Continuing my ‘Letters from Europe. Part 2 ‘
Chapter 12. Discovering the cultural treasures of Southern Europe – nine great cities. Bruges.Cologne.Munich,(including Oberammergau) Salzburg, Tubingen Strasburg. Baden Baden. Zurich and Venice. Autumn 1960.
Munich. 7 August 1960.
A quick note to let you know that I am safe and sound and on the road again.
Once I returned to London after completing my working summer in Devon, I was waiting to hear from my friend Peppino that he was on his way there and after a few days of showing the city we begin our travels together in Europe.
Having finally graduated in Law, he was now ready for his first trip outside Italy and we had decided to see some of Europe together.
His letter finally arrived several days late, still in Italy, and saying that his passport had been delayed, and so as not to cause me to miss the Eucharistic Congress in Munich, suggested that we meet there instead of London – very disappointing for us both. I was so looking forward to introducing him to London.
As soon as I finished packing, I left London at 8 AM , traveled by train down to Dover, then caught the ferry across to Ostend, which is in West Flanders on the Belgian coast.
Apart from being a busy ferry destination; it is also a favorite seaside resort for the Dutch and Belgians. I took a breather on the seaside esplanade nearby and a short stroll on the sandy beach before taking a quick train ride to the beautiful city of Bruges, which is a short distance inland.
It is the capital of West Flanders — the Flemish region of Belgium. It is a very picturesque town which has retained much of its charm from the past — by far the most interesting city in Belgium — it used to be one of the most important cities in northern Europe during medieval times — it is surrounded by a wide canal which acts like a moat around a castle, with beautiful little narrow canals and cobbled lanes coming off it, and winding through the city.
The very popular Markt’ is its central Square, – lots of atmosphere — medieval buildings, horse-drawn carriages and charming little shops and cafes. I saw olden-day whitewashed alms houses nearby where, in the past, nuns provided special shelter for women in need, and the lace making museum in the same area, where women in traditional costume were giving demonstrations of very complex Bobbin lace making — you have heard of Brussels lace — well this is where it originated.
I would have loved to wander around here for hours, but I needed to press on to reach the city of Cologne — its correct name is Koln — in time to find accommodation before nightfall. Cologne is on the way to Munich and I was very keen to see the famous Cologne Cathedral. This might be the last of the really great Gothic churches that I would have a chance to explore before leaving Europe.
When I arrived I made for the main Youth Hostel in the city centre and it was a beauty — completed only a couple of months ago, four stories high and very modern and convenient. The Germans certainly look after their youth with good hostel accommodation!
Cologne is a huge city built on both sides of the Rhine River and has been an important trading and cultural centre since mediaeval times. The 12th century City Hall still stands, and there were once 12 imposing ancient gates giving access to the city – There are only three still remaining. The city was the most bombed of all in World War II, with enormous loss of life and massive damage to 70% of the city structure.
Today it appears as a very modern attractive city with lots of public green space, and is still undergoing reconstruction – only the most significant of the old buildings are being restored.
Miraculously, this includes the cathedral, though it copped considerable damage and even now still has many stonemasons and engineers keeping it in a state of preservation.
After leaving the hostel the next morning, I walked through a very exclusive shopping area up towards the cathedral. It is an enormous, magnificent building, which hovers above other city buildings, and its two very tall towers can be seen quite a long way away. They say that the area it covers occupies a space equivalent to a sports field, and 20,000 people can fit in it comfortably.
Although it is a Catholic cathedral, they say that it is the pride of all of the people of Cologne. It was begun in the 13th century, but took forever to be completed. At times over the centuries the money ran out as well as being hampered by political and religious obstacles. The locals call it their “ eternal construction site”.
Work resumed early in the 1800s because its value as one of the greatest Gothic masterpieces was recognized, and it still continues today, keeping faithfully to the original architectural design drawn up about 800 years ago. This fact alone amazed me! I was also very moved by its majestic interior and dazzled by the huge stained-glass windows.
Another thing that Cologne is famous for, as you know is its 4711 perfume – Eau deCologne. Auntie Linda introduced me to it and I have missed not having a bottle on hand while travelling. I have discovered that it contains essential oils from nearly all of the citrus varieties, but the original formula has been kept secret for over 100 years!
From there I went on to Stuttgart to call on my good friends, Dori and Arno Votteler, whom I met when skiing in Austria. They were about to set out for a weekend visit to Arno’s father who lives miles away in the Black Forest, and they invited me to go too!
It is a famous wooded mountain range in southwest Germany, mainly pines and fir trees, with several major rivers running through it. It covers an area about 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. We passed waterfalls and wineries and tiny villages along the way, -and also plenty of people on mountain bikes!
The area is famous for its Black Forest cake, rich with chocolate, cream, cherries and Kirsch! –
And also for its cuckoo clocks! I was so lucky to get to see it all and also spend time with their family, even though it though it turned out to be a very, very long day out, and I had to leave early the next morning.
Now I am finally in Munich, and will take up the rest of the story just as soon as I can. –
Till then, I send everyone lots of love ….
Strasbourg. 11 August 1960
Dear Mum and Dad,
What an intense time it has been since I arrived in Munich last Saturday morning!- So much to take in and recount over just a few days.-
As soon as I arrived I went to the Munich office of the Catholic Relief Service – CRS – as arranged, and much to my relief Peppino had arrived from Italy at much the same time. It was so good to see him again even though I think we both found it a little strange to be meeting up together in Germany rather than Perugia. It was the first time since we met 18 months ago as students there that I had the chance to interpret for him rather than the other way round.
As they always are, uncle’s co-workers were wonderfully kind and welcoming.
Mrs. Caballero, who is Spanish and whose father had been the Spanish Consul for Munich, was able to arrange tickets for us at a moment’s notice for the final open-air High Mass on Sunday.
This ceremony was the culmination of the activities of the National Eucharistic Congress, which had been in progress since 17 July.
I was so glad I had made the effort to arrive for the last couple of days. It was quite a special experience – and it was enough to discover what it was like to participate in such a massive, brilliantly organised event. Imagine providing seating and tickets for one million people! I
hope you have been able to read all about it in the Catholic Weekly, and see photos of the vast crowd, It needs more than words to describe it.
The event was held in a space about the size of a couple of city blocks, with a very large altar in the center covered with a billowing golden canopy.
Luckily the rain held off, though apparently it had been fairly wet during the early events We were directed to seats which were quite close to the centre of things and could watch and participate in much that was happening. The clergy from all over the world wearing brightly coloured vestments were gathered around the main altar according to rank — Cardinals, bishops, priests and nuns.
The VIPs were made up of church leaders from other denominations, diplomats and political leaders, representatives of various royal families, and the cream of Europe’s Catholic aristocracy — many of the men in tails and the women in elegant black dresses and mantillas.
Lots of people wore their national costumes. It was awe inspiring and very entertaining at the same time! – I can’t quite decide to whom deserves the prize for creating wonderful spectacles most — Royalty or Rome!!
It was a very long ceremony as you might expect, and when it came time to distribute Holy Communion, it seemed to take hundreds of priests to weave their way through the rows of people while everyone silently waited their turn.
India’s Cardinal Gracias was a very popular choice as the main celebrant and thankfully his sermon wasn’t too long. He is India’s first cardinal.
After the long ceremony there was a joyful colourful procession of all the representative groups walking down the central aisle of the packed ‘theatinerkirche’, with everyone clapping and cheering. (Kirche is German for church).
The national make up of the hierarchy has changed quite a bit in recent times. Someone observed that there are now more Indian bishops than French, even more Aussies than Dutch and Belgians combined, and there were at least 30 young Africans bishops whom the crowd clapped enthusiastically as they went by. They were trying their best to look solemn though obviously excited at the same time. A priest from Togo land was said to say that these days ”one can’t play the organ save by using the black keys as well as the white!
The Polish visitors were given special courtesy by the German organisers — no doubt as part of the spirit of atonement. Every country was assigned a local parish church for their use during the Congress. It must have been a great thing for people from so many different nationalities and cultures to have the opportunity to mix together over a couple of weeks. – A great event for breaking down racial and cultural barriers!
There were some gaps for obvious political reasons. People from the Soviet Union were absent, though Tito allowed some Yugoslavs to attend. The German communists had
scattered some leaflets around, and discouraged the East Germans from coming, believing, they said, that the 5000 NATO troops present could make trouble for them!
In fact, there were no incidents that we heard of. It was an extraordinary spectacle and the most orderly crowd I have ever seen as well as the largest.
The first Congress was held 80 years ago in France, and it had grown and become more truly international since then as each decade passed. The moving theme this decade was ” the Eucharist as a brotherly feast of love– a pause for commitment and reflection, and the desire to make atonement for failures by the Church and the people in loving and forgiving”.
There was an emphasis on encouraging more active participation by everyone in liturgical reform. Hopefully this will include evolving new forms of worship with an ecumenical emphasis. This is certainly the way that Pope John XXIII is attempting to take the church, though ironically, the message he sent to the Congress was delivered in Latin, and not one translations was read out!
Signora Caballero continued to be very helpful during our time in Munich. We ate out with her and her son several times. She gave us lots of intriguing background information about the Congress and also insightful knowledge of the city’s history – as well as tips about exploring it, so we made the most of the couple of days doing that. I found it the most interesting city in Germany culturally that I’ve explored so far.
She was relieved that everything was quietening down letting her and her colleagues get on again with the great work they do at CRS for the many European refugees. She confirmed that here too Uncle George is very well liked and respected ( hence, I expect their special kindness to me.) The link that he has established over the years with all the CRS offices in Europe, and the work done to assist world migration at the Australian end is recognised and appreciated
Munich is the capital of Bavaria with a population of about 1 million — it struck me as interesting that it had just played host very effectively to 1,000,000 visitors! It is built on the upper plains north of the snow-capped Bavarian Alps, which provide a magnificent backdrop to the city and can be seen from any vantage points because care has been taken not to block sight of them by building too high.
The name Munchen refers to the Benedictine monks who founded the city in the 12th century on the banks of the river Isar along the Old Salt Route. It made its fortune mining and trading in salt, and its wealth was insured when the Holy Roman Emperor granted it a salt monopoly and city status, and had it fortified.
By the 15th century the arts had begun to flourish and the great cathedral of Frauenkirche -the Church of our Lady — was built. It is another huge Gothic structure, able to seat 20,000 people, and the only building that really stands out on the city skyline — but it is Gothic with a difference, much simpler and less ornate than most. It is built in red brick, and when its funds began to run out, unlike Cologne, it abandoned the idea of having soaring spires, and settled for two charming copper topped domes, which have long since turned light green, as they do. It is Munich’s most famous building and the only one of note remaining from mediaeval times.
Over the centuries its people have had to contend with many upheavals – the 30 years War, the Counter Reformation, the bubonic plague in 1634-5 that killed a third of the population.
In this century, its history has been dominated by World Wars 1, then Hitler coming to power and the 2nd world war. The Nazi party originated in Munich about 1923. The first concentration camp was built as early as 1933 at Dachau, just 10 miles north of the city. — One of the most moving ceremonies during the Congress was the laying of a foundation stone there as an act of atonement by the Church and the people.
We learned that Munich was heavily heavy bombed right throughout the war, and when it came to rebuilding, it was decided to retain the old grid system of streets, which has made it a very open and accessible place to explore.
The Marianplatz is a magnificent square. The New Town Hall or Rathaus was built there in the 19th century during the Gothic revival period, a very princely looking building with a richly decorated and elaborate facade which looks as if it has come from earlier times. Quite a lot of the great homes built about the same time followed the same trend and are designed to look more like palaces. The beautiful Peterskirche and the main markets are nearby.
The Palace of Justice and its large fountain are the main attraction in another grand Square, the Stachus. The royal Residenz Palace near the Old Town is now the Bavarian National Museum and there were lots of other wonderful galleries as well, but we were only able to get a taste of what was on offer culturally. It would have taken a week to do it justice.
We checked out the huge State Parliament building, which encompassed a luxurious shopping area amongst other things, and then strolled down through tree-lined avenues lined with colourful outdoor cafes and beer halls, and spent a little time sampling the local brew in the Hofbrauhaus, the Royal Brewery, which is the most famous of the many beer halls. — Its HB Brand of ale is very popular worldwide.
This left just enough time to fit in a quick trip 50 miles SW into the Bavarian mountains to Oberammagau to see the famous ‘once in every 10 years’ Passion Play. It was being performed daily from May through to October during 1960, – it had been on my list of ‘must-sees’ for some time together with the Eucharistic Congress and the Olympics which were all coming up in 1960 and helped induce me to extend my travels – and that of course meant returning ro England to work to earn the money to pay for it..
It was first performed back in 1634,( 300 years exactly before I was born!) fulfilling a pledge made by the villagers of Oberammagau in exchange for being spared during the bubonic plague and has continued ever since.
It was an extraordinary theatrical undertaking involving the whole village playing a role one way or another in creating it. It There was drama ,choirs and tableaux and other musical accompaniment. Aspects of the Old Testament came into it as well as scene after scene of the story of the passion of Jesus, and the whole presentation took about six hours with one meal break. What a marathon and right on top of the Congress! -both with religious focus and grand spectacle!
The stages were erected out of doors in a meadow on the outskirts of the village with enough seating for about 5000 people. The acoustics were great but the seating was very basic.- it didn’t seem fitting to complain while watching a story telling of so much suffering. There ware colouful locally made costumes and the stage settings were the work of the local carpenters and artists.
Our next destination was Salzburg, which is just inside the Austrian border southeast of Munich. Joe Battaglia, an American of Italian origin who is the head of the CRS office here in Munich lives near Salzburg and has invited us to spend next weekend at his country home after we have had a couple of days getting to know the city.
After that, we will continue exploring where the mood takes us in southern Germany and then gradually make our way down south through Italy in time for the Olympic Games in Rome at the beginning of September.
I am really holding out for news of you all next week. I know it hasn’t been easy for you to catch up with me when I am changing addresses so often and unexpectedly. Please be patient!
- love to you all.
Tubingen. Germany. 19th of August 1960.
Dear Mum, and Dad,
I think my last letter took me to when we arrived in Salzburg and found ourselves to be right in the middle of the famous Salzburg Festival. The city is very crowded, so we had to hunt around for accommodation and were lucky to find a school which had been converted into a hostel.
For the next two days we had a wonderful time exploring the stunningly beautiful city and sampling some of the entertainment.
It has a fairytale setting in a valley alongside a fast flowing river with lots of green copper domes, and spires and a hilltop castle/fortress in the foreground and background of snow-capped mountains.
Almost the whole of the centre of the city could be described as Old Town Baroque, so you feel as if you have stepped right into a fairy-tale past. It was once ruled by a string of Prince Bishops, whose legacy was a city rich in castles and palaces and handsome plazas, rather than monasteries and churches.
And the town has continued to this day to have a reputation for its music, the arts, and great food
One such palace is the Schloss Hellbrun. It is a bright yellow pleasure palace built by one Prince Bishop with a quirky sense of humour who loved water games and playing tricks on his visitors. They could suddenly find themselves sprayed with water from secret jets hidden under the stone benches and tables in the gardens. These are still in working order, to this day!
Another very popular attraction is the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, built in 1606 by another Prince Bishop as a token of his love for a beautiful Jewish woman called Salome Alt, who rewarded him with 15 children!
The formal Baroque gardens are a real delight — lots of box hedging and beautiful flowers, and even a hedge theatre, and a magnificent fountain surrounded by statues representing the four elements.
Today, the palace is used as the mayor’s office, and there is also a beautiful Marble Hall which served over the centuries as a ballroom where the Bishops entertained, and later as a concert hall, where Mozart and his sister performed. Mozart’s presence is felt everywhere. You can visit the house where he was born and see the miniature violin that he played as a child, and also a bigger house where the family moved to as he was growing up.
The festival is mainly a tribute to him. It began in 1920 and is predominantly a classical music Festival.
It runs for five weeks, beginning in late July. Over the years, great operas have been performed in the cathedral square. Richard Strauss directed Mozart’s Don Giovanni there. And many famous singers, Richard Tauber, the Trapp family singers and many others have been drawn to perform there. Apparently lots of tourists come to Salzburg, solely because of the Sound of Music being filmed here.
The conductor Herbert von Karajan has been director here since 1956, presenting mainly the works of Mozart and Strauss; And the grand Festival Hall was opened this year.
Another treat was to take the cable car up to the Hohensalzburg Castle, the 900-year-old fortress up on the hilltop overlooking the city where we could take in the magnificent view from its ramparts.
By Saturday morning, we had had our fill, and we went on to Joe Battaglia’s home as arranged. He is single and lives by himself in a lovely old Bavarian house near the mountains on the outskirts of a little village. We spent Saturday and Sunday there and had a very peaceful and relaxing time and
lots of fun together. He and Peppi hit it off together as soon as they met, even though I had to be the translator! He was a great host and thoughtfully bought in lots of Italian pizzas, etc. to keep us happy, though it was obvious that he wasn’t accustomed to Italian food, and much of it was packaged in America!
We dragged ourselves away from Joe’s on Monday morning, and as you can see from the letterhead, we are now in Germany proper again, in the city of Tubingen, which is about 30 km south of Stuttgart.
An Italian friend of Peppino’s from his student days lives there. He is now a neurosurgeon, married to a German woman, and they have a lovely little one-year-old son. They are a very nice couple and have invited us to stay a little while, which I am really enjoying. It is great to be experiencing a normal home environment for a change.
We were able to meet some of their local friends straight away as they turned on a great party for us the night we arrived. I was very happy to just relax for a few days and the little boy was really enjoying a lot of extra attention.
We also had plenty of time to explore Tübingen. It is a university town with a long history — it already had one of the largest and most important universities during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, and today about half the population are students.
Having next to no industry saved it from being heavily bombed during the war – and so much of the Old Town remains completely intact and beautifully cared for, so it is a delight to go for walks along canals and cobblestone lanes and little alleyways.
In the centre of the town there is a lively Markplatz where festive markets are held in the autumn, and there are plenty of outdoor cafes and beer gardens, and even an outdoor cinema.
There is a fine Rathaus, and a long line of old-fashioned shop buildings, which surround the square. These are attached together, standing about six stories high with sharply pointed roofs and decorated timber facades in a variety of colours, and there are lots of lovely old half-timbered cottages with bright flowering window boxes right throughout the town.
The beautiful Neckar River flows through the town, and it reminded me of Cambridge to see the students and visitors rowing along it on a fine day.
Where the river splits into two streams there is an elongated island, which can be reached by little bridges and stairs at either end. It is lined with beautiful tall plane trees, some up to 200 years old. And it is possible to go up there for concerts and theatre.
The town’s castle is now part of the University of Tübingen. The main basilica is called the Collegiate church. Because it was one of the first churches in the region to be converted to Protestantism by Martin Luther, it held on to some of its more Catholic aspects, including devotion to patron saints.
Yesterday we all had a special day out together. Once again I found myself travelling through the beautiful Black Forest, heading this time along a different route to the city of Strasbourg, which is the capital of the Alsace region in eastern France. It is directly west of Tubingen just across the French/German border. This is another fine city that I hadn’t expected to visit, but I was so glad that we went there.
The main centre of attraction there is the very fine Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral de Strasbourg — I think I said only a week or so ago that I had probably seen the last of them for the time being!
It is claimed to be the best example in Europe of the late Gothic period and that it was the highest building in the world at that time it was built in the Middle Ages!
I find it hard to do them justice when I come to describing these masterpieces, so I will fall back on a couple of experts. Victor Hugo described it as a giant, delicate marvel, and Goethe called it a sublimely towering wide spreading Tree of God! How can you compete with that!
We could see it rising up as we approached from the Black Forest on the western side of the Rhine – and what a sight! It was built from pink sandstone brought from the Vosges Mountains on a site which had already been dedicated some centuries earlier to the Virgin Mary.
I was fascinated to read that the building began in the Romanesque style, and then a building team from Chartres persuaded them to change to Gothic. In spite of major colour difference in the materials used, it certainly reminded me of Chartres Cathedral, especially the Western facade with its hundreds of sculpted figures. Both Strasburg and Cologne Cathedrals were the earliest ones to rely on architectural drawings during construction
Allied bombs also hit this church during the war and the enormous flying buttresses are still being repaired. The magnificent stained-glass windows were saved by storing them, crate by crate, in nearby salt mines.
The soaring interior of the church is beautifully decorated with huge tapestries of the Life of Mary and other fine art and sculptures.
It holds another unique and famous treasure — an enormous astronomy clock, set in very elaborately carved wood, which can calculate and display information including equinoxes and solstices, Easter and the days of the week! It was exciting to gather round with other visitors to watch it strike at 12 noon.
The cathedral stands in the centre of the Old Town and opposite it in the Cathedral Plaza is a famous mediaeval house- the Maison Kammerzell — a perfectly preserved, ornate, black and white timbered framed building, which makes a beautiful contrast with the ochre tones of the cathedral.
There were also lots of these half-timbered houses along the riverfront with the boxes of bright red geraniums in their windowsills.
There would have been so much more to see in this beautiful city, but we had to be satisfied with just a glimpse.
Our friends decided to return home by a different route so that we could visit the spa town of Baden-Baden, a little way north on the eastern side of the Rhine, nestling in the foothills of the Black Forest in the state of Baden Wurttemberg and closer to Switzerland.
Its name was familiar to me from reading romantic books. And what a beautiful place it turned out to be! – apparently it has always attracted the international set – lots of celebrities. Apart from its famous mineral springs and health spas, the main draw card is the Kurhaus, built in 1838, a palatial colonnaded building which houses the splendid Casino, part of which is the Florentmer Saal, known as the Hall of the Thousand Candles because of its rows of sparkling chandeliers. Its baroque decor has much of the opulence of the French palaces and reminded me also of the Paris Opera.
We left its gardens to take a long stroll together along the Lichtenaler Alle, a beautiful riverside Avenue with lots to admire along the way – fountains, sculptures and little bridges and beautifully groomed flower gardens including a fragrant Rose Garden.
At the other end of the promenade amidst shady trees is the Kloster Lichtenthal (Cloister) — once a mediaeval Cistercian abbey with a church attached which houses the tombs of the Margraves, the hereditary military commanders who once held power and protected the area. The pink toned Stiftskirche is quite something as well — a mix of Romanesque, late Gothic with a dab of baroque!
From the old-fashioned cobble stoned Markplatz, we then struggled up vine covered twisting stairs to the Neues Schloss– the New Palace, and looked out over the beautiful city, and the hills of the Black Forest surrounding it. Standing out in silhouette, right on top of the hill are the ruins of the Old Palace built during the mediaeval era.
The city has quite a French feel about it, with its open-air cafes and restaurants which offer a mix of the best French and German cuisine, and of course wonderful cake and pastry shops, as well as rows of classy boutiques. We completed the day at a charming restaurant and finally arrived back home in Tubingen at 2 am. It was such a rich and fun filled experience that it felt like about three days in one!
There hadn’t been much time to consult my trusty guidebook before we left, so I have read up about both these fascinating cities since.
Roman emperors, including Hadrian and others, were attracted to Baden-Baden because of the hot springs. Beautifully preserved Roman vapour baths were discovered below the New Castle in the 1840s. They are known as the Caracalla Therme after the Emperor who came there to cure his arthritis.
The city was rediscovered as a spa town at the beginning of the 19th century, and the Who’s Who of most of Europe have been pouring in ever since — for their health of course.
The influx brightened the town with art nouveau villas and luxurious hotels, and continual upgrading and embellishing of the Casino. Marlene Dietrich called it the most beautiful Casino in the world! Facilities for golf, tennis and horse racing were all provided and classical concerts and other entertainment were held in the Spa Garden.
Napoleon the 3rd. made a great contribution to this development. Other notables visitors mentioned included Queen Victoria, Bismarck, members of the Russian nobility and lots of writers, musicians and artists. The house of Johannes Brahms is still there. Dostoyevsky wrote his novel ” The Gambler” after losing there at roulette — the proceeds of the book helped him to clear his debts!
I am so glad that you are holding on to my letters, and hoping that I’m not boring you with too much detail when I snatch time to write. They will be helpful for me to look back on in the future — otherwise the memories will start running into one another. I have had the good fortune to explore so many interesting places, and learn so much along the way!
We will be leaving here on Monday morning for Zurich, then on through Munich and over the mountains to Italy, aiming to be in Rome by the end of the month.
Still no mail from home – I do hope some news will come before I leave.
I will report in again very soon. Much love to everyone
On the Road again.
Dear Mum and Dad,
We left Tubingen as planned on the 24th, but not before one last outing, this time with another of Peppino’s Italian friends who took us by car to Heidelberg for the day.
I was very happy to return there, and I was more excited seeing it coming into view than I had been the first time.
There is something very romantic, even magical about the whole panorama — the large, partially ruined castle spread along the hillside, overlooking the red roofed town beside the beautiful Neckar River and its old stone
bridge. The Romantics brought it to everyone’s attention in the early 19th century. Turner came to paint it and Goethe waxed lyrical about it, and visitors have been pouring in ever since, especially since The Student Prince was filmed – and that’s when we got to know about it – remember?
It was restored in the 18th century after the French nearly destroyed it, The architecturally diverse buildings seem to blend well together, giving it a tranquil atmosphere, helped by a near-perfect landscape.
We walked up the steep, cobbled path to the Schloss and in to the central courtyard. Half of what must have been a magnificent castle is just an eyrie ruined facade with the woodland behind it visible through rows of vast empty windows, suggesting a violent history. The other half consists of elaborate buildings designed in both Gothic and Renaissance styles.
There is a wonderful castle festival up there each summer, where banquets, balls and a variety of concerts are held in the King’s Hall, much like in Salzburg. A pity we have missed this one!
We took in the views of the Alstadt – the Old Town – and the valley to the north from the Terrace, and strolled along a well-worn pathway along the mountainside called the Philosophers Walk. Above that there are the remains of St Michael’s monastery and higher still, the ruins of a fourth century Celtic fort.
In the centre of town, the high street with its row of pinkish-red and white trimmed houses and shops lead down to the Marktplatz. In the middle is a fountain with a huge statue of Hercules and another of a Madonna – all in gold. There is a fine Town Hall and nearby the beautiful Gothic Church of the Holy Spirit with its bell tower, begun in the 5th century. Catholics and Protestants shared it up until 1936.
The Palatinate Museum was very interesting. It mainly covers the Roman period, and it also contains a replica of Heidelberg Man — his jawbone was found here in 1907.
Apart from its scenic beauty, Heidelberg is a student town and has always been renowned for its university – the oldest in Germany. All three of us were interested to explore the campus, which is spread throughout a number of buildings in the baroque Old Town along the river. We explored the fine University Hall and massive library with its thousands of books and manuscripts covering many centuries.
I was interested in the Pharmacy Museum, established in 1700s, which covers the whole history of western pharmacology. Up on the hillside we even came across a Studentenkarzer –an old student prison – which was used up to 1914 to keep unruly behaviour in check.
The students could be detained for one or two days on bread and water – apparently they regarded it as a sign of manhood to have at least one conviction!
After a wonderfully full day in very good company, it was finally time to share a delicious meal by the river, take an evening stroll across the lovely old stone bridge, salute its statue of Prince Karl Theodore — said to have fathered 2000 kids – and then head back to Tubingen.
We have spent a memorable week there, which concluded with a great farewell party on Sunday night.
Somehow, I have seen much more of southern Germany than I expected to, mainly through connections to friends, and in nearly every case, I have realised that the lovely Neckar River was there as part of the backdrop.
First it was at Easter ‘59 with the Votteler family in Stuttgart and again recently when they took me to the Black Forest which is where the Neckar river begins, and then when I visited Pat Smithhurst, my friend from Uni. days, and travelled with her friend the professor to Heidelberg and down along the river to Mannheim, where its waters flow into the Rhine, and then on to Holland and the North Sea.
Finally, through the connection with Peppino’s friends in Tubingen, the river was there to welcome me again, and also at beautiful Baden-Baden.
Our hosts have made me feel very much at home here. There was time to relax in their lovely garden, read and write a little and play with their son, as well as sharing some great sight-seeing.
Before setting out we calculated there would be time to fit in a brief stop-over at Zürich on the way south. It would be the first time that I have set foot in Switzerland. Sadly, I always seem to travel through it by train at night-time.
The city is a major travel centre from where you can get directly to just about anywhere in Europe by road, train or plane. It is the largest town in north central Switzerland; it is a very vibrant, bustling metropolis, built at the tip of Lake Zürich.
When we arrived we found that fortunately most of the sites we would like to explore were between the main rail station and Lake , not much distance away. The picturesque Old Town is spread along both sides of the Limmat River, which flows from the lake.
The old Imperial Palace is on Lindenhoff Hill, which was its historical centre. From Zürichberg Hill, there is a spectacular view across the city and river to the wooded hills beyond, and only about 20 miles away, the magnificent snowcapped Alpine mountains spread out along the skyline.
The city elders have been very farsighted, and have restricted the height of all the modern buildings to protect the views. This is remarkable when you consider that Zürich has become a very wealthy international centre of high finance and industry. It began with the great Guild Houses in Munsterhof Square and progressed to the founding of the very impressive Swiss Borse – the first ever stock exchange – in 1873, and this is where floor-trading had its beginning,
The only towering buildings in view are the splendid 13th century Fraumunfter Church on the lake, with its double spires and with its lovely Rose window still intact, and also St. Peterskirche from the same era, which has an enormous clock – 30 feet in diameter – on its tower. The Swiss certainly love their clocks.
The city has a very fine Opera House built in an ornate, neoclassic style. There is a suitably imposing Rathaus, and not far away is The Kunsthaus Gallery, which has a wonderfully rich collection of paintings and other art works, but unfortunately our visit was too brief to do it justice. The same applied to the great range of museums in the area. There was one devoted to all aspects of time- keeping through the ages; another with everything you might want to know about the making of Swiss chocolate; another about the secrets of their delicious coffee.
We did make time for some luxury window-shopping along the very elegant Bahnhofstrasse and were able to see why the Swiss have such a reputation for watches and jewellery, furs and designer clothing and accessories. It is a very wealthy city with a high standard of living and they say the public transport is the best, though I understand that it is also very expensive to live there.
Its history can be traced back to settlements 6000 years ago. The area was part of the Celtic lands before the Romans founded a city there, which grew and thrived during mediaeval times; much later, in the 16th century it was the centre of Protestant reform in Switzerland.
Politically, Switzerland seems to have been able to remain neutral in the midst of the world wars that have been so destructive to all the surrounding countries in Europe this century.
The country is made up of a mix of three national groups, mainly German, and partially French and Italian, and most Swiss speak at least two languages, which explains to me why there were quite a lot of Swiss students at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, some studying to improve their skills for the job market in their own country.
From Zürich, we set off by train again, travelling southeast with a brief stopover at Munich, then through the Brenner Pass over the mighty Alps and on to Trieste in Northern Italy.
Don Alfredo was able to fit us in for a brief visit. I was so pleased to see him again and hear a little more of the migration assistance they were doing there, and Peppino and he certainly enjoyed meeting each other, exchanging lots of typical Italian banter.
We then headed for Venice to spend a couple of days there – it was not far away, a short train trip – and after that , it was time to head south down to Rome in time for the Olympic Games.
We arrived in Venice towards sunset — I was so excited to be there — first impressions were even better than I had imagined.
My first trip down the Grand Canal counts as one of the highlights of my travels! I have no trouble understanding why it is one of the most visited cities in Europe!
The Grand Canal connects the two main islands and is full of water traffic. — Graceful gondolas carrying sightseeing tourists; other boats ferrying all sorts of merchandise, and
then there are all the water buses –vaporettos- pulling in to a wharf every couple of minutes while the crowds tumble off and on, especially at peak hour. It amazes me that no one ever seems to land in the water.
The Canal has always been the city’s main thoroughfare, following the course of an ancient river, curving like a giant snake through the heart of Venice, beginning in the west where people arrive by train, and finally flowing into St Marks basin and on into the Adriatic Sea.
Halfway along the canal is the beautiful Rialto Bridge. It’s a very busy area, and we spent some time there wandering through the food markets, where fresh produce of every kind is brought in daily, and the huge fish markets which they told us have been held there as far back as 700 years were just nearby.
The graceful boomerang shaped bridge is an amazing structure. It was built at the end of the 16th century, and in spite of appearing quite light and graceful, it has been able to carry the weight of two arcades of shops and all of the human traffic that that attracts!
It was fun to watch the water traffic from up there and see how the skilled gondoliers in their navy and white striped shirts, dark trousers and straw hats manage to safely manoeuvre their boats.
At the entrance, stands a massive baroque domed church –Santa Maria della Salute — which was built to give thanks for the ending of the plague in 1630,
All the way along, the wealthy merchants who became the old Venetian aristocracy built magnificent palaces; many of them are now converted to first-class hotels.
Everyone heads towards where the Canal widens to see the spectacular Piazza San Marco. it is a huge space surrounded by magnificent buildings dominated by the Doges Palace and the Basilica San Marco and its 100-foot high bellower.
There are lovely arcades all the way around it with beautiful boutiques, lots of elegant cafes and open-air orchestras and other entertainers.
The whole area is always bustling with people having a happy time sauntering around, sipping drinks, chatting and listening to music or feeding the pigeons!
The Basilica is an awe-inspiring sight. It is capped by five huge domes and golden statues of St Mark and the angels overseeing the main entrance.
The facade is covered with grand mosaics and carvings, and the vast interior houses altars and aisles and chapels which are even more opulent. It combines both Byzantine and Western influences. Apparently lots of the treasures it holds are bounty from the Orient!
The Doges Palace is equally impressive –yet another Gothic masterpiece but with a difference. It is a huge square Palace built of pink marble, with arcades wrapped around the base decorated with graceful columns. The Winged Lion of St Mark stands above the main entrance which then leads up the beautiful stairway with a golden ceiling, to vast gilded staterooms. It was the seat of power of the Venetian Republic for more than six centuries.
Right through the middle ages and the Renaissance it became an immensely wealthy maritime empire, trading with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world in grains and spices and silks, and later in magnificent artworks of all kinds.
By the end of the 13th century, it was the most prosperous city in Europe, with a fleet of 3000 ships and a huge navy. Lots of pilgrims and the Crusaders set out from there for the Holy Land.
After being dazzled by so much grandeur it was almost a relief to set out and explore the quieter area of Cannaregio, north across the Grand Canal, where about a third of the local people live.
Here there are lots of tiny canals and narrow streets — never big enough for cars so no traffic, always by foot or by boat. We frequently had to ask the way — it is just a labyrinth of alleyways and bridges with little shops of all kinds, grocery shops, small bars, and artisans’ workshops.
The houses, several stories high, are packed together displaying little garden boxes at their shuttered windows, and often there is laundry
flapping in the wind on clothes lines on pulleys stretched from one house to another across the narrow canals — and there are cats, thousands of cats!
Every now and then, we would come out into a small piazza and there would be yet another church. -Such a variety of beautiful churches, many of them dedicated to our Lady.
There were two that I particularly liked.
One was called Madonna dell’ Orto (orto means vegetable garden) so-called because of a legend about a statue of Mary in the nearby
orto where many miracles had occurred. The church was built in 1400 with delicate yellowish brickwork in simple embellished patterns, and tasteful white marble statues along the facade.At the top was a delightful statue of St Christopher whose job was to protect the boatmen.
The other church which specially took my fancy was Santa Maria dei Miracoli, an exquisite Renaissance masterpiece clad on all four sides with a rich variety of coloured marble panels which was reflected in the waters of the Canal below, and the delicately carved statues along the facade.
The interior was quite breath-taking – very spacious and airy, its walls decorated with fine paintings of the Madonna.
There was a statue of St Christopher on top of the dome – his task was to keep the fishermen
The next morning we had a swim at the Lido, Venice’s famous beach that stretches along an eight-mile natural strip of land in the lagoon, which separates the city from the sea.
The casino and the Venice film Festival are in that area and all the film celebrities flock there.
However we soon discovered that the beach is divided up into sections where the entry price to bathe depends on where you want to be seen swimming, so, needless to say, we were up one end and the big nobs were at the other.
When we returned to the Piazza san Marco, we sat and had our last coffee and watched the world go by for a little while, then walked through the Piazzetta to the quayside, and along the beautiful curving promenade overlooking the lagoon.
From there we had a perfect view of the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the great basilica and monastery of the same name.
It was designed by a great architect, Andrea Palladio in the 16th century. It is a beautifully proportioned building with a temple- like front, a beautifully curved dome, and a tower soaring to the sky.
It is one of Venice’s best recognised sites, and today the whole complex is in constant use as an important cultural centre.
This last look-around was a fitting conclusion to our visit. It had been a wonderful experience and I was really sorry not to be able to stay longer, but we were holding tickets to see the athletics programme at the Olympics on the first of September, having already missed out on the swimming, so it was high time to head south for Rome.
Our last stopover is just a brief one here at Perugia to catch up with Ivonne who is going back to Holland tomorrow after completing her Diploma in Italian at the Universita per Stranieri (ie. Foreigners.)
We were both very happy to see her again and I’m glad that she was able to use my tickets for the swimming at the Olympic games. Maybe this will be the last time I see my beloved Perugia again as well. All up, I have lived here happily and productively off and on for at least eight months studying and playing..
I will finish this letter now and you will hear from me from Rome. At least this is one town where I know exactly where to find the post office! And I am so looking forward to some news of you all.
Lots of love to all the family