Monday, October 6, 2008

Augsburg 7.6.1998: Ulrich's Ruby Ring and Flädlesuppe

Nudity in Germany: rather casual now, though people say this is a recent development. Day before yesterday, a little boy—4 or 5—running gloriously naked down a road by the Starnberger See, his penis flopping in the air. And yesterday in Augsburg, Maria said she saw a man standing in the sun on his balcony, fully nude.

Augsburg: first it should be noted that the weather remains unseasonably hot--35̊ yesterday! So touring—in long pants and long-sleeved shirts—was a chore.

Our tour guide, Harry O., Maria’s friend from the Allgau conference center at which they both worked, was a masterful tour guide, and obviously loves the city.

We began at the Rathaus, a symbol of the city’s pride and of its Roman origins, according to Harry. Some glorious Renaissance rooms, all restored after the war.

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Mary Tannen, Loving Edith (NY: Berkley, 1995): “That is how they imagine Real Life, as going on in the same space, but hidden, unseen, because they haven’t found the key, or the code, or the special glasses that allow them to see.”

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Impressions of Augsburg: that almost defiant German need to claim Romanitas, accentuated here by the city’s actual Roman roots, and the fact that the Claudian Way ran through the city. A messier, somewhat noisier version of Munich, but that may have to do with the fact that it was Saturday, and Pentecost holidays to boot.

I like the little canals all through the city, many of them now being uncovered, Harry told us: “more bridges than Venice”—over and over, he stressed the Italianness of Augsburg. Tour guide hype or German cultural insecurity?

The Dom: I loved the recently discovered crypt, which Harry called the most mystical place in Augsburg. (Does every city have an Ur place, a place from which its spiritual character emanates, in our minds?) In the crypt, we found another of those full-frontal seated Madonnas (“very Alpine”: Harry), before which Harry lit 3 candles, and Steve and I others. To reinforce the magic, we rubbed the ears of the brass lion on the cathedral doors as we went in, and the nose as we exited.

The stained glass windows of the south wall of the nave—the oldest figural stained glass windows in the world—were also interesting. They’ve been covered with glass outside because pollution was harming them. The famous bronze panels have been brought inside; I found their unorganized mix of classical mythology with scenes from Old and New Testaments whimsical.

The rest of the tour a whirlwind in the very hot weather: the Fuggerei, the Ulrich and Affra Kirche, the home of the Fuggers; the Lutheran church and Catholic chapel where the Fuggers are reburied . . . . In the Fuggerei, the little cottages (for virtuous poor widows who promise to pray thrice daily for the Fuggers in St. Mark’s church, itself an interesting late-Renaissance chapel) were pleasant. Each has a bronze doorpull of a different shape (“so they can find their way to their own door at night, when drunk”: Harry). And various lace curtains, door plaques, and window ornaments individualized them. A chic poverty . . . .

We paid homage to both Ulrich and Affra, now behind iron grates because people have stolen Ulrich’s ruby ring. Harry tells us every 10 years is an Ulrich year, in which his gold coffin is carried in procession to the Dom. A coveted honor to carry it . . . .

The Fugger house was a bit forbidding and severe, unornamented Renaissance stucco painted an ugly mustard yellow. A dames’ courtyard with a fountain/bath is where, supposedly, young women of high social status would gather to chat, while prospective suitors stood on the balcony above and picked their choice.

The Lutheran church is, supposedly, the sole Lutheran church with a Catholic chapel in all the world. The chapel is the burial place of the Fuggers, who would be horrified to be buried in a church in which Luther resided when he met Cajetan, and which is now Lutheran. Wonderful small marble putti on the wall separating the chapel from the rest of the church.

After Augsburg (and I should recall the wonderful Markt, full of bright flowers [multi-colored lupines] and vegetables [zucchini with the blossom left on], we came to Harry’s house in Newsäβ. He lives on land that was his grandfather’s in a double house (brother on the other side) next door to his mother. His brother, an architect, designed the house, which is a pleasant one-room cottage downstairs with bedroom and bath upstairs in a kind of loft.

Harry cooked for us a traditional Schwabisch meal: soup (always soup to begin a Swabian meal, he says), of calf stock and sliced pancakes (Flädle in Swabian, so Flädlesuppe), followed by salad and cheese spätzle (cheese and onions layered atop spätzle). Harry made the spätzle (“as a good Swabian housewife must”), using a round metal sheet with holes in the top and a flat pushing device to push them into the boiling water.

During the day, Harry talked about being gay in Germany today: better, but still far from paradise. He noted that, when one recalls that the Nazis killed gays just 50 years ago, things have changed rapidly. Attributes this in part to t.v. and cinema, which are making gay life known and recognizable.

Harry thinks, though, that neo-Nazis and fascist movements are burgeoning, and told us that a friend of his who was walking with a lover in Englischer Garten was assaulted a year ago, and beaten so badly he lost an eye.*

*The last I heard, Harry had become “ex-gay” and had married (a woman), in an arrangement in which, I believe, he lives on one side of the Atlantic and she another. Our German friends who were the point of contact with him celebrated the conversion out of homosexuality and his marriage. Though they accept gays and defend their right to live free of restraint and persecution, their own worldviews are still heavily heteronormative.

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