Update on the Grave Mounds

OK, I did a little more searching on the internet, and found that there is more to be found under “Grabhügel” than there is under “Hügelgräber” (which is the word used on the Schondorf municipal website.) A lot more. Between the Ammersee and the Lech river alone there are 167 mounds. In Grafrath, just a ways up the road, there are 250 mounds, old stone-age fortress remains, and a sacrificial stone complete with cup markings. In other words, the place is teeming with pre-historic geological archeological finds. So little time!

Pagans in Bavaria: Celtic Grave Mounds

On my hiking map of the Ammersee region, I found two red stars placed on a wooded area north of Schondorf. The map’s key uses this symbol for grave mounds or ringwalls, a number of which are to be found in Bavaria. Surprised to find some just down the road, we set off to look for them. Going mainly by instinct, we turned off the road at the big strawberry between the Aldi and Schondorf and parked there, then headed into the woods on foot.
This was not the ideal entrance point, but we couldn’t find a better one. Trying to walk toward the place indicated by the stars, we veered off the path pretty early. On the other side of some swampy grassland surrounded by forest, I could make out something that looked higher than the rest of the forest floor.

I think this is a mound. The Beau was not entirely convinced. No signs, no path, just strange little hills covered with trees and moss, and a hell of a lot of biting insects (I was wearing shorts — “typisch amerikanisch”, said the Beau — a mistake I won’t make again.)

Here appear to be three. It’s not easy to tell in the photos, but they really were different from the surrounding landscape. (Of course, it’s impossible to tell just by looking — hills like this could have nearly anything underneath them, from old war debris to landfill. ) Local websites mention that there are fourteen such Celtic grave mounds in the area, but nothing more about them. We’ll keep looking.

R.I.P. Patrick Leigh Fermor

I first came across the name Patrick Leigh Fermor in a biography about Bruce Chatwin; he and Robert Byron were his predecessors and influences in travel literature, and they were so neatly described that I immediately ordered old, out-of-print copies of Fermor’s “A Time Of Gifts” and Byron’s “The Road To Oxiana”. These books marked the beginning of a long and happy interest in the writings of people who have grabbed a rucksack and gone off to find adventures in a changing world.

It took me years, however, to get around to ordering the second installment in the planned trilogy, and the third book has yet to come out (although I was happy to read in Fermor’s obituary that a final draft may indeed have been completed, and may actually get published, in my lifetime I would hope…) I can’t be too saddened to hear of his death, at age 96. He lived a long, full and happy life, and cheered many, many people along the way with his delightful stories.

Das Tirol Panorama

There was finally time for a visit to the Panorama Museum, home of Innsbruck’s historic Riesenrundgemälde, previously displayed in the Rotunde in town. The interior is all modern glass and concrete, but they’ve done nice work with the presentation of the old-timey panorama painting, which still has its charms. One particularly strong impression is one of the very first — you have to descend an escalator to a lower level and then walk up a set of stairs to get “into” the panorama, and from the bottom of the stairs you see the Northern Range, and for a second you really aren’t sure if it’s not the real thing you’re looking at. Later in the connected Kaiserjägermuseum you find yourself looking up another set of stairs, at the top of which is a large picture window which does look out on the real Northern Range, and then you realize what the architect was up to.

Back downstairs, one proceeds into a large space with a lot of “tiroliana”, some of it hidden in secret compartments within wooden pillars, which looked popular with children. In the center of the room is a lot of political remnants (such as the horse’s head from a Mussolini statue from South Tirol, blown up by activists in 1961).

On the other side, a showcase of all manner of local “stuff”, past and almost-present. We didn’t quite get this part; it was as if the museum had to find a way to tie all these objects together and decided to display it almost randomly, with the archaeological finds right next to  20th-century mountain-climbing gear, insect display cases next to old crèches. Sometimes the explanatory signs were not easy to find. We decided that the snowboard must have been Andreas Hofer’s.

If you are visiting Innsbruck and want to see the Museum, I recommend taking the Nr. 1 streetcar to Bergisel (the last stop), then walking up the hill to the museum. There is also a restaurant with outdoor seating, and a gazebo from which to enjoy the view. Just across the park is the entrance to the ski jump arena, which also houses a cafe perched atop the jump, and more impressive views. This museum seems to be more for the locals than for visitors, but if you are interested in getting a sense of Tirolean history and culture without having to do much reading or traveling around, this could do it. The museum offers free headsets with audio tracks which explain what you are seeing. We did not take them, so I can’t tell you how they are.

A Surprise In The Kaiserjägermuseum

So, I finally made good on my promise and took my young friend to the still-new Tirol Panorama Museum on Bergisel. It’s connected to the Kaiserjäger Museum, which is dedicated to the Empire’s local militia regiments from the 19th century, so we wandered through that too, just looking at the paintings and the weapons with mild interest.

In one room my eyes rested on a large painting of soldiers greeting Kaiser Karl, the last Emperor of Austria. I found interesting the one soldier turning to look directly at the painter, and so my eyes dropped down to read the artist’s signature.

Say what? “John Quincy Adams, began in 1916. Lois Alton rest[ored?] and finished in 1935.”

Not the U.S. President, but a descendant, 1874-1933. Interesting what Wikipedia (the German site) tells me — his father, Carl Adams, was a Heldentenor at the Vienna Court Opera for ten years, then brought his family back to America when John Quincy was four years old. At age twenty-six he enrolled in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, and went on to have a pretty successful career on both continents. He’s even got a grave of honor in Vienna’s central cemetery.

Here is another work, to show that it wasn’t all war paintings for him. Of Countess Michael Karolyi, from 1918. Very nice.

The restorer Lois, or Luis (short for Alois) Alton was a local artist of landscapes and portraits.

“Singers have become more interchangeable”

Singing legend, teacher and artistic director Brigitte Fassbaender was recently interviewed by Markus Thiel for the Munich newspaper Merkur. It’s honest and interesting, and there is a lot in it which explains how things are going for singers in European opera houses today, and so I present it here in translation (mine, and although it was done on the fly and therefor imperfect, I tried to capture the essence and tone of the interview as best I could.)

Brigitte Fassbaender is gearing up for some big changes. She will be leaving her post as Intendantin of the Tiroler Landestheater next season, after 13 years. Her successor will be Johannes Reitmeier. However, this legendary singer will remain active as head of the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which kicks off its summer season this weekend. She won’t be departing from the opera world just yet — this year Ms. Fassbaender celebrates 50 years of work on and for the stage.

Merkur: How difficult will it be for you to let go of your “child”, the Landestheater?

BF: I thought it would be harder. The house is functioning beautifully, everyone is highly motivated. But it has to happen. Theaters always need a breath of fresh air after a while. 13 years was enough — and I would also like to have a breathe of fresh air myself.

What did you have to learn when you first took on the position as Intendant?

It was an enormous learning process in every respect. I had to learn how to deal with so many people, with so many different personalities, temperaments, vanities, with workaholism, laziness, and also self-overestimation. But I found everyone to be highly motivated [to work with me]. One also feels a wave of affection from the side of the audience. As far as choosing works and the aesthetics of stage direction, I had hoped for more openness for other, less traditional ways. But that appears no longer to be possible anywhere. And so at some point I understood that I was working for the audience, not for the Feuilleton [the arts section of a newspaper, where theater reviews appear].

Is the intendant with artistic background an endangered species?

Yes. Those who really understand something about singing are dying out. Most of them only see a singer “as is” and cannot hear the potential for further development [in a voice].

Why is that?

I don’t know. Maybe because singers have become more interchangeable. There had always been only a handful of one-of-a-kind voices out there. But now it seems to me that everyone resembles everyone else. They all look alike as well! I look at a photo, I think it’s Elina Garanca, and it turns out to be a model for cosmetics… Singers are trying to copy this high-gloss effect. I find that unfortunate. The only one in my opinion who has been able to endure this unscathed is Anna Netrebko. She is a top artist with a healthy portion of humor about her. We had this danger in our day too. But back then one said “no” more often. I find it better to keep oneself scarce.

Are you happy to have made your career during the time in which you did?

It was very different then, there was much less stress and competition. There wasn’t this extreme casting by type. Female singers with more robust figures still had a chance. And we had more opportunities to sing for recordings and to take more risks in our work. For that I am happy.

 How do you feel, looking back [on your career]?

Gratitude, but also amazement. For all the wonderful, strenuous, many-sided, nerve-wracking things that I was allowed to experience. Two-thirds of my professional life flew by me like a dream. I haven’t had time yet to get nostalgic. I consider myself a modern individual. When one doesn’t try to fit the current trend, one stays timeless — I have always tried to live by this motto.

Can you listen to your own voice?

In the meantime, yes, earlier, I was afraid of the possible disappointment. But now I think, “I like that voice. I would hire that young mezzo.” (laughing)

Were there ever times when you wished you hadn’t been a singer?

I have always suffered from terrible stage fright. Before every performance, before every recital, I would think, “No, I’d rather be raising chickens.” But surmounting those fears always led to great satisfaction. And one becomes more secure. I also suffered when I first had to make announcements before the curtain onstage in Innsbruck.

And have you gotten comfortable with your situation in Garmisch-Partenkirchen?

Very much! I am a self-confessed Straussian. Naturally I would like for it to be as top quality as possible — even if it is financially difficult to do so. I am dependent on my singers agreeing to be paid less that they normally would be, out of friendship. But then it is easier for them to cancel… it’s too bad that the state of Bavaria doesn’t think it necessary to give [the Strauss Festival] more support. We are constantly walking a tightrope, between top artistry and variety.

Richard Strauss has not only bright aspects to him. Has it been difficult, the work of rehabilitating the composer’s dark side?

BF: The Strauss family has given no obstacle whatsoever. They have been very open regarding his role in the National-Socialist years. Although I don’t know what they should do. His music was never overshadowed by his person. I don’t hear any anti-Semitism in it. Certainly there are works which are duty-bound to the attitude of that time — productions of them would naturally not be suitable. But what does a “Rosenkavalier” have to do with that? Strauss was simply business-minded and an opportunist. He thought himself and his family to be the center of the universe. It is a moral question — can or should one take artistic geniuses seriously for their politics? Hardly, I think.

Original article (Merkur-Online, in German.)