Last summer I got back in touch with a German friend, Jorg, from my first year at Sheffield University (25 years ago) so trip to visit him was a must. Jorg is a very talented linguist, culture vulture and cool guy so I’m very lucky to know him.
Mooching around Munich
I flew from Manchester with the kids to Munich where we had a few days exploring the city, BMW museum, Olympic Park and Englischer Gartens. Munich is a great place to keep teens happy, what with sausages, technology and spacey futuristic architecture. As cities go it’s also safe and easy to get around so I let the kids navigate with a map and trailed after them slowly!
Leaving Munich to head north through Bavaria via the main station should have been a breeze but by foot we couldn’t see the mahoussive station hiding within the block of buildings and nearly missed our pre-booked high-speed train. Once on-board the trip was a 170kmph dream in a sparkling new carriage with all mod cons. A barely-detectable rocking motion made it incredibly relaxing and we spent most of the journey marvelling at the rocketing speed: a surreal and thrilling experience. Later we changed at Nurembourg to get the local link to Bayreuth, Jorg’s hometown via some glorious countryside known locally as a little Switzerland because of the wooded landscapes and steep hills.
It was great to see that Jorg hadn’t changed despite the 25 years which have flown by! An accomplished tour guide, Jorg gave us a whistle-stop tour of Bayreuth’s world famous Richard Wagner Festspeilhaus, designed with pure and raw passion for perfect acoustics. He described how going to the opera is a quasi-religious experience with audiences enduring the discomfort of hard benches and high temperatures to minimise any possible disruptions to the reverberating of music. There was an exhibition outside the venue to remember Jewish artists who had performed at the Opera House in the 1930’s prior to the fleeing persecution or else meeting a terrible fate. Ironically, Hitler attended performances that included Jewish and foreign singers, long after they had been banned from all other venues across Germany.
Margrave’s Opera House
In the centre of town we had a guided tour of Bayreuth’s first opera house completed in 1748 by order of Wilhemine; a Prussian king’s daughter and the favourite sister of Frederick the Great, in a desperate bid to bring high culture to the region. Feeling isolated following her marriage, the opera house was an audacious attempt to compete with the courts of Dresden, Munich and Berlin. If-you-build-it, they-will-come sort of malarkey. Poor thing! If only she had been born 250 years later and been able to travel on the train or by BMW! The place has ben well preserved and is a wonderful object lesson in stagey paint effects. As two thirds of the town was destroyed by bombing during the war it’s pretty amazing that the wooden artifice hasn’t gone up in flames. Even more so when you consider that the Bayreuth Synagogue is in an adjoining building. At the risk of burning down the opera house, Nazi storm troopers were called to a halt on the Pogrom Night of November 9th, 1938. Sadly the inside of the Jewish house of worship was still vandalized and traces of this fascist barbarism were not removed until the 1960s.
The Magical Garden of the Margravin and Eremitage
A couple of kilometres out of town and a short walk from Jorg’s family flat is the Hermitage. Once an elaborate summer residence, it is now open to the public. Pictures speak louder than words for this one. This place is ornate, beautiful and completely dream-like.
Pictures speak louder than words for this one. This place is ornate, beautiful and completely dream-like. Many thanks for having us Jorg and for taking us to meet your mum and dad.