Travelogue XIX: Würzburg Kreuzweg


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.

Travelogue V: Würzburg Alte Mainbrücke


26. Juli, 2014 One of the most lovely spots in Würzburg is the Alte Mainbrücke, the old stone bridge that connects the city to the Festung Marienberg, the castle on the other side of the river. The first foundations of the bridge date back to the 1100s, and the structure that exists today was completed during the 1400s. Today, there are always street musicians playing, and you can buy a glass of wine from the tiny open-air restaurant at one end and carry it onto the bridge–return the glass when you are finished.


View from the bridge back into the city–the Rathaus (city hall) on the left with the clock tower, the Dom (cathedral) at the end of the street.


The Festung in the distance, above the vineyards. The fact that one can see a thousand-year-old castle from almost any point in the city will never grow old to me. There are statues on both sides of the bridge–the holy family, Wuerzburg’s patron saints, Karl the great. Above St. Kilian.

IMG_0255The river is the Main, here rather sleepy and pleasant. In September, I’ll be moving to the city of Mainz, where it dumps into the Rhein.


Also there is hazelnut Gelato, jussayin’.

Travelogue IV: Wuerzburg Spaziergang


23. Juli, 2014 In Würzburg, my apartment is high up on the hill above the river, and my patio opens out onto a foot path that leads directly to the vineyards outside of town. In the evening, when the entire Nachbarschaft takes their dog for a walk, it is especially stunning. Since Germany is so northern, it is possible to walk very late and still have bright daylight–it won’t be fully dark till nearly 11. I don’t have too much to say, except that the romantic in me rejoices at all of this.



IMG_0217The vineyards all belong to the Juliusspital, the 16th century winery in the center of town.

IMG_0209Back towards town, one slope is covered with hundreds of Kleingärten–little summer cottages, each with an impeccably kept garden, patio, hammocks hanging on the porch.

IMG_0232Also there are blackberries, which I have taken advantage of almost every day since I found them.


And dessert, on a stone wall covered in honeysuckle. Wine grown very probably on the slopes across the path.



It’s hard to believe I only have a week left here.



Germany, Again

wurzburgSo, I’ve been in Germany for two weeks now. It just feels good–everything fits, somehow. I’m happy and grateful. At the moment, I’m in Wuerzburg (above), the small town in Bavaria where my undergraduate institution runs a study abroad program. I’m serving as my professor’s assistant, reading, cooking, drinking wine, sitting in cafes and staring at gorgeous old buildings, and generally enjoying feeling stress-free and (academically) irresponsible for the first time in nearly four years.

It feels a little strange to write about Wuerzburg, since I completed the same summer program two summers ago as a student and documented it all extensively then. You can see all those posts here–expect at least a few Wuerzburg entries at some point, though.

In the meantime, however, we’ve been to Munich….

Aufwiedersehen, Würzburg….

And then suddenly it was our very last day in Germany.

The weather was perfect, for once, and I went first to the early mass in the Neumünster, then on a very long Wanderung all around the Wein Bergen, to end up one last time at the Festung Marienberg.

Leb’ Wohl, Deutschland! It was quite the month. I will be back…

And vielen herzlichen Dank, to all those who have followed and commented and generally cared! This trip would not have been near as much fun if I did not have all of you to share it with.

Till next time!


Würzburg: Loreena McKennit


Yes, Anna, I am eternally grateful to you for finding the tickets and forcing me to buy one. Yes, I am very, very sorry you couldn’t come too…..

…A favorite singer in the Goodling household is Loreena McKennitt–sort of Irish, sort of world-music, very much inspired by travel and literature, from Homer to Dante to Shakespeare. She also hardly ever does concert tours, which is why my sister pretty much freaked out when she saw that she would be singing all over Germany, July 2012. And Würzburg was a stop on the tour! Talk about amazing timing.


And therefore I found myself last Sunday in a beautiful outdoor theater at the Festung Marienberg, Loreena McKennitt ticket in hand. First, though, I walked all around the castle gardens…

…and had a picnic. Yes, that is a Brie sandwich, local wine, and the best chocolate in Germany.

More gardens. This was over on the other side of the mountain, outside the castle walls. There were dozens of summer cottages like the one you see in the photo, each with a tiny vegetable garden, flower beds, and fruit trees.



…and then back to the concert grounds, backed by the Festung walls.

I had a standing room ticket, and had luckily arrived early enough to get a spot just a few meters from the stage.

And because I promised, here are the videos. They aren’t very good, not least because the No-Camera Security Guy was standing three feet away from me. Seriously Anna, I could have been killed right there…..



Needless to say, it was wonderful. Nothing can beat the excitement of live music. There was much dancing, clapping, and smooching. Lots of smooching.

Loreena played the piano, harp, keyboard, and accordion. She is very down-to-earth and looks rather older than in her clips on youtube, not at all super-star-ish. Her beautiful singing voice is the same. One interesting point–we didn’t hear any new music. I believe her last CD came out in 2006…I wonder if she is still writing. I certainly hope so.

Kirchen und Shäkespeare

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

I once heard a professor say that these few lines were the ultimate statement on the Renaissance. It was a time when human beings–their creativity, ideas, power–were beginning to come to the forefront as inherently worthy of study and awe. But behind it all was still this pressing knowledge of mankind’s fragility, his limitations, his very smallness in the face of God, nature, death. It was possible to be both infinite in faculty and a quintessence of dust.

I think the churches here are fascinating reflections of the passage. As I said, they seem to be as much celebrations of human creativity and power as places of worship. But even amidst the walls of stained glass and stone, amidst the breathtakingly beautiful organs, frescoes, alters, columns, and statues, there is still this pervading feeling of quintessence-of-dust.

Schönbornkapelle, Dom St. Kilian, Würzburg

Asamkirche, München

Frauenkirche, München

Marienkapelle, Würzburg

Würzburg: Kreuzweg

Just another lovely spot in Würzburg. Last week we climbed up the mountain on the other side of the valley to the Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) that leads to the beautiful baroque Käppele. The church is so high up that it is visible almost everywhere in the city.



Views of the city from the top.

The Festung Marienberg, on the other side of the valley.




…and then we went even higher, to apple crisp in the tiny cafe at the very top of the mountain. Yum!

Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit

Bayreuth, July 21, 2012

It was almost exactly four years ago that I heard Richard Wagner’s music for the first time. I had bought a CD on a whim at a July 4th book sale–Das Rheingold. I suppose it is fitting that the opera began with Wagner’s creation story:

In Wagner’s music I find something too problematic to love, too compelling to hate. The composer’s art and thought have been a constant in my various explorations–a driving force forward to those he influenced, from Freud to Thomas Mann and Mahler, and backward, to his own sources–Goethe, Shakespeare, Greek tragedy.

Who would have guessed that some four years after that July 4th weekend I would be standing on a damp train platform in Germany, headed to Bayreuth.

Bayreuth is Wagner’s city, the home of the opera house he designed especially for performances of his works alone. The theater is an acoustic and architectural marvel–and today, the waiting list for tickets to the festival in August is over ten years long.

But first, the train ride there. Anna, you will be especially happy to note my reading material below. 🙂 Don’t worry, there are plenty of other articles about one Ms. A. Netrebko…

The first view of the Festival House, from the train station. The larger city was not overly exciting, very industrial and down-to-earth–nothing like Rothenburg’s brand of cultivated, touristy beauty. But it was immediately clear that this place, some 150 years after the composer’s death, was still Wagner’s city. “Bayreuth, die Stadt des großen Meisters, grüßt seine Gäste,” read the enormous sign at the station. Bayreuth, the city of the great Master, greets her guests.

In the train station, between the tabloids and chewing gum, one could purchase Wagner’s complete libretti, copies of his essays, of Nietzsche’s Der Fall Wagner.

Along the road up the Festival Hill. The road signs are all references to Wagner’s operas, characters, or family members.

The feel of the whole city was rather odd, part cult, part kitsch, part unnerving and ever-present history. It seemed as if all the shops had to have some compulsory reference to Wagner, as if marketing potential could be increased by sticking a familiar marble bust next to the wares in the display window, or by calling the breakfast omelet special Siegfried and the wine Isolde.



Breakfast specials!

Every book store in the city had a large selection of Wagner CDs and books–and not just the usual “Opera for Dummies” types, but academic folios on Wagner and Nietzsche or Thomas Mann, published conference proceedings, three-volume biographies, Cosima’s complete diaries….

In the local Hugendubel (the German version of Borders or Barnes and Noble) I drank my chai across from a two-story poster of the composer’s face…

And the history…on the slope before the main entrance to the festival house, before one could climb the last set of steps to enter the building, there was an exhibition on antisemitism in Bayreuth. Of course we all know it and have struggled with it already, the noxious quotes from Cosima, the pictures of Hitler and Goebbels, the biographies of singers shunned from Bayreuth and later murdered. But seeing the pictures and the writing there made it all the more real.

But again, this is Wagner. It would be too easy to take one’s seat in the house and just listen to the music.

The Festspielhaus itself, finally. After the countless ornamented and excessively beautiful buildings we have seen these past few weeks, it looked very plain, almost Spartan. Inside, the walls were simply painted. The only furnishings I could see were a few benches. In the actual seating area, which I didn’t get to look at, all the seats are good–no royal box, no elaborate set-up to make the guests more interesting than the music. Bravo Wagner.

Here’s the place to be….

The Festival House is surrounded by lovely gardens, very green this time of year.

From the Festival Hill I went down into the Old City, and eventually to Villa Wahnfried, the home of Wagner from 1872 until his death in 1883. Unfortunately, the house (and thus the museum) was closed for renovations. But I was there!

The front facade, with a statue of the crazy King Ludwig, Wagner’s obsessive (but, luckily for the composer, totally loaded) supporter and patron. Again, the place was surprisingly unpretentious, for the home of one of the greatest figures in 19th century Europe. The house was not overly large, with that same boxy construction as the Festival House. I went and sat on the front steps for a long time.

Wahnfried literally means free from illusion or delusion. Wagner’s motto is written on the front of the house: “Hier wo mein Wähnen Frieden fand – Wahnfried – sei dieses Haus von mir benannt.” (“Here where my delusions have found peace, let this place be named Wahnfried.”) I can’t help but wonder what he meant by that.

Below, the fresco or painting above the front door. It shows Wagner in the middle as Wotan, king of the gods, with actress and lover Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient (I think…) on the left as Drama, and wife Cosima on the right as Music. The little child is Wagner’s son Siegfried.

Wagner and Cosima’s grave, entirely unadorned. When I got there it started to pour rain, which was fitting.

Of course such a place is remarkable not only for the presence of the artist himself, but for all that has happened afterwards, for all those who have visited to hear the same music, to see the same house and grave. Even while Wagner was alive, of course, Europe’s intellectual and artistic elite took their way to the city, as friends, enemies, pilgrims, lovers. Franz Liszt was one such visitor, supporter, and later Wagner’s father-in-law. His house is across the street from Wahnfried.

The place is now a museum, and, probably to compensate for Wahnfried being closed, has the piano that Wagner composed much of Parsifal on. Imagine!

And that was all. I ate dinner in a tiny cafe next to the train station and then flew back to Würzburg, at 200 kilometers per hour in a nearly-empty train, into the sunset. It was a good day. I’ll be back soon, with a ticket.

Kiliani Volksfest

The Irish monk St. Kiliani is the patron saint of Würzburg, where he worked as missionary in the 7th century. One can find statues and buildings dedicated to him throughout the city. A two-week long Volkfest is held in his honor every July, basically a country fair with music, rides, local food, and of course much beer. We walked across the bridge one evening last week to visit.

Lots of amazing food….the gebrannte Mandeln (roasted candied almonds) were especially delicious.

Many of the young people wore the traditional Bavarian clothing–Dirndl for the ladies, Lederhosen for the gentlemen. It is a picturesque and lovely tradition, although it clashed somewhat with the American pop music playing on all the rides.

…Below, the view looking back to the city later that evening, from the Beer garden on the other side of the river, where one can sit and drink wine from the slopes of the hills behind.