Martin Orr's Blog


Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 31 July 2006 at 18:59

There's not much to see in Villach itself - it's just a small town in the Alps - but the point of coming there was to take a break from city sightseeing. I went for a walk yesterday to the Dreilandereck, the point where Austria, Italy and Slovenia meet at an altitude of 1510m. There's a notice pointing out that it's not just the meeting point of three countries but of the three main European language groups - Romance (derived from Latin), Germanic and Slavonic.

It was a little hard to get started as the first couple of roads I tried were closed due to a landslide. But once I got past that and got on to the right road it was fairly straightforward walking - just follow the road up and up and up. The weather was nice too: The sun was shining, but it wasn't too hot, especially as you were mostly in the shade of the woods except when you crossed the areas cleared for ski pistes.

Now in: Venice

-- Martin

no comments Tags austria, holiday, slovenia, walking


Posted by Martin Orr on Saturday, 29 July 2006 at 17:01

It was much cooler in Salzburg, and even rained. I'm not sure if this was because of the altitude or just because the weather has changed. The mountain scenery around is stunning and there is a steep hill behind the city, on top of which is an impressive castle. It was built by the prince-archbishops of Salzburg - a slightly odd combination but they seem to have been politically clever. Down in the city is the Mirabell Garden and Palace which Archbishop Wolf Dietrich built for his mistress.

Salzburg's most famous citizen was Mozart; you can visit two houses that he lived in, although I didn't. There are posters advertising concerts everywhere, many of them of his music - especially as this year is the 250th anniversary of his birth and this is the time of the annual Salzburg festival. There are a couple of opera houses, three or four big concert halls and numerous chamber music venues. I avoided anything that might be expensive or require a dress code I'm not carrying in my rucksack, and went to a performance of the Requiem in the cathedral.

Now in: Villach

-- Martin

no comments Tags austria, holiday, music


Posted by Martin Orr on Thursday, 27 July 2006 at 19:23

Munich is a much larger and busier city than the others I have been in (except Berlin of course). There are several large boulevards lined with grand 19th century buildings, and the modern main shopping street is crowded with people. Once again there were several nice churches (Gothic and Baroque). I'm in Catholic country now: before Munich it was all Lutheran, except one church in Nürnberg which the Catholics bought back in the 20th century. I visited the Residence of the rulers of Bavaria, which had a special exhibition for the 200th anniversary of their promotion to kings.

Munich of course is also famous for its beer halls. I found these a little confusing as I expected a bar, and I thought they looked more like bars than restaurants, except for the lack of an actual bar. But they behave more like a restaurant in that you sit down and get served, drinks as well as food, and pay at the end.

Now in: Salzburg

-- Martin

no comments Tags churches, germany, holiday


Posted by Martin Orr on Tuesday, 25 July 2006 at 19:29

I really liked Nürnberg. It is a couple of hundred years older than the other cities have been in and the old city is still surrounded by a sturdy sandstone wall. However it was very comprehensively bombed during World War II so few of the original buildings survive. Nevertheless, it has been rebuilt so that you wouldn't notice this until you look for the difference between the old and new stone. Fortunately the paintings and statues which decorated the churches were stored in an underground bunker.

The old town is on a pretty steep hill, at the top of which is a castle built by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Strangely, right beside the castle is another defensive tower, built by the citizens after an enemy had captured the castle to stop him capturing the rest of the city.

I took a trip out to the site where Nazi party rallies were held. There are a couple of stadiums and the Kongressbau, an unfinished building specially built by Hitler for rallies. It was intended to look like the Colosseum but twice as big, but since it is just a horseshoe of red brick it looks a bit odd. I also went to the German railway museum, much smaller than the one at Cultra.

Now in: Munich

-- Martin

no comments Tags germany, holiday


Posted by Martin Orr on Sunday, 23 July 2006 at 16:43

Leipzig did not strike me as a very tourist city. The main basis of its economy is international trade fairs, which continued even in the Communist period. According to the guidebook it has two record-holding stations: the Hauptbahnhof where I arrived is the largest dead-end station in the world, and the Bayerischer Bahnhof is the oldest still-functioning station. However when I saw it it was definitely not functioning, closed for an underground station to be added.

There are two noteworthy churches. The Nikolaikirche was the venue for weekly peace prayer meetings during the 1980s and in 1989 was the centre of peaceful protests in the run-up to the fall of Communism in East Germany. J. S. Bach was choirmaster at the Thomaskirche for 27 years. I went to a service there this morning, although it was a choir-off Sunday.

Lutheran churches here are not as austere as you might expect (or as the one in Cambridge). They are decorated with paintings of Biblical scenes, churchmen or local mayors. Those which started out as Catholic churches missed the Vatican II reform of moving the altar forward from the wall, so the priest has to saz part of the service with his back to the congregation.

Now in: Nürnberg

-- Martin

no comments Tags churches, germany, holiday, lutheran


Posted by Martin Orr on Friday, 21 July 2006 at 19:21

Wittenberg is a small, quiet town whose claim to fame is as the centre of the Reformation in the 15th century. A few streets of the old town have been preserved as a cobbled pedestrian zone, although there seemed to be a lot of resurfacing going on.

Near one end is the house where Luther lived, now a museum. From starting as a monk, he seems to have become comfortably well-off and certainly well-known and influential. Appearing before the Holy Roman Emperor in his twenties and refusing to recant his beliefs must have been a pretty daunting experience.

At the other end of the street is the Schlosskirche, to whose door Luther pinned his 95 Theses in 1517. The door itself was destroyed in the Seven Years War and has been replaced by a pair of bronze doors with the Latin text of the theses engraved on them. The church was attached to the Saxon Elector's palace, little of which has survived. Its building does however contain the youth hostel, at the top of a dramatic spiral staircase.

Now in: Leipzig

-- Martin

no comments Tags germany, holiday, luther


Posted by Martin Orr on Thursday, 20 July 2006 at 17:36

Since Saturday I have been on holiday in Berlin with my family. Much of the centre of the city is a building site or full of new skyscrapers, following the fall of the Wall. Certainly the square Soviet apartment blocks are not terribly attractive. Apart from a few 18th-19th century cathedrals and museums, the history that you see is very much dominated by the Cold War. Evidence of the Nazis has largely been swept away, such as the completely unmarked car park which now stands above the bunker where Hitler shot himself. Nearby is the new, and somewhat peculiar, Jewish Memorial, a large square covered in concrete blocks which range from 50cm to 5m high.

The line where the Wall ran, back and forth across the middle of the city, is usually not obvious; it ran close past then-existing buildings as well as new ones. We saw one piece which has been preserved as well as a museum about the Wall, escape attempts and non-violent protest.

On Tuesday we went to Potsdam just outside Berlin, where the Prussian emperors lived. The Park Sanssouci is huge, but I was surprised by how small the palaces were: only one storey tall and one room deep.

The rest of the family flew home today; until 14th August I am Interrailing in Germany and Italy. Tonight I am in Wittenberg.

-- Martin

no comments Tags germany, holiday