06 July 2007

Day 9: Oberammergau–Andechs–Starnberg (Schloß Linderhof)

It was a day of Bavarian countryside (and an evil and misleading car guidance system) and improved weather as we trekked out in the rental car to Schloß Linderhof. When we returned to Starnberg in the early evening, mysteriously our car was loaded down with beer steins. It was a good day for gift purchasing, apparently.

Ah, Schloß Linderhof…the only of Ludwig II's castle projects that was completed in his lifetime, and the one where he spent the most time. While Schloß Neuschwanstein represents a Germanic fairy-tale dream, Linderhof is a fantasia on the French monarchy in the height of Absolutism. Placed in a beautiful forest valley, the castle appears as a miniature Versailles surrounded by terraced Italian gardens. Our tour took us through all the rooms, decorated in insanely overdone baroque style and packed with priceless decorations like a chandelier made entirely of Indian ivory. (And how many elephants died for that, Ludwig?) The king's dinner table lowered into the kitchen below on a pulley system so it could be lifted before his seat with the meal already laid out for him. Statues and portraits pay homage to the kings of the Bourbon Dynasty, principally Louis XIV, in every room. It's dazzling, but almost too much for the eye to take in at once, especially in the Room of Mirrors—a self-explanatory title.

Behold, I in my best Gap pose overlooking Schloß Linderhof:

Behind the gardens Ludwig had an artificial grotto constructed, the Venus Grotto, with a tiny lake and a swan boat where he could entertain guests and have Wagner's music performed by a private orchestra. As we walked into the grotto, where colored lights shine into every corner like a Disneyworld exhibit, speakers played out the overture to Tannhauser…and I immediately started into my best Elmer Fudd imitation: "Oh Bwoonhilde, be my wuv!"

After leaving the majesty of Linderhof, we drove to the nearest town, Oberammergau. This quintessential Bavarian village has a reputation as a "Christmas Town," and walking into a single one of their holiday stores is enough Christmas for three holiday seasons combined. The town has beautiful painted homes and stores, and every ten years it holds a Passion Play that lasts six hours and must be performed by people born in Oberammergau. We ate lunch at an excellent Italian eatery. Bavaria has superb Italian cuisine, some of the best I've tasted, because of its proximity to Italy.

The drive to our next location, Andechs, turned into a comical battle against technology: the sweet-voiced computer navigator seemed to send us in circles until we decided to ignore her. Finally, we arrived at Kloster Andechs, a hill that holds Germany's oldest church and a monastery famous he beer the monks brewed (they have to outsource it now because of demand). The church is small but ornately decorated. Legendary German composer Carl Orff—he of Carmina Burana fame—is buried in the church. An Orff-fest was happening that weekend in the town. We stopped for beer and humungous Bavarian pretzels at the popular Andechs biergarten. I had Apfelweiß, a mixture of apple cider and beer, which so far is best beer I've had in Germany. The view from the outside biergarten gives a spectacular vista of Bavarian farmland, as seen here:

I finally have started to understand the importance of the blue and white flag of Bavaria; it matches the cloud-fleeced sky of their sunniest days, and thankfully the day ended sunny at last.

Tonight I'm going to an Über-30 party at Undosa, the restaurant where we ate last night. Colleen says it's a great party, and many people she knows are going.