DM and MM's Germany 2007 Diary

Day 17 - Würzburg

Monday, 7 May, 2007

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08:35 Breakfast, Hotel Zur Stadt Mainz

Muesli without chocolate!!! Sliced strawberries, orange segments, cherries, peach halves, all in separate bowls. Yoghurt in plain and strawberry. Three other cereals if you don't want muesli, with smaller jars of bran and nuts and other additional toppings. Four types of jam. A big basket of assorted bread rolls. Five types of sliced meats. Smoked salmon. Hot sausages of two different types - weißwurst and another. Assorted antipasto stuff: tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke, olives (two types), asparagus spears, gherkins, yellow chiles, prawns, prawns and asparagus mixed together. Twelve types of cheese, and that's just on the cheese board - there's also feta in a bowl of brine and six other types in cream cheese packets in a basket!


It's been a long day - in some ways relaxing, in others tiring. We got up and enjoyed the amazing breakfast here at the hotel, then left to book ongoing train trips for the remainder of our holiday. We decided to head straight to Cologne and spend two nights there to see the famous cathedral, then head to Bingen and spend our last two nights there, cruising down the Rhine during the day and returning by train the same evening, and then going to Frankfurt airport straight from Bingen. We got tickets to Cologne and Bingen, but the best trip to Frankfurt airport was a local train for which we couldn't get advance tickets.

Residenz Garten
Würzburg Residenz gardens

We walked to the Residenz via the main shopping area in town and got tickets for the 11:00 guided tour in English. While waiting for it to begin we perused displays in the ground floor carriage court area about restoration work on the building, showing how much care and detail goes into restoring and preserving the fresco paintings and stucco work. The Residenz is the most significant work of the renowned 18th century German architect Balthasar Neumann. Unfortunately, photography were strictly forbidden in the interior of the building, so I had to restrict my photo taking at this wondrous place to the exterior.

The tour began in the ground floor reception room, which our guide entertainingly told us was painted by some local artists in the impressive style and colours we could see, depicting scenes of revelry and so on amongst cherubs and classically styled people. When the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg saw it he was so unimpressed he fired the artist and hired Tiepolo from Venice to do the entire rest of the building. Walking up the grand staircase, we admired the first of Tiepolo's work: the great ceiling fresco showing the four continents (Europe, Africa, Asia, America) paying tribute to the Prince-Bishop (modest guy) in one of the world's largest single-piece ceiling frescoes - some impressive numbers of hundreds of square metres - it was huge and very impressive.

Cherub and Satyr
Statues of cherub and satyr in the Residenz gardens

Then we emerged into the White Room, a large open chamber that led into the largest room in the Residenz, but that was completely covered by scaffolding for restoration work. We could barely see a few patches of the faux marble columns. The guard let us into a series of rooms along the southern wing of the upper floor, each more elaborately and ornately decorated than the one before, until it culminated in the Mirror Room - a room entirely panelled with mirrors on every piece of wall space and partially on the ceiling too, separated only by thin gilded mouldings and baroque ornamentation. Some of the larger mirrored surfaces were painted with anonymous portraits of ladies' faces on the back of the glass. The effect, even with electric light instead of the multiple pinpoints of candlelight, was simply jaw-dropping. We've certainly seen some amazing palace rooms on this trip, but this was on a whole new level of mind-blowingness. The glass wasn't perfect - you could see warps and waves in it. It had actually been reconstructed to look like the original glasswork that had been destroyed in the bombing of Würzburg in 1945. Thankfully, photos of the room and one piece of mirror glass that had been pried off the walls had allowed the reconstruction, which was only completed in 1987.

The guided tour over, we did a self-guided walk through the northern wing, where most of the rooms had been destroyed and not fully reconstructed (as opposed to the south, where much had actually survived intact - except for the Mirror Room). One room was a bedroom, where Napoleon had spent the night once. The guy sure got around - he seems to have spent a night in every building we've been in.

colour under grey sky
Residenz gardens

Done with the interior, we went out to examine the gardens at the rear of the building. A formal garden, with hedges and flower beds and statues occupied a comparatively small area, bordered by arched walks covered with trellises of grapes and curving slopes leading up to a higher level that formed a containing wall at the far end. Over the top of the wall, which was broad enough for paths and lawns, were wooded gardens beyond with paths leading between dense groves of trees in a less formal setting. It began raining fitfully while we explored the garden, but never got heavy. We returned to the front of the Residenz and went into the attached Hofkirche to see the ornate decorations in there, especially since Jenny recommended it and said it was almost the church she and Gert got married in.

Marienkapelle, near Marktplatz

Once done at the Residenz, we walked back to the main Marktplatz area, where we were to meet Jenny and Gert at 13:00. We got some bread rolls on the way for a quick lunch - some light, airy cheese sticks each plus a doughy ham stick for me and a seedy roll for Michelle. When we reached the Marktplatz, I was so impressed by the red exterior of the Marienkapelle church there that we went in for a look at the funky blue stained glass over the altar before heading into the cafe, ready to find Jenny and Gert.

They were sitting at a table at the back having coffee. Michelle got a cappuccino and I got a slice of black forest cake and some water. The cake - which I'd been dying to try here in Germany - was really only different from black forest cake at home by virtue of the fact that the layer of cream on top was about four centimetres thick. Still, it was good.

Käpelle in the distance

After our short tea break, Jenny and Gert took us by car up to the Käppele, the church they got married in, up on the hillside overlooking the Main River and the town. The roof was interestingly shaped, with roof tiles curved gracefully over multiple eastern European style domed spires. The view from the surrounding courtyard was amazing, across the river to the town far below. The interior was dark and the paintings dulled by the years. The wood carving on the pew end sections was detailed and intricate.

Once we left the Käppele, Gert drove us over to Festung Marienburg, the castle of the prince-bishops of Würzburg, overlooking the Main, before the Residenz was built down in the town itself. It was accessed via a steep, narrow, one-way road etched into the hillside and with a steep drop on the left side as we climbed the hill. After parking on a cobbled square outside, we walked into the fortress via a steep cobbled carriage tunnel which turned 90 degrees inside so you couldn't see both ends at once - probably some sort of security arrangement. This led into an outer walled courtyard containing carriagehouses and stables, enough for a dozen or so carriages.

Marienberg entrance
Gatehouse of Festung Marienburg

A walk through a gatehouse led to a small intermediate courtyard which contained a large pool with a wide shallowly sloped ramp leading down into it. Gert said it was for bathing horses, but there was no water in it at the moment.

Which reminds me of some conversation earlier when we were talking about fountains. I asked why so few of the fountains seemed to be working, was it to save water? Jenny said no, it was a maintenance expense problem. Most public fountains in Germany have fallen into disrepair since so much money is being funnelled into developing infrastructure in the east after reunification. The few fountains that are working are mostly because nearby shops or businesses have pooled together to pay for repairs and maintenance. Interesting.

Marienberg courtyard
Courtyard of Festung Marienburg

But on to the third, innermost courtyard of Festung Marienburg, accessed through another gated portal in the walls. This was a large space containing a tall cylindrical watchtower, some nine or ten storeys high, and about ten metres in diameter, of cemented irregular stone blocks, capped by a conical tiled roof, and overgrown with ivy for about the bottom third of its height. An open doorway led inside, but there was only a simple circular chamber with domed ceiling about five metres above, with no obvious way to climb up to the watch windows below the roof outside.

Also in the courtyard was a short round building which turned out to be a wellhouse. The well inside was covered with a grille and I looked into it expecting a wooden covering or something obstructing anything interesting, but was stunned to behold the coolest well shaft I've ever looked into. The shaft was open below the metal bars and what's more, floodlit by a single light shining directly down from the centre of the grille. The shaft sank vertiginously directly downwards to a pool of water at the bottom, made tiny by the distance and rendered green by the reflection of the light from the slimy inside surface of the uneven rocks that had been used to construct and line the circular pit. It was eerily beautiful and instantly brought to mind visions inspired by the movie The Ring - one could imagine falling into this gaping hole in the Earth, perhaps bouncing off the sharp irregular rock walls a few times, before splashing into the dark, cold water at the bottom. It might be possible to climb back up, using the rock lining as slick hand and footholds, but it would be strenuous, difficult, and hair-raising work. After taking a couple of dizzying photos, I read the information plaque on the inside wall of the wellhouse, which was written in German and English. It said the well shaft was 100 metres deep and sank all the way down to the water table at the level of the Main River, which made it even more mind-boggling, given the view of the city and river far below us from our eyrie on the hillside above that we had had from outside the castle.

Red gargoyles
Gargoyles in the courtyard of Festung Marienburg

Behind the wellhouse was a fountain (not working) and a ceremonial pillar topped by a gilded statue of a woman holding up a star in one hand. Next to all this was a chapel, the inside of which was domed by a cupola above a floor made of about twenty mortuary slabs, deeply carved with likenesses of various prince-bishops of Würzburg. Access was restricted, so we couldn't get much further than just inside the door.

Home town view
View from Festung Marienburg over Würzburg (Jenny and Gert are standing at the balcony railing)

Out another gateway led to a garden area out the front of the castle, protected by walls down to the steep hillside below, but with expansive views up and down the river and across it over the town far (~100 metres) below. A small formal garden was wedged between the inner and outer walls, but the soil was bare. We asked a woman to take a photo of all four of us - there were a handful of tourists braving the cold, windy, and intermittently moist weather, but the castle was mostly pretty empty. Unfortunately she had no experience with our sort of cameras and managed to completely fail to press the shutter button even after multiple attempts, so we had to give that up.

Next, Jenny and Gert drove us up to another small castle back on the opposite side of the Main, overlooking the town from the north, from above more steep grape terraces. They said this was a prime spot for viewing New Year's Eve fireworks, but difficult because there was almost no parking and only a very tight space to turn a car around in at the top.

Würzburg am Main
View of Würzburg

Worn out, and with no other obvious sightseeing options, we agreed to a cup of tea and a bit of a rest at Jenny and Gert's place. As they drove us past the riverbank, a scenic village or two, and some fields of crops, I asked Jenny about the vast fields of yellow flowers we'd seen everywhere. She said they were grown for oil, both for food and for conversion into biodiesel fuel. She said farmers were now growing lots of it because of government subsidies and said she couldn't remember what it was called in English, but said a German word that sounded a bit like "rapeseed" - "canola?" I said, and she said yes, that was it.

Jenny and Gert's place was a nice but fairly small unit in a 1960's era building in the village of Waldbüttelbrun, 10 kilometres outside Würzburg. They made us coffee for Michelle and peppermint tea for me, and switched on to the only English language channel they got, CNN International, which began with an extended live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II arriving at the White House. We had our first real conversation with anyone other than ourselves for over two weeks, making various comments about how bored the Queen must get at all these official functions.

Around 18:00 we were getting hungry, so we went out to a small Italian restaurant in the village. Michelle got gnocchi gorgonzola, while I had another go at a diavolo pizza. When it arrived (after a long wait) I commented that it wasn't as spicy as I was used to and Jenny said that she should have told me to ask for extra spicy if I wanted that. It was still pretty good though. This time they let us split the bill, then we drove back to our hotel where they gave us our laundry back, not only cleaned and dried, but ironed too! We said our goodbyes until next time we see them when they move to Australia for their retirement soon.

Main River night
View of Käppele (left) and Festung Marienburg (right) from Würzburg side of the Main river

We weren't done for the day yet though, having planned an outing to take some night photos again - this time down by the Main River. We picked up a hot chocolate for Michelle and gelato for me from the same Italian place across the road from our hotel where Michelle had got a drink the night before, forcing the guy to dirty up the coffee machine he'd just cleaned and polished for the night - he was cheerful and very friendly though. Rain continued to spit as we made our way down to the Alte Mainbrücke, or as Jenny more descriptively called it, the Bridge of the Saints, as lining its sides were buttressing semicircular extensions centred on large statues of various saints. Atop the hill over the river were the Käppele and Festung Marienburg, both floodlit and looking charming in the dimming twilight, with their light reflected off the Main below.

Alte Mainbrücke
One the Alte Mainbrücke, looking into town

Unfortunately, the rain was light but persisted enough to limit photography to some quick handheld snaps for some time. After a while I took the plunge and did an HDR sequence, huddled under an umbrella with Michelle clicking the shutter as I lifted the brolly quickly only for enough time for each exposure. My camera still got wetter than I'd have liked, but didn't suffer any damage. But then shortly after, the rain stopped! I got some magical shots of night lights reflected off wet, glistening cobblestones, and took a few more HDR sequences for good measure, including some more as we walked home and passed some interesting sights, including the church and Falkenhaus in the Marktplatz.

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