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GermanyisWunderbar GermanyisWunderbar
GermanyisWunderbar January 2012

The worshipful igloo and other pilgrimage sites


Outsiders may perceive Germany as an overwhelmingly capitalistic, mechanistic society, so it is easy to forget quite how spiritual it can be, too. Over the new year, Germany-watchers (we know you’re out there!) will have spotted the news of the creation of a snow church on a hills above the eastern Bavarian village of Mitterfirmiansreut, near the Czech border, built in an era when most snow-bound constructions are all about generating huge wads of cash.

This non-commercial igloo was built in commemoration of when, 100 years ago, the villagers were so frustrated by their arduous winter journey to the nearest church to celebrate Mass, that they decided to build their own. Unfortunately, the current winter’s warm weather means that it doesn’t look like lasting long.

Other pilgrimage churches in rural locations in Gemany are more resistant to atmospheric change. The Basilica of the 14 Holy Helpers (the Vierzehnheiligen) for example, in farmland at Bad Staffelstein, north of Bamberg, was originally created following a series of visions of angelic children (the ‘holy helpers’) by a shepherd called Hermann (surely not Hermann ze German?!), back in 1445. Various buildings followed, and the current 18th century church is an extravaganza in rococo by Balthasar Neumann.

In a similar setting, and equally extraordinarily decorated internally, is the Church in the Meadow (Wieskirche) in the foothills of the Alps south of Munich, near the town of Füssen and the castle of Neuschwanstein.  It all started when a rudimentary carving of a whipped Christ, kept in a peasant’s barn, started to shed tears. As word spread, so did the need for a commensurate building to house the statue and all the visiting pilgrims. These days the resulting UNESCO-registered Wieskirche is often described as Germany’s foremost rococo masterpiece.

And finally, one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in all of Germany is in the little village of Altötting, 100km east of Munich. Here, a small chapel contains a statue of the Virgin Mary which is credited with reviving a drowned boy whose lifeless body was laid in front of it, back in 1489. The heart of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the builder of Neuschwanstein, also lies in a casket here.


The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm go to Hollywood


Suddenly, it seems, film-makers have discovered the brothers Grimm. Films based on their stories have been, or are being, made all over the place, and they’re not just getting the Disney treatment.

Red Riding Hood was re-made last year by Warner Brothers as a werewolf movie starring Gary Oldman; it didn’t do particularly well. Backers will be hoping for better results from this year’s release of Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Charlize Theron, where the original story has been given an unusual tweak. Another, more imminent (in UK in March) and rather zany re-telling of the same story is Mirror Mirror, the Untold Adventures of Snow White, with Julia Roberts as the evil queen, and featuring a troop of bandit dwarfs.   

And finally, for 2013, there’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a film by Norwegian film-maker Tommy Wirkola, where Hansel and Gretel ‘become a formidable team of bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world’. Hmm. Not sure Jacob and Wilhelm would have approved, although they would, of course, be multi-millionaires from the sale of film rights by now. Meanwhile they are the focus of the Fairytale Road, one of Germany's themed routes. 


Museums in Germany: from bananas to bog standard


Germany is home to some of the world’s greatest museums with millions of visitors each year flocking to the country’s cultural cities. But thanks to private enthusiasms it is also home to some of its quirkiest, too, in the country’s backwaters.

In the small town of Sierksdorf on the Baltic Coast, collector and artist Bernhard Stellmacher had dedicated his life to all things banana. The Bananenmuseum in the basement of his house is full of arty and kitschy banana objects. Stellmacher, who calls himself ‘Stelli Banana’ has assembled over 10,000 items from plush bananas to a Bananomat, the latter allegedly a relic from the former GDR; throw a banana in and get some coins out. The reason for his infatuation? For him, the banana is a highly symbolical object, and he even believes that it is the banana the Bible refers to in Adam and Eve’s ‘forbidden fruit’. 

Next, snoring. If you want to see how humanity has tried to fight nasal noises over the centuries, the small town of Alfeld in Lower Saxony is home to the Schnarchmuseum, snoring museum, where some of the items look positively Hannibal Lecterish. The museum is the private initiative of a doctor and somnologist who has collected exhibits from the 18th century until today. It is said to be the only museum worldwide of this kind.

Mousetraps and other curiosities fill the house of Gabriele and Karl-Heinz Knepper in Güntersberge in the Harz mountains. The couple is not satisfied with bog standard exhibits: apart from 400 mousetraps, their Mausefallen- und Kuriositäten-Museum features an extensive collection of toilets, chamber pots and everything related to the smallest room. Items include one of the oldest German water closets from 1850, children’s toilet chairs, some almost 200 years old, and also the first eco loo from 1900 that was filled with turf, used about half a dozen times and then thrown on the compost heap.

Needless to say, there are many more examples of unusual museums in Germany, from the Sneaker Museum in Cologne to the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, the Buddelschiffmuseum (museum for ships in a bottle) in Neuharlingersiel on the North Sea coast, to the Internationales Museum der Knöpfe (international buttons’ museum) in Warthausen in Upper Swabia. Yours to discover.


Masthead Images

Left to right, T top, B bottom: Black Forest gone blue, Achim Mende. Brandenburger Hof hotel. Schloss Lübbenau (T). Bundesliga, GNTB (B). Ski lift at Fichtelberg, Oberwiesenthal Tourism (T). Martin Luther (B). Chilled gnome, DZT (T). Rügen cliffs, GNTB (B). Cherry cake, pa (B). Berlin S-Bahn.

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