10 January 2009

A Hall of German Heroes

Last Monday I ventured to the city of Regensburg in order to travel a bit farther and visit a monument built for legendary figures: Walhalla. Trains took me to the city, and from there a bus dropped me off near snow-covered fields and hills. Next, a trail led up one of the hills and through what would have been silent woods if not for the sound of crunching snow under my feet. Near the top of the hill I turned a corner and a view similar to the one below suddenly came into view.

Walhalla was constructed from 1830 to 1842 under the orders of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. In Germanic and Nordic mythology the name Walhalla (Valhalla in the English spelling) refers to the home of the gods. The King wished to create a hall of honor for all heroes of the “German tongue” and for these heroes to come from a shared two thousand-year history of the Germanic nation. This tribute would include warriors, leaders, scientists, artists, musicians, and religious figures, anyone who had greatly enriched or shaped Germanic culture. It was the era of Romanticism in Europe, and ideas such as nationalism were beginning to sweep across the continent.

The monument was designed after the Parthenon of Athens, a symbolic measure to the strength and contribution of Ancient Greece. Walhalla’s architect perched the monument on a bluff overlooking the Danube River, as seen in the following pictures. A tiring series of steps leads up to what is actually the front perspective of the building.

The interior is as ornate as the exterior. By today and after additions over the decades, the names of 191 individuals have now been carved into marble and placed in Walhalla to be honored. Most of those figures are remembered with a bust, but others receive a plaque. Due to the idea that the hall honors heroes united by the “German tongue,” more than a few honorees may spark some controversy or contention, such as Czar Catherine the Great of Russia and several figures commonly viewed as Dutch or Polish. Of course, the majority of the figures are the heroes one might expect from German history: Otto von Bismarck, Albrecht Dürer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Luther, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Kepler, Konrad Adenauer, Albert Einstein, and so on.

The only figure to be represented with a full statue is King Ludwig I. For the sake of full disclosure though, his statue was not installed until more than twenty years after his death.

The last individual to be memorialized in the hall was Sophie Scholl in 2003. The university student was a leading member of a Nazi resistance group known as The White Rose. She was executed in 1943 because of her behavior and acts against the state.

Before anyone can be counted among the esteemed individuals represented in Walhalla, the person’s legacy must pass through a difficult application process of many requirements, one being that the potential honoree has been dead for at least twenty years already. Additions are considered every 5-7 years. Today, Walhalla remains the property of the state of Bavaria.

After spending time walking around the grounds of the monument and examining the busts inside, I walked back down the hill to the bus stop and began my return to Eichstätt.

With only four weeks remaining in the semester it’s becoming harder to concentrate on the work for my classes. Dylan came for a visit yesterday and spent the night. Highlights from the day were playing pool and trying a special flame-topped schnapps from the region known as Hochmoorgeist.

This coming week will likely be a difficult one though. Hannah’s visa has expired, and without finding an accepted way to renew or lengthen its validity (and understandably not prepared to marry her German boyfriend), she must return home to America. She will fly back on Thursday. Afterwards there will be only one less American in Eichstätt, but the absence will seem much greater.

Ulm and its Münster

At one point I had plans, or more like desires, to travel somewhere special for the remaining days of the Christmas break after New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, the computer lab on campus was closed until the semester resumed and I was therefore unable to search for and reserve stays in a hostel. Of course, the travel bug remained in me, but instead of visiting some more exotic locales such as Zurich or Prague I stayed close to Eichstätt. One of the two places I visited was the city of Ulm.

I visited the city of 120,000 people on Saturday, January 3. Ulm rests on the banks of the Danube River and on the border between the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, but it falls within the territory of the later. From Eichstätt the city lies to the southwest and can be reached in two and a half hours with the trains.

The landmark of Ulm is its Münster, or its cathedral. At 530 feet, the church spire of the Ulmer Münster is the tallest in the world, only a dozen or so feet higher than the famous cathedral in Cologne, which, incidentally, I found more attractive than Ulm’s. Normally one can embark on what is surely a long trek up the spire’s 768 spiral steps to a viewing platform near the top, but on the day of my visit more than the top half was closed to visitors for safety reasons. The signs didn’t say it, but judging by the light ice on the lower viewing platform at 230 feet, which I could reach, I assumed that worse wintry conditions above were to blame for the closure. In the first picture below you can see the spire of the Münster reaching above some buildings in the city center. In the second is a view of Ulm from the viewing platform. On a clear day one could see the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps from the top of the spire.

Here are a couple other shots of the cathedral.

Disappointed by the closure of the spire, I spent the rest of my time in Ulm strolling through the streets of its city center. In following picture is a view of buildings facing the Danube and a walkway on top of the city’s old defensive wall.

One last spot I checked out before returning to Eichstätt was a small fountain erected in honor of Albert Einstein. The physicist was born in Ulm but called the city home for only one year before moving away. The fountain offers a comical design that manages to mix the forms of a rocket, seashell, and Einstein’s famous sticking-the-tongue-out face.

A brick was conspicuously missing from a wall near the fountain, as seen in the photograph below. The inscription on the wall where the brick should be reads Ein Stein, which is German for One Stone.

Celebrating the New Year in Germany

Classes resumed here at the KUE last Wednesday and the final month of the semester is underway. The next three posts will look at what I’ve done over the Christmas break.

On December 17 I boarded a plane and flew home to America for a surprise visit with my family and friends. There I remained until December 30. I returned to Germany in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends in Eichstätt.

I arrived in Munich on December 31 at eight in the morning, and back in Eichstätt around noon. Try as I did to stay awake straight through until midnight, a brief rest on my bed turned into a several hour nap. Close to eight o’clock the ringing of my cell phone brought me to my feet. Hannah was calling to tell me to go ahead and come over to St. Mike’s for dinner. At the meal, and for the rest of the night, were several people, mostly friends or family of Hannah’s visiting from America but also many residents on the first floor of St. Mike’s.

We left the dorm and walked into the city center to watch the firework show. Oddly enough, the official show organized by Eichstätt began at eleven o’clock and ended a half hour before the start of the new year. Much of the town seemed to be gathered on the Residenzplatz in order to view the colorful explosions. Here are some photographs and a video clip taken of the fireworks.

After the official show ended, the scene started to remind me of the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Hamburg from two years ago. The German tradition for celebrating New Year’s Eve seems to be wandering the streets of their towns and cities and randomly shooting off fireworks. Groups of teenagers can be seen carrying backpacks filled with rockets and roman candles. The closer twelve o’clock came, the more fireworks burst in the night sky. Below are some images taken at the stroke of midnight or a little afterwards.

Because of my transatlantic flight, afternoon nap, and going to bed that night at a late hour, I woke up on January 1 at six in the evening. I didn’t see any daylight for 38 hours as a result. The next day, January 2, I unintentionally woke up at five in the morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I did eventually return to a normal sleep schedule.