With the music festival over, Monday was our day to explore Naumburg properly.
We had our sights set on the cathedral, but on our way there, we visited a rather special plush toy shop, called Kösen. The are known for their highly realistic plush toys, and their toymakers sketch the animals from life, going to zoos or even overseas to find the animals in the wild and observe how they move. The toys are then designed based on these sketches – and (alas!) priced accordingly.
The shop was rather spectacular with highly realistic jungle animals, farm animals, and birds.
Not to mention a vampire bat with a very convincing Dracula cape…
We then dropped M at the station, as she was heading back to Mainz for a few days while A and I continued our journey.
Our next stop was the Naumburg Dom, which was absolutely magnificent. Sadly, photos are forbidden, which was truly a shame, because there were some amazing sculptures by a man known only as the Naumburg Meister. I don’t know how to do justice to his work.
Remember, first, that I am not a visual person and not usually particularly moved by or that interested in artwork, but I couldn’t look away from it. Our initial plan had been to spend an hour at the Cathedral – in the end, we spent the entire afternoon there. The Naumburg Meister’s work is absolutely compelling, because he didn’t carve icons, he carved people.
There were two sets of sculptures that I particularly liked. First, he had done a series of Passion carvings, showing all the stations of the cross, but giving them real emotion – the grief on Mary’s face in the Pieta is harrowing.
But where he really went to town was on the set of sculptures of the patrons of the church. They paid for his work, certainly, but they were not saints, and so this meant he could sculpt them how he felt about them. (I’m guessing many of them were dead by the time the sculptures were revealed, since he felt so free to express his opinions in stone).
So you have a knight hiding behind his shield from another knight (they fought in real life), and surreptitiously going for his dagger; you have a woman with a flirtatious smile, directed at everyone except her husband; and then another woman who has pulled her cloak half over her face to hide it from her husband, who apparently killed her brother and married her by force. (Her name is Uta, and she is a patroness of the town, and every so often they have a feast to which all people called Uta are invited.)
It is truly wonderful stuff, and if you ever find yourself near Naumburg, go, if you can. Your time will not be wasted.
But the Naumburg Meister wasn’t the only artist who had worked on this church. There was also a Romanesque crypt with a stunning crucifix of the Risen Christ that felt so ancient and gave me that sense of reaching back through time that comes with old ritual and shared belief. And, at the other end of the spectrum, there were new brass railings leading up to the choir, with Francis of Assisi and his animals on one side, and demons and Devils and monsters on the other, each carved gleefully and with personality.
The cathedral also has a cloister, and a garden, which I can show you, at least a little. There were ponds full of frogs, singing loudly, and we stopped to watch them.
We watched them for a long time.
Then A heard a sound that was all too familiar to her from her previous apartment – the call of a hungry owlet, waiting to be fed. So then we looked for owls in the trees, and found them at last, so very high up, and ridiculously fluffy.
I was still determined to get a good photo of the frogs…
We then went back home for a rest, before heading out for dinner in Freyburg, at a restaurant on the bank of the river called “Am Unstrut Wehr”.
We were late in arriving, and indeed wound up being the last people in the restaurant, but we were able to get a table right on the river, and quickly made friends with our waitress.
We decided to go with very traditional East German food, since this was clearly the place for it! Our waitress approved of this, and offered us a chance to try Ruttfassbrause, an iconic and very bright red drink that dates back to the DDR. It turns out that this is very much like Australian red lemonade, only without the fizz. It needs the fizz, as it turns out – neither of us were fans, but I understand that it is a big ‘Ostalgia’ thing. Our waitress very kindly did not charge us for it.
The most East German thing I could find on the menu that didn’t involve pork was venison with St John’s berry sauce, polsener mushrooms and Knödlen. The Knödeln were a mistake – my mistake. Knödeln are large, rather terrifying German dumplings, composed, as far as I can tell, of equal parts potato and glue. They are stodgy. They are an offense against the race of potatoes. I detest them. I know I detest them. And yet I continually order them because I confuse the word Knödel (which is related to the word gnocchi) with Nudel (which is related to the word noodle).
Fortunately for me, A had ordered a dish that came with boiled potatoes, and she loves Knödeln (hard to understand, since she really is one of the most brilliant people I know, but we all have our lapses in taste), so we did a swap.
But seriously, learn from my mistake. Don’t order Knödeln when you want Nudeln.
The venison and berries were great, the mushrooms good, though very creamy. A told me that what I had ordered was very traditional, Christmas food. This makes sense, as after eating it I had a strong urge to hibernate until Spring.
We went for a short evening walk instead.
But instead, we went home and packed, because we had another long drive ahead of us the next day.
Tuesday was our day for Leipzig, and it really was not enough time. Leipzig is where Bach spent much of his working life, and is also where A went to university, so it was a bit of a pilgrimage for both of us.
Leipzig was part of the old DDR, and when A was studying there, she tells me there were a lot of abandoned buildings, because people had left when the wall came down, but they have started coming back now. There is a Stasi museum, which we did not have time to visit, which is basically an old Stasi office left intact. One of its more disturbing features is the opportunity for Germans to look up their own Stasi files and see what was written about them (and, often, deduce from this who was spying on them). This does not sound like a recipe for social cohesian after reunification…
With only five hours to spend, we decided to leave the DDR for another day, and make Bach our focus.
We started at the Thomas Kirche, where he was the organist for many years, and composed many of his cantatas and oratorios. The moment we stepped inside, we were greeted by the sound of Bach being played on the new, baroque-style organ (there are two organs in the church, neither of them Bach’s, but the older one is 19th century and romantic in sound). There was Bach festival and competition coming up soon, and the competitors were practicing.
This was a lovely backdrop to our visit. The church itself is a bit Gothic, with the very German white walls and red-painted wood, but there are a few Baroque features too. (Alas, I am not a huge fan of Baroque architecture.) There is a Bach window, and one for Mendelssohn, another local lad, as well as a rather beautiful, modern post-war window.
And, at the front of the church, there is Bach’s tomb, which is always covered in flowers left there by grateful musicians.
There is a paper cross in the Thomas Kirche onto which people put their prayers and concerns. This started in 1989 as a prayer board during the Peaceful Revolution, and has been maintained, and is still added to even now. I really liked that.
We went for a walk and for lunch, paying attention to Baroque buildings and more East German houses with eyes.
There was a rather stunning shopping centre with pseudo-egyption friezes.
We also visited the Nicholas Kirche, a lovely gothic church on the outside which has been baroqued to the eyeballs on the inside. It’s apparently a very progressive church, and perhaps the pinko-greenie politics of the church are reflected in the painfully pink palls and green leaves inside. Photography was forbidden, presumably on the grounds of good taste, so you will have to imagine this for yourself.
And then we went to the toy shop run by the church, which employs disabled people as part of its mission, to make beautiful wooden toys. My niece did quite well out of this visit.
My friend showed me the university, including the building that was once part of a church, and which the very anti-religious DDR and its successor were determined to keep out of the hands of the theologians!
I had not been aware of just how anti-religion the DDR was. Apparently, at the age of 14, you would choose between confirmation and education. If you chose to be confirmed, there were only two study paths that you were permitted to take – you could become either a theologian or a musician. A told me about the daughter of one of her lecturers who, the day after the wall came down, through her violin into a corner, declaring ‘Now I don’t have to play anymore.’ Rather sobering.
We next visited the Bach museum, which was quite good. My favourite part was the room full of instruments where you could listen to Bach’s orchestral music. Beside each instrument was a little button, and a little light. The light came on whenever that instrument was playing in the music, and the button would allow you to turn up the volume on that instrument so that you could pick it out of the music more readily.
I also liked the room where you could listen to historical recordings of Bach’s music. I heard one recording of the opening chorus of the Matthauspassion, and it was unbelievably, almost comically slow. I did not listen to the whole thing – I’d probably still be there now…
We had been invited to dinner at the home of A’s friend who lived near Dresden with her family, so after the Bach museum, we got back onto the road, and arrived at their home by six. A’s friend is a pastor, and she and her husband have four children, the eldest of whom is A’s god-daughter. She has been learning English for about a year and is not, alas, very keen on it! But she practiced her interview skills on me, then showed me around the family’s garden and introduced me to the rabbits. I tried to be a useful English speaker and tell her what the various plants were called in English, but I fear I was very uninspiring! And there were definitely a few times when I am fairly sure we were having two unrelated conversations.
After dinner it was time for one last, shorter drive, this time into Dresden itself, and the City Oase hotel.
This is conveniently located on the bank of the Elba, and we went for a short night-time walk so that A could show me the night version of Dresden’s most famous view.
Then we returned to our room, rather grandly named the Schloss Pillnitz room.
Behold, the glory of this room.
We felt like princesses.
Little did we know the terror that awaited us the next morning…