Tag Archives: Germany

Regensburg

One might only think to sweep through Regensburg while en route to Munich or Vienna but it’s most certainly a stop worth making. Situated on the Danube in Bavaria, the small city with its almost entirely pedestrian centre has a density of medieval charms unrivalled in Germany.

I arrived the day of the Ironman competition, just as thousands of competitors were sprinting through the historic town, rounding the corners of Gothic and Romanesque buildings, and racing along the banks of the river. (To the best of my knowledge, the fellow in the photo below was not a contender in this past summer’s triathlon).

Regensburg is the only intact medieval city in Germany, for one, because it had been spared extensive damage in the bombing campaign during WWII. Its roots can be traced to a Roman military fortress and its well-preserved antique architectural monuments represent its former role as a trading centre. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it safeguards some 1000 structures, including its best-known ones like the Stone Bridge (Steinerne Brücke) and the impressive St. Peter’s Cathedral (Regensburger Dom).

It may not have quite the same prestige as a monastery or a Praetorian Gate but do make a point to check out the sausage kitchen ‘Historische Wurtsküche. The lively tavern is a place of tradition, serving up its specialty bratwursts for the past 500 years. When ordering, just say the three magic words: “six with sauerkraut.”

The rolling countryside outside of Regensburg is also lovely to live in: sunflowers abound and it seems that every second home is kitted-out with solar panels.

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Nuremberg

With Christmas coming up, one of Europe’s most interesting places to be at is Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt, where booths are stacked with easy-to-indulge-in glühwein and gingerbread, wooden toys, and a festive atmosphere pervades. Unfortunately I can’t speak to that more specifically – I was in the Franconian city during a heat wave this past August.

Medieval Nuremberg is bounded by a wall marked with 80 towers. A walking tour through it and across the Pegnitz River reveals its charming spots. Almost 90% of it was destroyed in WWII and, although most of the historical buildings have since been reconstructed, it still feels ancient. The presence of timber-framed buildings, the city’s prescribed angle of roofs and dormers, and the lack of high-rises no doubt play a role in that. Gothic churches and patricians’ houses round out the medieval motif, not to mention the imperial Kaiserburg castle towering above from its sandstone ridge on the northern edge of the old town.

Nuremberg’s ugly past is in full view. Though it remains an active court, on certain days you can sit in the Courtroom 600 at the Palace of Justice, the original venue where leaders of the tyrannical Nazi regime had to answer to their crimes before an international tribunal. There is a municipal information centre upstairs entitled Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse where extensive documentation through photos, films, and soundtracks gives visitors an in-depth look at the events leading up to the trials, of their course and the aftermath.

If you’re still curious to see more, the ‘Fascination and Terror’ permanent exhibition at the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds examines the “causes, context and consequences of the National Socialist reign of terror.”  Architect Günther Domenig designed a diagonal glass and steel passageway that leads into the museum, piercing through the north wing of the immense Congress Hall’s unfinished remains. It is a cold and effective architectural counterpoint. Seeing the museum’s documentary evidence of the sheer magnitude of crowds that once packed the former grounds to the brim – a shivering thought – and then later standing at the long-empty Zeppelin Field feels positively surreal.

On an entirely different level, the Neues Museum (State Museum for Art and Design) mounted an exhibition of designer Alessandro Mendini; some works by Gerhard Richter; and, Martin Wöhrl’s “Maß und Werk“, a two-storey high metal tracery mounted directly behind the glass façade that faces onto Klarissenplatz.

One tip: if you ever visit Nuremberg, don’t make the mistake of confusing Franconians and Bavarians! I learned that the hard way – youch!

Albrecht Dürer Haus

Nuremberg’s Historical Mile is a string of architectural and artistic landmarks and a key stop along the way is the Albrecht Dürer Haus. As a memorial to Germany’s “most famous Renaissance draughtsman”, it’s also, amazingly, one of the few buildings of the medieval city centre that survived the extensive bombing in 1945.

A painter, graphic artist and theoretician, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was internationally known for his woodcuts and engravings, and benefited from the fact that Nuremberg, in its economic and cultural heyday at the time, was the centre for the printing trade and for different types of metal-work.

His once-residence and workplace now serves as a museum and visitors can tour the master’s recreated painting and printing workshops and watch demonstrations of historic artistic techniques. Though few originals and copies of his graphic works are on display, multimedia ‘kiosks’ illustrate a gallery of his works of art including: religious pieces, portraits, landscape sketches, and such infamous watercolours as Young Hare (Junger Feldhase) and Praying Hands. Tours are complemented by audio guides in which the speaker represents his wife, Agnes, describing everyday life in her husband’s household (frankly, a teensy bit eerie).

There’s no escaping Dürer’s presence in this, his home city, particularly in the Old Town. A larger-than life statue of him towers in Albrecht-Dürer-Platz and a bronze sculpture of a hare, a reference to the artist’s painting, Junger Feldhase, appears to quash a human foot, perhaps alluding to the “dire results of tampering with nature.” More recently, Italian designer Alessandro Mendini paid a tribute to the artist with the sculpture Il Cavaliere di Dürer (The Knight of Dürer) at the Neues Museum in Nuremberg this past summer (see post).

Potsdam

A jaunt southwest of Berlin is Potsdam, rich in history and lush in green space.

Long before it became known for hosting the Allies’ conference at the end of WWII, Potsdam was a city of Prussian royalty. As such, it houses a beautiful arrangement of gardens and parks, reminiscent of the grandeur enjoyed by kings and emperors during the Prussian Baroque period. And that luxury is exemplified like nowhere else in Park Sanssouci, a triumph of architectural harmony populated by temples, palaces, botanical and formal gardens.

Ironically, sans souci means ‘without worries’ in French, when in fact Potsdam and its surroundings were known for Cold War intrigue and the notable exchanges of spies, particularly on the Glienicke Bridge, connecting the city to West Berlin across the Havel River. Staff members were in the midst of setting up for the annual light show, Schlössernacht (‘Palaces by Night’), the weekend I visited and were busy herding people off the grounds. (I got access, however – it’s amazing what a media pass can do.) With a terraced vineyard in its foreground, Schlöss Sanssouci is an impressive summer residence that King Frederick the Great had built for himself in 1744 where he could live sans souci, in the midst of a European continent engulfed in continuous wars.

Historically a centre of European immigration (predominantly from France, Russia, the Netherlands and Bohemia), Potsdam has an international character evident in its culture and architecture. While it was severely damaged in bombing raids during WWII, many buildings in its historic districts have since been refurbished with great detail and large areas of this remarkable state capital have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

At the western end of shop-lined Brandenburger Straße is the Brandenburger Tor, a gate resembling a Roman triumphal arch that curiously, has two different façades designed by two different architects. I hit up the produce market in Alter Markt and perused the one along Nauener Tor, one of three preserved gates in the city, and a splendid example of the influence of English Gothic Revival architecture.

Holländisches Viertel (Dutch Quarter) is an ensemble of some 150 red brick buildings concentrated within four city blocks, Europe’s largest collection of Dutch-style houses outside of the Netherlands. The ‘Soldier King’, King Frederick Wilhelm I, ordered them built (1734-1742) under the direction of architect Jan Bouman for Dutch artisans and craftsmen that he had invited to settle there. If not to see this unique brand of architecture – with its white trim, shuttered windows, and oftentimes-sweeping gable roofs – then head to Maison du Chocolat, the neighbourhood’s undisputed ‘go-to’ for hot chocolate.

Berlin

The festival Über Lebenskunst (08/17-08/21), loosely translated as ‘the art of survival,’ was a project initiated by the German Federal Cultural Foundation in cooperation with Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a leading centre for contemporary art and a space for experimentation.

Visitors were invited to experience “the sustainable ‘art of living’ around the clock” through a series of interventions in, on, and around the building. Projects and performances examined basic human needs and presented forward-thinking ideas for collective living in an era of dwindling resources and threatened ecosystems. Exhibits included: temporary night shelters; Pod #002: Parasite Heating Unit; a multi-part water filtration system by Das Numen; and, Salatfeld/Vorratskammer, an installation of 6,000 hydro-culture lettuce heads emerging from the large reflecting pools in front of the Haus, by the international artist cooperative myvillages.org.

Mauerpark, Prenzlauer Berg. Landscape architect Gustav Lange.

Postfuhramt, Mitte, 1875-1881. Architect Carl Schwatlo.

Kulturbrauerei (‘culture brewery’), Prenzlauer Berg.