Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Ninth Day Of Our Vacation: Innsbruck And Munich

Most of Saturday was devoted to an exploration of Innsbruck.

The day did not get off to a good—or an early—start.

The previous night, we had given my parents the best of the three hotel rooms assigned to us. My parents’ room, on the second floor of the hotel, was the most spacious and most luxurious of the three rooms. It was also the room nearest the hotel’s central amenities.

In contrast, the room shared by Andrew and me and the room shared by my sister and my brother were situated at the top of the hotel. Our rooms were very small. They featured low ceilings with alcoves and dormer windows. The beds were placed only twelve inches off the floor. The televisions were tiny, the free floor space non-existent, the baths cramped.

We did not think that my parents would be happy in either of the rooms at the top of the hotel, and we had insisted that they occupy what we thought was the best of the three available rooms.

As it turned out, however, my parents were not happy with the room on the second floor. The room had faced a major thoroughfare, and my parents had been subjected to the constant sound of passing traffic through the night. They had been unable to get to sleep until 3:00 a.m.

In consequence, my parents were delayed in getting up on Saturday morning. They were not ready for breakfast until 9:30 a.m. and, when we all gathered, my parents were irritable and prepared to find fault with everything.

The hotel’s breakfast was satisfactory but not lavish. There were no cereals, no sausages, no bacon, and no eggs cooked to order. There were, however, breads and rolls, cold meats and cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, juices and coffee.

Coffee was what my parents needed most, and they had coffee for breakfast and nothing else, announcing that they never wanted to see hard rolls again and insisting that they were going to scream if they ever again were presented with cold meats, cheeses and hard-boiled eggs before 12:00 Noon.

It was not a joyous meal.

Not having enjoyed a good night’s rest, my parents were out of sorts. They had decided that our Innsbruck hotel was the most disappointing hotel of the entire trip and they vowed never to return (not that they will be in Innsbruck again anytime soon).

The hotel experience had put my parents in a very bad frame of mind and made it difficult if not impossible for them (and everyone else) to enjoy our day in Innsbruck.

In these situations, the standard practice in my family is for my sister to hang around my mother while my brother hangs around my father, with no one talking unless a fresh reason for griping asserts itself.

And this was precisely what happened for the rest of the morning: my parents were sullen (and silent) and my brother and sister kept quiet, while Andrew and I had the unpleasant job of steering this cheery group through the major attractions of Innsbruck, trying to generate some interest in (if not enthusiasm for) the sights the city presented.

Innsbruck is a very beautiful city, but our morning was gruesome.

My parents found nothing we saw interesting or amusing. It was not until early afternoon—after an American lunch at a McDonald’s franchise in the center of town—that my parents were able to put their hotel experience behind them and begin to enjoy Innsbruck.

It was 10:00 a.m. when we departed the hotel. We headed straight for the ancient center of Innsbruck. It took us twenty minutes to walk to our destination, and no one said a word en route.

Innsbruck’s Altstadt is filled with Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo buildings, many of them very fine. Since the nearby mountains are always within sight, Innsbruck is an extravagantly beautiful city.

Our first stop was the typical first stop in Innsbruck, The Golden Roof, the three-story balcony built in the early 16th Century for Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, so that he might sit in comfort while he watched jousting tournaments in the town square.

From The Golden Roof, we walked the town’s primary streets, admiring the buildings and monuments.

We explored the exterior of Innsbruck’s Hofburg, the primary Habsburg palace in Eastern Austria. We examined the exteriors of the Landeshaus, a series of buildings housing several museums. We viewed the city’s municipal buildings. We saw Landestheater, the city’s opera house. We noted the many stately ancient residences of the minor nobility, which had continued to flourish in the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. Many of the homes of the minor nobility were particularly fine, with unique and distinguished exteriors.

Innsbruck has been very fortunate in the quality of its architecture over the last 800 years. Further, the city was lucky in that most of its important architecture survived World War II (Innsbruck was bombed only twenty-one times).

However, our morning in Innsbruck was anything but lucky.

All morning, my parents complained that our exploration of Innsbruck seemed to be “aimless” and “directionless”, and that we were, too often, retracing our steps in attempting to locate important buildings on our list of the city’s most significant attractions.

It was all I could do to keep from snapping at them, but I managed to maintain self-control, since snapping would have made a bad situation even worse (and we had a long car ride ahead of us in late afternoon, and I did not want the forthcoming drive to Munich to be unendurable).

During the morning, we visited the interior of only one building. We visited the interior of Innsbruck Cathedral, a large Baroque structure dedicated to Saint James.

Innsbruck Cathedral is remarkably similar to Salzburg Cathedral. Both structures were built at the same time and are much the same, inside and out.

Innsbruck Cathedral is a beautiful building. However, by this point in our trip, we had seen our quotient of Baroque churches for the summer and no one but Andrew was genuinely interested. (My Dad: “Once you’ve seen five or six of these, you’ve seen them all.” My Mom: “This one is the least interesting of all.” My sister: “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we’ve already seen this one.” My brother: “I think I’ll go wait outside.”)

It was after our brief and listless visit to Innsbruck Cathedral, where we had apparently looked bored beyond description, that Andrew took me aside and asked whether an early lunch at a McDonald’s might brighten everyone’s day and serve to dispel the gloom.

I told him it was worth a try, and I asked my Dad what he thought about having lunch at a McDonald’s.

His eyes lighted up, and so did the eyes of my mother and brother. Not even my sister objected to eating lunch at a McDonald’s, so we proceeded to a McDonald’s outlet we had passed earlier in the morning and ordered a lunch of Big Macs, French Fries, Coca-Cola and coffee.

The lunch hit the spot. It provided everyone with a much-needed jolt of energy and brightened the day considerably.

Lunch at McDonald’s turned the day around. It allowed everyone to settle down and prepare to enjoy the afternoon.

This was fortunate, because immediately after lunch we visited something truly extraordinary—and, happily, everyone was in a mood to enjoy and appreciate it.

The attraction was Innsbruck’s Hofkirche.

Hofkirche is home of Europe’s most amazing cenotaph, the cenotaph of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (the same Maximilian I for whom The Golden Roof had been created).

Hofkirche was built as a memorial to Maximilian many years after his death. Maximilian’s cenotaph is Hofkirche’s most important feature (it is a cenotaph, and not a tomb, because Maximilian was buried not in Innsbruck but in Vienna).

The huge ornate monument, created from black marble, occupies the very center of the nave. At its base is an extensive series of bronze reliefs, above which is a double-row of marble reliefs. The twenty-four marble reliefs depict events from Maximilian’s life. The cenotaph itself is enclosed within a fine wrought-iron grill, now gilded.

Surrounding the cenotaph are 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of Maximilian’s ancestors and relatives, all rulers in their own rights.

The cenotaph is amazingly complicated, and very impressive.

Construction of the cenotaph required almost a century. Artists from all over Europe—Rome, Florence, Venice, Nuremberg, Vienna, Prague—contributed drawings for the cenotaph and its many reliefs and sculptures. Among the artists contributing drawings were Albrecht Durer and Christoph Amberger. The end result is one of the most imposing and unique memorials to be seen anywhere.

All of us appreciated Hofkirche. We were glad we had made the effort.

After Hofkirche, we had a decision to make: whether to continue our exploration of central Innsbruck, as planned, or find something else to do. We had two more buildings on our list of prospective attractions to visit, but both of the attractions were churches—and, given what had happened during our morning visit to Innsbruck Cathedral, Andrew and I were fearful of pressing ahead with our plans.

My mother stepped in and made our decision for us. She said that, if the churches were the most important remaining buildings in Innsbruck, we should visit them.

So we did.

Happily, the churches were only a few yards apart, but we had to walk almost half an hour to get to the churches, both located in Wilten, formerly an independent town immediately south of Innsbruck’s Altstadt but now incorporated into Innsbruck itself.

We first visited Wilten Basilica, a sacred building in the Rococo style from the mid-18th Century.

Wilten Basilica is at least the fourth church building on the site, a place of pilgrimage since The Late Roman Era. A famous Madonna painting, no longer extant, used to be on display in an ancient 5th-Century Christian chapel in Wilten.

Wilten Basilica has served as a Basilica Minor only for the last half-century. During the previous 300 years, the current structure had been The Wilten Parish Church.

The interior of Wilten Basilica, known throughout Europe for the brilliance of its pastel colors, is a riot of Rococo excess. Wilten Basilica is considered to be one of the most important Rococo churches on the continent.

Only a few yards away from Wilten Basilica is Wilten Collegiate Church (“Stiftskirche”), a Baroque building that is part of ancient Wilten Abbey.

Wilten has hosted a monastery for 800 years, but a Christian house of worship was situated in Wilten for centuries before the monastery was founded. There is some evidence that a house of Christian worship has continuously occupied the present site of Wilten Collegiate Church for at least 1500 years.

Wilten Collegiate Church, from the mid-17th Century, pre-dates Wilten Basilica by 100 years. The previous church building, at least the fourth on the site, had suffered partial collapse.

Wilten Collegiate Church is at least as beautiful as the more celebrated Wilten Basilica.

The interior of Wilten Collegiate Church is a riot of Baroque excess. Its colors are the deep hues of the Baroque, and not the pastel colors of the Rococo. Wilten Collegiate Church is not as renowned as Wilten Basilica but, in my opinion, the interior of Wilten Collegiate Church was at least of equal interest and beauty.

Both Wilten sacred buildings are prime examples of the influence—and excesses—of The Counter-Reformation. Such over-decorated houses of worship would be unthinkable in Protestant lands.

Andrew says that The Counter-Reformation churches of Austria and South Germany, regions caught between the sensuality of Roman Catholic Italy and the severity of Lutheran North Germany, display an over-the-top quality that exceeds even the most flamboyant Counter-Reformation churches to be found in Italy, Spain or France.

This may be because Austrians and South Germans, living in close proximity to the Protestant North, took The Counter-Reformation much more seriously than Italy, France or Spain, none of which was genuinely threatened by The Reformation. Austria and South Germany, in contrast, very clearly WERE threatened by The Reformation, which may account for the elaborately-florid Austrian and South German churches of the period.

My parents and my sister and my brother actually enjoyed the two Wilten churches, which was a relief after their indifferent—if not hostile—reactions to Innsbruck Cathedral that same morning.

After our visits to the Wilten churches were complete, we took cabs back to our hotel, where we retrieved the car and set out for Munich.

For the first time on the trip, my Dad allowed someone else to do the driving.

Andrew drove, and I sat in the front seat. My mother and my sister sat in the middle seat, which they had occupied throughout the trip, and my father and my brother sat in the rear seat.

It took us two hours and thirty minutes to drive to Munich, and we enjoyed the drive. The sour atmosphere of the morning had long since dissipated, and my parents were able to laugh about the motorcycles revving their engines at all hours of the night as they passed the Innsbruck hotel.

Our Munich hotel for the final two nights of our vacation was the same Munich hotel as the first three nights of our vacation. Returning to the Munich hotel was almost like returning home.

Andrew and I dropped everyone (and our luggage) at the hotel, after which Andrew and I went to turn in the rental car. We returned to the hotel in short order.

We remained at the hotel for only a short time, because we were soon to head out for dinner.

We chose a seafood restaurant, where we ordered stuffed pollock and boiled potatoes (our waitress had informed us that the night’s pollock was exceptional and the best thing on the menu, so we took her word for it—especially after seeing an order delivered to a nearby table).

The pollock was excellent. It was a combination of pollock filets, stuffed with mushrooms and baked, and minced, seasoned pollock, fashioned into balls and fried. We were very pleased with our dinner.

My parents turned in immediately after dinner.

While they slept, my sister and my brother and Andrew and I walked around Munich for an hour, experiencing the city at dusk.

It was a beautiful walk.

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