Schloss Neuschwanstein, one of the most photographed sites in Germany, was built in the 1800’s by King Ludwig II. It’s an idealistic version of a medieval castle, and has in turn been a source of inspiration, including for the design of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. We braved the tourist crowds for an afternoon, and enjoyed the bright evening views across the valley.
A fantastic visit from our family turned into a great opportunity to explore a new part of Germany. We spent the week in Bavaria, hiking in the mountains and to castles around Füssen. Our first destination was Castle Falkenstein, a ruined stone mansion that was built on top of a rocky hill. The hike started meadows with sheep and cows, whose bells filled the air with beautiful chimes. A steep push through a misty forest brought us to the castle itself, where we enjoyed glimpses through the fog of the alps around.
One of my favorite moments on our trip to Trier was stepping into the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady.* Light colored stone and high windows let in soft, glowing light, and the whole space felt bright and peaceful.
The Liebfrauenkirche is the oldest gothic church in Germany—it was built in the 13th century, and stands on the foundations of a much older Roman church. Unlike most churches, it’s built in a circular shape, with eight alcoves in between the four ends of the typical cross shape, for a full form of a twelve-petaled rose. These twelve curves, and the corresponding twelve supporting columns, symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dozens of stained glass windows include older style painted glass and more modern and geometric patterns. Because of its circular shape, the main alter stands in the center of the room, with all the pews facing inwards toward it.
* Literally “loving women church”
Another of the Roman structures in Trier is Emperor Constantine’s basilica. Erected to be an immense throne room, the basilica is a single room over 200 feet long and eight stories tall. Since it’s original construction in the 4th century, it’s been damaged and rebuilt many times, including incorporation into both a medieval castle and a baroque palace. It was converted into a church at the end of the 19th century, sustained heavy damage in WWII, and most recently refurbished in the 1960s to match the original structure. Interestingly, some of the original Roman walls were the sections that survived the best through the bombing.
The size of the basilica is mind-boggling, and hard to capture with pictures. Each of the wooden squares in the ceiling is 10 ft x 10 ft—the size of a normal bedroom. The two organs are mounted high on the walls, and the arches and windows extend even further.
Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and still boasts multiple Roman structures. One of these is the imperial baths, a sprawling multi-story complex of tunnels and arches. These are an active archaeological site and open for public viewing, with ongoing renovations to shore up the existing pieces and restore additional sections. Also geese.
On Easter Sunday, we visited Thomaskirche, one of the most famous churches in Leipzig. Originally founded in the 12th century, the current building was started in the 15th century, and is now a combination of different styles and restorations. Bach spent over 25 years here as cantor, and is buried beneath the sanctuary. It’s also home to a famous boys’ choir, which was founded over 800 years ago. It was stunning to hear one of Bach’s cantatas performed by the Thomas choir in this space.
Germany’s Christmas markets get a lot of attention, but Leipzig also hosts a vibrant Ostermesse, or Easter fair, with wooden stalls selling crafts and tasty treats. Many of the crafters demonstrate traditional techniques–everything from hand masonry to a wooden treadle lathe–and wear traditional linen clothes. We wandered through the fair on Saturday, and liked it so much we went back Sunday.
Here’s some pictures of one of our local churches: Peterskirche, in Leipzig. The neo-gothic building was built in the 1880’s, but connected to a long history of churches with the same name spanning back to the 1100’s. Like many historic buildings in Germany, Peterskirche was severely damaged in WWII. Reconstruction work has progressed slowly over decades, and the interior is still being refurbished. The spire juts above the surrounding buildings, and makes a familiar landmark on our city walks.