Film Review “Capital in the 21st Century”

I am usually an advocate of reading the book before the movie – or indeed of only reading the book and not spoiling it. But I haven’t yet been in the mood to delve into Thomas Piketty’s 570-page book analyzing the historical data on wealth and income, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. It does sound a bit dry.

So, this time, I jumped at the opportunity to watch the movie instead.

First observation: The film is anything but dry. It’s visually very appealing, much more than one would expect from an economics lecture. It blends historical footage, reenactments, excerpts from Hollywood movies, interviews and beautiful cinematography.

It’s an economic history of the last 230 years, since the French Revolution, always putting it into historical and political context. This provides a good overview and shows, counterintuitively perhaps, that both World Wars actually helped to fight inequality. After World War I, there was so much destruction and nothing to be gained by taxing the working class more that states finally had to tax the aristocracy. Workers and women, who had borne the brunt of the war, managed to attain a stronger role in society.

But it was only after World War II that social mobility became a real possibility. Only then did a middle class come into existence and the combination of growth and the welfare state offered a realistic chance to get ahead through hard work and study.

One reason this worked was that capitalism needed to serve the masses, not the few, because there was the alternative of communism. The competition between two economic and social models kept capitalism on its feet. But that competition came to an abrupt end in 1990.

And ever since, capitalism became unfettered, the rich became richer, they made the rules, they stopped paying taxes on large parts of their income, they were moving their assets around to evade taxation. Inequality has been growing to levels last seen a hundred years ago. In a few decades, we’ve lost all progress. Economically, in many countries, we are experiencing a quasi-feudal system, where inheritance largely determines one’s place in society, where the rich marry and mingle among each other, and the rest of society is toiling to make ends meet.

I found some of the historical lessons in the film too simplistic. For example, the role of reparations after World War I in bringing down the Germany economy is overstated. (Yes, the reparations burden was high, but Germany only paid a fraction of what was due.) And while poverty may have played (and continues to play) a role in the rise of fascism, this is by no means such a simple nexus. (In the US, extreme poverty led to the New Deal.)

But it still works because people want to believe in social mobility, against all facts and odds. Ironically, there is much more social mobility in societies that emphasize equality and have higher taxes (not least because you need good public services, especially education, for social mobility).

One eye-opening scene was the Monopoly Experiment done at UC Irvine. Participants were invited to play Monopoly (largely a game of luck, not of skill or wit), but the toss of a coin (luck again) determined that one of the two players got twice as much capital to start with, collected twice as much upon passing “Go”, and got to roll both dices instead of one. Now, that player knew that his position was only due to luck.

What happened? Not surprisingly, the player with all the privileges won. But what was surprising, and shocking even in some of the videos, was how cocky, mean, arrogant the privileged players became within minutes. They forgot almost immediately that it was merely a coin toss (like an inheritance or having rich parents) which had placed them in the privileged position. They seriously thought that they were better Monopoly players. As the psychologist says: “We translate the experience of being better off than others into thinking that we are better than other people.”

In summary, a movie well worth watching, and well worth thinking about it. But it doesn’t go into the necessary depth, and can thus only serve as a teaser for the book. Or for Mr Piketty’s new book, “Capital and Ideology”, another tome of 1150 pages. Too bad that there is a huge gulf of inequality between everything I want to read and the time I have.


Posted in Economics, Films, History | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Make use of autumn!

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.

Usually, my articles are months, years or even decades behind actual events. But today, there are a few photos from yesterday’s hike in Amberg-Sulzbach County in Germany to remind you: Take advantage of autumn while the sun is still warm and the leaves are still colorful!

Don’t worry about the early morning fog. Like many problems, it will simply go away by ignoring it.

The ruins of Hohenburg Castle are located in a US military training area, making it impossible to visit, unless you want to be accidentally shot or shipped to Guantanamo.

So let’s head in the other direction, while the sun is gaining strength.

Oh, the famous pilgrimage route of St. James passes by here as well.

The pilgrims have to be self-sufficient, collecting fruits and berries,

because the pubs along the route have long since closed. You can read more about this sad development in chapters 68 and 69 of my walk along King Ludwig Trail.

And swoosh, after about 30 kilometers, I am back home. It was almost too short.

Now, if you live on the southern hemisphere, you are in bad luck, of course, because you are having spring instead of autumn. Sorry!

If you live on the northern hemisphere, though, go out as much as you still can! There will still be enough time to work in winter. Or next year. Honestly, the gross national product is not that important.


Posted in Germany, Photography, Travel | Tagged , | 10 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 7) Füssen

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


The night was dry and without wind, thanks to the cabin. This time it was only chilly, not freezing cold.

Nevertheless, I could not fall asleep until after midnight. Probably because I had not walked enough yesterday. Less than 10 km, that’s really nothing. I could sleepwalk that.

If only I could sleep. It’s nice that there are benches in the hut, but 25 cm are so narrow that I’m afraid to fall each time I turn. The blanket is not big enough to keep me warm me from above and underneath at the same time. As you know, I don’t have a sleeping bag. Each time I turn in order to distribute the pain evenly all over my body, my whole skeleton wants to break apart.

At times I have thoughtlessly used the term “homeless” for my existence, but I have no idea how real homeless people can endure this every night. It’s only getting colder from now on. And the country is not exactly dotted with cabins. Then, there is the social stigma. It’s really absurd: When I say that I am on a hike and that I will sleep outside if necessary, people invite me into their houses (chapters 14 and 15, chapter 33, chapters 46 and 52, chapter 58) and listen to my stories. If someone is poor and sleeps outside out of necessity, no one invites him or her in, and people look the other way.

At 3:30 a.m. the limbs and bones are hurting unbearably, even when I lie still. Months later, I will still feel the permanent damage, and thus, this very 45th birthday night marks the zenith of my life. From now on, I am on the downhill slope, at least physically. If I won’t discover the Holy Grail, then the decay is unstoppable.

Sleep is no longer an option. So I pack my things and set off into the darkness instead of sitting around, freezing pointlessly. The full moon is shining, as far as the clouds give way, and Wies Church is not far. Walking is good for the joints.

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A full moon is completely sufficient as a lantern, by the way. For all I care, there was no need to invent electricity.


And what a sight it is: As the first person on this day, all alone, I see the most famous church of Bavaria under the full moon.

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It is said to be “the most light-rich of all German baroque churches of the 17th/18th century”, a “miracle of light and space”. Yet it is not even illuminated properly. This honor is only given to the cash machine opposite. A few windy lanterns stand around the church and confuse the sundial attached to the southern wall.

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There is a fox again, this time completely in black. It flits off in the direction of Wies Church, unsettled by a walker outside the regular visiting hours.

I turn the corner, and it sits there, as if teasing me.

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Oh. So maybe the fox from the day before yesterday (chapter 78) was also a large cat.


It is 4:30 a.m. The church does not open until 8 o’clock. How something can become a UNESCO world heritage site with such lousy opening hours is beyond me. I am not going to stick around in the cold that long. The restaurant, which tempts me with currywurst on the menu, will hardly open sooner.

So I move on.

Because that’s how cool I am. Walking 100 km and then not making a big fuss about a UNESCO world heritage site. Anyway, we have seen enough churches on this hike. And if you want to see Wies Church from the inside, here is a photo from Wikipedia and the link to the virtual tour.

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But now, I feel more like continuing the walk in the full moon, into the rising sun. I have the whole road to myself, and soon the birds are singing from all directions.

Looking back, one can glimpse the sun rising behind the church.

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After about two hours of bad sleep and without any food since yesterday’s Hans-in-Luck chocolate, I shouldn’t really be able to walk at all, but from Schober onward, the view to the Alps opens up. The finish line is near!

It was the right decision to pause the walk for the rainy yesterday.


Below Unterreithen, the sun finally wins against the clouds. I lie down on a bench by the wayside to catch up on sleep. Passing dogs nudge me curiously. A group of cyclists stops to admire the view and to take pictures. When I sit up, their leader apologizes for having woken me up. Another one compassionately inquires if I don’t feel cold. But the sun is a warming relief.

And the cyclists are right to admire the view, especially here. For the first time, I catch sight of the final destination of the hike.

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Can you see it?


I could hike another 20 km and tell you about meadows and cows and clouds and stuff, but I notice that the readers are drawn to the fairytale castle. Besides, the trail would lead through some swamps and bogs, and ever since chapter 6, I am terribly afraid of snakes. So, once I reach Trauchgau, I stick out my thumb next to the road leading directly to Füssen.

Instead of a car, bus no. 72 stops, which is not as free as my previous rides, but because it stopped just for me, I afford myself the luxury. It’s worth the trip, because the bus driver gives me a panoramic tour around Lake Forggen, with stunning views. He goes through small and picturesque villages where no one gets on the bus, because in this beautiful weather everyone is on the bike.

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It is like landscape cinema. Idyllic!

Later, I will read in the local newspaper that yesterday, a man stabbed his ex-wife to death on one of these buses. They call it a “relationship drama” because the tabloids do not know how to spell femicide. Or because it is easier to focus on the perpetrator’s origin than to mention that men are by far the most dangerous group in our country. Almost half of all women murdered in Germany die at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.


The closer we get to Füssen, the more I see that inner-German tourism is booming. On the cycle paths, cyclists get in each other’s way. The campgrounds are fully occupied. Spontaneous travellers are driving around frustrated because they don’t find a place to recharge their vehicle.

A month ago, I was in Lisbon, on the way back from my Corona virus exile, and there I was sometimes the only person around, even in the most well-known places of the city.

Hence, I thought there would be very little going on in provincial Bavaria.

What an error. Füssen is full of people. The streets are full, the buses are full, the cafés are full, the ice cream parlors are full. This is bad news for me, because I didn’t book anything, neither accommodation nor castle. How could I? After all, I didn’t know how fast or slow I would progress. In Füssen, none of the Couchsurfing hosts whom I contacted did reply, strangely enough.

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Therefore, I have to use the Alpine Lake for washing and shaving myself, probably violating some exaggerated laws.

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Ahhh, after the bath I feel fresh and attractive again. Cold water in the morning is more important than a bed at night.

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Looking handsome again, I dare to enter the tourist information office.

“Do you still have tickets for the castles?”

“We’re out of tickets, and everything is sold out online.”

“Oh no! I walked more than 100 km to get here.”

That softens the lady a bit: “If you get up early, you can try to get a ticket tomorrow. Take bus no. 73 or 78 to Hohenschwangau, and there you go to the ticket center.” She marks everything on a map while patiently explaining what she probably explains a hundred times a day in English, German, Spanish and French. “They open at 8 a.m., and if there are any tickets left, that’s where you get them. For Hohenschwangau Castle there are usually still some available.”

Poor Hohenschwangau Castle, always taking a back seat to Neuschwanstein Castle. At least you and me will get to know that one.

“And since you are a good hiker,” the Fräulein adds cheerfully, “you can also just walk around the castles if you won’t get any tickets. That’s much more beautiful anyway.”

She then arranges a room for me in a hostel for 40 € per night, plus 2.20 € tourism tax. For that small tax, one can use all busses and even the train for free, which is a pretty good deal. I think it’s also a good way to deal with illegal AirBnB apartments, at least if tourists know that they will be deprived of free bus rides there. If you think you are modern and use the internet instead of walking into the tourist office, you might miss out on that information.


If this hike was too short for you, you need not despair: The tourist information office has all kinds of suggestions for those who want to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk a few hundred more kilometers.

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Only 966 km to Mount Triglav in Slovenia, that sounds tempting. At my current pace, I would get there in two months.


In the very centrally located Bavaria City Hostel, I am trying to bridge the time I need to fill in the registration form by asking about the number of visitors this summer.

“It’s really bad. Everything is packed,” says the woman, as if she doesn’t make a living from it. “Only the chinks are staying away this year.”

If it wasn’t for my facemask, she would stare into my open mouth, breathless because of this racist choice of words. Why does someone like that work in tourism?

And it is not the only time I hear something like this. A teacher friend of mine was in Berlin a month ago and was happy that “this year, there were no Japs”.

Later, in August, on the anniversary of the nuclear bombs being dropped, a friend will say about Neuschwanstein: “Very pretty place indeed, apart from the vast number of Japanese.”

Is the open racism against Asians due in part to the Corona virus? Or do people look for another target because racism against blacks is no longer socially accepted?

When I confront them about it, they say that they don’t mean it that way and that there are really many tourists from Asia. So what? If a castle is overrun, it doesn’t matter whether the visitors come from Tokyo or from Toronto. Maybe the castles simply sell too many tickets? And why are foreign tourists in Germany a nuisance, but Germans can besiege the beaches around the Mediterranean? The complaints about “too many tourists” usually come from people who are touristing themselves at the same place.


In Füssen too, people make the mistake of their life and get married. As a metaphor for their future, this couple has chosen some ruins as the location for their farewell-to-freedom party.

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The groom looks stealthily and enviously to me, lying in the meadow, my backpack as a pillow, my shoes removed, and a cigar in my mouth. And for a moment, he dreams of a life in which nobody tells him not to smoke. Of a life in which no one prohibits him from lying in the meadow because it allegedly gives you tuberculosis. Of a life in which no one bullies him because he does not want to work or buy a house. Of a life in which his phone won’t ring and he won’t be reproachfully asked why he hasn’t come home yet. Of a life in which surprises, imponderables and adventures are something positive. In short: of a real life.

Well, too late, young man. Soon you’ll be pushing the baby carriage through the small town, bent and broken.


The small town itself might get bouts of depression, too. Because although it is quite charming, visitors from Asia and all over the world only come here because of the two royal castles in the neighboring town of Schwangau. In fact, Füssen itself seems well worth a visit as well.

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But first, I have to catch up on pizza and sleep.


Tomorrow we will finally get to the castles, I promise!


Posted in Germany, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Holy Ghosts of the Azores

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.

“Close to 90% of Azoreans are Catholics”, the otherwise very detailed travel guide about the Azores claims, believing that this settles the matter. But those who know the Christian world from their own travels or from my theologically well-founded blog know that Catholic is not the same as Catholic.

And when you walk across the island of Faial, you start to doubt the strong position of the Catholic Church. Its buildings are in ruins. The people do not pay any attention to the churches. Only trees are populating them, and horses graze on the former church grounds. Sometimes, if you look careful enough, you see an old man spitting out as he walks past the religious ruins.

The rest of the world believes that the Church has considerable influence in Southern Europe (beginning in Bavaria). And if you look at the colorful processions for every tiny little saint’s birthday in Puglia or on Malta, there is something to it.

I had expected similar spectacles in the Azores, especially for Easter, the supposedly highest festival in the annual liturgical cycle, although the materialists among Christians pay more attention to the end-of-year gift-giving festival.

But even for Easter, the church doors remained shut.

My curiosity grew, almost as relentless as a priest’s criminal record. But he at least has the possibility to absolve himself and – after being transferred to a new parish – to start again from scratch. I, however, was forced to get to the bottom of the matter, not least because I felt the inquisitive readership urging me on.

And thus began my quest.

Even the people who know everything else, where and when which ship sank, what kind of whales are to be hunted in which month for what purpose, which bananas are edible and which chestnuts are not, where the best tobacco grows, what percentage of energy demand is supplied by windmills, who will win the next mayoral election and why Pedro came home so late on Tuesday, even these know-it-alls always answered my questions with: “I don’t really know much about religion”, and then suddenly had to leave urgently for a meeting or go out to sea again.

It seemed to be a taboo, like asking “and, what did you do in the war?” in Yugoslavia. Readers must remember that I was a stranger on the island and could not lock my front door. So, I did not want to make myself too unpopular. Many curious reporters have never returned from islands. Egon Erwin Kisch was only able to save himself through a courageous jump onto a ship.

In Yugoslavia, I had learned that alcohol loosens the tongues. So, off to the bar. I vaguely remembered that after Easter, Pentecost, the theologically more complicated and therefore less popular festival, was coming up. After the third glass of passion fruit liquor, I dared to ask whether Pentecost would be a normal working day.

“If you are not with the Brotherhood, you have to go to work like any regular day, I suppose,” one of the men said sarcastically.

“Which Brotherhood?” I was about to ask, but just in time I saw how the other one clasped the bloody steak knife as tightly as if he wanted to dagger the traitor. His gaze was darker than a thunderstorm front coming over from Mexico, about to unload in all its fury and ferocity.

I am more of a sunny than of a thunderstormy disposition, so I quickly put the few escudos for the drinks on the table and left. I hadn’t achieved much, except the reference to a Brotherhood, but I had missed the last bus.

As I tottered out of the tavern, I noticed for the first time that next to the bar, there was a kind of chapel. Painted bright yellow, decorated with a white royal crown, enthroned on which was a dove. And a cross on the roof, so it was something Christian. But no tower, no bells and no opening hours. And the door was locked. That was strange, because on Faial, nobody locks anything.

It couldn’t be the local church, because that one was next door, as abandoned as all the churches in the Azores.

An elderly gentleman, who must have noticed my questioning looks, walked over from across the street and explained: “This is the Império do Divino Espírito Santo, the Empire of the Divine Holy Spirit”, which I thought was a rather flowery description for a small chapel.

“Is this the new church?” I asked, pointing my head towards the old and destroyed building.

“Oh no”, the old man laughed. “The Empire of the Holy Spirit has absolutely nothing to do with the Church.”

I looked puzzled.

“It is the Brotherhood who takes care of the Empire.”

Now, I was fascinated.

But at that point, the two men with whom I had been drinking came out of the bar.

“The Holy Ghost is omnipresent. He sees everything. He knows everything,” slurred the more drunken of the two when he saw me in front of the temple.

The less drunk of the two wanted to pull his buddy to the car.

“We keep nothing secret from the Holy Ghost,” yelled the first one.

“The Brotherhood,” the old man cautioned me, “has existed for over 700 years. It is difficult to understand in one day.”

“Especially when the brothers are drunk,” I thought, but said nothing.

“I wish you a safe journey home,” said the old man and turned around. In Portuguese, the sentence sounded almost like “Be careful not to stumble into a volcano and vanish into infernal purgatory.”

What followed were weeks of research in libraries, roaming around in ruins, countless conversations in probably every pub on the island, and of course the search for the Temples of the Holy Spirit, of which there were even more than pubs. I got deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of mysterious secret societies and theological theory. For a few months, my life was like a Robert Langdon novel. Only without Audrey Tautou.

In order not to unduly shock the readers who are confronted with a completely new topic here, I will shorten the research, leave out the detours and dead ends, and concentrate on the hard facts. In particular, we will ignore the rumor that the disciples of the Holy Ghost are really the guardians of the Holy Grail.

On the northeast coastal road, there is this temple, also in pretty yellow. On the gable, there are the dove and the crown, symbols of the Holy Spirit and the Royal Court. Opposite is a small store, in front of which a few young people held a noisy meeting for lack of any other venue (or because they had been kicked out elsewhere).

I purchased a cold drink and mingled unsuspiciously with the young crowd. Neither musically nor phenotypically did they seem to be the local intelligentsia. So, I felt like I didn’t have to mince my words, but could come straight to the point.

“Do any of you know what that yellow building over there is?”

“Sure, old man.” The latter is an expression of respect in Portuguese, used for people whose name one doesn’t yet know.

The boy in a hoodie seemed talkative, quite the opposite from the Brotherhoodies, so I let him talk.

“There’s a big party every year. We slaughter an ox, and then we have a fancy feast. Everyone is invited. First, there’s soup, then some sweet bread, then steak.”

“And it’ s like this every week,” another one added.

“Exactly. From Easter to Pentecost.” Only this year, because of the Corona virus, the kitchen remained cold and the ox stayed alive.

“And every weekend there is a procession, with the Emperor taking home the crown.”

I had to ask: “Who is the Emperor?”

“That’s the oldest one in the Brotherhood.”

“Bullshit,” someone intervened, “my brother was Emperor last year, and he is only 14.”

Whew, this was becoming more and more obscure.

“Well, maybe in Almoxarife. Here, it’s always the old folks doing it.”

“In our village, a different Emperor is elected each time. But they are often young boys. They have to walk around with the crown every Sunday and have to listen to speeches and stuff. It sucks.”

“But you get a lot of cake.”

“Fuck the cake, man, I’m gonna get another beer.” With that, he went into the store.

I myself would have been very receptive to cake, but I still had many questions.

“What does all of this have to do with the Holy Spirit?” I wanted to know.

“How on Earth should I know,” he replied, as if I had asked for next week’s lottery numbers.

I refused the drugs they offered and left. I had not really understood the cult, but then, I would not have received theological explanations from young people elsewhere if I had asked about the background of Hanukkah or Corpus Christi.

This is roughly the level of information that is publicly available. Everywhere, I heard of festivals, of parades, of sacrificed oxen, of soup for everyone, of processions, of music, and of a crown, which is sometimes kept here, sometimes there, and ceremonially carried around in between.

It soon dawned on me that the custom is celebrated differently in every village and indeed differently in each Empire in larger municipalities. Sometimes, the Emperor is elected, sometimes a child is chosen, often drawn by lot. In addition to the emperors, there were also Mordomos, Foliões, Trinchantes, Briadores, Copeiros and Aguadeiros, whose titles are difficult to translate because they fulfill a different function in each Empire. In any case, there are enough jobs so that no one is left empty-handed. And the women have to cook.

There are no written rules, everything is handed down orally.

Over hundreds of years.

And if the Azores were not so far away from Europe, especially from Rome, rendering them safe from the Inquisition and the Catholic Church, then here too, in their last refuge, there would be no more Brothers of the Holy Ghost. And the Holy Grail would be lost forever.

Only here, on these nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic, on the volcanic peaks of sunken Atlantis, true faith has survived. Speaking of Atlantis: You can see this very clearly in Farrobim, where the temple with the most beautiful view is located. One looks towards the neighboring island of Pico and the highest mountain of the Atlantic Ocean.

Only the self-confidence of those who know more than anyone else can explain the modesty that is evident in little temples like this one. “Let the Catholics build golden churches and cathedrals, they are on a wrong path”, the Azorean Brothers are thinking.

Autonomy from the official church hierarchy is very important for the Brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit. They have nothing to do with the Catholic organizational structure. Between the faithful and the divine, they see no need for intermediaries. As you can see from the telephone cables, they believe in a direct connection with God.

If the Catholic Church does build a church or has to rebuild it because the locals burned it down (note the quadruple date on the example below), the Azoreans make it clear by the location of the nearest Empire which cult ranks higher in the local hierarchy.

In some villages, the local Catholic priest is invited to celebrate mass or bless the food at the Holy Spirit ceremony, but everything is done by invitation of the Emperor (or the Mordomo or the Trichante). It is rather a public relegation of the Church’s representative.

But what is the Vatican supposed to do? As the Georgian theologian Joseph Dzhugashvili once remarked, the Pope has no divisions. And certainly no ships, the Azoreans would add. If the priest does not cooperate, he is completely ostracized. If he revolts, he disappears by an unfortunate accident.

Moreover, with its three-hypostasis hypothesis, the Catholic Church itself laid the foundation for the worship of the Holy Spirit, as I learned in a very enlightening conversation with three priests who were temporarily unemployed because of the Corona pandemic and whom I met in the bar at the end of the world. They spoke quite openly with me, probably because they had already consumed a lot of high-proof spirits that day.

“Veneration of the Holy Spirit dates back to the 13th century…”, Father Moreno was about to begin, but Father Castanho interrupted him:

“In Portugal. In France, the Ordre du Saint-Esprit was already established in 1160.”

“Of course in Portugal. We are in Portugal here, aren’t we?” Father Moreno asked back, somewhat combative.

Father Castanho put on an apologetic smile before countering: “Saint Elizabeth was Princess of Aragon before she became Queen of Portugal.”

“She was the wife of Dionysus,” exclaimed Father Marrom enthusiastically. “Let’s have some wine!”

I had to drink with them.

In any case, when Queen Elizabeth moved from Spain to Portugal, she was shocked by the extreme poverty. (This was before Portugal joined the European Union.) She founded a food bank, which distributed unused food, of which there is usually plenty in a royal court, to the poor. The logo of this institution became the royal crown and the dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

To mock the poor, the queen placed the crown on their heads at Pentecost. This is the origin of both the custom of public food serving and the coronation of non-kings at the Holy Ghost festivals.

“As always with Christian rituals, there is a pre-Christian history”, Father Castanho sighed, and only the pride in his knowledge could keep the despair about the lack of his own religion’s originality somewhat in check. “The Greeks also had an ox sacrifice, the buphonia, where meat was distributed to the poor.”

“After all, Pentecost is nothing else but Shavuot,” Padre Moreno added, and all three stared sadly into their empty glasses.

“One caipirinha, please!” ordered Father Marrom.

“This is already your fourth today,” the bartender admonished him.

“Four is a holy number,” declared Father Marrom solemnly, and the mood at the theologians’ table cheered up as they enumerated evidence for this assertion.

“Four evangelists.”

“Four archangels.”

“Four rivers in the Garden of Eden.”

“Four patriarchal basilicas in Rome.”

“Four horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

How good that I had made the lucky clover full by joining them.

“But actually,” said Padre Moreno, who had realized that I was looking for serious information, “the cult of the Empire of the Divine Holy Spirit goes back to millenarian mystic Christians, especially the Joachimites.”

Laypeople always imagine that conversation in a foreign language is more complicated the more abstract the subject is. The opposite is the case. Words like premillennialism, dispensationalism or eschatological messianism are actually the same in every language. Only the endings and the pronunciation are a bit different. But from words such as bread, table or black pudding, one can never deduce their counterparts in a foreign language. That’s why I can discuss constitutional law in other languages, but I cannot read menus.

Thus I learned that the worship of the Holy Spirit dates back to Joachim of Fiore, a millenarian prophet who divided history into three ages in accordance with Trinity. After the Age of the Father (Old Testament) and the Age of the Son (New Testament), the Age of the Holy Spirit was to begin in 1260. The Holy Spirit would make the hierarchy of the Church superfluous, and people would return to original Christianity. This Third Age, unfortunately also called the Third Empire or Third Reich, was to last a thousand years, and now you know where the Nazis got their terminology from.

Like any prophet who does not want to make a fool of himself, Joachim died well before 1260. Despite his passing away, he still found followers, the Joachimites. The spiritual current of the Franciscans took up the teaching at first, but Pope Alexander IV banned it. To be on the safe side, he did so in 1256, four years before the prophesied date. That’s convenient, if you can simply forbid the future.

On the continent, the Joachimites were exterminated with typical Catholic rigor, but coincidentally, the spiritual Franciscans were among the first settlers of the Azores. And so it happened that these islands were the only safe retreat for the Joachimite doctrine and have remained so until today.

Whether the people who get free soup or walk home with the crown are aware of all this, I do not know.

“By the way, Joachim von Fiore did have one advocate in the Vatican,” concluded Father Moreno. “If you read the article on Joachim of Fiore in the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, you will most certainly recognize the author. Back then, his name was still Joseph Ratzinger.”

“But only in the second edition of 1960,” Padre Castanho added. “When the third edition was published in 1996, he was already Prefect of the Inquisition Department. He was already making a career for himself.”

“And when the old essay resurfaced in 2013, he had to resign as pope. That was the real reason,” Father Moreno said sorrowfully.

“Benedict XVI was from Bavaria,” beamed Father Marrom, untouched. “Let’s have a round of beer!”

I had learned enough – and drunk more than enough – and said goodbye with many thanks. On the way home, I noticed the cross with the three bars at the temple in São Pedro. The papal cross. So, the three priests had told the truth.

However, and this also shows that the different Empires are completely independent from each other, this was the only temple on Faial with this symbol. Some have simple crosses on the roof, some have the dove, some have the crown, some have a crown with a dove.

And in some cases, the flag was flying, which probably meant that the crown was in the house. Or that a draw was being held to decide who would be the next Emperor. Or that they were deliberating who would be admitted to the Brotherhood.

Oh yes, the Brotherhood, I hadn’t really learned much about it yet.

Have you noticed that if you combine the names of the two Azorean islands Graciosa and Faial, the word “Graal” comes up, Portuguese for grail? Well, if that ain’t no holy hint…

Soon, I realized that no one wanted to talk to me about the Brotherhood in the presence of others. Apparently there is a code of silence, like with the Carthusians and the Mafiosi. I wandered around the island several times, stopping inconspicuously at the Empires again and again, and sometimes met a single brother who carelessly uttered a few words, thinking: “This strange German looks like a stranded pirate, he will forget everything anyway until he gets home.” Anyone who wants to do research must hide his light under a bushel – contrary to the recommendation of brother Jesus in Matthew 5:15.

The brothers, whose tongues became loose, attached importance to the fact that in the fraternity, everyone has the same rights and duties. “From cowherd to count,” as one said. But perhaps this is only the case in the small villages, because in the island capital of Horta I found an “Empire of Nobles”

and an “Empire of Workers” below the old fish processing factory.

No, wait. This flag belongs to another story about Horta.

I never found out how to become a member of the Brotherhood.

“That’s different in every village,” was the standard statement.

“How about in this village?”

“Well, if you don’t want to, nobody can force you.”

And that was it. More information could not be gleaned from anyone.

But I do have another explosive piece of information for you: During World War II, megalomaniac Germany had a plan to conquer the Azores, code-named “Operation Isabella”. Germany’s plans for expansion in Europe, North Africa and Asia coincided exactly with the map of all the presumed hiding places of the Holy Grail. Certainly no coincidence…

Towards the end of my research and because I realized that this story is very male-dominated, I met a woman in front of an Empire on the south coast, whom I also asked about the purpose of the building.

“Oh, this is for the men. They are playing cards there.”

“But,” I stammered, “I thought it was about the Holy Ghost? About the Brotherhood?”

She looked at me aghast: “You must not believe everything that people tell you.”


Posted in Azores, History, Photography, Portugal, Religion, Travel | Tagged , | 7 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 6) Walden

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


The birthday begins, and this is a fitting metaphor for my whole life, with me oversleeping.

Rottenbuch has, not surprisingly for the area, a pretty church and a monastery. For once, the convent seems to be active, as shy nuns are scurrying across the town square with its huge trees.


Only a wedding ceremony in front of the townhall disturbs the idyll by propagating the Bavarian cliché of dirndls and lederhosen.

Yesterday, Christina and Cordula told me that this cow-skinning kitsch is even sold in the northern Hanseatic cities during Oktoberfest time. At Aldi.

Speaking of Aldi, many people don’t know that despite German reunification 30 years ago, there is still Aldi North and Aldi South. Like in Korea. It’s because their separation goes back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. But this article certainly does not suffer from too few historical digressions, which is why it is hereby abruptly discontinued like a special offer prohibited by the Federal Competition Authority, who swiftly filed for an injunction.

However, please allow a personal explanation, which, it can be assumed, will not take long to cut the corner back to history. When I disclose, or when people find out some other way, that I am from Bavaria, I am often asked if I wear lederhosen. “NO!” is the emphatic answer.


Let me explain:

First, for aesthetic reasons. Shorts are okay for children, for sports and maybe for mailmen. Otherwise, this bad habit, adopted from the Afrika Korps, is plain wrong.

Second, I don’t exactly associate lederhosen with the Intelligentsia, to put it mildly. At least I never hear guys in lederhosen, almost always with a beer bottle in their hands, discussing decolonization or Pierre Bourdieu, although the latter would be quite interesting in this context. I think these are rather unsophisticated folks who enjoy watching football. This may be a prejudice, even an unjustified one in certain cases, but I see no reason to disfigure and spoil my habitus like that.

Third, the Bavarian garments as they are worn today, especially the oversexualized dirndls, are a remnant from National Socialism. You don’t believe that? Then read or listen about it.

But when I was a child, I too was forced to wear such stupid pants:

My parents have not apologized until this day.


In the church, there is a stamp that can be pressed into a pilgrim’s passport. When you mail in the fully stamped passport, you get a pilgrim’s trophy or something like that.

And, so I have heard, in some hostels you get neither admission nor accommodation without a pilgrim’s card. This seems to me not only bureaucratic and unchristian, but also unfair. Because sometimes you pass through a village at a time of day when all churches, monasteries and other places with stamps are closed.

“How does it work with the Way of St. James?” I have to ask the more experienced readers. Is such a stamp card really a requirement for accommodation?


In the bread and pastry shop, there are very fine things on both sides. Because it’s my birthday, I treat myself to a bar of chocolate. There are several on offer, all with different fairytale motifs. I choose the one with “Hans in Luck”, because luck is what I need. And the fable about achieving happiness through overcoming material possessions somehow suits my life.

As I step out of the bakery, I spot a cute little bunny. There it is already, the sweet little luck.


Under the big trees, I settle down for a while. As in so many villages along the trail, my gaze falls on a monument to the locals who didn’t find the way back from the wars.

These villages are not big, maybe a hundred or two hundred houses. But on the obelisks, there are often more than 50 names of men who now contaminate the groundwater at Verdun, Ypres, Uman or El-Alamein. Fortunately, they came from a region where they only consumed beer brewed according to the Purity Law.


Over these heavy thoughts, the clouds are getting dark.

Not having come very far yesterday, I want to walk at least 20 km to Trauchgau today. Halfway there is Wies Church, one of the highlights of the hike, as acknowledged by UNESCO.

Because there is the threat of rain, I try hitchhiking. (On one’s birthday, one shouldn’t march oneself to death, like the men on the monument in the middle of the village.) But it doesn’t work. Dozens of cars, but nobody stops. Strange, because I look rested and clean. And Rottenbuch had made such a nice impression. It suffers with every driver who ignores me until I curse the place and wish a hellish thunderstorm upon it.

Not even the chocolate gives me hitchhiking luck. Bitter and depressed, I have to move on by foot. But the views are truly wonderful.

Sometimes, Bavaria does indeed look like a fairytale. These cows probably provided the milk for the chocolate I’m enjoying at the moment.


The next village is Wildsteig.

Below the church, there is an artificial grotto, dug for saints and Mary and Jesus and such. Two construction workers are occupying it now for their lunch break. Goats are grazing the steep slope below the church.

Apart from that, there is nothing happening here.

The war memorial, which is enormous for this small village, suggests that a large part of the population is indeed dead or missing.

The occasions on which the men of the village got on horseback, on bicycle and on the train to conquer the wide world are meticulously listed: Austrian campaign 1800-1809, Prussian campaign of 1807, Russian campaign of 1812, French campaign of 1813, German-German war of 1866, German-French war of 1870-1871, World War I, World War II. Finally, the fallen of the Bundeswehr, although I am not sure whether the contemporary German Army sees itself in such a line of tradition.


The church in Wildsteig also offers a pilgrim’s stamp and a guest book. I browse curiously and discover a lot of blah-blah, just like in the poetry albums in elementary school and on Facebook. A woman signed her entry about clouds and happiness with “Uta Hahn, poetess”, rather immodestly.

What is clearly missing here is some constructive criticism. I can help with that:

Witnessing the wealth of the churches around here, one longs for another round of secularization, preferably to set up affordable hostels for hikers,

I add.


Sometimes the way markings of the King Ludwig Trail are not sufficient. Or I overlook them because I am exhausted or distracted. Furthermore, I forgot to bring my glasses.

“You want to go to the Wies?” a woman calls out of the window.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then you’re going the wrong way. You have to turn left and walk down that way.”

“Oh, thank you very much!”

That was really nice.


But the clouds are becoming darker and more threatening.

My thunderstorm curse (chapter 98) worked. And then, like all cursing, it backfired, because now the thunderstorm is chasing me.

And all this while I’m walking down a dirt road in open country instead of under the protection of the dense German forest.

But there is something ahead: A chapel! Faster!

Oh. With my luck, this one chapel was constructed in violation of the building law regulations for chapels next to hiking trails, offering no canopy to protect from the rain. Somebody wanted to save some money, it seems. And it’s pouring like in Genesis 7:11.

But then I read the note next to the doorknob: “Turn knob to the left.” It works, and I enter the sanctuary. It is small, very small, because a grating blocks access to the pews and to the altar. Together with my rucksack, I fill out the small anteroom completely. If other walkers will seek shelter, we will have to stand like candles in a chapel.

The rain is pelting against the door, the roof, the windows. It is a deluge that would have thoroughly ruined my day and my mood if I hadn’t just passed the Trinity Chapel in Holz.

There is a brochure “Church in Need” in the chapel, and for once, the title is fitting. Maybe my comment in the guest book of the church in Wildsteig (chapter 100) was too ungrateful after all, and I should be thankful for the open doors.

Hans in Luck!


After about half an hour the downpour is over. Due to my own measly financial situation, I only throw a few poor coins into the donation box and move on.

But not for long, because the sky dims and darkens again. After the last rain it is hard to believe, but there is still water up there. And that water wants to descend to Earth, probably because of this stupid gravity thing.

Should I return to the protecting chapel?

No. Forwards always, backwards never! And once I reach Wies Church, I can take shelter again. I am leaving the marked hiking trail because I think I see a shortcut through the forest on the map.

I am not even deterred by the gallows standing at the side of the path.

Oh, that’s for the vultures who are picking up the dead here.

I sneak on as quietly as possible.


Out there, always expect the unexpected: Out of the fog emerges a refuge, as if placed there by fate. A proper spacious cabin, with roofed benches in front of the house, where I settle down immediately, because it has started raining again.

There is also a guestbook, but only few visitors seem to stay here. The last detailed entry is from June 5th, one month ago:

Pascal Perkams & Henning Beckhoff had a wonderful night in this rustic hut after several weeks of touring the Alpine landscape in five gears. By candlelight, the two men remembered past journeys like “Down to Greece” or “Onekickonly” and philosophized about the meaning of life. Ever critical of capitalism, they were grateful for this night in the absence of any civilization.

The capitalism-critical colleagues did not leave any candles, but when I enter the hut and spot a writing desk, the decision is made: I will stay here.

I take Henry David Thoreau’s book from the backpack and can hardly believe my luck. On my birthday and without looking for it, I have stumbled upon the Walden cabin.

Hans in Luck!

Instead of a pond, there is a cow pasture behind the cabin, and the cows are quite curious.

A heartfelt thanks to Farmer Neu from Morgenbach, who made his property and the cabin accessible to the public, and to Leonhard Hitzl and Johann Niggl, who constructed it. You guys saved my night, because that one would have been rather uncomfortable outside.


I am still a long way from the destination I had planned for today, but you don’t give up on such a great place to sleep. Especially because it is still raining, only briefly interrupted by rainbows.

If I moved on, I would only get soaking wet, angry and sick. I’d rather stay in the cozy cabin.

The wooden door cannot be locked. Which makes sense. After all, it should also offer shelter to other hikers.

Will someone else show up tonight?

If so, they will hopefully have food with them. Because I was smart enough not to pack any food today, because I thought: “I will be at Wies Church at noon and there’s definitely something to eat there.” Well, now I’m sitting in the forest with a miserable rest of chocolate.

Hans remains hungry.

But he is satisfied and is still happy about his luck. Instead of dinner, there are cigars. Finally a hotel where you get to smoke in bed!


And then it is dark. Pitch black dark.

When the clouds lift briefly, the full moon shimmers through the cracks in the wooden wall. But otherwise, I see nothing. I just listen. Rain. Wind. Cowbells.

Were there voices? I don’t move. If they will enter the hut, they will be just as scared of me as I am of them. – But they were only cyclists passing by.

In front of the cabin, there is a wayside cross, which reminds me of the opening of “The Hateful Eight”. In the movie, it was not a good sign for those who thought they found refuge from the snowstorm in the lonely cabin.

Maybe the guestbook is so empty because hardly anyone survives the night here?

Would Hansel and Gretel have been the more appropriate chocolate bar?


Posted in Germany, History, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 5) Ammer Gorge

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


At 4:30 am, there was light. A coal tit chose exactly the conifer above my head to conduct a concentrated concert. Apparently it noticed that I am not quite dead yet, as are the rest of its listeners.

It wasn’t much sleep, certainly no quality sleep, but I heed the wake-up call. One advantage of cemeteries: There is always water for washing and brushing teeth.

For once, at least I get up in time for the sunrise. A few photographers, who have thundered up the mountain road with their motorcycles, are wondering who is that guy staggering out of the cemetery, still wrapped in a blanket because of the cold.


The tavern, which hasn’t been of much use or help, does not open until 9 am. I don’t want to wait that long for an overpriced breakfast. So I start the steep descent, my legs trembling from cold and tiredness. I take a rest on the first bench which is illuminated by sunrays and enjoy the relative warmth, the view of the mountains and of balloonists, who must have risen early as well. Soon, I nod off and catch up on an hour of sleep.


In the village of Hohenpeissenberg, I find nothing to eat either. That is bad. Because after that, we will reach the Ammer Gorge, which is supposed to be beautiful, but I don’t think there will be a bakery or anything. This is going to be a hard day: nothing to eat for more than 24 hours, hardly any sleep.

I am on the road so early that a fox scurries across the meadow into the forest. Its night shift is over. I hope it was successful.

There is a picnic table in the forest, which I convert into a bed. Again I fall asleep immediately, probably for another hour. I seem to have quite a lot to catch up on.


Waking up from my dreams, I am grumpy with hunger, tiredness and the prospect of the exertion to come. This will not be a pleasant day, I realize.

Just as I’m getting ready to get moving again, the pilgrim I met in Andechs a few days ago (Chapter 28) comes along with a colleague whom she picked up on the way. Both are fresh, happy, rested and energized, a stark contrast to myself.

Nevertheless, we continue together, and Christina and Cordula are distracting me with conversations, making the physical ordeal much more pleasant.


Soon the river rushes by, unfortunately in the wrong direction to build a raft and drift south. But poor Ammer river has to go north to fill up Lake Ammer and then flow further north as the river Amper. As such, it lives up to its name and powers several hydroelectric plants, including the oldest one in Germany, in Schöngeising. Well, not even the river can just flow for fun in this market economy, where everything has to be profitable and come with dividends and rewards.

But I have not yet learned anything about the political views of my new hiking colleagues and therefore I want to refrain from agitating too much.


Probably because it’s the weekend, there are a lot of cyclists and pedestrians along the river. It’s really turbulent compared to the last quiet days, where I sometimes met nobody for hours.

At the Kalkofensteg, where the river Ammer describes a narrow arc and thus creates a bathing spot, the wheat is separated from the chaff. Nearly everybody runs into the river, sunbathes or does other mischief that people like to do near water.

We, the tough folks, climb up the steep and overgrown slopes on a narrow path. Now, the real gorge, the wild part, begins.


Wait a minute, that’s a photo from Chapada Diamantina in Brazil, which has slipped in between. A subtle reminder that it is worth to read the older stories on this blog, too.

But back to Bavaria:

The Ammer is much wider and wilder, the way through the gorge more dangerous than I thought. Because I’m from Ammerthal, through which runs a measly Ammer creek, I always thought the Ammer is an equally shallow water. But no: This is more like the Mackenzie River in Canada. Canoeists and kayakists are rushing through the rapids.

The path through the gorge is the most dangerous part of the whole hike. At times only 50 cm wide, often unsecured, sometimes blocked by fallen trees, it leads along a slope where you could fall up to 100 meters into the deadly abyss and be turned into electricity. One wrong step, just one slip, one short inattention, and the story would end right here.

I don’t have many photos of this route, because the two women are pilgrimaging ahead at a fast pace. And they have to wait for me too often already.


One reason is that I am carrying the heaviest backpack. Especially Cordula seems to be very experienced (well, that I would be too) and has learned from experience (which seems to be my weak point). With water and food, her backpack weighs a maximum of 7.5 kg. She cuts a block of soap so small that it is just enough for the days of the hike. At home, she collects toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles with remainders for a few days, which she then takes on the hike. The second shirt serves as a towel.

From these ladies, I can still learn something.

Books, however, are the weak spot of all three of us. Christina has a whole library on her e-book reader, but also the hiking guide for the Munich St. James’ Way in paper form. Even weight-saving Cordula has three books with her. “Too many, of course,” she admits, but that’s an experience that every reading hiker makes. You always imagine that you will sit by the lake and read for hours, but in reality you are too exhausted in the evening. Or you are chatting with others. And in my case, I still have to write, because you, esteemed readers, want to participate in my suffering for some sadistic reason.

This time I didn’t stick to it myself, but I recommend to take books that you don’t want to keep after reading. I leave them in hostels or on park benches, hoping that someone else will enjoy them. Cordula does the same, and because she is more organized, she has a box for these books in her apartment, labelled “transient literature”.


As we are resting high above the Ammer Gorge and the roaring river, Christina, who as a theologian probably remembers Saint Martin, shares her only cheese sandwich with me.

That really saved my day.


The women are happy to finally be able to talk to a Bavarian whom they understand. “I really did not understand the woman who ran the accommodation in Hohenpeissenberg, even when she repeated it twice. She must have thought I was stupid, because I just smiled and could not answer.”

Christina and Cordula are from Hamburg and Bremen. They are now in Southern Germany because the North and Baltic Sea are full of Southern Germans. Because of the restrictions in international travel, the Germans are finally getting to know their own country. (It’s the same with me. Without the corona virus I would have been in Kiev again this summer.) Hopefully there will be just as much exchange between West and East Germany, because 30 years after reunification, it’s about time that we get to know each other.

There is no language barrier between us, but I do lack knowledge of some Bavarian customs. They ask me about the meaning of the maypoles, which are standing abandoned in the villages, and my vague explanations are so obviously deficient that Christina says: “I have to look it up again on Wikipedia.”


On the other hand, I can damage the cliché that all Bavarians are beer-drinking and conservative-voting Oktoberfest visitors. When I tell them that I am not walking the St. James’ Way, but the King Ludwig Trail, I can already see what they suspect, although they phrase the question diplomatically:

“In Bavaria, many people would like to have a king again, wouldn’t they?”

“Well, I certainly don’t,” I clarify right away. As the princesses and princes among the readers have already noticed, I could hardly be more anti-monarchist. “But I think it is not a specific wish, but rather some diffuse sense of nostalgia.”

“I don’t understand it myself, because I definitely have no desire for undemocratic kings. Although,” I must mention, “Bavaria was already a constitutional monarchy during the reign of Ludwig ll (1864-1886). It had a constitution with citizen’s rights since 1806, and a parliament with elections since 1818. The king was no longer an unrestricted ruler, his decisions required the countersignature of the ministers, who, by the way, he consistently recruited from the liberal camp.”

There is now probably no country in Europe where people speak more freely, write more freely, and act more openly than here in Bavaria,

cheered Paul Johann Anselm von Feuerbach, usually a rather critical voice. And Bavaria really was a pioneer in many things. To pick virology as a topical example: in 1807, Bavaria was the first country in the world to introduce compulsory vaccination, against smallpox. Something like Bismarck’s social legislation already existed in Bavaria 30 years earlier.

The women from the north, which since the cruel Viking Age has considered itself the more advanced part of Germany, are astonished. But after all, it was the German regions south of the Danube that once had a taste of Roman civilization.


“Unfortunately”, I continue, because once I have been asked a question, there is no stopping me, “a nostalgic image of Bavaria is represented by the State of Bavaria itself, especially in tourism, but also in museums and exhibitions. And thus, everyone knows the castles, the mountains, the beer, the traditional costumes and other traditions, some of them invented. But nobody knows that Bavaria was a socialist state for a short time in 1919. Nor is the role of Bavaria in the establishment of National Socialism mentioned sufficiently. Instead, people celebrate a king who drove Bavaria into bankruptcy with his building mania”.

“Where did the money for all those magnificent castles come from anyway?” they ask. For Ludwig II built not only the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, but also Linderhof Castle, the Royal House at Schachen and Herrenchiemsee Palace, a veritable replica of Versailles. Plans for three more castles were already in the drawer.

“You will never guess. The money came from Bismarck, from Prussia.”

“What?” they both exclaim in shock, and I realize that I have to explain this quickly, otherwise nobody will believe anything I say anymore.

“Ludwig II was King of Bavaria during the time of the German-German War, during the German-French War and when the German Reich was established in 1871. All of these were events of which he thought very little, because they kept him from the theater and the opera. Especially the foundation of the German Empire under the leadership of the stuffy Hohenzollern clan was difficult to convey to the Bavarians and their king. Ludwig II suggested that the German imperial crown should alternate between the Wittelsbach and the Hohenzollern families, as it does between conservatives and progressives in political parties. In vain.”

With the founding of modern Germany, Bavaria lost its importance, and Ludwig II was painfully aware of this.

Woe betide that I of all people had to be king at such a time,

the Bavarian monarch wrote in 1871,

Since the conclusion of those unfortunate treaties [on the foundation of the Reich] I have rarely had happy hours, I am sad and upset.

He was as depressed as a British Prime Minister finding his country in the European Union. Defiantly, Ludwig II stayed away from the proclamation of the German Emperor in Versailles.

“It was only when Bismarck offered annual payments of 300,000 marks and a number of special rights for the Kingdom of Bavaria that Bavaria too agreed to the foundation of the German Empire”.

In short, one could say: Without Neuschwanstein Castle, there would have been no united Germany.

However, the buildings and the ties with Bismarck will ultimately cost the Bavarian king his life. But I shall tell this story later, to avoid that one of the listeners will throw herself into the gorge out of desperation.


The special rights for Bavaria included the preservation of its own army (even in World War I, Bavarian troops fought alongside German troops), its own railroad and postal service, tax sovereignty for beer and brandy (quite in keeping with the cliché of drunk Bavarians), and the independence of the CSU, the Bavarian conservative party, from the CDU, the German conservative party.

And when the German Chancellor is visiting the Bavarian Prime Minister, she is naturally invited to one of the castles built by Ludwig II. This is the Bavarian boastfulness that sometimes gets on the nerves of the rest of the republic.

This Herrenchiemsee Palace, the reflection of Versailles, then played a role in the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. But this belongs in a separate article, not only to prevent the present one from getting out of hand, but also to justify a separate trip to that castle in a lake.


Because we are walking the narrow path along the abyss of the Ammer Gorge, the two pilgrims cannot escape and have to listen to my introductory course in Bavarian history, which probably tires them more than the hike itself.

Keep in mind: Never go on a hike with me if you just want to relax!


The two women have planned the stages of their walk in advance and today they will come to rest in Rottenbuch, which we should reach in the early afternoon. I, on the other hand, have not planned anything at all, but I don’t want to exhaust myself either. They keep talking about an art café in Rottenbuch and of the cakes they are looking forward to. The prospect of cake keeps me going, I don’t even want to think beyond that.

And as we arrive and enter, there are photos on the wall from Bolivia, my favorite country, as you probably know. The mother of the owner spent a month in Bolivia and brought back photos and wonderful memories. That makes the decision easy: I am going to spend the night in this nice establishment.

In the beer garden, I am boring the hiking buddies with anecdotes from the Andean state, but at least we are having apple spritzer and apple cheesecake with it.


When I fill out the registration form, the receptionist asks me why I am not staying at home. I find this a rather intrusive question, because the Gestapo usually comes only later in the evening to leaf through the guestbook. But when she sees the postal code, the misunderstanding clears up: Shockingly, there are two villages in Germany called Ammerthal. In one of them, I am spending my sad existence when I’m not on the road, the other is just one kilometer away from Rottenbuch.

What a coincidence!

If there is a guy living there who is also called Andreas Moser, then I finally know who receives all the packages that never reach me.

Sadly, the receptionist overlooks the second coincidence, although I noted it conscientiously and truthfully in the form: Tomorrow is my birthday. Due to this oversight, I am not offered a free stay, as would be recommended by the (admittedly non-binding) guidelines of the hotel and restaurant association.

Regarding the night, I can only say that it feels much better to sleep in a bed than in a cemetery. But one can’t afford luxury every day.


Tomorrow, I can tell as much, it will become really uncomfortable. Get a warm jumper and a cup of hot chocolate before reading on!


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Posted in Germany, History, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Why is German reunification celebrated on 3 October?

Today, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany on 3 October 1990. The history buffs among you will know that the Berlin Wall fell almost a year earlier, on 9 November 1989.


So why did reunified Germany choose the 3rd of October as the new national holiday?

3 October 1990 was the day of official reunification, as the East German parliament had voted on 23 August 1990 for accession of its five states to the Federal Republic of Germany (this was the quickest way because it did not require the founding of a new country with the implementation of a new constitution, as the West German constitution conveniently had always included a provision to allow new states to join the Federal Republic of Germany) to occur on 3 October 1990. The date was chosen because the two German states had agreed on holding the first federal elections of reunified Germany on 2 December 1990. (West) German election law demanded that voters be registered 8 weeks before the election, which made 7 October 1990 the cut-off date for voter registration. The reunification therefore had to happen before this day. Also, 7 October was the national holiday of East Germany, and nobody knew how to “celebrate” it that year. So, better to make the country disappear before then.

If you think that all of this sounds a bit hasty, it certainly was.

You can see from reading this first paragraph that these political and legal proceedings are far less catchy and memorable than the fall of the Berlin Wall. So the question remains: Why did Germany not choose 9 November as the new national holiday? Surely Germans would prefer to celebrate the opening of the Iron Curtain, the end of oppression, the spread of freedom, instead of a date in a parliamentary protocol?

The problem was that 9 November had not only brought the fall of the Berlin Wall, but had proven to be a surprisingly significant date in German history on many previous occasions:

9 November 1918: Philipp Scheidemann declares the “German Republic” (to become the “Weimar Republic” in 1919), thereby ending the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and German monarchy.

9 November 1923: Adolf Hitler attempts to overthrow the young German democracy with a military coup. The coup attempt in Munich fails after a few hours, but leaves 16 people dead. Unfortunately, Hitler didn’t give up and came to power (through elections) 10 years later. During the Nazi dictatorship, 9 November was a national holiday.

9 November 1938: In organized pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria, more than 1400 synagogues were destroyed, many of them burnt down completely with the fire departments idly watching, thousands of Jewish homes and about 7500 businesses were destroyed, around 400 Jews were murdered and 30,000 Jews taken to concentration camps in the following days alone. This marked the beginning of open and systematic destruction of Jewish life in Germany (although social, political and economic discrimination had begun in 1933 already), ultimately to result in the Holocaust.

9 November 1989: Throughout the summer of 1989, East Germans had fled the country via other Eastern European countries which had opened their borders to the West, especially Hungary that had opened its border to Austria. Facing a mass exodus of its people, the East German government tried to regain control over the events and planned to announce an easing of travel restrictions, to come into effect on 17 November 1989. At a press conference on 9 November 1989, a spokesperson who had not been fully briefed announced these plans. When he was asked by a journalist when this would enter into effect, the spokesperson babbled “as far as I know, effective immediately”. The news spread within minutes and thousands of East-Berliners stormed towards the Wall where the border guards were overwhelmed because they had not been given any instructions. The guards were vastly outnumbered and nobody in the East German government gave orders to use the shoot-to-kill policy (which had been applied before against East Germans attempting to flee the country), leaving the East German border police no other chance than to open the gates. A peaceful revolution had been successful, there was no turning back any more.

9 November is therefore undoubtedly an important day in German history, but while some events are worthy of celebration, others are worthy only of shame. Most people in Germany found it a bit too tricky to have a national holiday that combines festivities and celebrations with somber commemoration. And who knows what else will happen in or to Germany on 9 November in coming years…


  • More about history.
  • And more about Germany.
  • By the way, for German reunification day, it is customary to send a present to your German friends. ;-)
Posted in Cold War, Germany, History, Holocaust | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

For my Chinese readers

Writing a blog for an international audience is very complicated.

People in California are never awake when I write in Europe. People in Australia and Argentina are reading it upside down. And in China, when you want to access my blog, the government may tell you that it’s not a good idea to waste time like this, advising you to focus on your homework instead.

But, as I experienced myself when I was in Iran, people often find a way around censorship. And thus, over the convoluted jungle paths of Samizdat, some intrepid and fearless writer in China discovered my stories and made it her mission to translate them into at least one of the hundreds of languages of China.

If you read Chinese, you can find the story here.

Or if you have friends in China, you can print the story and mail it to them. I think that’s what the crazy button on the top right is for, but I don’t know much about technology. By the way, did you know that movable-type printing was invented in China 400 years before Johannes Gutenberg claimed his invention? The world’s failure to recognize this was the reason behind China’s long-standing reluctance to join the WTO.

What I like about translations in China is that the original title is prominently displayed, not like in other countries where you have to search for the original title with a microscope, if it is included at all.

Im Westen nichts Neues

Oh, and here is the English version, so you can enjoy the romantic story without going through a confusing course at the Confucius Institute.


Posted in China, Language | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 4) The Longest Day

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.


Two fishermen go to sea and I have the whole shore to myself.

At 8 o’clock, I snuck out of the cozy house without waking my hosts, because I wanted to catch the first ship that departs from Breitbrunn.

Will it even bother to make a stop for one single lonesome passenger?

It does, more punctual even than the railroad. The captain calls me through the loudspeaker, allowing me to take off the antivirus mask as I am the only one sitting in the wind at the bow.


From aboard the ship, you have a beautiful view of Diessen, featuring the church tower of the cathedral from chapter 42 most prominently. And behind it, I can already see High Mount Peissen, the highest point on the hike, which we should reach by tomorrow. I don’t like the thought of climbing it at all.


And another thing strikes me as I stand at the lookout, happy not to be a captain, because I would constantly get lost like Columbus: Outside of Diessen, several suspicious, huge installations glisten in the light of the morning sun. They are actually top secret, but I will reveal their secrets in chapter 60, accepting all the dire consequences that may ensue.


Diessen is very nice on the second visit, too, but the weather is even nicer, and thus I am drawn further south. Let’s see how far we will get today, because I have not planned for any accommodation.

At the end of the town, just before Schacky Park, there is a hitchhiking bench with several fold-out signs, where you can indicate your destination. I fold down the sign for Raisting, the next village. The King Ludwig Trail doesn’t really go through there, but I’m curious to see if it works.

Just a the sign falls into position, the first car brakes sharply. It is a young man who often uses this opportunity for a lift himself. Whenever he can, he takes hitchhikers with him. His little son has gotten so used to it that he thinks it’s great. Even when the car is full, the child thinks that you have to help other people. He then offers to climb into the trunk to make room for others.

“And where shall I take you?” he asks.

“Where are you going in Raisting?”

“To the butcher’s.”

“Then I’ll join you, I have to buy breakfast anyway.” And I like coincidence to guide my ways instead of plans or maps.


The butcher’s shop Weichart, founded in 1923, when Bavaria experienced a state of emergency and Hitler’s failed coup d’état, is very popular. Six hungry customers are already waiting in front of the store. It will be a bad day for the little pigs squeaking in the backyard.

But that’s how you get into a conversation, which of course soon revolves around my hike. “Where will you be sleeping tonight?” a woman asks. As she realizes that I have no idea yet, she offers: “If you are walking towards Diessen, you can stay at my house. The whole upper floor is vacant, you’ll have a wonderful view of the stars.”

If I accept every invitation here, I’ll never get away from Lake Ammer. But once again I am touched by the warm helpfulness. Does it only happen in this area? Or is it only this year, possibly as a positive side effect of a deadly but decelerating epidemic? Have people realized that there are more important things than work and money and competition and performance? Does the lack of regular social contacts lead to more openness towards strangers?


On the further way through Raisting, photographers with telephoto lenses are following me, as if word of my passage had already spread or was announced in the local newspaper.

Until I realize that they are here for storks.


The village of Raisting probably doesn’t ring a bell, although this is the place that makes all the literal bells ring. This is where your internet connection, your telephone line and your television program come from, at least if you live in Europe. Between the fields, there are dozens of giant antennas with diameters of up to 32 meters, which also search for aliens and control rockets and satellites. When a meteorite speeds towards Earth, the people here are the first ones to know about it. And if the meteorite hits right here, you’ll have to do without Facebook and Fox News until the internet and TV will be rebuilt from scratch (which hopefully wouldn’t be done).

A farmer chugs past on an old tractor as if to enhance the contrast between agriculture and technology.

In the middle of the 5G machines there is – maybe as camouflage, maybe it was there before – a small church with shade-providing trees, several benches and a view of the mountains that invites one to take a rest. Many cyclists come by, most of them electrified, as you would expect in such a high-tech region.

An old man follows on his rollator. His family had ventured ahead on their bicycles, probably hoping that he would get lost in the space radio antenna jungle and be taken to Guantanamo by the Counterintelligence Service. But someone who once found his way home from the Eastern Front cannot be shaken off that easily.


In the course of the day, I see barns again and again that are open on one side. Apparently, there is no theft here, maybe no crime at all. These would be perfect accommodations to spend a dry night.

But it is still too early.

So on we go.


While I am thinking of the open barns, the open houses, the open cars and the open people who invite me in, I wonder why other people are afraid.

“But this is dangerous!”

“I wouldn’t dare do that.”

“Oh my gosh, I hope nothing happens.”

These were some reactions to the announcement of this hike. People associate forest and nature and outside with danger, although many more people work themselves to death in offices, drink themselves to death in restaurants, or drive themselves to death on a highway.

Some friends from other continents do not even come to Germany at all anymore, because they read somewhere that we were overrun by wild hordes and that Sharia laws apply here. (Which, by the way, the little pigs from chapter 58 would welcome.) These people believe that a country that has twice reduced Europe to rubble and ashes suddenly becomes dangerous because there are now some people among us called Ali or Samira instead of Hans or Franz.

Perhaps one should only judge countries after having crossed them on foot. But always stay on the paths! Otherwise the wild bull will tear you to pieces.


The road to Wessobrunn is long, the sun is scorching, and the long stretch on the tarred road is an ordeal for the feet.

Time to hitchhike.

But this time, it doesn’t work. Car after car rushes past me, the drivers stubbornly looking ahead as if they hadn’t noticed me. Until after 20 minutes a friendly couple stops, two landscape gardeners on their way to an appointment: “We always stop for hitchhikers, that’s only natural.” So natural that I wonder what the preceding 57 drivers were thinking to let a hiker rot in the son. Husband and wife, who are spending their weekend working, drop me off in Wessobrunn directly in front of the monastery.


The small villages here have monasteries larger than small towns. Or had monasteries, I should say, because the secularization of 1803 destroyed a lot. Have I already explained about secularization? “Yes, more than enough,” the readers scream out in panic, referring me to chapters 49 and 50.

This is how the fraternal facility used to look like:

Only a third of the original complex is left, but even the remains do not fit into one photograph.

Wessobrunn was not only large, but also one of the great art and cultural sites of the German Middle Ages. Firstly, because of the specific stucco art which was developed here and which was applied in about 3000 churches and palaces throughout Europe. The highlight of this creative period is the world-famous church of Wies, which we should reach in a few days. Secondly, because of a language document, but I will come to that during my nap under the lime trees a little bit later (chapter 65).

Due to the accumulation of unfortunate circumstances, I arrived one hour late for the tour of the monastery wing, which is why there is only one cheekily stolen photo of it:

But apparently it was cheap to buy once it was ultimately abandoned in 2012, because it was bought by a natural cosmetics manufacturer who runs her oversized store there. The nuns aren’t picky. Another monastery, the Maltese Castle in Heitersheim, is being sold to a member of the Chinese National Congress who wants to open a cadre school there.

A hostel would be a better idea, because I am still looking for a place to sleep.


Every monastery has an absurd legend about its foundation.

In Wessobrunn it is said that in the year 753, Duke Tassilo III took a break from the hunt, laying under a tree and thirsting mightily. In a dream, angels then pointed out the way to three springs. When he woke up, he actually heard the water rushing and discovered the springs.

Well, I do believe that it had something to do with drinking, but that’s about it.

But I am going to try it myself and lie down under the three lime trees in front of the monastery.


The first part of the plan works out: I nod off immediately. However, under the centuries-old trees, no beer, no water, but only a stone appears.

The menhir with the Wessobrunn Prayer keeps distracting me from sleeping:

Dat gafregin ih mit firahim firiuuizzo meista
Dat ero ni uuas noh ufhimil
noh paum noh pereg ni uuas
ni […] nohheinig noh sunna ni scein
noh mano ni liuhta noh der mareo seo

It is one of the earliest texts in Old High German and the oldest Christian poem in German language. I understand so little of the Old High German that I would outright deny any relationship to contemporary German. Hopefully, I will not experience a linguistic regression in my lifetime, because I really wouldn’t want to speak like that.

Do dar niuuiht ni uuas enteo ni uuenteo
enti do uuas der eino almahtico cot
manno miltisto enti dar uuarun auh manake mit inan
cootlihhe geista enti cot heilac

I lie under the green canopy of leaves like Athanasius Kirchner in front of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. My unsuccessful attempts at deciphering are probably merely a pretense for not continuing with the hike. But it is only afternoon, too early for the night’s rest.


Well, I will look for the springs then, because, remembering the legend, I realize that I could use some water, too.

Behind the monastery, there is a pretty little house and a roof over the three holy springs. (This is where holy water comes from, and maybe this is how the convent-confiscating cosmetics company finances itself.) But they were really not hard to find. I don’t know why you have to have nightmares about angels and divine finger pointing.


The next destination is the yew forest near Paterzell, which sounds somehow mystical and tempting.

From the hiker’s point of view, however, it turns out to be more of an arduous up-and-down forest with deep incisions and brook valleys.

And the promised yews?

Well, if you look closely, they are slightly different trees, but they are not more beautiful or less beautiful than the beech forests I have been walking through. I could have spared myself the detour. Besides, yews are poisonous.

At the exit of the toxic forest, a bench invites me to spend the night. I’m giving it a test, it feels good, but it’s still too early.


The next inn would be the “Bavarian Hiasl” in Forst. I should still be able to make the few kilometers if I hurry. And if I don’t get shot by the gang of the Bavarian Hiasl. They were a rather brutal but also partly generous gang of robbers and poachers in the 18th century, whose leader Matthias Klostermayr, the so-called Bavarian Hiasl, was the model for Karl Moor, Robin Hood and the bulletproof monk.

The readers benefit from the fact that I can abbreviate in writing what I could not abbreviate on foot, and so I transfer us to Forst about an hour later.

The inn is really there, big, angular, massive, unmissable.

But no longer active. The trees are already growing out of the windows on the upper floor. Or is this a mirage, confusing tired hikers?

Perhaps the inn has been closed since 1771, when the Bavarian Hiasl was executed with exaggerated meticulousness, namely strangled, crushed, beheaded and quartered.


Again and again on my hikes, I come across such testimonies of once active life, which are now decaying. The inns occupy a prominent place in the center of the village or a particularly beautiful spot by a rushing brook. Large lime trees still provide shade and coziness. You can still hear the beer hissing and the schnitzel steaming. But the shutters are shut, the kitchen is closed, the stomach remains empty.

This is not only a pity for the culinary enjoyment I am missing out on. On the one hand, it was reassuring to know on journeys that one could rest and even stay overnight almost anywhere. This may seem unbelievable to the AirBnB generation, but in the past, you just hiked or drove until you couldn’t or didn’t want to anymore, and then you looked for a place to stay. There you asked for a vacant room. There was always something available. Traveling itself was more free, more spontaneous.

On the other hand, inns offer the lonely hiker the opportunity to get into a conversation with the locals. Often the same people are sitting together every evening and are happy when someone shows up with a big backpack and unpacks new stories. Once, without being asked, the innkeeper sat down at my table and told me, also without being asked, why more and more inns are closing. Missing customers are not the problem. Lack of staff is.

“Nobody wants to work 16 hours a day anymore,” he complained.

“And it would be illegal,” I thought to myself, but said nothing.

“Young people are all about free time. They want to know on Monday what time they have off on Friday evening,” he was puzzled.

I didn’t know what to think, because I was torn between delight at the increasing emancipation of the working class, which no longer regards itself at the free disposal of capitalists, but disappointed at how the young people would probably spend their Friday nights off. I may inadmissibly generalize the occasional experience I have made with rural teenagers, but I imagine that the young waiters and cooks would rather get drunk and then crash into a tree than to discuss Marx and Hegel with their friends.

“And the laws are made by people who have no idea. Take Ms. Nahles,” who was Secretary of Labor at the time, “she studied for 32 semesters, but never did any real work.”

I could have pointed out that studying can also be quite exhausting. Or that the overestimation of physical versus mental work is a leftover from fascism. Or that laws are made by parliament, not by federal ministers.

But I preferred to say nothing, because the innkeeper had just crossed out the gypsy schnitzel on the menu and renamed it paprika schnitzel, so he was generally open to social progress. And he made an effort, offered higher than standard wages, offered accommodation for applicants from afar, but still: “The young people want to work in the office, with computers and all that.” And in the disdain of people who believe that social media content feeders or Instagraph influencing data analysts are more important than publicans and cooks, the old innkeeper and I could agree.

I would have a proposal against the death of the taverns, but it is just another theoretical solution by someone who has been studying for so long that he no longer counts the semesters. Inns as rooms of public gatherings could be counted under the utilities that municipalities have to provide in accordance with Article 57 paragraph 1 of the Bavarian Municipal Code (or similar regulations in other states), so that in the absence of private facilities, the municipality must operate a beer garden in summer and a parlor with a tiled stove in winter and offer currywurst and Kaiserschmarrn.

The State of Bavaria has recognized the problem, but ever since it was a Soviet Republic in 1919 for a brief time, it has been so afraid of public property that it prefers to waste 30 million euros, handing over money to existing pub owners.


As the sun is inching towards the horizon, the search for a sleeping place should put any revolutionary thoughts on the back burner. Disappointed by the people of Forst, who failed to celebrate my ideas jubilantly, instead sitting at home and watching football (TV and the internet have done much more damage to pub culture than employment laws), I set my sights on a new target. A high and far-away target, the highest point of the hike, High Mount Peissen, almost a thousand meters high.

There is a tavern up there, and with my luck, they should have vacant rooms.

10 kilometers lie between me and the summit. The sun is getting ready for bed already. This is going to be close. I definitely must stop dawdling around.

Without energy, but with all the more doggedness, I am forging forward, fighting fatigue, killing kilometers, waging a war against the weight of my backpack, defying all doubts, and ignoring the improbability. And always a worried look back: What is the sun doing?

It is falling rapidly. Without pause and without mercy. In the forest, it is already pitch dark, the sun glows its last red through the branches, needles and leaves. My lungs are bursting as I am almost running the last two kilometers uphill. It’s incredible what reserves one can activate when necessary!

And then the sun finally burns out, just before I make it to the summit.

A candle is burning in a chapel, as if to beckon me: Why don’t you sleep here?

It’s spooky, but if I had known where I would end up spending the night, I might have settled in the dimly lit temple. But neither I nor you know about the impending midnight scare yet.


The hope for the tavern on top of the mountain drives me on. I wonder how long it will be open? I haven’t eaten since the sandwich in Raisting in the morning, and this damn mountain is getting steeper and steeper.

To the pain in my lungs now comes a headache, but I feel like the first marathon runner, the one from the battle between Athens and Persia, who had to transmit the “νενικήκαμεν” at all costs because the Greek telegraph authority was on strike, on summer vacation or on siesta at the time.

Finally on the summit, I can take a breather and am rewarded with magnificent views.

But now quickly to the Bavarian Rigi, as the guesthouse is called here.

“Do you still have a room for tonight?”

“We don’t have any accommodation.”

“Oh. Do you still serve food?”

“I’m sorry, but we’re about to close.”

“Oh. Could you fill my bottle with tap water then, so I have something to brush my teeth with when I sleep outside?”

The lady complies with the plea, but the discreet hint of my impending homelessness does not soften her up enough to slip me any leftovers.


It has become cold and the wind is blowing hard. Probably because there is a weather station up here, and the weather wants to put on a show. And it’s not just any weather station. High Mount Peissen houses the oldest mountain observatory in the world, built in 1781, when Bavaria was not even a kingdom. (Speaking of which: Did you notice that I am so exhausted from hiking today that you have to do without the long monologues about Bavarian history? But I will make up for it tomorrow, I promise!)

In the meantime, it is less about the weather, but more about the climate. Because of its 240-year history, the collected data is particularly well suited for long-term comparisons. And the location is exposed and far away from conurbations, which can falsify the temperatures at other measuring stations due to increased building development and higher traffic volumes.


Tired and a little desperate, I let myself fall onto a bench. Only then do I spot the full moon.

It makes the green hills of the Alpine foothills shine in silver. Like a night watchman on his last tour, delighting in the beauty of the landscape and the peace and quiet that he himself imposes.

But on the exposed bench, the wind is blowing like a hurricane, and young people from the nearby towns apparently find full moon romantic and come here to hold hands. There is more activity up here at night than in some towns during the day. A group of blonde, hence probably Russian, youngsters has set up a large antenna and is sitting in their Volkswagen Polo with radios and headphones to listen in on the German military radio. The KGB is becoming more and more brazen.

I wander around, looking for a place to sleep, having lost any hope to find food. (The three pizza boxes in the trash next to the bench were all empty.)


The most wind-protected place is, as sorry as I am for proponents of the sanctity of burial grounds, the cemetery. Even at 10:30 p.m. two mourners still place flowers on a grave in the candlelight, so I have to go for another walk through the cold. But at 11:00 p.m. they have given up their attempt to bring the deceased back to life, and I have the final resting place alone for my temporary rest.

I put on both jackets, lie down on a bench, use the backpack as a pillow and cover myself with a blanket that the dog has already bitten holes in. I don’t carry a sleeping bag, because pilgrims of previous centuries managed without this modern plastic stuff too. Besides, I don’t like to be constricted when suddenly people with guns, knives or swords stand around me.

It is not comfortable. Nor is it warm. The red grave lights flicker like ghosts warning me. The fat moon shines in my face like a searchlight. “You are not safe here!” the pale moon face seems to signal, and I wonder how a celestial body without its own power source can shine so bright and cheerful.

But I fall asleep. Until a falling cone wakes me up.

I fall asleep again. Until my own shivering wakes me up.

I fall asleep again. Until drops of water fall on my face.

I turn around and fall asleep again.

Even the moonlight wakes me up. I fall asleep again.


Will I survive the night? Who comes to visit the cemetery at night? Are there ghosts? Will the wolves or the grave robbers come first?

Tune in for the next episode! There, we will hike through the Ammer Gorge, supposedly the most spectacular part of the King Ludwig Trail. And I won’t be walking alone anymore, that much I can already reveal.


Posted in Germany, History, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 3) Lake Ammer

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.


On long hikes, I like to start early. The air is still cool, there is less lethal car traffic, and it leaves me with more time to take breaks along the way.

But Reinhard is sleeping late, and I don’t want to leave his house without saying goodbye. A few hours after me, he wakes up, goes to the bakery, prepares a full breakfast, and the discussion from the previous evening continues. In the end, I don’t put on my boots until 10:45. My goal today was to reach Diessen, Raisting, Wessobrunn and Paterzell. This has already become infeasible.

On the other hand, I have no more overnight stays fixed anyway, so I can continue the pilgrimage as slowly as I like and in the evening, I can drop to the ground wherever the Holy Spirit commands me to.


And it gives me the opportunity to cheat a little. In a place called Fischen, I have barely taken the rucksack from my shoulders and stuck out my thumb to shorten the 4 km to Diessen, as the first car stops. Not because of me, but because the driver’s daughter lost her pacifier. But he sees how happy I am about him stopping and invites me to get into the backseat next to the baby.

“Where do you want me to drop you off?” the father asks.

I need some time to write down the experiences of the previous day before new ones push their way into my memory and possibly get mixed up, faded or even lost.

“Is there a beautiful park in Diessen?” I therefore ask .

“A park? No. Diessen is just a small place, nothing special here.”


Well, then I’ll go to the harbor at Lake Ammer, that should be a relaxing place to write as well.

Here, a blue dot on a white background is flying in the wind. The “One World Flag” is a worldwide project, whose flags are sewn in Diessen. This fits with my blog, which is also read in almost every country of the world.

Apart from me, an elderly couple is sitting by the lake, luring the swans with dog food, while their little dog is roaming around sadly, wondering why he is not getting as much attention. If the swans don’t get enough food fast enough, they are hissing like hell. Only the watchful eyes of passers-by keep them from eating their own fluffy baby swans. If anyone were to consider these barbaric beasts as great animals, they would have to be as crazy as Ludwig II.


A short walk reveals that Diessen is by no means a boring backwater, but a stylish little town with a wealth of art and culture.

The gardens, even the backyards, seem like open-air museums. One of them has a wooden box for depositing haikus. Even the former railroad signal station has been turned into an art gallery. Many residents are apparently on their summer vacation and have placed wood-carved substitutes in the garden to look after the cats in the meantime. (Many people don’t know that I offer these essential services professionally, but for free, and that I would particularly love to do that in a nice little town like Diessen.)

For centuries, Diessen has been known for art and craftsmanship. In former times there were the potters, glaziers, tinsmiths and art blacksmiths. But also composers like Carl Orff or painters like Carl Spitzweg lived and worked here. There is more art here than in some metropolises.


It’s obvious that Diessen has a completely different population than Starnberg. More normal. More pleasant. More social, too, because instead of Versace stores there are second-hand shops run by the Red Cross and other non-profit organizations. Here, people donate. The millionaires in Starnberg are swindling and evading taxes.

Lake Ammer was often derogatorily called “the farmers’ lake” in contrast to Lake Starnberg, which was called “the princes’ lake”. I can hardly distinguish a potato from a pumpkin myself, but I feel more comfortable with the farmers.


Circus William, which is in town for a few days, is also asking for donations: “Animal food for 40 camels,” it says on donation boxes affixed to fences and lampposts.

In case one of the camels won’t make it, the kebab chefs are already sharpening the knives.


The British telephone box, which was converted into a little library, is probably a donation by the twin town of Windermere. The pretty little town on Lake Ammer and the charming town in the Lake District, that’s finally a town twinning that makes sense. Not as desperate as Winston-Salem throwing itself into the arms of Nassau on the Bahamas. Or Atlanta, which thinks it is playing in the same league as Tbilisi.


Diessen can be recognized from far away by the cathedral enthroned on a hill. The church is known as one of the most splendid ones in Bavaria, so I feel an obligation to the education-hungry readers that keeps pushing me uphill over the aching objection of my tired legs.

Well, it is splendid, but tasteful is something else.

And the German-nationalistic slogans above the lists of those who died in World War I are rather disturbing.

“For it is better for us to fall in battle than to witness the misfortune of our people.”

No, that is not better, because it is a false alternative. Maybe the church hasn’t noticed it yet, but the fighting and dying was the misfortune. And by the way: Other peoples have a right to avoid misfortune, too, including being spared the invasion of German troops, who really had no business in Belgium and elsewhere.

“To the fallen in memory, to the living in recognition, to the coming generations for emulation!”

No thanks, I don’t see anything worth emulating here.

Everywhere there are discussions about statues of slave traders, colonial rulers, confederate generals and Kaiser Wilhelm II, but in the churches there is so much nonsense that it makes you sick. That’s where one could start to clean up.


And then I find a park after all. And what a park! Schacky Park is more than a hundred years old, and it looks every year that it has seen. Steps are broken and sinking into the ground. Plant arms entwine around columns. The water fountains have dried up.

Wonderful! Much better than those posh parks, where every plant is trimmed and manicured. For me, this is a paradise. Good thing that the royal treasurer Baron von Schacky diverted enough thalers into his own pockets to acquire these 18 hectares, cultivate them and then let them become overgrown and decay romantically.

The park on the outskirts of the city seems to have been completely forgotten indeed. I do not see any other walkers, let alone any other vagabonds. And thus, I chose this park as the sleeping place for today. When I tell people that I sleep in parks, they imagine cruelly cold nights. But in some parks, you feel like in a castle. A castle just for myself.

But what if it rains, the concerned readers ask, still remembering last night (chapter 32).

Then I will find something against the rain, I reply carelessly and continue to explore the park until I really find something. A monopteros!

And even with curtains on all sides, to be lowered in case of a storm or other disturbing events.

This city is so social, everything has been thought of, even for destitute travellers. Thank you, I really appreciate this!


Penny- and parent-less children are thought of as well. Right behind Schacky Park, the first SOS Children’s Village in Germany was opened in 1958. Here, the orphans who managed to free themselves from the child-abusing monastery schools (see chapter 27) find a new home.


I hide my backpack into a bush, probably a completely exaggerated precaution, go to get a camel kebab and take a stroll through the park, remembering the history of ornamental hermits. In the past, when such parks still came with castles, some lords and ladies considered it decorative to keep a hermit in their park. These were supposed to live in a (usually artificial) cave or hut, were not allowed to shave, and provided exoticism and conversation at garden parties, a purpose for which people nowadays have dogs or children.

Well, in the old days, there was still work for people like me.

But now, everything has been made redundant. Very sad.


Into my dreams of old times, there burst a phone call and modern times. Michael, whom I only know online so far, read about the hike on my blog and is currently on vacation at Lake Ammer.

“Would you like to come by?”

“I’d love to!”

However, he lives in Breitbrunn, on the other side of the lake, which is completely the opposite direction of the planned hike.

“Then take the steamer,” he suggests. It leaves Diessen at 4 p.m. and zigzags to Breitbrunn for an hour and a half via Riederau, Herrsching and Utting. That sounds more tempting than walking around the entire lake. And besides, this is how I can justify all decisions: The readers also want to experience a romantic cruise and not just follow my boring steps on some forest paths. Right?

But there is no ship going back that day. So I have to cheekily ask Michael, who probably just wanted to meet for a beer, whether I can stay for the night.

“We’ll think of something,” he reassures me.


When I arrive at the harbor, out of breath and with only a few minutes to spare before the punctual departure, I am very happy about the decision. Because it allows me to present you the trip on a paddle steamer.

A beautiful ship, driven by two wooden wheels, like the steamers on the Mississippi. Lots of wood inside, too. The taps in the bathroom are gold-plated.

After a 70 year break, it is the first paddlewheel ship to be launched again, the Kaleun proudly announces. It’s a pity that the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles had brought all this maritime innovation to a full stop. However, he admits, the ship only looks like a steamboat. In reality, the paddle wheels are driven by two diesel engines, each of them harnessing 520 hp. But when you consider the capacity of 500 passengers, that’s still a better cost/benefit ratio than all those overpowered fat vehicles on land.


The public address system provides information of the type you usually receive on boat trips and which must already be annoying for daily commuters: Third largest lake in Bavaria. Up to 81 meters deep. Something wide, something long, 47 square kilometers in size. So there are states that are smaller than Lake Ammer (Sint Maarten, Tuvalu, Nauru, Monaco and of course the Vatican, but the entertainment officer doesn’t tell you that, maybe because there are no guests from overseas on board this year).

Because neither I nor you want to hear anything about the Würm glaciation or about endemic whitefish, I grab an imaginary beer mug from the closed on-board restaurant and get ready to finally answer the historical questions that have been burning under your nails since the first leg of the journey and that are pressing and pushing with each additional leg like blisters under your feet.


From the ship, I can see Andechs Abbey, which I visited only yesterday, and remember the vow made there (chapters 24-26) to tell you something about the good old days of secularization.

Secularization refers to confiscation of church property, usually land and monasteries, but also art treasures or libraries, by the state. This went as far as the annexation and incorporation of entire ecclesiastical principalities.

There had been some efforts in this direction before, but from 1802 on, Bavaria made a grand clean sweep. Almost all monasteries, cloisters, imperial abbeys and ecclesiastical principalities were nationalized. (This was the invention of communism, long before Marx and Lenin!) Only some monasteries were left as so-called extinction monasteries. There, the existing monks were still allowed to pray to no avail, but the monastery was barred from the transfer market and could not draft any new players.

The project was carried out the way Germans like to carry out things, i.e. with military precision. The first victims were the monasteries of the mendicant orders, for whom nobody else moved a finger. (“It’s their own fault that they are poor,” the rich often think of the poor.) Into the rich prelate orders, Bavaria sent commissars who listed all the gold, incense, and myrrh that was there. In 1803, the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, which I won’t attempt to translate and which I will instead leave as anecdotal reason for the fact that German Scrabble boards are three times as wide as English ones, was passed. With it, the Holy Roman Empire gave the member states a free hand over the monasteries. Bavaria struck immediately, expropriating as mercilessly as the Land Reclamation Committee for the Construction of the Baikal-Amur Railway. Yet more evidence that prayers do not help.


Unfortunately, this secularization had two shortcomings:

First, only the independent monasteries and prince-bishops were expropriated, but not the Catholic or Protestant churches as such. The ordinary parish churches and cathedrals remained untouched. A missed opportunity.

Secondly, the churches have meanwhile secured fat compensation payments for the former expropriations. I could now confuse everyone with the Concordat between the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Holy See of 1817, why Bavaria pays the bishops’ salaries, the Concordat of the Free State of Bavaria of 1924, the introduction of church tax, the Concordat of the German Reich of 1933, the concordat professorships, as well as the question why the articles of the Weimar Constitution on religious matters still apply today.

Article 138 of the 1919 Constitution of the Weimar Republic demanded that the states replace the compensation payments with a one-time payment, but the German Reich was supposed to pass the framework legislation. This never happened. By the time the Basic Law of 1949, the constitution of West Germany, provided a new chance to clear up the mess, the matter had already become so conspicuously complicated that Article 140 of the Basic Law simply ordered the partial continued validity of the Weimar Constitution, hoping that no one would notice. In fact, no one seems to have noticed, because in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, the constitutionally demanded one-time payment to end all ongoing compensation payments has never happened either.

And so, for more than 100 years, German taxpayers have been paying subsidies to the Catholic and Protestant churches because of the secularization of 200 years ago. Mind you, from the general tax revenue; this has nothing to do with church tax. The atheists are paying for the bishops as well. But well, this year it’s only a paltry 656 million euros. And the church shows its gratitude by not burdening state authorities with charges of child abuse, instead “taking care” of such criminal matters internally.


As the ship docks in Herrsching for a short stop, my eye catches a little castle in the spa gardens, which is modelled on an Italian noble palace.

Today it houses the municipal adult education center, where the smart ones become even smarter, and a wedding hall, where the not so smart ones ruin their lives.

I could tell you a lot more smart things, but I’m smart enough to recognize when the absorbability of the smart readership is exhausted. So let’s look at the lake, the mountains and the sun instead, let’s enjoy the gentle chugging aboard this marvel of German engineering, and let’s be happy about the invitation to Breitbrunn.


Michael is already waiting at the landing stage, where he informs me: “My wife was not at all enthusiastic about the idea of inviting a complete stranger.”

Oh, oh, the two of them are on vacation themselves, and now I intrude with my vagabondry. But when the lady of the house sees me a little later, her fear immediately gives way to maternal instinct, and she prepares fried potatoes with fried eggs. All evening, I will be served so much cheese, sausage and bread that it will sustain me for days.

Equally sustaining is the conversation with Michael. He has a packed life, reviews development aid projects all over the world, was a cameraman for the Foreign Legion in French Guyana, teaches photography in Sri Lanka, helps with the integration of refugees in my home town of Amberg and makes collections and deliveries for a food bank. All of this with the efficiency of a manager.

The hours on the terrace run quickly while we lose ourselves in stories from New York, Lagos and Vienna. Michael’s wife has already gone to bed. She calls him a few more times, ostensibly to ask if we need culinary or alcoholic replenishment, in reality probably to say that we should finally be quiet, because we are keeping the whole house awake.

Speaking of the house: There are two of them on the property, so despite my unplanned appearance I get one for myself. It’s the older and more beautiful one. It is furnished in a rustic style, with wooden floors, oak cabinets and a terrace with a view of the lake. In the fridge, there is Veuve Moreaux champagne and Bombay Gin.

And a few hours ago, I thought I would spend the night in the park.

One of the books I am re-reading on the trip is “The Time of Gifts” by Patrick Leigh Fermor, who on his walk through Europe was sometimes invited to manors and castles. At least today, I am just as lucky.


Tomorrow, it will be a completely different story.

Then, you can expect: The hardest day of the trek, a haunted graveyard, and the truth about 5G.


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