FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Up to the Eagle’s Nest

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 29, 2016

A new day saw us boarding the number 840 bus for Berchtesgaden once again, connecting with the 838 bus to Obersalzberg. The destination for today was the kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s mountaintop tea house, better known by its english name of the Eagle’s Nest. The tea house was constructed in 1938 as a present for Hitler’s fiftieth birthday, though he rarely visited the place on account of his fear of heights!

The Eagle's Nest

The Eagle’s Nest

This unusual attraction sits atop the Kehlstein mountain at 1834m above sea level and draws up to 3,800 visitors every day during the summer months. The building is now a restaurant with little in the way of original features, though a red carrara marble fireplace gifted by Mussolini can still be seen in the original reception room (though visitors are discouraged from entering as this space is reserved for diners). As you might expect, the views are stunning and well worth the rigmarole to get to the top.

A trip up the mountain is as much of an experience as the summit, showcasing the remarkable feat of engineering that saw the 6.5km Kehlsteinstraße constructed in difficult and often perilous conditions. The 3,000 strong workforce completed the road in just 13 months at a cost of 30 million Reichmarks, sometimes carving the road terrace out of the mountain a metre at a time. The photographs in the guide books of the construction really make you appreciate how difficult the whole exercise was.

From the Eagle’s Nest Bus Station (Abfahrtsstelle Kehlsteinbus) the winding 6.8km road up the southern face of the Kehlstein to the parking place (Kehlsteinparkplatz) takes passengers up 770m in altitude. Along the way there are some marvellous views of the mountains and only one, somewhat terrifying, hairpin. The four metre wide road is pretty steep with a 24-percent slope at points and passes through five tunnels with a combined length of 277m.

RVO buses descending the mountain, as seen from the hairpin

RVO buses descending the mountain, as seen from the hairpin at Schützenköpfl (1556m)

It was quite interesting to see how well organized the buses up the mountain are. The buses operated by the Regionalverkehr Oberbayern (RVO) are the only vehicles allowed on the road and they operate a carefully timed one-way system for traffic up and down the mountain. Buses depart from the bus station in convoy every 25 minutes and pass the downward traffic queuing up at a lay-by mid-route.

The RVO says there are twelve buses in use on this route – all with specially adapted brakes and engines – and we must have hit the morning peak with six buses up the mountain on our convoy (the 10.10 departure). Although the route is a little terrifying we were well aware of the safety measures in place along the route and the careful rock-cleaning that takes place each winter/spring to remove loose stones. It is reassuring to note that no accidents have occurred on the road since it was first opened to the public in 1952.

At the other end of the route the buses emptied one by one with all passengers immediately directed to a counter to have tickets stamped with a return time. We were lucky enough to be in the first bus, quickly got our tickets stamped and headed on our way to the summit. The grand entrance with its double set of thick metal doors is as impressive today as it must have been when it was built in 1938, although it is lacking the two bronze lion handles which once adorned them (one was given to Eisenhower and the other is in the hands of a private collector).

The 126m long tunnel into the mountain

The 126m long tunnel into the mountain

Stepping through the doorway takes you into a 126m long marble-lined tunnel into the mountain which ends at an impressive domed hall lined in Ruhpolding marble. It is here that you enter Hitler’s luxurious polished brass lift capsule, inset with mirrors, for the 131m ascent to the top. We had a few moments to appreciate the design before finding ourselves back in the fresh air again.

At the top we took a leisurely wander around for the views to be found in every direction, with a particularly splendid vista of the Berchtesgadener Alps illuminated by the sun. It is possible to be more adventurous and follow a trail from the summit but only a handful seemed to have chosen that option on this occasion.

A view of the Untersberg from the Eagle's Nest

A view of the Untersberg from the Eagle’s Nest

After heading back down the mountain by bus we made a visit to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre to put our visit into context, recording the innumerable horrors of the regime. I hadn’t really known anything about the Obersalzberg before our visit, so I had not appreciated that not only was Hitler resident at the Berghof but that a whole Nazi community had developed here. This saw existing families evicted from their properties and new residences built for prominent Nazis such as such as Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann and Albert Speer in their place.

The Obersalzberg Documentation Centre also connects into one of the underground bunker systems that sat beneath the surface level buildings of the regime. A walk into the remains of the Platterhof and Guesthouse Bunker gives a small insight into the structure of the complex and defence system created to govern the Reich whilst war raged above.

The inside shaft which connects the Guesthouse and Platterhof bunkers with the lower levels of the bunker system.

The inside shaft which connects the Guesthouse and Platterhof bunkers with the lower levels of the bunker system.

In short, the displays at the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre present a necessary and chilling counter balance to the relatively peaceful experience of a trip up to the Eagle’s Nest. A visit inevitably presents an awful lot of darkness, but it’s also a powerful reminder of the discomfiting ease with which political movements like this have been able to find an audience amongst the disaffected. We can never be too complacent. This history must never be repeated.

Practicalities

A map at the bus stop shows the location of the Eagle’s Nest Bus Station (Abfahrtsstelle Kehlsteinbus) and the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre in relation to the public bus stop. The bus timetable (Fahrplan Kehlsteinlinie) for the next leg is available from the RVO bus website.

When you buy a ticket (currently 16.10 euros for an adult) you are given a specific departure time and bus number, with everyone allocated a seat in the bus. If you want to get a view out to the mountains you are best sitting on the right hand side for the journey up (though as I discovered, this can be pretty scary and had to shut my eyes at the hairpin!) but it can be as interesting on the other side of the bus for the views of the mountain road and tunnels.

The buses take 15 minutes to get to the Kehlsteinhaus parking place. On arrival you are directed straight into a queue to fix a return time of your choosing before heading to the lift up to the very top. The general recommendation is to allow two hours, or longer if you plan to eat up top, but we opted for an hour and forty five minutes at the summit which proved pretty much perfect for a short wander (though we did get straight into a lift up). Many travel up top by lift but then take the relatively easy walk back down to the parking place (around 20 minutes) to catch a bus back.

Queuing to fix a return time

Queuing to fix a return time

Our visit to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre lasted a couple of hours. Most of the information is in German but there are leaflets through the galleries with english translations of the key panels, though this is only a fraction of the text on display. The upper space provides models and photographs that place the buildings of the Obersalzberg into context and should be a part of your visit. Admission cost 3 euros per adult.

We started our day with the 8.15am bus to Berchtesgaden and returned on the 3.15pm bus to Salzburg. The combination of the trip to the Eagle’s Nest with the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre felt like enough visual and intellectual stimulation for one day, though we were well aware that there is more on offer should we have felt like it (such as the bunker system under the Hotel zum Türken).

If you are thinking of making a visit it is well worth checking out the unofficial Das Kehlsteinhaus website which provides a terrific account of the history of the house and the remarkable road leading up to it.

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The Almbach Gorge

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 28, 2016

The Almbach Gorge (Almbachklamm) is not the most obvious of attractions around Berchtesgaden, but it was the perfect complement to our morning at the Konigsee. Where the lake presented us with a vista of immense scale the gorge gave us an intimate walk alongside the rushing waters of the Almbach with hardly a soul around.

One of the 29 bridges in the Almbach Gorge

One of the 29 bridges in the Almbach Gorge

We started out at the Kugelmühle (marble mill), paid up three euros each for entry (at a small hut at the beginning of the trail) and began our trek. The trail presents a succession of watery delights that prompts many an oooh or ahhh as it twists and turns, rather than a single standout feature.

The full 2.8km distance of the trail takes you along a path that hugs the rock walls, up 320 steps, over 29 bridges and through one tunnel. The original route was constructed in four weeks by 250 soldiers of the 1. Ingolstädter Pionierbatallions in 1894 (look out for the marble tablet at the tunnel entrance commemorating their achievement) though the dam itself is a good 60 years older.

If you take the trail all the way you will find yourself at the Theresienklause dam (named after Therese of Bavaria, the wife of King Ludwig I) but we cut the route a little short, turning round after reaching the Sulzer waterfall.

The recent rainfall probably helped to make the gorge even more spetacular than ever, though it also guaranteed us a soaking – one corner of the path had turned into an open air shower that was only passable if you accepted a drenching! Having passed through this once, we remembered that we would have to pass back through on our way back…

A shower was unavoidable if you wanted to cross the bridge!

A shower was unavoidable if you wanted to cross the bridge!

At the outset I thought it would be a pleasant walk but probably nothing more than that, deliberating long and hard over its inclusion in our itinerary. Instead, I was completely taken back by how delightful and enjoyable an experience it was and am rather surprised to say that it was the highlight of our day.

Practicalities

We took the 840 (Berchtesgaden-Salzburg) bus to reach the gorge and there are two bus stops within easy reach of the start of the trail. We got off at Almbachklamm on our way to the gorge and this takes you on a signed route past the Gasthaus Almbachklamm, through a field and then alongside a river (The Berchtesgadener Ache) to the marble mill (Kugelmühle). On our return we walked from the mill down Kugelmühlweg to the second bus stop (Kugelmühle Marktschellenberg) and this is clearly a little closer.

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Sound the flugelhorn

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 28, 2016

One of the most alluring spots in Germany is to be found at the Königssee in the Berchtesgaden National Park, close to the Austrian border. The lake is surrounded by mountain ranges and you could be forgiven for thinking that a fjord has accidentally got stranded in the Bavarian Alps.

It is not exactly a secret, as over 2 million visitors make their way here each year and the lake was ranked the 12th most popular attraction in Germany for 2015 by the German National Tourist Board. However, the Bayerische Seen-Schiffahrt are well prepared for this with a fleet of 17 electric boats to ply the lake on the run between Schönau, Kessel, St. Bartholomä and Salet.

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

The waters of the Königssee are beautifully clear and this is one of the unintentional legacies of Prince Regent Luitpold whose concerns led to the introduction of environmentally friendly electric boats out of a fear that noisy ships would scare away his prey on hunting trips in the lakeside forests. The first electric boats were introduced in 1909 to connect up with the sadly long vanished branch line from Berchtesgaden.

Today’s boats date back to 1958 and are beautifully maintained in the company’s own shipyard, though the engines are modern replicas of the originals. Each boat travels about 120km a day, working the 7.7km length of the lake at an average speed of 12km per hour. The boats take 93 passengers each and they certainly need that capacity as the crowds were immense in the middle of the day.

The advice we were given before starting our day trip was to get to Schönau am Königssee as early as possible as long queues can build up for tickets and to board the boats. An early start got us to the lakeside, tickets in hand, ready to take up the last few seats on the first ferry of the day at 8am. After this ferries run every 15 to 30 minutes, subject to passenger demand.

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

Our passage across the lake was incredibly smooth, starting with a terrific view of the sheer cliffs of the Falkensteiner Wand. A small red cross at the bottom of the cliffs here stands as a memorial to a boat of pilgrims which sank here during a thunderstorm in 1688 with the loss of 70 lives.

A little farther out the captain cut the motor and clambered along the outside of the boat to the mid-ship doorway. To our astonishment the captain lifted up the steps, pulled out a flugelhorn (a trumpet) and proceeded to play a tune (badly) pausing every now and again so that we could hear how the sound echoed across the lake, effectively playing the tune back to us.

As the boat made good progress across the lake we could see the view open out to give us the iconic sight of the 17th century chapel of St. Bartholomä with the Steinernes Meer (stony ocean) mountain range beyond. We made short stops at Kessel, a jumping off point for hikers, and St. Bartholomä before reaching Salet, the stop at the far end of the lake.

We disembarked at Salet and took the short walk to a viewpoint across a second lake, the Obersee. Feeling like a bit of exercise we followed the pathway (and a a slightly slippery set of rock steps) around the edge of the Obersee to a viewpoint at the other end. The reward was a terrific view across Fischunkel pasture and the lake with Mount Watzmann in the background (the third highest mountain in Germany, reaching 2,713m at its peak).

A view across the Obersee

A view across the Obersee

It is possible to walk up to the Röthbachfall, the highest waterfall in Germany, from this point but we opted to make our way back to the dock at Salet. Boats were now queuing to dock at Salet and whilst they were all pretty packed on arrival they were mostly empty on departure (our boat only carried seven passengers).

The Königssee was much busier than when we set off on our outbound journey with a line of boats stretched across the length of the lake. When we reached Schönau we could see that they were now loading boats three at a time and yet there were still large queues. The whole place was absolutely heaving with visitors!

A visit to the Königssee was high on my list for a while and I enjoyed the half-day excursion tremendously, but even with the warnings I really hadn’t appreciated how busy this place would be on a mid-week morning in late June. Don’t let me put you off though, the natural splendours of the lake are well worth the trouble.

Practicalities.

We opted for a mid-week day trip as this gave us the opportunity to take an earlier bus to Berchtesgaden (the first 840 ‘Watzmann-Express’ bus departs from Salzburg Hbf at 6.35am on weekdays compared to 9.15am at the weekend). The bus leaves from Stop G on Karl-Wurmb-Straße, rather than from the cluster of stops directly outside the station. A Tagesticket der RVO for two people cost us 19.60 euros and covered all our bus journeys for the day.

The early morning 840 reached Berchtesgaden at 7.24am, giving us an 11 minute wait for the departure of the number 841 bus to Schönau am Königssee. The second bus ride was relatively short at just 17 minutes. A short stroll along Seestraße (lined with cafes, ice cream parlours and souvenir shops) brings you to a ferry ticket booth by the lakeside (only one counter was open when we arrived but there are three counters in use at busy times). Lengthy queues start to form from 9.30am on summer mornings, but we only faced a short queue arriving just before 8am.

There are a couple of possibilities for buying food/drink at the far end of the lake – a self-service restaurant at Salet (Alpengaststätte Saletalm) and a servery at the Fischunkel pasture which offers a modest selection of savoury options (such as bread with cheese or ham), beer and radler. We had brought lunch with us so can’t offer any opinion on either establishment!

You can make a trip to the Königssee as leisurely as you like within the contraints of the ferry timetable and there are plenty of options for hikes (from Salet to the Röthbach waterfall, from St. Bartholomä to the ice chapel at the foot of the Watzmann and from Kessel into the mountains). We opted to spend just half a day at the Königssee, combining it with a trip to the Almbach Gorge just outside Berchtesgaden (on the route of the 840 bus towards Salzburg). More about that in the next post!

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Inside Bavaria

Posted in Germany, Munich by folkestonejack on June 6, 2015

The trip was all but over and we had barely seen anything of Munich itself, apart from a trip to the Residenz and Nymphenburg Palace on the day we arrived. To rectify this glaring gap we made an early start on our last day and set off on a wander. Appropriately enough, our first stop was Bavaria, or rather the embodiment of Bavaria in bronze that was unveiled in 1850. It is a huge sculpture and remarkably advanced for its time.

Bavaria

Bavaria

You can climb up the inside of the sculpture and peer out of a few openings in an incredibly tight chamber, reached by the most awkward staircase that I have come across. I was the only one inside at the time of our early morning visit so no-one could witness the indignity of my attempts to clamber and crawl into this space!

It was rather strange being inside the head, a bit like seeing everything from the inside of a jelly mould. The seats at the top have been rather wonderfully designed to look like they are cushioned, though they too are made from bronze. Thankfully the temperatures were not as high as yesterday but it still felt like an oven inside there – what on earth must it be like in the midday sun!?

Our morning then took us on a trail of stunning churches, including St Pauls, the Burgersaal, St Michaels, the Frauenkirche, the Asamkirche and the Ludwig kirche – all stunning in their own ways. From our last stop we took a combination of metro and S-Bahn to get back to the airport for our late afternoon flight home. An hour’s delay to our flight provided a welcome opportunity for one last radler to toast Bavarian hospitality.

The stunning interior of Kloster Ettal

The stunning interior of Kloster Ettal

I have thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Bavaria and alongside the spectacle of the palaces it has been a pleasure to be delighted by unexpected exhibits (such as the golden model of Trajan’s column in the Residenz Treasury), seduced by the natural beauty of the countryside and wowed by surprising interiors (such as the dome at the Kloster Ettal).
Occasionally it is nice not to have done your homework and find your breath taken away when you least expected it.

It’s astonishing how many wonderful sights are packed into Bavaria and it is no wonder that we barely dented the list of places we wanted to see. I expect we will be back before long!

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The Ludwig II trail

Posted in Füssen, Feldafing, Germany, Munich, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 6, 2015

We hadn’t intended to turn our trip into a Ludwig II pilgrimage, but soon found ourselves gripped by his unusual story and spectacular vision. So, with this in mind, I thought I would wrap up our trip report with a quick run through of our self-guided Ludwig II tour for any souls contemplating a similar endeavour.

Our tour could have been pretty expensive if it wasn’t for the 14 day passes from the Bavarian Department for State Palaces. A pass for two adults came to 44 euros, which compares incredibly favourably to the 127 euro bill we would have faced by paying for all our tickets individually. Children under the age of 18 are also included on this ticket at no extra charge.

Nyphenburg Palace
Ludwig was born on 25 August 1845 at Nymphenburg Palace, in the suburbs of Munich. The palace is easily reached by tram (Straßenbahn 17) and can be toured on a self-guided basis. The Queen’s Bedroom, where Ludwig entered the world, is one of the rooms open to visitors. The palace, park and park buildings are all delightful but the star attraction has to be the Marstall Museum’s collection of royal carriages.

Detail from one of Ludwig Ii's carriages in the Marstall Museum

Detail from one of Ludwig II’s carriages in the Marstall Museum

The Marstall Museum gave us our first glimpse into the world of Ludwig II with some of the most extravagant and ornate carriages and sleighs that can ever have existed. If they still have this effect on us today, how much more astonishing they must have seemed to Ludwig’s subjects in their time – especially with Ludwig’s preference for moonlit excursions!

Hohenschwangau
Ludwig’s childhood summer home was a real surprise to me, as I expected something quite plain and found an altogether more elaborate castle. Maximillian II clearly had a strong artistic vision like his son. It is striking that the two palaces are just a short distance from each other. The castle can be visited on a hectic day trip from Munich or taken at a more leisurely pace with a stay in Füssen. I have written posts about our visit to Hohenschwangau and the pleasures of Füssen covering the practicalities in more detail.

Munich Residenz
The Residenz is a marvellous complex to visit, but the apartment that King Ludwig had fitted out for himself between 1867 and 1869 (in the style of Louis XIV) was destroyed during World War II. Thankfully, many of the moveable items of furniture and decoration were spared and can now be seen in three rooms of the museum at Herrenchiemsee.

Ludwig’s other major construction here, the winter garden, has also long gone. The garden was a 70 metre long glass hall constructed on the roof of the palace, abutting Ludwig’s apartment. It was no ordinary conservatory, presenting a fantastical Indian landscape, complete with a Moorish Kiosk, a lake and a large illustionistic backdrop to extend the setting way beyond the space available. It was dismantled in 1897 but we can still get a good idea of its appearance from surviving photographs and a gondola preserved at the museum at Herrenchiemsee.

Roseninsel
The secluded summer house, known as the ‘Casino’, on Roseninsel (Rose Island) was the only finished building from Maximillian II’s Feldafing Palace project. It doesn’t have the wow factor of the palaces, but it is easy to see why Ludwig II enjoyed this retreat. It’s a little off the well-trodden tourist path in Bavaria but worth a diversion if you have a spare day. I have written posts about our visit to the island with some practical tips.

Linderhof
The modestly sized mansion at Linderhof, tucked away in the shadow of the Ammer mountains, was the only palace that Ludwig II lived to see completed. The palace was built and developed in stages between 1869 and 1885, growing out of the forester’s house constructed by his father Maximilian II. It must have presented a fascinating mix of styles in the early stages, blending the simplicity of an alpine house with splendour worthy of Versailles. All of this changed in 1874 when the alpine styled Royal Lodge was moved and the palace assumed the form that we see today.

The Royal Lodge can still be visited for a small additional charge (free to holders of passes from the Bavarian Department for State Palaces) in the grounds, with a small museum about the history of the palace and park (the text of the displays is only in german, but english language translations handouts are available).

Many of the coach tours that run from Munich offer limited time at the park, so we opted to use public transport instead (a train and two buses in each direction) and this worked out pretty smoothly. I covered our visit in the post Royal refuge in the Ammer mountains with some practical tips drawn from our experience.

Neuschwanstein
My personal highlight of the trail came with the visit to Neuschwanstein Castle. It is one of the most visited sights in Germany and there are plenty of downsides to this, but nothing can detract from the wonderful interior that (in my eyes) exceeds anything else that Ludwig II created. Don’t believe the reviewers who say that it is not worth taking the tour!

Planning your trip in advance is a must here as the ticket queues can be horrendous. Various ticket combinations are available, depending on how you plan to arrange your visit and whether you are aiming to see everything in one day or spread out over a couple of days with a longer stay in Füssen. I covered our visit, with some practical tips, in the post Monument to monarchy

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Herrenchiemsee
Ludwig II’s attempt to recreate Versailles on an island in Bavaria is quite extraordinary (a word that gets used alot on any tour of Ludwig’s palaces!) and delivers some of the most spectacular rooms I have ever seen. The tours may be short but every second in this palace counts.

The opulence of Herrenchiemsee New Palace is in stark contrast to the relative simplicity of the King’s chambers in the Augustinian Monastery (Old Palace), which can be visited with a combination ticket. I summed up our astonished impressions in the blog post Versailles-am-see, though words are quite inadequate to describe this place!

The King’s House on Schachen
One sight that eluded us was the King’s House on Schachen, which is located 1,866 metres up in the Wetterstein mountains. It is difficult to reach at the best of times, as it can only be reached on foot and takes 6 to 7 hours to get there and back!

Whilst we were visiting the area many of the footpaths were closed because of the G7 summit, including those up to the King’s House, but this shouldn’t be a factor in anyone else’s visit! Guided tours are given during the summer months (in German only). The highlight is the upper floor, known as the Turkish Hall, which is a splendid vision of eastern delights.

Berg
Berg Castle, where Ludwig was living at the end of his life, is still home to the Wittlesbach family and not open to the public (indeed, Ludwig’s gothic additions have long since been removed). However, you can see the Votivkapelle (memorial chapel) constructed in his memory and the cross in the Starnberger See marking the spot where Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances on 13th June 1886, aged 40.

We didn’t make it to Berg but it is relatively easy to reach by taking the S-Bahn to Starnberg, followed by a 12 minute ferry crossing.

Michaelskirche
Ludwig was laid to rest in the crypt at the Michaelskirche in Munich on 19th June 1886 (though his heart was placed in an urn at the Gnadenkapelle at Altötting alongside those of his forebears). The crypt can be visited for a couple of euros.

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Surfing in Munich

Posted in Germany, Munich by folkestonejack on June 6, 2015

One of the unexpected pleasures of our trip to Bavaria was the opportunity to see surfing in the most unlikely of locations – Munich city centre.

Summer at the Eisbach

Summer at the Eisbach

Surfing takes place most days on the Eisbach, a man made stretch of river that runs parallel to the Isar, next to the Haus der Kunst. It’s quite easy to spot as you wander along the street as there is usually a large crowd on the bridge watching the action (as well as on either bank). Although the summer is the obvious time to see some surfing here it’s clearly an all year attraction for some surfers – there are plenty of pictures of surfing taking place whilst thick snow covers the riverside!

The appeal of the spot is easy to see – the river forms a standing wave that is about a metre high. Surfers line up on either bank and take it in turns to tackle the shallow, icy waters.

I’m no expert but it looked like a tricky spot to master, particularly as the water masks a series of concrete blocks inserted into the riverbed by the builders. An unlucky fall here can have nasty consequences for bord and body so the inexperienced are generally discouraged from taking their chances – there’s another spot at Floßlände in Thalkirchen where the conditions are better suited to beginners.

A few years back there was a proposal to demolish the wave on safety grounds which generated an incredible surge of opposition from around the world. The plans were dropped and surfing has been officially accepted since 2010.

It is astonishing to think that the tradition of surfing here has already entered its fifth decade, having started in the early 1970s. It is entrancing to watch surfers riding the wave, making their way from side to side, until they accept the inevitable and take the plunge into the icy waters. Long may this brave band of surfers continue entertaining tourists and locals!

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Run Rabbit Run

Posted in Füssen, Germany, Munich by folkestonejack on June 5, 2015

Although my trip to Bavaria was not designed with railway photography in mind, it would have been remiss to have passed up the opportunities that arose on our travels.

Class 218 diesel 467-9 approaches Füssen on 5th June 2015

Class 218 diesel 467-9 approaches Füssen on 5th June 2015

The trips we made to Burghausen and to Füssen just happened to be some of the last places in Germany with a concentration of turns by class 218 diesels, better known as ‘rabbits’ on account of the appearance of their two exhaust funnels. The class was easily spotted at its peak, with 398 built in the main production run between 1971 and 1979, but their use across the network has steadily decreased in recent years. Electrification plans scheduled for the next five years will inevitably reduce this further.

I didn’t come armed with the necessary diagrams which centre around Kempten (taking in Füssen, Munich, Memmingen and Augsburg) and Mühldorf (taking in Munich and Lindau) so I was delighted to see so many on our travels. I was particularly surprised when 218 467-9 turned up at Füssen to propel our service towards Munich, not least because this example has been painted in an attractive livery to promote the Bayern ticket with illustrations of Lindau, Neuchwanstein and the Königssee (whereas most of the class are painted in red).

The rabbits of Bavaria are not yet an endangered species, but it’s marvellous to see and hear these noisy beasts whilst they’re still around.

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Rose Island and the missing palace

Posted in Feldafing, Germany by folkestonejack on June 5, 2015

Our good progress with our sightseeing plans opened up the opportunity to make one last trip out of Munich and take a look at Feldafing Park, a spot on the Starnberger See where Maximillian II planned to build a massive summer palace.

Maffei-Kapelle overlooking Feldafing Park and the Starnberger See

Maffei-Kapelle overlooking Feldafing Park and the Starnberger See

The early death of the king in 1864 stopped building work in its tracks. The palace had progressed no farther than the foundations (to be fair, construction only began in 1863) and the successful landscaping of the grounds. The project was abandoned and the untended park soon became wildly overgrown. It is said that the bricks from the foundations were removed to build the railway stations at Feldafing and Possenhofen, whilst the finest tree were transferred to Ludwig’s new palaces.

Although the palace and park were lost to history, one element was completed and spared from neglect – a secluded garden retreat known as the ‘Casino’ situated on an island 160 metres from the shoreline. The island, better known today as Roseninsel (Rose Island), featured a small villa and a circular rose bed planted with over 1300 roses. Here, Ludwig II found the perfect location to entertain guests such as the Czarina Maria Alexandrovna and Empress Elizabeth of Austria.

After the death of Ludwig II the island too succumbed to nature and the villa fell into disrepair. The island and park are now owned by the Bavarian state. Restoration work on the villa and rose garden started in 1998 and was sufficiently well progressed to be opened to the public in 2003, in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary, though the upper floor of the villa did not open until two years later. The island is now open to the public from May to October, though the best time of year to visit is around mid-June or mid-August to get the best of the rose blooms. They were just starting to come out when we visited, but must be wonderful at their peak.

The rose garden

The rose garden

One distinctive feature of the garden is a 5 metre tall blue and white glass pillar, topped by a sculpture of a girl feeding a parrot, which was carefully restored in 2001. The original was one of three gifted by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV (the others were installed at the Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, and at Peterhof, outside St Petersburg). It certainly looks striking set amongst the circle of roses.

The villa itself is an interesting place to visit, with some exquisite touches, even though it is much plainer than Hohenschwangau Castle. I particularly liked the wood-panelled dining room on the first floor which was decorated with wall paintings depicting the seasons, a ceramic fireplace held aloft by two figures and small statuettes of Victory atop wooden columns around the walls. It is all rather charming and must have been a wonderful place to get away from the pressures of court life.

Practicalities

To get to Feldafing Park we took the S-Bahn (S6) to Feldafing. After leaving the station we walked along Bahnhof Strasse for a short way before taking a turning that led us onto a footpath ending at the Maffei-Kapelle and a rather splending war memorial (1951) nearby. From here we crossed Tutzinger Strasse and followed another footpath through the golf course which brought us to the landing stage for ferries to Roseninsel (Platanen-Rondell). I think there are a few variations on this route from the signs we saw along the way!

The landing point on Roseninsel

The landing point on Roseninsel

A small ferry runs visitors across the water on demand for a small charge (4 euros return) and tours of the villa are available in German during Tuesday-Sunday afternoons. Tours were running hourly on the day we visited (a Friday) at quarter past the hour and tickets should be purchased from the nearby gardener’s house. Our tour guide took us on a fairly leisurely tour around the property for around half an hour, covering the recent prehistoric finds and plantlife on the island, as much as on the history of the building itself.

The small shop in the gardener’s house sells copies of the official guidebook (in German only) and a map guide to Feldafing Park and Rose Island (available in English and German).

There is no cafe on the island, nor at the ferry stages, so any food or drink needs to be brought with you. Plenty of visitors seemed happy enough just to wander round the island or strip down to their trunks for a swim, rather than all coming to view the villa. Admittedly, it was 33 degrees on the day we arrived so I think the swimmers were quite right to ignore the interior!

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Füssen and the Forggensee

Posted in Füssen, Germany by folkestonejack on June 4, 2015

Füssen is a wonderful place to stay, with a collection of sights that make it worth a visit in its own right. Sadly, most visitors pass straight through on their way to the castles, missing out on the wonderful interiors of the State Gallery in the Hohes Schloss and the baroque halls of the Benedictine Monastery of St Mang, as well as the delights of a cruise on the Forggensee.

The church of St. Maria und Florian in Waltenhofen

The church of St. Maria und Florian in Waltenhofen

Although we thought our timing was pretty poor, having not realised that we were staying during a Bavarian public holiday (Corpus Christi) or the G7 summit, neither factor caused us any great complications. Nothing much seemed to shut during Corpus Christi and a planned closure of the castles during the summit was cancelled (though they did still project the flags of the G7 nations onto Neuschwanstein at night).

The State Gallery in the Hohes Schloss and the Benedictine Monastery of St Mang can be visited on a combination ticket for 7 euros which is great value (it costs 6 euros to visit each individually) and you share the space with hardly a soul (we only counted two other visitors when we wandered around the museum in the former monastery).

The Füssen Heritage Museum in the monastery is a labyrinthine place which includes a wonderful library, some beautiful baroque halls and a chapel with a macabre Dance of Death cycle. The cycle, painted by Jakob Hiebeler in 1602, presents images of 20 individuals from all classes dancing with death under the motto “Say yes or say no, you must dance”. Besides this, there are a plethora of fascinating exhibits including all sorts of rare wooden musical instruments that hark back to the town’s past as a manufacturing centre in this field.

The carved wooden ceiling in the great Knight’s Hall of the Hohes Schloss

The carved wooden ceiling in the Knight’s Hall of the Hohes Schloss

Our short cruise of the Forggensee in the afternoon gave us a different perspective on the local landscape and the castles. I never would have envisaged people sunbathing on beaches in front of Neuschwanstein without taking to the waters and it was all the more pleasurable with an on-board bar serving up radler. Besides, I would never have seen the even more delightful sight of a dog paddle boarding alongside us although others on board managed to miss this completely!

Practicalities

We stayed at the Hotel Sonne in Füssen which is handily located close to the railway station and right at the heart of the old town. I would heartily recommend this place with its unbeatable location, friendly staff and for serving up the tastiest breakfast of our travels. For similar reasons, we found the Ristorante-Pizzeria La Perla utterly charming – the most wonderful staff and an artistically arranged Tiramisu that we won’t forget in a hurry!

It is impossible to miss the museum in the monastery and the state gallery as they tower above the old town. It takes a couple of hours to do both places justice, though you could easily spend much longer. The church next to the monastery can be visited free of charge and is just as marvellous with some wonderful ceiling decoration.

It takes around half an hour to walk from the town centre to the boarding point for lake tours. Tickets for the trips are sold on the boarding ramp (prices range from 8 euros per adult for the small circuit, lasting 55 minutes, to 11 euros per adult for the large circuit, lasting 2 hours, with discounts for holders of the Füssen card). We opted for the small circuit, which takes you as far north as Rieden before crossing the lake to Waltenhofen with its distinctive lakeside church, then back to Füssen.

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Like father, like son

Posted in Germany, Schwangau by folkestonejack on June 4, 2015

A blisteringly hot day saw us make a return to Hohenschwangau to visit the older of the two castles and take a look around the Museum of the Bavarian Kings, but first we enjoyed a walk to the edge of the alpsee and the marvellous views up to the mountains.

It’s not hard to see why this spot so entranced Crown Prince Maximillian when he first came across it aged 18, prompting him to rebuild Schwanstein castle between 1833 and 1837 (better known as Hohenschwangau Castle today). How striking that both father and son decided to rebuild romantic castles at a similar age.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Hohenschwangau Castle

The similarities between father and son clearly don’t end there. I had imagined Hohenschwangau Castle to be a simple family home, but how wrong I was! On our tour of the castle it soon became clear that Maximillian had as much of a creative vision as his son, with wonderful rooms such as the Hall of the Swan Knight, the Hall of the Heroes and Tasso Room which feature murals painted directly onto the walls and an assortment of neo-gothic elements. The romantic vision is married with a domestic comfort that I didn’t see in Ludwig’s palaces, but there is no doubting where Ludwig’s imagination had been incubated!

The grounds surrounding the castle hold some lovely touches too, including a fountain supported by four water spiting lions, a swan fountain and a replica of the famous Gooseherd fountain (a peasant holding a water spouting goose under each arm).

The nearby Museum of the Bavarian Kings is also well worth a visit, putting the Wittlesbach line into some perspective and treating us to the wonderful Nibelungen centrepiece (commissioned by Crown Prince Maximillian in 1842 to celebrate his nuptuals), the robes of Ludwig II and the 326 piece Royal Bavarian Service created to celebrate the golden wedding of Ludwig III and Marie Therese in 1918.

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Monument to monarchy

Posted in Germany, Schwangau by folkestonejack on June 3, 2015

After waiting for over 30 years to visit Neuschwanstein I wondered whether the reality would live up to my childhood expectations, particularly as so many reviewers on Tripadvisor had commented that they wished they had viewed it from outside and not bothered to go in.

The classic shot of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke

The classic shot of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke

The start of our visit did not begin well – a walk up the gently curving road to the castle might look delightful on the maps but the reality was anything but. The route is plyed by horse and carriage all day long, so by late afternoon on a hot day the streams of urine and other deposits presented quite a challenge. Huge swarms of flies had gathered and the only way up was through them, holding your hand over your mouth to avoid any possibility of swallowing one. Lovely!

Once we reached the castle and joined our tour all my earlier doubts melted away. The palace is incredibly spectacular and quite unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. To my mind is it the most extraordinary of all Ludwig’s palaces. No wonder it sees 1.5 million visitors a year and has already exceeded 60 million visitors over its lifetime (it reached this milestone in 2013).

A view of Neuschwanstein  Castle from the Forggensee

A view of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Forggensee

It is easy to forget that Ludwig began to develop the concept for Neuschwanstein Castle in 1868, at the age of 22, envisaging nothing less than a monument to absolute monarchy. It is a quite remarkable vision that gives us a throne room fit for a Byzantine palace and presents us with Ludwig’s vision of true kingship in the depiction of six holy kings in the abse (including Edward the Confessor). The Singers’ Hall is equally stunning with its depiction of the saga of the Arthurian knight Percival and his quest for the Holy Grail.

However, for me it was the King’s personal chambers that struck me as the most wonderful, with delightful touches such as a small grotto accessed off Ludwig’s study or the quite marvellous neo-gothic state bed which has more spires than your average cathedral! Your eyes hardly know where to alight next as even the smallest details in the rooms are incredible, such as a washstand with water drawn up through a silver plated swan…

A tour of Neuschwanstein might only last thirty minutes, but it is quite an incredible thirty minutes and well worth any hassles along the way. It is a pity that Ludwig did not get to complete his vision – amongst the unfinished projects were the Moorish Hall, the bathing hall with its viewing terrace and the centrepiece of a keep and castle chapel. In a similar vein, many interior fittings were never finished including the king’s throne. Nevertheless, what we have today in the fifteen or so finished rooms is quite extraordinary.

Practicalities

The closest railway station to Neuschwanstein is located at Füssen and it is easy to get reach the castles from here using local buses.

The old rustic station building from the nineteenth century was demolished in 2012 and is currently nothing more than a deep hole, meaning that all passengers arriving at the station have to skirt round the fenced off construction site to get to the bus terminal.

Bus numbers 73 and 78 are the most likely options for the short ride to Hohenschwangau for the castles. Bayern tickets are valid on the buses. If you are staying in Füssen, like us, you may find that your hotel offers free local transport for your stay through the ‘Füssen card‘ which you just tap on the reader when you enter the bus.

The ticket centre at Hohenschwangau had a hefty queue when we arrived and limited time-slots available for tours. I can well believe that in the height of summer there can be days where no tickets are available at all. It is much better to book in advance through their website – not only do you stand a much better chance of getting the time slot you want but you can also use the much shorter queue for people picking up reserved tickets.

Tickets can only be purchased on the day of use and there are a variety of combinations available. The 14 day pass from the Bavarian Palaces department includes Neuschwanstein so we only needed to pay the reservation fee (you should indicate on the reservation form that you will have this pass).

You can reach the castle on foot, by horse and carriage, or by bus. We opted for the 40 minute uphill walk and arrived in good time for our slot (a digital display indicates when visitors with each tour number should scan their tickets to enter the ‘cattle-pen’ before being led into the building by a tour guide).

Tours take around 35 minutes and you don’t always get the chance to stop in each room so you need to be quite alert to take in everything around you as you pass through. Our tour guide told us that every group from the start to the end of the day was of the maximum size, so they really are operating at full capacity.

If you wish to visit Marienbrücke, the bridge over the Pollat Gorge that Ludwig constructed to offer the best view of the castle, this is a further 15 minutes walk up from the castle terrace (if you take the bus up to the castle it will drop you off close by). It can become incredibly packed, particularly after a new busload of visitors has been disgorged. A notice posted nearby indicated that the bridge will be closed for renovations this year (since we visited the closure dates have been revised to 3 August 2015 until mid November 2015).

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Royal refuge in the Ammer mountains

Posted in Ettal, Germany by folkestonejack on June 2, 2015

The morning train from Munich took us south into the Bavarian mountains to seek out Linderhof, the most secluded of Ludwig II’s palaces. It is also the most human in scale, so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that this was where the young king spent much of his time, enjoying life at the royal villa for extended periods away from Munich.

Mountain retreat

Mountain retreat

It still takes a little bit of effort to get to Linderhof if you use public transport, which only serves to emphasise the relative seclusion of the location to this day. It was a somewhat surreal journey for us as the security precautions for the G7 summit meant that every station along the route had been heavily populated by policemen, backed up by a fleet of police vans. The impression of travelling through a police state was not dispelled by a further security checkpoint on the road leading to Linderhof!

The journey was well worth it. The richly decorated interior of the rococo-style palace is simply spectacular, far exceeding the opulence that you expect of such buildings. It may be a short tour but every room packs an incredible punch, from the small dressing room lined with portraits of Louis XV’s mistresses to the vibrant blue and gold decoration of the king’s bedroom.

On top of this, the surrounding park offers up an array of wonderfully decorative refuges ranging from a Moroccan house to a Moorish kiosk with a peacock throne. In many respects the park buildings act as stage sets, allowing Ludwig to step into the legends that he so loved and escape the realities of his day to day life.

The Temple of Venus

The Temple of Venus

Although our visit was in bright daylight this is not how Ludwig would have been most familiar with the palace as he was very much a creature of the night – rising for breakfast as the sun set, taking lunch at midnight and heading to bed as the sun rose! The rooms must have looked astonishing as they sparkled by candlelight, particularly in the hall of mirrors where the reflected light and shine of the abundant gilt decoration must have created an incredible effect.

After leaving the palace we headed to the remarkable Venus grotto, which gives the appearance of being hewn from the rocks, but is an entirely man-made construction constructed using canvas and cement. At its heart is a ten metre tall cave with stalactites hanging from the roof which contains an underground lake and waterfall. On the water a gilt shell boat rests. All of this was illuminated by electric lighting, creating different colour effects. It is a wonderful illusion and hard not to be impressed as you stand by the water’s edge.

The Venus Grotto

The Venus Grotto

Our guide ran through a long explanation of the grotto in german before switching to a recorded english commentary which she left running as she headed off to get ready for the next group, by which point we were the only visitors left in the cave. It suddenly felt far too cavernous, so goodness only knows how Ludwig must have found it when he was in there alone, drifting in his boat.

Overall, we had a great day at Linderhof but it is difficult to get a good sense of Ludwig’s time there as the tour guides present a sanitised version of Ludwig’s life story that is presumably intended to play well to any audience. The edited story presented to visitors describes the loneliness of Ludwig’s life after he broke off his engagement whilst neatly omitting the scandalous tales of his male companions!

Practicalities

Linderhof first opened to the public two weeks after Ludwig’s death on 13th June 1886 and attracted 619 visitors (up to September) despite the lack of connecting routes. Once these difficulties were overcome the visitors poured in and the palace now sees over 1 million visitors a year. Various permutations of route by public transport are possible today, but all require at least one train journey and one bus ride.

We caught the 8.32am regional train from Munich to Oberau, arriving at 9.45am. From the stop outside Oberau station we picked up bus 9606 at 9:58am and took this as far as Oberammergau, where we switched to bus 9622 to Linderhof. It took us two and a quarter hours to reach the palace. It didn’t appear to be a popular option – we were the only passengers on bus 9622!

Tours are incredibly well organised at all of Ludwig’s palaces with your ticket giving you an admission slot for a specific time. Shortly before the appointed time you have to scan your ticket to get into what can only be described as a ‘sheep-pen’ for humans (there are four pens and an electronic display indicates which one you need to enter). Once all the tourists have been coralled a gate opens at the other end, allowing you to start the tour under the watchful eye of your official tour guide. It may sound bizarre, but it is a really efficient system that ensures the staff can get as many people through the building during the day. Given the hefty visitor numbers that really is impressive.

It appeared that the biggest influx of visitors had arrived in the morning on the day we visited, though I don’t know whether this is typical. The upshot of this was that the grounds were noticeably quieter in the afternoon. Taking public transport gave us a degree of freedom to spend as long admiring the grounds as we needed. In practice, we found that 4 hours was sufficient time to see the palace, grotto and surrounding park (with time enough left over to get a refreshing glass of radler before catching the 3.06pm bus back).

The return journey gave us a 29 minute break at Ettal between buses and a chance to glimpse the wonderful interior of the Kloster Ettal. It’s certainly worth a look if the timings permit it.

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The longest castle in Europe

Posted in Burghausen, Germany by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

A fresh day saw us head east to the fortress at Burghausen, which is notable for being one of the longest castle complexes in the world. The castle’s footprint stretches out for 1000 metres and encompasses six courtyards, a couple of chapels, a clocktower and the palace itself.

Burghausen Castle sits high above the old town

Burghausen Castle sits high above the old town

The castle was used by the Dukes of Lower Bavaria from the House of Wittlesbach as their second seat of government and was constructed between the 13th to 16th centuries. It was fortified at the end of the 15th century in anticipation of a Turkish invasion, making it the most formidable fortress in the country. You get a really good sense of this from the platform at the top of the State Castle Museum as you look back on the long tail of the castle winding through the wooded hillside.

The first courtyard and Stephan's Tower

The first courtyard and Stephan’s Tower

A particular delight of the interior is the collection of massive paintings showing the battles of the Bavarian dukes – you need to stand before them for quite a while to absorb the scale of each battle and the rich detail woven into the paintings. The most stunning of these is the 11 metre long painting of the Battle of Mühldorf in 1322 which depicts the meeting of Frederick I of Hapsburg and Albert Rindsmaul of Bavaria mid-battle.

The 11 metre long painting of the Battle of Mühldorf in 1322.

The 11 metre long painting of the Battle of Mühldorf in 1322.

It was a particularly hot day when we visited and a dip in the swimming facilities in the river looked incredibly tempting, though we settled instead for a refreshing ice cream!

Practicalities

The journey from Munich to Burghausen takes about two hours by train. On our day trip we caught the 9:07am train from Munich which reached Mühldorf at 10:16, giving us a 21 minute break before switching to the 10:37am train to Burghausen (which gets in at 11.16am).

A bus connection to the old town is available from the station but we chose to walk. At a steady pace the walk should take about 20-25 minutes, though we found that one of the street signs pointing to the castle/old town had been turned to point down the wrong street – giving us a brief tour of Burghausen’s residential district! Hopefully this will be turned to point the right way again…

All in all, we spent about three and a half hours exploring the castle and the old town, including a visit to the State Castle Museum, before taking a train back to Munich via Mühldorf. We used the remarkably good value 14 day ticket of the Bavarian Palace Department to cover admission to the castle museum.

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Steam on the Chiemsee Bahn

Posted in Germany, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

The Royal Palace at Herrenchiemsee was opened to the public just six weeks after the death of King Ludwig II on 13 June 1886. Although visitor numbers were low at first they soon shot up to extraordinary numbers and it was this dramatic increase in the number of visitors arriving at Prien am Chiemsee that spurred rapid development of the transport infrastructure in the area.

Steam locomotive no. 1813 departs from Stock in mid-afternoon

Steam locomotive no. 1813 departs from Stock in mid-afternoon

Although there had been a ferry to the islands since the mid-nineteenth century the additional tourist traffic soon necessitated a more frequent ferry services to Herreninsel. However, the absence of a shuttle service between the railway station and the harbour remained a problem for arriving passengers.

Ludwig Fessler was quick to seize the opportunity and reached agreement with George Krauss (founder of the Krauss Locomotive Works in Munich) to construct a 2km single track metre-gauge line between the mainline station (Prien) and the harbour (Stock am Chiemsee).

The line opened on 10th July 1887 and was an immediate success. Services soon had to be increased to meet the demand, despite the relatively expensive fare for the time. Although the train only hauls passenger carriages today, in its early years the consist included two open wagons with coal for the steam ships and the islands. In time the freight traffic disappeared and for a time it seemed as though the entire railway would follow suit.

The last crossing before Prien station

The last crossing before Prien station

Thankfully the threats to the line were staved off and the the railway looks to be thriving. Remarkably, the railway still uses the same steam locomotive and stock today that it did at the beginning of its existence (although the boiler in the locomotive was replaced in 1957). In 1962 the railway purchased a diesel locomotive for use when traffic is lighter.

On the day we visited we were lucky enough to see the steam locomotive in use and took advantage of the good weather to walk the footpath that runs alongside the line to check out the photographic opportunities.

The yard at Stock offers a good opportunity to see the loco run around (the locomotive is bi-directional and was running with the chimney facing towards Prien during our visit). After leaving the harbour station (crossing a busy road) the line runs through a residential area, passing the rear of a tavern, residential care home and flats.

A three foot tall hedge along the line makes photography tricky for a fair chunk of the way but there are a few interesting footpath and road crossings that offer some opportunities. As the line reaches Prien it crosses a couple of roads, passes a pretty pond and then curves round to Prien station.

Mid-afternoon at Stock station

Mid-afternoon at Stock station

If you are relying on catching a mainline train it is worth noting that the timings are quite tight and if the train is more than a couple of minutes late (as it was on the afternoon we visited) you could be left with a dash through the adjacent subway to make your connection!

Overall, it is a thoroughly delightful line. If you combine it with a sailing on the steam ship Ludwig Fessler (now under diesel-hydraulic power) and a visit to the Royal Palace at Herrenchiemsee it makes quite an amazing day out.

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Versailles-am-see

Posted in Germany, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

The first stop on our tour of King Ludwig II’s palaces brought us to the town of Prien am Chiemsee, an hour’s journey by train from Munich. It was here that Ludwig audaciously planned to build a new Versailles in tribute to his idol Louis XIV and the lost age of absolutist rule, having discovered a suitably reclusive spot on a heavily wooded island in the middle of the lake.

Herrenchiemsee Palace

Herrenchiemsee Palace

As a visitor you get a sense of the seclusion that the island of Herreninsel offered as you take a ferry from the harbour and follow this with a twenty minute walk through the woods to reach the palace. The ferry crossing offers only the briefest glimpse of the palace, adding to its dramatic effect, as was entirely intentional.

The island was to be a new kingdom that Ludwig could wander, taking delight in his new palace as it came into view from the myriad of pathways that cross the island or from the grand vista of the canal. It is a pity that Ludwig never got to build his island railway as it would have been fascinating to see how that would have fitted into the scheme.

Once you reach the palace grounds you find that they offer a curious pick and mix, with a copy of the Latona fountain from Versailles and a couple of fountains from the royal palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. All entirely delightful, even if the vision remains incomplete – the final element, a copy of the Apollo fountain from Versailles, was never installed. The fountains spring into life every half hour adding to the marvellous vision of the Palace.

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

The interior of the palace is breathtaking from the moment that you enter the state staircase (a replica of the Ambassador’s Staircase from Versailles, recreated from engravings as the original was destroyed in 1752) to the moment that you step out of the last room.

Opulent does not even begin to cover the breathtaking decoration and furnishings in each room (where many of the equivalents at Versailles have long since lost their furnishings these rooms are almost fully furnished, having not suffered from the ravishings of two revolutions). The re-creation of the Hall of Mirrors is particularly impressive, but so are the individual elements such as the chandeliers and delicate flower bouquets made entirely of Meissen porcelain. The guides can’t linger if they are to get the vast number of visitors around the building, but that’s probably just as well as you could spend forever focusing on all the marvellous touches to these rooms!

The tour of the King’s living quarters, which have little to do with Versailles, proved to be the highlight for me. In particular, Ludwig’s bedroom with its blue globe night-light (naturally, on a richly carved and gilded stand) gave a much stronger sense of his personality and you could imagine how beautiful the room must have been with its artificially created moonlight filling the room. Another touch that gave a sense of the man behind the legend came from the ‘magic’ table which could be mechanically lowered and raised, allowing Ludwig to dine without coming into contact with his servants. Such a lonely existence.

On our visit to the palace an art exhibition was taking place in the unfinished rooms, offering a rare opportunity to see just how plain these rooms are. These rooms are empty brick shells, perfect for modern art but a world apart from the rooms we had seen moments earlier. On our visit it was stressed that talk of Herrenchiemsee as an ‘unfinished’ palace are a little wide of the mark for the construction plans of 1878 show no further interiors than the ones we can see finished today – demonstrating just how well the finished rooms created sufficient illusion for the King’s purposes.

The Fama Fountain

The Fama Fountain

The palace also houses the King Ludwig II museum which offers a fascinating glimpse into the King’s long lost residence in Munich (destroyed during the Second World War), his remarkable winter garden (a vast water filled conservatory built atop the Munich Residenz, dismantled in 1897) and a variety of other projects that never got off the drawing board.

One unexpected attraction in the palace was a small exhibition about the bats of the island which proved quite fascinating, including a live infra-red link to the colonies in the attic. The attic is home to the greater mouse eared bat, geoffroy’s bat and the highly endangered lesser horsehoe bat (one of only three remaining colonies in Bavaria). Beyond the palace, fifteen out of twenty-three bat species known in Bavaria occur in Herreninsel. Maybe this explains Ludwig’s penchant for avoiding the daylight and staying up for the night hours!? After all, what’s one more conspiracy theory to add to the many others…

After leaving the palace we sampled the delights of a radler on the terrace before exploring the monastery (worth a visit in its own right for its beautiful interior and the fascinating contrast of the simple apartment that Ludwig II used whilst overseeing his project) and taking a walk out to get a view of the Lakeside Chapel of the Holy Cross. You can easily spend an entire day here.

Practicalities

Prien am Chiemsee is roughly an hour by train from Munich and Salzburg. We opted for the 7.55am train from Munich which arrived at 8.52am. From the railway station it is an easy 20 minute walk to the harbour (our choice) or you can take a trip on the steam railway if it is operating (an 8 minute journey).

Our walk got us to the harbour in perfect time for the 9.25am sailing, arriving at Herreninsel around 9.40am. If there is a queue for tickets at the harbour you can usually buy tickets on board. Tickets for a tour of the palace are purchased at the ticket booths close to the jetty on Herreninsel. At this time of year the early morning English language tours don’t seem to be in such demand – there were just 10-12 people on our tour slot (10.15am).

It’s worth grabbing a copy of the ferry timetables as the return timings are a little erratic, with the gap between crossings ranging from 15 minutes to 50 minutes.

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Bavaria bound

Posted in Germany, Munich by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

At the age of eight or nine I went on a trip to Thorpe Park organised by my primary school. If that seems a little strange today, you need to know that Thorpe Park was originally conceived as an educational attraction rather than the thrill-seeker’s theme park of today. Instead of the rides that you would find now, the parkland was packed with recreated historic buildings (representing the ‘Invaders of England’) along with models of some of the world’s most astonishing buildings. The one that caught my eye most of all was Neuschwanstein Castle.

It has taken me a little while to get around to visiting the real thing, but this week I have finally made it to Bavaria armed with a plan to see all three of King Ludwig II’s incredible creations – Linderhof Palace, Herrenchiemsee Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle. In theory this should have been fairly simple to arrange but the threat of a long railway strike and the complications of a security lockdown for the G7 summit at Elmau have made me wonder whether the attempt was doomed before it began!

Thankfully, the industrial dispute was resolved a few days before we travelled out here and a bit of re-planning ensured that we would avoid the travel disruption and demonstrations associated with the G7 summit. Time to start exploring the wonders of Bavaria…

And what of the historic buildings of Thorpe Park? They were largely demolished in 1990, whilst the models survived until the early 2000s. Not much trace remains of the educational park that was unveiled to the public on 24th May 1979 and which so entranced me as a youngster in 1980-81.

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Dampfspektakel 2014

For the last four days I have been chasing steam locomotives across the countryside of the Rhein-Neckar network in what may be the swan song of the classic German Plandampf.

Class 01 Pacific (01 118) passes through Edesheim on a Sunday morning run from Neustadt to Karlsruhe

Class 01 Pacific (01 118) passes through Edesheim on a Sunday morning run from Neustadt to Karlsruhe

The concept of Plandampf emerged in Germany during the early 1990s with the idea that enthusiasts could club together to pay for steam locomotives to replace diesel/electric locomotives on timetabled passenger services and scheduled freight trains. The beauty of the concept was that it offered the chance to get much closer to ‘real steam’ than is possible on a preserved heritage lines. Not only that, but you could bring steam back to the people and really show these locomotives at their best on long stretches of line.

However, the difficulties of funding and changing legal environment, particularly with regard to liability, have made it increasingly difficult for groups to run such events in Germany. Inevitably, the cost of running such events have grown substantially. In this context, it was all the more welcome to hear that the federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz and the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar (VRN) were to fund a five day event to celebrate twenty-five years of the VRN and twenty years of the Rheinland-Pfalz-Takt.

This event differed from the traditional Plandampf in one respect – the steam locomotives would not be replacing timetabled services, but would be run as supplementary services with sufficient time built in for the locomotives to run round. Astonishingly, there was no additional charge to ride on these trains – you just needed to buy a standard ticket for the railway and had the choice of steam runs at your disposal.

Kriegslok 52 7596 hauls a service across the Nahe at Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg on Saturday 31st May 2014

Kriegslok 52 7596 hauls a service across the Nahe at Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg on Saturday 31st May 2014

On this occasion, eight steam locomotives hauled services across the VRN network – two class 01 Pacifics (01 118 and 01 202), two class 41 goods locomotives (41 018 and 41 360), three class 52 kriegsloks (52 4867, 52 7596 and 52 8134) and a class 58 goods locomotive (58 311). A third pacific (01 150) had been lined up to participate but was sidelined by mechanical failure. No one could fail to be impressed by the fleet of locomotives gathered for the event.

The lure of the ‘Dampfspektakel 2014’ proved irresistible to rail enthusiasts and photographers from across the world, including me. Around 25,000 passengers travelled on the 70 steam hauled services during the event according to the organisers, though the overall number of visitors must surely be substantially higher when you take into account the numbers spread across the lineside (noticeably larger than at a similar event in 2009).

Class 01 Pacific 01 202 heads away from Pirmasens-Nord on Saturday 31st May 2014

Class 01 Pacific 01 202 heads away from Pirmasens-Nord on Saturday 31st May 2014

Although I didn’t ride on any of the trains myself I had great fun getting around by train to photograph them from different spots. A degree of madness was involved, particularly travelling for two hours one morning to get to one location just to see a steam hauled service pass by in four seconds flat. The photographer in me considered that an entirely justifiable cost, but I could understand why this view was not universally shared! I had proposed the trip to my better half as a balance of scenic countryside, beautiful historic buildings, good food and a few steam trains… but the balance seemed to have entirely disappeared by the fourth day of the event. Oops.

It is hard to pick individual highlights, but the sight of 41 360 (standing in for 01 150) on the PostZug from Neustadt to Heilbronn was rather special. I stood on the bank of the Neckar at Hirschhorn and watched the locomotive emerge from the tunnel below the castle, head past my viewpoint and disappear round the bend in the river. Simply superb. This was closely rivalled by the sight of a class 01 Pacific steam locomotive charging through the Neckar Valley, under the impressive bulk of Zwingenberg castle.

41 360 hauls the Postzug through Hirschhorn on Friday 30th May 2014

41 360 hauls the Postzug through Hirschhorn on Friday 30th May 2014

Not everything went to plan – there were a few occasions when the ‘local scene’ I had anticipated had been entirely covered up by ‘local vegetation’ since the plandampf five years ago. Nevertheless, such moments could usually be rescued with a bit of creative (if a little frantic) thinking.

The most surreal moment came from an early sunday morning trip to Edesheim, catching an early morning train and walking down a farm track to a ‘quiet spot’ and finding ten photographers already waiting with an hour to go. I suspect that you could have turned up at any viable spot along the line, however remote, and encountered the same situation. After the morning’s two express trains had passed you could see photographers wandering in from across the landscape of vineyards, farms and villages – turning the subsequent local train into something of a commuter service for rail photographers!

A Class 01 Pacific passes Zwingenberg Castle on Friday 30th May 2014

A Class 01 Pacific passes Zwingenberg Castle on Friday 30th May 2014

If this is to be the end, then there can be no better note to finish on than with the sight of a fleet of steam locomotives hurtling through the vineyards of the Pfalz or along the beautiful riverside route through the Neckar valley. Thank you to all the organisers, drivers and volunteers who made this wonderful treat possible.

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Heidelberg’s student prison

Posted in Germany, Heidelberg by folkestonejack on May 30, 2014

Our trip brought us to Heidelberg today, with an opportunity to wander around the city and appreciate the charms of the old town. There is no denying that Heidelberg is an extraordinary tourist magnet, as any glance around the streets would confirm, but we were more than a little surprised to find that the highlight of our visit – the student prison – was relatively quiet.

The student prison is a real oddity, born out of a medieval world in which universities sat outside of the boundaries of civil and state law. Heidelberg University was founded in 1386 and exercised its power in criminal and disciplinary matters overs its student from the very beginning. However, it was not until 1545 that the university established the first prison exclusively for the use of its undergraduates.

Cell in Heidelberg Student Prison

Cell in Heidelberg Student Prison

In 1784 the prison was re-established in a residential property that backed onto the old university, but it was not until the 1820s that a satisfactory arrangement was agreed. At this time a new top storey was fitted out with four cells, supplemented by a fifth in 1886. This layout survived until the end of the prison’s life in 1914 and is the space that can be seen today.

The walls of the prison are covered from top to toe with the most astonishing graffitti – the unexpected legacy of students incarcerated for all manner of minor misdemeanours until its closure. It became something of a tourist attraction long before it closed. Mark Twain was one of the most well known visitors, in 1878, and he has left us with a vivid description of his experience in The College Prison, an appendix to his book ‘A Tramp Abroad’ (1880):

The cell was not a roomy one; still it was a little larger than an ordinary prison cell. It had a window of good size, iron-grated; a small stove; two wooden chairs; two oaken tables, very old and most elaborately carved with names, mottoes, faces, armorial bearings, etc.–the work of several generations of imprisoned students; and a narrow wooden bedstead with a villainous straw mattress, but no sheets, pillows, blankets, or coverlets–for these the student must furnish at his own cost if he wants them. There was no carpet, of course.

The ceiling was completely covered with names, dates, and monograms, done with candle-smoke. The walls were thickly covered with pictures and portraits (in profile), some done with ink, some with soot, some with a pencil, and some with red, blue, and green chalks; and whenever an inch or two of space had remained between the pictures, the captives had written plaintive verses, or names and dates. I do not think I was ever in a more elaborately frescoed apartment.

It sounds as though incarceration here was not exactly the hardship that you might have expected – prisoners were permitted to leave their cells for lectures, could commision local restaurants to supply their meals and were allowed two bottles of beer a day (or the equivalent amount in wine). One piece of grafitti from a prisoner shows that it was far from perfect – wine had to be drunk warm as there were no ice buckets!

Along with admission to the student prison the tickets we bought included entry to an exhibition about the history of the university and to the Alte Aula (Old hall) which is well worth seeing in its own right.

Heidelberg from the Philosophers’ Way

Heidelberg from the Philosophers’ Way

An improvement in the weather persuaded us that a walk up the schlangenweg (snake path) would be a good way to round off the day. The steep pathway twists and turns relentlessly, tiring out the most energetic of souls, but the vantage point offered by the Philosophers’ Way makes it all worthwhile. The panoramic view of the old bridge, castle and funicular railway at sunset was simply stunning. Needless to say, the walk back down was considerably slower and more relaxed!

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A bend in the river

Posted in Germany, Hirschhorn by folkestonejack on May 30, 2014

The last two days have been spent exploring the Neckar Valley and checking out a few of the many possible locations to photograph the special steam hauled services running on these days. Away from the rails, we have taken the opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful spots and chief amongst these was Hirschhorn.

Hirschhorn

Hirschhorn

Hirschhorn is widely known as ‘the Pearl of the Neckar’ and has a stunning position, hugging the hillside, on a horseshoe bend of the river. The historical sights include a castle, monastery and some lovely old churches which you can explore by following the historical town walk published on the town’s website. A walk along the Panorama Weg also offers a wonderful view of the castle and town (this turned out to be our chosen spot for one of the steam specials, watching as it blasted out of the tunnel underneath the castle on a very wet Thursday afternoon).

The most interesting sight, the Ersheim Chapel, is located on the opposite side of the Neckar, which can easily be accessed on foot using the bridge over the lock (the location of the chapel is clearly marked on this handy map of the town).

Ersheim Chapel: The Mount of Olives

Ersheim Chapel: The Mount of Olives

The Ersheim Chapel dates back to 1345 and is believed to be the oldest church in Hirschhorn, though it has been expanded and altered over time. On the exterior wall you can find a rather lovely scene from the Garden of Gethsemene (added to the church in 1669), whilst the interior astonishes with a beautiful gothic ribbed ceiling and some intriguing frescoes. It seems that the chapel is also home to a large breeding colony of the greater mouse-eared bat (over a thousand female bats raise their young here over summer) but we were thankfully unaware of their presence!

A railway enthusiast watches a steam hauled express pass through Hirschhorn

A railway enthusiast watches a steam hauled express pass through Hirschhorn

Our two visits to Hirschhorn were a delight, though a special mention has to go to the Café am Rathaus which served up some delicious cake and lunch to sustain us on our explorations.

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Sunset in Mannheim

Posted in Germany, Mannheim by folkestonejack on May 28, 2014

Our travels today have taken us south to Mannheim, which is perfectly located for our exploration of the region. The city will be our base for the next five nights and whilst we will not spend much time here, it does have some delightful sights in its own right.

Mannheimer Wasserturm

Mannheimer Wasserturm

The Mannheimer Wasserturm is perhaps the most recognisable building associated with the city today. The water tower was the work of Gustav Halmhuber, a twenty three year old architect from Stuttgart, whose striking design stood out from around seventy entries into the competition and satisfied the jury’s requirement to deliver a design worthy of its prime location. The tower was completed in 1889.

Sphinx at sunset

Sphinx at sunset

We turned up at the water tower in the lead up to sunset, with the evening sun giving the sandstone structure and its sphinx sculptures a quite remarkable golden glow against the black skies. It is hard to believe that proposals to demolish this structure, in the mid twentieth century, were ever taken seriously.

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A perfect princely garden

Posted in Germany, Schwetzingen by folkestonejack on May 28, 2014

An afternoon visit to the gardens of Schwetzingen Palace proved to be something of an eye opener, having no real concept of just how extensive the grounds were nor the delights that they contained. In fact it took us a good three hours of walking to do the gardens anywhere close to justice, yet we probably still gave some sights far too cursory a glance.

The history of the site goes back to the fourteenth century, when a moated castle was first built, but the gardens that we see today are primarily the creation of Prince Elector Carl Theodor (1724-1799) who determined that the gardens should be the central attraction of his newly enlarged summer residence. Amongst the remarkable structures commissioned for the gardens are a mosque, a bathhouse and an assortment of temples.

The mosque was constructed around 1779-1795 and is surrounded by a Turkish garden. The arrangement of the colonnaded walkway is quite delightful, but it is the stunning interior that takes your breath away. It is a reaction we soon found ourselves repeating on a visit to the bathhouse and in front of an astonishing fountain with water-spouting birds that is located nearby.

The gardens are truly marvellous and complemented by a quite superb restaurant/micro-brewery in front of the castle, the Schwetzinger Brauhaus zum Ritter, which served us up some stunning beer as a reward for our labours!

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Rails along the Rhein

Posted in Germany, Oberwesel, Stolzenfels by folkestonejack on May 28, 2014

A side benefit of a trip to the Rhein valley is the presence of railway lines along the left and right banks of the river. I thought this might provide the occasional opportunity for some rail photography amongst the sightseeing, but hadn’t bargained for quite how busy the lines turned out to be. At times it seemed like there was a freight train running down the right bank every few minutes.

111 115 hauls a regional express through Oberwesel

111 115 hauls a regional express through Oberwesel

The rail geek in me was also delighted by the incredible variety of locomotives on offer. In just a day or two of sightseeing here we saw freight and passenger services hauled by classes 101, 103, 111, 120, 140, 143, 151, 152, 155, 185 and 218. It felt like anything could turn up, at any time – not a feeling that you would ever experience in the UK today.

Try as I might, I couldn’t photograph everything (the 218 hauling freight down the right bank was one that eluded me) but I made sure to do my homework for the class 103 hauled services. Our evening trip down the left bank was carefully timed to ensure that we would be in the right place, at the right time and ready to get a good shot.

103 113-7 passes through Oberwesel whilst en route to Münster (Westfalen)

103 113-7 passes through Oberwesel whilst en route to Münster (Westfalen)

The class 103 electric locomotive was the rather glamourous flagship of the Deutsche Bundesbahn fleet when I was growing up and held a particular fascination for me. The last remaining locomotives in the class were retired from active service in 2003 but a few members of the class made a surprise return in 2013.

On our trip we saw 103 113-7 running through Oberwesel one evening whilst en route from Stuttgart Hbf to Münster (Westfalen) Hbf and passing Schloss Stolzenfels on the way back the next morning. It was marvellous to see once again and I am sure my younger self would have given a vote of approval.

Class 103 traction on the morning express to Stuttgart

Class 103 traction on the morning express to Stuttgart

It was always our intention to return to the Rhein in the future to visit the castles and towns that we missed this time round, but I think I may have to sneak in a bit more rail photography too! I wonder how much I can get away with…

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Fortified Rhein

Posted in Braubach, Germany, Kaub, Oberwesel by folkestonejack on May 27, 2014

Our second day of sightseeing in Rheinland-Pfalz took us down the right bank of the Rhein for an itinerary that would take in two of the most distinctive castles on the river. First up was Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, which is pretty hard to ignore in its prime position midway across the Rhein.

Pfalzgrafenstein and Falkenau island

Pfalzgrafenstein and Falkenau island

The castle’s origins can be traced back to 1327 when King Ludwig IV ordered the construction of the first tower on Falkenau Island. The castle was expanded over the centuries with the last alterations of significance completed in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s not hard to see why it is commonly known as ‘the stone ship’.

The primary function of the castle was as a toll station but it also had its moment in history. It was here, in 1814, that Field Marshall Blucher’s forces crossed the Rhein in pursuit of Napoleon. Fifty thousand Russian and Prussian troops and 15,000 horses crossed to the left bank by means of a pontoon bridge constructed across the river via the castle.

Ferry to the castle

Ferry to the castle

Today you can reach the castle from Kaub by means of a ferry that takes all of a minute or two. Once you are on the island you can take a self-guided tour of the castle using a rather neat orientation map. It’s a real pleasure to wander round at your own pace and savour a pretty remarkable castle.

After returning to the right bank we moved on to Braubach, tackling the climb up from the town to the Marksburg. The Marksburg is a true medieval survivor, tracing its origins back to the twelfth century. The castle makes a formidable sight above the town and has never been subjected to serious attack during its lifetime. Nevertheless, the castle has a varied history which we discovered on a guided tour (we opted for a tour in German and rented an english translation). In its time the castle has been a fortress, garrison, care home and prison!

The Marksburg

The Marksburg

Although the interiors were fascinating, sometimes it is the simplest things that make you feel the connection with history. I was particularly struck by the stairs we used to enter the castle, which were thought to have been carved into the rock by Prussian soldiers during their occupation in the mid-nineteenth century. It seemed astonishing to be treading in the same footsteps as those men of history.

In the evening we took a whistle-stop tour of the left bank, stopping off at Oberwesel to take a wander around the fortified walls of the town and taking a pleasant wander along the riverside at Bingen am Rhein to view the Mouse Tower (currently shrouded in scaffolding). The reward for our day’s sightseeing was a rather splendid schnitzel at Zollamt with a cognac and peppercorn sauce that will linger long in the memory!

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Moselling

Posted in Cochem, Germany by folkestonejack on May 26, 2014

On our first full day of sightseeing in Rheinland-Pfalz we headed down the Mosel to visit two of the castles that are regarded as being amongst the most beautiful in Germany – Burg Eltz and the Reichsburg Cochem.

The forecast was not at all promising, offering up an unpalatable choice between heavy rain and thunderstorms but when daylight arrived neither was to be seen. This was most welcome as we didn’t fancy completing the 5km walk from Moselkern station to Burg Eltz in sodden clothes!

A fairytale setting for Burg Eltz

The fairytale setting for Burg Eltz

I started our trip on a marvellous footing, having left the maps of hiking trails on a shelf back in London, but it soon transpired that you really didn’t need them for this particular walk. A steady pace along the well signposted path brought us to the foot of Burg Eltz, at the crossing over the Elzbach stream, in exactly 70 minutes.

The first sighting of the castle couldn’t fail to impress, even having seen pictures in the guidebooks. The castle is striking from every angle that you observe it – whether from below, from the driveway or from the pathway on the opposite side of the castle. It’s history is equally remarkable – it has stayed in the possession of the same family though its long history and retains many of the features from a fifteenth century rebuild.

Only a handful of visitors were waiting when we got up to the entrance, just before opening, but this isn’t a place that remains quiet for long. The popularity of the castle inevitably means that tours are run on something of a conveyor belt approach – as soon as each tour had cleared the first room the next one began. Nevertheless, the tour still provided ample time to appreciate the colourful artistry of the murals in the Rübenach Upper Hall and its adjacent dressing room. You can see images of the rooms on the tour through the official website at A journey through 850 years in one castle.

Our guide told us that family meetings took place in the Knights Hall, which is decorated with jesters’ heads to symbolise freedom of speech and to remind those gathered not to overestimate their own importance. Maybe this is something that should be re-introduced today!

Reichsburg Cochem

Reichsburg Cochem

In the afternoon we moved on to Cochem, a few stops down the line, to see a castle that is the complete opposite of Burg Eltz. The original castle was almost completely destroyed by the forces of the Sun King (Louis XIV) in 1689 and what you see in front of you is actually a nineteenth century neo-gothic fantasy, the luxurious home of Louis Ravené. As such, it is a fascinating residence and a wonderful contrast to Burg Eltz.

One striking feature noticeable in both the Knights’ Hall and in external decoration was a series of, what could only be described as warrior frogs. Brett took me to task on this, pointing out that they were, of course, lions wearing knight’s helmets with their visors down – assuring me that this was a very accurate representation of what lions look like when they dress up in armour. Who am I to argue with such an authorative voice on the subject!?

A warrior frog?

A warrior frog?

After completing our day’s quota of castles we made our way back to the station, stopping off at various points along the way. At first our timing seemed to be lousy, with no trains back to Koblenz for forty minutes, but then we noticed a strange grey wall of water down the line, creeping steadily towards us. I’ve never seen heavy rain approach in quite such an orderly fashion. Finally, it was upon us and I was very glad to have been under cover at the station!

The deluge arrives!

The deluge arrives!

The storm passed relatively quickly and by the time we reached Koblenz you would hardly have known that it had been raining. Nevertheless, we opted for the safety of an inside table at the Koenigsbacher Treff for a good meal and some rather wonderful beer.

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Sunday afternoon in Koblenz

Posted in Germany, Koblenz by folkestonejack on May 25, 2014

A day spent travelling took us by plane from London to Frankfurt and then on by train to Koblenz, ready for a week long holiday centred around the Rhein, Moselle and Neckar valleys.

It was a rather pleasant afternoon so we took ourselves out to the Rhein promenade and joined a good many sunday strollers taking in the views of the seemingly ceaseless flow of river traffic (mostly cargo ships and tankers).

Strolling along the Rhein promenade

Strolling along the Rhein promenade

To make the most of the good weather we took the cable car from the riverside up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. It is located on an excellent position atop a rocky promontory overlooking the city so it’s not really any great surprise to learn that there have been fortifications here for three thousand years.

The supposedly impregnable fortifications in front of us today were constructed by the Prussians between 1817 and 1828, after the previous fortress was demolished by the French in 1801. It now houses a collection of museums, galleries, restaurants and a youth hostel.

An orientation map helps you take a wander through the historical highlights of the fortress, though this was a somewhat disjointed and frustrating experience at times. Amongst the sights we stumbled across were reconstructed quarters from the post war period, a gunsmithery and fortress church. The most moving piece of this jigsaw was the Memorial of the German Army (Ehrenmal des Deutschen Heeres) which was built into the ravelin and inaugurated in October 1972.

Memorial of the German Army (Ehrenmal des Deutschen Heeres)

Memorial of the German Army (Ehrenmal des Deutschen Heeres)

After wandering around for a couple of hours we headed back down to the Deutsches Eck (the point where the Mosel meets the Rhein) and the old down, before finally giving in to exhaustion!

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Tegel Touch and Go

Posted in Berlin, Germany by folkestonejack on May 6, 2014

On my outbound and return trips I had plenty of time to kill so on each occasion I headed up to the observation deck at Tegel to watch the world go by. It seemed like a good opportunity to get one last good look at the airport as I am sure that by the time I come back it will have been shut down, replaced by the troubled Berlin Brandenburg airport which lies to the south of the city.

On Borrowed time - Berlin Tegel

On Borrowed time – Berlin Tegel

The impressively spacious viewing terrace at Tegel covers the entire roof span of the airport’s distinctive hexagonal terminal A, allowing you to get a good view of the entire runway and most of the gates from this terminal.

I wouldn’t normally expect much from any time on an observation deck, but seemed to have timed my visit exceptionally well on both occasions. On my outbound leg I managed to see the arrival of two Bundesrepublik Deutschland aircraft that are used for official travel and diplomatic business – the first was Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01) whilst the second was the Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21) that used to bear this name.

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A340-313X VIP ‘Konrad Adenauer’ (16+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Airbus A310-304 VIP (10+21)

On my return trip I saw one of the smaller Bundesrepublik Deutschland VIP jets, a Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01), take off after a couple of black limousines had delivered some passengers. Other notable sights included a BMW Gulfstream G550 and a classic liveried Lufthansa A321.

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland Bombardier Global 5000 (14+01)

As if this was not enough excitement, the next flight to come in was a Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion (60+01) named ‘Friedrichshafen’ (in the 100 Jahre Marineflieger livery that she was painted for last year’s celebrations) which proceeded to touch and go (landing on the runway and taking off again without coming to a full stop). I assume this was a training exercise as the same procedure was repeated just ten minutes later! It was like having a mini air-show before the flight home.

Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion 'Friedrichshafen' (60+01)

Deutsche Marine Lockheed P-3 Orion ‘Friedrichshafen’ (60+01)

In all the excitement on offer it was easy to forget that I still had to get through security and on to my own flight. Luckily, I made it through just in time and my reward (c/o British Airways) was a 15g bag of crisps, which has to be the most miserly snack that I think I have ever seen on a flight. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have made it on board and be heading homewards!

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The Battle of Nations

Posted in Germany, Leipzig by folkestonejack on May 5, 2014

The Battle of Nations on October 1813 was the largest battle in Europe prior to the First World War, drawing in the armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, and Sweden in the attempt to defeat Napoleon and his Grande Armée (which in itself was something of an international coalition).

The battle was a pivotal moment in history, particularly as the decisions made at the subsequent peace congress of Vienna re-shaped Europe, sealed the fate of many nations and set a slow-burning fuse that would lead to war before the end of the century. I am sorry to say that it was a period that I never really covered at school, but Adam Zamoyski’s terrific book ‘Rites of Peace’ provides a compelling account of Napoleon’s fall and the diplomacy of the congress.

The Völkerschlachtdenkmal

The Völkerschlachtdenkmal

On my visit to Leipzig I headed to the best known of the monuments erected to remember the battle – the gigantic, if not exactly beautiful, Völkerschlachtdenkmal. This monument was actually only completed in 1913 to commemorate the centenary of the battle, but there are other monuments dotted around the former battlefield that were erected in the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed (not dissimilar to the monuments you see spread around the battlefield at Waterloo).

The vast scale of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal really hits you as you enter through the crypt, looking at the vast foundations, then again as you look down from the Singers’ Gallery at the matchstick figures having their pictures taken next to the feet of the giant statues in the Hall of Fame. It’s not necessarily a monument that you fall in love with but you cannot fail to be impressed.

Tiny figures in the Hall of Fame

Tiny figures in the Hall of Fame

It turns out to be a good time to visit as the renovations completed for the 200th anniversary have removed the black discolouration and once again revealed long hidden details, such as the equestrian relief that covers the interior of the dome. It is quite astonishing to see the transformation that the restorers have wrought.

There are other innovations that have been delivered in the refreshed presentation that has accompanied the restoration, such as an audio-visual presentation that cleverly wove the story of the battle, the commissioning of the building, its construction and subsequent appropriation in the national socialist and DDR eras.

Traffic lights at the top

Traffic lights at the top

The ascent to the very top of the monument requires you to climb a very narrow set of stairs, which would be a nightmare if it was not controlled as there is no room to pass. Ingeniously, they have installed traffic lights to go up and down! Having experienced the awkward moment of trying to squeeze pass visitors on many a spiral staircase in English castles, this makes a refreshing change.

The classic view across the water

The classic view across the water

Although the rooftop view is great, it is the view across the water up to the monument that adorns most picture postcards of Leipzig. This shot is particularly effective in late afternoon with the full effect of sunlight striking the front of the structure.

The Napoleon Stone

The Napoleon Stone

Two other memorials to the battle are in easy walking distance. The first, the Napoleon Stone, is literally just around the corner. The monument was unveiled in October 1857 and marks the spot from which Napoleon observed the battle. It is a simple affair – a small granite block on which replicas of the sword, hat and telescope of the Emperor rest.

Saint Alexi Memorial Church

Saint Alexi Memorial Church

The second memorial site that I visited was the Saint Alexi Memorial Church. This Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1910 to commemorate the 22,000 Russian soldiers who died during the battle. The church has been undergoing restoration in time for the anniversary but the scaffolding was only just coming down today. It is as beautiful on the interior as it is striking from the outside, with an iconostasis containing 87 icons.

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Twenty four hours in Leipzig

Posted in Germany, Leipzig by folkestonejack on May 5, 2014

After a good night’s sleep at the InterCity Hotel Leipzig I bounded out into the city centre, relishing the prospect of a single full day of sightseeing in Leipzig. As it was a monday (a day that many museums close in Europe) my options were already limited but there was plenty on my agenda to keep me happily engaged.

The first stop was to grab breakfast in the cathedral to the railways that Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, the world’s largest railway station (albeit with an alternative guise as a shopping centre). It’s an imposing space by any standards, with it’s vast interior reminding me of Grand Central Terminal, New York and Milano Centrale. Not only that, but it has facilities that really make travel a pleasure – a marvellous bookstore, a good selection of bakeries and even a few heritage locomotives.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

The first stop of the day was to be the Museum in der Runden Ecke, a place that I have wanted to visit ever since I read ‘Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder’ and it did not disappoint. The full story of the organisation was astonishing and would have seemed laughably absurd in many instances, were it not for the terrible impact it had on the real lives of the people in the DDR (especially the description of how the Stasi manufactured ‘life crises’ to destabilise those that they saw as a threat).

The audio guide is absolutely essential for any english speaker as it describes the original features of the building in its stasi era configuration as much as it explains the exhibits on display, such as the fact that the doors could only be opened from the outside (anyone wanting to leave had to be let out by a Stasi officer). I spent 90 minutes in the museum having listened to all the commentary available and taken a reasonable look at the exhibits, but could easily have spent longer.

Markers for the Friendly Revolution of 1989

Markers for the Friendly Revolution of 1989

On a similar theme, there are signposts throughout the city that highlight where the significant actions of the ‘Friendly Revolution’of 1989 took place. It really helped put events into their local context, especially with the insights from the Museum in der Runden Ecke to draw upon.

A chance stop at a local bakery gave me an opportunity to try one of the traditional local pastries, a Leipziger Lerche, which takes its name from the larks that used to be baked in pies. I think the modern replacement of larks with a mixture of almonds, nuts and cherries is a vast improvement!

My next move was to take the tram out of the centre. The first stop was the Russian Orthodox church, of which more in another post, followed by Sudfriedhof cemetery. The cemetery was a haven of quiet solace with some quiet astonishingly beautiful memorials, including a monument to the local lads who died in the First World War. It was the individual memorials that really grabbed me though – a man clutching at a tomb door, a mother laying plants at a son’s grave and a hauntingly young face carved into a soldier’s grave.

First World War memorial at Sudfriedhof

First World War memorial at Sudfriedhof

The next couple of hours were taken up with the colossal memorial at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal and the modest but fascinating museum about the battle. Finally, with my energy a little sapped, I headed back into the centre and took a more leisurely wander around. Sights that I passed included the Leipzig Bayerischer Bahnhof, Germany’s oldest preserved railway station, the Neue Rathaus and lastly, the City-Hochhaus. I took in the sunset from the City-Hochhaus (aka Panorama Tower) and headed back to the hotel, satisfied to have seen so much in my one day in Leipzig.

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Crocodiles in the wild (at Profen)

Posted in Germany, Profen by folkestonejack on May 4, 2014

The final day of our tour dawned brightly and our spirits rose as we reached Tagebau Profen in full sun, enjoying a splendid view over the open cast mine from a public viewing gallery. The open cast mine at Profen is operated by MIBRAG (Mitteldeutschen Braunkohle AG) and comprises the mine fields at Profen Süd, Schwerzau and Domsen. Together these produce 9-10 million tons of coal per year.

Our interest in the mine is, rather predictably, down to the company’s use of 15 unmodified class EL2 electric locomotives. The railway network here is much smaller (just 100km) and uses a traditional telephone block system (in contrast to the centralised operations centre of the kind that we saw at Schwarze Pumpe).

A crocodile in sunshine

A crocodile basking in sunshine

Although we did not have an official photo permit for the mine we were able to photograph trains on the system. To help us, the railway gave us the services of the shift mining engineer as a guide and he was able to stop the trains if we needed to photograph them a second time. I liked the sound of that!

We soon had need of this special power as our attempts to photograph a double headed train looked likely to be thwarted by clouds. It was somewhat strange to hear the instruction “Let the regular train come when the sun is out!”. I like to think that this is not the artificiality of a photo-charter, but rather a slightly altered reality!

The morning went incredibly well overall and we got shots from the best of the locations on offer – though I think the backdrop of the distinctive light blue power plant was my favourite.

Two crocodiles push a coal train into the yard at Wählitz power station

Two crocodiles push a coal train into the yard at Wählitz power station

We spent some time chasing locomotive 1255 and it’s driver became an unwitting film star as he filled the sand boxes on the locomotive at a stop just before midday. It couldn’t have been easy carrying out your everyday job with a bank of twenty photographers snapping away, but he managed admirably!

Our morning ended at the company’s site which includes a narrow gauge class EL3 locomotive and a spreader used to shift tracks.

Satisfied with a good morning’s work we headed to the Hotelgasthof Draschwitz for some rather tasty homely fare (the goulash with Thuringer klose and rot kohl comes highly recommended!). This seemed like a good way to celebrate the end of a short but highly enjoyable tour, with just the relatively short drive to Leipzig/Halle airport left ahead of us.

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Chasing crocodiles at Schwarze Pumpe

Posted in Germany, Schwarze Pumpe by folkestonejack on May 3, 2014

Our second day took us to the mine railway around Schwarze Pumpe, which translates literally as ‘black pump’ and sounds oddly appropriate given the concentration of industry today.

It is tempting to imagine that this area got its name from the mining industry, but in fact the pump in question was a watering hole for horses next to a restaurant! It was painted black (signifying the plague) during the Thirty Years’ War to protect the locals from the plundering of Swedish mercenaries.

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Electric locomotive 4-1306 hauls an early morning at Schwarze Pumpe

Today, the powerplant dominates the area and a fleet of crocodiles regularly criss-cross the largely rural landscape. Our first stop, at a field on the outskirts of Schwarze Pumpe, gave us the perfect illustration of this.

The frequency of trains was a delight – a stop at a nearby level crossing delivered three trains within the space of half an hour. A couple of bemused security guards from the local mine turned up to check us out, convinced that we must be environmental protesters. To be fair, it’s probably not often that they get visitor enthusing about their mining operations!

After a lunch stop in Spremberg we returned to the fields, hoping that the sun might make an appearance and give us at least one perfectly illuminated shot. Luck did not seem to be on our side – from our spot in the fields we saw five trains on distant lines, but none appeared on the bridge/line nearest to us until one and a half hours had passed. Our wish for sun had not been granted either…

In fact, it was not until 4pm that the sun put in more than a fleeting appearance – at last giving us some good opportunities to shoot crocodiles in sunlight. After four trains passed within half an hour we could relax a little and head away knowing that not all our shots would betray the gloom of an overcast day.

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Fully laden with coal for Schwarze Pumpe

Shortly after this, an emergency stop by our convoy (three minibuses and a handful of cars) gave us an unexpected chance to get a shot from our field of dreams in full sunlight. It was rather wonderful to see a crocodile crossing the bridge fully lit.

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses  the landscape in full sun

Electric locomotive 4-310 crosses the landscape in full sun

Our day finally ended at 6pm and our minibus transformed into the “Zwenkau Express” for a blast down the autobahn to our hotel on the outskirts of Leipzig. The express tag turned out to be more literal than we anticipated, with the rest of our convoy arriving at the hotel forty minutes later.

Parallel roads

Parallel roads

The reward for a sometimes frustrating day by the lineside was some rather terrific food at the Krautergarten restaurant (Hotel Seehof) which has to be the most unlikely location for a four star hotel that I have ever seen (opposite an industrial estate and lorry park), but really deserves to be given a try.

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