Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pope Benedict's Bavaria

English journalist Eric Hester has kindly offered to share with Tea at Trianon some photos and reflections of his pilgrimage to Bavaria in 2005. He also went into Austria. I have been to the wonderful restaurant in Salzburg that he mentions. After reading Mr. Hester's article, I am ready to go back.

Share Pope Benedict’s joyful enthusiasm for his beloved Bavaria
By Eric Hester
In 2005 I had a holiday – better to call it a pilgrimage – in Bavaria with my wife, her sister and husband, which made me very clear that it is no accident that this wonderful area has produced a pope. This year the four of us went again and found it just as good.
What a marvelous area Bavaria is! The people are a sunny, courteous, hospitable, kind, generous people with a great capacity for enjoying life.

Best of all, they are intensely Catholic. Not only in the public hotels where we stayed were there were crucifixes and statues of Our Blessed Lady but also on the corners of buildings and inside shops such as the Chemist’s. The standard Bavarian greeting in shops and everywhere else is not the normal German Guten Tag but Grüss Gott! “God’s greetings."

We flew from London Stanstead to Munich in 2005 and picked up a hired car, but this year we flew to Salzburg which, though in Austria, is just as handy. Again, we made our base the town of Traunstein. This is where the young Joseph Ratzinger lived from 1937, his father being the local policeman, where he had his “gymnasium” or grammar school education at the diocesan junior seminary, and where after ordination he said his first Mass. He calls it the most beautiful town in the world and, even allowing for his bias, one has to admit its charm. That the Holy Father has happy memories of it is not surprising.

We stayed at the Parkhotel Traunsteiner Hof hotel and it is one of the best we have ever been in. At this hotel, you will see a very beautiful statue of Our Blessed Lady on the main stairs. The food is excellent, with drink to match, not just Bavarian beer, but wines of the highest class. The hotel is a family one that has belonged to the same family since the nineteenth century. The present owner greets one at breakfast and again goes round to each table at dinner. An article such as this cannot go into details of prices but it is worth mentioning that this hotel was considerably cheaper than a certain famous hotel in the middle of Oxford where we stayed recently.

Apart from being a wonderful place in itself, Traunstein has the advantage of being on a good railway line with Salzburg only twenty minutes away and Munich not much more than an hour the other way. Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, has its own charms and delights. We had lunch and dinner at The Stiftskeller St Peter, a restaurant some 1200 years old, which counts Charlemagne among its guest list and is mentioned by the Anglo Saxon writer from York, Alcuin. The food is wonderful and includes the famous Salzburgernockerl, a fine concoction of a dessert. While we had dinner there, in between courses, we were entertained to beautifully sung extracts from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. The proximity of Austria to Bavaria was a factor mentioned by the Holy Father in his book, which I recommend, Milestones, published originally under the name of Joseph Ratzinger.

Traunstein is also near the great lake Chiemsee, where, can you believe it, you can take boat trips to two inhabited islands on both of which there are churches with daily Mass and on one there is the extraordinary palace of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, something not to be missed. Those who visit the Tea at Trianon website will love this palace. It was intended as a replica of Versailles and, though unfinished, it has a Hall of Mirrors and other reminders of the French Court. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and fountains.

In 2005, as we drove from Traunstein to our next base, Altötting, we were able to take in Tittmoning, a beautiful town where the Holy Father lived from 1929 to 1937 and which he obviously loved. This is not surprising. It is a gem. The Holy Father says of it: “Tittmoning remains my childhood’s land of dreams” and says, quite rightly that “it has a square that would do great honour to bigger cities.” As the Holy Father mentions, one can simply walk across the bridge over the river and into Austria. The half-day we spent there hardly did it justice.

We had decided to stay at Altötting in 2005 because of the Holy Father’s own recommendation of this city with a great Marian shrine. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he had written the Foreword to the town guide that we found so useful and he writes in the Guide: “I was very lucky to have been born near to Altötting and so pilgrimages together with my parents and family to this place of grace form a part of my earliest and most treasured memories.”

He ends his two-page introduction by saying of the Guide, “I hope that this book will not only be a guide to its exterior, but also a guide to its interior which helps readers to experience the grace of the city.” How many places have an entry from the Pope in the local guide? This tiny city does not disappoint. It is like a very small version of Lourdes but without the crowds or commercialisation.

The actual shrine to Our Blessed Lady of the Black Madonna is most moving and one can attend daily Mass there or at one of the other churches. In fact, nowhere in Bavaria will daily Mass be a problem.

We stayed here at another outstanding hotel –the Hotel Zur Post, right in the main square, and with outstanding cuisine and, as everywhere, scrupulously clean rooms and excellent facilities including a swimming pool. Best of all, one can sit outside and eat, and drink beer or tea.

From Altötting, Marktl, the village where the Holy Father was born, is a quarter of an hour by car. This sleepy little village is now on the tourist trail. The house where the Pope was born is right in the middle. There is a lovely little tourist centre where charming people proudly give information and advice. They have the air of a man who has won the lottery three weeks running. They are determined to preserve the character of the village while making it a proper venue for tourists.

The little church where the baby Ratzinger was christened Joseph on the day he was born, Holy Saturday, April 16th 1927, is proud of its most famous son. The banner stating Habemus Papam has a different meaning from the obvious one. Yet this church was the only disappointing building we saw in Bavaria in 2005 since it had been badly modernized. The village, otherwise, is much as it must have been over the years – of course, the beer gardens and inns sell Papst bier, “Pope’s beer,” but I cannot see anything offensive in that; we drank some and it seemed just as good as the other splendid Bavarian beer.

Another place not far from Altötting is the magnificent city of Passau, with its dignified cathedral containing the world’s biggest organ which we heard played in an organ recital, as happens virtually daily. Three rivers meet here, and one can, as we did, go on a mini-cruise on the Danube to see something of the city. We had a magnificent day out in Munich a city with fine buildings and an art gallery of world importance. When we were there just over a month ago, the Beer Festival was in full swing and yet we saw nothing of the unpleasantness that accompanies such events in England.

One remarkable feature is that the Bavarian and Austrian people are among the few in the world who wear as a matter of course, their national costume on ordinary days. The men wear coats, suits, waistcoats and other items of what we in England call Loden, a beautiful wool, mostly but not always in dark green. The ladies wear loden items such as coats and may also wear dirndl skirts. In the shops, on the street and, of course, in the churches, one sees these elegantly dressed people.

I spoke to a few people involved in the media and I was grossly embarrassed that they had become aware of the appallingly insulting treatment of the new pope by the British media, especially the BBC. What is one to say to fine young Bavarian Catholics when they quote the references to “rottweilers, panzers, Nazis, and Hitler Youth?"

They were surprised when I told them that most English people, and almost every single Catholic in England – except for the odd weird dissident - welcomed the pope as the obvious choice and a man of deep spirituality and integrity. They were pleased when I told them that at the church my wife and I attended in Bolton, the parish priest invited all the congregation to drink champagne with him when the news of the election broke just before the evening Mass.

English and American people who respect tradition and love the Catholic faith will find that Bavaria is the ideal place for them for a holiday that is also a pilgrimage.



Anonymous said...

A dear friend of mine lived for a few years in Bavaria after WWII. She fell in love with Bavaria's charms - friendly people, delicious food, tidy towns filled with flowers, picturesque views, quaint architecture and breathtaking churches.

One of her favorite memories was the entire town making a candlelight procession through the crisp snow to the church for Midnight Mass. The church was filled with candlelight and lovely hymns - she said it was magical.

She was not a Catholic but would attend services occasionally with her friend there. The beauty of the churches and the music at Mass enchanted her and she said that she often felt as if it would be a wonderful thing to be Catholic. She felt like something was missing in her life. What a pity she never acted on that feeling!

She said that she felt as if she lived in a postcard. She was heartbroken to have to leave! Ever since I have heard her tales of Bavaria, I have wanted to visit there - she made it sound like a fairy tale land!

elena maria vidal said...

I went to Bavaria when I was nineteen years old and totally fell in love with the place.