Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Seventh Day Of Our Vacation: The Semmering Pass And Graz

We left Vienna at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and headed south and west on the autobahn en route to Graz.

We remained on the autobahn until we reached the exit for the Semmering Highway, where we departed the autobahn and drove the Semmering Highway most of the way to Graz.

The Semmering Highway traverses The Semmering Pass, the easternmost and lowest of all the great passes across The Alps—but also one of the most scenic.

We were pleased that the highway was completely modern (and wide), as we had feared that the drive might make us queasy.

Except when we were in one of the numerous tunnels, our drive was spectacular. The views were unutterably beautiful.

The Semmering Highway gave us the best scenery of the first seven days of our trip (although Friday’s scenery was to prove to be more spectacular still). For us, natives of Oklahoma and Minnesota, where the land is conspicuous for being flat, the drive was a marvel and almost surreal: an ultra-modern highway high in the mountains, with cars and trucks passing like nothing in the least was out of the ordinary, surrounded by some of the world’s most extravagantly-beautiful scenery in all directions.

The Alps are entirely different from The Rocky Mountains in the American West. The Rocky Mountains are not beautiful like The Alps are beautiful. For one thing, The Rocky Mountains are dry and arid, and lack the greenery of The Alps. Of more importance, The Alps are characterized by a beautiful, diffuse light that lends them a sense of mystery and drama. There are no mountains more beautiful than The Alps. They have been the world’s ultimate tourist attraction for hundreds of years.

We remained on the Semmering Highway until we had to exit in order to take another highway that would take us through the Mur Valley and into the city of Graz. The forests, farms and meadowlands of the Mur Valley were almost as beautiful as the scenery along the Semmering Highway.

It was very early afternoon when we arrived in Graz. We located our hotel first thing, parked the car, checked into our hotel, and headed for Hauptplatz, the main square. At Hauptplatz, we were to meet Leopold, a friend of Andrew from Andrew’s school year in Vienna. Leopold, a native of Vienna, now lives and works in Graz (he is a professor at one of Graz’s many universities), and he was to devote the afternoon and evening to escorting us around Graz and showing us the town’s principal sights.

Leopold (his nickname was “Poldie”) was very, very charming. He was very short—he was only 5’6”, I would guess, if even that—and he had the dark hair and dark, flashing eyes of a Gypsy (a very common “type” in Austria) and the urbane, polished, excessively-polite manner of a professional diplomat. He spoke beautiful but heavily-accented English, he gesticulated constantly (but elegantly) with his hands, and he had a winning, even irresistible, smile. We were all captivated by him.

Leopold showed us around the Medieval Quarter of Graz, one of the best-preserved city centers in Europe. The Medieval Quarter is noted for its narrow lanes, ancient buildings, numerous market squares, and many intriguing monuments.

We saw the Rathaus (city hall) and the Landhaus (regional government offices). We saw Landeszeughaus (the ancient provincial arsenal) and Herrengasse, an ancient neighborhood filled with fine residential properties, all built centuries ago.

We saw the exteriors of several museums, a couple of which featured modern architecture. One museum was the Landesmuseum, which houses a group of museums that includes a history museum, a natural history museum and a collection of Old Master paintings. Another museum was the Stadtmuseum, the municipal museum. Another was Neue Gallerie, a museum that displays 19th and 20th Century art. Yet another was the Kunsthaus, Graz’s newest landmark and perhaps the world’s most famous building planned and erected in the 21st Century. The Kunsthaus houses contemporary art.

We visited two ancient churches, Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church), an ancient Gothic church, and Stadtpfarrkirche (Town Parish Church), a Gothic church with a Baroque overlay.

From the Medieval Quarter, we took a funicular to The Castle And Cathedral Quarter, which lies on a fortress-like hill high above the city.

My parents and my brother had never experienced a funicular before, and they were fascinated by the technology used in a funicular.

In The Castle And Cathedral Quarter, we observed the remains of the ancient castle, once home of the Habsburg Monarchy until the capital was moved to Vienna. We saw the elaborate Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II (the last of the Habsburg rulers to be buried in Graz), which is a chapel in all but name, and we visited Graz Cathedral, another Gothic edifice with a Baroque overlay.

From The Castle And Cathedral Quarter, we had an exceptional view of the town below, especially the Kunsthaus. In fact, the Kunsthaus building may best be appreciated by looking down on it from the old castle ramparts.

Once we had seen everything Leopold wanted to show us in The Castle And Cathedral Quarter, we took the funicular back to Graz’s Medieval Quarter.

There we had coffee and cake at an old, graceful café. We had Austrian Coffee, loaded with whipped cream, and Punschkrapfen, a very heavy Austrian cake stuffed with apricot jam and nougat chocolate, then soaked in rum, and finally covered with a thick, pink sugar glaze.

Leopold had selected the café because, he said, it offered the best Punschkrapfen in Graz—and, he told us, he knew how much Andrew loved Punschkrapfen.

The cake was incredibly moist and sweet, with a very strong flavor. I believe it may be addictive. We all decided that we, too, liked Punschkrapfen very much.

After our Austrian Coffee and Punschkrapfen, we spent another couple of hours simply strolling the streets of Graz, a magnificent city for walking and gazing. Leopold served as a veritable fount of information, pointing out interesting buildings with interesting histories, and showing us the former residences of notable persons.

Leopold kept pointing out buildings with musical associations, and he did this for Andrew’s sake. For instance, he pointed out to Andrew a building in which conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who was born in Berlin but grew up in Graz, once lived, and he pointed out a building in which conductor Philippe Jordan lived not long ago.

I had had no idea, until we actually set foot in the city, that Graz was such a beautiful and intriguing place, steeped in history and art, with a wealth of museums, churches and historic places of interest. Someday Andrew and I shall have to return to Graz, and spend two weeks exploring the city at leisure.

It was well past 8:00 p.m. when we decided that it was time to have dinner. We continued to allow Leopold to be our guide, and he selected a very fine restaurant situated near the Rathaus (which looked remarkable in the approaching twilight).

The restaurant served nothing but Styrian food. Styrian cuisine, according to Leopold, has been far the best in Austria for hundreds of years and is highly-prized throughout Europe.

The restaurant was excellent, and the food was excellent.

We had five courses.

Our first course was a large wooden platter of meats, cheeses, and garnishes (the garnishes were fresh fruits and vegetables). According to Leopold, such a platter is the traditional Styrian way of starting a meal associated with an important occasion—and, he made clear, our visit to Graz certainly qualified as a special occasion.

Our second course was the salad course: smoked trout mousse accompanied by a goat cheese-apple-cucumber salad and Pumpernickel Bread. This was the only course for which bread accompanied the food.

Our third course was the soup course: pumpkin-cream-corn soup, which was very good (although my father and my brother ordered beef soup with pancake strips).

Between the seven of us, we ordered five different main courses: stewed pork cutlets in a sour cream-mushroom sauce served with fried potatoes; roasted pork served with dumplings and white cabbage salad; butter-fried perch served with parsley potatoes and mixed vegetables; oxen steak cooked in onions served with green beans wrapped in bacon; and venison stew served with red cabbage and dumplings.

For our dessert course, we all accepted Leopold’s recommendation and ordered apple-apricot-nut strudel served with walnut ice cream.

It was quite a dinner!

(There was no gluttony involved on our part—we had, after all, skipped lunch . . .)

After dinner, Leopold escorted us back to our hotel. He had been a delightful and generous guide—Graz would not have been the same without him—and we were sorry to have to part company.

We were immensely pleased to have made not only the acquaintance of Graz but the acquaintance of Leopold as well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Sixth Day Of Our Vacation: Vienna

One of the best things about our stay in Vienna was our hotel. Even though we stayed in Vienna only two nights, we loved the hotel and we were very happy there. It was the most interesting hotel of our trip, and it provided us with our most pleasing hotel experience.

Andrew, who knows Vienna well, had selected our Vienna hotel. He had selected the hotel based upon its location, its value and its charm.

The hotel opened in 1873 and is very much of its era. It featured grand public rooms and grand public spaces, and maintained more than a whiff of Imperial Vienna.

The grandeur was carried over to the rooms: the rooms were very large, with very large windows and very high ceilings.

The hotel definitely has seen better days—the hotel has not been renovated since 1983—and it cannot be said that the room furnishings and appointments were up to American standards. Nonetheless, the hotel had a certain faded charm—and it had air conditioning, which turned out to be essential, since Vienna was suffering a heat wave during our stay—and we very much enjoyed its frayed grandeur.

The hotel’s public areas were well-maintained, even if the guest rooms might have benefited from fresh décor and furnishings. I loved the spacious Old-World lobbies and elaborate staircases and coffered ceilings.

The hotel’s breakfast was served in the main dining room. The hotel’s dining room was very beautiful, very dignified and very grand. Even at breakfast, each table in the dining room sported full linen service, very unusual for the breakfast hour in my experience.

The hotel’s breakfast was perfectly satisfactory. There were fruits and fruit juices, cereals, breads and rolls and pastries, jams, meats, cheeses—and bacon and sausages and eggs, which we like to eat while we are on vacation.

The food was fine. It was precisely what one might expect of breakfast food in a hotel dining room.

Nevertheless, on both mornings, every guest around us complained, bitterly and nonstop, about the food. The complaints focused on what the guests perceived to be an inadequate selection of foods and an exorbitant price.

For us, breakfast had been included in the cost of our rooms, and we initially had assumed that such was the case for other guests, too.

Our assumption had been wrong.

Breakfasts were included for travelers who had booked the hotel through American travel websites such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, but breakfasts were not included for travelers who had booked the hotel through European websites such as Venere. Persons who had booked the hotel through European websites had to pay fifteen Euros for their breakfasts.

This galled our fellow diners no end, all Europeans or South Americans (we did not encounter any American guests at the hotel during our stay). These persons complained about the cost, and the selection, and the outrageousness of it all. French guests seemed to be particularly irked, as did a few travelers from Spain.

The moaning was more than we could bear—and one member of our party was unable to keep his mouth shut.

“There’s a supermarket across the street, and a McDonald’s in the next block, and a Starbuck’s another block over, and about a zillion local cafes up and down the block” my brother, in exasperation, told a French woman who could not complain loudly enough about the “robbery” to which she was being—quite voluntarily—subjected.

“For fifteen Euros, I expect strawberries and cream, and crepes, and chocolate” was her reply. “And good French cheese.”

“Well, hard cheese” said my Dad, knowing the French woman would not understand the colloquialism (while the rest of us tried to hide our laughter).

It was all we could do to keep from falling on the floor.

Ourselves, we enjoyed the breakfasts—and we enjoyed the beauty and elegance of the hotel dining room even more.

Our plan for Wednesday was to explore the very center of Vienna in the morning, hitting all the highlights, and to select a site for in-depth exploration in the afternoon.

However, oppressive heat and humidity were to govern our day.

We took a tram to The Ring, and from there we explored the exteriors of The Rathaus, The Kunsthistorisches Museum, The Natural History Museum, Burgtheater and The Austrian Parliament, all the time walking around in gruesome heat.

Our next stop was The Hofburg. We explored the various exteriors and courtyards of this main palace complex of the Habsburg dynasty, trying to stay in the shade as much as possible.

From The Hofburg, we walked to the Vienna State Opera and explored the exterior of the famed opera house while the sun beat down upon us.

Our final morning stop was Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, situated in the very center of the city. The construction of Saint Stephen’s had occupied much of the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries; the church is filled with treasures and relics from eight centuries.

We explored both the exterior and interior of Saint Stephen’s, but we did not explore the crypt nor did we attempt to climb the towers. I thought Saint Stephen’s was less interesting than several churches in Munich, but I acknowledge that Munich may have more than satisfied my quotient of historic churches for the trip.

Once we had completed our visit to Saint Stephen’s, we had a decision to make: what to do with our afternoon in Vienna.

On our list of prospective places to visit were Schonbrunn Palace, The Belvedere Palace and The Kunsthistorisches Museum.

For different reasons, we abandoned all three items on our list.

We abandoned Schonbrunn Palace because we had already visited Herrenchiemsee and because we planned to visit The Residenz once we returned to Munich—and we were, frankly, not confident that we wanted to explore a third massive palace.

My Dad: Is Schonbrunn better than Herrenchiemsee or The Residenz?

Andrew: Well, Schonbrunn is completely different from Herrenchiemsee or The Residenz—but getting there will be a bit of a journey. It will take some time on the subway, and then there will be a bit of a walk to the palace. The gardens are one of the best reasons to visit Schonbrunn. The gardens are enormous—but I’m not sure we would enjoy the gardens in this hot weather.

My Dad: Schonbrunn’s out.

We abandoned The Belvedere Palace because we had most wanted to visit The Belvedere Gardens, but the oppressive weather—it was as hot and humid as a brutal Oklahoma summer afternoon—made a visit to the gardens unattractive for us.

My Dad: Other than the gardens, what’s at The Belvedere? What’s inside?

Andrew: Well, The Belvedere houses Austrian art, much of it from the late-19th Century and early-20th Century.

My Dad: Will we like it? Is it worth a visit to The Belvedere if it’s too hot to enjoy the gardens?

Andrew: Are you intent on seeing Klimt paintings? If you MUST see Klimt paintings before leaving Vienna, you will not want to miss The Belvedere. If Klimt is not a priority, and it’s too hot to enjoy The Belvedere Gardens, I would skip it.

My Dad: Belvedere’s out.

We abandoned The Kunsthistorisches Museum because we had already visited The Alte Pinakothek in Munich, and we did not want to press our luck with my Dad or my brother by visiting more art museums.

My Dad: Is The Kunsthistorisches better than The Alte Pinakothek?

Andrew: It is not even one-half as good.

My Dad: Then I say we skip it. What are your thoughts?

My Mom: I would be happy to skip it. However, we must do something. We are in Vienna. We may not be in Vienna again for years and years and years. There has to be something we can do. We are NOT going back to the hotel and throwing away an afternoon in Vienna.

My Dad: Where can we go where it’s air-conditioned, and there is something all of us might enjoy? You must be able to suggest something.

Andrew: Well, there’s a military history museum. It’s in a beautiful building and I’m sure it’s air-conditioned. It presents a history of Austria from the 16th Century through World War II.

My Dad: What’s the best thing in the museum?

Andrew: The exhibitions on the World Wars are interesting.

My Dad: Will Shelby and her mother enjoy the museum?

Andrew: It’s not just a military museum. It’s a history museum as much as a military museum.

My Dad: Name something Shelby and her mother might want to see.

Andrew: The museum has the car in which Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. You may still see the bullet holes.

My Mom: Well, that’s all we need to know! Sign us up!

And we DID visit The Museum Of Military History.

We had to take the subway to get there, followed by a stroll, but it was not a long walk to the museum from the subway stop.

The museum was very interesting, much more interesting than we had expected. It was a perfect afternoon project for us because the building was splendid—and air-conditioned—and because the displays were first-class in every way. We found The Museum Of Military History to be 100 times more interesting than Munich’s Stadtmuseum.

The Museum Of Military History occupies a purpose-built edifice erected in the 1850’s. Originally named The Imperial War Museum, the museum was intended to be a living tribute to the glories of the Habsburg monarchy, then at its zenith of power, influence and wealth.

The museum is situated in the very center of what used to be the city’s garrison and arsenal.

One must pass through a very impressive gateway to enter the compound.

The museum itself is not far into the compound. The museum building was built in a mishmash of architectural styles, with prominent Byzantine and Moorish features.

The building is enormous, as may be seen in this watercolor from the 1850’s.

The interior spaces are very large, very imposing and very grand. The interiors reminded us of a palace more than a museum.

The ground-floor central entranceway pays tribute to prominent Austrian military leaders and is called The Hall Of Strategists.

The second-floor central space is even more impressive. It is named The Hall Of Fame and depicts mythic events from Austrian history.

There were four enormous exhibition galleries on the first floor and four enormous exhibition galleries on the second floor, each devoted to a particular theme. The galleries were sumptuously designed, decorated and lighted. Historic paintings were splendidly placed to enhance the appeal of the exhibition galleries.

The eight galleries were devoted to: The Thirty Years’ War; Empress Maria Therese and her long reign; The Napoleonic Era and The Age Of Revolution; the years 1848 to 1866, at the beginning of which Austria won a war against Italy and at the end of which Austria lost a war against Prussia, in the process losing permanently its status as a major European power; the events at Sarajevo in 1914; World War I; the aftermath of World War I, when Austria remained in a virtual state of civil war from 1919 to 1938; the Anschluss and World War II, during which Austria was part of The German Reich; and Austria’s role as a sea power (which had been ended with World War I).

We enjoyed our visit to the museum immensely. We visited every room, and we were not bored for a minute. The Museum Of Military History is one of the finest museums I have ever visited.

It was late afternoon by the time we had completed our visit to the museum, and we decided to return to our hotel and clean up.

We spent a couple of hours back at the hotel, relaxing, before we ventured out again for dinner.

We chose a very fine restaurant, perhaps the finest restaurant of our entire trip.

We started with pumpkin soup, and we continued with hot bacon-cabbage salad.

Our next course was a tiny plate of seasoned meat dumplings.

We each ordered a different entrée (but sneaked small samples of each other’s food). My Dad ordered roast rack of venison fillet cooked in red wine. My Mom ordered crispy pike with cream beet sauce. My sister ordered perch in red pepper cream sauce. My brother ordered beef and onion roast (a Viennese specialty). Andrew ordered boiled beef with apple-horseradish-chive sauce (another Viennese specialty). I ordered Hungarian goulash.

For dessert, we had white chocolate-raspberry mousse.

The food was spectacular.

For the third night in a row, we had enjoyed a magnificent dinner of genuine Austrian cuisine—and we had loved it.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel.

We were almost sorry to have to leave Vienna the following morning—we had barely scratched the surface of one of Europe’s most historic and most important cities—but we were not sorry to leave Vienna’s heat and humidity behind us.

Weather reports had informed us that Styria, our next destination, was not suffering from the heat wave that was stifling Vienna.

We found that to be welcome news.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Fifth Day Of Our Vacation: Salzburg, Melk And Vienna

Tuesday, the fifth day of our vacation, was to see us begin the day in Salzburg in Western Austria and end the day in Vienna in Eastern Austria.

We rose at 6:30 a.m., and met for breakfast at 7:30 a.m.

Our Salzburg hotel’s breakfast was nothing on the order of the elaborate breakfasts we had enjoyed at our hotel in Munich. There were not even fruit juices or cereals on offer at the Salzburg hotel. The only foods served for breakfast were breads and rolls, cheeses, cold cuts, soft-boiled eggs and coffee. It was a pure German/Austrian breakfast.

We made do with the foods available—in any case, we had not expected lavish breakfasts every day during our trip—and after our morning coffee and rolls we left the hotel and walked to Salzburg Cathedral, arriving not long after the Cathedral had opened for the day.

The present Salzburg Cathedral is a Baroque building erected early in the 17th Century.

The present Cathedral building is at least the third Cathedral structure on the site.

A Christian church had occupied the spot for several centuries before Salzburg became a Bishopric, signifying that a house of worship has continuously occupied the site of Salzburg Cathedral for well over 1200 years.

I did not find Salzburg Cathedral to be particularly fascinating or particularly beautiful. It is a garden-variety Baroque Cathedral, without unusual or extraordinary features, and it is more-or-less instantly forgettable. It was the least interesting church we visited on the entire trip.

However, for us to have missed Salzburg Cathedral would have been unforgivable on our part, since the Cathedral was only a short walk from our hotel. In any case, we devoted only forty-five minutes to examining the Cathedral’s exterior and interior.

After our visit to Salzburg Cathedral, we walked back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at a café and ordered orange juice, coffee and poppy-seed cake, an Austrian specialty. This second breakfast was much better than the breakfast offered at our hotel.

When we returned to the hotel, we checked out, retrieved our vehicle and headed for Vienna.

By design, we had shortchanged Salzburg. We had wanted to see Salzburg, but we had not wanted to devote a couple of days to an exploration of Salzburg in depth.

And we DID see Salzburg. Over the course of one late afternoon, one evening and one early morning, we had spent over four hours exploring the center of the city. That was enough time for us to get a taste of Salzburg. Salzburg’s Castle, Residenz, Mirabell Gardens and numerous important churches shall have to wait for some future visit.

The drive to Vienna was very beautiful. The scenery was so spectacular that the time passed in an instant.

Two-thirds of the way to Vienna, we stopped at Melk for a visit to famed Melk Abbey.

Our first order of business at Melk Abbey was to buy tickets for the afternoon English-language guided tour.

That accomplished, we ate lunch in the Abbey restaurant, which was genuinely excellent. The food far exceeded our expectations. We ordered a full lunch—soup with herb pancakes (another Austrian specialty), braised beef tips in cream sauce with noodles, and Sacher Torte with whipped cream—and we had a wonderful meal.

After lunch, we explored the gardens of Melk Abbey, pleasant and peaceful but not particularly remarkable.

From the gardens, we visited Melk Abbey Museum. The museum was very peculiar, and not in keeping with the character of Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey Museum is a creation of the late 1990’s, with a ridiculous ultra-modernistic interior design that is already gruesomely outdated. Its exhibits are more intent on displaying modern technologies circa 1997 (such as interactive videos) than presenting a detailed history of the Abbey.

It is a very, very bad museum.

I suspect that Melk Abbey Museum is geared toward school groups, designed to appeal to fifth-graders fascinated by technological gizmos. It offers little of interest to adults.

The guided tour of Melk Abbey was our main event. In summer months (but only in summer months), Melk Abbey may be visited independently, but we believed that we might benefit from the daily guided tour in English, offered at the unusual starting time of 2:55 p.m.

I think we made the right decision.

The guided tour was a good one. It escorted us through the most interesting parts of the Abbey, including the renowned Abbey library and the main Abbey church. The tour included a visit to the primary terrace, which provided a magnificent overlook of the town of Melk and Wachau Valley.

Melk Abbey and the surrounding area are very, very beautiful.

We were right to devote an entire afternoon to Melk Abbey. It was the highlight of our day.

From Melk, we drove to Vienna.

We checked into our hotel first thing, but we did not remain long in our accommodations because we had plans for the evening.

We were somewhat pressed for time—we had to head to Theater An Der Wien for a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, and we had to find something to eat along the way—and we had no time to settle in and relax. There was to be no dawdling.

On our way to the theater, we stopped at a small family restaurant that offered two, and only two, fixed dinner menus, with no other food items available. Andrew said that, given our time limitations, a small, fixed-menu restaurant was our only option for dinner unless we wanted only a sandwich.

As soon as we entered the restaurant, Andrew informed the waiter that we had tickets for “Don Giovanni” and inquired whether the restaurant could accommodate our needs. The waiter assured us that we would make the “Don Giovanni” performance, and we took a table.

Of the two fixed menu choices, we all ordered the same option (which was menu number one): tomato-zucchini-cream soup; pork sauerbraten with cooked fresh cabbage and potato dumplings; and cake that was Black Forest Cake in all but name (except the cake featured more cherries than the typical Black Forest Cake).

The food was excellent, and the service was fast and efficient. Andrew told us that the only reason the service was fast and efficient was because we had told the waiter in advance—prior to taking a table—that we had tickets to “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien. According to Andrew, if we had not asked, upfront, prior to taking a table, whether the restaurant could accommodate our theater performance, the service would have been as slow as molasses.

And, indeed, we were attended and served much more quickly than other diners in the restaurant. We enjoyed the waiter’s highest priority—and apparently the kitchen staff’s, too—and yet none of the other diners appeared to be in the least put out by the clear preference our table was given.

Andrew says that the Viennese understand the seriousness of making the curtain of an opera performance!

The restaurant got us through our meal with ease, and we were able to arrive at Theater An Der Wien with time to spare.

In hindsight, there had been no point in rushing—the “Don Giovanni” performance was disastrous. The production was vulgar, lewd and offensive. The Theater An Der Wien “Don Giovanni” may have been the worst performance of anything I have ever attended anywhere.

At the intermission, the first words out of my Dad’s mouth were, “Until tonight, I thought burlesque was dead. I thought it died out in the 1930’s. I was wrong. Burlesque lives on—in Vienna.”

“Do you think we should leave?” I asked him and my mother.

“And miss the strippers in the second act?” was my Dad’s very sarcastic rejoinder.

And we had a very long discussion about whether we should remain for the rest of the performance. Not only was no one enjoying the performance, we were also dumbfounded how trashy was the presentation.

We left the decision in the hands of my brother and sister, who were, I think, more bored than offended by the cheesy goings-on onstage.

We decided to stay for the second act—after all, what else was there for us to do for the rest of the evening?—and my Dad told my brother and sister, as we re-entered the theater, “Think of this as history. Think of this as a visit back in time, back to the 1960’s, back to Jack Ruby’s sleazy Dallas nightclub before the authorities closed it down. This is how the underworld used to live back then—and now you can see it recreated, live and onstage, here in Vienna.”

And, although the second act was just as bad as the first, we somehow made it through the remainder of the performance.

Walking back to our hotel after the performance, my Dad said, “You know, maybe we should have tried that atonal thing in Salzburg after all. It couldn’t have been any worse than this.”

He was referring to a Luigi Nono opera presented at this year’s Salzburg Festival.

(Before our trip, Andrew and I had teased my parents about taking everybody to hear an atonal opera while we were in Salzburg.)

My Dad was right.

The Luigi Nono opera could not have been more insufferable than Theater An Der Wien’s lousy “Don Giovanni”.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Fourth Day Of Our Vacation: Lake Chiemsee And Salzburg

On Monday, Andrew and I were able to sleep until 6:00 a.m.

We did not wake until our 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, and this signified to us that we were finally operating on Central European Time.

Andrew and I had to get up immediately. On this morning, there was to be no lounging around for us, allowing us to ease into our day.

Our plan for Monday was to meet for breakfast in the hotel dining room at 7:15 a.m. We planned an early breakfast because we needed to eat, pack our things, and check out of our hotel no later than 8:30 a.m., when our vehicle was due to be delivered.

We had ordered a KIA Carnival, designed to hold seven passengers in a 2-3-2 seating configuration, with ample space for luggage.

None of us had ever been in a KIA vehicle, whether car or minivan, and we did not know what to expect. However, the KIA appeared to be perfectly adequate for our needs for seven days (although none of us would want to own one), and we signed the papers and climbed in.

Our first destination was Lake Chiemsee, halfway between Munich and Salzburg. We planned to arrive at Lake Chiemsee around 10:00 a.m., and spend a few hours at Bavaria’s largest body of water before proceeding to Salzburg.

My father drove, with my brother sitting in the front seat beside him. My mother and my sister sat in the middle seats, and Andrew and I sat in the rear seats, exposed, praying that no large trucks would crash into us. (There were a lot of trucks on the roadway between Munich and Salzburg. They traveled at speeds not permitted in the U.S., and the drivers changed lanes like lunatics. It was scary.)

It took us little more than an hour to drive to Lake Chiemsee.

We parked the minivan in the town of Prien Am Chiemsee and walked to the boat pier and bought our tickets for the ferry to Herreninsel, one of three islands in Lake Chiemsee. Herreninsel is home to Schloss Herrenchiemsee, one of Ludwig II’s unfinished palaces, as well as an Augustinian Monastery, parts of which are over 1200 years old.

The boat ride to the island took twenty minutes.

As soon as we got off the boat, we bought our tickets for the attractions on the island (which are sold only at the boat landing).

We bought combination tickets, which allowed us to visit anything and everything on the island. Since combination tickets cost only seven Euros each, and since we were not entirely certain how much of the island we would chose to visit, combination tickets seemed most sensible for us.

First thing, we walked to Schloss Herrenchiemsee, twenty minutes from the boat landing, and waited for the next English-language tour.

The only way to visit Schloss Herrenchiemsee is to take one of the guided tours. There are German-language and English-language guided tours every thirty minutes (but speakers of French, Italian, Spanish or Russian, among other European languages, are out of luck unless they have made advance arrangements for group tours).

Modeled after Versailles, Schloss Herrenchiemsee was begun in 1878. The palace was never completed. Work on Schloss Herrenchiemsee was halted in 1886 upon the death (or murder) of Ludwig II.

Three wings of Schloss Herrenchiemsee were mostly completed at the time of Ludwig II’s demise. Those three wings are the only parts of Herrenchiemsee that stand today.

The front façade of Herrenchiemsee, seen in the photograph below, has two wings extending from the main building at the rear. The front façade is longer—almost 25 per cent longer—than an American football field.

Other portions of the palace, in various stages of construction at the time of Ludwig’s death, were never completed. To the contrary, they were demolished over the next few years. The Bavarian government saw no need to continue to pay for Ludwig’s preposterous fantasies after his death.

Ludwig had already bankrupted the Bavarian treasury by creating Linderhof, Schachen and Neuschwanstein, all of whose constructions had begun before plans for Herrenchiemsee—the largest and costliest of Ludwig’s palaces—were even put into place. The Bavarian government, understandably, wanted the royal drain on the treasury to end.

Some persons believe that the Bavarian government was responsible for Ludwig’s death. Whatever the cause of the monarch’s death (the official cause of death was drowning), the Bavarian government was delighted to be free of its spendthrift head of state.

The portions of Herrenchiemsee that were completed are stupendous—if grossly over-decorated. We found Herrenchiemsee to be well worth a visit.

Despite the fact that the exteriors and interiors were designed in the final quarter of the 19th Century, Herrenchiemsee is a pure Rococo conceit, a 19th-Century recreation of an 18th-Century make-believe world that never existed. No matter where the eye turns, the eye is overburdened with a riot of color, design, texture—and opulence, even excess.

The guided tour escorted visitors through a significant portion of the palace: three rooms on the ground floor and sixteen rooms on the second floor. Grand public rooms and grand private rooms were included in the tour.

Perhaps the most impressive interior at Herrenchiemsee was the central staircase, officially named “The State Staircase”.

The most famous room at Herrenchiemsee is the Hall Of Mirrors, patterned after the Hall Of Mirrors at Versailles—except that the Herrenchiemsee Hall Of Mirrors is substantially larger than the Versailles Hall Of Mirrors.

The Hall Of Mirrors runs the length of the upper front façade of Herrenchiemsee and affords excellent views of the ornamental gardens. It was undeniably impressive, if undeniably over-the-top.

Even more beautiful than Herrenchiemsee’s Hall Of Mirrors, the largest gallery in the palace, was “The Small Gallery”, very impressive in its own right and itself built to a palatial standard of luxury.

The Royal Bodyguard Antechamber was not too shabby, either, even though it was the simplest among an extensive series of antechambers through which visitors passed en route to The Hall Of Mirrors.

The Hall Of Mirrors is flanked by The Hall Of Peace . . .

And The Hall Of War.

A Council Chamber was incorporated into the palace, a room in which State business could be conducted. Since Ludwig intended to live at Herrenchiemsee on a more-or-less permanent basis once the palace was completed, he needed a suitable room in which to discuss Affairs Of State with ministers summoned from Munich.

One of the most fascinating rooms at Herrenchiemsee was a salon whose walls were encased in highest-quality porcelain. It was, fittingly, known as The Porcelain Room.

The three present wings of Herrenchiemsee, mostly finished at the time of Ludwig’s death, were never to be entirely completed. They remain mostly as they were on the day Ludwig died.

One unfinished portion of Herrenchiemsee, The North Staircase, was part of the guided tour. The North Staircase, constructed but not decorated at the time of Ludwig’s death, is almost as impressive as The State Staircase, even though The North Staircase is completely unadorned.

Herrenchiemsee was enormously impressive, even if the whole palace was excessive and overwrought.

It is fortunate that the Bavarian government has always preserved Ludwig’s palaces—and it is equally fortunate that the palaces were untouched by war. They are among the most authentic palaces in Europe, maintained as they were in 1886, when their constructions were halted (only Linderhof was complete at the time of Ludwig’s death).

Of course, the palaces are prime magnets for tourism. Over fifty million persons have visited Ludwig’s various palaces since the monarch’s death, allowing the Bavarian government to recoup, into perpetuity, some of the original costs. An entire department of the Bavarian government is dedicated solely to the upkeep and administration of Ludwig’s palaces, and it is one of the largest departments of the government.

The guided tour of Herrenchiemsee lasted only 45 minutes. We felt rushed as we were escorted through the rooms. We wished that the tour had allowed us more time to examine the fascinating interiors. We were breathless at the end of our whirlwind sashay through the palace. In fact, we wanted to take the tour a second time, but that would have involved returning to the boat landing and buying a second round of tickets.

At the end of the tour, we walked to a different part of the palace that now houses a museum dedicated to Ludwig II. The museum presents the story of Ludwig’s life, and is filled with items owned by or associated with Ludwig.

We enjoyed visiting the twelve rooms of the museum. On display were portraits, busts and photographs of Ludwig, as well as state robes and state ceremonials owned and used by Ludwig. Ludwig’s furniture, paintings and memorabilia were part of the museum, too, as were model stage sets (Ludwig was fascinated by theater). One entire portion of the museum was devoted to Ludwig’s association with composer Richard Wagner.

Once we had visited the museum, we had lunch at the palace café, one of only two places for the public to eat on the island of Herreninsel (the other is at an hotel near the boat landing).

After lunch, we walked through the gardens attached to the palace.

The gardens, too, had been modeled after the gardens at Versailles, but only a very small portion of the planned gardens at Herrenchiemsee had been completed before Ludwig died. Since 1886, no further extension of the gardens has been attempted, or even contemplated.

Complicated, even ornate, garden plans, designed by one of Europe’s greatest landscape architects, had been drawn up before construction of Herrenchiemsee commenced. The comprehensive plans never have been and never will be realized.

From the Herrenchiemsee gardens, we walked to the Augustinian Monastery.

The Augustinian Monastery is comprised of four large buildings erected around a central courtyard. Three of the buildings are open to the public.

One of the four buildings had been erected early in the 18th Century as a palace for the Bavarian ruling family. One-hundred-and-fifty years later, Ludwig II had refurbished the building according to his own lavish tastes, a project that inspired him to embark upon the construction of a brand-new palace one mile away.

The royal building at the Augustinian Monastery was much the most interesting.

Its interiors greatly resembled the interiors at Herrenchiemsee. Most impressive was The Imperial Hall, highly-ornamented pursuant to Ludwig’s personal standard of excess.

The other two Augustinian Monastery buildings open to the public contained a number of exhibits. One exhibit was devoted to the history of the 1200-year-old Monastery, and the Monastery’s conversion to royal purposes. Another exhibit was devoted to Germany’s post-war constitution, drafted at the Monastery in 1948. Another exhibit was devoted to painters at Lake Chiemsee, and yet another was devoted to one particular painter, Julius Exter, an artist unknown to us. The paintings in both exhibits were very good.

Alas, the sacred buildings at the Augustinian Monastery are not open to the public. The historic sacred buildings are the oldest part of the Monastery, and contain what is supposed to be a miraculous Cathedral as well as a notable Chapter House. We very much regretted that they are closed to the public.

It was 4:00 p.m. by the time we had completed our visit to the island of Herreninsel. We were all very pleased that we had decided to devote a few hours to Herreninsel and its attractions. Herreninsel gave us one of the best days of our vacation.

From Herreninsel, we took the ferry back to Prien Am Chiemsee, retrieved the minivan, and continued on our way to Salzburg.

We found our hotel in Salzburg without too much trouble. We spent thirty minutes settling into the hotel, after which we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around the center of Salzburg.

I did not find Salzburg to be especially interesting, or even especially charming. The town was somewhat crowded, probably because The Salzburg Festival was in progress, and the town struck me as a bit too touristy. Images of Mozart were everywhere. Salzburg Festival banners and placards were everywhere. Everything was too commercial for my tastes.

Our most interesting encounter in Salzburg was the small graveyard of an unremarkable church in the very center of town. There we found numerous graves of very young men who had died in April and even May of 1945. They were among those who perished in the very final days of World War II, giving their lives, most on an involuntary basis, to a cause already doomed. Most of the graves bore fresh flowers. It was very moving.

We dined in a restaurant outside the immediate center of Salzburg, a restaurant patronized not by tourists but by locals. The restaurant is supposed to be a favorite of native Salzburgers, and very seldom visited by outsiders.

We were hungry, and we went all out, sampling several different foods. We had three salads: a cold potato-cucumber-onion-vinegar salad; a cucumber-sour cream salad; and an onion-fruit-Roquefort Cheese salad. The latter sounds unappealing, but in fact it wasn’t bad.

For our main courses, we ordered veal cooked in a cream-white wine sauce and roasted pork loin stuffed with plums and onions. The meats were served with sauerkraut and cooked red cabbage, and we liked the sauerkraut and cabbage. The sauerkraut and cabbage were fresh, and we learned that fresh sauerkraut tastes nothing like preserved sauerkraut. Even my sister liked the sauerkraut, which surprised me greatly.

For dessert, we ordered apple strudel and plum cake. The apple strudel had been made with tangy apples, soaked in some kind of liqueur, and it was divine. The plum cake was akin to an American fruit pie: brandied plums, set between two layers of pastry. It had a sweet-sour flavor, and probably is an acquired taste.

Our meal was superb. It was interesting, it was different, it was satisfying and it was flavorful. We were pleased that we had gone out of our way to eat at an authentic Salzburg restaurant instead of settling for fare in the tourist part of town. We had a lovely dinner, and a lovely time. It was the most relaxed, enjoyable dinner we had yet experienced on our vacation.

We did not sit down to dinner until after 8:30 p.m., and it was after 10:30 p.m. by the time we returned to our hotel.

It had been a long day, and we were ready to turn in—but it had been a great day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Third Day Of Our Vacation: Munich

Andrew and I were able to sleep a little later on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Instead of waking at 3:00 a.m., we woke at 3:20 a.m.

Further, my sister did not call us two minutes after we woke; instead, she called us twenty minutes after we woke.

And, once again, she and my brother came to our room in the middle of the night, in their pajamas, to play cards and watch CNN and drink hot chocolate until it was time for us to get our day under way.

On Sunday morning, we were able to adhere to our plan of meeting for breakfast at 8:15 a.m., which had the advantage of not getting the day started too early, for which we would all have to pay a price in terms of fatigue by late afternoon.

Happily, no one was tired on Sunday. Even though everyone had risen extremely early for a second consecutive day, we were able to enjoy a full day, and without weariness setting in.

After another big breakfast in the hotel dining room, we set out for our first stop of the day, the Alte Pinakothek. Sunday was to be the only day of our vacation devoted entirely to museum visits. On our agenda were the Alte Pinakothek and the Glyptothek. We were to see great art and antiquities.

On our way to the Alte Pinakothek, we stopped to examine Munich’s Justizpalast, a monumental but magnificent structure from the 1890‘s that serves both as courthouse and judicial administrative center.

Justizpalast is a prime example of German Historicism, an architectural movement of some currency in late-19th-Century Germany. To me, Justizpalast looked like a pure Beaux Arts building, but in fact its design is considered to be part Neo-Renaissance and part Neo-Baroque. The building occupies three city blocks.

It was at Justizpalast that members of The White Rose were sentenced to death in 1943. Justizpalast was totally destroyed by bombs in 1944, but the grand edifice was rebuilt to its original specifications in the 1950’s.

When we arrived at the Alte Pinakothek, we first walked around the complete exterior.

The Alte Pinakothek is generally acknowledged to be THE great museum building from the 19th Century. Further, it is THE masterpiece of Leo Von Klenze (1784-1864), one of the finest architects of his time.

The Alte Pinakothek was a sensation at its inauguration in 1836. Its fame proved instantaneous and worldwide. Upon completion of the Alte Pinakothek, Klenze was immediately called to London to consult with Parliament on the subject of London’s new National Gallery, and he would shortly be commissioned by Nicholas I to design The New Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.

Inspired by the Italian Renaissance, Klenze created a building whose footprint duplicates that of the capital letter, “I”. Its unique and elegant proportions and intricate stone moldings are the building’s most prominent features.

The Alte Pinakothek suffered a direct hit during World War II. Bombs destroyed the very center of the great structure, and fires burned out the interiors at both ends. (Quite naturally, the artworks themselves had been removed for safekeeping as soon as war was declared.)

Bomb damage is still visible—the portions of the building not bombed maintain their original elaborate stone facings and moldings, but the bombed portions of the building were rebuilt after the war from brick and feature much-simplified windows and moldings. This choice of reconstruction was deliberate, leaving an intentional and permanent display of the scars of war.

The differences in the pre-war portions of the Alte Pinakothek and the post-war portions are extremely noticeable upon close inspection.

That any portion of the original Alte Pinakothek has been preserved is a miracle.

For seven years after the war, the Alte Pinakothek remained a ruin, unattended and neglected, exposed to the harshness of the Bavarian winters. No effort was made to preserve or protect any portion of the building. During this time, most Munich officials planned to demolish the building once Munich’s acute post-war housing shortage was addressed.

In 1952, when plans for demolishing the ruins were being put into place, a handful of influential Munich architects succeeded in convincing city fathers that the original Alte Pinakothek building could and should be conserved. After lengthy public debate, Munich officials bought the architects’ argument, but only because the architects had demonstrated that restoring the original building would be less costly than demolishing it and erecting a completely new structure. Thus—on cost grounds alone—was one of the world’s very greatest museum buildings preserved.

The Alte Pinakothek was not to reopen until 1957, more than a decade after cessation of hostilities, yet the post-war interiors bear little resemblance to Klenze’s original creation. Aside from the upper-floor gallery layout, which continues to adhere to the architect’s vision, nothing from Klenze’s grand interior plan remains in place.

Over the decades, Munich officials more than once have contemplated restoring the exteriors and interiors of Klenze’s masterpiece to their original states. On each such occasion, a decision has been made to leave the current Alte Pinakothek as is.

It is inevitable that, at some point in the future, the building will be restored to its pre-war glory. I hope that it happens during my lifetime.

Aside from the upper-floor galleries, the current interiors are obviously a series of inexpensive post-war compromises and bear no relation to the grand interiors and magnificent public spaces created by Klenze almost two centuries ago.

Unlike the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek, across the street from the Alte Pinakothek, was totally destroyed during the war. (We did not visit the Neue Pinakothek.) Absolutely nothing was left of the original building except rubble. When the Neue Pinakothek finally reopened—in 1981, thirty-six years after the end of the war—it did so in totally new premises, free from any parallels with the original structure (which itself had been considered a masterpiece of 19th-Century architecture).

I fell in love with the Alte Pinakothek. For three years, I had been hearing about the Alte Pinakothek from Andrew, and I entered the museum with very high expectations. In fact, I feared that the museum would be unable to live up to the image of exalted magnificence Andrew had imprinted upon my mind.

I need not have worried.

The Alte Pinakothek was even better than I had anticipated.

The Alte Pinakothek, housing art from the Early Renaissance through 1800, is one of the world’s very finest painting galleries.

Entering the building, we were not certain how much time we would be allowed to devote to the building and its collection. In advance, we had prepared a plan to abandon the Alte Pinakothek the very moment my father or my brother became bored.

Happily, my father and my brother did not become bored. In fact, they loved the museum—they loved the building and they loved the artworks.

As a result, we were able to walk through all the upper-floor galleries, which display the permanent collection, at a leisurely pace.

There are so many masterpieces on display at the Alte Pinakothek that a walk through the collection is thrilling. There are top-tier masterpieces of German painting, Dutch painting, Flemish painting, Italian painting, Spanish painting and French painting. We have nothing like it in the United States.

We arrived as the museum opened for the day, and we spent more than four supremely happy hours viewing the permanent collection.

Once we had viewed everything on the upper floor, we went downstairs and had coffee at the museum café. After our coffee and rest, we walked to the Glyptothek, home of statuary from ancient Greece and Rome.

The Glyptothek, completed in 1830, was also designed by Klenze. Klenze’s design for the Glyptothek was pure Neo-Classicism, inspired by buildings from ancient Greece.

The Glyptothek was also heavily bombed during the war, and its post-war reconstruction, too, was much-simplified and its interiors completely reconfigured.

The original marble exterior façades, featuring elaborate marble moldings, were rebuilt with cheap marble (already suffering from discoloration) after the war, and the post-war exterior moldings bear only the slightest resemblance to the originals both in terms of quality and quantity.

With respect to the Glyptothek’s interiors, only the bare bones of Klenze’s original design are present in the current structure. The pre-war marble interiors and detailed vaultings are gone, replaced with simple brickwork, painted an industrial shade of white.

The post-war interiors of the Glyptothek are deplorable. Klenze would, no doubt, have preferred that the building not be rebuilt rather than thrown together on the cheap.

The Glyptothek was not to reopen until twenty-seven years after the war, in 1972, coincident with Munich’s hosting of that year’s Olympics, yet the reconstruction bears all the hallmarks of a rush job.

No plans have been put forward to return the Glyptothek to its pre-war state, but such plans should be pursued at once. The early-1970’s reconstruction was a disgrace.

The Glyptothek is much smaller than the Alte Pinakothek. It took us less than an hour to make our circular path through the building.

The highlight of the Glyptothek’s holdings is, of course, The Barberini Faun. Indeed, the only reason we placed a visit to the Glyptothek on our itinerary was to see this most famous of ancient sculptures.

The Barberini Faun is wondrous. It is one of the most overwhelming artworks I have ever seen. The Barberini Faun alone made our visit to the Glyptothek worthwhile.

After our visit to the Glyptothek, we took the subway to Schwabing to stroll the streets and select a restaurant for dinner.

Schwabing has a reputation for charm, but I found little charm in evidence. Schwabing struck me as having no more charm and no more character and no more appeal than the streets of Norman, Oklahoma.

I do not know how or why we settled upon the restaurant we selected—I think my mother decided that it was time for us to eat, so we entered the very next restaurant we encountered—but our choice was satisfactory. My father and my brother and Andrew and I ordered German roast pork with German potato dumplings, and our food was excellent. My mother and my sister ordered a plate of grilled Munich fish, which may or may not have been pike, but which they enjoyed very much. All of us were happy with our meals.

From Schwabing, we took the subway back to our hotel.

It was 8:30 p.m. when we arrived.

On our third try, we had made it through a full day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Second Day Of Our Vacation: Munich

On our second day in Munich, Andrew and I woke at 3:00 a.m., four hours earlier than we had planned. Contrary to our hopes, we had not been able to sleep for twelve hours.

We had not been up two minutes when our telephone rang.

It was my sister.

“You want to do something?” were her only words to me.

“Like what?” I responded. “It’s the middle of the night.”

“We could come over and play cards and watch TV with you guys” was her answer.

“Come” I told her.

And she and my brother were at our door, in their pajamas, a few seconds later.

“How did you know we were up?” I asked her.

“We saw your lights go on” was her perfectly reasonable answer.

And we played cards and watched CNN and drank hot chocolate until 6:00 a.m., when our telephone rang a second time.

“Are Shelby and Jason with you?” were my mother’s panicked words into the receiver.

“Yes” I answered.

“Oh, thank heavens! I thought they’d been kidnapped!” was her response.

And, since everyone was now up for the day, we agreed to meet in the hotel dining room at 7:15 a.m., one hour earlier than had been arranged the night before.

The hotel’s breakfast was incredibly lavish. It was much, much more lavish than we had expected.

There were eight or ten different fresh juices from which to choose.

There were eight or ten different cold cereals from which to choose.

There were fresh fruits of every imaginable kind, from plums and peaches to pineapple and papaya.

There were eggs, cooked to order, and omelets, cooked to order.

There were pancakes, cooked to order, and French toast, cooked to order, and crepes, cooked to order.

There was American bacon, and Canadian bacon, and ham, and British sausages and German sausages.

There were breads and rolls and pastries of all varieties.

There were cheeses and cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs, items Germans like to eat for breakfast.

Finally, there was a giant vegetable bar, filled with cold, fresh vegetables, little different from an American salad bar.

Our breakfast was excellent—and so substantial we had no need to worry about lunch.

While my mother and my sister pretty much stuck with cereal and fruit, my father and my brother and Andrew and I ate cereal, fruit, eggs, bacon and sausages for our breakfast. It was a great way to start our day.


By 8:30 a.m., we were ready for our second day of exploration of Munich.

Our first stop was Michaelskirche, a large and historic church—and the largest Renaissance church North of the Alps. We explored Michaelskirche fully, but we did not visit the crypt, which was not yet open for the day.

Next on our list was Burgersaal, a small church on two levels. Only the lower level was open during our visit, and the lower level apparently is the less interesting of the two levels.

Saint-Anna-Damenstift, a Baroque church, was our next stop. We arrived during morning service, so we were unable to explore the interior fully. For ten minutes we sat in the rearmost pews, taking in the Baroque interiors, before we quietly left.

Next up was Allerheiligenkirche Am Kreuz, another Baroque church.

Allerheiligenkirche Am Kreuz was followed by Asamkirche, the famed Rococo church designed by the brothers Asam. I thought Asamkirche was grossly over-decorated, grievously unattractive if not outright vulgar.

After our visits to these five historic churches had been completed, we were ready for the main event of our day: Munich’s Stadtmuseum.

Housed in the ancient city arsenal, Munich’s Stadtmuseum is nothing on the scale of Musee Carnavalet in Paris or the Museum For Hamburg History (although the Stadtmuseum buildings are marvelous). Much smaller than the Paris and Hamburg city museums, the Munich Stadtmuseum was made smaller still by the fact that more than half of the museum was closed due to ongoing renovation.

We walked through the portions of the museum that remained open. It took us only ninety minutes to see everything. Andrew, who had visited the museum in 2003, told us that the most interesting and important exhibits were off view. We found the Stadtmuseum to be very disappointing, and we were sorry we had devoted time to it.

After our walk through the museum, we went to the museum café in order to sit down and have coffee and decide what we were going to do with the rest of our day.

We had no interest in visiting a second museum that day—and, further, we already had set aside time to visit the Residenz, the Alte Pinakothek and the Glyptotek on future days—so we poured over city maps, trying to decide what we wanted to see.

We settled upon a walk.

Our first stop was Gartnerplatz and the area around Gartnerplatz. We examined Gartnerplatz Theater, home of Munich’s Volksoper, and we walked around what used to be one of Munich’s Jewish Quarters.

From Gartnerplatz, we walked along the Isar River.

We stopped to visit Lukaskirche, a large and beautiful Protestant church completed in 1896. Lukaskirche was the only Protestant church we encountered in central Munich, the most Catholic of German cities.

Next was the Neo-Renaissance Maximilianeum, on the opposite bank of the Isar River. Maximilianeum, perhaps Munich’s most beautiful building, is now home to the Bavarian State Parliament. We approached the Maximilianeum as closely as visitors are allowed and marveled at the noble structure.

From Maximilianeum we strolled the length of Maximilianstrasse, formerly one of Munich’s four “royal” avenues. Maximilianstrasse begins at the Maximilianeum and ends at Max-Joseph-Platz, and is lined with monuments and stately buildings.

It was only 4:00 p.m. when we arrived at Max-Joseph-Platz, but—like the previous day—we all were spent by late afternoon. We had been out and about, walking or standing, since 8:30 a.m., and we were exhausted. Our fatigue was exacerbated by the fact that we had not yet adjusted to Central European Time—and, further, because we had not caught enough sleep the previous night. In fact, upon reaching Max-Joseph-Platz, we were ready for bedtime.

We decided to have an early dinner, and to return to the hotel and to go to bed early for a second consecutive night.

We ate dinner at a different German restaurant, and once again we all ordered schnitzels and German potato salads.

After dinner, we turned in very early once again.


The highlights of our second day were examining the structures of the Munich Stadtmuseum and the Maximilianeum.

The Stadtmuseum’s home is unique. Set upon a trapezoidal property, the Stadtmuseum occupies four separate, connected buildings—three built in the late-Gothic style—surrounding a large central courtyard. Behind the four main buildings lies a fifth building of modern vintage (not visible from the street façade).

The Stadtmuseum is a distinguished and noble complex that, at present, does not have much of interest on display. It is regrettable that the parts of the museum now open contain the least interesting and least significant portions of the museum’s holdings.

The Maximilianeum is a stunning structure, stunningly situated on a rise above the Isar River. It dominates Maximilianstrasse. The eye is drawn toward the Maximilianeum from any vantage along Maximilianstrasse.

Alas, a view of the entire structure may now be obtained only at very close quarters. At a distance, tall trees on both banks of the Isar River block the view of all but the very central portion of the structure. In order to see Maximilianeum in all its glory, one must stand immediately before the building.

The photograph below, a hand-painted photograph from 1900, provides a view of the Maximilianeum superior to any that may be enjoyed today from ground level.

The watercolor below provides another view of the Maximilianeum from a slightly different perspective.

It was painted by the man who, two decades later, would become Chancellor Of Germany.