The home of Wagner
On this trip to Germany I get to try out some brilliant ale after taking advise from a beer sommelier, enjoy the splendid views from Nuremberg Castle and visit the Wagner Museum which has a fantastic interactive ‘book’ that allows you to explore how his music hash had a dramatic effect in film. Apocalypse Now never sounded so good!
It would be presumptuous to assume that everybody knows where the composer Richard Wagner came from or indeed where he finally achieved the fame for which his he is so respected for today. They are in fact two different places and two very different stories.
Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig in 1812 but lived the majority of his later life in Bayreuth. He had racked up debts and resentments and had periods of exile in France and Switzerland but eventually chose the small town of Bayreuth, one hour north of Nuremberg to be his final home. In many ways he the made the town what it is today as they took him into their hearts.
Bayreuth is in Franconia, Bavaria a part of the world where you’ll find fairy tale castles, giant steins of beer and barmaids dressed up in traditional costumes. It sits unashamedly in the past with its many traditions and customs. But has wonderful food, history and of course as this is Bavaria, 1000’s of types of beer.
What really put Bayreuth on the map is the July Wagner Festival. Since July 1876 it has enchanted opera buffs the world over and is the world standard in Wagner’s music. Performed in a theatre designed by Wagner himself with futuristic audio qualities such as an ‘invisible’ orchestra. Wagner didn’t want the audience to be distracted by seeing the musicians so had a large curve built at the base of the stage to hide them. The sound then travels up around and through the stage and with a careful balancing of baffles upstage the sound is ‘fused’ with the singing to create a cohesive presentation to the audience. The venue is run by Wagner’s grand, grand, grand, daughter Katarina.
The Festival house escaped bombing in the last months of the war as the allied forces thought it was a brewery. There are no carpets and minimal upholstery and the walls although they look like stone are made of wood to enhance the sound. This is a pared down visual experience with none of the usual grandeur of an opera house, it allows the visitor to concentrate on the music.
Villa Wahnfried, Wagner’s house is no less interesting, now a museum that has concentrated on authenticity and the history of the man. After a multimillion restoration it is possible to listen to just about all of his works played by all the notable orchestras and conductors in recorded history with a little help of modern technology. It’s also a resource centre where academics can study his manuscripts, which are beautifully written. Seigried House is also on the site where Hitler stayed as a festival visitor between 1936 -40.
The old and new Hermitage Palaces are worth seeing. The old is in the town and offers elaborate rooms with decorative ceilings with oriental scenes and wonderfully complex parquetry floors. Margravine Wilhelmine restored the city centre palace and had a new one built 1749-53 just outside the city in rolling Romanesque grounds. She built a classical theatre in the garden, Rococo arcades, a temple of the sun with Apollo gracing the roof, a fantastic location for a summer walk of picnic. There were also superb gravity fed fountains that just as ornate as the palace.
It wouldn’t have been a visit to Bavaria without a call in on a brewery. I went to see how they make beer at the Maisel Brewery. This places produces up to 16,000 bottles an hour as well as running an on site restaurant that stocks over a 100 varieties of beer (as well as serving a mean plate of venison) it is an homage to all things beer. They have tours of the ‘old’ brewery where I saw over 5000 different types of glass and stein and the old methods are clearly on display. It’s all very modern now with part of the production visible through glass wall in the restaurant. There is a big move towards craft beers with a new one being created every month. Obviously I tried a few beers after taking advice from the beer sommelier. My favourite was Jeff’s Bavarian Pale Ale but be warned it’s strong at 7.1% vol.
I took the train back to Nuremberg through the rolling countryside that had been covered with snow on my arrival. The train snaked its way through pretty villages and small towns. The train bends and curves with the shape of the line due to the tilting mechanism that allows it to travel at higher speeds. I pulled into Nuremberg to bright sunlight and a few stops on the U train line later I called into a food bloggers conference being held in the city. The buzz there was all about coconut sugar, quinoa and flavoured salt. Watch this space!
My last lunch in this picturesque part of Germany was at an unassuming local pub, big portions and super presentation. Hugely popular with locals I enjoyed an apple, carrot and curry soup followed by rolled lamb with a wicked potato gratin. Dessert was slightly healthier in the form of whipped yoghurt with nuts and honey.
Before my flight home I managed a quick trek up to the famous Nuremberg castle that dominates the skyline of this excellent city. Built in fine sandstone rock with origins from 1105 it has seen its share of history. There have been many ‘rebuilds’ over the centuries not least after WW II when it was completely restored. It now has the added attraction of being a youth hostel. I can’t think of a better place to stay in this part of the world than one’s own castle.
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