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1280px-Reichsburg_CochemCochem celebrates its culture

Once you have emerged from the enchanting castle you will have the opportunity to discover how the locals celebrate their cultural heritage: during the week of the 25th and 29th of May the Mosel Wine Week is being held in Cochem.

The walk around the castle should have built up an appetite and strolling across the market you will be able to sample local food made to perfectly accompany the locally grown and produced wines and sparkling wines. Whether you’ll prefer to sit down at one of the vineyards’ stalls or wander from one to another, you will get a good a sampling of the different wines.

cochem wine weekLocal characters

Every place has their unique set of people that influence the feel and look of a town. In Cochem the local bands – ranging from modern covers to traditional German folk – provide the audio side of it during the festival, while you might be able to spot the Queen of Wine Charlotte I. and her Princess Isabel amongst the stalls and displays. The wine royalty symbolically represent the city and region of Cochem during tourism and other Cochem Majestaeteneconomic presentations, events and fund-raisers nationally and internationally. As ambassadors for a wine growing region, their motto says it best: visit Cochem to sample the care and attention given to the wines that make them so special, because the best place to try something is in its home town!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

Early start in Saarbrücken

Congratulations: you’ve decided to join us on our cycle trip along the Saar and Moselle this May and have arrived a day or two early in Saarbrücken. What an excellent opportunity to discover what the locals do on their weekends. As Germany is now well on its way into summer, a lot of outdoor activities are happening around the city. Check out some of the samples we have collated for you for the weekend of the 21st and 22nd  of May 2016.

Markets and other entertainment

Wochenmarkt SaarbrueckenSaturday is THE day to go to a farmers market and within a 3km radius of the city centre you can find three that sell local produce and crafty stuff. But mainly food: fresh fruit and veges, breads and cakes and everything else your palate can imagine. As it would have been in the good old days, usually these market are situated around a local church and you will find one at the Ludwigskirche and Sankt Johann. While you will be going on a guided city tour on Sunday, you might think about going on a boat trip on Saturday: whether just a short trip around the city area or even on a trip to France, have a look at one of the local transport companies’ booklets to get an idea. In the evenings the city has a variety of entertainment on offer as well: the local clubs present an eclectic mix of Oldies to modern pop music, theatres have productions of the Elephant Man, The Little Mermaid and modern dance/ballet from Czechoslovakia.

Museums and open days

640px-BobbycarAn interesting item on this weekend is the open day at one of the local fire brigades and the 4th anniversary of the youth section there. Not only will you be able to have a look at a German fire station, but can watch a Bobby car race there. Kind of like the Jaffa race down Baldwin street in Dunedin but on a kids toy, the Bobby car. If you prefer your entertainment a bit quieter, the local museums can give you plentiful insights into the local history, arts and crafts. A look on the city’s web site could make it easy, except there’s so much to see and so little time. Pick wisely or book a couple of days more and enjoy the sights and events around Saarbrücken at your leisure.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

Avantgarde and culture

School of sophisticated drinking bookBerlin always has been and always will be synonymous for a culture and society in motion. Artists – then and now – flock to the city to express their art and somehow make a living. Entrepreneurs with a gung-ho mentality open up boutique nightclubs, cafes, bars and whatever else they think might make a buck. Or they have a mission: bringing back the old feeling of underground rebellion, bringing back quality instead of serving the masses a quick rehash of the old favourites. Which is what the owners of the Victoria Bar set out to do when they opened their cocktail bar in 2001. Within two years they had established themselves as connoisseurs of traditional cocktails and set up the School of Sophisticated Drinking.

Spirits and their history

victoria bar berlinOnce a month the school offers with a fixed menu and price the opportunity to find out more about one particular bar spirit. For three hours the participants will be able to enjoy drinks mixed with the topic in question, accompanied by some consolidating finger food and increasingly humorous anecdotes relating to it. So far the ‘classes’ are held in German, but due to their popularity, they have finally published an English edition of their “text book’. And as every proper school does, they even offer school trips and field days!

If you find yourself spending some time in Berlin and you’d like to find out more about the history of your favourite tipple have a look at their schedules or just pop in to enjoy a good old fashioned well-made cocktail.

Bottoms up!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

Rinteln

Marktplatz_RintelnHaving left Hamelin and any pied pipers behind us, we gently bike north along the Weser. Along the river we encounter more examples of the famed Weser Renaissance architecture and countless ‘little’ waterways and lakes. These lakes are mostly quarry ponds turned into public swimming lakes and recreational parks. One of the more famous one is the Doktorsee, west of Rinteln. Rinteln itself is another well preserved example of the regional architecture and shows a city that had managed to procure city rights early on – Rinteln_Archivhäuschen_vor_dem_Münchhausenhofwhich meant taxing anyone and anything traveling on the Weser and through town – and maintain that profitable position for a considerable time. For two centuries – from 1619 – 1810 – it was even a moderately famous university town. Its adaptability was crucial for survival, as the politics, alliances and ownership changed frequently in those times.

Porta Westfalica

Porta Westfalica KanzelAs we continue towards Minden we come through Porta Westfalica, a city that was created in a communal land reform in 1973 and unites 15 local villages and communities. Its name comes from the central geographical feature of the region: the gorge between two mountain ranges, where the river Weser cuts through and enters the north German lowlands. This area has been called Porta Westfalica since the early 18th century, when it was fashionable for the elite to use Latin or French terms and means ‘gateway to Westfalia’. One could imagine this region having enjoyed a similar economic success as Rinteln, but because the only towns in this area with city and taxing rights didn’t have bridges across the Weser and were not connected to any major trade routes, they didn’t fare as well. This changed in the 19th century with the first bridge across the Weser in 1864 and the establishment of a railway connection to Cologne.

Minden

Minden RathausThe city of Minden has a colourful history dating back to the 3rd century A.D. Being located along the Weser and substantial economic rights being granted in 977 meant it became a prosperous city and the center of attention in the wars that ravaged the region during the 17th and 18th centuries. The 20th century proved equally difficult and the town sustained heavy damages towards the end of WWII, when bombings aimed at destroying underground war equipment factories destroyed large parts of the historic center. Unfortunately afterwards decisions were made to demolish damaged buildings and replace with modern structures. 800px-Minden_Windloch_1Despite that, a few of the more impressive buildings have survived and are now well looked after. Just a few examples: the reconstructed Minden Cathedral in the Romanesque/Gothic style; Minden old city hall, the oldest monumental Gothic city hall in the whole of Westfalia;  the smallest building in the city – ‘Haus am Windloch’ – was built in the 17th century as residence for the local city musician, who also maintained and played the churches’ organ. It was built so close to the church that the gap channeled very strong winds.  There are plenty of other buildings to admire as well on a quick tour through the city center.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

Fairy tales and fairy towns

800px-Münchhausen-AWilleTall tales start in Bodenwerder, well some of the tallest have been started by a fictional character, the infamous Baron Münchhausen, who is the first person narrator of ‘Baron Münchhausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia’, a satirical work with political aims. Some of us might know, that there was a real Baron Münchhausen, who was born in Bodenwerder and who did love to tell some rather tall tales of his military career. But when these stories were adapted and published anonymously, the real Baron was so outraged that he threatened to sue the publisher and the author decided to remain anonymous. Not until Rudolf Erich Raspe had died could his authorship be confirmed.

Hamelin

Pied_piperOur next stop through this picturesque part of Germany is another famous fairy tale town: Hamelin. The Pied Piper of Hamelin and his abduction of the city’s children have been a topic of tales and fairy tales for the past 800 centuries. As early as 1300 the story was told on glass stained windows in the church of Hamelin. Many researchers have wondered and examined what the root of this tale was and have come to some interesting conclusions. Most notably is one theory, that all a city’s inhabitants were referred to as the city’s children and that they may have been enticed to emigrate to other parts of Germany and Poland to populate these regions. Comparisons of family names suggests and supports that theory.

Whatever the historic truths, it has given many authors and artists opportunities to expand and illustrate it in various ways. During your guided tour through the town you will not only learn about this famous tale, but also about Hamelin’s history and architecture.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

Fürstenberg porcelain factory

As we travel along the Weser through lots of small picturesque villages we come through Fürstenberg, where we get to have a look at the third-oldest porcelain manufacturer in Germany. The company was founded in 1747 by the order of Duke Karl I. von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and soon after was ordered to incorporate a blue “F” ( for Fürstenberg) into their design, which became their trademark. Despite changes in company structure and flood disasters the company is still successfully trading today. Nearby is Fürstenberg Castle – from ~1355 – which houses the museum documenting the history and designs of the porcelain factory. The history overview on the company’s web site gives good examples of past and present designs.

Höxter

hoexter_innenstadt_sigurdehlertIn Höxter we will stop for a guided tour through the town centre with its famous half-timbered houses and medieval history.

Since 775 Höxter had been along the major trading routes to the north and east and was heavily sought after. Unfortunately this also caused a lot of hardships during the wars and the town’s wealth declined after the Thirty Years’ War. In the 19th century its fortunes were on the rise again with the founding of a brewery and getting connected to the railway network. Nowadays it is known for the nearby Imperial Abbey of Corvey (UNESCO World Heritage site) and it’s finely restored examples of medieval and Weser Renaissance architecture.

Holzminden

Tillyhaus_HolzmindenOn our way to Bodenwerder we come through the interesting village Holzminden. Another medieval town with lots of picturesque half-timbered houses that has evolved from a wood- and sandstone processing industry to a manufacturing town of a wide range of products, most famously its scent and flavours industry.

While we continue to today’s destination we get to see quite a few more idyllic small villages along the river beckoning for a leisurely look.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

Benedictine Monastery in Bursfelde

Bursfelde_Kirche_von_SOHalfway on our route to Beverungen we will visit the Benedictine Monastery in Bursfelde and have a look inside. The monastery was founded in 1093 by Heinrich dem Fetten as burial place and place of commemoration through prayer for his family. Even though the monastery was connected to the Imperial Abbey of Corvey nearby, through changes in the political climate and ownership, its relevance declined in the following four centuries to the point that no monks are recorded residing there by 1402. During the reformation process in the 15th and 16th century the catholic-based monastery become even more secluded until the Duchess Elisabeth von Brandenburg – who had converted to Protestantism – ruled for her under-age son and effected major changes regarding the reformation and finances. As the rulers – and their beliefs – changed, the monastery changed confession as well. After the Peace of Westphalia was proclaimed in 1648 the monastery became protestant again and stayed that way until today. No matter under which flag they sailed, the monastery had always been a centre of learning and until today that influence can be seen in the remaining library and modern day activity of the Theological Centre of Bursfelde Abbey.

Bad Karlshafen

Carlsbahn003Shortly before our final destination we will drive through the picturesque town of Bad Karlshafen and get to see the distinctly different style of the reconstructed Huguenot Baroque buildings.

The city was founded in 1699 as an ‘exile city’ to provide a spiritual home for religious refugees during the reformation process in the 17th century in Europe. Here they were mainly Huguenots from France who were welcomed and sheltered by Karl from Hessen-Kassel. In 1730 the Huguenot apothecary Jacques Galland discovered the brine springs which shaped the economic future of the town. Initially used to produce salt, it ultimately led to the town becoming a spa destination for the application of therapeutic brine baths.

As the Baroque architecture was a practical manifestation of the Counter-Reformation and intended to persuade everyone of God’s splendour and the Catholic churches’ magnificence, it will be interesting to observe how that was put into practice in this particular town.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

Hann. Münden

Important trading post to the North

1024px-Hann_muenden_weserursprung_ds_wv_06_2011Officially the city was mentioned the first time in a document from 1183, but it’s location at the confluence of the two rivers Werra and Fulda into the Weser – a main transportation route to the North Sea – would have meant that it had been settled a bit earlier.

Another hint to its earlier foundation is the name of the village Gimundi (802), in the location of today’s Altmünden. A linguist would be able to explain how it could have transformed to become today’s Münden, let it suffice to say, that they think it is a reasonable deduction and carry on discovering this little jewel of Medieval and Weser Renaissance architecture.

Trading wealth

1024px-Hann_Münden_Rathaus_2007Than as now cities, communities and their owners had to be quite creative to come up with ways of financing their building projects and quite often opulent lifetstyles. An obvious one for places on major trading routes was imposing trading tariffs, road tolls and staple rights. The right to impose these ‘council rates’ had to be ‘earned’ and were highly sought after. A city’s wealth would radically improve, which in turn could radically change the townscape. Hann. Münden is a classic example of this: in 1247 Münden was given the staple rights to the rivers and a building and trading boom ensued in the following centuries until 1823 when the system was changed and the staple rights became redundant.

Weser Renaissance

20130810_192834_Wanfried_SchlagdTo facilitate trading numerous jetties, packhouses and markets were built along the rivers, in the now famous and unique Weser Renaissance style. On our cycle tour along the river Weser, we will see plenty examples of this particular architectural style, which seems to be very appealing to many people. In a book from 1964 its author Jürgen Soenke claims that its appeal is due to its roots: the waterway landscape and its inhabitants created the buildings and because they were folk people, it has ‘folksy” features.

During your guided tour through Hann. Münden you will be able to see the beautifully preserved town hall and other buildings showcasing that style. We are very lucky that as the result of the Thirty Years’ War everyone in the region was too poor to build new buildings and just repaired the old ones, thus retaining the original designs and look of this period of time.

Last but not least

800px-Münden_Rinnstein_im_StraßenbelagFor a very long time the name Münden caused lots of mix ups, as it was often mispronounced and mistaken for Minden ( which happens to be on the Weser as well) or Munich! So the local railway added Hannoversch to it, but that did not solve it as it was too long to be printed on the tickets, and depending on how you pronounced it could be mistaken for other towns in Hannovers’ vicinity. Ultimately they abbreviated it to “Hann.”, denoting its locality ( near Hannover) but making it distinctly different. This writing has been officially adopted by all city councils since then, but the locals still call it just Münden!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

Once upon a time….

Slavenburg_radduschWhen Würzburg was officially mentioned in a donation from one duke to another in 704 AD it already could look back on a long history of successful settlement in the area. Archeological findings support the existence of a refuge castle on the site of the Marienberg Fortress as far back as 1000 years BC. These refuge castles were built to protect the general populace from marauding soldiers or bandits and usually occupied higher, easy-to-defend ground. During the following centuries the area was populated by a range of Germanic tribes and finally settled by the Franks in the 6th century.

Christianity takes hold

MarienburgIn the 7th century the missionary Saint Kilian settled in Würzburg and began his work preaching and converting the local Duke Gosbert. Unfortunately Gosbert was already married to his widowed sister-in-law Gailana and was told, that this marriage was against the Christian principles that Saint Boniface vehemently fought for. When Galiana heard this – according to the martyr mythology of St. Kilian – she used her husband’s absence and had Kilian and his two companions assassinated. But that did not stop Christianity and under Hedan II’s rule a chapel was built on the hillside dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A site which was believed to be the original site of pagan worship to a mother goddess. Even though the original chapel was replaced due to destruction or changes in architectural tastes, by the Middle Ages the mount and the fortress became known as Marienberg (Mary’s Mount). As the centuries passed – bishops came and went, tastes changed and war damages needed repairing – the look of the mountain top fortress evolved considerably. When WWII wrecked its havoc over Würzburg large parts of the Marienburg Fortress and others were destroyed by bombs and fire. Restoration of the Fortress started in the 1950’s and was finished in 1990.

As with a lot of other historic buildings in Würzburg, restoration was done in the style of the original design of the time, which makes it harder for the lay-person to denote what is truly original and what is restored. Which should be kept in mind when reading the historical and architectural comments to any of them.

A living record

altstadtWürzburg had been a centre for the Catholic Church since its earliest days and as such always had a huge political, intellectual and financial influence on the lives of its citizens. Quite often those decisions had a very bad impact on the rest of the populace and revolts would break out. Whether they were aimed against the ruling clerics (Würzburg guild document), unpleasant neighbours (who got accused of witchcraft), occupying soldiers (Sweden 1631- 34) or members of particular classes (German Peasant’s War), they always ended up changing the city’s structure and appearance, over time creating an incredibly rich tapestry depicting its evolving society.

After your arrival stroll through the old city centre and get up close with history!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

 

 

Volkach

Pfarrkirche St.KillianBaroque architecture

Before heading off to Volkach we make a little trip to Theres, a small community that has an interesting selection of buildings from the Baroque period. As this period covered 200 years of building history, the range of designs and decorations are quite remarkable. This can be seen mainly in the numerous churches and wayside shrines in the region. Because a lot of church properties were privatised in the early 19th century, many of them are now privately or commercially owned and operated. Interesting examples to view are on the main road (Bundesstrasse 17)) the Catholic vicarage from 1750, St. Killian church (1728/30)  and along the cycle path the Crucification group attributed to Johann Peter Wagner.

Untertheres_KreuzigungsgruppeTraditional wine growing region

We are now moving into the driest and hottest wine growing region in Germany and will discover what kind of wines this climate can produce. Our trip will take us through the village of Fahr, home of the ‘world famous’ Bocksbeutel. This intriguing bottle shape is protected in Europe and used for only a few specific wines.

The name is of particular interest, as its origin can be referenced to two different words: one denominates a bag to protect prayer or song books (Booksbüdel) while the other implies that it looks like a ram’s scrotum (Bokesbudel). As both explanations can be reasonably proven, it seems that both contributed to its modern day usage.frankenwein

Our destination for today, Volkach, has been the historic wine growing centre of the region since the 17th century and has renewed its fame for making excellent white wines, especially, but not exclusively, Silvaner, whose reputation suffered a bit from the Liebfrauenmilch debacle in the 70’s. Modern wine makers now are using its subtle flavours to produce elegant wines that are easily matched with foods and becoming more and more appreciated. Other varieties that grow well here are Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Traminer, all very specific and interesting tasting grapes. And for those of you who want to know more specific details about the huge range of wines and grapes here’s a very interesting and informative web site.

Maria_im_WeingartenEven in the Middle Ages Volklach has been a very popular tourist spot due to its numerous food markets, parish fairs and pilgrimages to the local church Maria in the vineyard. This has continued through to the 20th and 21st century with a lot of local wine and food festivals catching the visitors’ eyes and palates. Let your travel guide advise you what’s on special and enjoy the delicacies.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens