Friday, October 3, 2008

Munich 6.6.1998: Waiting Madonnas and "Small" Plates

A long and fairly pleasant day yesterday. In the morning, we helped B. remove sand from the apartment building’s sandbox, so that new sand for C. can be trucked in.

Maria then found that C. had a high fever, which altered our plans to go together to the Starnberger See to celebrate his birthday. She took C. to the doctor, and B. took us to the See.

A fine hot day--30̊. We drove out of Gräfelfing on a back road, passing houses and restaurants interspersed with guesthouses and beer gardens, quickly coming to fields. It was rather surprising how quickly we arrived in the countryside, in fact. Germans like that sense of having nature right there, at one’s fingertips—albeit a strictly controlled nature.

The guesthouses and beer gardens suggest to me that this is quite a vacation area. Their architecture’s pleasing—the high, steeply pitched tiled (usually red) roofs one sees all over this region, the dark balconies with bright flowers, the stucco walls—all looked bright and shiny in the sunlight, even a bit southern European.

The road to Starnberger See: the German genius for alternating village with farm with field and forest. It was all lovely, fairy-taleish: rolling hills, the Alps in the distance. The very countryside seems planned and ordered in Germany, as life itself is, with those little touches of (planned, ordered) wildness that remind us we’re in nature.

After a car tour, we stopped at a beer garden by the lake. “Would you like to make a little walk?” B said, and so we did, down a lane with guesthouses, one having a huge train set and play-castles in its yard. As we passed, a woman in the yard called sharply to Lisa, her exuberant German shepherd, who was bouncing down the laneway.

On past more beer gardens and we were at the lake, which is clear and blue, and had people fishing and sailing on it. B. suggested that we “take a little bite now,” as a prelude to a serious meal at a beer garden down the road. The waiter, typically Bavarian-gruff, informed us that we could eat only from the cold menu, so I chose a “kleines Portion” of smoked ham, Steve of sliced Schweinbrot, B. of smoked fish. Portions were, of course, enormous, the meats sliced and fanned out on a wooden trencher, with a slice of buttered bread, a radish, several slices of slightly sweet pickle, a leaf of bitter curly lettuce, and an orange slice.

The menu advertised all this as Brot. I like the German recognition of the centrality, the fundamentality, of bread to life, as if the meat and relishes were a condiment to accompany the bread. Very pleasant, with our Radlers under the Kastanien trees that invariably shade beer gardens in Bavaria, to keep the beer cool.

Germans in general like to mix serious eating with rather serious walking on holidays, but the Bavarian twist to this is to plan one’s walks and car tours to arrive at “just another quaint little beer garden I know down the road.” From beer garden to beer garden, life rolls on merrily through the countryside.

After the beer garden, a drive through more villages and farms to Bad Tölz. Baedeker says that there are more places combining living quarters and farms here than anywhere else in Germany (the usual pattern being to live in a village and go out to farm one’s land). And so it seemed: the farmhouses are often on hilltops, big square stuccoed houses with barns attached, the house always facing east, as Steve noted.

Bad Tölz is a pretty little city nestled beside the Isar beneath the Alps. The wide, cobbled main street, the Marktstrasse, winds up the hill between gabled houses of pleasant pastel colors, with frescoes of saints and other ornamentation.

We walked up to one of the town churches, an 18th-century late Rococo one, with an attractive light interior, frescoes and lots of gilt. An iron gate decorated with sunbursts protects the church proper, and seems to be a good idea, when one notes that the poor bos has holes in it where someone tried to pry it open.

Then back down the hill for ices at an Italian ice place on the main street, and through several gässe with attractive little shops, one combining plants for sale (the inevitable pink hortensias, oleander, which the Bavarians love, and a surprising pot of fragrant confederate jasmine) with blue glassware, white dishes, bright yellow candles.

From there, we climbed to a hill to the Kalvarienberg, topped by a 1726 pilgrimage church and a 1718 St. Leonard’s chapel. Both were in poor repair, the church positively scary. It struck Steve and me as Spanish, with its double cupolas jutting up from the hillside, though the guide to the church outside its front door doesn’t say there’s Spanish influence.

Inside, it’s a maze of chapels, running one beneath the other. All seemed neglected, forlorn, with frescoes and inscriptions peeling from the white fresco walls, candle wax dripped everywhere, and big black smudges of soot where candles had burned.

There was a—how to describe it?—waiting quality in the church, as if it were suspended outside time and holding its breath. One altar had a saint’s effigy entombed in glass beneath it. A lower chapel had the deathbed picture of an early pastor of the church. Nearby, in a dark recessed grotto, was a frightening Madonna, severely frontal, her glittering eyes the only point of light in the gloom of her cave. She was either squat and standing, or sitting: one couldn’t tell, because she was dressed in several layers of nondescript brown and gray clothes, with a gold rosary around her neck, and other, less precious, ones in her hands, along with a scapular.

This shrine had the only signs of life in the church—votive candles outside the grill, though where they came from I couldn’t see, since there was no display of them in sight. It felt holy, primitive, frightening, as if it drew people almost against their will to the dark grotto, the glittering eyes: what kind of prayer does one pray before such a primitive presence, numinous and chthonic?

The Leonard’s chapel was less interesting, except for its 1955 sign that seemed (God, my inadequate German!) to ask one to pray for our beloved Bavarian homeland, and farmers killed in a 1710 (1705?) war to protect Bavaria. Who was Leonard—a Crusader? His iconography, and cult, seem vaguely martial. The guidebook associates him with cavalry processions and blessing of horses.

Outside the chapel, beautiful wildflowers in the grass (including yarrow and wild caraway), with a walking path (a beer garden conveniently down the road, according to the signpost) and a field of sheep, some of the grazing just against the church. Attached to the church seemed to be living quarters—lace-curtained windows, one with a globe in it, and wash hanging on the line out back, a woman’s bright red dress included.

After this, home by way of back roads and a harrowing autobahn drive, where we found Maria making strawberry Quark, and C. better.

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