks in excellent shape; it is certainly no ruin. Unfortunately for me, however, I could not seem to figure out how to get over there. The view back at the Heidelberg Castle ruins would no doubt have made for a very good photograph. 


Video

See this very interesting two-and-a-half minute video on the destruction of Heidelberg Castle present by Spiegel Online. It shows a beautifully recreated castle before and during its downfall, as well as an easy-to-follow explanation. Click here.

How to get to Heidelberg

Trains of all types leave frequently each day from major cities such as Frankfurt, Mannheim, or Karlsruhe, Darmstadt, etc. on a regular basis. Heidelberg is such a famous tourist destination and international university city, that you will have no trouble finding Heidelberg on any train schedule. The average train ride from any of the above-mentioned cities should be one hour or less, depending on the particular train you choose.

The castle itself is not visible from the main train station. Taking a bus or tram from just outside the station into the Old Town, Bismarckplatz, or any other stop after Bismarckplatz will put you almost at the foot of the great castle. All you need to do is look up and see it. Then, get ready to climb... Enjoy!