Day 6 – Part 2: The Many Shires of Bavaria

This post will be somewhat shorter than the last and much lighter in temperament.  It was our pick-me-up after the burden of the negative, dark and overwhelming impressions of Dachau.  And just like that our brief visit to Munich was over and the afternoon would see us leave Munich and head for Füssen in the south western corner of Bavaria & Germany.  Munich was wonderful and I plan on coming back.  Steph had not joined Dave & I at Dachau as she had been to Auschwitz in Poland and instead decided to indulge her favourite passion for exotic animals at the Munich Zoo.  On departing Dachau, I had just written into the GPS “Munich Zoo.”  It came up that it was just 10 minutes away.  Thought it a bit strange as the zoo was on the other side of the city, but no worries off we went.  Ten minutes later we found ourselves parked outside a German animal supplies & pet store called Munich Zoo somewhere in the burbs.  We had traveled further from where we planned to be and it would take us another 40 minutes to reach Steph.  With Steph now on board it was time to visit the Shires (gau in German).

Munich to Fussen

First stop would be for a late lunch in Wolfratshausen.  As usual, the local Lidl supermarket proved to be the perfect place to pick up supplies.  Getting to be a bit of a habit on this trip.  So what is Wolfratshausen known for?  Not much really but a pleasant little river side village.  However, it does have one major place in history.   It was the sight of the Föhrenwald Displaced Persons camp in post-World War II, which was the largest in Europe and not closed until 1957.  Föhrenwald was transformed into a suburb of Wolfratshausen and renamed Waldram.  The older part of the town and the river walk made for a very pleasant break for lunch.

Close by to Wolfrathausen is the Benediktbeuern Abbey, a famous monastery formerly belonging to the Benedictine Order founded in 739.  While not visiting it, its name is well known because of the Carmina Burana (‘Benediktbeuern songs’) manuscript found there in 1803 and subsequently set to music by Carl Orff.  Carmina Burana is a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century.  The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical (strange for an abbey manuscript 😀 ).  Twenty-four poems in Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936.  His composition quickly became popular and has become a staple piece of classical music repertoire.  The opening and closing movement “O Fortuna” is the most used piece of music in films (click link).  Why do I mention it?  I have sung this piece 3 times and in one as part of the sextet singing “Si puer cum puellula.”  It is my favourite all time piece of classic music that I have performed in.

Benediktbeuern Abbey

Next stop on the trip was Oberammergau high in the alps near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The small town on the Ammer River is known for its woodcarvers and woodcarvings, and for its 380-year tradition of mounting Passion Plays.  The Oberammergau Passion Play was first performed in 1634.  It resulted from a vow made by the inhabitants of the village that if God spared them from the effects of the bubonic plague that was sweeping the region they would perform a passion play every ten years.  A man traveling back to the town for Christmas had accidentally brought the plague with him.  The man died from the plague and it began spreading throughout Oberammergau.  After the vow was made, not another inhabitant of the town died from the plague.  All of the town members that were still suffering from the plague recovered.  The play is now performed in years ending with a zero, as well as at the 300th anniversary in 1934 and the 350th anniversary in 1984.  The 1940 performance was cancelled due to the Second World War.  The play involves over 2000 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians, and all the residents of the village.  The streets of central Oberammergau are home to dozens of woodcarving shops, with pieces ranging from religious subjects, to toys, to humorous portraits.  Oberammergau is also famous for its “Lüftlmalerei” or frescoes, of traditional Bavarian themes, fairy tales, religious scenes or architectural trompe-l’œil (3D perspective) found on many homes and buildings.

Try this for a German tongue twister: …Ob er aber über Oberammergau, oder aber über Unterammergau…

As I planned this trip I used Google maps to try and find the most interesting routes between our destinations to get the most out of our trip and to avoid boring autobahns.  As I was looking for a route between Munich and Füssen I stumbled across a site I never thought I would get the opportunity to visit – The Pilgrimage Church of Wies (Wieskirche).  I had seen it in TV documentaries and it fascinated me as I love Baroque & Rocco design.  It was miles off the beaten track but our planned route would just happen to take us past it on our way to Füssen.  Wieskirche is an oval rococo church designed in the late 1740s.  It is located in the foothills of the Bavarian alps.  In 1738, tears were seen on a dilapidated wooden figure of the Scourged Saviour.  This miracle resulted in a pilgrimage rush to see the sculpture.  In 1740, a small chapel was built to house the statue but it was soon realized that the building would be too small for the number of pilgrims it attracted, and so it was decided to commission a new church for the sculpture.  Many who have prayed in front of the statue of Jesus on the altar have claimed that people have been miraculously cured of their diseases, which has made this church even more of a pilgrimage site.  Construction took place between 1745 and 1754, and the interior was decorated with wonderful frescoes and stucco work in the tradition of the Wessobrunner School.  A quote from an unknown source summed it up: “Everything was done throughout the church to make the supernatural visible.  Sculpture and murals combined to unleash the divine in visible form.”  The Wieskirche was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

Our final destination for the day was Füssen where we would spent the next few nights.  On the outskirts we passed through the village of Schwangau (Swan Shire).  Schwangau is home to the two sites we came here to see – Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau.  As we trundled into Füssen as many other travellers had, we found we had come to the end of what had once been called the Romantic Road on the Grand Tour of Europe in the 1800s, which runs from Würzburg to Füssen.  I would be visiting both the start and finish of this route.  Anyway, tomorrow will be a fascinating day visiting one of the world’s most iconic sites.

 

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