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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 30 of 30: The Last Week - Waldsassen

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at the glass factory

Lamberts Glass Factory is located in the town of Waldsassen close to the Czechoslovakian border. There is no direct train there. Marktredwitz is the closest we could reach by train. But trying to get there was really confusing. The train schedule showed two different trains leaving from the same platform at the same time that another train was arriving. It made no sense. Then someone explained that the train that was coming in was going to split and then leave for two different destinations. We just had to be sure to sit in the right section. We had to keep watching the destination board inside the train car to be sure we were in the right car.

In Marktredwitz we found the bus stop but there was no bus scheduled for Waldsassen. There was a small hotel/restaurant across the square so we went in to see if there was a taxi. The hostess called the owner of the hotel, who was also the restaurateur and the taxicab driver. I think he was probably also the mayor of Marktredwitz. Ha!

He dropped us right in front of the Hotel Pirkl in Waldsassen, just a few miles away. It, too, was a small family-run hotel/restaurant. Very clean and inviting. Warm and welcoming. Our room was excellent. Nice view of the Basilica across the square. Walked to the glass plant but it was closed up tight for the day. Glass plants typically do most of their work early in the morning when it’s cooler. So we just ambled all over town, poking around in the little markets and gift shops. It was lovely and peaceful. We found a “Kloster Kinder Garten” beside the basilica where children learned about global warming, solar energy, sun furnaces, solar heat collectors, plant species, circulation of water, etc, etc.

We had lunch at “Ziegler’s Brau Haus.” I thought we might be able to get a discount with the same last name, but in this part of the world the “Zeiglers” and “Zieglers” are about as common as the “Smiths” and “Smythes” in England. The pork shoulder, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and German wine would have been a bargain at twice the price anyway. It was delicious! In fact, as we made circuits walking around the town it seemed we frequently stopped at “Ziegler’s” for several dark and malty beers and snacks. Yum.

We celebrated mass in the Kloster Basilica with 10 nuns and two postulants. Saw photos on the wall of times when there were 30-35 nuns and 20 postulants. The church itself is glorious even without stained glass. The windows are clear but hand-blown as you would expect in the hometown of Lamberts. The most odd thing was posed skeletons in the reliquaries all around the church. They are dressed, presumably, in the finery they wore before dying. One is identified as “St. Maximin,” and another is identified as “the holy body of Gratian.” I couldn’t find an explanation. The original building was built in the 1100s and at that time holy relics were a tourist draw for pilgrims, a lucrative source of income for an out of the way monastery church. These are surely holdovers. Medieval Gracelands, I guess.

On our way to visit Lamberts we passed a cemetery and stopped to see if there was any glass used in the tombstones. We remembered how beautiful the stones were in Murano, another glass-working mecca. But Waldsassen’s cemetery was a bust. In fact, we were disappointed with the lack of interesting glass anywhere in the town.

Robert Christ, the man I had corresponded with has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. He was tied up with meetings and couldn’t give us the tour but introduced us to Manfred Misnik, whose English was impeccable. The tour itself was glorious. I love seeing glass blown! The three or four-man teams work in a complex choreography. One man tends the furnace and starts the ball on the long “pipe,” then hands it off to the leader who blows the ball into a long fat cylinder by a combination of blowing and spinning and reheating of the cooling glass. Then the top and bottom of the cylinders are cut off and the hollow tube is put in an annealing oven and the tube is cut lengthwise to allow the glass to slowly unfurl and cool into a flat sheet. It’s an industrial ballet taking place on a fiery stage reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno.

Each sheet is magnificent with its own character of ripples and bubbles and thickness. It is not an easy glass to work with because of the great variation, but the color and texture and clarity are unequaled. I wish I had a studio large enough to have a complete selection of all the glasses they produce.

I asked Manfred why there was so little fine glass on display in Waldsassen. “You don’t value a match when you have a lot of them,” he said. I guess that’s true. For them, the beautiful glass is too common to appreciate. They would need tourists coming to convince them that they had something special nearby. But Waldsassen was not an easy place to visit. Not much like Murano with it’s many water taxis and ferries from Venice. And Waldsassen has only the one plant, not many different competing studios like Murano. And I guess it’s true that Murano specializes in finished glass art: figurines, vases, bowls, and so forth. Every Lamberts’ sheet of glass is a work of art, but mainly the raw material for other artists and craftsmen. They are not intended to stand alone.

While we were there Manfred showed me the new technique of using a two-part silicone to “glue” the glass to sheets to normal plate glass. That was exactly what I had seen in Passau at the Marian Helf Convent. It is as close to “standing alone” as their glass has come thus far.

Their glass is also often etched and colored with enamels applied with a silkscreen technique. These “low-fire” enamels are then fused to the glass. It makes for some very interesting design possibilities. The replacement windows we saw in Munich are also perfect examples. The only thing that worries me, though, is that you are using (generally) large sheets of glass more as a transparent “canvas.” Traditional stained glass holds many small pieces of glass together with strips of lead or zinc. The wonderful texture and depth is created by artfully building complex geometries. Large silk-screened and etched glass panels can be very rich, but if (and when) they get broken how can they be repaired? I asked Manfred.

“Why should they be repaired?” he said. “Let each generation express its own artistic vision.” He conceded that there are glass marvels, like the ancient windows in Chartre that should be conserved and refurbished as needed, but denied that this was true for most stained glass windows. He thought most of them mediocre at best, and even if “excellent” they still should have only one life time. They express the vision of their time, and when their time was past, they should be replaced with a new vision. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t shock easily, but I was surprised. I wish I could hear a discussion between Manfred and Susan Treff our guide at Mayer and Sons in Munich. She gloried in the fact that their work would last 100 years and be so beautiful people would continue to conserve it for as long as art endures. It’s a very different point of view from modern glass guaranteed “for as long as the artist is alive.” When they are dead, you are on your own. It’s an attitude the artisans who built Chartre would not understand. They saw themselves, not as stand-alone “geniuses,” but as craftsmen taking their place in a long line of craftsmen—building on and repairing what came before, and trying to add to the wealth of beauty passed on to the future. The new artists, I think, see themselves more like painters and the glass is just the canvas - it’s the painting that’s important. The fact that the canvas is so fragile is just unfortunate.

Lamberts was offering classes in the new techniques. I asked if they were going to have a class on the ancient techniques as well. He said no, “The world doesn’t need more windows painted that way.” I guess that when you have fine examples of a particular style, you don’t need more. Leaded windows were the cutting edge of glass design in their time, but their time is past. The money would be better spent replacing such windows rather than perpetuating them. Maybe that’s the most reasonable view if your business is making the glass itself. Our tour lasted two hours, but the conversation will remain with me forever.

I do think he’s right about the mediocre windows of the world. We are asked to repair windows that should be replaced instead. But, my mentor in college, Anthony Nemetz said to me once that no one comes into the world at the beginning, and none of us will go out at the absolute end. We all come in medias res, in the middle of things, and we all go out in the middle of things. This insight has so many applications - one of which is in art. I think it a mistake to disparage the artistic vision of previous centuries. If you want to go further than your artistic ancestors went, then you have to go at least as far to begin with. And modern art glass is not automatically better for having been made with new glass. What makes a piece of art a good (or a bad) piece of “religious” art? In the Christian tradition, at least, part of the requirement was that it made God manifest to the viewer. And if I’m being honest, I have to admit that mediocre art we’ve lived with for a lifetime can sometimes present God more forcefully than a more modern window lacking that lifetime of associations. So if a church asks me to repair their beloved windows I’m not going to feel guilty doing it.

We’d brought some little bottles of Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon with us to share with the people at Lamberts. I gave Manfred two little bottles and told him he didn’t need to share them with Robert if he didn’t want to. “I won’t then,” he said smiling, but he did. They said they’d drink them together at some special occasion. I learned later that Lamberts was sold to someone outside the family. Perhaps that gave them the opportunity.

On the day we left Waldsassen we got to the train station in Wiesau way too early so ordered a pizza and some beer from the tavern across the street. Our American English attracted some notice. As I said, this isn’t really a tourist destination. A group of high-school kids, boys and girls, walked past our table laughing and joking and making “Whoo-Whoo” noises like Apaches attacking the wagon train. Cowboys. That’s what we are to so many people around the world.

The train to Freising must have been traveling 150 kph. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to such speed combined with such quiet. The loudest part of the trip was the school children using the trains as their own private high-speed school buses.

When we arrived in Friesing we found our guesthouse then caught the bus back to the center of town. Pope Benedict had taught at the university there. It was a lovely German University town. We walked up these tiny winding streets toward the Monastery at the top of the hill. The view was very fine and there was some sort of inter-religious dialogue going on. We nodded to a very handsome Buddhist monk on the way up the hill. We visited several churches and saw even more fine glass that Manfred would not want to repair. We ate a quick bite from a vendor, then had a difficult time finding a bus that would carry us back to our Guesthouse. After questioning lots of drivers we finally found the right bus-stop.

After a nap we had a wonderful dinner on the guest-house patio. The inn-keeper sat another couple with us. There were way more people than tables so, “You get to meet some new people,” she said. And they were nice. I really do love seeing Europe on our own apart from tour groups. There is no way we would have left a tour group to accidentally meet some locals in the pub. Their English was not very good, but it was sure better than our German, though we did try. And “trying” is usually good enough. He worked for the railroads. She was a teacher, I think. We praised the trains and told him we wished there were some like that in the States. He said that the US was buying some of their trains and that maybe we’d be seeing them in the future.

We told them about the kids who thought we were cowboys. They blushed. It seems that Wiesau, where we had the pizza, is noted in Germany for being really backward. Poor kids. I guess the chance that they might ever get to actually see the US is very remote. They will forever get their opinion of us from the dreadful shoot-em-ups we export all over the world. It would be so much better if we could just persuade couples to travel around Europe on their own and have the inn-keepers sit other people down with them with the admonition “You get to meet some new people.”

What did we learn from this trip?

1. Be nice to the people you meet. Who knows when they might someday want to take you out to a glorious restaurant on the Falls of the Rhine.

2. If a vending machine in a bathroom spits out a little cardboard box you would be wise to check out the contents before leaving for the airport.

3. Little towns can put on amazing plays if they just practice for four hundred years.

4. German and Austria teenagers can be the same size as American teenagers if only they get enough McDonald’s and KFC restaurants.

5. It really is possible to travel all around Europe on the trains, trams, and buses (and the occasional taxi).

6. Civilization is very fragile and very expensive and the only thing that is more expensive is barbarism.

7. Breakfasts of bread, thinly sliced meat, fruit, yogurt, jam, coffee, and juice will power you through a day of serious walking.

8. At least in theory it’s a good idea to let each generation express its own artistic religious vision. But in the modern world that might mean looking for it spray painted in alleys rather than assembled in stained glass church windows.

And if I might repeat some lessons learned from our 2005 trip:

9. I learned that while it may be nice to have an expert with you on a trip so you don’t miss "important" things, it’s also really nice to see what you see, and enjoy the things you enjoy, and travel with someone you love and admire.

10. I learned that Georgia M. Zeigler is a very, very, pleasant person to travel through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with -- or through life with, for that matter.

(The End)

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