21 May 2007

Andrew and Natalie's Visit

The time since my last post has been full of so many activities that I can’t possibly devote an entry to all. Instead, I will pick the highlight of the last two weeks or so. Two Fridays ago my friends Andrew and Natalie arrived in Eichstaett and stayed for five days. I tried my best to submerse them in German culture for each day of their stay.

They are both from Memphis originally and have spent the time since January studying abroad in Angers, France. Their semester ended at the beginning of May and they will be doing a little travel until their return to America at the end of the month.

Friday was dedicated for Eichstaett. They arrived around noon and we spent most of the afternoon roaming the streets. At Trompete, my favorite restaurant in town, I guided them through the German menu and we ate dinner. They also had their first tastes of the beer from the local brewery, Hofmuühl, and became hooked. After the dinner we went in the Theke student bar, and then lost track of time in party hosted by the journalism students. Before midnight the party was tie and jacket, but after twelve it was open for all. Unbelievably, entrance, food, and drinks were all free. We thanked Charlotte for the invitation. In the first picture below is Natalie and Andrew at dinner, and the second is at the party with Charlotte.

Saturday I awoke in the mid-morning and headed to the store to buy fresh bread and other items for a typical German breakfast. After reducing the filling spread of bread, meat, cheese, jams, and other foods to crumbs we boarded a train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Rothenburg has been the subject of one post on here before. It’s one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany, and only about two hours northwest of Eichstaett by train. Here is a view of the town from a section of its defensive wall, and another of Andrew waiting for the train at a transfer station.

A four and a half hour one-way train ride forced us to begin Sunday early. Our destination for the day was the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the iconic castle of Germany, if not one of the most iconic symbols for the whole country. The long journey from Eichstaett took us to the Alps in southern Bavaria, close to the Austrian boarder, and brought the loss of my favorite jacket. The Helly Hansen fleece became the victim of a preoccupied mind and was forgotten on board one of the trains. Though it was tough we managed to push on to the castle.

We finally arrived at the village of Hohenschwangau and paused for lunch. As you can see below, Andrew and Natalie enjoyed their portions of currywurst. This simple dish consisting of bratwurst and curry sauce is a favorite around Germany.

After lunch we rode a bus that took us up the hill and close to the foot of the castle. On the trail to the castle’s entrance we caught our first up-close glimpses of the fortress.

The story of Neuschwanstein is one of humor and near insanity. It was constructed in the 1860s and 1870s, in a time when castles were already obsolete. Its purpose was not for military defense in anyway, rather to simply fulfill one man’s fantasy. As only a constitutional monarch and not a true ruler of the land, King Ludwig II of Bavaria dreamed of living the life of a fairytale king. He began to spend less and less time in the capital, Munich, and more out in the countryside where he could better control his surroundings. Eventually he adopted a nocturnal lifestyle. His moon lit sleigh rides through the Bavarian forests and personal staff forced to wear period costumes created a stir back in Munich. The people soon gave him the name Mad King Ludwig. To complete his dream, Ludwig needed a fairytale castle, and thus he commissioned Neuschwanstein. Actually, he built a few smaller castles and palaces, but this one was the crowning touch. He lived in the castle for only 170 days before the government, displeased with his extravagant use of the public’s money, removed him from power and exiled him to an island in lake in southern Bavaria. Ludwig lived on this island for three days before being found dead on the lake’s shore. His death remains a mystery.

Around seven months after Ludwig was dethroned Neuschwanstein was opened for the public to visit. The rooms are elaborately decorated in numerous styles, such as Baroque and Romanesque. Ludwig’s favorite animal was the swan, as such a theme of this bird appears often throughout the castle. The name in fact means “New swan stone.” One room is an artificial cave with stalactites and stalagmites molded with concrete and plaster. I think I would agree with the public that the man was indeed mad. Here are a couple views from the castle windows.

After the tour we hiked a short distance to a gorge crossing bridge behind the castle for the great view seen below. Perhaps now one can appreciate it better. Disney used Neuschwanstein as inspiration for designing Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

We spent Monday in Munich, and I took Andrew and Natalie to my favorite sites in the city. We walked through the old town stopping at the main buildings before boarding a street tram to the English Gardens. This lush oasis is the largest city park in all of Europe. Here one can entertain himself with a number of activities. We first ate lunch in the park’s main beer garden under the shadow of the landmark Chinese Tower. Also seen below are two staples of Bavaria, the pretzel and beer.

Next we strolled around the park and came across a couple spectacles. First was the sun bathing area, nude sun bathing that is. We walked through what must have been the men’s section as flashbacks of the Estonian sauna came to me. Then we found the surfing section of the park. People use a section of a drainage canal and the wave it creates for the normally beach only activity. Munich must be at least a thousand miles from the ocean, and yet here were men and women riding their boards in the middle of the urban environment. A very creative use of space I say.

Finished in the English Gardens we rode the subway to the Olympic Park. We hiked up a steep hill for a free view of the facilities below and the Munich skyline.

The last stop in Munich was dinner at Hofbraeuhaus, the quintessential Munich beer hall.

We returned to Eichstaett at around ten o’clock and spent the night with some of my German friends in the Theke and, once that closed, in the Irish Pub.

After a late lunch Tuesday I said auf wiedersehen to my good friends and wished them well on the remainder of their travels and return to America. The earliest I will see them again is in August.

This week has me looking forward to a couple events. On Wednesday evening a fellow Memphian and I will be presenting Memphis and our home university to German students as part of a program to increase the number of students from Eichstaett studying abroad. Also on the horizon is a four day weekend, so there will likely be some travel coming up soon.


Anonymous said...

I'm back Brother - just couldn't stay away for too long. I am very dissapointed to hear about the HH jacket being lost. One of the prices to pay for a world taveler I suppose. You do have a birthday coming up though.

The castle looked really cool. Are you beginning to start thinking about your return to Memfrica? Excited about coming back, sad, or both? Better start thinking about accomplishing everything you planned but have yet to do!

Love you Brother.


Nick O. said...

Good to hear from you, Brother. I was very dissapointed about the jacket too. I checked with the lost and found office in Munich three days in row but with no success.

I am thinking about my return, I actually have yet to book my ticket. I really should get on that. I actually wish I could stay longer, but of course I'm looking forward to returning to Memphis.

There still is a lot that I want to see and do, but I don't think I'll have to time to do it all. With any luck I'll get most of done though. I'll be sure to keep you informed of what I'm up to.