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2002 WACRA Post-Conference Tour: A Chronicle

Bill Engel

To set the scene for the 2002 WACRA post-conference tour, I would mention that on 3 July, as part of the regular conference schedule, most participants and family members took advantage of the optional boat ride up the Neckar, through a fascinating series of locks and then beneath eerie medieval fortress-towers along the steep and thickly forested banks. Then there was the bus trip to Heidelberg, where some of us scaled the mountain to the castle to see the Gothic ruins and the vast residential complex that was repeatedly extended between the 13th and 17th centuries. Some shopped, some tasted the local wines, and some visited the university established in 1386 by Elector Ruprecht I. Today the Universitätsbibliothek houses over 2 million volumes, among the largest in Germany. At the Rathaus we were treated to a juice and champagne reception, preceded by an informative address by the vice-mayor, and followed by a seated dinner in a grand Baroque hall.

Also, on 4 July there was an optional tour to the Seimens industrial park near Karlsruhe (Karl's Rest, so called because the margrave of Baden, Karl Willhelm von Baden-Durlach ordered a lodge to be built in the middle of his favorite hunting grounds in 1715). After a hearty lunch at the Seimens-Casino, we strolled through the lush botanical gardens of Karlsruhe, and then each following his or her interest, shopped, toured the Baroque residence of the Dukes of Baden, and visited the Staatliche Kunsthalle known primarily for its works by transalpine masters like Lucas Cranach and Jacob van Ruysdael. Then, in Inesheim, we were treated to a feast in the courtyard-patio of the painstakingly restored 250-year-old home of Walter Klein and his wife Fatima.

In effect then, for those of us who had taken part in the optional visits scheduled as part of the conference as well as the post-conference tour, we had six glorious if jam-packed days of sightseeing, fact-finding, and more than enough time to part with our Euros.

And so, on 5 July, forty jovial people shook off any hint of previous travel-weariness and boarded a luxurious touring bus, waving goodbye to our four-star home during the conference, the Dorint Kongress Hotel in Mannheim. Our first destination was Würzburg, which occupies a picturesque position on the banks of the river Main. A thirty-minute bombing raid on 16 March 1945 destroyed 80% of the town's buildings, but, like Dresden, it rose from the ashes. Today it is the cultural center for Lower Franconia and home of an excellent wine. We toured the Residenz, commissioned by two prince-bishops, the brothers Johann Philipp Franz and Friedrich Karl von Schönborn, built from 1720-44 using Balthasar Neumann's plans. Of special interest was the original staircase with a cantilever cupola and the largest ceiling fresco in the world, painted by the Venetian, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The famous "Mirror Cabinet" was reopened in 1987 after nine years of reconstruction. We also admired the Kaisersaal, the centerpiece of the palace, with its paintings that testified to the close relationship enjoyed between Würzburg and the Holy Roman Empire. On our way to lunch, we went half-way across the Alte Mainbrücke, and admired from a distance the Festung Marienberg, built high on a hill overlooking the river Main on the site of an old Celtic stronghold from the Hallstatt period (about 1000 B.C.). Julius Echter changed the fortress into a Renaissance Palace, and it now houses an excellent collection of Franconian art including the world-famous sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider.

We enjoyed a typical Bavarian lunch of wurst and kraut in a garden restaurant, followed by free time to shop and visit historic sites, such as the Dom St. Kilian, Germany's fourth largest Romanesque church, built 1045-1188, whose patron saint, an Irish monk, came to the city in 686 and met a martyr's death. Some of us took time to browse the antique bookshops near the university, and to admire the simple oblong stone tomb of the medieval song-singer Walter von der Vogelweide (1170-1230), who claimed he learned his craft from the birds. Four small circles are carved in each corner of the slab so that ever after the birds will come to drink and sing over his grave. This gave special poignancy to his great poem which begins: "Ich saß auf einem Stein" ("I sat upon a stone… And there with much intensity / pondered life upon this earth.")

From Würzburg we went to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, just 80 meters above that slow and silent river. Beginning at the Marketplatz, where the Rathaus Towers date back to 1250 and 1400, we followed the Night Watchman on his rounds at dusk and learned about everyday life in a walled city: about the importance and storage of salt, the penalties for coming home after curfew, and the disposal of refuse. We marveled to hear the dramatic recitation of the glory-days in the 1270s when Rothenburg was a free town within the Holy Roman Empire and was allowed to use its own weights and measures-a big deal indeed during the period; of the ill-starred decades during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) when this Protestant stronghold was taken by the Catholic General Tilly in 1631, and the whimsical way it was spared from utter destruction (a Councilor, the former mayor, Nusch agreed to the challenge of drinking nearly 4 liters of wine in one draught); and of the even more miraculous way it was kept from being bombed by the Allies in World War II (an American general had remembered from his youth a visitor-souvenir-picture of this quaint town in his Aunt's kitchen). Because it remained a poor town from the time of the Counter-Reformation on, it did not modernize with the rest of Southern Germany, and, as a result, remains a unique tourist attraction.

The next morning, Saturday 6 July, we continued south, stopping at a monastery in Neresheim where mass was being celebrated, and then traveled along the Romantic Road, to Dilligen to visit the Studienkirche with its intricately carved stucco and gold ornamentation. We were also treated to a detailed account of the Golden Hall and the ceiling program in the Academy for teachers' in-service training, formerly a university and Jesuit college. The last Count of Dilligen presented the town to the Bishopric of Augsburg, and from the 15th century until secularization the town was the seat of the government for the region and the residence of the prince-bishops.

Baroque Church at Neresheim

On the way out of town Hans Klein, who had grown up nearby, recounted the story of a boyhood classmate who found Roman coins in one of the fields. We ended up at the base of the Ammergauer Alps, in Füssen, and hiked up the steep hill leading to the fairy tale castle of Bavaria's eccentric King Ludwig II, Schloß Neuschwanstein, which draws on a variety of historical styles and fired the imagination of, among others, Walt Disney. Built in 1869-86, it was left unfinished at the time of his untimely death, which to this day is shrouded in suspicious circumstances, for both he and his physician where found drowned in a shallow lake, and Ludwig was known to have been a hearty swimmer. This was the first European castle to have running water throughout and flushing toilets. Despite his looking back to Byzantine designs and medieval themes for the decoration of his castles, he was very forward-looking when it came to governing. With regard to humanitarianism, he was among the first to support the Red Cross; and with regard to the arts, he was Richard Wagner's greatest patron, making possible the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth designed specially for the performance of Wagner's operatic spectacles that glorify Germany's heroic past. Ludwig sought to raise the educational level of the people entrusted to him by building schools, and was much admired by them for this; in fact, the townspeople barred the doors to the castle when government officials attempted, unsuccessfully at first, to remove him and put him on trial for insanity. He even commissioned an inventor to construct a machine that could fly over his beloved mountains, which in 1886 was taken as "proof" of his mental illness by the Chamber of Councilors anxious to dethrone him. Within a decade however the first airplanes were made, and so in this and in other matters as well, we must let history judge his fitness to rule. There is no disputing though that Ludwig's fantastic castles, which so troubled the government officers and put a stain on the Treasury during his lifetime, have brought a cultural revival and immense revenue to this region-mainly from tourists like us.

So filled with tourists during the summer in fact that for forty of us to stay in a hotel overnight, we had to travel across the border, along a very blue stretch of the Donau (Danube), to Reutte, in the Tyrol region of Austria, to lodge at the historic Hotel Goldener Hirsch (Golden Stag). That night some of the younger members of the tour went to investigate the annual Fireman's Ball, while others just relaxed in this quite village not far from the Heiterwanger See.

The next morning, Sunday 7 July, we took the German Alpine Way from Weisenbach through Tannheim, where amazing views of the Alps were enjoyed by all, with a stopover where traditional Barvarian music resounded in an open-air concert hall. Thus we passed through Oberstaufen, and skirted the northern slope of the beautiful Bodensee (Lake Constance), which borders Switzerland and Austria to the South and Germany to the North, and then drove by Friedrichshafen, where the first Zeppelin airships were tested in 1900. We stopped for the afternoon in Meersburg, where the group enjoyed strolling along the lake-side promenade, and some dipped their legs in the refreshingly cool water. Your chronicler went swimming, and can report first-hand that there are not a few very cold undercurrents in that rocky-bottomed glacially-formed lake even on a sunny day. From here we made our way westward to spend the night in the old part of Villingen-Schwenningen. With a lone Alpine Chough warbeling on the roof of the church in the main square, we strolled past the Rathaus and shops which have been modernized in a way consistent with the city's heritage.This town was our point of dearpature for the Schwarzwald (Black Forest, so called because of the density of the tall fir trees and spruces), where the sources of both the Donau and Neckar are located.

Meersburg Unterstadt

Monday morning, 8 July, we took an ambling road through the Black Forest. By the end of this day, the last of our tour, everyone had at some point sampled, after his or her own tastes, the delicious eis (our nearest English equivalent is ice cream, but eis is so much better than that-you can taste the butter!), the justifiably celebrated Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake), some Kirschwasser (schnapps), and the local wines and beers (pay as you go).

Black Forest Costumes - Villingen

In Furtwangen we visited the Uhrenmuseum (Clock Museum), which houses a collection of more than 4,000 varied chronometers. Here we saw how cuckoo clocks were made originally and today, as well as other marvels of the history of the clock industry, including 19th century piano rolls connected to several varieties of time-keepers and automated figurines. We passed through Triberg, where some bought clocks and some hiked to the waterfall, and then went farther north for a fine Italian lunch in Schenkenburg. Traveling along beautiful Black Forest cliff-roads to Freudenstadt, we saw a pleasant spa-town well worth a future visit. Then, further north, through the more famous spa-town of Baden-Baden, and finally back onto the Autobahn to Mannheim, where in 1886 Carl Friedrich Benz unveiled his first automobile.

This imprtant city of about 326,000 people is dominated by its signature Wasserturm (Watertower), which is of the same architectural vinatge as the symmetrical Secessionist buildings in Friedrichsplatz. During the reign of Elector Johann Wilhelm Mannheim was rebuilt in the Baroque style, and then in the 18th century, reflecting town-planning patterns of the day, it was divided into 136 regular squares.

And so it was in Mannheim that a final banquet was enjoyed by those hearty few who still had the stamina to visit a favorite haunt of Franz Egle, our local host. Although various members of the tour spent their time in different ways, it is safe to say that a good time was had by all, and that we leave Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg more cognizant of the cultural signifance and uniqueness of these regions, as well as good friends with colleagues devoted to innovative approaches to teaching and learning.