The main route heading north and east is a delight.
It is still significant enough to experiece ferries and sizeable bridges, some of which riders are required to use. We travelled in a northerly direction towards Dettelbach. This is very much wine country and Dettelbach (below right) is twee and offers a considerable – and probably necessary – marketing opportunity for growers. They have hostelries on the road side with opportunities to sample the local wine and then buy a crate. We acquired a taste for Domina (a fruity red) and Spätburgunder (another word for Pinot Noir). Suffice to say, we did not carry a crate on the tandem.
We actually stopped at Volkach for lunch where, clearly, we should have stopped at the St. Maria im Weingarten church, the home of another Riemenschneider carving. But we hadn’t done our homework. However, by way of compensation, and as is so often the case, one stumbles upon strange – sometimes inexplicable – attractions. So at Stammheim, one encounters an air museum (left). And a ferry. I love ferry rides across rivers (below right).
Onward towards Schweinfurt which is a not insignificant industrial town. It produced most of the Nazi war machine’s ball bearings. For that reason it was a target of allied forces in 1945. It retains significant metal industry facilities. But if one follows the track, the city is largely bypassed.
Next up is Haßfurt, again somewhat bypassed. We were keen to get to our preferred campsite at Sand am Main. We took a little detour adjacent to an airfield, surprisingly busy with small and micro aircraft. Sand am Main proved not as easy to get to as we might have thought. There is a lot of water which requires one to ride over the correct bridge just to the east of Knetzgau. The campsite is actually on the banks of Sanderbaggersee and is, consequently, relatively easy to find once in Sand.
Time for a day off from the tandem. The next day we walked into the nearby Zeil am Main (left), a centre for furniture manufacture, and caught the train into Bamberg. Bamberg – or at least its centre – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is extraordinary. It has a thousand years of history, much of it religious. It lost its status as a city state in 1803 becoming part of the Bavarian kingdom.
It is certainly a hilly place (there are 7 hills, die Hügel), thus enjoying the architecture requires some strenuous walking. The stone used for the buildings gives it an unwarranted industrial feel. The Cathedral (right) is, for example, built from a sandy-coloured stone, as is the nearby Michaelsberg Abbey (below right). The cathedral dates from the 13th Century and is described as romanesque (Bamberg is often described, inappropriately, as Bavaria’s Rome). As for the interior, one can find an ornate Riemenschneider tomb sculpted from marble (left). It was sculpted for Heinrich II and his wife (Kunigunde), and dates from the early 16th Century. It is adorned with carvings capturing a series of complex stories. For example, Kunigunde was challenged on her faithfulness to the King (left). She was essentially cleared after proving her faithfulness by runing over some hot sharp metal without injury!
Bamberg also has a history steeped in beer, not unlike most Bavarian towns, it has to be said. There is one very special beer, however, that had to be tried. That beer was Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (essentially, dark smoked bier). The beer is smoked arising out of an accident. Fire damaged the brewery and soiled the ingredients including the hops. However, waste not want not, as-it-were. The next batch of beer had, not surprisingly, a smoked flavour. I have to say, one glass was enough. The hostelry itself offers traditional complementary food which is quick (the turnover inside is rapid) and surprisingly good, even for a vegetarian.
Rather than go all the way along the Tauber to Wertheim to join the Main, we decided to go direct and take what is known as the Romantic Route linking Werbach just north of Tauberbishofsheim and Würzburg via Alterheim. The route is well signposted (right) but, as a route it is not as well developed as the river routes. Essentially, treat it like a motorway with no services on it. Take food and water because this is not an easy 30km or so. That said, Werbach to Würzburg is easier than the other way around. The gradients are kinder. Not surprisingly, it is also much quieter.
When Würzburg arrives, it is fantastic. The Fortress Marienburg (left) dominates the skyline and the city centre is as architcturally rich as any in the region. Though it is also a working city where the tourists are contained.
The Würzburger Residenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site originally built between 1720 and 1744. The Rathaus (right) is a 14th Century building, but like the historic centres of many German cities it was severely damaged by allied bombs in 1945 (a firestorm on 16 March 1945 killed 5000 civilians). Fittingly, much of the historic centre was rebuilt. The Cathedral, moreover, has two examples of Riemenschneider’s extraordinary carvings.
We ate well at the Ratskeller before heading to the river and following the Main Radweg to Kitzingen. This takes riders principally through the historic town of Ochsenfurt. Just short of Kinzingen is the excellent riverside campsite. Kinzingen is another picture postcard town, the history of which is closely related to the Church, Würzburg and Napoleon.
Breakfast opportunities are considerable. It is also very cylcle friendly. First of all, if one has an e-bike – of which there are many to be seen on these cycle routes – there is a charging station. But more interestingly, there are secure luggage lockers (left) for cyclists!
The next section is has a lot to recommend it. The cycle route shares a railway line in the valley as it passess through Dollnstein and Solnhofen (a major part of the local economy is stone – stein – this influences many of the place names). Further on is Treuchtlingen. In the Kurpark, one finds the seemingly incongruously located steam locomotive rather forlornly dumped (right). The town itself was having a siesta when we passed through it (to be fair, it was very hot). But ultimately it is an old market town famous for handcrafts and silk. The aforementioned railway link to Ingolstadt and Munich, built in 1869, was key to the town’s industrial development. But there is a further significance, the railway station was bombed on 23 February 1945 by the allies. 300 people died on one train in the station. Maybe the forlorn locomotive fittingly commemorates that terrible event?
A little further along the river is Gunzenhausen, a resort on the Altmühlsee, a large inland lake (left). We camped there, breakfasting at a cafe on the shoreline. We then continued our tour north west towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber through Leutershausen and Colmburg. There is a bit of cross country to be done here and if you suitably miss the path, as we did, you can be diverted into villages that show some of the eccentricities of the Bavarians relating to their gardens (right). I cannot quite remember in which village this scene of life and fantasy was discovered. But it made the detour worthwhile.
A little further on, we found another village (left) that was not quite looking its best. I was expecting a sign saying something like “sorry we are not looking our best, come back in 6 months…please”.
We found ourselves in Gasthof zur Krone having coffee and Apfel Strudel in Leutershausen (the Gasthof kitchens in Bavaria are mostly closed between 1500 and 1800, there is little hot food to get). The landlord told us that rain was forecast for around 6pm and if we wanted to make it to Rothenburg before it came (we were keen to get the tent up before it set in) then we should take a short cut. The road that was recommended seemed rather substantial (st2249). But in the event, largely unused. A recommended detour. A bit more hilly, though.
And then Rothenburg itself. First we would say, if you want to visit the town, go direct. Do not follow the cycle track as it steeply descends into the valley and the way back up is tortuous. The town is significant in its history and is home to an amazing Tilman Riemenscheider alterpiece carving – something we discovered only on getting back and watching again Andrew Graham Dixon’s BBC documentary, The Art of Germany (though if we had read our guide close enough, we would also have known). Indeed there are many Riemenschneider carvings in Bavaria. We stopped off at two further churches containing examples of his work at Detwang (where we camped and pictured, above right) and a shade futher on the Herrgottskirche to the south of Credlingen on the L1005 (and don’t forget the Thimble Museum, below left).
The campsite at Detwang is described elsewhere. With heavy rain we abandoned any idea of getting into Rothenburg and elected to eat in one of the Gastätte in the village. Monday and Tuesday are closing days for one of the restaurants. We had, therefore, no choice but to go to the Gasthaus Tauberstube (http://tinyurl.com/o2yhwsy) despite a note on the door saying reservations only for the evening. It was great, though traditional food. They were well prepared to offer us something vegetarian. And we drank some local wine. The next day we met the landlord in another cafe in Credlingen – he was clearly checking up on the local competition! He recognised us even though we were on a tandem and wearing our gear. We have to revisit Rothenburg. I think we now know where to stay.
Onward towards our next stop, Tauberbishofsheim through the attractive towns of Röttingen, Weikersheim (right) and significantly, Bad Mergentheim. The secret to its fortune is in the name. The area is rich in mineral springs and was found to be particularly useful in dealing with digestive disorders. The town also boasts a medieval castle with baroque church. But significantly, it feels like a real working town. Indeed over this stretch of the cycle path one cross the border into Baden-Württemberg, a culturally different place to neighbouring Bavaria. As one pushes further along the Tauber towards the confluence with the Main at Wertheim, it becomes more industrial and less twee. It is no worse for that.
Hence, one enters Tauberbishofsheim through a light industrial area; and whilst it is not unattractive in the centre, it feels much more lived in. There is no nearby campsite, though it is well frequented by cyclists as we discovered in the hotel in which we opted to spend the night.
We took the train from Munich to Regensburg. The lifts at both stations are big enough to fit the loaded tandem. The signs outside the station immediately direct cyclists to the cycle path along the Danube in the first instance.
This section is picturesque, quite leafy and packed full of vertiginously perched castles and monuments. One should always be looking up as well as forward.
For example, at Kelheim one finds the wonderfully curious Befreiungshalle (right). If my understanding is correct it is a after-the-fact monument to the defeat of Napoleon during the Befreiungskriege of 1813-15. The work on the monument itself was started in 1842 and completed in 1856 after a number of issues, not least the death of the architect/builder. It was principally funded by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. However, one should never underestimate the effect of French occupation of German lands on the country’s history. Monuments like this are not so unusual. I’ve used an image by (Wikipedia) because when we passed by it was shrouded in scaffolding.
At Kelheim the Altmühl flows into the Danube. We were riding against the flow (and the wind). After camping at Kastlhof, we followed the river to Riedenburg (left) and Dietfurt. What one has to say about these places is that they are a shade generic. Dietfurt Rathaus (right) is typical of the architecture of the region. And the Altmühl towns are, on the whole, very well looked after.
However, Eichstät itself is exceptional. A small town tracing its routes back to the 8th century BC with a cathedral, monestary (left) and a catholic university is quite something to behold. I quite like the random sculptures in front of a nicely graffiti’d wall. Just a concession to demonstrate that even here, a white wall is too much to resist. The town is rather quiet in the evening out of university time.
This year we decided not to stray too far from our base in Munich. In previous years we have had to negotiate up to 5 trains with the tandem (bicycles are not carried on InterCity trains in Germany) to get to our starting point. This year, the starting point was Regensburg, a relatively quick couple of hours by cycle-friendly regional train.
We are feeling a shade smug this year in that we managed to camp for all but one night, and that was because there were no campsites on that particular stretch. We navigated by means of a Garmin Edge 800 bicycle navigation system (topped up nightly largely by energy generated from our Power Monkey Solar battery pack) and ADFC Reiseführer “Tauber Altmühl Radweg” (Hans Luntz) and Bikeline (Esterbauer), “Main Radeweg”.
Both paths are well signposted taking in both designated cycle track and minor roads. That said, it is possible to lose the tracks, especially when negotiating the towns. Below are my comments on the campsites. Some, as ever, are better than others!
The BBC Proms is an extraordinary annual classical music festival. For two-and-a-half months, each night some amazing orchestra (and sometimes more than one) takes to the stage in the Royal Albert Hall in London and plays some amazing music. For visitors, it is possible to see this spectacle for 5 Pounds (the standing space in the arena). If that does not appeal, it is possible to have a seat ranging from the Circle at what seems to be close to the moon (and hence cheap), or the stalls just around the arena (a shade more expensive). Relative to most ticket prices for Orchestra performances, it is the best deal in town over the summer.
We mix and match, sometimes in the circle, others in small boxes (otherwise known as the second tier). We often dress up for the occasion (right). This year we have been quite strategic in our choice. It is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sibelius and to mark it all of his symphonies are being performed over three nights (that is 7 in all). Moreover, the BBC being what it is, does not just play the music, but it tries to give context and develop listeners’ understanding of music in general and specific pieces in particular. It is fair to say that we knew very little of Sibelius other than he being Finnish. We learn that at the time that Sibelius was writing at the turn of the 19th Century, Finland was a place with little history and national identity. Sibelius became a cheerleader for Finnish nationalism and independence (first from Sweden and then Russia – finally getting independence in 1963, six years after his death).
One of his most famous pieces, Finlandia, dating from 1899, is an eight-minute call to national self-determination. It seems to me, it is a piece to Sibelius what Bohemian Rhapsody is to Queen in more modern times. It was a great way to start. But then come the symphonies – some against the backdrop of tumultuous change, others against his own alcoholism (his wife would go searching local bars to drag him home). His fourth symphony is a paen to landscape. The programme notes for this symphony make reference to conductor Herbert Blomstedt, who described it as ‘an essay in trying to be happy which fails.’ That works for me.
They are a mixed bag. Again, my ignorance takes over. Sibelius’ symphonies were not written for huge orchestras. Strings do much of the work (there is a lot of string plucking going on which doubles as percussion; there is not much of a percussion section). Woodwind and brass also feature. There are a lot of key changes. They are not the most accessible or indeed friendly. In his later years, he was a recluse, retreating to a country residence, Ainola, touchingly named after his wife, Aino. Though he did compose an eighth symphony, the score for which he destroyed.
We were treated, however, to Sibelius’ violin concerto. The soloist was Julian Rachlin (right). Seemingly, this is not an easy piece for violin. The expectations for finger and bow coordination are considerable. Rachlin, however, is a virtuoso – a child prodigy – and handled it with aplomb – and provided an encore (a little frowned upon at the Proms). The concerto demonstrates the brilliance of the composer who, it seems, always doubted his ability.
And maybe that accounts for – what seems to me to be – the inconsistency between the symphonies. His influences may also be a factor. In his early work inevitably Tchaikovsky is evident, as well as Brahms. Later he seemed to be in some kind of battle with Schoenberg, certainly in terms of pushing the boundaries of what actually is a symphony. For example, the Seventh Symphony which is about a river is composed in a single movement (normally one would expect three or four). That said, if one really listens closely, the separate movements are there. Maybe he was just trying not to give an opportunity for the audience to shuffle and cough inbetween movements (a very Proms thing to do)? His efforts at creating his own identity may well have done the opposite. I’m not sure how easy it would be for us to immediately identify a Sibelius piece, say for example against Mozart or Beethoven. One feature, perhaps, is Sibelius’ curious way of ending movements and symphonies. The end can often come by surprise for the uninitiated. I think further listening is needed.
Sibelius (BBC Proms website)
The Design Museum in London is currently offering an exhibition of history of the Spanish family-owned shoe maker, Camper. I’m not a particular fan of the style of the shoes, iconic though they are (left).
For those unfamiliar with Catalan, Camper means peasant or farmer, suitably betraying the origins of the company. They are a hybrid work-leasure-sport shoe. The company tells its own history here.
The exhibition itself does three things excellently. First, it shows the core artefact, the shoes. Second, the process of design and manufacture is explained, not just for Campers, but for shoes more generally, complete with tools and demonstrations using video screens.
Finally, there is a business element. Camper has a rich marketing heritage (even though the firm dates only from 1975). The advertising (left and above left) has a 1930s feel about it. The brand itself is simple and distinctive.
The exhibition runs until 1 November 2015.
I’ve said this before, the people at the Design Museum in London know how to present artefacts. One of the current exhibitions, Designs of the Year 2015 is a case in point. Conceptually, it is very simple: present 60 or so design ideas to demonstrate the scope for design in modern times. Scope is everything from fashion to ways to save the planet. Here is a selection of what I deemed to be the best after my visit on 29 July.
The evolution of chairs is a perennial design discussion. This one (left), I like the most as it takes inspiration and scientific validation from nature. It is by the Italian designer Odo Fioravanti, and is called Dragonfly. Seemingly dragonflies have an imbalance between the weight distribution between their front legs and tail. The chair deals with this with ribbing (which can be seen underneath). Equally interesting, however, is the process involved. In order to validate the design, computer aided structural tests were undertaken and plastic mudflow analysis conducted before the injection moulding process started.
Next, is an example as design for safety. It is a jacket that anticipates a body-damaging accident or fall from a motorbike. There are sensors in the front fork (to detect a collision) and on the side (in anticipation of a non-collision-caused fall). A wireless signal is sent to the jacket which then inflates and protects the vital organs and bones. The designer is Vittorio Cafaggi.
As a cyclist, the development of bicycle lights over the years has been welcome. In the old days they were big, unreliable and often invisible to other road users. I currently have a set of Brainy Bikelights which I am delighted with. However, these (left) by the Paul Cocksedge Studio, are great for urban riders prone to having their lights stolen. The idea is that when the rider locks the bicycle with a D-lock, the lights can be locked at the same time as they have a suitable hole in the middle. Neat.
Next up is the electricity-generating table (right) by Marijam van Aubel. The table is for home or library use and can, without direct sunlight, generate enough electricity to charge a mobile phone, tablet, etc. This is another good example of borrowing from nature as the 8 dye sensitized solar cells replicate the process of photosynthesis used by plants. The dye replaces chlorophyll. Stylish, too.
Continuing on the energy theme (left) is the kinetic floor system. Essentially these are slabs that absorb the energy injected into them when one walks over them and converts it into electricity. Each slab flexes by 5mm – enough to create 5w of power. Seemingly, slabs on a highly walked-over area at peak time – say in the morning – can generate sufficient electricity to provide the street lighting in the evening for the walk back.
Moving on to the humble kettle. Normally we overfill them and waste energy in the process. This device, called Milto (right), is by Nils Chudy and Jasimina Grase which ‘re-imagines’ the kettle. This is a common ruse of designers, the ‘re-imagination’. It uses ‘induction technology’ similar to that employed in hobs on domestic cookers. The cup, teapot, or whatever is placed on the base and the rod inserted. It then heats the liquid and turns off when boiled. Extraordinary.
Three more designs are of note. First – and certainly one that is for me special if it reduces the use of animals in medical research – is the so-called, human-organs-on-chips experimental technology. It is the work of Donald Ingber and Dan Dangeun Huh. Ingber is a biologist at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard in the USA. Essentially they are computer chips with a piece of polymer lined with living human cells that mimic the tissue structure, function and mechanical motions of whole human organs. It seems perfectly feasible that this technology could be far superior to the animal models in its predictability and efficacy.
Second, is protocel footwear. The idea here is to create footwear that changes depending on the level of impact generated by different surfaces. Seemingly, protocels become semi-living substances through the manipulation of their chemical structure. It is the work of Shamees Aden who thinks that it could be possible for the shoes to create a layer of skin on the foot. Not yet the height of fashion, even in training shoes, but I can see the benefits.
And finally, the exhibition hall has a big board on which to display the votes of visitors for the best design. Leading by a country mile, and deservedly so, is the Daniel Project (right). It is what is says on the can – 3-D printing of prosthetics for people affected by conflict. It is the brainchild of Nick Abeling of a design studio called, appropriately, Not Impossible. Daniel lost both arms in an explosion when he was tending his cattle in South Sudan. They are now producing one arm a week and transforming the lives of amputees as a result. Though of course, getting rid of the munitions that cause the problem in the first place needs to be done as well.
I recommend this exhibition to all. And these are only a sample of the ideas.
The L&M brand is the summer winner in German cigarette advertising. Munich is blanketed with this idyllic image of four women enjoying the beach, two of whom are smoking. What can one say about the strapline? “Without extras and everything inclusive”, including chronic disease. Enjoy the peace and inclusivity whilst you can, I say.