Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Blog Archive

Sunday, March 31, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 27 / Salzburg - 2


GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
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Hohensalzburg Castle / Salzburg

Hohensalzburg Castle / Salzburg, Austria
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We were in the middle of our class trip to the historic city of Salzburg, Austria and had just completed touring the Mirabell Gardens where scenes of the epic film, The Sound of Music were filmed.  Next we had made our way through the Salzburg Cathedral and were now about to scale the ancient cobblestone pathway up to the imposing hilltop castle fortress known as Hohensalzburg.  Our group, consisting of students from both Warwick and their corresponding German student hosts from KKG, began the hike up the walled footpath alongside the perpendicular rock face looming overhead.  The castle seemed so high above us, miles above our current position, lost somewhere within the clouds.  I will admit I wasn't looking forward to another test of endurance, especially since I had just recovered from a nasty virus that had defeated all the residents of the Galneder household and beyond.  And yes, I am going to blame my slow progress up the path on my recent illness, thank you very much!  Otherwise, I'm sure I would have easily beaten all those teenagers up to the hilltop gate!  I told the kids that my nickname back home was Mountain Goat because I love walking uphill, the steeper the better.  Bring it!  However, within a few minutes most of the kids were out of sight rounding the corner of the switchback up ahead.  It was like walking up an incredibly steep ramp leaning forward as you slowly plodded ahead.  It was awesome... I was lovin it!  

I Think I Can... I Think I Can...
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As I continued my climb ever higher toward the yet to be visible castle gate, I wondered how anyone could ever attack this castle because you would be so worn out by the time you got within striking distance... forget about it!  After what seemed like several days and nights, I turned the corner to see one final vertical stretch up to the castle gate.  As I got closer to the end goal, there were suddenly three blurred gates instead of one, which all appeared to be slightly moving.  I tried to aim for the center one and soon recognized several familiar faces, a few who were jokingly cheering me on toward the summit!  Upon crossing the threshold of the gateway to a small round of applause, I realized I was now protected by the outer defenses of the fortress walls.  With the threat of pending invasion from barbarians to the east, I now felt much safer within the confines of the castle.  Most of the kids had plenty of time to recover from their hike up to the gate while waiting for me and a few other stragglers to arrive. Within a few minutes, most of the students had proceeded onward and once again, disappeared from view around the next turn.  I had already been fortunate to visit several amazing castles and palaces but this was the first true medieval castle I had ever been inside.  It was amazing to examine the physical structure of the interior fortress walls with a narrow ledge protruding where archers once stood and fired arrows at approaching invaders.  The wall was high and a steep interior ravine was located just below the archer's ledge.  One misstep would have meant certain death from the 100 foot fall to the sharp rocks below.  No way to put if off any longer, it was time to move on and catch up with the rest of our group!

Looking Back Just Inside the Castle Gate
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Although I had made it inside the gate, one look up and I could see the castle itself was still far above me and I had quite a walk ahead to reach the upper structure.  As I walked through an arched opening within the inside wall, I turned the corner and was once again faced with an uphill climb on a steep walkway shrouded by high stone ancient walls.  I was thinking it was a shame that older folks and people who were not as physically fit as myself (AKA: Mountain Goat) could never endure the climb to experience all this amazing history.  One steep 45 degree grade pathway, led to another, and still another, eventually arriving at an arched doorway, where the trek continued upward inside through an enclosed tunnel, illuminated by lamps.  Finally, I exited the tunnel into the open sunlight, where the scene resembled a small town with townhouse style stone and stucco buildings that ran the length of what appeared to be an interior street.  There was even a small cafe with umbrella covered tables and window boxes filled with flowers that added a touch of vibrant color to the bland neutral grey stone atmosphere.  Our tour leader Herman "The German" Schneider gathered the troops around a pyramid shaped monument made from stacked large cannonballs cemented together.  Herman gave the kids instructions, including the location of the designated meeting point in Old City below and then they were turned loose, free to explore the expansive castle and accompanying museum on their own.  Herman, Wendy, and I traveled as a trio with the experience of Herman leading us to key points of interest.  We headed for a small insignificant looking doorway off to one side that happened to lead to a wrought iron staircase that descended down to a large balcony with an incredible view of the city below.

Hohensalzburg Castle Lookout Balcony
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The cloudy day had brought intermittent showers earlier but had mostly given way to clear sunny skies that gave an unobstructed view of Salzburg and beyond.  At first, I hesitated to descend the stairs, mesmerized by the fantastic view from my perch at the top of the stairwell.  The large size of St. Rupert's Cathedral, crowned by green domes dominated the city, which was surrounded by accompanying religious support buildings.  People appeared behind me and I was forced down the iron stairs to the large balcony below.  The view from the castle balcony was truly stunning with new angles to absorb every time you shifted your line of sight slightly to the right or left.  Off in the far distance I could barely make out the outline of Mirabell Gardens where we first began our walk to the castle.  I was truly mountains away from Everest but couldn't help but feel a small sense of accomplishment of making it to the apex of Mount Hohensalzburg as I gazed out over the long route I had traveled to get to my current position atop the summit.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a flag to plant at my feet to make it official.  Several our our students had also discovered the small portal down to the corner watchtower and balcony and had joined us at the wall's edge.  Solo portraits and group pictures were taken with the scenic backdrop before it was time to break apart and move on to seek new discoveries.  Herman led Wendy and I around the perimeter of the balcony from one view to another.  There was even a quaint cafe restaurant located off to one side where the view from your table nestled alongside the castle wall was incredible.  It was one of those spots where you could just pull up a chair, nurse a refreshing drink all day, and just enjoy the view of the world far below.  However, not today, as we were on a tight schedule and there was much more to see.

 A Great Spot to Drink a Coca-Cola Light
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We toured through the interior streets of the massive castle, which appeared more like an ancient town than a fortress.  There were buildings that resembled residential homes, some of which were decorated with plantings and flower filled window boxes.  Mature shade trees that seemed to be growing straight up through the rock foundation added to the town-like feel.  There was even a church known as St. George's Chapel, multiple military structures, and two more large observation decks that provided additional incredible views of the Austrian countryside.  The castle was positioned perfectly to observe an approaching threat from every direction providing ample time for defense preparations.  The first military structure was built on the high ground above Salzburg in 1077 and was expanded over time until it spanned a length of 820 feet and a width of almost 500 feet making it one of the largest medieval castles ever built.  However, it was only attacked twice over its long history.  Once by local common folk in revolt who unsuccessfully attempted to remove the prince archbishop in 1525 during the German Peasants' War.  Despite the constant building projects to strengthen the castle's defenses, it was surrendered to the French without a fight during the Napoleonic Wars in 1800.  After defeat, the castle never really served as a military post again and was for the most part abandoned by the year 1861.  Soon afterward the site was targeted for restoration and preservation efforts were underway with tourism in mind.  They even added a cable car incline railway in 1892 to make the castle more accessible for visitors.  What... a cable car?  Easy access?  Are you serious?

Wendy and Herman / Alps View
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We could see the Alps Mountains off to the east and the gray rain clouds spilling over the peaks.  We wanted to get something to eat before it was time to meet up with the kids down below so it was time to leave the beautiful views behind, preserved in memory and photographs.  I was told we had tickets to use the incline railway for our descent from the castle to street level.  Why is it we always have the benefit of a ride down and never up with every castle we had visited so far?   Come on, man!   The ride down was effortless on the incline railway which was standing room only.  It was like a large elevator car that descended at a 45 degree angle and came to a soft landing where we exited back out into the historic streets of Old Town Salzburg.  Herman had a favorite dining spot with an excellent view from an outdoor patio seating area where he wanted to take Wendy and I for lunch.  It was located within an old brewery that we had passed earlier as we were starting the steep incline toward the castle gate.  The brewery known as Steigel Keller appeared to be built into the side of the rocky hillside.  We entered into the cavernous foyer and scaled several flights of wide marble steps.  The surrounding walls of the marble staircase were decorated with the heads of mounted stags, the symbol of the historic brewery.  We walked through a largely empty indoor seating area toward the stone patio deck with a beautiful view of the Salzburg Cathedral located just below.  Trees grew up through the space providing shade from the intermittent rays of the sun through grey clouds.  I was more than ready to take a seat and relax for a while.

 Lamb Strew with Sliced Dumplings
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As always, seating was a priority to make our dining atmosphere an experience and not just a place to eat.  Herman carefully staked out the seating area for the perfect setting for lunch with a view and found it at a table occupied by an elderly gentleman sitting alone along the balcony wall.  Herman asked the friendly man if we could share his table and he welcomed us to join him.  We took the three remaining seats at the table, which had a great view of the city below.  We were about eye level with the rooftop domes of the Salzburg Cathedral.  It was an interesting but foreign custom for me to impose upon and then join a complete stranger for lunch.  He sat quietly and kept to himself as we exchanged conversation about our day and ordered our meal.  In a way it was a little awkward but at the same time, I'm sure the man was happy to have some company and he toasted us all with his drink as we were served our meal.  Later the conversation switched from English over to German and soon the man became engaged within our conversation, which evolved into smiles and hearty laughs.  I didn't get the joke but had learned to read nonverbal cues during my stay and felt involved in the pleasant exchange, despite my German language deficiencies.  I was served some type of rich stew with what appeared to contain chunks of lamb meat and vegetables served with a bread dumpling, similar to the style Andy's mother had prepared for me once.  The stew was delicious but the dumplings couldn't compare to the homemade variety prepared by Andy's mother.  We said goodbye to our new friend and left the Steigel Keller biergarten to begin our final descent to the street level of Old City Salzburg. 

  Monastery / Salzburg Catacombs
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After entering Old City, we diverted off the main walkway to explore the famous church yards and plaza that contained beautifully adorned grave plots similar to the ones I had seen at the small chapel of the abbey on Lady's Island within Lake Chiemsee.  The plots were overflowing with colorful flowers and plantings, evidence they were meticulously cared for and maintained by friends and family members of the deceased.  High above us appeared to be some form of residence carved within the sheer rock walls of the mountain cliff, suggesting a monastery.  A large arched opening into the mountain itself resembling the entrance to a cave but actually marked the access point of the expansive Salzburg catacombs.  Many people were entering and exiting the entrance and time permitting it would have been interesting to venture inside but we had a schedule to keep and a looming deadline with our students.  Too much to see and not enough time or energy to visit everything.  A light rain began to fall once again and our umbrellas were soon out as we navigated our way with Herman the German leading us back to the predetermined meeting location.  Even in the rain, the historic city seemed to emit an aura of old world charm and a pleasant mystique.  True to their perfect record to date, all the students from both schools were within the meeting area on time.  We made our way back through the city streets toward Mirabell Gardens to board our bus to travel to one more scheduled stop before we departed Austria.  Our trusty bus driver Fitztum rolled out of the parking lot toward our next adventure, another palace with connections to the film, The Sound of Music.

A Light Rain Falls in Old City
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Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!


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Saturday, March 23, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 26 / Salzburg - 1


GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
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Class Trip / Salzburg, Austria

Schloss Mirabell Palace and Gardens
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I had just spent the last two days trying to recover from a nasty intestinal virus that infected the entire Galneder extended family and beyond.  Little Leo had brought the aggressive sickness home from preschool, giving it to his mother Angela, then Andy, Andy's mother, Andy's father, Angela's mother, Angela's father, Angela's brother, and finally... yours truly, the Americana!  However, all is well that ends well... I was glad I didn't miss any travel opportunities or special calender events during my recovery.  In addition, I was thankful to be healthy enough to attend our final school field trip to Salzburg, Austria.  This field trip would be special because it would include both the Warwick and KKG hosting students together as one big group.  The trip would be lead by KKG English, Spanish, and Geography teacher Herman Schneider, who Andy likes to call... Herman the German.  We all met at KKG and soon Fitztum pulled in with the familiar Beck tour bus that would transport us all to Salzburg.  I really had no idea what we would actually see but was told we would visit several locations where scenes from the famous movie, The Sound of Music were filmed in 1968.  I told Wendy that I was expecting to see her very best impersonation of Julie Andrews, happily twirling about and bursting with song with 32 teenagers skipping along behind her to the rhythm!

Wired Streets of Downtown Salzburg
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Our drive toward Salzburg took us over some familiar roads as we traveled northeast toward the Austrian border.  As we entered the heart of the city, I instantly noticed the complex mesh of electrical wires overhead that spanned the length and sides of the street.  The wires were supported by and anchored into the frontal exterior walls of the buildings at a level height.  Within minutes, the purpose of the wires was revealed as a large city bus passed by with two large arms reaching up from the top of the bus to the wires.  The buses ran on electricity and were actually attached to the wires by metal wheels on the top of the arms that rolled along the top of each cable.  It was really interesting to watch the bus round a corner as the spinning wheels neatly jumped from one cable to the next until the two arms were once again settled on two parallel lines as the road straightened.  How did they ever map out such a complex system?  It took a little something away from the historical atmosphere of the city but was all in the name of being environmentally friendly by creating a public transportation system with zero carbon emissions.  Lights were also suspended from the wires, which illuminated the streets at night.  It was unique, something I had never seen before.  Fitztum pulled the bus into a shaded parking lot located in front of a long plaster wall that extended down most of the city block.  I noticed a large tour bus parked next to us with a huge colorful graphic picturing Julie Andrews (AKA: Fräulein Maria) advertising The Sound of Music site tour.

 Schloss Mirabell Palace and Gardens
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After the kids were offloaded from the bus, we passed through an arched opening within the plaster wall and stepped into an incredibly beautiful ornamental garden that was part of the extensive grounds of the Mirabell Palace.  The palace was first built to accommodate the prince bishops of Salzburg in 1606 and was originally named Altenau but was completely redesigned and renamed Mirabell by the new bishop in 1617 and has remained so ever since.  However, the must see site is not only famous for its long historical past and the ornate estate gardens.  It is also famous because several scenes of the movie the Sound of Music were filmed within the gardens.  The Sound of Music is one of those iconic events from many of our childhoods.  It is the classic film that has defined quality family entertainment for generations, which is why it was shown on a Sunday evening every late December, even though it had nothing to do with the Christmas holiday.  My parents remembered when it first hit theaters in 1968, a time when couples still dressed up in their best church worthy attire to go to the movies.  My mother always reminisced how she and all her girlfriends were smitten with Christopher Plummer and the guys all fell head over heels for Julie Andrews.  We all claimed our predesignated spots on the living room couch or lounge chairs around the television, passing a big bowl of Jiffy Pop as the familiar story unfolded.  Even if you couldn't carry a tune to save your life, you couldn't help but hum and then outright sing along to the well known song lyrics.  The classic songs with the upbeat tempos were stuck in your head for a full year until it was time to watch the movie again, which would restart the cycle all over again!

Do-Re-Mi / Mirabell Garden Steps
(Film Still Credit / 20th Century Fox
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I wish I would have watched the movie again before we left on our trip but I thought I could remember specifics because I think I've seen it at least 27 times.  The Mirabell gardens looked familiar but I couldn't recall specific sites within the estate gardens from the film so I took pictures of just about everything.  After checking the movie script, the Do-Re-Mi song was filmed within the gardens including specific shots of the trellis tunnel, horse fountain, and garden steps.  You just got the lyrics of the Do-Re-Mi song stuck in your head in a continuous loop... didn't you?  Good luck with that!  It's been in my head since I started writing this and I only thought it would be fair to share the experience and/or torture.  This is my first blog with an accompanying preloaded sound track... Enjoy!  The funny thing about the Sound of Music, is the fact that most Germans, including most of the people we met from KKG, have never seen it.  Go figure?  As usual, we were on a tight schedule with so much to see and as a result, had limited time to circulate through the garden.  Soon we were outside the walls and back into the busy streets of downtown Salzburg marching toward the hillside castle fortress in the distance, which was also seen in the movie from the same viewpoint during the Do-Re-Mi film scene.  Do, a deer a female deer... Re, a drop of golden sun... Mi, a name I call myself... Fa, a long long way to run... So, a needle pulling thread... La, a note to follow So... Ti, a drink with jam and bread...  That will bring us back to Do, oh, oh, oh... PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!       
     
Do-Re-Mi / Mirabell Garden Steps
(Compare with the Film Photo Above
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We walked through Salzburg, crossing the busy streets as a large group because there is safety in numbers.  We walked over the Salzach River via a foot bridge, crossing from Germany into Austria at the midpoint of the flowing water.  The river serves as the border between the two countries for over 43 miles and is named for the German word "salz" meaning salt.  The Salzach River was a critical transport route for the lucrative salt trade of the area for centuries until railroads proved a more efficient means of delivery.  Walking over the bridge I noticed that thousands of colorful padlocks were locked to the wire mesh from the handrail down to the base of the bridge on both sides.  I thought it was a unique display of some form of expression of modern art but later learned they are known as Love Padlocks.  Couples in a serious relationship place a padlock on a public bridge or other designated location within an urban area as a symbol of their everlasting love.  Many of the colorful locks displayed the couples initials, hearts, or other phrases of affection.  The origin of the practice is unknown but started to become popular in 2000 starting in Rome on the bridge Ponte Milvio in connection to a popular novel written by Italian author Federico Moccia published the same year.  The practice spread throughout Europe and has become controversial in some cities where government officials want them removed for a variety of reasons.  Some cities have actually physically removed the locks from various bridges and landmarks only to see them reappear in greater number.  So far, love has prevailed!

Love Lock Foot Bridge / Salzach River
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The city of Salzburg is also well known as the birthplace of musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in January of 1756.  The son of an accomplished musician and music teacher, young Mozart was said to be able to play the violin, piano, and compose his own musical prose at the age of five.  His amazing talents quickly surpassed his father and were critically acclaimed by royalty throughout Europe as the family went on tour across the continent.  Eventually, he moved on to Vienna and by the time of his death at the young age of 35, he had composed over 600 works of music in various forms within the Classical Style.  We passed by the house where he was born, which has been transformed into a popular museum.  One of the most interesting things you see just about everywhere in Salzburg and beyond, sporting the popular portrait of Mozart, has absolutely nothing to do with music.  In 1890, Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst created the Mozartkugeln, a dark chocolate candy with a nougat and pistachio paste center that was in the shape of a perfectly round ball-like shape.  Fürst decided to name his new candy creation for the city's most famous resident and soon they were known simply as the Mozart ball.  The Fürst company still creates the popular treat according to the original recipe by hand, producing over 1.4 million Mozartkugeln annually.  The popular taste was quickly copied by other candy companies making knockoff versions, also rolled by hand or mass produced industrially.  Regardless of the candy's origin, they are all wrapped in colorful foil, sporting their chosen portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozartkugeln Candy Shop Window
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As we walked through the city we passed one candy shop after another, some of which appeared to sell nothing other than the Mozart Ball candy.  The colorful store fronts were impossible to ignore and once inside the popular candy was creatively packaged a hundred plus different ways.  The chocolate candy with the pistachio center has a limited shelf life but can reach about eight weeks if stored in cool conditions.  As a result, I had finally discovered a location with real, man made, air conditioning operating within the borders of Germany!  Wait a minute... I was actually a few steps just inside Austria but it was close enough!  Later, as I was leaving the historic section of the city, Wendy and I stopped in one of the many shops to purchase some of the famous candy.  I can now say first hand they were very delicious, having a unique taste that left you wanting more.  I highly doubt any of the shops were concerned with shelf life as everyone was buying them in bulk and were sure to be devoured a short time later.  I only bought a few so I could give them a try to see if I liked them before buying a full box.  However none of them made it all the way home.  Luckily, they could be found throughout Bavaria including our home away from home in Altötting.  If you're curious and want to try them yourself, you can order them online.  Our large group continued to wind through through the ancient streets toward the Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart was baptized.   As we approached the cathedral dedicated to Saint Rupert of Salzburg, one of the founders of the city, we were passed by several horse drawn handsome cabs who were making their way to congregate within the courtyard of the cathedral where the sun was blocked out by the the structure's towering walls.  We followed the crowd around the side of the cathedral to the ornate entrance to get a look inside.

Handsome Cab / Salzburg Cathedral
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The cathedral was amazing, especially the inside where a massive rotunda dome crowned the section encompassing the main altar within the sanctuary.  Although designed in the Baroque style, the interior is mostly presented in simple color compliments of bright white and light beige.  The first cathedral was built on the site in 776, was expanded multiple times, destroyed by fire in 1598, reconstructed by 1628, partially destroyed by allied bombs in 1944, was repaired and renovated by 1959, and has since stayed intact!  While we were visiting, exterior work was taking place just above the exterior entrance of the cathedral.  Renovations were a common sight at many of the churches we toured during our stay.  Most of the larger religious structures had scaffolding scaling the walls at one designated section of the building.  I imagine the repair work slowly rotated around the walls, which enabled repairs to progress without impacting religious services or visiting tourists.  Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Bavaria and keeping historic sites open and accessible is important to the local economy.  A light rain began to fall as we had a little free time to explore the local shops and maybe grab a snack.  I was able to find a small kiosk where I found my collector site pin for Salzburg and grabbed an ice cream bar before I rendezvous back with the rest of our party at the plaza fountain near the cathedral.  Now we began to walk up a steep walkway toward the hilltop fortress known as Hohensalzburg Castle that overlooked the city.  Another urban mountain climb... here we go again!

 St. Rupert's Cathedral Salzburg
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Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 25 / Linderhof


GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
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King Ludwig II / Linderhof Palace


 Schlosshotel Lisl / Outdoor Dining
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We had just descended from the heights of Neuschwanstein via a tour bus flying down the mountain as if it were an Olympic event.  I had already been suffering from a growing bout of nausea and now I think I could add whiplash to my list of symptoms.  As the bus driver pulled in to drop us off at the bus stop at the bottom of the mountain, there were a lot of smart people in line waiting to take the trip to the top rather than walk the whole way up to the castle.  The bus driver was not the most patient man I have ever encountered to say the least.  As the bus attempted to pull into the designated parking stop, a few of the awaiting passengers standing in line were not behind the designated sign.  First, the bus driver blasted the horn and then seconds later, used the bus itself to physically push a few people out of the way!  Really?  I know this guy has a schedule to keep but take a deep breath and don't be such a bus bully!  We exited out the bus door without getting run over and looked for some place to grab a quick bite to eat.  The clock was ticking, so we had very few options to consider and simply went right to the outdoor seating area of the restaurant located next door.  The goal was to get something to settle my stomach but the normal traditional fare of bratwurst and sauerkraut wasn't even on my radar, drastically limiting my menu options.  Wendy jokingly suggested ice cream was the best medicine but this would be one of the few days I broke the law and sadly didn't have any.  With few choices, I reluctantly settled on a grilled chicken tender salad thingy that was incredibly sophisticated and fanciful when it arrived at our table.  I managed to eat the chicken and pick at the overwhelming mountain of salad but left the majority of the fluffy greenery on the plate.  We went to the parking lot and found our bus, which was the designated meeting spot for our group.  Always reliable, our bus driver Fitztum was standing outside the open bus door at the ready.  We all boarded the bus early and waited for the others to arrive.  Fitztum was a great guy and never used his bus to push any pedestrians out of the way... at least to my knowledge!

Cloud Covered Plansee Lake
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 I really have to give our kids a lot of credit!  Although they had been spread out over an area about the size of a full square mile, they all managed to meet and board the bus on time.  Good job boys and girls... you have all earned a happy face sticker today for your classroom punctuality chart!  In all seriousness, it is really stressful to have kids that are your responsibility out of sight and separated from one another in pairs, navigating a historic site within a foreign country on their own.  Although part of the experience, it was always a relief to count heads and arrive at the sum of 17!  We really appreciated our kids conscious efforts to watch the clock and consistently rendezvous on time throughout our trip.  Even Fitztum noted he was impressed and admitted it was a trait he rarely encountered with student groups!  We were ahead of schedule and Fitztum now took over, taking the initiative to fill the small open vacancy within our trip itinerary.  He drove us through the beautiful green twisting alpine roads that flip-flopped back and forth over several river beds that appeared half full as if the area was suffering from a drought.  After asking Fitzum, he informed me that the river beds were rushing torrents during the spring thaw when the winter mountain snows were rapidly melting and resulting water was descending into the valley.  However, in early summer they were now transformed back into gentle streams in stark contrast to their former strength.  We were traveling to make a brief stop at another one of King Ludwig's palaces known as Linderhof.  Although we wouldn't have the time to purchase tickets for an interior tour, we could check out the exterior of the palace and accompanying legendary gardens free of charge.  The bus ride was tough for me as I felt myself slipping further and further into an unmistakable state of illness.  Wendy repeatedly urged me not to think about it... So once again, I tried to focus on the incredible scenery out every window as we were traveling through isolated rural roads off the beaten path at the mercy of Fitztum's internal GPS.  I was glad we would be making a stop on our bus ride toward home to break up the long drive back to Altötting.

Linderhof Hotel + Restaurant
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One of the highlights of our scenic drive was passing by the impressive length of the Plansee Lake bordered by large rugged mountains that bore the harsh scars from the runoff of melting winter snows.  The entire lake would have a drastically different look during the spring season when reducing snow capped mountaintops fed the runoff lines transforming the now present scars into beautiful tumbling waterfalls.  I never realized how the change of season could also change water levels and their volume could impact the total physical appearance of the landscape.  The lake just seemed to go on forever and appeared to be mostly desolate and uninhabited, which added to the rustic charm and Alpine personality of the peaceful lake.  There were no boats on the surface of the lake or people visible on the shoreline and few cars passed us on the road.   It was an isolated spot on the map of Bavaria.  Had I been feeling better, I may have been bold enough to ask Fitztum for a quick pit stop for a few pictures from the shore.  However, Linderhof awaited and so I settled on capturing the setting of the lake with my camera from the comfort of my seat through the glass of the bus window.  We eventually left the never ending shores of Lake Plansee behind and continued on our way, twisting and turning through the complex valley, running through the gap between steep mountain walls.  Stop the merry-go-round, I want to get off!  We pulled into a parking lot that was almost deserted in comparison to Neuschwanstein.  The alpine styled hotel and restaurant near the parking lot was incredibly beautiful and perfectly fit the surrounding mountainous atmosphere.  The walk to Linderhof palace was advertised as "46 Year Old Man Suffering from an Oncoming Virus Friendly" since it was a short distance and almost level.  Ok, I can do this one more time... I think?

 Linderhof Palace Front Entrance
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Linderhof was the third and only palace that King Ludwig II lived to see completed.  The physical site of the palace was originally used by Ludwig's father as a summer retreat and hunting lodge.  When Ludwig became king, he tore down the original wooden structure and began to rebuild it on the present site of the palace.  The wooden structure was expanded and then adorned with a stone facade. Over time, it was transformed into a palace, no longer resembling anything like its former self.  It became a smaller physical tribute to Ludwig's fascination with King Louis XIV of France, resembling the Petit Trianon, located on the estate grounds of the palace Versailles.  In contrast to his other building projects, Linderhof was small and personal, designed only for King Ludwig's private use.  In fact, there are only a total of six rooms inside and several had no specific usable purpose.  Too bad we didn't have tickets... I mean, how long could it possibly take to see a tour of six rooms?  We walked up the gentle sloping pathway past a small lake containing a pair of white swans.  The swan is the symbol most attributed to King Ludwig II and among his many names, he was also known as the Swan King.  There were also lush green mountainside meadows visible as far as the misty skies would reveal.  In my opinion, the small palace structure of Linderhof was overshadowed by the beautiful Versailles like gardens, which surrounded the chateau on all four sides.  They were the most stunning exterior gardens I would encounter during my trip, resembling living works of art created by nature but manicured by man.

Southern Garden / Naiad Fountain
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The southern garden was striking, unlike any formal gardens I had seen yet.  The centerpiece was the golden fountain sculpture of Naiad that forced water upward through it's center at least 50 feet in the air.  Beyond the ornate fountain were dual stone staircases that mirrored one another in form and rose to a small Romanesque styled dome topped temple.  I was thinking about going all the way to the top but had climbed to enough heights for one day.  The perimeter of the Naiad fountain pool was framed with colorful flower plantings.  The whole scene was truly a beautiful sight to behold.  Rounding the walls of the palace I came upon the western parterre garden that was covered by a rich lush green lawn, with borders of bright red impatiens, dusty millers, and neatly trimmed dwarf spruce trees that were about a foot high.  The entire space was surrounded by tall hedges and a green wooden pavilion that encircled the rear section of the garden.  Bright white pathways led to several statues and cascading fountains within the gardens but few people entered, as if not wanting to disturb the pristine space.  Continuing around the garden compass, the northern section consisted of a waterfall that fell from the top of a hillside down 30 stone steps toward a large fountain of Neptune accompanied by sturdy horses of stone.  I was told there was a music pavilion on top of the hillside but I took their word for it because as I said before... I was done climbing!  I was saving all my remaining strength for the three steps I needed to conquer to board the bus for home!  Enough Already!

The Western Parterre Garden
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There was a pair of long arched trellis tunnels covered in vines on both sides of the step waterfall that went down the length of the hillside.  The entrance to each tunnel was guarded by an ancient looking Roman statue.  The Neptune fountain contained three powerful looking horses who had water pouring out of their noses and mouths with force.  They almost appeared as if they had all downed a glass of milk way too fast and started to laugh mid gulp, causing liquid to sprout from every available orifice!  Do you remember when that used to happen when you were a kid?  It's one of those things from childhood that is always funny as long as it wasn't happening to you, especially during school lunch!  Anyway, heading east I encountered another beautiful garden that mirrored the western parterre in style but was slightly different.  The beautiful landscaped eastern parterre area started with a decorative garden of flowers in the shape of a scrolled ornate emblem, consisting of bright red and white impatiens outlined with purple floss flowers.  The edge of the garden space was marked with a total of six large roman statues on pedestals positioned in the form of ball pockets on a pool table.  A larger sculpture depicting Venus and Adonis was centered within the rectangular shaped garden.  Once again a wooden pavilion filled the far end of the garden space containing a bust of King Louis XIV with steps just beyond, lowering visitors down to a submerged fountain.  Soon I was back at 12:00 on the garden clock and once again looked out over the large southern cultivated landscape.

The Eastern Parterre Garden
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The eastern and western parterre gardens were incredibly beautiful and they would remain at the top of the list of the most elegant gardens I encountered in Germany.  Maybe I was biased because they were small enough to actually fit within my backyard!  What a great setting to enjoy your morning cup of coffee!  However, King Ludwig probably never had a morning cup of coffee since he was known to be nocturnal, sleeping during the daylight hours and conducting his daily routine by night.  I thought it ironic that the ornate gardens were painstakingly fashioned for the king's enjoyment but he most likely rarely saw them, with his obscure sleep schedule.  I highly doubt they were as beautiful in the darkness of night.  Some of our kids went off in search of the famous grotto that contained an artificial lake enclosed within a man made stone cavern designed to resemble a scene from one of Richard Wagner's operas.  Several other out buildings were designed in honor of Wagner and his plays that were among King Ludwig's favorites.  In a way Linderhof was a hybrid palace, appearing to be a cross reference in architectural style and design between Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee.  The persona of King Ludwig II, King Louis XIV, and playwright Richard Wagner were all represented and present.  It was finally time to head back to the bus.  In some ways Linderhof was my favorite of Ludwig's palaces because it was a manageable size and it was actually finished being built.  As I descended the pathway back to the parking lot, I was officially done, I was exhausted, and I was very sick.  I dragged myself up the final climb of the day to my seat aboard the bus and endured one of the longest rides of my life, fighting nausea the entire way.  Unfortunately, our drive to Linderhof did not shave off any time from our long ride home.  We still had an excruciating two and a half hour drive home to Altötting.  Find a happy place... Find a happy place...

Northern Garden / Neptune Fountain
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Angela was faring much better than Andy and was well on her way toward recovery so she was at KKG to pick me up... One look and she knew I was a goner... She informed me that both her parents had also now fallen prey to the illness and I was just hoping it would not spread through our students.  So far they all seemed ok and Wendy, who had hugged little Leo so tightly just the day before, was thankfully showing no signs of the virus.  Angela took me straight home where I collapsed into bed and continued to fight the urge to need the bucket that was placed beside my bed, all night long.  It was rough going!  I would miss the next two days of school and accompanying activities due to the virus.  Leo returned to preschool where signs had been posted warning of a nasty intestinal virus that had swept through the school building, inflicting all three of Leo's teachers and classroom aides.  Luckily, I didn't miss anything important on the event calender.  It turned out I was the only person within the affected circle of victims who had not thrown up, quite an accomplishment.  Andy asked me how I managed to to pull that off... It just so happened to be the Fourth of July and I was wearing an American Flag t-shirt... I jokingly pointed to the flag on my shirt and told him, Americans are tough!  The following day Leo proclaimed to Andy that the Americana was looking healthy again!  I was nursed back to health with the help of Angela and Andy's Mother Martha who made me noodle soup, which was just what I needed.  I think it was the only thing I ate for two straight days.  I was very grateful for their compassion, care, and concern during my time of need!  I truly appreciated it!  And I was most thankful that Wendy and not a single student caught the virus despite their close proximity to me during our trip!  In fact, it was a miracle! 

Linderhof Palace, Southwest Bavaria
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Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 24 / Neuschwanstein-2


GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
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Neuschwanstein Castle / Part # 2

Bedchamber of King Ludwig II
(Interior Image Source / Joseph Albert 1886)
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We began the tour of the castle's interior rooms, which were designed to be a personal retreat for King Ludwig II of Bavaria.  I found a series of paintings that show the interior rooms posted throughout this blog, since interior photography was VERBOTIN!  The strange introverted personality of Ludwig is well documented and the palace was his personal fantasy come to life.  The castle is of an immense size but the King's suite of private rooms was relatively small and surprisingly confining.  Everything was richly decorative in style and not even the smallest space went unadorned.  Every room had a theme and similar to his palace on the Bavarian Sea, known as Herrenchiemsee, much thought went into the interconnected medley of the chosen subject matter within each individual space.  Several of the rooms appeared somewhat dark, accentuated by the deep rich stain on the woodwork of the complementing furniture and walls.  I found his bedroom to be the most interesting room with his bed topped with a complex series of carvings meant to resemble church steeples throughout Bavaria.  It was in this very bedroom where King Ludwig II was placed under arrest shortly after midnight and removed from power on June 12, 1886 only 172 days after he moved into Neuschwanstein.  Over time, Ludwig had become more and more withdrawn from public life and seemed much more interested in his own personal agenda than politics and governmental policy.  His extreme and expensive simultaneous building projects were criticized as wasteful by the ministers of his cabinet and tensions mounted.  When Ludwig threatened to replace the whole cabinet when they refused to secure more debt for his architectural agenda, the ministers began the process of having him legally relieved of power through Constitutional Law.  

King Ludwig's Private Dining Room
(Interior Image Source / Joseph Albert 1886)
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The cabinet began to collect evidence from a variety of sources which they hoped would prove King Ludwig II was clinically insane and unfit to continue to rule the country.  If they succeeded, they could preserve their jobs along with their position of high standing within the court.  Past servants were interviewed with confessions of questionable actions and decisions, which were then noted as factual evidence.  The collected body of evidence was submitted for review to Otto von Bismark who was the Imperial Chancellor of Germany.  Von Bismark saw through the cabinet minister's conflict of interest in the case, suspected corruption, and openly criticized the findings in the report as mere gossip but did not take any steps to prevent the process from continuing.  The cabinet members went forward and eventually gathered signed legal affidavits from half a dozen doctors and psychiatrists who all diagnosed King Ludwig as suffering from delusional paranoia and unfit to rule.  Ironically, only one of the physicians on the panel of psychiatrists had actually examined him in person... and that was twelve years earlier!  However, it was enough to carry the order through and an official delegation arrived at Neuschwanstein to confront the king and serve him a legal order of deposition that would remove him from power and place him under arrest.  At first, the local people and police intervened and warned their beloved and popular king of the approaching threat and defended the castle gates.  After a few days the police guards were relieved by new officers in disguise who were actually hired by the cabinet ministers.  The trick worked and King Ludwig was quickly served with the papers of deposition and was placed in a carriage three hours later, never to see his beloved Neuschwanstein again.
        
King Ludwig II Lying in State
(Photo Credit / Bavarian Palace Dept.)
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King Ludwig was taken by escorted carriage to the Castle Berg located on the shores of Lake Starnberg near Munich where he was placed under medical watch by Dr. Bernhard Gudden, the lead physician who sealed the king's fate.  The next evening the two men went for a walk along the edge of the lake alone, without escort or servants, which was highly unusual.  When the pair did not return as scheduled and a terrible rain storm engulfed the area, search parties were sent out to look for the two missing men.  Three hours later, the bodies of both men were found dead within the shallow waters of the lake, under extremely mysterious conditions.  Dr. Gudden had evidence of head trauma, while King Ludwig had no signs of physical injury.  The King's death was ruled a suicide from drowning even though no water was found in his lungs during the autopsy.  The accepted theory at the time was King Ludwig murdered Dr. Gudden by beating and strangling him to death and then committed suicide by drowning himself in the lake.  Really?  As you might have guessed, conspiracy theories have come forth ever since, giving Bavaria their own version of the Lincoln-like assassination conspiracy, which can never be solved.  During the autopsy, the king's heart was removed and transported to Altötting where it would be displayed with the other hearts of the Bavarian Kings in the famous small Chapel of Grace, home to the shrine of the Black Madonna.  The rest of King Ludwig's remains were laid to rest at Saint Michael's Church in Munich, while an upright cross was placed within Lake Starnberg to mark the actual spot where his body was found.  A fascinating mystery, but sad ending. 

Neuschwanstein Concert Hall
(Interior Image Source / Joseph Albert 1886)
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I was told before taking guided tours at previous sites, the quality of the tour guide's presentation could make or break an interior visit.  Our English tour guide of Herrenchiemsee, the Bavarian version of Versailles, was excellent.  However, this time the young guide had such a strong accent and soft voice, it was difficult to hear or understand much of what he said, especially for our students.  With the tour group large and the rooms relatively small, the people were separated and sometimes straddled two rooms.  It would have been better if the group was smaller but we were visiting during the height of the busy summer season where over 6,000 people typically visit the castle on any given day.  I would suggest that if you are going to offer an English tour, you should have a strong English speaker with a projecting voice to serve as tour guide. I think I'll fill out an application; sounds like a really cool summer job to me!  Interior Photography is Forbidden / Verboten!  Piece of cake!  While Herrenchiemsee was built as a residential monument devoted to Ludwig's hero Louis XIV of France, Neuschwanstein was dedicated to the king's love of operas composed by Richard Wagner, whom he periodically financially supported.  Most of the decorations and paintings within the rooms depict scenes from Wagner's famous plays, evidence of Ludwig's obsessive personality.  Even the concert hall, the largest of the finished rooms, looked like a theater permanently set up to host Wagner's plays and operas.  The tour took a turn into the obscure as we passed through a small narrow space known as the grotto that realistically resembled a darkened stone cave passageway that led to another room.  It was bizarre!

 Suspension Gorge Observation Bridge
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The half hour tour had come to an end and we corkscrewed down another tower's circular stone stairwell until we were again dizzy and strategically came in for a landing within the gift shop.  There was King Ludwig II souvenirs in anything and everything imaginable but the thing that grabbed my attention was a small arched open window.  There were only a few open windows during the interior tour that provided me the opportunity to get a few photographs but this narrow window had an incredible view of the steep mountain gorge and suspension bridge span filled with tourists overhead.  The powerful waterfall could be seen and heard, crashing its way down to the bottom of the ravine, violently tumbling over rock formations along the way.  Since we were ahead of schedule on the day's itinerary, the kids were asking to climb up to the bridge and despite my questionable pending health, I was determined to join them on their quest.  We huddled up, came up with a plan, and began our trek on yet another paved pathway up a steep grade away from Neuschwanstein.  After a few minutes I stopped to take a look back toward the castle and witnessed the opposite side of the palace for the first time.  The towering castle had been wrapped in scaffolding, where maintenance and repairs were underway.  We were aware that the scaffolding was in place before our trip, which would obscure the picturesque view of the castle but until now, it had been mostly hidden from view by the fog and its location, opposite from the front gate.  I got the impression that this is what the site may have looked like when it was first being constructed, a view of the castle King Ludwig would have shared as he oversaw the project's slow but methodical progress. 

Warwick Climbs Neuschwanstein Everest
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I think I can... I think I can... I think I can... The Little Engine that Could came to mind more times than I would like to admit but I was running out of steam!  Once again the students who had decided to make the final climb were out of sight within a few seconds, attacking the challenge like a bunch of teenagers fully charged with caffeine and fueled by energy drinks.  I had been fighting my pending virus all morning and was just satisfied to have made it this far.  However, despite carrying the added weight of Little Leo's virus, I pushed onward and upward and would make it to the bridge in my own time.  I took a few breaks as needed along the way at strategic points on the trail to absorb the beautiful views of the valley below and to take a much needed breather.  Eventually the trail took a sharp turn back into the woods and continued to snake ever higher through the forest.  I suddenly came upon a paved road that had a crowd of people standing around waiting for something.  I assumed they were all waiting for the rest of their group to return from the bridge for a head count but then a large blue bus arrived to pick everyone up... Are you kidding me?  Apparently this was Choice Number Three!  You could take a site bus up the steep mountain side for a couple of bucks, almost all the way up to the bridge.  Then you had the option to stroll down the path I was walking up, down to the castle below to take the tour!  Oh well, live and learn!  The path slowly began to level off and then dipped down where I could see the entrance to the bridge, which was jammed with people all jockeying for position, looking for an opportunity to penetrate the crowd and merge onto the bridge.  What's the max load limit on this thing anyway? 

The Crowded Bridge Span
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It resembled the entrance hole to a busy bee hive.  I used my lineman skills from my football days as an offensive tackle for WHS back in the day, to block open a small gap onto the bridge.  Wendy appeared and instinctively adopted the role of running back and got in my hip pocket to follow through the slowly opening hole within the defensive line.  Hut... Hut... Hut!  A few minutes later we were about a third of the way across and that was far enough to take in the view.  We rubbed shoulders with a few of our students who were in the process of wiggling their way back toward the exit hole of the bee hive bridge.  The bridge is officially known as Marie Bridge named for Ludwig's mother, Princess Marie of Prussia.  The bridge rests 300 feet above the bottom of the gorge and gave a stunning view of Neuschwanstein despite the hazy damp weather.  Even more spectacular was the view straight down into the depths of the ravine where there were several waterfalls pouring into accompanying pools.  The water then ran collectively down a wide stream toward the lake, where several locals were swimming and wading within the cold water of the shallow stream.   It was a bird's eye view of an enchanted scene from paradise!  It was easy to see why King Ludwig chose this site to build his fantasy fairytale castle.  We stayed on the bridge long enough to take in every possible vantage point and accompanying view but then made way so others could take their turn.  I was now really starting to feel nauseous and wasn't looking forward to the long hike back down to sea level.  I mentioned the option of taking the bus down the mountain to Wendy... Please... Please... Pretty Please... Wendy soon decided it was a good option, seeing as she had already lost one chaperone before we even left the school and couldn't afford to have another go down for the count.  We were joined by a few of our students who had also decided they had enough of mountain climbing for the day.  However, most others took the long scenic way down promising to meet up with us at the designated time and place.  Note to Self: Next time, ride up and walk down!  The bus trip down was a thrill ride of twists and turns at breakneck speed, which was fun for some but wasn't for me and my pending nausea.  I realized I hadn't had a thing to eat since breakfast and maybe getting a little something simple and bland to eat would help settle my stomach. 

View of Neuschwanstein from Marie Bridge
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King Ludwig saw the massive shell of Neuschwanstein slowly rise into the heavens over a 20 year period but only a total of 14 interior rooms, including the king's private quarters, were ever finished.  Following the king's death, all construction on the palace and other pending building projects were brought to an abrupt halt.  Although the king never used public funds for the construction of his personal elaborate palaces, he dried up his personal fortune and then borrowed heavily from friends, family, and foreign banks.  His rising debt was the main reason the scheme was launched to save him from himself by having him removed from power.  However, it is ironic that the lavish palaces he was so criticized for building draw millions of tourists today, who spend their accompanying Euros throughout Bavaria.  King Ludwig II continues to be adored by the public and remains even more popular today.  The castle palaces of Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee, and Linderhof have paid for themselves a hundred times over and have helped make Bavaria the richest and most powerful state in Germany.  Go Figure...  The private fantasy created by the reclusive monarch known as the Fairytale King can be experienced and enjoyed by countless visitors from around the world!  In many ways it was the best thing that ever happened to Bavaria and King Ludwig would certainly be content knowing how much he is appreciated by the people today.  It is impossible to accurately analyze the persona of King Ludwig II but can most likely be summed up by his own words... "I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and others..."  Stay tuned as our adventure continues...

View of Gorge from Marie Bridge
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Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!
-Neuschwanstein Castle / 3-D Puzzle
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Saturday, March 2, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 23 / Neuschwanstein-1


GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
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Neuschwanstein Castle / Part # 1

Gloomy Skies of Southern Bavaria
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Today was a big day on our school event calendar as we were scheduled to take a long bus ride to visit one of the most famous castles in the world known as Neuschwanstein.  My host and German GAPP leader, Andy Galneder, was scheduled to lead this trip with our Warwick students.  He was also looking forward to this excursion because he too had never visited the famous schloss known as the Fairytale Castle.  The previous night we all attended a backyard dinner at Angela's parents home where we enjoyed her father's famous goulash cooked in a suspended kettle over an open fire.  However, Angela had unfortunately fallen ill shortly after dinner and had gone home early.  During the night she suffered from a nasty intestinal virus.  Apparently, little Leo had brought home some unwelcome germs from kindergarten that had penetrated Angela's immune system.  At breakfast a few minutes before our scheduled departure time, Andy finally appeared in the kitchen looking several shades of green resembling Lake Königsee.  He had also caught the virus overnight and there was no way he could endure a long bus ride and subsequent field trip.  Looking at the two of them in their advanced stages of misery, I started to feel a little sick myself!  Andy's parents who had watched the kids during our dinner party last night had also fallen prey to the sickness.  The contagion of little Leo had aggressively swept through the first two floors of the Galneder residence and I was suddenly the last man standing!

 Hohenschwangau Castle / Schwansee Lake
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There was no way Andy was leading today's field trip, needing to stay at home in bed to try and recover.  Leo had rebounded quickly from the virus but only time would tell if adults would fare as well.  It was up to Wendy and I to lead this trip to Neuschwanstein with the help of our trusty bus driver Fitztum, who would prove to be a valuable asset.  I was scared to death, just envisioning myself getting struck with illness at any given second but for the moment was still healthy and had no choice but forge ahead with false courage.  The iconic instructions of the British Information Ministry from 1939 resounded clearly in my head... to stay calm and carry on!  It was a dreary overcast morning with rain showers predicted all day, the first day of rainy weather during our trip to date.  We boarded the bus and Fitztum pulled out of the KKG parking lot to begin the 150 mile two and a half hour journey toward the castle located in southwestern Bavaria near the villages of Füssen and Schwangau.  Now I was trapped inside a moving vehicle without access to bathroom facilities for the next two and a half hours.  Was I really feeling sick or was it just psychological?  I couldn't help but think Leo's virus had already traveled throughout Tüßling and was heading towards Altötting, growing more ominous as it consumed one helpless community after another!  I did my best to keep it out of my mind and to try and stay focused on the beautiful scenery outside my window.  The damp weather seemed to enhance the deep green color of the passing landscapes.  Low lying misty clouds settled down on the valleys concealing the hilltops and the view beyond.  It was like looking at Bavaria again for the very first time. 

Lakeside Lodge / Schwangu, Germany
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Wendy and I talked along the way as I tried to keep my mind off my present and pending future health and well being.  Neuschwanstein Castle was the number one thing on my wish list of sites I wanted to see before we left Germany.  The castle is known as the Fairytale Castle, a nickname most likely attributed to the structure in modern times because it was the model for Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle in Orlando, Florida.  However, King Ludwig II of Bavaria built several dream-like palaces and castles, most of which, never progressed to completion.  His extreme building projects helped dub King Ludwig II the Fairytale King and his castles and palaces stand as monuments to his rich imagination and personal world of fantasy.  Neuschwanstein was his crowning architectural achievement and today is one of the most widely recognized castles in the world.  The rain began to pelt against the bus window and it wasn't looking good for the sky to clear up anytime soon. And, as you may have already guessed, I left the umbrella Andy had given me to use on the front seat of his car when he dropped me off this morning.  Gee, didn't see that one coming, right?  We finally pulled into the village of Schwangu and Fitztum steered the bus into the crowded parking lot.  I was hoping the rain would keep the crowds away today but parking spaces were at a premium.  After two and a half hours on a bus, the first order of business was to hit the bathrooms.  The only facilities in sight, located on the edge of the parking area, had a pair of lines out the door.  We all rushed to secure our places in line before other buses unloaded, which continued to arrive.  The word was passed that the bathroom was blocked by turnstiles that required 30 cents in the form of three ten cent coins.  Thankfully, there was a change machine located inside the door that accepted Euro bills and the kids worked together to distribute coins to all in need, including me!  The wait was excruciating and seemed like an eternity but from a selfish point of view, the men's line moved a lot quicker than the ladies.  As a wise man once told me... Sometimes it is just good to be a man!  Sorry Ladies...   

Misty Neuschwanstein (Zoomed Image)
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Wendy went off to secure the tickets while I did my best to corral the kids who were buying ice-cream, checking out souvenir stands, and still emerging from the crowded bathrooms.  I took the opportunity to purchase a simple small black umbrella for about four Euros from a sidewalk vendor.   It looked cheap but I just needed it to last through the day and I was glad when the kiosk clerk unwrapped and tested it out to make sure it worked properly.  Two seconds after I opened up my new umbrella, I instantly had four new student friends who were squeezing in to shield themselves from the light rain.  Wendy had returned with timed tickets for the castle gate scheduled in about an hour, so we had to get a move on.  We had two possible known routes we could take to get to the top of the mountain where the gate awaited, which was put to a democratic vote.  Choice Number One was a nice relaxing horse drawn wagon ride where passengers were protected from the weather by an overhead canopy.  Behind Door Number Two was the choice to walk up the mountainside on a paved roadway that looked like a forty degree grade, unprotected from the rain.  When you are voting with a group of teenagers, you are at a major disadvantage and the end result was a foregone conclusion... I lost 17-1 and up hill we would walk.  It was advertised as a steep 30-45 minute walk and it looked tough.  The horse drawn carriages passing by with non-winded passengers full of smiles didn't help!  The castle was barely visible high up in the clouds shrouded by mist, fog, and light rain.  The energetic kids were soon out of sight showing off their youth, rounding the first switchback turn with ease.  I was prepared to stick to the slow steady burn, taking breaks when needed despite being dead last.  Wendy and a few students were taking it slow, as well, and sticking back with the old man.  I appreciated the company.

Hey, Mr. Martin, It's About Time!
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The climb seemed to go on and on and I didn't seem to have my normal level of strength. I started to picture little Leo and his virus hanging on to my ankles slowing my progress as I dragged them along ever higher up into the mountains.  Without any point of visible reference, there was no way to tell just how far it was to get to the castle gate.  Suddenly we turned the corner and came to a large alpine styled restaurant and lodge.  The pathway curved around the inviting white stucco building with windows framed with green shutters and flower boxes overflowing with creeping red annuals.  It looked like a great hiding place to take a break but I pressed on toward the summit.  There were no castle towers visible overhead and dense woods served as a deep green curtain of trees that flanked both sides of our route.  The pathway was cut into the mountainside with the incline balanced between the steep slope above and the deep valley below.  It was straight down to my left side, less than two feet from the path's edge.  A little scary!  A short time later, another structure came slowly into view off to my left, which was large and red in color.  Amazingly, I was within sight of Neuschwanstein and was almost to the observation deck and tour staging area just below the castle's entrance gate.  The rest of the Warwick students were already at rest, checking out the sights, and grabbing something to eat from a few small kiosks.  I arrived to a resounding cheer from my fellow hikers and it sure felt good to sit down and sip on my Coca-Cola Light.  I was glad we had some spare time to recover but I was soon up and about with my camera capturing all the amazing sights from our mountain top perch. 

Neuschwanstein Castle in the Clouds
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The castle came into focus, which was almost impossible to see from ground level far below when we first started our uphill hike.  Although the weather would limit our view out over the valley below, the misty damp atmosphere gave the castle a dreamlike aura of mystery.  It would still be a climb to get to the actual entrance gate of the castle.  In the meantime, I checked out all the available views from the observation tour staging area including a man made steel and glass ledge that allowed people to step well out over the edge to look down into the deep ravine below.  The castle itself is over 3,300 feet above sea level providing incredible views on a clear day.  Unfortunately, the skies were still chocked full of rain clouds, fog, and mist giving little hint of the sights beyond the Schwangu and Alpsee Lakes below.  The observation ledge provided a great view of the bright yellow exterior of Hohenschwangau Castle where King Ludwig II spent his childhood.  Hohenschwangau was built by Ludwig's father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria in 1833 on top of the ruins of an abandoned fortress formerly known as Schuangau.  The castle continued to be expanded until 1855, eventually becoming the official royal summer and hunting residence of Maximilian.  King Ludwig II assumed the throne following the death of his father in 1864 and moved into his private quarters within the yellow palace that same year.  He enjoyed living in Hohenschwangau with his mother and younger brother Otto, especially after construction began on Neuschwanstein five years later.  He could easily watch the progress of the massive building project slowly rising in the mountains overhead.  Today Hohenschwangau remains in the shadow of Neuschwanstein, receiving about 300,000 visitors a year, compared with Neuschwanstein's 1.3 million visitors annually.

Neuschwanstein Observation Ledge
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Our wait had come to an end and it was time to hike the final leg of our journey all the way to the castle entrance gateway.  I was feeling about 85% of my normal self and had taken the time to rehydrate with pending illness still in the back of my mind.  The final climb was easier because the end target was visible and we knew exactly how much farther we needed to walk.  The red masonry of the large arched gateway was impressive and looked down with authority on those passing through below.  We gathered in the courtyard as a group and waited until our tour was scheduled to begin, noted by number that was displayed on a digital sign.  We had a few more to go and so I was able to scout around the courtyard in search of views over the edge of the protective castle walls.  One of the amazing sights that took me by surprise was an incredible suspension bridge spanning the gap of a steep rock walled gorge located above our position.  It was filled with people who were checking out the waterfall that fell from a large fast moving mountain stream located about the midpoint between the bottom of the steam bed and the level of the bridge above.  I couldn't see the waterfall very well because my view was blocked by trees but I could easily hear it thundering off the mountain into the cauldron of the stream far below.  Despite feeling tired, I was determined to press onward following the interior tour, to get to the bridge span to see the view, even if it was partially obscured by cloud cover.  I had made it this far and, time permitting, what was one more section of paved pathway at a steep grade.  It was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wanted to see as much as possible during our trip.  

Warwick Does Neuschwanstein
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The interior space of the courtyard consisted mainly of white stone creating another balcony level up above our present position and several towers ascended high above caped by circular cone tops.  For a second I thought I saw Cinderella peer down through a window in the tower above me but she was gone when I took a closer look.  Soon our number was displayed and it was time to get in line and scan our tickets in a blocking turnstile.  Each person was granted access when the bar-code was read and a light flashed green allowing the bar to be turned forward.  We lined up and prepared to go up a flight of steps within one of the towers.  We had signed up for an English version of the tour, which had a total of about 25 people in the group.  Our tour guide was a young guy who didn't seem to be a whole lot older than our students.  We followed the line as it disappeared into the tower and quickly scaled upward on the interior circular stone stairwell that made me a little dizzy after awhile.  We eventually came to a landing where we were told all photography inside the palace was verboten!  For some unknown reason, all 17 of our students shot me an accusing stare?  There was a line of windows inside the landing that gave a nice view of the courtyard below.  I wondered just how literal this rule actually was... could I take pictures out the window of the exterior of the castle from inside during the tour?  I couldn't resist and took a shot in full view of our tour guide who didn't react with a response.  Apparently, it was ok and I looked at him with an unsure expression of... Ok? and he nodded yes.  For once, I didn't get reprimanded for rogue photography at a historic site!  Progress or luck?  Tune in next time as we venture inside the brick and mortar monument to the creative imagination of King Ludwig II...        

 Shot from the Inside Out
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Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

Neuschwanstein LEGO Castle
(Lego Land / Arhus, Denmark)
Constructed of 300,000 + Lego Bricks
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