If you are a Richard Wagner fan as my wife Eva is, you might really want to pay a visit to Wagner’s hometown of Bayreuth. Wagner made this place happen. He had enormous talent, not just in composing music and opera in particular, but in befriending the powers at the top, and eventually in getting his way to build an opera hall suitable in all respects for performing his enormous compositions.
We arrived by train from Munich and took a modest but fine hotel situated half way between Wagner’s Festspielhaus and his home on the other side of town. We could walk everywhere easily.
Richard Wagner’s home.
Along the route from the residence to the opera house the city has erected information posts with a stylized statue of Wagner with arms outstretched (maybe receiving an ovation), and an informative plaque about his life and those around him, some scandalous.
Richard Wagner path marker.
It’s hard to miss this one.
The Wagner home’s quite generous back yard.
As we passed through downtown Bayreuth we passed many worthy buildings from the past, as the city was bypassed during the war. A canal flows through town, sometimes under buildings but occasionally surfacing.
Folks enjoying a warm summer evening by the canal.
We were not able to tour the Festspielhaus itself but did walk through the surrounding gardens. One area is devoted to Wagner’s antisemitic past, which ran quite deep. A garden of plaques situated just below the Festspielhaus describes the many talented Jews who performed his works, but lost their lives under Nazism.
Wagner’s wife, Cosima, and my wife, Eva.
We enjoyed our visit but soon had a bus to catch to whisk us off to Halle, where seemingly few tourists venture to go.
Main bus station is a spot on the side of the street, with a right curious Protestant church nearby.
Did I mention that Franz Liszt was living next door to Wagner in his last days and died in Bayreuth, and that his daughter, Cosima, became Wagner’s wife?
Oh, and a little story about our hotel experience. The hotel was next door to the train station, usually no longer a reputable part of town in most cities, while this place gleamed with purity and propriety. But to the side of the lobby we could see a room totally discombobulated by some construction project. We were told it was the breakfast room. Breakfast came at an extra pretty hefty price anyway so by the end of the day we had found a cafe next door to break our fast next morning.
Next morning came and as we left the hotel, the breakfast room was completely back in order, with all the tables set and guests enjoying a full buffet. How had this jumble of boards and pipes been dealt with so quickly overnight? We’ll never know – German efficiency? Our little cafe breakfast itself was a big success. Complete with Prosecco it was only €13.50 for the two of us and we carried enough away to make a full lunch.
Because the hotel was such a pleasant place we decided to take breakfast there on our second and last day anyway. No Prosecco but all we could manage from a very diverse buffet, and there was no charge! It was part of the room rate, but in our booking details breakfast had been specifically excluded. By us, free was fine.
We had two reasons to visit Halle. One was to see a former East German city that is not as far along in being restored since the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 as most other cities in Germany are. The other reason to visit was to see the Nebra Sky Disk. Huh?
Wonderful old city of Halle.
Our Airbnb was located in a suburb built up around 1900 when Art Nouveau design was in vogue. We much enjoyed walking the mile or so into town through lovely neighborhoods.
Front door to our Airbnb apartment, upstairs, two flights, with terrace.
Restoration coming in good time.
Narrow cobblestone streets were the norm.
Opera house and symphony hall.
Parking for ubiquitous bicycles.
Eventually we would arrive downtown, with its huge market square surrounded by antique buildings such as Rote Turm and Marktkirche. The best view was from the cafe terrace of a large department store on the square.
Department store vantage point.
Native son George Friedrich Händel occupies the square.
The dominating church has quite a history. It’s odd looking because its front and back parts once belonged to two separate churches, which were torn down after the ends were joined. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing at the time. Martin Luther had preached there, Händel was baptized there and Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was one of the church organists.
The Market Church of Our Dear Lady dominates the square.
An imposing rear view of the Liebfrauenkirche.
Eventually we gave in to our appetites and stopped for a quick bite to eat. We each chose raw hamburger sandwiches.
Tasty raw hamburger sandwiches.
As we roamed around we came by many works of art that beautified public spaces. All the while many old buildings are being restored to their former glory.
Bronze sculpture in a plaza.
Now, not to forget the second and primary reason we came to Halle. It was to see the Nebra Sky Disk. It was housed in our neighborhood in the beautiful State Museum of Prehistory, a great stone edifice that would make any city proud.
State Museum of Prehistory.
The inside was bright, modern and filled with locally found skeletons as well as stone and bronze weapons and tools from prehistoric times.
Old bones and arrowheads.
Finally, at the end of the natural progression of rooms full of things we hadn’t come to see, we happened upon a room so dark it was not possible to see one’s hand before one’s face. Then, as we felt our way around a corner we came face to face with the Disk. A magnificent green bronze plate about a foot in diameter, trimmed in gold with various features inscribed. It is said to be an astronomical instrument akin to the huge British Stonehenge that in part was used for determining the solstices, and thus planting seasons. However, this disk was portable, seemingly a first of its kind. And dating from about 1500 BCE. This disk was thrilling to see. Do go see it for yourself!
Nebra Sky Disk
The disk was discovered a few miles from Halle in 1999 by some guys who were illegally hunting for treasure using metal detectors. Here’s some history posted in the museum about the disk.
Discovery of the disk.
Now it’s time to take ourselves to the train station and move from the land of prehistory to that of history that shook Europe to the core – The Reformation. That led to probably the greatest blood baths the world had ever known as a consequence of the wars between Catholics and Protestants (Lutherans).
Surprisingly, the truly charming medieval town of Wittenberg was not overrun with religious tourists, nor too many tourists of all persuasions for that matter. How refreshing.
Martin Luther, trained as a priest, put his stamp on this place when he boldly nailed his 95 theses on a door of the court church here in 1517, or so the story goes. He found fault with a few aspects of Catholicism and wanted his thoughts to be taken notice of, although he had no intention of breaking with Rome. Of course back in that time one could easily lose one’s head for being so bold. Fortunately Luther had friends in high places who sequestered him safely in a castle when the heat was turned up. But over the years Luther’s ideas took hold over wider regions of northern Europe which led to a Protestant Christian schism with Rome and the loss of good bootie from the sale of indulgences. Rome wasn’t happy, and still isn’t, but is sufficiently emasculated to not be able to do anything about it.
Luther in a place of honor.
The Door – with the 95 theses in bronze, in Latin.
The Church, with The Door.
The Church – inside.
We understand that Luther lived a simple monk’s life in a monastery. However, he later married a nun named Katherina von Bora, who bore him six children. This was a huge break from Roman Catholic requirements for priests and monks.
Luther’s quarters for many years were in this former monastery.
Excellent museum devoted to Martin Luther, located in the castle.
As big as Luther is historically, he cannot have the town to himself because he was preceded by two resident artists who earned a big name for themselves as well – Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son, Cranach the Younger. They were great portraitists for the nobility in the 16th century.
Cranach the Elder makes sure we get to our room ok.
We stayed in the very building that Cranach owned and used as his workshop and printing business. Large rooms, thick walls, quiet as a tomb, interesting angles, crannies and spiral staircases.
From the small cafe in the courtyard where we took dinner, we could see our room just above the arched doorway.
Down the street a few doors away is the Cranach Museum, also in a building Cranach once owned. We took a guided tour and much enjoyed it. The next photo is taken from the exhibit. It no doubt depicts the state of the town everywhere, just like all the towns and cities in the East that were used up, sucked dry, and abandoned by the Soviets in 1999 after there was no more to be gained from holding on to them, and the public was demonstrating.
After the authorities folded their hand in East Germany in 1999 this is the wreck they left behind.
This is the view today of the restored historic buildings.
It is amazing to see how much work and care the citizens have devoted to the restoration of their fair city. Let’s hope they never have to do it again.
Beautiful Wittenberg today.