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Advent in Regensburg

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Christmas decorations in Bischofshof

Regensburg was my second base, after Passau, during my 2012 Advent trip. I had spent a couple of days in the city already previously, during a conference – hence some photos show spring weather instead of winter snow as I encountered it in December.

During pre-Christmas season, there are four Christmas markets in the city, all of them of very different character. There is the central one in Neupfarrplatz, rather a standard Christmas market like it can be found in many cities, although certain food specialties are local and unique. There is the “romantic” market in the grounds of Thurn und Taxis palace. Then the smaller market at Katharinenspital by the river bank. Last but not least, there is my personal favourite, Lucreziamarkt, an artisans’ market which occupies the two squares by the old town hall.

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Delivery of Christmas trees for St Oswald

Anyway, Regensburg is worth a visit any time of the year, since this is one of the very rare cities in Germany that have preserved a notable amount of authentic medieval architecture beyond the occasional church, wall and gate tower. It survived not only World War II mostly unharmed but also the wars prior and the various trends of modernization. Apart from the 12th century stone bridge and the cathedral, there is the ensemble of the old town and the river with the opposite suburb of Stadtamhof which earned Regensburg the status of UNESCO world heritage.

Dozens of medieval tower houses are preserved, which is unique North of the Alps. These are the homes of the well-to-do, of course, because they could afford building in stone. Not much is left of the poorer groups in society.

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However, if you have the usual „timberframe and cobblestones“ picture in your mind, you will be disappointed. This fairytale image is mostly based not on the real middle ages but on 19th century historism and the illustrations from the era of romanticism. These don’t have much in common with the real thing.

Despite the increasing number of visitors, luckily the city has not yet been overrun by mass tourism. It is a living city where locals have their daily lives and run their errands. The old town has some 14,000 inhabitants who have their permanent homes there. Souvenir shops are the minority. Only on and around the old bridge you feel the impacts of the recent river cruise boom. The rest of the city does not (yet?) have that theme park feel that has ruined other tourist hotspots and that can already be sensed in Passau. So far Regensburg digests the tour groups well, for which we can be glad.

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Medieval Tower Houses

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Apart from the bridge and the cathedral, the most striking feature of Regensburg’s old town is the large number of medieval tower houses that once belonged to rich and powerful patrician families. This is what many European cities looked like in those times. The towers appear in the panorama from the bridge and river bank, and you will discover one after every second street corner in the old town.

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Regensburg’s wealth in the middle ages was based on trade along the Danube and on the land route that crossed the river in North-South direction. The city was the first capital of the Duchy of Bavaria, then a free imperial city with strong ties to the emperors. The wealthy merchant dynasties built tower houses like in the rich cities of Italy. These were a symbol of their status as well as fortifications for self-defence. Residential rooms were located on the lower floors, the upper storeys served mostly as storage.

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All of a sudden, the golden era of Regensburg’s history ended in the 15th century. Financial problems, competition of other cities like Nürnberg and Augsburg and pressure from the mighty neighbour, the Duke of Bavaria, caused the city’s fall. In the early modern era the city was too poor to modernize in renaissance and baroque style as others did, and the 19th century and the loss of independence put it to sleep altogether. Poverty is, however, a good conservator.

Hardly any city north of the Alps has preserved such an amount of authentic medieval architecture.

Regensburg Cathedral - Dom St. Peter

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Regensburg’ cathedral is the landmark of the city. Its two spires are impossible to overlook in the cityscape. The material is mostly limestone, which gives the church a whiteish colour, mixed with sandstone in an olive-greenish colour. Construction works lasted all in all about 250 years from the 13th to the 16th century, with some further additions in the 19th, like the top and spires of the two steeples.

The cathedral is dedicated to St Peter the Apostle. The patron saint, standing in a boat, is depicted in the centre of the facade underneath the crucifix.

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A quite special element is the triangular porch in front of the main portal. Watching and interpreting the many sculptures and reliefs on the facades, spires and roofs would take weeks.

Just like the facades, the interior is full of many art works inside, hard to decide where to begin. Note the many stained glass windows from the different eras. The 19th century has removed anything baroque, so the general appearance is „medieval“, although some pieces are not as old as they may seem to the average visitor.

Some pieces that caught my eye included the gilded main altar, the tomb of a bishop in the central aisle of the main nave, ornated with a statue of the defunct kneeling underneath a large cross, and the sculpted image of St Peter standing in the southern nave.

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Steinerne Brücke

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The stone bridge is probably Regensburg's most famous sight. First there was a passage through shallow water which allowed crossing the Danube at this spot. The route was in us already in prehistoric times. Two major trade routes cross here: the perfect place for the development of a city. In the early middle ages wooden bridges were built but these were prone to damage by ice and floods.

The majestic stone bridge was completed within 11 years, from 1135 to 1146. The boat-like „feet“ around the pillars protect these from being hit by ice and current.

Nowadays the bridge is closed for motor vehicles, only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to use it. (Watch out for bikes in order not to be run over.) Walking the bridge is a „must“ during a visit to Regensburg. The bridge crosses the two islands in the stream and leads to Stadtamhof, the old suburb on the opposite river bank.

In 2012 the part of the bridge towards Stadtamhof was undergoing major repairs and covered with scaffolding. The passage lead along substitute bridges by its side. However, these offered views from interesting angles that usually don't exist.

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The bridge used to be protected by all in all three gates, only the one towards the old town, known as Brückenturm, is preserved. From the streets of the old town, this looks like just another small street among the houses; only when you approach the gate tower the view suddenly opens up and you see that you are on the way onto the bridge.

This area is a bit of a tourist hotspot, especially when cruise ships are there and all those big groups lead by a guide with a coloured sign are around. This is also the place to look for tacky souvenir shops if you want them...

Promenade on the Islands

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In winter...

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In spring...

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The best way to enjoy the panorama of the old town is a walk on the opposite bank of the Danube. The panorama is finest along the islands of Oberer and Unterer Wöhrd, but also the promenade walk along Stadtamhof has its beauties. The walk is worthwhile any time of the year.

The islands can be reached either from Steinerne Brücke via the ramp that leads down from the middle, or from Eiserner Steg. From the trail along the river bank you have the full panorama of the old town on the other side and its reflections in the river, although the latter are not very clear because of the current.

Christmas Markets 1: Lucreziamarkt

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My favourite among Regensburg’s four Christmas markets! Lucreziamarkt is an artisans’ market, and the products on offer have a high level of quality. Prices are what these items are worth, so mentally prepare to pay more, respective be selective and pick just one piece. The stalls are really pretty to look at. Merchants take turns, the assortment changes weekly, so this market is worth visiting more than once.

The food on offer is also beyond the usual. Try, for example, Sengzelten (flat bread with cheese or sour cream topping baked under the flames of a wood fire) or Baumstriezel ( = the Czech trdelnik, sweet dough wrapped around a wooden stick and baked, then turned in sugar or almonds or...).

The market has two parts on both sides of the old city hall. The bigger part is in Haidplatz, the smaller one with half a dozen stalls in Kohlenmarkt. Each of them has a small stage where musicians perform in the later afternoon and evening.

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Old Town Hall - Altes Rathaus

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The proud magistrate of the free imperial city of Regensburg built themselves a city hall to befit the city's status already in the middle ages. The Old City Hall is an imposing gothic building with stepped gables. The small gothic oriel on the side contains the altar of the little chapel in the main hall.

Regensburg's city hall made history for the entire Holy Roman Empire after it had become the permanent seat of the Immerwährender Reichstag (Everlasting Diet). Until then the Diets, the regular meetings of the princes, counts, clerics and cities of the Empire, had been taking place in changing locations. From then on it became a permanent institution, sort of the first parliament for Germany.

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The city gave the old city hall to the empire for this purpose, and built the New City Hall next door, a baroque building with a large tower.

The Old City hall contains several historical halls, including the large Reichssaal where the meetings took place. The interior can be visited with guided tours. Check the signs or enquire at the tourist information office which is located right here on the ground floor of the old city hall.

Christmas Markets 2: Katharinenspital

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The market in Stadtamhof has probably the most spectacular setting, right on the northern bank of the Danube in front of the panorama of the old town. Access is from the end of Steinerne Brücke, or through the courtyard of the Spital complex. Katharinenspital was established in the middle ages as a hospital and is now an old people’s home.

I was a bit disappointed about the market, though. It is not too big and half of it are food and drink stalls. The alleys are narrow, so it feels very crowded. Products on offer include some artisans' works but weren’t too special, with few exceptions.

The most interesting stall was one of a sheep farmer who sold products made from wool, sheep milk, sheepskin etcetera. On their farm they breed Waldschafe, a very old local race of domestic sheep which is on the brink of extinction, and they have a small paddock with some live sheep by their stall so you can watch the woolly cuties.

This market is open from Wednesday to Sunday, closed on Monday and Tuesday (unlike the others which are open 7 days a week).

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Sheep paddock with the cathedral in the background

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Stadtamhof, the suburb on the opposite bank of the Danube at the far end of Steinerne Brücke, was not part of the imperial city of Rgensburg - it was part of Bavaria. Crossing the river on the bridge meant crossing a state border. Stadtamhof was a town in itself, with parish church and market street and everything. Only in 1924 it became part of the city.

The main street leads towards the Main-Donau-Kanal, now the main waterway for river barges, and a ridge with the yellow Trinity Church on top.
Only the grounds of Katharinenspital, the medieval hospital, belonged to the imperial city. Founded in the early 13th century, it was a home for the sick, the poor, orphaned children and old people. Later it became an old people’s home for poor citizens of the city. In Advent its premises on the river bank are the site of the Christmas market, in summer there is a popular beer garden. The hospital has its own small brewery.

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Due to its location by the bridge, Stadtamhof was destroyed in about every war of the past. Hence most of its buildings date from the 19th century. The side streets around the parish church of St Mang are nevertheless atmospheric and worth exploring a bit. Most visitors don’t venture further than the end of the bridge, so these side streets are pleasantly quiet. If you want to go for a romantic walk, try the footpath by the river on the Stadtamhof side.

Christmas Markets 3: Thurn und Taxis Palace

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The „romantic“ Christmas market takes place in the park and courtyard of Thurn und Taxis Palace, grounds that usually are not accessible because the palace is private property. In Advent, though,

Princess Gloria opens her gardens to visitors. Not for free, of course - the entrance fee is rather steep, 5.50 € for adults. Since this is a market where you are expected to buy things and spend even more money, I consider that a rip-off. After 8 p.m. (this is the only one of the markets that stays open until 10 p.m.) there is an evening ticket for 2 €.

The setting is pretty, though. Small wooden huts are lined up along the gravel walks in the park and round the courtyards. This is a really nice market and worth visiting. It is never as crowded as the other ones (because of the entrance fee, obviously).

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Church of St Emmeram

The palace is actually a monastery: Until its secularization in the early 19th century it was the seat of the Benedictine Abbey of St Emmeram. The noble family of Thurn und Taxis acquired it in 1812 and turned the former convent buildings into their residential palace, extended and refurbished them. The complex is said to have more rooms than Buckingham Palace in London. The family of Thurn und Taxis obtained their wealth, by the way, by establishing the first post network in and around Germany.

The main courtyard and the abbey church can be entered, also the former stables with a presentation of historical carriages. Guided tours take you through the representative rooms of the palace. All the rest, including the park, is off bounds to visitors for most of the year because the palace is inhabited and private ground. Only in Advent the park is opened for the Christmas market.

The present owner and inhabitant of the palace is Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis. In her youth she gained herself quite some fame as „enfant terrible“ of the European nobility. She married Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis, who was some 30 years older than herself, and always showed up in the freakiest robes and outfits. In later years, especially after the death of her husband, she has calmed down and adopted a more serious approach to life and the administration of her (quite large) property. All female visitors beyond a certain age seem to visit the palace hoping to catch a glimpse of her... she is said to make an appearance every now and then, but better not count on that.

Christmas Markets 4: Neupfarrplatz

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Neupfarrplatz is the „standard“ market. Items on offer are the same style as everywhere else. Food stalls have some local specialities, though. Here is where to go for the famous Knackwurstsemmel mit allem. Historische Wurstküche is also having a stall in a corner where they sell their Bratwurstkipferl. For the sweet tooth, try Quarkbällchen.

This market is popular and crowded during peak hours, like the evenings. It isn’t as „squeezy“ as many other markets, though, because there is enough space. Even with large crowds assembling round the Glühwein stalls there is still room to move.

Neupfarrplatz with the church in the middle is the largest square in the old town and the centre of nowadays' city life. The shopping streets are nearby, events like the largest Christmas market take place here. Little recalls this square's history, the abstract monument in white concrete is easily overlooked.

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Neupfarrkirche

In the middle ages this was the location of the Jewish ghetto. In 1519 all Jews were expelled and their quarter was demolished - the economical downfall and poverty of the city around 1500 was blamed on the Jews. (It's always good to have a scapegoat, eh.)

When the synagogue was torn down, a worker fell off the scaffolding, lay on the ground like dead, but rose unharmed after a short while. This „miracle“ lead to a booming pilgrimage. Construction of a large church was begun, but after a few years a plague epidemy set an end to the project. The church remained a torso, only the choir had been finished.

The church was then completed for use with a short nave and western choir - that's why it has this disproportioned shape. When the city introduced the Reformation in 1542 it became the first protestant parish church, hence the name „Neupfarrkirche“ (New Parish Church).

The church has a plain protestant interior, still with the old folding benches. It is the central protestant parish church. Their services might be of interest to visitors; for example, during the Christmas market season they have a short service every evening at 7 p.m.

Knackwurstsemmel mit allem

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Knackwurstsemmel
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Bratwurstkipferl

Regensburg’s speciality „with everything“ seems to be a must on the Christmas market and similar festivals. It is a white roll (Semmel) filled with a grilled short sausage of the Wiener type but thicker (Knackwurst), cut in halves, plus slices of pickled cucumber, mustard and horseradish. This sounds weird and tastes weird. Fans of horseradish will like it. In my humble opinion, trying it once was enough. In the future I’ll rather stick with Bratwurstkipferl.

The Regensburgers are very fond and very proud of this, though. I read press reports during my stay that, for the first time ever, some stall on the Christmas market in Munich sold Regensburger Knackwurstsemmeln and made good business. This caused an uproar in Regensburg, „They are stealing our Knackwurstsemmeln...“

Bratwurstkipferl

My favourite snack... A Bratwurstkipferl, as offered by Historische Wurstküche, consists of a roll made from rye dough, filled with two of their famous little grilled sausages, their special sweet mustard, and a bit of sauerkraut. The combination may sound weird but it is really really tasty. I more or less lived on them during my visit...

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:30 Archived in Germany Tagged bavaria bayern regensburg christmas_market Comments (0)

Winter Wonderland in the Bavarian Alps: Krün to Mittenwald

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In 2012 I spent a long winter weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen as a birthday gift to myself. There I met with a friend, an American who lives in Garmisch now, and she suggested doing a hike through the Isar valley from Krün to Mittenwald. Thank you „S“ for showing me your favourite winter hike!

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St Peter granted me a gift, too: the most fabulous winter weather you could imagine. This was surely one of my best birthdays!

We took a bus from Garmisch to Krün, then walked over to Mittenwald and took the train back. This hike has deeply impressed me. We walked towards the gorgeous mountain panorama of Karwendel and Wetterstein mountains all the way, with the sun in our faces and the wide snowy landscape all around. It was a perfect day.

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This is an easy hike, more a walk, with just very short ascents and descents in the wavy topography of the valley ground. Perfect for an untrained person like me. The estimated time is officially 2 h 15 - we needed 3 hours because we took so many photos.

The walk is on a paved country road which is cleared from snow in winter. In theory it is closed to traffic but people from the adjacent farms can use it, so there will be the occasional car or tractor passing. 95% of it is exposed to the sun, no shade, which is pleasant in winter, spring and autumn but could be boiling hot in summer.

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Krün is a picture-book Bavarian village with pretty old and new houses and the little church in the centre, gardens and meadows around. Not spectacular but charming.

The bus drops you off in the centre of the village. The quick detour to the Kurhaus is recommended in case you need a) maps or b) a public toilet. To find the Isar valley trail, though, you have to walk in the opposite direction past the village church and then keep West along either Feldstraße or Wettersteinstraße over to „Am Bärnbichl“, the suburb or hamlet in the West of the village. The first street left, named Hochstraße, is the beginning of the trail and there it is signposted.

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A short walk along the trail you'll spot a cute little chapel under a large tree in the fields: the pilgrimage chapel of Maria Rast („Mary's rest“). The chapel has a distinctly baroque appearance but in fact it has only been inaugurated in 1998! It is located on a stretch of the Camino di Santiago which passes here.

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I like the imagination of Mary sitting down to rest in this pleasant spot and enjoying the landscape views...

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Karwendel range
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Wettersteingebirge and Zugspitze

The whole way you walk towards the fabulous mountain panorama of Karwendel range on the left, Wetterstein range and Zugspitze massif on the far right. The valley is wide and the mountains form a theatrical setting around it.

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The view to the north

This photo shows why you should do the hike from Krün to Mittenwald and not in the opposite direction. This is the view north as you'd see it when walking towards Krün. Nice but... compare to the other pictures. For the „wow“ factor you'd have to turn round and look back. Better walk towards it and enjoy it all the time while you walk.

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Buckelwiesen are a geological peculiarity of the landscape in Werdenfelser Land around Mittenwald. The ground is not smooth but consists of countless hummocks. The soil was shaped by the glaciers of the last ice age, then erosion deepened the structures. In winter the snow-covered surface looks like a sculpture. Originally they were covered in forests but the areas have been cleared for use as pastures. Many farmers have „flattened“ the surfaces for easier work, but those which are preserved are now protected nature reserves, so please stay on the path.

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The little wooden huts in the meadows, either built from logs or wooden structures covered with planks, are a typical feature of the valleys in Werdenfelser Land. They serve as storages for hay, and probably also farm tools during the hay-making season - and they are a nice addition to landscape photos.

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The invisible lake

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Halfway along the trail there is a little lake, Schmalensee or Schmalsee, at the bottom of the valley. The lake is private property and used for fish breeding and fishing by the local fishing club.

In mid winter the lake was frozen over and invisible under the snow. Only the reeds and the unusually smooth surface indicated its presence.

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Karwendel mountains shortly before reaching Mittenwald

Mittenwald

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Shortly before Mittenwald the trail leads through a bit of forest, then reaches the road from Garmisch - this is the only bit which runs along a larger road - and the northern end of Mittenwald. Walking through the back streets takes you along a small creek which runs through this quarter. In snow and sunshine everything is pretty, so there is material for more photos. Soon the baroque steeple of the main church appears in the distance so you know the direction to the town centre.

We arrived in Mittenwald late in the afternoon, so the visit was short and just enough for an overview. Someday I'll return to see the place more thoroughly, I promise.

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The art of painting the facades of the houses, known as Lüftlmalerei, is popular all over Upper Bavaria but Mittenwald is maybe the capital of it. A walk through the town is like browsing through a picture book. The majority of houses in the centre are decorated with frescoes. This folk art has its origins in the baroque trompe-l'oeil, painting fake elements of architecture onto plain walls to imitate the more expensive three-dimensional stonemason or stucco elements. However, the Bavarian artists preferred figural scenes to pure architecture. The facades are populated with historical people and events, with scenes depicting the profession of the house owner, or country life in the mountains, or rural festivals, or angels and saints. Such paintings have been done for 250 years, hence styles vary. Some are of high artistic value, others are on the brink of kitsch. But all are fun to look at.

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Mittenwald is also famous as centre of violin making. If you want to learn more about Mittenwald's violin makers, visit the Geigenbaumuseum - unfortunately we did not have time to see it. But traces of this craft can be found all over town: the artisans' workshops, pictures in Lüftlmalerei on some houses. Even the steeple is ornated with a large treble clef on one side.

The catholic parish church of St Peter and Paul is originally a gothic building but facades and interior have been redesigned in the baroque era. The master builder was Joseph Schmuzer, who had learned his craft in the school of Wessobrunn. The date 1746 is inscribed on the steeple; the entire works took one and a half decades from 1734 to 1749.

The beautiful baroque steeple with the bell-shaped roof is Mittenwald's landmark. The upper storeys have architectural elements in stucco while on the lower parts it's all trompe-l'oeil, Lüftlmalerei - columns and rustications on the corners are just painted on the flat wall.

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Karwendel Mountains

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The Karwendel massif is Mittenwald's „house mountain“. The town sits at the foot of the steep rocky massif which appears in many street views. The mountain range consists of four chains with 125 peaks over 2000 m altitude. It is popular among hikers and mountain climbers, in winter also among freeskiers. The limestone has been eroded into ragged rocks.

The highest peak of the northernmost chain which is towering over Mittenwald is Westliche Karwendelspitze, 2385 m above sea level. Closely below is the top station of the cable car. The ridge marks the border. The major part of Karwendel is in Austria.

A cable car takes visitors from Mittenwald high up into the Karwendel mountains. The top station is perched on the edge of the rock and looks like a stranded UFO, especially at night when the lights are on (photo 3). A recent addition is the giant telescope, which contains Germany's highest nature information centre with an exhibition about the Alps, and of course the view.

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Sorry to admit that I did not even think about going up. I am scared of heights and this is not for me. For all further details what to do and see at the top, timetables, fares etc. please consult the Karwendelbahn website.

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Waiting for the train back to Garmisch on a very frosty evening

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:30 Archived in Germany Tagged snow alps bavaria bayern Comments (2)

Partnach Gorge, Dressed in Icicles

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The tiny river Partnach, namesake of Partenkirchen, broke through the rocks of a mountain ridge in order to reach the valley. In thousands of years, water and ice, wind and frost have formed a deep cut through the rocks. The Partnach gorge is one of tha main attractions of Garmisch-Partenkirchen – more about the town later on.

A visit to the gorge begins at the Olympic stadium and the ski jump, where the town buses have their terminus. There are signs pointing the way to „Partnachklamm“. There is also a signboard at the beginning of the road by the stadium which tells whether the gorge is open or closed, which depends on weather conditions – checking the board before setting off makes sense. In particular in spring, when the snow is melting and the amount of water running through is much higher than in other seasons, it is likely to be closed.

From this point it is a walk of about 20 minutes along a small country road to the entrance of the gorge. This small road is in theory closed to traffic but I encountered a remarkable number of cars on the way.

The road leads through a smallish side valley with meadows and hay huts that becomes narrower and narrower. Then it reaches a few buildings including a country inn (last facilities before the gorge!)

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The Eckbauer cable car also has its base station there. This cable car looked like metal buckets hanging on a rope to me. Not exactly trustworthy. But then, I am scared of heights and cable cars are out of bounds for me anyway…

I visited in mid-winter. The gorge would have little water but the more ice. It is probably most impressive in wintertime when the rocks are covered with snow and ice and long icicles are hanging from them.

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The idea of a winter hike in the icy gorge sounds scary at first. However, the trail is well taken care of and it is really tourist-proof, cleared and sprinkled with gravel. Most of the trail within the gorge runs under rocks and through tunnels so it is dry. At spots where water is dripping there can be some ice on the ground, so watching your steps is a good idea. The trail is not suitable for neither wheelchairs, prams and strollers, nor bikes.

Shoes with good soles are necessary, more on the trails outside the gorge than inside, snow chains or spikes under the shoes are nice to have. Dress warm, inside the gorge it is notably colder than outside.

There is another advantage about visiting in winter: When there is ice, most of the water is frozen, so there is not much dripping. While you need rain gear in summer to avoid being soaked, in winter you won't be hit by more than a few occasional drops.

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The Madonna

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The narrowest part hardly receives much daylight. At the darkest, scariest spot, an image of the Madonna has been attached to the rock on the opposite side. She is there to watch over passers-by. In former times, wood from the forests further up was transported down to the main valley on this river. Workers had to stand in the gorge and prevent the wood from getting stuck, using long poles to move the tree trunks. That was before the comfortable tourist path came into existence. A dangerous job. Heavenly protection was surely needed.

The path slowly rises towards the upper exit. The gorge constantly changes its face. Every year rocks are falling, others are washed away. The forces of nature leave their marks.

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Some years ago a landslide almost blocked the gorge. The water had to find a way through. At this spot the path leads through a short tunnel. A couple of “windows” allow the view into the gorge.

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And then the miracle happened.

By coincidence I was there at the right time, in the late morning just before noon. Around 11:30-12:00 there is a rather short interval when sunlight falls into the upper end of the gorge and makes the ice shine and glitter.

Do I have to comment on these pictures?

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Then the gorge opens, and the visitor finds herself in a lovely valley. The Partnach is a shallow creek jumping over washed-round rocks, flowing through snow-covered meadows, surrounded by forests on the slopes.

It is hard to imagine that this harmless-looking creek develops the forces that created the gorge further downstream.

The cleared path shows how high the snow actually is.

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Various hiking trails lead up into the mountains from there. They are cleared from snow so winter hiking is possible. However, I decided not to continue further as I feared not so much the climb, but the descent back down on the icy, slippery trails. So I returned on the same way, back through the gorge and to the ski stadium.

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Where the creek enters the gorge

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:54 Archived in Germany Tagged snow alps bavaria bayern Comments (2)

A Winter Visit to Garmisch-Partenkirchen

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This was my birthday gift to myself: four days in the Bavarian Alps. I chose Garmisch-Partenkirchen because it is a winter resort in the snowy mountain landscape but there is a lot to do for non-skiers like me, like hikes on cleared trails and of course the attractions of the two old town centres in Garmisch and Partenkirchen.

The winter in my home region has so far been no winter, far too mild and not a single snowflake on the ground. I wanted at least a bit of real winter. The obvious choice was going into the mountains. I found an affordable and nice place to stay and booked my train ticket and the room. Then I remembered that, through another travel forum, I knew someone who lives there. I contacted her - and it turned out that her birthday is one day before mine. Which lead to a notable amount of celebrations during that weekend...

Even nature, or St Peter, or what/whoever is in charge of the weather, celebrated with us. I was granted the most glorious sunny winter weather for the entire four days, as you'll see in my photos. (Much appreciated, many thanks!)

Even without skiing and without the use of cable cars I took the chance to enjoy the winter landscapes. Garmisch-Partenkirchen and surroundings offer lots of options for winter walks.

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Ski Jump and Olympic Stadium

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The new ski jump on the slope of Gudiberg, which substituted the old one in 2007, is a landmark of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The daring architecture is amazing at daytime but even more impressive at night when it is illuminated from inside.

To me, looking up at the thing from the ground was enough. If you want to experience how the ski jumpers feel up there, there are guided tours to the top on Saturday afternoon. Enquire and sign up for a tour in advance at the tourist information office - details on their website.

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The ski stadium at the foot of the ski jump is worth a closer look. The cubic entrance portals, the oversized reliefs and statues have that certain *flair* that betrays them as Nazi architecture. Indeed, the stadium was built for the 1936 winter Olympics. The side entrance was open when I walked by so I was able to enter the stadium. I don't know if this is always the case but it is worth checking.

Being a centre of winter sports, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the location of many competitions in almost all winter disciplines. Of course there are the big World Cup events, like the downhill races on the famous Kandahar track and the ski jumping on New Year’s Day. These are announced well in advance and require buying expensive tickets.

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However, top athletes don't drop from heaven. It takes a lot of work in training children and teenagers to lead the best of them to world-class level. Many competitions are held for children and teenagers, boys and girls in the different age groups.

When I passed the ski stadium on the way to Partnach gorge, I heard a loudspeaker and had a look what was going on. There were slalom races for kids going on on the slope of Gudiberg. Those kids were really good. Here is one of the participants, a girl of maybe 11 or 12 years, already in the same race suit as the professionals.

Old Garmisch

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Garmisch's history dates back to the early middle ages. Of course the present houses are not that old, but there are a couple of streets where you'll find an ensemble of historical houses in the typical style of the Bavarian Alps, with big roofs and wooden balconies over the gables.

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The prettiest of these old streets is probably Frühlingstraße. The name translates to „spring street“ and might refer to (my guess) its location on the „spring“ or „summer“ side of the valley on the Northern bank of Loisach river, the side that receives more sunshine than the Southern bank which remains in the shade of the mountains much longer. It is the second street parallel to the river, hence arleady a bit uphill. The houses line up on one side only, all facing Southeast - photos are best taken between morning and early afternoon. Towards the valley there are the declining gardens of the houses in Loisachstraße below. This topography makes Frühlingstraße appear like a sunny terrace.

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Sonnenstraße is the second one worth mentioning in addition to Frühlingstraße. It is one of the streets in the old village respective town centre South of Loisach river. Just a few steps from Garmisch's most touristy area, Marienplatz and the pedestrian zone, it is nevertheless quiet. Some houses are part of a rather upscale looking apartment(?) hotel, others are residential homes.

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The Old Church of St Martin is the oldest church of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In the middle ages it used to be the one and only parish church for the whole valley. Its history dates back to the 12th century, probably even to around 800 A.D. The present church was erected in the late 13th century and extended in the 15th and 16th. There were no more changes in early modern times because the church lost its role when the new, bigger parish church was built on the opposite side of Loisach river in the 1730s.

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Old St Martin is located North of the river, a bit away from what is now the centre of Garmisch. You will spot the pointed steeple. This quarter is quiet and has some beautiful painted houses, for example „Haus zum Husaren“.

The church's main attractions are the medieval frescoes on the walls inside. Most remarkable: the picture of St Christophorus, 7 metres high. The Northern side wall shows the Passion of Christ in two rows of scenes. Then there is the Last Judgment and the row of the apostles above the arch towards the choir, the church's patron saint, St Martin, sharing his coat with the beggar on the right, and pictures of several other saints.

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This picture is in every book about Garmisch and on many postcards: the painted window, two soldiers in uniforms from around 1800 leaning out and watching the world go by. One is a hussar, the other an infantryman. After the hussar, this house has been named „Haus zum Husaren“. It hosts a restaurant - I did not eat there so I cannot tell how good it is, but it looked nice.

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The facade was painted in 1801. The ornaments around the windows show the neoclassical elements that were popular then. The house is almost 200 years older, though. The background story involves the wars between Napoleon and the Emperor, France and Austria. In 1800 a group of French hussars and Bavarian infantrymen had to be billeted in the house. The landlord was not happy with them, though, and to get rid of them he showed them a secret path over the Wetterstein mountains to the next valley where the troops of the Emperor were camping.

To find the house and the picture, you have to cross Loisach river and explore the quarter around the Old Church of St Martin. Haus zum Husaren is located in Fürstenstraße in the curve and on the corner of Lazarettstraße.

Wolpertinger

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Wolpertinger is a species of animals that is endemic to Bavaria. They are weird creatures with the furry body of a rodent, like a marmot or hare, with horns or antlers, fangs and feathered wings.

Wolpertinger are extremely shy and leave their hiding spots only in the middle of the night. Locals have their special methods of spotting and catching them. For example, they promise that young women can see them when they are accompanied by a strong male who knows the secret spots on the edge of the forest (ha, ha). Other methods involve sprinkling salt on the Wolpertinger's tail, or the use of a sack, a light and a spade.
In other words, this species is closely related to, for example, the Elwetritschen in Palatine or the Australian drop-bears.

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Some souvenir shops sell stuffed Wolpertinger to tourists at high prices. Of course these are the works of imaginative taxidermists...

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If you want to see some, there is a large souvenir shop in Garmisch in the pedestrian zone that has a couple of them in the shop windows and more inside. The exact location is corner Am Kurpark/Fürstenstraße, in the little square about halfway between Marienplatz and the casino. This is where I took my photos. Best at night when the shop windows are illuminated and there are hardly any reflections from the outside (and when the shop is closed, so no one can object against you taking photos).

Old Partenkirchen

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The main street of Partenkirchen is Ludwigstraße. A long street with painted houses, everything that is needed for a postcard view.

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Partenkirchen probably has an even more “Bavarian” feel than Garmisch - Bavarian as tourists imagine it. Its present appearance is not as old as it pretends. After two large fires in the 19th century, the houses along the street were rebuilt, at first in a rather simple style. Very few buildings are older than that.

With the upcoming tourism and the romantic ideas of “Heimat” in the early 20th century, the facades were refurbished with oriels, balconies and other details, and painted with frescoes. The result certainly meets the expectations of visitors. The frescoes may appear baroque due to the rococo ornaments... but they are not.

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Fresco on the facade of Gasthof Fraundorfer

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One of the oldest houses in Partenkirchen

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Inn sign

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This little chapel marks the northern end of Partenkirchen’s old town. The baroque church is dedicated to St Sebastian. The interior can be seen from the entrance through a wrought-iron gate. Cute as the architecture is, it bears some rather drastic images. The gable front has been painted with a large fresco showing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The story of St Sebastian on the altarpiece is not for the faint-hearted either.

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This beautiful villa in the park once belonged to the famous composer Richard Strauss.

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The summit of Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, dominates the panorama. I did not go up this time, I have been to the top once before... and cable cars are not for me any more, sorry.

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Morning view from my room

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Evening on Loisach river

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:41 Archived in Germany Tagged snow alps bavaria bayern Comments (0)

Ingolstadt for Historians, Doctors, Car Freaks, Beer Lovers

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Ingolstadt is hardly ever on a tourist's schedule (unless they are beer pilgrims, car freaks, or medical people, or specialized historians) but the city has far more to offer than you'll think, and than I had thought prior to coming here.

The chartering of a new Soroptimist club brought me to Ingolstadt. The foundations of new clubs are always festive events, and a reason to visit places one would not have on her radar otherwise. I granted myself an extra overnight in order to have more time for sightseeing, and it was worth it.

Ingolstadt is 1200 years old, it was the residence of the Dukes of Bavaria in the late middle ages, then the seat of a renowned university, the birthplace of the Reinheitsgebot for beer... The city got through World War II remarkably well, the baroque old town is surprisingly well preserved.
For specialists in military architecture, Ingolstadt is a textbook about fortresses, beginning with the New Castle and the medieval town wall, the renaissance ramparts and bulwarks, and finally the 19th century fortress.

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The city can easily keep you busy for a long weekend. Museums include the museum mobile at the Audi plant, the German Museum of Medical History, the Bavarian Army Museum in the castle an in the 19th century fortification on the other river bank, the City Museum.

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Houses in the old town

Beer: The Birthplace of Reinheitsgebot

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Postage stamp

Beer lovers should make a pilgrimage to Ingolstadt: Here is where the famous German Reinheitsgebot originates. The law about the purity of beer states that no other ingredients may be used in the production but hop, barley, and water. This law was first published in 1516 in Ingolstadt for the Duchy of Bavaria. It spread out and was adopted all over the country.

EU regulations forced Germany to abide this law in 1988 and allow foreign beers on the market that contain other ingredients, for example preservatives. However, in Germany the rule is still valid. Most German breweries (except those that produce for export) stick with the Reinheitsgebot for quality and marketing reasons, and advertise loudly that they do. The average German beer consumer is conscious about quality and does not want those crappy 'artificial' beers with ingredients that just don't belong into a beer.

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There are beers which are made not from barley but from other types of grain, like wheat (Weizen, Weißbier) and, rarely, rye. These must be classified as such on the label. To these, however, the same rules apply concerning the other two only ingredients, water and hop.

Ingolstadt has four large breweries and a number of microbrewery-pubs in the old town. I did not stay long enough to try them all. Herrnbräu is quite good - cannot tell how it compares to the others.

City Hall

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Ingolstadt's city hall was first mentioned in 1321 but is probably even older.

In the run of the centuries it has seen several changes. Its present appearance was shaped in 1883 when the old town hall, the chancellery and the adjacent parsonage of St Moritz were combined and refurbished with neorenaissance facades.

The church of St Moritz with its big steeple, unfortunately behind scaffolding at the moment, is right behind the city hall. City hall and Moritzkirche together form a photogenic view on the northern side of Rathausplatz, they seem to be one single complex of buildings but they aren't.

The slender tower of the city hall used to be a watchtower. The tower is named Pfeifturm („whistle tower“) after the whistle of the watchman who lived up there.

Better ignore the New City Hall on the Western side of the square, an ugly 1960s block.

Maria de Victoria, the „Asam Church“

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This baroque jewel was built for the Jesuit college and for a Marian congregation of Ingolstadt citizens attached to the Jesuits in 1732 - 1736. The interior was created by the Brothers Asam. The fresco on the flat ceiling is known as the masterpiece of Cosmas Damian, the painter among the two.

The fresco reflects Jesuit theology and ideas. It represents the worldwide mission. In the four corners we see the four (then known) continents: Asia and Europe above the altar, Africa and America at the opposite end. The central scene shows the Assumption of Mary.

The painting is full of tricky perspectives that cause astonishing effects in the eye of the lookers-on.

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Africa

In Africa there is a hunter aiming at a lion; when you walk the opposite nave the hunter's arrow keeps pointing at you.

The temple above the choir grows larger when you approach the altar until it covers half the ceiling. When you walk/run towards the exit, watch Michael confronting Lucifer and his angels above the organ - looks as if the bad angels are indeed falling.

And so on, there are several more. A guided tour that shows you these effects is worth joining. A small entrance fee applies and the person at the cash desk will happily guide you. Watching the tricks of the fresco requires quite a lot of walking and running around, as you have to see them from certain angles and then walk a certain way to see the changes - wind blowing into the fire, a tree falling and hitting a stag, etcetera.

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The monstrance

However... Well, I had a really funny experience in there, I think this was the funniest guided tour I ever had in a church. The really sweet elderly man from the cash desk struggled hard to point out the peculiarities of the fresco to a group of visitors. That group was from Thailand (all of them medical professionals on the way to a congress in Prague, they stopped in Ingolstadt for the Museum of Medical History and a bit of sightseeing). All the Thais spoke good English but our guide's English was, well, limited. He herded them around and showed them where to look in English but the explanations what to look at came in Bavarian dialect.

Some desperate people in the group asked me if I could translate, and soon I was translating for the whole group, much appreciated by the guide. It was a big laugh for everyone involved. We were running all over the church, to and fro. He started telling us something and after three words I said, wait, I have to explain what that is - the 30 Year War, or whatever. It was hilarious.

A visit to the church also includes the treasure chamber. The church's most treasured object is the large monstrance, considered the most precious of its kind in the world. Created by a goldsmith in Augsburg in 1708, it depicts the Battle of Lepanto (a battle between the fleets of the Christian Holy League and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, which the Christians allegedly won thanks to the help of the Virgin Mary).

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This house opposite the Asam Church Maria de Victoria made history in the middle of the 30 Year War.

In 1632 Johann t’Serclaes Count of Tilly, the general of the Emperor's army, died here of tetanus on April 30, 15 days after being wounded in the battle of Rain am Lech. In those times the house belonged to the university professor Arnold Roth.

An inscription on the facade recalls this house's „one moment in time“.

Old Anatomy, Museum of Medical History, and Garden

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The medical faculty of the university had a new building for teaching, research, and dissections erected in the 1720s and 1730s. The pretty baroque building looks more like a manor or town palace than a place where corpses were cut into pieces. Nowadays it hosts the German Museum of Medical History (Deutsches Medizinhistorisches Museum).

This is what the Thai doctors had come for.

I have to, embarrassingly, admit that even a visit to a modern physician's or dentist's studio scares everything out of me, and imagining how and with what tools the doctors and dentists of former times treated their patients gives me the creeps. So I decided not to visit the museum and I do not regret my decision. In case your nerves are as weak as mine, you'd rather follow my example.

Anyway, the harmless part is suitable for people with the weakest of nerves: the beautiful apothecary garden behind the anatomy building. Here they grow all kinds of medical herbs and plants that were or still are used in treatments.

Walk past the museum entrance and round the corner of the building.

The garden is free to visit but donations are appreciated. And here is how these donations are collected:

Pecunia Europhaga, the Rarest Medical Plant

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The rarest and most unusual plant that flourishes in the apothecary garden behind the Museum of Medical History deserves a special mentioning. I have never seen this species anywhere else, it is really unique. The plant is 'growing' at the entrance to the garden, impossible to overlook.

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What does it cure? Hmmm, maybe the doctor's bank account...

Pecunia Europhaga translates to „the Euro-eating money plant“. It is in fact a box to collect donations from visitors to the garden. A funny and clever one, though... When you put a coin into the slot and press the lever to make it fall, the metal flower of the thing opens.

Münster Church

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The best spot to catch the enormous building without 'falling lines' is from the courtyard of Canisiuskonvikt.

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The mighty gothic church, impossible to overlook in the cityscape, is a relic of those times in the 15th century when Bayern-Ingolstadt was an independent Duchy and Ingolstadt its residential city. Like Neues Schloss, the church was built to express the status and the ambitions of the ruling Duke. The city had just been extended and surrounded with a new wall. A second parish was founded for the new quarters. The Münster was partly built as their parish church, but even more as the church of the ruling dynasty and their burial place. Duke Ludwig der Gebartete (Louis the Bearded) must have been incredibly worried about his worldly sins and his eternal welfare - he donated a foundation for 1000 poor but religious people who had to perform an everlasting prayer service according to a complicated schedule.

The church was begun in 1425. Construction works lasted for almost 100 years. Then the works were stopped, although the steeples remained unfinished. It was named „Kirche zur Schönen Unserer Lieben Frau“, Church of the Beautiful Our Dear Lady - the grammar is a bit strange in here.
The position of the two western steeples is a particularity. They are not parallel to the nave but attached diagonally to the corners, just like the main tower of the New Palace. This seems to be an Ingolstadt particularity. The steeples are too small and too short for the huge nave.

The church is open in the daytime through the doors of the side naves. The enormous gothic hall looks even more impressive inside. Details that should not be missed: the fantastic vaults of the small side chapels along both naves.

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The church treasures of the Münster parish are on display in the treasure chamber, which is located inside the southern steeple. Access is from inside the church. Entry is free. There is no one there standing guard, you just open the door and walk in.

This treasure is incomplete, though. The most precious possessions of the church have disappeared in the secularization 200 years ago, when state authorities took the most valuable pieces because of the monetary value of the materials, and silver, gold and jewels went into the treasury of the Electorate, later Kingdom of Bavaria. Paintings show what these pieces looked like.

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Kreuztor, Ingolstadt's Landmark

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Kreuztor on the western side of the old town is the most beautiful of its medieval gate towers. An inscription dates the gate to the year 1385. It is built from bricks with a few ornaments in white limestone.

The old town gate is completely preserved. It still has the outer gatewhich is connected with the tower by walls on both sides to form a small bailey.
Photographers: The gate tower and the steeples of Münster church behind make an impressive panorama from the outward side. Take care, though, when looking for the best spot to take a photo because this is a very busy intersection of three major streets. The best spot would be in the middle of a road. Beware.

Taschentorturm - Another Gate Tower

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South of Kreuztor in direction towards the river a significant part of the town wall with towers is preserved. This wall protected a weak spot in the town's fortification, the point where a small stream entered the town. In later times when the wall had no longer a military value, houses were built against it. The ground outside the wall has since then been used as gardens by the inhabitants of those houses.

Following the wall you'll soon reach another gate tower, painted white and crowned by stepped gables. It might be a bit younger than Kreuztor but not very much. The Taschentor and the adjacent part of the town wall is dated to the end of the 14th century. Taschentor is closed to car traffic, the gateway is for pedestrians and bikes only.

Hohe Schule, the First University Building

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In 1472 the Duke of Bavaria founded the first university in his state in Ingolstadt. The so-called Hohe Schule (High School) soon became one of the most renowned universities in the German-speaking area, beside Prague and Vienna. Ingolstadt's Hohe Schule was a centre of humanism, catholic theology and counterreformation. In the 19th century the Bavarian state university moved first to Landshut, then to Munich and became the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. Nowadays Ingolstadt is again a university town with some faculties of the Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt.

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The building that is still called „Hohe Schule“ is, however, older and was originally meant for a different purpose. It was built in the 1430 as a hospital for 15 prebendaries who were to pray for the founder, Duke Ludwig the Bearded. However, his successors decided differently. The building was given to the newly founded university. Later on separate buildings were erected for the different faculties because the Hohe Schule became too small for them all.

After the university left Ingolstadt the building served as school. Now it hosts again university institutions. Rooms on the ground floor are used by a restaurant. In there, a fresco is preserved with a scene from Greek mythology that referred to the subject of medicine: The famous doctor Asklepios reanimates a young man who had died in an accident with horses and is punished by Zeus for this abuse of his abilities.

Neues Schloss - New Castle and the Military Museum

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The castle is named the „new“ because it was new in the 15th century. In 1392 the Duchy of Bavaria was divided among three heirs and Ingolstadt became a ducal residence. The present castle, Herzogskasten, was suitable for occasional stays but too small to accommodate a permanent court. Duke Ludwig der Gebartete („the Bearded“) decided to build a new castle on the southeastern corner of the town close to the river. His sister Isabeau was the Queen of France and Ludwig was well used to court life in more powerful and fashionable countries. So he started an ambitious project for his new home. The castle was only finished two generations later, though.

The front of the main palace with the three towers is an eyecatcher from the other side of the river. The front is not regular. The main tower is attached diagonally to the corner of the building. This seems to be a local fashion - compare the steeples of Münster church.

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The main palace and a number of economy buildings surround a wide rectangular court. Access is either from Ludwigstraße, the main pedestrian street of the old town, over the bridge and through the baroque gate tower, or from the river bank up some stairs. The courtyard is free to access during the day but closed at nighttime. The main palace hosts the Bavarian Army Museum.

Bayerisches Armeemuseum (Bavarian Army Museum) consists of two parts. The topics and exhibits from the middle ages to the 19th century are presented in Neues Schloss. An exhibition on World War I can be visited in Reduit Tilly on the opposite river bank, only a short walk away across the pedestrian bridge. The ticket is valid for both. Due to lack of time I only saw the exhibitions in Neues Schloss.

I am not a war buff at all, but from a historian's point of view there is a lot on display which is of interest. So, what were the things I found interesting?

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First of all, seeing the interior of the palace - there is no furniture left but there are gothic vaults on the lower, wooden ceilings on the upper floors, frescoes, stonemason door frames and such.

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The exhibit about the 30 Years War in the 17th century includes a collection of tiny models of weapons, cannons, carts and acrriages - these were the catalogue of a Nürnberg salesman.

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The large collection of embroidered banners.

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The Turkish hall with items that were conquered or otherwise acquired during the wars against the Turks in the late 17th century.

A temporary exhibition of photographs, recently taken, of what is left of the World War II fortifications along the coast of Dordogne.

Herzogskasten - The „Duke Box“?!?

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„Herzogskasten“ can be translated, tongue-in-cheek, as „Duke Box“. This building is the residential house of the 13th century castle in Ingolstadt. Here the Dukes of Bavaria stayed during their occasional visits to Ingolstadt before the construction of the new castle.

Later on it served as grain storage and as the city's cash office (which explains the name: „Kasten“ is the box the money was put into, and further on a word for the whole administration of said money box and its content). Nowadays it hosts the public library.

The building is a plain rectangular block. Its only ornaments are the stepped gables on both sides. The small oriel on the western side is the choir of the palace chapel.

Fortifications

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Houses built along the medieval town wall, with the semi-circular towers behind

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19th century fortress on the opposite river bank

Stadtmuseum - History of the City

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The historical museum is located in Kavalier Hepp, a gate building of the 19th century fortress. The permanent exhibition presents the history of the city and region from prehistoric times to the present. The 50 small rooms present the historical eras and topics like stone age, ancient Romans, the foundation of the city in the early middle ages, the medieval town walls, the Duchy of Bayern-Ingolstadt, the university, the counter-reformation and the Jesuits, the magistrate and ist representation, coins, baroque art and lifestyle, the age of enlightenment, crafts, trade and traffic, religious life, the development of the city in the 19th and 20th century, industrialization, Nazi time and World War II, post-war development. The toy museum has been integrated into Stadtmuseum and fills two rooms with its exhibition of historical toys. Another department is dedicated to the river Danube and its significance for Europe. Then there are temporary exhibitions about changing topics.

The museum is worth seeing to get a better idea of the city and its history, although the amount of details might be confusing. Probably the most spectacular exhibit is the stuffed white horse that the Swedish King Gustav Adolph rode during the 30 Year War. The poor horse was killed in battle in 1632 not far from here. A bit creepy...

Photography is strictly forbidden, so no pictures of the interior here. I have to note that I found museum staff a bit grumpy.

Audi museum mobile

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Old cars have faces!

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August Horch and his first model

I admit that I am no car freak. Not at all. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the museum mobile, especially the part with the pre-war cars. Those big old carriages like the green one look simply gorgeous!

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The cars are presented with some background about the times they were built and used in. So they can be viewed with some historical interest. We had a guided tour which was excellent.

The permanent exhibition begins on the top floor with the oldest cars. The second floor shows the development since World War II. The ground floor is used for temporary exhibitions - they had a presentation of car colours at that time, quite fascinating.

The story of Audi begins in Zwickau when the engineer August Horch founded his company in 1904. „Horch“ soon became a renowned brand of luxury cars.

After some troubles Horch was kicked out of his own company and founded another. Since the brand name was already taken, he simply translated his name into Latin: Horch („Listen“) became Audi.

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The new museum is part of the Audi Forum in the factory grounds. Seeing the factory requires a different tour, though, which we did not take.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 14:20 Archived in Germany Tagged beer bavaria bayern ingolstadt Comments (2)

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