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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 6 of 30: Wednesday May 19 - Maria Laach to Cologne to Lindau

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Lindau harbor in the rain

5:30 came early. I was the only visitor at morning prayer. The echoes dying away give you the illusion that there are centuries and centuries of monks singing along. You hear their voices emerge from the shadows all around you. I tried to memorize the wood carvings on the pews but they are just too intricate. You would need to make a rubbing.

The cabby was coming before breakfast but Fr Timothy said they’d have a little something waiting for us. In the dining room there were two places set with a sign saying “Mr. and Mrs. Zeigler” Small actions taken in great love again. Meat and cheese and apricot jam with butter and cream cheese with chives and Camembert and coffee. Wonderful glorious coffee. Three kinds of bread. The lady setting up the breakfast lit a very romantic candle for us. We ate our fill and even made sandwiches to wrap in paper napkins for the train. We walked over to the hotel next to the Abbey where the taxi was waiting for us. It was another beautiful Mercedes Benz and another frustrated NASCAR wannabe. It only cost us €25 to blast through German forests and through glorious farmlands at nose-bleed speeds.

And then we discovered that our train tickets were for yesterday!

On the Way to Cologne, Then Lindau

We arrived at the station early. Our train was scheduled for 9:27, but that was 9:27 yesterday. We saw that there was also an 8:27 train today. Since we had the wrong day anyway there didn’t seem to be any reason to hang around the platform for another hour just to be exactly 24 hours late. Might as well settle for 23 hours late. The train was obviously a commuter with overhead bins designed for small backpacks and briefcases. We had to wedge our carry-ons under our seats. I can’t imagine what someone would do with steamer trunks. The conductor took a look at our tickets, started to say something, looked at our bags - obviously those of crazy tourists - then shut his mouth with a snap and clipped out tickets. “Danke shoen,” I said. “Bitte shoen,” he replied with a wry smile and walked on up the aisle.

We blazed through the town of Remagen on the Rhine and I looked for the famous bridge where Tom Hanks met his death in “Saving Private Ryan.” Couldn’t see it. The river there was as wide as the Mississippi. You’d think you’d be able to see a bridge. I didn’t. But I did see plenty of container ships and tug boats.

And then we were in Cologne. As we left the train concourse I wondered how we would find the Cathedral. As we entered the main station with its soaring roof I started looking around for a city map. I hated to have to buy one for a trip that was only going to last an hour or so. Georgia elbowed my ribs and pointed to the enormous clear windows at the front of the station. They must have been 60 or 70 feet high. And through the glass we could see a broad flight of steps leading up and to the left from the plaza toward a stone structure soaring far, far, far up out of sight. “I don’t think we’re going to have a hard time finding the Cathedral,” she said.

There were automated storage lockers there in the station. You put in a euro and a little door would open. You stuff your luggage in the hole and push a little red button. The door closes and the machine spits out a little receipt — much like a parking stub with a magnetic strip. Our luggage was gone! Hard to believe. The machine itself couldn’t have been much bigger than a walk-in freezer. There must be caverns under the station full of luggage. What could possibly go wrong? That’s my motto.

The Cathedral was much larger than I expected. The mosaics on the floor date from the 8th and 9th century. There were windows there from every age, and in many styles, from the 12th to the 21st century. I tried to photograph everything. It wasn’t possible. Cologne is a Gothic cathedral, basically plain on the inside with the stained glass providing color as it reflects off the stones. These stones were smudged black with centuries of dirt and smoke. They were in the process of being cleaned and I know they will be amazing, but now it was just dark and un-photographable. The cathedral is so huge that it even swallowed up my camera flash. The images I took from a distance just looked like pinpricks of light in sea of blackness. The only image I retain is more in my mind than in my camera.

There was a group of young teenagers there on a field-trip of some sort. The kids were all goofing around in the cold. One young girl, probably 13 or 14 turned away and took a step toward one of the many altars fronted by racks and racks of glowing candles. The others ignored her. She used a candle to light a candle and then stood there silently, head bowed, warming her hands over the little light. Somehow it was all very poignant.

The finest stained glass, in my humble opinion, looks wonderful from it’s “reading” distance, which in a space like Cologne’s Cathedral is several hundred feet, but also invites you to come up close as well. I guess that’s why I especially liked Marc Chagall’s windows in Zurich. That has not always been achieved. One of the 20th century windows in Cologne was a particular disappointment. It was just squares - a few inches across - and in many pastel colors. I could imagine many wonderful ways the concept could be used, like the pixels in a digital picture it could have been used to make a gigantic image. But this enormous window, probably 60 feet wide and 150 feet tall, looked more like the kind of “snow,” or static we used to get on our TV screen when a station was off the air. It didn’t look good from far away, and it was even more boring up close. What a terrible waste of stained glass canvas. I have to think the “artist” was ashamed of the result.

Most, if not all cathedrals would spend a king’s ransom during the middle ages to acquire fabulous relics. Cologne’s principal relics are the earthly remains of the three magi, or astrologers who followed the miraculous star that pointed out the location of the newborn King of the Jews. They are kept in magnificent reliquaries behind the high altar. The magi, themselves, also brought magnificent gifts to the infant king: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What if their gifts had not been welcomed? Or not deemed appropriate?

That’s probably the most frustrating part of being a stained glass artist. Your “canvas” cannot be bought at any store. It has to be supplied by a customer’s need. You cannot make your art and, like Van Gogh, put it in a closet in the hopes that they will be discovered and appreciated by future ages. The magi could not have carried their gifts to just anyone, they only became appropriate with the needs of the birth of a king. Architectural windows require architects and patrons and people willing to share a grand vision or permit the individual artist to imagine on a huge scale. When you end up with a mistake like the square windows who is to blame? The person who built the window may not be the one who designed it. The one who “designed it” may not have been given free rein. Or they may not have been up to the opportunity. Who knows? Whatever the cause, it’s very humbling to see a bad window on this scale, and that makes Chagall’s magnificent gifts even more miraculous. There are so many ways they could have gone wrong.

Georgia just had to buy some “cologne” from Cologne. I went into a convenience store for more substantial supplies: butter cookies and chocolate. I can’t help but observe that Georgia was more interested in eating my cookies and chocolate than I was in wearing her cologne.

We said a little prayer and stuck our little luggage parking ticket back in the slot. Whirring and clicking softly a little screen told us to be patient. After about 80 or 90 seconds the same little door opened and mirabile dictu, our bags appeared. It was like watching a robotic magician pull my own pet bunny out of a mechanical top hat!

The train left 20 minutes late and made up time by goosing it a little. There was a monitor that showed the train’s speed and position, much like the one we had on our airplane. And the train was actually traveling at airplane speeds: 297 kilometer’s per hour! The pressure differential was such that our ears would pop when we entered and exited tunnels at this speed. Whew! For part of the trip we paralleled a six-lane autobahn. We were passing the speeding cars and trucks as if they were standing still. The tracks were steeply banked in the turns. They’d have to be at that speed.

The countryside swam by in a blur of lush green and bright yellow punctuated by occasional assemblages of red tiled roofs sinking astern with sharp church steeples last to submerge. Rain tried to fall on our windows but could find no purchase at this speed.

We made up the time and pulled into Ulm right on time. Our next train blasted off after a six-minute layover. We sat across from a nice lady from a town outside Zurich who was heading home from a class-reunion in Stuttgart. She told us about the hiking and biking trails in the woods that rimmed Zurich. There is opposition from developers but the city is making a concerted effort to be more attractive to tourists and they are banking on a growing attraction of “eco-tourism.” We had an interesting conversation about different German dialects (none of which I can either pronounce or understand). She taught English and French and loves English literature and French crime novels. We talked about graffiti, and she said that it had been invented, self-consciously, in Cologne by an artist, who was an artist, desperate for public canvases. I told her I had the same problem. She said he decided to just appropriate other people’s blank walls for his own use. The authorities were not amused, but the underground “artists” thought it was a spectacular idea and it caught on like wildfire. The spray-paint companies didn’t seem to mind. She hated modern graffiti and was surprised that I praised some of the use of color we’d seen and said that some of the places we’d visited could easily put on “Graffiti tours.” She was traveling through Lindau on Lake Constance (the Bodansee) because it was such a scenic trip. Other trains would have been faster.

It was lovely farmland, with acres and acres of eight foot fruit trees strung together along wire clothes lines. Lindau was pretty as well with pastel houses topped by brown roof tiles rather than that the orange variety we’d seen almost everywhere else. Have I told you that “Zeigler” is a variant of “Ziegler” meaning someone who makes roof tiles? It’s the German equivalent of the English occupational name “Tyler.” No wonder it’s such a common name in Switzerland, Bavaria and Austria. They needed a lot of Zieglers around here.

Unfortunately it was drizzling pretty steadily when we got off the train. The information office booked us a room in the center of the old town and it was a pretty long pull from the train station. We were on the third floor (that means fourth floor you know). Our landlord showed us the room and even carried Georgia’s bag up the narrow flights of stairs. He looked like Gabby Hayes with teeth but without the crushed hat. We asked him to recommend a restaurant and he suggested one just around the corner called “the Angel” specializing in local fish from the Bodansee. Couldn’t find it where he said it was, but did see a restaurant called “Engle” and figured that must be it. The restaurant was on the first floor, which means we walked up to it. Found a door filled with clear leaded glass. As we swung it open we were greeted by soft voices, tinkling glassware, and wonderful smells.

We were also met by a slim and tanned 50-year old waitress. She was dressed in a tight black skirt and a crisp white blouse that accented her sun-tanned mahogany skin. I wondered if they talked about the dangers of sun-exposure around here. We had noticed that even in the rain there were a lot of sailboats out on the lake. If this lady hadn’t spent a lot of her time on the water I’d mizzen her jib or lower her boom or whatever. We pantomimed our request that she suggest local specialties. Her suggestions were spot on! Georgia had trout from the Bodansee with potatoes and butter and white asparagus. I had my new favorite food, Spaetzel, with white cabbage. It was like sauerkraut, but creamy and not at all like the stuff US hot-dog vendors use. Bodansee kraut is to canned sauerkraut as German bauen brot is to Wonderbread. We splashed it down with a local Riesling, followed by a local dark bier and topped it all off with a local fruit schnaps. I died and went to Heaven. Few people know that the ambrosia we get served in Heaven will taste suspiciously like German dumplings and creamy sauerkraut.

What’s the perfect end to a meal like that? Coffee and Apfel Streudel mit Eis under a canopy by the bay watching the sail boats putter around. So that’s where we went, and that’s what we ordered. Because it was chilly the owner brought us a lap blanket. How cool is that? We took the long circuit back to our Gastehaus stopping at the Catholic Church. It was locked when we tried the door and a dumpy little man dressed all in black (except for the crusty white dandruff on his shoulders) poked his head out of the house next door and told us unpleasantly that the church was closed!

I thought I was going to have to stick my foot in the door to ask him a question.

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