Yasmin and Basti are living a vegan-healthy lifestyle and apparently only have health-conscious friends. Because when I ask for a cola for breakfast, they are happy: “Oh, finally someone will drink the bottle of Coca Cola we have had in the cellar for ever.” It expired in May 2018, more than two years ago. Probably a leftover from their high school graduation ceremony.
The rest of the bottle goes into a package which, together with bananas and apples, is supposed to provide me with energy for the journey. Thus, I say goodbye to my new friends well-rested, well-equipped and in good spirits.
Yasmin’s parents live in Maising, the next village. Since the Corona virus, there are a lot more hikers coming through, they have already told her. “At first they didn’t dare leave the house anymore. They thought all the strangers were bringing the virus into the village.”
Maybe I should walk through the village wearing a face mask. But actually, rain cover is more important, even if only for a few minutes at a time.
Maising is such an insignificant village that it has put up a plaque that, referring to the first documented mention in 1182, at the time of the Crusades and the Genpei War, tries to construe a significance that the village, I am sorry to say, simply does not possess.
At least I learn from this plaque that the General Fellgiebel Barracks now house the German Army’s School of Information Technology, which explains the carefree way the military treated the hikers in chapter 11. The biggest danger there is probably that computer-gaming soldiers think that you are a Pokemon and briefly arrest you.
A dog is trotting after a lady on a horse, exhausted, panting, limping. And faithful. Because he could simply stay at home. After all, he knows that the lady will come back home eventually.
Or dogs aren’t as smart as cats, after all.
“Are you a pilgrim?”
“A secular pilgrim.”
“Nimma lang”, Bavarian for “not much longer”, a sign promises about the way to Andechs Abbey.
But it’s all going uphill. I am making such slow progress on the remaining 5.8 km that once again I walk straight into the midday heat. When I think of the monastery, I don’t imagine any churches or monks, I just dream of a beer garden in the shade of large trees.
But first comes a chapter from the popular series ” Appearance can be deceptive”. Look at these photos:
Isn’t that idyllic?
It is a prison.
The buildings of the former monastic reformatory now house chickens, goats and prisoners behind the barbed wire of Rothenfeld Prison.
The fences don’t seem very insurmountable, though. I don’t see a single guard. This is probably not the high security wing of the Bavarian penal system. Maybe it’s for the millionaires from nearby Starnberg, who have become rich through fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement, I suppose.
A ban on photography prevents me from taking close-ups. On the other hand, when you see a prison like this, you almost want to commit crimes and then write books in the quiet country estate atmosphere.
At the edge of the prison perimeter, I also find the perfect place to sleep: a bench under a canopy of leaves protecting me against sun and rain.
Unfortunately it is still too early to sleep. But a little bit of rest before the ascent of Mount Andechs is a good idea. In the short time that I am sitting here, I experience everything from sun to rain. The weather will keep changing all day long.
A couple walks by and kindly leashes their dog so that it neither eats nor licks me.
I take the opportunity to ask: “Do you know what kind of prisoners are incarcerated over there?”
They do know: “People like Uli Hoeness.”
Well, I wasn’t that far off with my guess. Uli Hoeness, the president and chairman of the supervisory board of Bayern Munich football club, had evaded 28.5 million euros in taxes. Another prominent inmate was Uwe Woitzig, a banker who was convicted of fraud in the order of several hundred millions.
Prisoners usually come to Rothenfeld Prison at the end of their sentence, when they are already free to leave during the day. This means that they go to work outside, for example for football clubs, banks or other criminal organizations, and return to the prison in the evening to sleep there. For the sake of justice, let us hope that this possibility is not only open to millionaires. (This goes onto my list of things that I need to check personally, so I can report back to you.)
The way to Andechs is easy to find. For one thing, the monastery is enthroned on a hill, visible from afar, which is supposed to produce the thirst that can then be quenched with the famous monastery beer.
Second, the path follows the Way of the Cross.
The Way of the Cross is divided in numbered chapters, almost as logically as this blog. At station VII, Jesus sinks down. First the dog, now the god, all of them exhausted creatures.
Besides the beer factory, Andechs Abbey runs two expensive restaurants, a store, a drug dealership (“Abbey Pharmacy”). Well, if there weren’t that many people leaving the church, the monks wouldn’t have to be so mercantilistic.
However, they were already quite greedy in the past. In the 9th century, rapacious Rasso brought relics from the Holy Land, i.e. looted art, to Mount Andechs: a piece of the Cross of Jesus, part of the Crown of Thorns and the Holy Three Hosts. Pilgrimages have been documented since 1128 at the latest; not voluntary pilgrimages, by the way, but by order of the Count of Andechs.
At that time there was no monastery yet, but the castle of the Counts of Andechs, who ruled not only over the surrounding fields, but – as Dukes of Merania, Dalmatia, Istria and Croatia – all the way to the Adriatic Sea. Because the winters were warmer there, the Wittelsbach dynasty, already infamous from chapter 3, became envious, destroyed the castle in 1246 and snatched the possessions.
If someone had not put the Alps in between, one could still see Rijeka, this year’s European Capital of Culture, from the monastery garden.
It was not until 1455 that Andechs became a Benedictine monastery, though soon a very enterprising one, with a brewery, beer garden and 100,000 bratwurst pilgrims per year.
The Thirty Years War and secularization dampened the influx and profit a little. Even today, the monastery complex still looks oversized. Some of the buildings stand empty, sad about the fact that people are less open to nonsense about Holy Thorn Wreaths. The beer garden, which I had been dreaming about for hours, is closed. On the events calendar for the year 2020, there are little sticky notes: “Postponed!” and “Cancelled!”
Oh yes, some people come here for the church. I myself am more on the side of secularization than that of the church, but I have heard that there are Christians among the readership. Hence a few photos of the house with the Holy Tower.
Because I don’t know anything about it, I won’t tell you about frescoes and rococo and high altars. (A sigh of relief from the readers. – But I have not forgotten that I must tell you about secularization at a suitable occasion!)
I am more interested in the pilgrim tablets that earlier hikers brought with them. This corner in the church is a visual guest book, so to speak. And, as is the case with guests, nobody comes without ulterior motives. They want to be cured of diseases. They want to bring in a fat harvest. They want to know the lottery numbers in advance.
But the guests are getting more and more stingy and/or impatient. Nobody paints wooden tablets anymore. The pilgrims of the 20th century have brought a few cheap wooden crosses, which hang behind the church.
In the entrance of the church I notice something else.
All over the world there is a debate raging about monuments that are no longer up to date. Statues are toppled, street names are changed, and people claim to be infringed in their fundamental rights when they learn that “gypsy” is not a cool word.
And who will muddle through again? The church. As always. As with the looted art from chapter 23, the churches simply keep quiet and hope that the debate will pass them by. Let the museums apologize or restitute, the church keeps its sticky fingers on the stolen stuff. (Well, if all their pieces of the alleged cross of Jesus were brought back to Jerusalem, one would quickly realize that all the splinters of wood are enough for a hundred crosses, and the charlatanism would be exposed.)
Here, on a war memorial, there is actually still something written about “heroic death” and “firmly faithful to the death”, apparently a Christian martyr cult. If something like that were written in a mosque, the anti-terrorism unit would have been there long ago.
Admittedly, that’s from after World War I, but does that mean you have to leave it there forever, without any comments? I also find it interesting that it mentions “the dear comrades who, as brave Bavarians, protected the honor and existence of the German name”. I don’t know how I could have failed to mention Bavaria’s role in the German wars of the 19th and 20th centuries so far.
But before that, things are becoming even more disturbing in this church of historical revisionists. Let’s jump to the Second World War: “We thank the Lord for visible help in enemy territory”, it says, dated 1943.
I see. So the Christian God was on the side of the Wehrmacht and helped in the wars of aggression, massacres and deportations to concentration camps. Or what else should “visible help in enemy territory” mean? And if it is the land of “the enemy”, why not just stay at home? The monks supposedly can brew beer, but reasoning is not their strength.
Let’s read what the monastery itself writes about this:
“The economically difficult 1920s, the Third Reich and the post-war period weighed heavily on Abbot Bonifaz Wöhrmüller (1919-1951).”
Oh yes, poor German Christians, they suffered so much in the 20th century!
“The economic enterprises had to be restructured, pilgrimage and pastoral care demanded efforts and attention. At the same time, the number of monks and employees decreased.”
Yes, yes, the economy! Just don’t think about or reflect on participation in the Holocaust, on complicity in anti-Semitism, on gains from Aryanization. Whining about fewer monks, but turning a blind eye to the concentration camp in Dachau with its 169 satellite camps, including some in this lovely landscape of Starnberg County.
But the monks simply had more important things to do at the time, one must understand that:
“Despite the Second World War, stucco and frescoes of the pilgrimage church were restored in 1941/42.”
Oh, how I long for a new wave of secularization!
While smoking a cigar in the monastery garden and reading, the two main reasons for my slow advance, I seem to look like a really poor pilgrim vagrant, because a family demonstratively but unobtrusively “forgets” two bananas on the bench opposite. This saves me from the usurious inns. Anyway,I feel little inclination to support the Benedictines so that they can pay hush money to victims of sexual abuse.
Descending from the monastery into the Kien Valley, I meet a real pilgrim for the first time. She is not planning to walk all the way to Spain, but I learn that the Munich St. James’ Way largely coincides with the King Ludwig Trail that I have been following, only skipping the profane castles at the end and turning towards Lindau instead. This is a lot further than my modest birthday hike, but she is smarter than me, because she only has a small backpack and has already finished her daily stage at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
If I don’t find any Couchsurfing hosts for the next few days, I will be free of constraints and arrangements, really free as a vagabond, and I will probably slow down my pace as well. There are so many places where I could just sit for hours or fall asleep satisfied. The Kien Valley with its high beech trees that shield the sunlight but at the same time allow it to glisten in the lush green, and the eternally rushing stream in the deep gorge is one of these spots.
Herrsching may be quite pretty, but it takes all its pride and joy from a suburban train connection to Munich (practical for people who want to abandon the hike now because of political and ideological differences) as well as from its exact location on the 48th northern parallel, which puts the city on a level with Ulan Bator, Le Mans and Donetsk.
Oh yes, there is also a lake here. But this is Lake Ammer and more about that tomorrow.
As I stand on the outskirts of Herrsching in front of Mühlfeld Castle, wondering what it is, the sky darkens rapidly. (Later I will learn that the monks of Andechs used it as a summer, bathing and party castle. The difference between nobility and clergy wasn’t all that stark.)
So instead of walking the remaining 6 km, I stick my thumb out. Within less than a minute, a car stops. The young man doesn’t actually have to go to Aidenried, but he is so happy to see a hitchhiker that he insists on driving me there. He used to hitchhike to Innsbruck himself regularly because he had a girlfriend there, and meeting strangers was always great fun.
Reinhard, my Couchsurfing host, is not at home yet, so I deposit my backpack in the garden and go on an exploratory tour through the small village. After all, if he doesn’t show up, I have to find an alternative place to sleep.
In front of a farmhouse there is a luxurious sleeping swing, which would certainly be comfortable. But too close to the house.
Oh, over there is a chapel under a big tree.
And there is even a large bench under the tree. Perfect.
But at this very moment, all the clouds open up. For a while, the canopy of leaves keeps me dry, but after a few minutes it is already leaking in a hundred places.
In a garden below the chapel, a woman hastily fetches shoes and clothes from outside to save them from the deluge. She sees me, I wave, and she shouts over that I should come down to the terrace to seek shelter. So nice! She even brings me a towel.
Thus I have been sitting on the terrace for quite a while, hoping that the awning will withstand the storm, when two little girls come around the corner and spot me.
“Hello,” I greet them in their own garden.
“Do you need anything?” one of them asks, kind and helpful.
“Oh, thank you,” I say, “your mother has already helped me so much by allowing me to wait out the rain here.”
“Oh, our mom already knows that you are here?”
So apparently, there are families who raise their children in such a way that when they see a stranger in their garden, they don’t get frightened, but instead offer to help. And thus, this farmers’ family from Aidenried not only saved me from soaking wetness, hypothermia and death that day, but also lifted my faith in humanity to a new level.
As the low-hanging and deep black clouds take a short break, I quickly run to Reinhard’s house, which is half construction site, half museum.
He already has two other guests, so I get the sofa in the living room. From here I have a wonderful view over Lake Ammer, directly into the sunset, if it wasn’t still grey and cloudy. Hundreds of books are lining the room. Here, I could refuel if I had already consumed all the literature I am carrying with me.
At the age of 78, Reinhard is the oldest Couchsurfing host I have ever stayed with. He was a urologist and in retirement he turned his other talent, which he had already discovered in his youth, into a profession. He went to India for training and to the marble quarries of Da Nang in Vietnam, learned new techniques, and since then the old man, wiry like Clint Eastwood, has been working marble, granite and quartzite into shivas, sphinxes and swans, the latter an order by King Ludwig ll for Hohenschwangau or Neuschwanstein, but never picked up.
Older hosts are great because they have a lot of life experience. When I tell him about Iran, he jumps up and gets an amulet from the dining room: “This is for Imam Ali, I brought it from Isfahan.” He went to Iran with a Volkswagen Bulli when it was still the Kingdom of Persia. Enthusiastically, he relives the journey, from the Swedish girls whom he picked up in Istanbul as they wanted to go to India, to the attempted robbery at the hostel, where the thieves had hidden under the beds and jumped out at night. In the end, the robbers and the robbed were laughing together about the unarmed and harmless attempt to transfer ownership of chattel.
When we somehow get to the subject of volcanoes, he jumps up again and fetches a cannonball sized lump from the balcony: “A lava ejection from Etna. I drove up to the crater rim by car to skim lava for geological-sculptural experiments”. For this purpose, he had a blacksmith make a special trowel with a several meter long handle, which was then taken from him by the Carabinieri at gunpoint, because the lava trade in Sicily seems to be in firm and corrupt hands.
We don’t always agree, neither politically nor about women, where the sculptor, who is mainly interested in shapes and in shaping, shines through, but we talk until late at night.
Before the hike, there came warnings of bears, cold, hunger and blisters from the caring community. But the most dangerous thing happens this evening, when I run into a glass door that was cleaned too perfectly.
Fortunately, there is a doctor in the house. “Non-dislocated nasal bone contusion,” Reinhard diagnoses and tells me not to sleep on my stomach or on my side for the next few weeks. After a few days, the pain actually went away and I am still wearing my nose unscathed like a boxer whose strength lies in defense.
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