Day 7 – Part 2: An afternoon in Füssen

After a morning in a King’s lala-land we headed back down to base in Füssen for a late lunch and some souvenir shopping.  Got my lunch, got some Bavarian snaps Hopfenbitter (vodka flavoured with hops) for midsummer but unfortunately I was unable to find the souvenir I was looking for the whole trip – a pewter stein.  There were plenty in Munich but when were there it was evening and all the shops were shut.  I was not having much luck here either as most of the shops were closed because it was Sunday.  I suppose it will have to be an online purchase which is disappointing as I like to support local businesses.

Füssen is a 700-year-old town on the edge of the Bavarian Alps on the river Lech and Lake Forggensee.  It is the gateway to Austria over the Fern Pass via the Autobahn 7 passing by only 4 km away.  A road I have traveled many times going skiing in the Tyrol and did not know I was so close to Schwangau.  The Autobahn 7 follows the part of the old Roman road Via Claudia Augusta used for trade by the Romans and travels from Venice to Augsburg passing through Füssen.

The old town centre of Füssen is a combination medieval and baroque buildings.  Towering over the medieval lanes is the prominent landmark of the Hohes Schloss (High Palace) the former summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg and one of the largest and best preserved late-gothic castle complexes in Bavaria.  The bishops’ living quarters today house a museum & gallery of local treasures.  In the palace courtyard, the facades are adorned with impressive 500-year-old illusion paintings, which delude the viewer into believing that the window frames and embossing on the corners are genuine.  Below the Hohes Schloss is the magnificent baroque complex of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Mang, whose history goes back to the 8th century.  Saint Mang (Magnus of Füssen) is the patron saint of Füssen.  The basilica is the largest and most impressive of the numerous baroque churches in Füssen’s Old Town and in its crypt it houses Bavaria’s oldest preserved fresco from around 980.  The richly decorated baroque rooms of the monastery give some idea of the former wealth of the Benedictine monks.  In the Anna Chapel, the Füssen Danse Macabre (Dance of Death)** is the oldest death dance cycle painting still preserved in Bavaria.

In the history of European music, Füssen acquired importance thanks to its lute- and violin-makers.  At times there were up to 20 master lute-makers & 80 violin-makers working in the town and their instruments were in great demand throughout Europe.  Hundreds of Füssen’s lute and violin makers emigrated in order to set up new workshops at princely courts and in the great European cultural metropolises, such as Prague, Vienna, Lyons or Northern Italian towns.  Thus the making of stringed instruments in these cities was strongly influenced by the Füssen tradition.  In Vienna, violin-making was almost monopolised by the craftsmen from Füssen.  Among the most famous of the some 60 violin-makers from Füssen was Franz Geissenhof, the “Viennese Stradivari.”  That the town of Füssen was able to acquire this importance was due, in part, to the raw material necessary for building instruments in the mountain forests in the North Tyrol and the Ammer Mountains.  Here there was easy access to a large amount of spruce, maple and yew trees.  To this day Füssen cultivates its tradition as a music town.  Two violin-makers’ workshops and a maker of plucked instruments still turn out high-quality products for the international market.

Lutes from Füssen

Füssen is also the southern terminus of the Romantic Road.  The Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) describes a 460 km route between Würzburg in central Germany and Füssen in Southern Germany.  It travels specifically through Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, linking a number of picturesque towns and castles.  I would be visiting both the start of it and end of it on this trip but in reverse order.  In medieval times, it was a trade route that connected the center of Germany with the south.  It possesses “quintessential German” scenery and culture, in towns and cities such as Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and in castles such as Burg Harburg and Neuschwanstein.  When the holiday route between Würzburg and Füssen was officially opened in 1950, it was intended to be the flagship of a friendly Germany, a Germany far away from the Hitler terror and the piles of rubble.  A route rich in culture and history, with Medieval towns, half-timbered buildings, palaces, castles, gentle hilly landscapes and vineyards, one after another, like pearls on a string.

Tomorrow sees us leave Bavaria for a couple of new countries and my last days with the Coubroughs before I begin my 2 day trek back to Scandinavia.


**Danse macabre (Dance of Death) was meant to represent how death was the great social equalizer – no one escapes the dance with death – and there were a number of paintings and pieces of art inspired by this philosophy.


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