I really don’t know if the king was really sad. I am being only at the beginning of my acquaintance with him which I doubt will develop conspicuously counting that he died in controversial circumstances in 1886. Spirits I like but spiritism was never my cup of tea. However, his violent death disturbed me a lot. What brought me to him was the knowledge that he was the creator of three outstanding castles belonging to what the architectural discourse calls a “folly”. The most famous folly was a virtual one which broke into common knowledge in 1927 and stayed, thanks to Orson Welles, whose character Kane, built Xanadu, inspired by the palace with the same name of Kublai Khan, the Mongol Chinese emperor (1260-1294 C.E.). The palace was depicted by Marco Polo, who, without being a true liar was a guy endowed with abundant imagination. So, a folly is an ambitious building, vaguely inspired by an artistic style, often by many styles and frequently beyond any stylistic recognition, here and there amusing and often of striking ugliness. The lack of correspondence between the outer style of the building and the interior’s partition and design is a quasi-general characteristic of “follies”. The king built some three of these follies which were anything but ugly, spent into the projects all his immense fortune, got bankrupt and only bankruptcy and especially an untimely death, impeached him to continue into his insane ventures and build some other castles. He was one of the greatest world “folly” himself. He displayed concomitantly or alternatively keen intelligence, replete culture, creative cum bizarre aesthetic drives, enormous infantilism, huge interest in music and theater, null political concern, generosity and financial irresponsibility, and worst of all, unassumed homosexuality!
From the three golden eggs he laid I have seen the Linderhof (the Rococo style), from inside&outside, the only one where he really dwelt. The second, Neuschwanstein (the New Romanesque style) – the most famous which risks to be with us until the earth will turn into a burning ball (see Walt Disney trade mark), I didn’t go over the mass and the skin, being too tired and too pressured by time and especially knowing already too much for what I need to stuff into this post. The third castle, Herrenchiemsee (the Baroque style, more exactly French Baroque, namely a faithful condensation of the palace of Versailles) I avoided. I was afraid that for once the king bound by his adoration for Louis XIV will abstain of visual extravaganza and of unbound eclecticism which were the cherry on the cake of his aesthetic discourse. Soon it became clear to me that if I would try to depict the king personality, his interests, his aesthetic choices, the sites he chose to perform, his giant creative insanities, and the melodramatic, tragicomic aspects of his life and death, some 1200 pages should be a fair BEGINNING. This is not my intention and also completely out of my skills. My purpose is to reach some understanding of a “folly” as seen by a minor elderly traveler who is both fascinated by grandiose aesthetic dissonances and by the impossibility for some very gifted and sensitive individuals to link to reality.
As far as I am concerned I took this reality as a kind of punishment the Principal gratified an unworthy mankind. Pretend that you submit and have fun as much as you can was and is my panacea placebo. So, I left Prague late during the night under the most thunderous and abundant rain one can imagine to arrive after half an hour of erring, loneliness and despair, drenched near to the bone to an obscure, very well hidden and plunged in the dark bus station. If lucky, the bus will arrive, often late, and one will be canned into a narrow space, a knee and spine killer, for the night to come. In spite the odds I landed alive the next day by train (hysteric connection in Munich) around 4 pm in Bad Tolz where A., my dear friend collected me and all my equipment, except my fantastic umbrella and a beer can, stolen by a fat (that is really nasty to give this little detail!) Russian Moldavian lady on the way, and rushed me to her home. She abandoned me ruthlessly to join, according to her own expression, a computer course for senior dummies. I was at that moment at some 65 to 110 kilometers from my first target, Linderhof Palace depending of the police whims which for mysterious reasons opens or closes (versperrt in German) some venues. After a while and with the help of some small but hefty glasses of a first quality local schnaps, the only one to be found in A.’s home, I got into the beast mode and decided to explore the city, or better said its center and left my shelter which was on the top of the hill. Nothing better to rebuild personal trust for an old bloke than to go down the hill. Like others in this part of the land the city enjoys both the flat valley bottom with its river, here it was the stupendously beautiful Isar, very well known to me from the cross-words of my youth and a sharp slope either very pleasant or nasty according to the direction of the walk. The houses display a friendly image of partially chalet and partially living home, wood and masonry are graciously and solidly combined, gardeners and florists should be filthy rich according to the enormous quasi-religious use of their services or goods, the streets are paved and clean, the center is forbidden to vehicles, an architect contributed to give to it an ANCIENT patina, a medieval look – we live in a forgery time, soon we will be also RESTORED – many facades are decorated with frescoes, called here LUFTMALEREI, a local, often rustic, version of the trompe l’oeil technique, the churches (many, we are in a catholic reservation) have a kind of onion domes or tower ending reminiscent of what I have seen in orthodox Russia, there is a marionette theater, three dignified and simple multi-storied buildings which served successively as town halls and the statue of a local sire who got fame as a shrewd double agent and jousting lance champion. Add to that a good sequence of GASTHOUSES, of the brasserie type where fine tap beer and large portions of rich food are commercialized with good mood and reasonable prices. Just off the record people seem in high spirits and cheerful here, completely unlike the frozen Russians and the unpleasant Czechs I recently met. Hard to believe that to happen in this ancient SS nursery. Bad Tolz was one of the greatest SS producing “ factory” in Germany! Regarding my comments about the Slavs there is no need to mention that there are also real statistics, for who needs, which may give a different image, personal experience today, more than ever, is IRRELEVANT!
Once I hit the road the next morning with the castles in mind, I have seen houses becoming more and more beautiful, going into a farm mode, scattered across the land which was blessed with a golden green grass of the Irish kind, lawn quality in spite of being a regular pasture, lazy and dignified picturesque cows ready to star in a movie, many quick and water rich rivers and brooks, lakes of changing colors, emerald if close to the water mirror and sapphire if you gaze from away, cool ponds sometimes covered with a thin vegetable veil, glorious trees of many kinds, rich in leaves or needles, alone, in clusters or massed into mighty and dense big forests the whole outlined and watched by a steep ring of severe crags, partially naked and gray and partially dressed in silver green patches, while the mighty peaks of the Bavarian Alps towering upon the cliffs and outcrops all around, support the celestial vault and decide the size of the horizon. I realized then (better than late) that this country is particularly beautiful and displays in sunny days the high resolution of an expensive POST CARD. I felt by now that I was ready to come to the point – the eerie castles. Alas I underrated the intensity of the cultural syndrome my friend suffered. And I had to suffer too and drag my feet to visit a set of abbeys I never heard about and of course I didn’t mean to go into.
The encounter with these two triumphal settings of logic, functionality, ritual and eventually faith, the Benediktbeuern Abbey and the Ettal Abbey, reverse ideological images of the king hedonistic palaces, (notwithstanding some formal links) had some marvelous effects. I believe it led me to feel for the first time the role and the power of an imperial abbey, to understand better the characteristics of the court art and to arrive to the conclusion that if not Amish or Chassidim, people, either kings or commoners, lay or religious, have an exaggerate appetite for ORNAMENT. Notwithstanding bare buttocks, people were embellishing themselves at least from the Neolithic times often very close to the meaningless tattooing of nowadays. The likeness is only formal; the ancient tattooing was ethnically intelligible and even more impressive than the contemporary one, but beauty is quite a relative feeling.
An imperial abbey, such as Benediktbeuern was a state in a state, enormous like the control center of a corporation, (such as Pepsi Cola, at Purchase, Harrison, N.Y.) once a colossal land owner, with large quarters for the then recognized sexes, self-sufficient and an experimental farm. It also possessed a huge library at various moments of its existence which began in 740 and continues until now, on and off, in various formulas. One of the treasures of this library, dismantled today, was the medieval codex Carmina Burana. Carl Orff, that half-Nazi and half anti-Nazi composer dug from it precious chants which led him to create in 1936 his amazing Carmina Burana cantata. State, university, industry, glass especially, social works and touristic business, a museum and art gallery got important shares of the mastodon conglomerate. Officially the abbey was secularized in 1803 but the Salesians of Dom Bosco, champion squatter monks and skilled sneakers, settled since 1930 in parts of it. It is in pristine condition notwithstanding five or six general fires. The church, basilica if you want, which got its actual outlook in 1679 is located at the center of the eastern side of a huge built rectangle and it was conceived by Georg Asam, a local architect, and decorated by a team of local artists. The addition of the Saint Anastasia chapel by his son, Damian Asam, in 1753, looks like a swollen big wart on a glabrous face. Necessity makes law: it was that holy lady chapel, who officially died in Serbia in 304 AD, and whose relics are kept in Croatia, in Zadar, and a little bit all over, (she should have had a huge body) which brought a big chunk of the total cash flow. It jeopardizes somehow the facade equilibrium but is a rococo jewel inside. As a whole the basilica is an outstanding example of Bavarian baroque with a somehow subdued shell and a stupendous interior, a German product, thought and workmanship. Everything flies, everything is colorful and everything is gilded if you can imagine all this occurring at the same time.
The Ettal abbey, I visited after didn’t debut as a imperial contraption notwithstanding being founded in 1330 by the emperor Ludwig the IV. He provided the funds, brought a mighty Virgin statue, the physical metaphysical beacon, he grabbed from Pisa to draw pilgrims along and used it as a watching post on the commercial axis Verona Augsburg. However, time played in their favor, the initial Gothic church was torn down and an amazing baroque church with a double shelled dome topped by a cute lantern and a smashing facade built on the plans of the Swiss-Italian architect Enrico Zucalli, a pupil of Bernini, the greatest baroque master ever, was raised instead in 1744. To me this sinuous facade expresses the essential concern of the baroque with MOVEMENT and looks like a huge bird with deployed wings ready to take off into eternity (a relative one). Do you remember the B-52 Stratofortress? The visual impetus matches the feverish activity of the abbey from the beginnings till now. It suffered little from secularization (1803) and already around 1900 the Benedictine monks were back in saddle pushing full speed the holy company ahead. Among the functions that the abbey fulfilled and is still undertaking I count monastery for monks, sisters and a “knights” academy, schools, gymnasium, a distillery, brewery, many hotels, tribunal and execution site for law offenders in the past (the trials including torture were mostly leading to final solutions), workshops, a bakery, farming and forestry, a publishing house and probably some services for the poor that I failed to find. Do they plan to have a gasoline station soon? Proper building and superb inner decoration were done by German masters so basically that this basilica it another great example of Bavarian baroque, this time in an Italian mold and mode.
Multiculturalism was not invented today by Tony Blair, it is probably as old as mankind. Sometimes it leads to the summits of artistic expression and scientific discoveries and sometimes to the increase of genetic exchange, rise of the soccer quality, rap music, salami like dressed ladies and spicy food of which I am very fond indeed.The king’s palaces at which, in God we trust, I hope to arrive once, carry enthralling marks of multiculturalism, post-modernist use of artistic quotations and a deep and wide basis of German lore, aesthetics and beliefs. Now, on the way to become a mega culture according to the modern leading idea that there is ONE HUMAN RACE or FAMILY, a fact that cannot be denied taking into account that all of us arose from APES, a glimpse here and there upon the times when we were slightly DIFFERENT cannot hurt anybody.
PS of distress
I do not want to sound fussy but some strange things occur within the dome fresco. The quite complex illusionist work was done by an Austrian painter – Johan Jakob Zeiller (1708-1783) – who was trained in Naples and who became Viena’s official court painter. The dome scene is a typical illusionist crowded depiction involving angels, clerics, saints, good people who are flown to Paradise and some bad characters that are hurled probably by devils towards Hell. The drawing is concomitantly thumbnail, detailed and fuzzy and it is difficult to recognize who is what or even who. What it is not difficult to identify is a wide band at the periphery of the round scene which has a very human fleshy character and color, kind of ectoplasm, within I believe to recognize complete or parts of human bodies, God forbid. I hope that it has nothing to do with ritual cannibalism but of the records I can tell you that the same Zeiller painted at Ottobeuren abbey which is close to Ettal abbey a scene of Expulsion of the Moneychangers where if the punisher is the Lord himself, then his depiction as a fat bar bouncer constitutes a mortal offense for any true believer. Should the perpetrator has been alive he would have deserve to be torn in pieces,small ones, like Orpheus by the sensuous Maenads.
THE TRIP TO ABBEYS