My European Favourites – One Day In The Bavarian Alps
My favourite area of Germany is Bavaria. It’s the largest state, about one fifth the size of the country, and is located in the south-east of Germany. Bordering the Czech Republic and Austria, the state’s capital Munich is an easy place to fly into, and it is a great city to explore and enjoy, especially during Oktoberfest.
The Bavarian Alps are about an hour drive south from Munich, and one of my favourite places to stay is in the town of Oberammergau. You may have heard of the town as it is well known worldwide for its performance of the “Passion Play,” which is performed in the aptly named, Passion Play Theatre. In 1633, while the plague was rampant in Europe, the villagers promised to perform the play every ten years if no further deaths from the plague occurred in Oberammergau. The play details the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Their prayer was answered, and they kept their promise with the first play staged in 1634. The most recent performance was supposed to be in 2020, but due to the covid-19 pandemic, it has been moved to 2022.
Oberammergau is a compact place easily explored on foot. The Bavarian State Woodcarving School is located there, and there are shops where you can purchase everything from wooden toys to elaborate woodcarvings, including those of religious saints and crucifixes. As you walk through the town, you will see many buildings with painted frescoes (Lüftlmalerei) on their exterior walls with scenes from fairy tales, Bavarian folk themes, religious scenes and decorations that imitate architectural elements.
To be able to accomplish our sightseeing today we need to start with an early breakfast at one of the local hotels. One of my favourites is the Hotel Wittlesbach which is located right in the town centre and has been operated and owned by the Ternes family for many years. The hotel is full of the Bavarian charm you would expect, and the breakfast they offer is very good. We have stayed there many times over the years, and our groups love the hotel and location.
Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria
Linderhof Palace is only a 15-minute drive away from Oberammergau and is the smallest of the three places or castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The Kingdom of Bavaria existed from 1805 until 1918, and the Ludwig’s Wittelsbach family ruled during the kingdom’s entire existence. In 1864, Ludwig became king at the age of 18. He had little interest in politics and soon began to spend his own wealth on personal projects, like three fairy tale palaces or castles. His spending and accumulating debt became such a concern by Bavaria’s political elite that they had a medical commission declare him insane and
incapable of reigning. A day later, he was on a walk with his psychiatrist, and they were both found dead; presumably drowned and floating in Lake Starnberg. Now that you know some of the story of King Ludwig II, we can talk about two of the three places or castles he built, Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle. The third and largest building, the New Herrenchiemsee Palace, which will not be part of our day, was built on an island in Lake Chiemsee and was to be a copy of Versailles in France, but it was never completed.
Linderhof is the only palace that King Ludwig II lived to see completed, and it is located near where his father, King Maximilian II, had the royal hunting lodge. Ludwig went there many times as a child and was very familiar with the location in the Graswang Valley near Ettal.
Ludwig idolized the French Sun-King Louis XIV and wanted to emulate his grand palaces in Bavaria. Throughout the Linderhof Palace, you will find sun decorations as an homage to his idol and as a symbol of royal absolute power. Linderhof was initially intended to be Ludwig’s Versailles, but due mainly to an unsuitable sized area, it became a smaller project which was completed in 1886. During his construction of Linderhof, Ludwig purchased the much larger Herrenwörth island on Lake Chiemsee, and it became the new site to build his Versailles as Herrenchiemsee Palace.
The Linderhof Park is fun to explore and has a mixture of different garden designs, cascading waterfalls, fountains, and a large pond with a gilt fountain that jets water 25 meters in the air. As you walk through the park, you will find a swan pond, the Moroccan House, the Terrace gardens, a Temple of Venus, a Neptune fountain, a Royal Lodge, a chapel, a music pavilion, a Moorish kiosk, various parterres (level gardens with symmetrical patterns) and a grotto. The Venus grotto is an artificial grotto and theatre where Ludwig could sit in his small boat as it was gently rocked by a wave machine and watch his favourite operas by Wagner.
A ticket is required to tour the palace with a guide, but there are really only four rooms that served a specific purpose. The first room is the “Hall of Mirrors” which served as the main living room. Then there is Ludwig’s bed chamber, the dining room with a disappearing dumb-waiter, and the small audience chamber which was used by Ludwig as a study and not a room where he would see people. There are two “Tapestry Chambers” which serve no real purpose, and there are no real tapestries on the walls, but instead, there are canvas paintings made to imitate tapestries.
A visit to Linderhof is enjoyable mainly for the gardens and palace exterior, but you might as well see the palace interior if you are there. Near the parking area, there are shops where you can purchase your ticket to tour the palace, buy a souvenir or a snack. The Schloss Linderhof Hotel is there as well, but I would rather stay in Oberammergau.
After spending the morning at Linderhof, we travel west for about an hour through winding mountain roads to the town of Fussen just north of the Austria border. Our hockey tours often go to Fussen to play at the BLZ Arena or Bundesleistungszentrum, which ever you prefer. The main arena is a fabulous structure with windows installed above the seating area offering natural light into the building and onto the ice surface. The hometown team, EV Fussen, nicknamed the Leopards, play in the U20 Deutsche Nachwuchsliga II. The BLZ complex also has a second arena, and surprisingly, a curling rink.
Fussen is at one end of the Romantic Road which is a 350 km tourist route with interesting towns, villages and sights. Wurzburg, in wine country, is at the other end and the medieval walled town of Rothenburg, just south of Wurzburg, is one the must stops on the road.
We will stop in Fussen for a couple of hours to explore the old town and have time for lunch. Fussen is an underappreciated town with medieval walls, baroque churches, a former Benedictine Abbey (St. Mang’s) and a museum with historical music instruments including violins and lutes. The interesting Fussen Castle has the unfortunate luck of being located on a few kilometers from one of the most famous castles in the world and gets no respect. With just a couple of hours in Fussen I’m walking directly to the old town’s pedestrian friendly cobblestone streets to find a nice place to have lunch. I don’t have a big sweet tooth, but I will try to make time to slip over to the Hotel Schlosskrone’s Konditorei Kurcafe for a nice dessert. The hard part at the pastry shop is deciding which one to have.
Just a few kilometers from Fussen, you will find one of Germany’s top attractions- the Neuschawanstein Castle. When you arrive to the parking place, you will immediately see a mustard colored castle that is not as famous, named Hohenschwangau. King Maximillian II of Bavaria, Ludwig’s father, rebuilt this 19th century castle on the ruins of a previous castle which had been partially destroyed in various wars. The castle was restored to its original plans and became the summer residence of the royal family and a young Ludwig. The castle, which is now often overlooked by the larger Neuschwanstein Castle, can be toured along with the Museum of the Bavarian Kings. Unfortunately, our schedule does not allow time for it.
Our goal today is to see the Neuschwanstein Castle before it closes. It’s a good idea to reserve your time online prior to arriving, especially in the busy season from May to September. After getting your ticket and tour time at the ticket office, you must get up to the castle courtyard on your own in time to join your tour. There are three ways to get up to the castle from the town; a walking path up to the castle that can take 20-30 minutes, horse carriages that take you most of the way up to the castle, and a shuttle bus that takes you up to the Mary’s Bridge (Marien Brucke). We will take the shuttle bus which costs a couple of Euros to the Mary’s Bridge drop off. The Mary’s Bridge offers a fantastic panoramic view of the castle and the valley below. Tourists flock here prior to or after touring the castle to take their most prized photo of the day.
After taking our photo, we still have to walk from the Mary’s Bridge on a paved path to the castle courtyard to join our English tour which takes about 35 minutes and ends, as most tours do, in a souvenir shop.
Despite its medieval look, Neuschwanstein was built in the 19th century and served no defensive purpose. It was built for one man, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, but unfortunately, he only spent eleven nights there. The original castle name was New Hohenschwangau Castle but was changed to Neuschwanstein Castle after Ludwig’s death. Neuschwanstein literally means “New Swan Castle” and was named after a character in one of Wagner’s operas, the Swan Knight.
In addition to being a big admirer of the French King Louis XIV, Ludwig was a big fan of the renowned composer Richard Wagner and was his patron. Many rooms in the castle were inspired by other characters in his operas, but sadly, Wagner never got a chance to see the castle as he died before its completion. The singer’s hall which occupies the entire third floor is adorned with characters from Wagner’s operas. The amazing woodwork in Ludwig’s bedroom took fourteen carpenters four years to complete. You will find that there is no throne room in the castle for Ludwig as the Throne Hall had not been completed by the time of his death. Although the fairy tale castle is one of the most photographed buildings in the world, tourists are not allowed to take photos inside the castle.
After our tour, we can slowly make our way down to the parking area and make our 45-minute drive back to Oberammergau where we can have dinner and enjoy the evening at an outdoor patio. Maybe tonight we will go to the Ammergauer Maxbräu in the Hotel Maximillian where they brew their own beer. That concludes a great day in the Bavarian Alps.
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‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.
Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.
The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.
Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.
“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.
“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”
Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.
A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”
“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.
“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.
He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.
Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.
“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.
Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.
“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”
Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.
“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.
“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.
“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.
‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.
By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta
The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.
More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.
“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.
“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”
The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.
High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.
“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.
“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”
Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.
He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.
There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.
“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.
“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”
Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.
He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.
“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”
Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.
“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.
The festival runs through Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
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