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Two buildings in Bavaria

By John Masters Meridian Writers’ Group MUNICH—Germany may no longer have a monarchy — it was abolished in 1918 — but it still has plenty of nobility. Take the Wittelbachs, for example.

By John Masters

Meridian Writers’ Group

MUNICH—Germany may no longer have a monarchy — it was abolished in 1918 — but it still has plenty of nobility. Take the Wittelbachs, for example. They’d been the rulers of Bavaria since the 12th century. Even today, if you run into the current head of the house, Duke Franz von Bayern, you should address him as “your royal highness.”

German nobility still have some very nice real estate, too. Duke Franz lives at Nymphenburg Palace, a baroque wonder that, in the 17th century, was a two-hour carriage ride from Munich. Now it’s in the suburbs, but there’s still a nice buffer between the duke and his neighbours: his front lawn’s the size of a stadium; the backyard’s a 200-hectare park.

Since the duke still lives here, not all of the palace is open to the public, but the impressive centre block is. Built and rebuilt by successive generations of Wittelbachs from 1664, with the last major work done in 1826, its rooms are in a variety of styles that veer from Italianate to Chinese, but all would come under the general heading of “opulent.”

The Great Hall that rises before you as you enter is the biggest and best example of this: a two-storey-high rococo chamber of lavish, gold-gilded stucco work, a colourful ceiling fresco of, appropriately, nymphs, six glittering crystal chandeliers and a bank of large windows to fill the room with light. It seems a hall perfectly made for music and dancing.

The rooms with the most interesting stories to them are in the south wing, where the Blue Salon and the Queen’s Bedroom are both done in French Empire style. Why? Because in 1806 Napoleon made Bavaria its own kingdom and enlarged its borders. How better to show your thanks — and allegiance — than to redo a few choice rooms in the appropriate manner?

The Queen’s Bedroom has another story to go with it: it’s where Ludwig II — Mad Ludwig, the one who built the fantasy castle Walt Disney made into the icon for his amusement park — was born. The furniture is all as it was on that day, Aug. 25, 1845, including the mirror the delivering doctor looked into rather than gazing directly on his royal patient.

As eye-catching as the palace is, for many visitors the park behind it is an even greater attraction. It comes with two lakes, several large pavilions, a baroque garden and a canal. A 1761 painting by Canaletto shows the house and garden from the top of the canal, with several pleasure craft rowing about in the water. Ladies in voluminous dresses and gentlemen wearing white hose watch from the shore. The boats are gone, but the park remains much as it was nearly 250 years ago.

Among the outbuildings back here is the Magdelenenklause. It was meant to be a simple, monk-like place of refuge for the lord and was designed to convey the idea of poverty. Most people will think it fails miserably in this. But most people don’t live in Nymphenburg Palace.

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Nymphenburg Palace visit the Bavarian Palace Department’s website at www.schoesser.bayern.de .

For information on travel in Germany visit the German National Tourist Office website at www.cometogermany.com .

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO CAPTION

Nuremberg’s Documentation Centre tells the story of the birth and growth of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—the Nazis.

 

PHOTO CREDIT

John Masters/Meridian Writers’ Group

 

Nuremberg’s necessary exhibition

 

By John Masters

Meridian Writers’ Group

NUREMBERG, Germany—This Bavarian city has many sights to see. It has a spectacular Christmas market, master Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer’s house and a range of worthwhile museums covering everything from toys to railways to contemporary art. There’s a big medieval castle to visit and a labyrinth of tunnels beneath it to explore. The Rough Guide to Germany says “two or three days are probably the minimum necessary to get to know the place.”

Then there’s the exhibition the city isn’t so keen to promote, but it’s a very necessary one.

The blandly named Dokumentationszentrum (Documentation Centre) tells the story of the birth and growth of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party — the Nazis. What makes this exhibition particularly compelling is that it’s housed in the Congress Hall, begun by Adolf Hitler’s favourite architect, Albert Speer, in 1935 and never finished, but intended to outdo Rome’s Colosseum.

The hall itself was just a small part of Nazi Party Rally Grounds, a vast parcel of land where parades were held, military exercises conducted and where Hitler whipped up support with his speeches at mass rallies, captured on film in the 1934 pro-Nazi documentary Triumph of the Will .

The Allies bombed the rally grounds (and destroyed much of Nuremberg) in 1945, but the Congress Hall survived, the largest remaining example of the brutal, overscaled neoclassical style Hitler and Speer preferred. “Eternity and monumentality” were the qualities it was meant to express.

Stepping into this crumbling piece of history would be eerie, but that’s not exactly what you do. The central corridor of the Documentation Centre is an arrow that pierces the outer flank of the building, blasting through its walls to emerge as a narrow catwalk overlooking the now-silent inner arena. It is an elegantly dramatic architectural repudiation of everything the Congress Hall was meant to embody.

Travel along that arrow and you pass through 19 rooms that use old film footage and documents to tell the Nazis’ tale, with special emphasis laid on Nuremberg’s role.

Nuremberg’s citizens weren’t big supporters of Hitler early on, but the city became more and more identified with his National Socialist movement as it gained strength. Besides the rallies (attracting up 250,000) Nuremberg was where the so-called Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, depriving Jews of their citizenship and forbidding relations between Jews and Gentiles — the first step on the road to the concentration camps.

The city’s high status within the Third Reich made it a pointedly symbolic choice as the venue for the war-crimes trials when that “thousand-year Reich” ended. (The courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials were held is also open for inspection.)

Even more than 60 years after the events it depicts, the Documentation Centre still has the power to make you shudder. The stark reality of the film footage, from scenes of fresh-faced German boys being molded into Hitler Youth squads to the unbearably sad shots of concentration camps, is underscored, like a barely heard bass line, by the ghosts and shadows of the building itself. In here, the past seems not quite dead.

 

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Documentation Centre visit the Museums of Nuremberg Web site at www.museen.nuernberg.de .

To reach the Documentation Centre from Nuremberg’s central train station take the S2 S-bahn to Dutzlendteich station (a six-minute ride), then walk 10 minutes to the Congress Hall.

For more information on Nuremberg visit the city’s website at www.nuernberg.de .




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