Alpine Adventure- part V
Tuesday, July 19, 2016- Muenchen & Oberammergau
We were up and rolling by 8:30 A.M. A local guide, named Elizabeth, had joined us for a tour of Muenchen. The name Muenchen stems from a Latin term meaning home of the Monks, referring to a community of Monks who had lived here on the Isar in the 700’s. The city had prospered by charging the salt merchants a tax to use the bridge across the Isar. Corporate giants like Siemens Electric and BMW now drive the area’s economy. The Two BMW towers looked like large circular batteries.
Bicycles seemed to come at us from every direction. 135,000 students attend the various Universities in Munich. They flood the cafes and parks at every chance. The guide said many of the idlers were “chicie mickies,” a derogatory term for wealthy kids with not much else to do. The name is based on the name for chicklets gum and the local term for Muencheners. (mickies)
A brief stop at Nymphenburg, the Summer Palace of the ruling Von Willesback family, was interesting. A five-story central palace, of French Colonial design, was supported by two story symmetrical wings of servant quarters and storage bins. Several small, two-story chalets occupied the front park grounds around the duck ponds for guest’s. The whole layout reminded me of Churchill Downs in Kentucky, only much bigger! We walked about, admired the formal gardens in the rear. Beyond this had been a hunting grounds for Royal amusement. The Saudi couple took a carriage ride through the attractive grounds.
From Nymphenburg, we passed a large parkland with “rubble hills.” These are good-sized rubble fields from the WW II bombings. Munich had covered them with soil and grass and they became sledding hills in the winter. How is that for making lemonade out of lemons?
Leopold Strasser is the main shopping street in town. All of the name brand stores and better hotels dwelt here beneath a street lined with Lindens. Far down the street, we could see the Victory Arch erected to commemorate a win over Napoleon. The guide also told us that Napoleon’s ruinous march to Moscow, had been accompanied by 33,000 Bavarian recruits. Only 3,000 of them returned from that disastrous march in winter.
We got off the bus at Marienplaz, the central square of Munich, and followed the guide to the city's center. Throngs of tourists were already standing there looking up at the ornate bell tower of the Old City Hall. At 11:00 A.M. figures started emerging from the bell tower high above us. It was a reenactment of the marriage of Ludwig and Teresa, Heraldic dancers, two knights jousting and other colorful figures paraded by the admiring throng to the accompaniment of a glockenspiel bell Carillion.
After the performance, the crowds emptied out like the parting of the red sea. We walked over and through the nearby Victualer’s Mkt. It was crammed to the rafters with luncher’s, shoppers and tourist like us. We ate huge pretzels and drank icy bottled water in the 86-degree heat. Others had steins of beer and munched ion the famous local sausages. It was a country fair every day here.
We walked over to Maximillian Square, in front of the old opera house. It was of Greco Roman design and attractive. I would love to see Wagner’s Ring Trilogy performed here. Faithful and able Tibor navigated our bus amidst the many bicycles and traffic jams, out into the rings roads headed South and West towards the Bernese Alps. The police cars with sirens seemed to be everywhere. We wondered what was up. Later on the autobahn we passed through a police check point. Every van was pulled over for inspection. The boys were looking for somebody. Two days later, a maniac unleashed a hail of gunfire outside of a McDonald’s in central Munich, killing eight and wounding many.
The autobahn into the Bavarian Alp is pastoral in scenery. Large blocks of conifers, lindens and birch trees lined the highways as we ascended into the hills towards the town of Garnisch, passing through the Ammer valley. (Oberammergau means upper valley of the Ammer.)
Our first stop was Linderhof, one of the ornate castles of mad King Ludwig II. The grounds are magnificent parkland, with a large central fountain that erupts regularly with water pressure from the alpine run off. Formal gardens here, with a roman visage, look more Tuscan than Alpine. They were magnificent in the afternoon sun. The four story Palace or mansion was Italianate in design, with ornate cornices and statues everywhere. It was faced in Carrara marble and gleamed in the afternoon sun. Out tour led us through the febrile creation of a gentle madman who spent a fortune to recreated a Versailles like interior, with sculpted borders, draped walls and as much gilt as the eye could stand. Family portraits smiled out at us from an age where Royalty did whatever they pleased. This was but one of crazy Ludwig’s palaces, the most famous of which if the Disney-like Castle of Neuschwanstein. Ludwig and his doctor were found floating in a pond there. Wags whispered that the family and subjects had had enough of his excesses and finally helped him enter into the ultimate fantasyland.
Nearby, we entered the storied village of Oberammergau. I had heard of the famous passion plays all of my life. They are reenacted here every ten years, in a large community theater. The practice stemmed from a vow that villagers made while the bubonic plague raged through the region. The people vowed that if the Lord would spare the vaillage any more deaths, they would carry out productions of the passion of Christ every ten years, forever. Curiously, the deaths had ended after that. The village production got bigger and bigger. Now most of the village participates in the drama. Several productions a day are offered for up to 100 days in every ten-year cycle. It is a matter of local distinction to perform in the various plays and everyone takes part. The theater seats 4,700 and is sro for every performance.
We walked through the now placid village enjoying the spectre of Alpine A-frames and Bavarian culture. We had a pretty good ice cream cone at a place named “Paradisio,” before boarding the bus for the run back to Muenchen. It had been a pleasant visit to a storied venue.
It was a 90-minute run back to Munich and we ran into the inevitable “Stau” which slowed us down further. It was nearing 7:00 P.M as we rolled into central Munich. The banks of the Isar river were mobbed with sunbathers and revelers for a several mile stretch. This is where the young recreate on a hot summer’s day.
A quick change of clothes, and a decent buffet at the hotel, were pleasant. We sat with two Aussie women and a couple from Chicago and exchanged our thoughts on what we had seen today. It was a pleasant ritual to wrap up the day. We also had to pack up or gear and get ready for an early start in the morning.
I wrote up my notes, enjoyed a glass of German Merlot and drifted off to sleep, thinking of castles and Bavarian legends in the deep woods.
Joseph Xavier Martin