Thursday, 30 May 2013

Meistertrunk: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

It has been an extremely busy few weeks for me with some major projects at work taking up a lot of my time.  Added to which I am still not over the bad cold which is making its presence felt in our community.  Now however the work is finished and the cold is on the way out, so I can get back to normal and do such pleasant things as cooking, relaxing, and reading my favourite blogs!
One welcome break from all the work was the long weekend that we had a couple of weeks ago.  The feast of Pentecost (in German: Pfingsten) is a religious holiday here in Germany and so the Monday (known in English as Whit Monday) is a public holiday.  We were doubly fortunate as our school had the Friday off as well which made for a nice four day weekend!

As we had visitors staying with us, we decided to  take them to Rothenburg, in southern Germany.

Rothenburg - or to be more precise Rothenburg ob der Tauber - is an ancient town that was once a Free City of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Thirty Year War and the Black Death were the end of Rothenburg's once proud and exalted status.  Defeated in battle and ravaged by the plague, the impoverished town stopped growing.  
Dilapidated and impoverished, the crumbling town was then 'discovered' by 18th and 19th Century tourists and it started to make a comeback, built upon its antiquated appearance.  
Its preserved state held a special appeal for the National Socialist Party in the 1930s, who looked upon it as an archetypal medieval German town (which it is) and decided to use it for their own ends.

As World War II drew to an end, the town was ordered to be defended at all costs but despite this, and thanks to some members of the American Military, who recognised it's historical importance, it was not like neighbouring Wurzburg, pounded into submission by aerial and ground bombardement.  At the same time. the German Commander, ignored orders and decided to surrender.  As a result thetown was saved although it had already received some serious damage resulting in loss of life.

Today Rothenburg is a major tourist destination and well worth a visit.

And so we sallied forth.

En route we stopped off at Burg Eltz, a medieval castle in the middle of a huge forest:

No photographs were allowed inside the castle buildings but these photos give you an idea of what it is like.  It really is like a fairy tale castle.  The visit was only marred by the fact that it rained - a lot!

Arriving in Rothenburg, the sky cleared up somewhat.  We were staying at a hotel called 'Die Goldener Hirsche' and after an early night we went to the breakfast room with its stunning views of the valley, and the town as it curves around the hill that it stands on:
(The above photographs are somewhat yellow due to the lighting as I was taking these through the breakfast room windows.)

We were last in Rothenburg a few years ago when we took my Mother there for the Christmas Market.  At that time the town looked like this:

No snow this time:
All sorts of rulers stayed at Rothenburg at one time or another:

These are called 'fachwerk' houses.  I guess that our equivalent would be 'Tudor style'

There are a lot of wonderful street signs:

And there is the Kathe Wohlfahrt shop, selling every imaginable thing you could associate with Christmas.  We naturally paid a visit:

One of the doors of the Town Hall.  I do like the door handle:

The town sits on a hill that curves around, almost like am amphitheatre.  Surrounded by its town wall, one end has been turned into a park.  We went there one evening to take photos and generally stroll about:
 The park used to be the castle of Rothenburg but it was destroyed by an earthquake in the middle ages!
 This is the memorial to the towns Jewish population who were killed in the pogrom in 1298.  

During the Thirty Year War, the area surrounding Rothenburg was the scene of much warfare.  The area was attacked by the invading Swedish army of the Protestant King, Gustav Adolf:

Areas changed hands many times as first the invading Protestant forces, and then the defending Catholic forces gained the upper hand.  Many legends are told about this time, often centre around the means by which various towns and villages were saved from being pillaged and destroyed by the conquering armies.
Rothenburg is no exception.  Count Tilly, the Imperial commander succeeded in taking Rothenburg and entering triumphantly into the town to be unexpectedly confronted by the mayor who offered him a drink.  The general accepted and then formulated a plan by which the town would be spared the ravages of his forces.  He announced that if someone would agree to drain a 6 pink tankard of beer (or it may have been wine) the town would be saved.  This sort of challenge was agreeable to the soliders.  The mayor took up the challenge, drained the tankard, and the town was saved!:
This event, known as the Miestertrunk (Really Big Drink) is commemorated on the weekend of Pentecost, and so we were in the middle of it all!
The town was en fete with everyone dressed up in sixteenth century costume.  
This might seem overdone to the point of being somewhat kitsch, but it is done in such a natural way that it never seems that way.  The event takes place over the entire long weekend and after a while you feel as though you are living in the sixteenth century too!  People stroll about doing their shopping,  driving their cars, riding horses, eating in the restaurants, enjoying the sun, or just taking time out, but all dressed a la 16th Century.

There was lots of singing, marching, drinking and general bonhomie!

There is a lot of interesting things to see in Rothenburg ( and lots of shopping opportunities too) and perhaps I will write more about it at another time but to end this little tour of Rothenburg I am included some of the photographs I took, to give you an idea of what was 'going on'.  I hope you enjoy it!
This lot are just returning from a skirmish outside the town:
There we were enjoying our schweinhaxe (pork knuckle) or Hirschgulash (Venison Gulash) when some of the soldiers marched in and started singing for beer...
Pikemen getting ready to go out and defend the town:
 I like this photograph because one of the soldiers had a cigarette in one hand and something from the bakers' in the other:

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Visiting Paris

I have a bad cold at the moment.  I caught it from the children at school.  They all seem to have sniffs and coughs at the moment . . .

So here I am reclining on the sofa with a small glass of cointreau, and my thoughts are on Paris.  
Well, the other week I received a copy of 'Black's Guide Book for Paris'.
Dated 1879, this is Paris prior to the building of the Eiffel Tower.   A slim but interesting book, I intend to take it with me next time we go there and use it as a guide.

There have been various blog posts about Paris on various blogs and I always enjoy reading the thoughts of people who have visited or who want to visit that city, and seeing the photographs they decide to include.  It got me thinking about the places in Paris that I like: The unusual, more out of the way places.  Of course in any city the size of Paris there are hundreds of little nooks and hidden places and I feel sure that I have not seen a tenth of them!
However I thought I would share some of my favourite places in Paris with you.  That photograph at the top of this post shows the Printemps Department store. It represents 'shopping' which is one of the things we like to do when in Paris...

1: Musée de Cluny

It is now called the National Museum of the Middle Ages but I prefer its old name.  Situated on the Left Bank, it is on the Place Paul Panlevé.  Such an interesting place to explore!  There is a very nice Italian restaurant nearby but at the moment I just cannot remember its name...

Originally a town house for the Abbots of Cluny, the present building dates from the 15th Century.  All sorts of people have lived there over the years, including Henry VIII's sister Mary Tudor (widow of Louis XII) and Cardinal Mazarin.  Incorporated in to the structure is the ruined 3rd Century Roman Baths:

The Museum houses the fabulous fifteenth century tapestry series: 'The Lady and the Unicorn'.
(Thankyou Wikipedia)

One can't take photographs of the tapestries but they are to be seen in a darkened room which all adds to their air of mystery and awe.
Of course there are many, many other treasures to be found within the museum:

I like this Golden Rose: 

And these rabbits in the corner of one of the museum walls:

Black's Guide tells me that the mansion first became a museum in 1833, to hold the Renaissance collection of a certain M. de Sommerard.

2. St. Eustache

St Eustache is a big old gothic church that has a certain elephantine elegance about it's exterior:

The interior is lovely!

Madame de Pompadour, Cardinal Richelieu, and the playwright Moliére were all baptised here.

And at the other end of life, the great Baroque composer (and my all time favourite) Jean Philippe Rameau was buried here.

I believe that the funeral for Mozart's mother took place here too.
Sometimes when you visit a modern funeral will in fact be taking place for this is a church that is very much alive, and part of the lives of people around it.  A soup kitchen for the homeless is run at the side entrance and whenever we have visited something is taking place.  This last time we were there it was the rehearsal of a children's choir.
St. Eustache is a beautiful church and well worth a visit.  It is not far from the major train stop Chatelet les Halles.  We were there last month during Holy Week which is why there are palm branches in some of these photos.

Black's Guide does not include St. Eustache among the best churches to visit but I disagree!  It should be right up there with Notre Dame. What's more, St. Eustache is just up the road from Dehillerin!

3 Dehillerin

A fantastic cooking shop in Paris.  For those of you from Australia, Margaret Fulton says that she loves to go and visit this famous shop.  The shop includes many famous chefs among its clientele.

Dehillerin is an old fashioned sort of place.  No shiny shelves.  No white plastic display tables.  No extra bright neon lighting.  No flashy, smiling, sales assistants (sometimes the assistants look a trifle grumpy if anything).  
But this is a shop with old fashioned overtones: a bit dark (but your eyes soon get used to it), wooden shelving, pots and pans stacked up everywhere, narrow aisles. Steps down into the basement where there is a veritable feast of cookware to admire.  Shopping is done with your 'guide' who helps you chose, tells you the price from a ledger (no price tags here) and then takes you to the counter where the clerk takes your money (or credit card - they aren't that old fashioned!) while the guide arranges for your purchases to be wrapped.  I love that shop.  I don't always buy things there as it is sometimes more expensive than the cost of the same item in a nearby department store but so what; I am there for an experience and sometimes it is just nice to walk in and wander about.

4. Luxembourg Gardens

Black's Guide describes the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardins du Luxembourg) as being one of the most beautiful promenades in Paris:

It is the perfect place to stroll around on a nice Spring day: To people watch, to sit and read, to chat with friends, or to sit and enjoy the pleasures to be had in the flowers that surround you.

There is a famous fountain complex there to:

Known as the Medici Fountain it was built to the orders of Queen Marie de Medicis in the 16th Century.
I like walking in the Luxembourg Gardens.

5. La Sainte Chapelle

La Sainte Chapelle.  In English: The Holy Chapel.  This is perhaps my favourite building in Paris.  It is to be found in main island in the middle of the Seine: the Ile de la Cité.  This is the island which also houses that big old medieval palace known as the Conciergerie, as well as the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  There is a nice flower market there too.  
Sainte Chapelle is not an overly large building.  But it is very beautiful.  It was built by St Louis, King of France, to hold the most important relics in his collection.  This included the Crown of Thorns, now kept at Notre Dame.  The glory of Sainte Chapelle is its stained glass windows.  Although it was damaged during the French Revolution, the stained glass had for the most part survived and forms one of the best examples of 13th Century glass to be found anywhere in the world.  When Henry III of England visited, shortly after its construction, he told Louis he would like to pick it up and take back to England with him!   Its design certainly influence Henry when it came to the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey.  Black's Guide states that it is 'one of the finest religious monuments in Paris'.  

Evening concerts often take place at la Sainte Chapelle.  AGA and I have been to a couple there including one given by the wonderful Frédéric Moreau and 'Les Violons de France'.  Seated in this bejewelled, medieval wonder, listening to glorious music and thinking of all the many people who have set foot in there since it was first consecrated on 26 April 1248: What a perfect evening that makes!
Of course you can visit la Sainte Chapelle during the daytime too.  If you do, then be sure to buy a ticket that lets you visit the Conciergerie as well.

6. The Conciergerie

How can I not speak of the Conciergerie.  What a history that building has had!  First a royal palace and then a prison, Black's guide says that it is well worth a visit but will require permission from the Prefecture of Police.  We don't have to do that today as it stopped being a prison in 1914.

The ground floor is all medieval with arches, pillars, and huge fireplaces.  Upstairs are the old prison cells.  The cell of Marie Antoinette is to be found there too.  There is a sense of great sadness in that room and when I visited it with my sister in the early 1990s we found ourselves close to tears upon leaving it.  These days there is an exhibition about the Revolution including a room covered by lists of those who were guillotine during the revolution.  I remember seeing that a man was executed merely for being a chocolatier and another who was a baker of cakes.  I don't think I would have lasted long.

7. The Basilica of St Denis

You have to get the train to visit St Denis but it is well worth a visit and doesn't take too long to get there.  It is the burial place for almost all of the king and queens of France.  Most of their remains were destroyed during the revolution but the tombs remain (many restored) and it is still a powerful place:

Here are some photographs to give you a feel for the place:

In the above group you can see the statues of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The photo next to it shows the vessels containing the existing remains of the bodies of the kings and queens that were not destroyed.  The heart of the boy 'king' Louis XVII is to be found there too.
The stonework is amazing:

8. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

Most of the places I am describing are not as crowded with tourists as some of the main sites of Paris.  This one however is often crowded; not with tourists but with pilgrims.  Situated in the Rue de Bac, it was here that St Catherine Labouré had her visions of Our Lady, and was inspired to create the Miraculous Medal that many Catholics have in their possession today.
Also to be found here is the glass tomb of St Catherine, whose body is considered by Catholics to be incorruptible.  

The Chapel is beautiful and filled with people when it is open to the public.
No flash photography is allowed.  I don't have a photograph of the incorruptible body of St Catherine to show you but you can easily read about it on the internet.  Even if you are not Catholic, it is well worth paying a visit.  Is the body in the glass case real and is it really 'incorruptible'?  I say 'yes' but see what you think when you visit.

9. Place des Vosges

This is a very old square which you can find in the Marais District (on the right bank).  During its previous incarnation, as the Hotel de Tournelles, Henri II was mortally wounded in a tournament.  The site was abandoned and later demolished.   The Place des Vosges took its place.  There is a statue of king Louis XIII on horseback, in the centre of the park, and around the gardens are beautiful 17th Century buildings and arcades.  A lovely place to go and spend some quality time.

10. The 'back rooms' of the Louvre

Everyone tries to visit the Louvre when they are in Paris but often it is but a fleeting one.

I love going there myself, and I can recommend going 'down the back' to see the apartments of Napoleon III:

Each of the rooms is sumptuously decorated and while they are of course security guards all over the place, you can still walk around at leisure, especially as far fewer people make it back here.

11. Montmartre

It is nice to get up early and get over the Montmartre before the main crowds arrive for the day.

Make sure you visit the Basilica.  AGA and I went once and Mass was being sung by the nuns.
After your visit, stroll down the street and visit the graveyard.  What an interesting place to walk around and what a lot of interesting people you will 'see' there!

The tomb on the left is Nijinski's.  Fragonard was a famous artist.  Adolphe Adam, Offenbach and Delibes are buried there too.

12. The Madeleine

We have all seen the iconic Madeleine with cars constantly whizzing around it; but how many of us have ever been inside?  Black's guide describes it as simply but richly decorated in the style of the Renaissance.  I agree.

13. Notre Dame

Like the Madeleine, many of us know the image of this famous church and if you have been to Paris then it is more than likely that you will have visited.
There is more to Notre Dame than just the beautiful Early Medieval architecture, its stained glass, its rose windows, its lofty magnificence!  If you go down the left side of the Church, down near the back, you come across the entrance to the Treasury.  It is well worth paying the few euros to go inside.  One of the most amazing things is this:

The preserved robe of King (St.) Louis IX.  He died in 1270.  Many other wonderful and valuable objects can be seen in the Treasury (such as the Crown of Thorns) but I am always drawn to this one.

Outside of Notre Dame, at the far end of the cathedral square, a series of steps leads down to the Notre Dame Cathedral Archaeological Crypt.
The remains of Roman, of Merovingian and of Carolingian buildings are to be seen along with other amazing finds.  This is an unseen wonder of Paris!

14. Wandering About

This is only a few of the interesting but less visited sites to see in Paris: Things that you may not necessarily think of going to look at.
If ever you are lucky enough to come to Paris then I would suggest going out for a wander, accompanied by your camera, map and an old guide book (and perhaps a new one too) and see what there is to be seen.  Read all those little, sometimes obscure, plaques on walls; delve into interesting looking buildings (if it is permissible).  Look down alleyways...
All sorts of things are sitting there, just waiting for you to discover them! 
I have no idea where this was taken.  I think it was on the Left Bank.  It was on a day when we just went out walking about with no fixed intent.  I do like that red brick building though!  Here are some more random photographs I have taken in Paris:

Above:  The statue of Charlemagne outside Notre Dame, the base of a lamp on the Pont Neuf, and the lamps that line the Aexander III Bridge.
 Above: The site of the Nesle Tower, one of the towers of the town wall of Paris.  Antoine de Bougainville died in that house.  He was the French Admiral who circumnavigated the earth and after whom the beautiful bougainvillea flower is named.  St Vincent de Paul lived near the church of St. Eustache.
 Above: The allée Barbara, named for the French singer of that name in the 1960s through to the 1990s.  A window in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  A statue of King Henri IV on the Pont Neuf.
 The Tuilleries Gardens on a summer's day.
I have no idea where I took this.  I am fairly certain this was on the Left Bank.

I do hope that you enjoyed this post.

Is there a special place in Paris that you have seen or would like to see?