Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Day Seven: Part Two. Wiltenburg Monastery

Wiltenburg Monastery.
My "Tor" Friend David Jackson got this shot in a most unusal way:
It's a postcard that he took a picture of! Way to go David and thanks!

         As if the town of Regensburg itself wasn’t enough, the afternoon schedule for “Tor” Passengers gave us more options.  Three in fact.
For Motorheads, there was a BMW Factory visit.  The plant in Regensburg opened in 1986 and since that time, more than five million vehicles have been produced there and sent all around the world.  This guided tour took Tor passengers through the production halls.  Cameras were completely verboten. From what I gleaned, this tour was cloaked in secrecy the NSA would be proud of.  So I’m afraid I know no more about it.  The second option was to stay aboard ship while it moved upriver to the town of Kelheim, a distance of just 27 kilometers but one which took several hours to complete. 
Liberation Hall as seen from the river
The third option, and the one I took, was to drive to Kelheim, which took all of 30 minutes and begin a tour that ultimately took us to Wiltenberg Monastery. 
         But first, we travelled through a Bavarian wood to Liberation Hall (Befreiungshalle in German) This massive structure was built by King Ludwig I to commemorate Germany’s struggle against the oppression of Napoleon and the unification of Tuetonic tribes.  It took over 20 years to build and its architect died in the process.  It’s in the midst of a restoration, covering the 18-cornered building. 
The 10 Canadians seen here at Wiltenburg.
Nobody enlivened this trip quite like
these wonderful people from Nanaimo BC
Confession time: We’re all supplied with ingenious headsets with which we can hear our guides even at some distance.  The minute we got to the Hall, I repaired to the men’s room.  When I emerged, I walked the wrong way for a quick tour of the parking lot. Realizing my mistake, I walked to the Visitor’s Center.  There I spied some of my Canadian friends enjoying a beer. The temperature at this point was 28 C or 82 F. I opted for the beer before heading back to the bus. I never actually visited Liberation Hall.      
We then went down to Kelheim where we boarded an excursion boat. With yet another beer in hand, we headed down the Danube Cutthrough, a particularly scenic stretch called the Weltenburg Gap. Rounding a bend, we came upon an enormous structure, pictured at the top of this post.  This is Weltenburg Monastery.
         In this remote setting, the foundations of its first monastery date from 600 AD.  It became a Benedictine abbey in 760 AD.  Through endless wars and ecclesiastical disputes, the monastery was destroyed time and time again only to be rebuilt time and time again.  The current structure dates from 1714.       

The centerpiece of the Monastery is the St. George abbatical church.  Of all the magnificent Baroque churches we’ve seen along the Romantic Danube, this one is perhaps the most astonishing. The simple façade makes the extraordinary interior all the more impressive.  It is smaller than any one of the others we’ve seen, which makes it ornamentation all the more startling. 

This ceiling was painted by Cosmos Damian Asam
who was lifted up on a platform from the floor of the
church to a dizzying height where he painted the ceiling while 

lying on his back.
Sculpture, Painting, Architecture all in one
Two brothers, Cosmos Damian and Egid Quirin Asam, painters, sculptors and master builders worked on St. George's from 1716 to 1739. They succeeded in bringing together painting, sculpture, light, space and architecture into a unified total work of art.   Once again, an expert guide took us through every aspect of the Church’s design and decoration. Below, in homage to themselves, Cosmos Damian painted his own image on the ceiling, his brother Egid Quirin, the sculptor, fashioned his own on its lip.

Have another beer!  Nicole, Moi, Stanislav,
the Viking River Tor's Concierge,
Toni, Stephanie and Margaret in another photo
by David Jackson.  Thanks David!
Besides being a masterpiece of High Baroque in Southern Germany, the Monastery has another claim to fame.  The monks have been making beer there since at least 1050 AD.  In fact their latest offering is a brew called 1050.  So much for Colt 45.  As odd as it seems, there is a biergarten is right outside the church.  It’s thronged with people enjoying the award winning Dunkel (Dark Lager) beer and cheese also made right there.  I couldn’t help but think that we Episcopalians could take a leaf from this book. We could set up Martini bars at the back of our churches to encourage that kind of participation!
Last Beer of the Day! Go ahead,
it's all included!
        We took the excursion boat back to Kelheim. There, we visited yet another biergarten, this one formerly belonging to the local Duke. Miffed by the Monk’s prosperity from beer sales, he founded his own brewery. 
         At last, we returned to the ship for our German Dinner Celebration and sadly, tomorrow’s final day aboard “Tor”.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Day Seven: The Longest Day...Regensburg and Weltenburg Monastery. Part One: Regensburg

Bronze Bas Relief of Regensburg showing the Medieval Walls
surrounding the City, as the Danube flows outside them
         As I got deeper into the writing of this piece, it became all too apparent, that this particular day in Viking River’s Romantic Danube itinerary needed to be split in two. It simply could not be covered in any detail without asking my readers to read the longest post ever in Chewing the Fat History. 
         The day divided easily.  The morning was spent in Regensburg, Bavaria’s second largest city, and the afternoon was spent on an excursion to Weltenburg Monastery from the town of Kelheim, where the Danube and Altmühl Rivers meet.  Here’s Part 1: Regensburg. Part 2: Weltenburg Monastery will follow tomorrow. 
Regensburg captured in
on single photography
I was highly familiar with the name Regensburg because we are reminded of it every time Andrew and I step into our car.  Regensburg is the home of BMW and it’s the only place in the world where our model is produced.  Regensburg’s claims to fame in modern Germany is not only as BMW headquarters but also those of industrial giant, Sieman’s and the German headquarters of none other than Amazon. 

While we made our way through Regensburg, one image captured the city perfectly.  While outside City Hall, a BMW Z series pulled up. Out came a couple to be married at the City Registry wearing traditional Bavarian dress for their wedding, driving a car made only in Regensburg.    

But that’s just one side of Regensburg.  The other is fascinating both visually and historically. Regensburg has the largest collection of Medieval buildings anywhere in the world.  There are 1300 of them, many of them built on top of Roman ruins.  It’s an absolutely extraordinary collection made even more so by the fact that this city of 150,000 people live and work in these buildings to this very day.  On the left you can see a medieval tower built atop the walls of the old Roman legion outpost. 

Note the Footwear.
Some other Regensburg firsts? This is the home of a former Cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger. You may remember him better as Pope Benedict XVI, the red Prada shoe-wearing Pope and the first one to resign his office since Gregory XII did in 1415.

Did a friend really ask me for
a photo of a statue of Don Juan
seen here as portrayed by Johnny Depp?
There are endless stories about Regensburg but none with quite the allure of this one.  While I was onboard the Tor,  I received an email from a very dear old friend.  She asked me if I could take a picture of the statue of Don Juan.   I could not imagine what connection Don Juan, a fictional Spanish character, would have to this German city.  But I dutifully noted my friend’s request. 

The Hotel where the trysts took place is the turreted
building on the left.  
You can hardly imagine my surprise as I stood listening to our Viking Tour Guide tell the following tale:  Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany, Italy, Spain, Sardinia and Sicily, and Naples, Lord of the Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy, came to town.  In their efforts to entertain the sovereign, a local beauty and singer, was pressed into service, spending several days with the Emperor. Lo and behold, a child came out of their meeting.  The local burgher’s daughter was quickly married off to a court functionary.  But before he turned three, his birth father sent for the child. He was taken from his mother to become Don Juan of Austria. 

Don Juan of Austria
And his mother...none other than Barbara Blomberg!
His statue located, I still could not figure out why my friend wanted with this photograph. Reading the plaque under the imposing figure of Don Juan, I spied a familiar name.  His mother, the beauty and singer, was named Barbara Blomberg. I pause here for all the friends of Ms. Blomberg who were as startled by this discovery as I was.

Note Ms. Blomberg's name in the third
line of the plaque commemorating her son.
I haven’t shared much food talk since my Paprika search in Budapest.  I am saving all my major food articles for my sponsor on this trip, The Daily Meal.  But I can hardly avoid telling you that Regensburg is home to the oldest restaurant in Germany, the aptly named “Alte Wurstkuchl”. 

The Kitchen looks to be original as well.
The name translates to “Old Sausage Kitchen”.  I have no idea when the word “Alte” (Old) was added to the name but when you’ve been in business for 800 years, that could have been a very long time ago indeed.  The restaurant was built in the 12th century to feed the workers building the town’s stone bridge across the Danube. 

“Alte Wurstkuchl” specializes in, what else, wurst.  The only menu decision to be made is whether to order 6, 8, 10 or 12 bratwursts.  (In a momentary loss of memory, I could not remember ‘sex’ which is six, but had no trouble remembering ‘acht’, eight).  Served with a stein of local beer, sauerkraut and sweet mustard that would make cardboard taste good, they allowed me to skip today’s lunch on the Tor.  The bratwurst was so tender and delicious, I probably should have ordered zehn or zwölf.

The Longest Day, Part Two: Weltenburg Monastery will appear tomorrow.