The rushing waters of the Starzlach were tinged coffee brown from the sediment rushing down the canyon as it crashed and cascaded down the rocky falls and echoed off the canyon walls making for a roaring symphony. The power of good ole H2O gaining energy as it descended 1070 m from the Grünten and Wertacher Hörnle peaks was a sight to see. After several days of late summer rain we sought out the Starzlachklamm water gorge near Sonthofen, Germany that we had heard about from a local man after we had hitched a ride back to our car after exploring another gorge in the Allgäu called the Hausbachklamm. The gentlemen had described it as dramatic with fossilized rocks embedded in the canyon walls and even in the heat of the summer he said he had gotten cold. But the gorge lived up to his description and it was a hike well taken. A word of warning, the path is rocky and mossy and quite slippery when wet so exercise caution but this may not be the best choice for someone with limited abilities. But that said happy hiking!
The sleek black cormorant dove into the crystal clear waters of Lake Constance gliding through the pilings that had stood for three millennia and had once supported six villages dating back to the Stone Age. As I pondered these long ago people high above me the slow moving Zeppelin made its way across the sky casting shadows on the glimmering surface below. Man and machine made for an interesting juxtaposition between the past and the present. It was fitting in that I had come to seek out an ancient time at the Lake Dwelling Museum in Unteruhldlingen, Germany. The open air museum is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the oldest and largest of its kind highlighting the unique village life of its early inhabitants including its farmers, traders, fishermen as well as their cultural practices. The site consists of 23 reconstructed houses showcasing the incredible finds that have been preserved under the waters and excavated from the lake bed such as wooden boats, hats made from straw, thousand year old paintings, and miraculously even some old bread!The interactive Archaeorma offers the visitor an underwater view while outside they can participate in the special exhibitions and life sized diramas presented throughout the location. It was an afternoon well spent for this modern woman delving into a bygone era.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” this iconic opening theme from the the beloved children’s show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood aptly describes my birthday spent in our Bregenz “backyard.” It was a weekend filled with art, music, delicous food, and nature’s beauty that can only be found nestled in “our neck of the Rhine Valley.” On Friday Franz and I began our weekend quest with a visit to a museum that I had long wanted to see in the Bregenzerwald called the Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg. The gallery holds an extraordinary collection of the traditional dress of the Bregenzerwald and highlights the involved process entailed in the making of the intricate textile and clothing as well as the culture of this fairytale region. I am now a big fan of this special little museum.
The August heat was a gift for the farmers fields of corn and hay but I slowly wilted under the suns relentless rays. We sought refuge in a nearby water gorge near Krumbach that was invitingly cool and a much welcomed respite from the rising temperatures. And what a find it was. Small and stylish. At the bottom of the ravine we were enchanted to come upon a site specific art piece that was installed using fishing line to weave patterns in and out of the tree trunks. The filtered light peeked through the overhead canopy and highlighted the repeating strands that created a magical mood. After our short jaunt we sauntered over to a gemütlich (homey)restaurant, the Krumbacher Stuba, intending to have a light salad but after eyeing the specialty of the region, a cheese Kässpätzle, we just had to have that. When in the Bregenzerwald one has to do as the locals do.
Green pastures with languid cows grazing along the KäseStrasse (cheese street) graced the road leading back to Bregenz. Our next stop was the Vorarlberg Museum to view another exhibition that had been on my list titled Wacker im Krieg orWacker at War. Rudolf Wacker (1893-1939) was a well known local artist who documented his life in Bregenz and his experience in and after WWII. I found the show compelling and it was touching as it paralled the accounts of the war and prison camp life that I had heard from several men of that generation who had also served in the conflict. I highly recommend it.
The sailboats rocked gently as the halyards clinked against the masts and the seagrass tickled our feet. The orange orb in the sky was setting on our eventful day as we floated in the refreshing Bodensee waters in nearby Hard. Revitalized we sought out the waterside Italian restaurant of Ristorante Margarita sul Lago where we met a close friend and enjoyed a tasty tuna fish carpaccio and a favorite Truffle pasta dish. Franz, food, and a friend. A perfect ending for a perfect birthday.
“It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine?…” these sweet lyrics to the beloved show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood kept coming to mind as we continued our weekend excursions in the “hood.” We woke up to another sunny Saturday and got an early start on another wooded “schlucht sucht” or gorge search. Our itinerary for the day took us across the border to Southern Germany in the Kleinwalstertal to one of the deepest water gorges in the Bavarian Alps and in Central Europe called the Breitachklamm. The magnificent gorge had been carved out by the Breitach glacier for a mere 10,000 years! It had been some time since I had last visited and I looked forward to marveling again at the wild waters that flow and swirl down the Eigenkopf rock faces sculpting the stone into elegant formations. As I took in the grandeur of mother natures work the words of the song came to me again “I have always wanted to have a neighborhood just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you…”
20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland
“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day…” crooned Mr. Roger’s and that we did as we took in the beauty of Buddah on the shores of Lake Constance. Siddhārtha sat with his eyes closed and lips curved upwards bringing a wide smile to his calm face. His clasped hands gently held a sleeping cat nestled on his ample belly. The serene bodhisattva crafted by a team from Russia had taken first prize at the 20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland. And what a sensitive portrayal it was. As were all the other entrants hailing from many countries of the world. The theme of the 2018 competition was “All You Need Is Love” and it was a much needed balm for our troubled times. It was a relaxing Sunday afternoon admiring the talented vision that took the unassuming medium of sand to create such superb works of art.
Our day was still not done. The evening brought both culinary and musical delights as we dined at my favorite restaurant in Bregenz, Chen’s, where we indulged in Asian fish specialities paired with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of our lovely friend Maureen. For dessert we enjoyed an evening of opera with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra serving up Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Bregenzer Festspiele on Lake Constance. The opera was an extravaganza filled with “diamonds, death, and spades!” and the superlative performers and stunning floating stage were truly magnifcent. What a beautiful birthday weekend in the neighborhood!
Towering Gothic spires of the Ulm Minister reached 530 feet into the sky and a nativity scene featuring live animals decorated the entrance to the impressive church dating to 1377. I had convinced Franz to join me on this very cold day to embrace the upcoming holidays along with one million other tourists that visit the famous 2017 Ulmer Weihnachtsmarkt in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The festive Christmas Market was bustling with visitors imbibing both the spirit of the season and the mulled Glühwein spirits as well as enjoying the wooden stalls displaying their wares as they had for many Christmases of yore.
Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap in the popular press. Portrayed as a primitive man clad in pelts lugging a club and dragging his woman by the hair is an image that many still conjure up. But Neanderthals are only beginning to get the respect that they deserve. I am a big fan and unabashedly fascinated by them. And that is why on an unusually cold day I cajoled my husband to drive many hours to Stetten, Germany to visit the ArchaeoparkVogelherd that is one of the latest additions to the UNESCO World Heritage Listing in the Swabian Alb in Baden-Wurttemberg. These six newly inscribed cave sites have been inhabited for 100,000 years and approximately 43,000 years ago during the last ice age Neanderthal man was carving exquisite “animal figurines, musical instruments, and items of personal adornment.” These objects are of such intricate beauty that they alone would dispel the myths of the “primitive cave man.” It was in these caves were found the oldest pieces of figurative art in the world recovered thus far dating from the Aurignacian period. The artwork was carved out of mammoth ivory including a leaping cave lion, a cave bear, and an intriguing man beast.
The Archaeopark Vogelherd site is not only a museum but an interactive outdoor Stone Age hands on exhibition where the visitors can go back in time and experience what life was like during this early period of man’s evolution. We happened to visit late in the season and the park had already closed but it had opened for a special family day and we were the only group in the park. We were treated to an informative tour with a knowledgeable guide who lead us through the entire park where we were able to throw spears, dress in ice age pelt clothing, and build a fire in a tented dwelling. Franz even played a tune on a swan flute from the long ago era. And of course the highlight of what we came to see was the exhibition on the premises of the cave lion and the cave bear sculptures. What a blast into the ice age past.
Donkey, donkeys and more donkeys. And this is what the hoards of fans had come to see. I had no idea there were so many aficionados and I was surprised at the crowd size that these long eared mammals had brought out to the great donkey meeting in Wolfegg, Germany. Earlier in the week I had spotted a sign on the side of the road announcing a Grosses Esel Treffen and it had perked my curiosity. So the next Saturday Franz and I drove to the Bauernhaus Museum in the Allgäu-Oberschwaben to enjoy a day with the donkeys and mules. Donkeys of all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities along with their proud owners attended the weekend show of friendly competition including obstacle course racing and other gymkhana events. The highlight of the show was the much anticipated male and female beauty contests. Who would be Germany’s next top Equidae? We even got to see the largest donkey in the world, the shaggy Poitou with their distinctive cananette coat that hangs in matted long cords resembling dreadlocks. This extraordinary animal the French had bred for war and they were prized for their strength and stamina yet lauded for their docile and friendly manner. Amid the loud braying and obstinate behavior it was a dandy day doting on dear donkeys.
A loud crack reverberated in the deep gorge as the sound filled the forested canyon. It stopped dead in my tracks and I looked upwards to see where the sound originated from. A large branch began falling from the forest canopy and I shouted “WATCH OUT!” to a young man crossing the bridge who froze in place with eyes as wide as saucers. Myself and the other onlookers watched in horror as the evergreen plummeted down onto the unsuspecting hiker. Thankfully the bough landed just inches from his body. We were all relieved that he remained unscathed. Occasionally Mother Nature sends us a reminder of who really is the boss. Putting aside these concerns I enjoyed the sheer beauty of the 15,000 year Eistobel Gorge in Maierhofen, Germany. The canyon was carved out during the Ice Age and the rock layers have revealed millions of years of geological history including fossilized shark teeth from an ancient sea that had earlier covered the region. One literally walks back through time with the water cascading over rocks and plunging down chutes that are filled with the sound of the life giving compound echoing off its 900 meter depth. Dramatic and unique this geotope landscape is home to numerous rare species of plants and animals that thrive in this Bavarian environment. The reserve is open year round even during winter when crampons are a must and adventurous hikers trek into the canyon to view the formations covered in snow and ice. It was another day well spent delving into the recesses of the earth.
The imposing towers of the Bavarian Army Museum were striking against the azure skies over the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt, Germany. Looming medieval fortress walls enclosed the city center with typical Bavarian architecture mixed with Gothic buildings making for a nice Sunday afternoon stroll. Inglostadtians have Louis VII The Duke of Bavaria to thank for building the New Castle that combined both French and Gothic styles that grace the town today. The city dates back to 806 where it was first mentioned by Charlemagne. Its other claims to fame are that it is the home to Victor Frankenstein where he created his monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 famous novel as well as being home to the original secret society The Illuminati that was formed in the 18th century. Back in its day from 1392-1447 it was also the seat of power and was capital of the Duchy of Bavaria-Inglostadt. But today it is a quaint city resting quietly along the shores of the Danube and as a friend assured me is a wonderful place to raise a family but for singles it is far from ideal. Regardless of its lack of thriving nightlife it was a wonderful way for this ole married couple to spend the afternoon.