My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

13 May 2007

Walpurgis 2007

Two weeks ago I took a trip to Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen. The main event was scaling the Brocken on April 30th, just in time for Walpurgisnacht.

This is me near the summit.

This, inauspicious as it looks, is the summit.

Goethe and Heine both climbed it, and it featured in some of their most famous literary works. One passage from Goethe's Faust reads,
The witches t'ward the Brocken strain
When the stubble yellow, green the grain.
The rabble rushes - as 'tis meet -
To Sir Urian's lordly seat.
O'er stick and stone we come, by jinks!
The witches fart, the he-goat stinks

Because it was Walpurgis, we met some witches on the way to the summit.

Apparently the Brocken experiences more than 300 days of bad weather per year. As you can see from the photos, we managed to be there during one of the few nice days. When Heine climbed it, the weather was terrible, and he wrote in a guest book at the summit, "Many stones, tired legs, no view, Heinrich Heine," which sounds much better in the original German, "Viele Steine, müde Beine, Aussicht keine, Heinrich Heine.“

There are both a "Heine path" and a "Goethe path," but since this is what the Goethe path looks like:

we opted for a trail less literary and less paved. The Brocken isn't much of a mountain, but I wanted to be able to say I "hiked" it without blushing. (Taking the Goethe path isn't hiking; it's walking.)

Much, but not all, of our trail looked like this:

It was a lovely hike; I don't think I realized how much I missed nature until I was actually there, enjoying the clear, pine-scented air.

The only thing of note that happened on the ascent was that we spotted this couple:

The man is Dominic Raacke, a German television star.

Another highlight of the weekend was a barbecue in Chuck and Kelly's Schrebergarten.


Right now in Germany we're enjoying "Spargelzeit," the time when asparagus is ripe and sold at every grocery store, farmer's market and corner stand, so, of course, we had to have some:

Apparently white asparagus needs to be peeled before you cook it.

We also had dinner at this brewery, in the idyllic little town of Freyburg, a town that deserves a much better Wikipedia entry than it has.

(The German entry is slightly better, but most of you can't understand it.)

The rest of the trip involved hitting some of the highlights of German intellectual, literary and artistic history.

We saw, in no particular order, the St. Thomas church in Leipzig, where Bach served as cantor

and where he is buried,

the Nikolai church in Leipzig, site of the Monday demonstrations during the final months of the GDR,

with its surprising interior,

and the cathedral in Weimar where Herder preached.

We also visited the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, the largest monument in Europe and a relic of the rise of German nationalism in the early 20th century (it was built in 1913).

The monumental architecture makes it impressive from the outside, but the inside is another story:

The words "creepy" and "disturbing" come to mind. Take a closer look at those columns:

With the floral wreath, dim lighting and piped-in music, they were clearly trying to cultivate a somber, respectful, contemplative atmosphere. I found that most disturbing of all. Let's not forget what the nationalist sentiment that built this memorial led to, after all.

We also saw the house where Händel was born,

and the Weimar homes of Goethe

and Schiller.

It was a special treat to me to go visit the Fürstengruft where Goethe and Schiller were laid to rest.

Shockingly, my traveling companion was not willing to pay the €2 to go gawp at the caskets of two of Germany's greatest writers/thinkers.

The funny thing is (funny in an incredibly dark way), they're not even sure it's Schiller in that casket. He died in 1805 in a plague and was buried in a mass grave. Many felt this type of burial was unworthy for a great personage like Schiller, so some twenty years later they dug him up. But by then the cheap tin coffin had rotted away, so the mayor of Weimar sifted through 23 skulls until he found the one that he assumed was Schiller's. From there it made its way to Goethe's house, where it lived for at least half a year, until it, along with some random bones they assumed [or hoped!] were also Schiller's, was interred in the Fürstengruft. For a while there was a second set of presumed Schiller remains in the vault, but eventually some scientist ruled they were definitively not Schiller's, but to this day they still don't know if the first set of bones really belonged to Schiller.

What a way to treat the remains of one of your greatest national poets!

We also made a stop in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, to see the birthplace of the Reformation.

And that, my friends, is where it all began, the church where Luther preached.


Not too far away is the unique palace church,

which boasts the door where Luther supposedly nailed up the 95 theses,

as well as Luther's tomb.

There are more photos on my flickr page.

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Anonymous said...

Great post. I would love to see more of your "Entdeckungen", notably Entdeckungen in our nice city of Berlin :-)

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