After two years of self-imposed travel black-out to Europe, I finally decide to take the plunge for an opera trip to the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. After applying for two years in 2017 and 2018 unsuccessfully, I was offered a slot to purchase tickets for Wagner’s Ring cycle for 2022.
Normally all performances are sold out years in advance. You qualify after four years of application. I’m sure the COVID pandemic was a big detractor for many, so my chances of getting tickets were improved. I deliberated back and forth until I was advised by others to “live my life as I would have normally before the pandemic”.
I am taking a break from the past year’s construction project. If you have been following the story of the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) under the direction of Foreman Felix, we will resume after this two week diversion!
Munich–the Gateway to Bayreuth
After a direct flight from San Francisco to Munich, it felt odd to suddenly be plopped out of nowhere to a country that I had studied and admired so much. Being in Germany reminded me of all the reasons I became a Germanophile: Citizens take the environment and sustainability seriously; clean, predictable, comfortable public transportation; appreciation for and attention to architectural detail; and safe streets (except for bicyclists running over pedestrians).
Refreshing my German language studies before coming helped to prepare me, despite a huge reliance on fully capable English-speaking Germans. The immediate sensual experiences were the lush green countryside, church bells ringing, and the distinct lack of smell or taste.
This summer, scores of public transport agencies have joined together to offer a special incentive to use their services. For a flat price of 9 Euros, passengers can ride any of the local agencies throughout Germany for an entire month (June, July and August). You can get just about anywhere in Germany, as often as you want, for the price of a round-trip subway ticket!
Many residents were concerned that trains and buses would be overcrowded. Rush hours and popular tourist sites need to be avoided, but the summer months are normally the lowest ridership. I wondered if statistics were due to the high volume of Germans traveling outside the country during summer months pre-Pandemic. In any event, it appeared that my three changes to reach Bayreuth were completely manageable.
Dachau Memorial Site
Worry-free travel encouraged me to venture to Dachau to visit the grim Concentration Camp outside of Munich. Now known as a Memorial Site, it was a second visit for me. It was not as jarring as the first, when memories were raw and more startling.
Mature beech trees and religious institutions are now located on the site to reduce the impact to visitors. Audio-visual materials translated into English helped to describe what happened. Efforts to explain economic hardships after World War I and during the Thirties gave perspective on the past. When the Americans arrived in 1945, prisoners were freed. Unfortunately, the advent of the Cold War distracted the war trials. Few were held accountable for causing the Holocaust.
Alte and Neue Pinokoteks and the Modern Pinokotek
This extensive array of Western Art from the Greeks to Impressionists propelled me into full museum battlement. I covered many miles by foot and found the masters including DaVinci, Raphael, Durer, Van Gogh and Manet. I was delighted to find an Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists. And the pastel collection was a great value lesson on how the medium achieves more luminosity over oil paintings. Pastel artists struggled with the chalky powder, so I felt vindicated by my shared frustration.
From the Alte Pinothek to the Modern, I searched specifically for any display of Thonet bentwood chairs. My early education as a design major gave me an appreciation for the best industrial design and chair production. The Modern Pinothek did not disappoint–in fact it showcased a chorus line of beautiful period Thonet chairs in chronological order!
In the trendy Schwabing neighborhood where I was staying, I stumbled into a woodworker’s shop specializing in Bentwood refurbishing. Like many Germans in August, the proprietor was on “urlaub”, or vacation. A peek through his shop window motivated me to follow up with him after my return to the U.S. I also learned from conversations with a retail supplier that, while “Thonet” is produced in Germany, “Brueders Thonet” is a separate company out of Vienna, Austria. Important to know the date and source of production when searching for vintage pieces.
Several spins around Schwabing, the equivalent to St. Germain de Pres and near the Ludwig Maximilian University, yielded a boutique selling exquisite hats and headpieces, an academy for ancient Greek Sculpture where you can sketch to your heart’s delight, cute babies, and a yummy French bistro next to the hotel where I stayed.
(Note: the copper pipe in the featured photo above would never survive in San Francisco! Ah…such trust…)
I’m off to Bayreuth, about three hours by train-bus-train to see Wagner’s Ring Cycle! Sixteen hours of sitting in a theatre seat could just about get me around the world! Yes, the gods must be crazy and I am about to find out.
Don’t forget to write from wherever you are! When was the last time you were in Germany?!?