Rainer Maria Rilke
August 21, 2015 Usually, I try to accompany my photographs with some sort of narrative. I’m interested in telling stories, after all, and words are the means to that end. Sometimes, however, the pictures just speak for themselves.
August 20, 2015 Before we head to Bayreuth, Katie and I are farm-sitting for friends in Kulmbach–sprawling stone farmhouse, beautiful views, pigs and gardens and physical labor and evenings in front of the fire. For me, it is a chance to get out of my head: I cook in the huge kitchen for hours every day, stack wood for the fire. There’s not much space to overthink things.
Today, we took a break from the work to spend a few hours downtown, along with the two other young ladies who are watching the farm with us.
Kulmbach, like almost every other tiny Dorf in northern Bavaria, is beautiful–not in a touristy, expensive way, but with the sort of effortless charm that reminds me of the villages in Vermont. We drank cappuccinos and then hiked up to the castle outside of town, in the rain, wearing wool sweaters. Autumn is almost here.
When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, and sap is in the bough;
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow;
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain-air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!
When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade;
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid;
When shower and Sun upon the Earth with fragrance fill the air,
I’ll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
Grüßender Sonne spielendes Gold,
Hoffende Wonne bringest du hold!
Wie labt mich dein selig begrüßendes Bild!
Es lächelt am tiefblauen Himmel so mild
Und hat mir das Auge mit Tränen gefüllt!
Grünend umkränzet Wälder und Höh’!
Schimmernd erglänzet Blütenschnee!
So dränget sich alles zum bräutlichen Licht;
Es schwellen die Keime, die Knospe bricht;
Sie haben gefunden, was ihnen gebricht:
Rastloses Sehnen! Wünschendes Herz,
Immer nur Tränen, Klage und Schmerz?
Auch ich bin mir schwellender Triebe bewußt!
Wer stillet mir endlich die drängende Lust?
Nur du befreist den Lenz in der Brust,
19. April, 2015 It is officially spring in Germany, and not in the tentative way of a few weeks ago, half-way between warmth and cold, but full-on and confident and heady. I had forgotten what a beautiful color green is. The sunshine changes the entire feel of the city–people sit on the steps of the Staatstheater and eat ice-cream, the side-walk cafes are full, you can buy wine and drink it on the bank of the Rhine river. After six months of rain and cold, you can feel the lightness and the euphoria in the air.
I walked across the bridge to the Wiesbaden side of the Rhine the other night, to sit on the pier and read and watch the sun set over Mainz.
March 24, 2015 I arrived back in Mainz at the crack of dawn this morning–street sweepers, crowds of pigeons at the train station, too early for church bells. I dragged my luggage down the cobblestone street and up two flights of stairs, waking up approximately the entire neighborhood in the process, threw it all in the apartment, and walked down to the Rhine for the sunrise.
It was wonderful being home, back in Vermont for the first time since last June. My family is amazing. I doted on the cats and lit fires in the fireplaces and ate my mother’s phenomenal cooking. I missed Germany, though, more than I miss Vermont when I am here.
I mean, there were actual swans on the effing Rhine River, and as the sun was rising all the bells in Wiesbaden started ringing. WHAT.
Also, spring came to Germany while I was gone. When I left Vermont yesterday morning, it was -3 degrees (-19 Celcius) without the windchill, hard-packed, dust-gray snow on the ground that hadn’t melted since it fell last November. Here in Mainz, the almond trees are blooming and there are daffodils everywhere. I went down to the water in a light jacket and scarf, and there was a real heat to the sun’s light. A pair of mourning doves have started making a nest above the gabled window across from mine.
As I walked back to my apartment, the bells in the Mainzer cathedral started ringing. It’s almost Easter. Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn, denn sie sind selber auferstanden…
I shall spy on Beauty as none has spied on it yet. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
February 22, 2015 Today it felt almost like spring–clear skies, and a warmth to the sunshine I haven’t felt since sometime in October. I decided to call a momentary halt to the paper-writing, and took the train an hour north up the Rhine to Koblenz. The trip is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Germany, I think–steep vineyards all the way down to the water, tiny villages on the shores, a dozen 1,500-year-old castles at the top of the cliffs. It is the land of the Lorelei, of Rheinromantik, of all the poets and painters of German Romanticism who found in the area something sublime and exalted.
I visited Castle Stolzenfels, a few minutes outside of Koblenz. It has a long and colorful history: the original fortress was built in the 13th century as a toll station on the Rhine River, was occupied by French and Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War, and was partially destroyed by the French army in 1689. In 1823, the ruins were gifted to Prussian Crownprince Frederick William IV, who had the entire structure rebuilt as a summer palace in the most fairy-tale-like of styles–New Gothic, Romanticism, full of gilded lanterns and tiny gardens and heavy silk tapestries.
First, though, there was the walk up to the castle, a good kilometer above the Rhine River valley.
The feeling of space, of clear air, height and movement, far above the city and the trains and the noise–I was giddy. I love Mainz, but one is never really alone there. Here, on a Sunday afternoon in late February, I felt like I had the whole river valley to myself.
And the castle–I think it speaks for itself. One had the feeling of being in some hermetic universe of Romantic loveliness, inside of some charmed scene from an Eichendorf novel. How does Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts end? Birdsong and music, und es war alles, alles gut–all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well. It was that, exactly.
I was utterly enchanted.
Sunday, 21 December. A walk through the Old City of Mainz, during the time between sunset and darkness when the sky turns such a peculiarly lovely shade of blue. Gloaming.
The city is full of lights because it’s almost Christmas. It’s not raining, for once. There’s a girl in a long wool coat singing carols on the corner, and people are sitting on the edge of the old fountain to listen.
Veni, veni, Emmanuel…
24. November, 2014 On the way back from the farm in Kulmbach, we stopped in Würzburg, the half-way point on the Autobahn between eastern Bavaria and Mainz. It’s still the city I know best in Germany–my first introduction to the country, and a place I will always feel a bit homesick for. On the last evening I spent there, I drank wine on the bridge and bid farewell to a dear friend–hot July night, street musicians playing klezmer, the castle all lit up on the hill behind us. It’s been four months since then. Tempus fugit.
We only had a couple hours, so we decided to walk up the Kreuzweg (stations of the cross) to the beautiful Käppele, high above the vineyards outside of the city. The path–247 steps!–dates from the 1760s and leads up to the chapel and a tiny cloister.
The almost-bare branches, the stone steps, the clear light–it all had a fairy-tale-like feel to it. Märchenhaft.
Inside the chapel–baroque, one of the few buildings in Würzburg not destroyed during World War II. It’s never been restored, which means the interior has a hazy-dusty-dreamlike feel to it.
Looking back into the city, and then across to the Festung Marienberg.
The sky was the bluest of blues, for what seems like the first time in weeks. I love the Rhine, but living on its banks means that Nebel (fog) is an unavoidable fact of existence during the winter months. And sure enough, the clear skies in Bayern turned overcast as soon as we took the exit towards Mainz.
I think, though, that the afternoon of sun in Würzburg will be enough to keep me going for awhile yet.
23. August, 2014 Yesterday, I walked down into the valley and up the other side, to the castle which is visible from the high fields here. The Plassenburg–on the outside, much more rugged and Medieval than the Festung Marienberg in Würzburg, but quite lovely and elegant within the walls.
Afterwards, I walked back down to the old city. I got entirely lost on the way, and ended up in the maze of narrow alleys and overhanging balconies and stone steps that seem to dominate the quieter parts of every small town in Bavaria.
Below, the town square, which I finally found–complete with mandatory cobblestones, outdoor cafe, fountain, Rathaus with wooden beer barrels in front, view of the castle in the background. I ordered a Milchkaffe and read Siegfried Lenz and looked at the Plassenburg.