St. Ulrich’s Chapel & Healing Spring

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Just outside the village of Eresing, near the Ammersee, there is a small chapel and a fountain house where people would come wash themselves devoutly, especially the eyes. This spring is said to have healing powers, is dedicated to St. Ulrich of Augsburg, the patron saint of the diocese, who once allegedly rested here and caused the spring to flow forth. This is supposed to have occurred immediately after Ulrich’s returning from the Battle of Lechfeld (TL;DR version: FC Holy Roman Empire versus visiting Hungary, the Germans won.) Interestingly, the road near the fountain house and the chapel is also the old Roman road known today as the Via Raetia – so it’s possible that the spring was already known during Bavaria’s Roman period, and that travellers drew water from it. I have heard it suggested – although without evidence proffered – that it may have been a holy spring for the Romans as well. The gentleman in the video posted below (warning: it’s in “Boarisch“) claims that this spring’s water is soft, in contrast to the hard water found everywhere else in the area (and I can attest to that, out tap water is quite hard), and so locals fill up jugs of the stuff to brew their coffee with it.

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The figure of St. Ulrich in the fountain house dates from the 15th century. In the 17th century the Court Margrave of Eresingen, Franz von Füll, subsidized the construction of the fountain house, the red marble basin, and the Ulrich chapel with hermitage.

A story of changing times

Once upon a time, there was a miller who lived in a small town. This miller was quite successful, and had expanded his business into a large commercial bakery. There had always been a mill by the river — in fact, the town’s chronicle listed there having been one first mentioned in written records in 1398. Imagine that: before Christopher Columbus had even been born, there had been a mill operating on this river, which flows from the mountains and into the Elbe, and then on to the North Sea.

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The miller wasn’t really a miller by this point; he was factory owner, a capitalist. He had a spacious, somewhat opulent mansion built on his property, situated on what is actually an island, as the water from the river courses around both sides of it. When he grew old and died, his son carried on with the business. This son was the adventurous type of businessman – several times going bankrupt, but always dusting himself off and getting back to some new scheme. When he grew old, his son took over the business. This new owner married a local girl, a saddle maker’s daughter, and had a daughter of his own. IMG_3609

He was called up to war, but lived through it and returned home to find that parts of the bread factory had been destroyed by bombs, and the country had undergone considerable change. In fact, it wasn’t even the same country as it had been before the war – this was now the “Russian zone”, and shortly afterwards a new country was established, and the government insisted that no single family needed a mansion all to themselves. So the owner moved his family into a few rooms in the house, and other people began to take over other parts of it for themselves.
His daughter grew up and married a veterinarian in the hill country, 3 hours away. They had two sons, who enjoyed visiting their grandparents and playing with the neighbor children in the mansion’s expansive orchards and courtyards, where they would set up a tent under a chestnut tree. You would think that the children would have enjoyed playing by the river, but the river was polluted, and had an unpleasant smell. No one wanted to swim in it, although the boys’ mother recalled doing so as a child. This astonished them, as they couldn’t imagine that it had ever been clean, not knowing it any other way.
The owner’s wife fell ill and died, and the old widower married a somewhat younger spinster, the daughter of acquaintances who was happy to have a husband, even a frail one. When he died, she stayed on but eventually began to hoard items as the house fell into disrepair around her.IMG_3593

One year, the grandsons (now young men) were sent by their parents to clean out some of the junk in the old villa. They found piles of stuff, including old C.A.R.E. packages sent at Christmas by relatives in the West. Their contents – soap, coffee, chocolate – had been unwrapped, dutifully admired, and put back in the boxes for safekeeping, until they were decades past their use dates. The two brothers laughed and shook their heads at this unintended waste, and tried to throw them out, but the old widow kept running out to the trash container and bringing things back inside.
Well, time passed. The Wall fell a few years later, and the old widow passed away. No one in the family had any reason to visit that town anymore, as those relatives were all gone. The family tried to sell the decaying property, hoping that a speculator from the West might pay good money for prime riverfront land, but no one was interested and eventually it was bought cheaply by a developer, who tore down the old factory to make room for low-cost apartments, but saved the chimney and the old villa. Maybe he ran out of money before he could get around to the villa.

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One of the grandsons, now in middle age, was passing through the area with his wife, and decided to swing by and see the old homestead, that expanse of small town property which, as his grandmother used to tell him and his brother, would be theirs someday. It filled him with memories and emotions: happy memories of childhood summers spent there, sadness in seeing the old place in such a state of ruin. There is a new developer who, two years ago, said he wanted to build apartments there and save the old original facade. Maybe he will, someday.

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Seeking Fortunatus

After posting my most recent entry I began to look more seriously for the “Vita S. Martini” by Venantius Fortunatus in translation. It hasn’t brought much to light. I cannot read medieval Latin, but there is an Italian translation available in book form, which might be my only option. There is also a German version available but which costs an arm and a leg (and really, I don’t want to spend that much on a hobby). There are plenty of English-language academic papers about aspects of the text, but I don’t believe that an English translation exists. If any buffs of early medieval literature can prove me wrong, please have at it, as I would love to know!

“If the Baiuvarii on the Lech don’t block your way”*

My husband knows that I have this fascination with local maps and roads and routes from long ago. In a recent acquisition of used books he stumbled across something he knew I’d like — “Die Alpen in Frühzeit und Mittelalter” (The Alps during Antiquity and the Middle Ages) by Ludwig Pauli, C. H. Beck, 1980. I skipped ahead to the chapter on Alpine crossings and Roman Roads, and lo, look what I have learned:
It’s about 565 C.E., the Romans have retreated back to the Italian peninsula, and Rhaetia has gone through a few centuries of bloodbaths. The people who buried their silver coins in the hopes of recollecting them “when things died back down” are long dead and their stashes will remain buried for another 1,600 years or so. There’s no upkeep of infrastructure, but the roads are still there, more or less. Against this backdrop, a 25-year-old named Venantius Fortunatus has set off from Aquilea, on the Adriatic coast, for a long journey to Tours to pay respect at the grave of St. Martin of Tours. He wrote about his travels later**, and so we also know the route he took — over the Plöcken Pass (at the Italian border to Carinthia in Austria), then westward to the Brenner Pass, north to the “Seefelder Sattel” and on to Augsburg and beyond. What this means is that he took the (later named) Via Rhaetia, “our” Roman Road, which passes right through our area here between the Ammersee and the Lech River. Fortunatus passed through here — which means he is the earliest person of later world renown*** to have traveled in our area, all those years ago.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with the name, but a check with Wikipedia revealed something quite interesting — I was already somewhat familiar with his works, musical versions of which are in the Episcopal Hymnal (it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that most classical singers in America, no matter what religion or denomination they grew up in, know hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal, because the Episcopal churches, unlike their R.C. counterparts, pay well for professional choirs.)

One of his greatest hits is Pange lingua gloriosi, Corporis mysterium.

 

*Venantius Fortunatus, advising a traveler about conditions on the Via.

** “The Life of St. Martin”, which of course I need to hunt down.

*** Hannibal and his elephants crossed further west.

Discovering Curt Bois

We happened to be surfing around TV stations this evening and stumbled over a 1980s comedy series called Kir Royale, which had been filmed in Munich. Tonight’s episode was “Adieu Claire”, about a fictitious famous composer named Friedrich Danziger, very old and near death. Something about him looked familiar, and it wasn’t until about three-quarters of the way through that it dawned on me.

Curt Bois, a successful German Jewish character actor, left Germany in the 1930s, eventually came to the USA, and appeared in supporting roles in many Hollywood films through the 40s. He returned to Germany in 1950 and resumed regular work there in film and on the stage. Perhaps you remember the old man in “Wings of Desire” (1987), looking for Potsdamer Platz, reading in the library. Bois lived to see reunification, but he would probably not recognize Potsdamer Platz today, (nor would he probably like it, but who am I to say).

You’ve probably seen him in at least a dozen films, if you like the old stuff. His most famous film, however, might be Casablanca. Who did he play? The charming pickpocket.

Romans in Bavaria: comparing two online archeology maps for one specific area

Zeitspringer has a post up (in German) about the Roman road which ran between Augsburg and Salzburg, an important salt route referred to today as the “Via Julia”. Evidently there is a bit of uncertainty about the point where the road crossed the Isar River south of Munich. In his post, Zeitspringer mentions the site Vici.org, which I hadn’t known about before. Like the Bavarian Monuments Atlas (also in German), this site superimposes archeological sites—as well as presumed routes of Roman roads—onto satellite maps. I love these kinds of maps, and they have been an enormous help in finding things when you’re on the ground and need landmarks for orientation (with these maps, even a lone tree in a field—something you won’t find on a conventional map—can tell you something).

Well, most of what is known about the routes of these Roman roads north of the Alps comes primarily from 1) ancient (but still after-the-fact) maps, 2) excavated finds and 3) common geographical sense, particularly over the passes where there really wasn’t much choice about where to travel (see Scharnitz, in Tyrol). But as far as where-exactly, to the meter precision, it’s really only 2) that can provide any kind of accuracy, and only then at those points. The lines between those two points often must be assumed (unless they come up out of the ground, making for excellent aerial photography).

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Anyway, I was curious as to what Vici.org had to say about my Roman road, the Via Raetia, which runs along part of the western shore of the Ammersee. Knowing that these things can’t be anywhere near 100% accurate, I was still a bit surprised to see where they put the line.

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The aerial photo above is of the area west of Utting, south of Achselschwang. We know this area well because we often take walks here; it’s hilly terrain, unlike the flat fields in the photo above it. The Roman road, according to Vici, is the red line through the picture. However, can you make out that faint quadrilateral shape intersected by the line, with trees at three of its corners? That’s an old Celtic Viereckschanze, a four-sided earthwork that pre-dates the Roman road, and I have difficulty believing that the Romans would have simply built a road through it (although I suppose anything is possible, theoretically).

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Above is a screen grab of the same area (the Viereckschanze is in the center, marked in red). Here, the Via Raetia runs a good 200 meters further west, and, knowing the terrain quite well there, I am more likely to believe this. What’s more, it joins the present road at Achselschwang. That means little on its own, and I am certainly no expert, but Achselschwang first gets a mention in records in the year 760. Its beginnings might go back to an old straight(-ish) track that had been used for hundreds of years, why not? When the Romans retreated from the regions north of the Alps, they left behind quite a few “Romanized” locals whose descendants would have kept using the paths, just as they  pulled out Roman gravestones for early stone churches (like the one in nearby Leutstetten, a place discussed here before). Those roads carried pilgrims to Rome, and traders, and early travelers like Albrecht Dürer (who visited Italy twice), and some parts of the old Via Raetia are still part of the national road network, albeit under lots of asphalt. In other words, they left traces.

The MS Utting

The Ammersee in southern Bavaria has summer passenger boat service provided by two paddle steamers, the Dießen and the Herrsching, the smaller motor-powered MS Augsburg and, until recently, the MS Utting. Because we have connections to Utting, I was always especially pleased to see it in service (which didn’t seem very often, if at all, in the last year). Then in early March we were stunned read that it was being retired, and taken off to a new life as some kind of performing space shell in Munich. Ah well, that’s that, we thought.

Until just a few weeks ago, when it was announced that the new MS Utting was on its way to the docks on the northern shore, and so we stopped by to see the new addition.

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By the time we arrived it had already been welded together (it had arrived in two pieces via the Autobahn during the wee morning hours) and was sitting in the water. Masts, upper deck facilities, windows and the interiors all had yet to be installed.

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Those are some impressive cranes.

The new MS Utting is 50.80 meters long and 9.60 meters wide, and will hold up to 500 passengers. It will be barrier-free (with an elevator to the upper deck for wheelchair users) and have a slide for children. The Free State of Bavaria is investing a cool 5.4 million euros in the new vessel.

 The first test ride is planned for the end of June. If all goes well, the MS Utting will have its maiden voyage in the second half of July. Maybe we’ll be on it!