Reach for the stars

We are still in Bavaria having moved further north to the area of hop fields where so much of that essential ingredient for German beer is brewed. We are staying once again with our friends Anne and Ray. The hot weather has continued so that any activity is exhausting. This even includes writing the blog. As far as possible we are seeking shelter from the heat down in the cellar where Anne's computer is set up. Having learned yesterday just how debilitating the heat can be, today we are spending the afternoon indoors and will accompany Anne to Ingolstadt this evening when she goes to see a production of Macbeth. We declined her invitation to join her. Somehow, following Macbeth in German in a hot and crowded theatre did not seem very appealing so we will seek out a beer garden instead.

The weather fades into insignificance compared to the really hot news here. Ray, as we have mentioned before, has had an astronomical career working for ESO (European Southern Observatory) here in Germany. He retired some years ago now but his area of expertise has been in the development of mirrors used in reflecting telescopes. It is his research that has contributed greatly to the development of the famed VLT (Very Large Telescope) and the current ELT (Extremely Large Telescope) both of which have impacted hugely on current investigation of space.

Our arrival coincided with an exciting phone call he received from the US announcing that he has been awarded the Kavli prize for Astrophysics, to be awarded in Oslo in September. This really is the pinnacle of success. It is offered biannually as a complement to the Nobel Prize, to scientists who have made major contributions to the advancement of research into astrophysics and certain other disciplines. Ray, bless him, is wandering around in a semi-daze wondering why he has been selected as he considers he simply had a good idea and is really only developing research begun by others. He quotes Sir Isaac Newton – "I am standing on the shoulders of Giants". The phone has been as hot as the weather with journalists from around the world wanting to speak with him. The ESO press release about Ray's award and the reasons behind it can be seen on the internet.

As if this recognition was not exciting enough, an added complication for Ray is that during the same week he is to be presented with the Tycho Brahe Award in Lisbon! This also in recognition of his contribution to astrophysics. He will spend most of that week jetting around Europe!

We arrived here on Wednesday afternoon having left Charlotte after breakfast and called off on the way to visit the delightful little town of Freising. Having explored the main street with its individual little shops and cafes – always keeping to the shady side, we climbed up to the white twin towers of the Cathedral and seminary. Here we discovered an exhibition in the Cathedral library on P. Ferdinand Rosne (1709-1778), the dramatist who was a professor in Freising and author of a version of the Oberammergau Passion play which was first performed in 1750. It is to be enacted in Freising this summer, the same year as the performance of the play at Oberammergau, which has been enacted every ten years since 1634, to fulfil a vow made after the village was spared an epidemic of plague.

Main street, Freising

Flower market, Freising

Cathedral, Freising

Curiosity lured us into the Cathedral library where, once we said we were retired librarians with an interest in historical bibliography, we were shown around by a very friendly and enthusiastic librarian. He had a meeting but left us to continue exploring the collections on our own.

Cathedral library, Freising

Downstairs we found another exhibition, this one about the early life and religious career of Josef Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict who was once a student in the seminary in Freising.

Priests ordained at Freising in 1951, including Josef Ratzinger

The present Pope as a child (far left) with his family, Freising

Arriving in Rohrbach we spent the afternoon chatting over cold drinks until Anne left to give her final English lesson before the summer break. We later joined her and several of her students at the local pizzeria for additional English conversation and supper in the courtyard.

Anne's English group, Pfaffenhofen

It was still very hot and close when we returned home around 10.30 to find Ray back from a meeting at ESO where he had been presented with a crystal paperweight depicting the VLT, (that uses Ray's mirror) by the director-general, cock-a-hoop at Ray's prestigious award, which naturally reflects well on ESO.

Paperweight with laser image of ESO's Very Large Telescope

Ray, as we have mentioned elsewhere, lives life on a different timescale from everybody else. For him the day had hardly begun when Anne and I retired to bed around 12.30 am, leaving Ian and Ray discussing ancient Greek science, cosmology (Ray is a rebel who supports the steady state theory) and linguistics. They also sorted out German politics, the European Union and the chronic state of the education systems across the world for a couple more hours before Ian too retired leaving Ray still full of beans. Yesterday Ray did not put in an appearance until sometime during the afternoon.

Meanwhile Anne, Ian and I went off for the day. It was good for me to be a passenger for a change and Anne knew all the cross country routes taking us through immaculately kept little Bavarian villages with picturesque farms and onion-domed churches set amidst the open landscape of ripening wheat fields and plantations of hops, asparagus and strawberries.

By the time we reached the village of Rohr (nothing to do with Rohrbach) we were uncomfortably hot and every spot of shade had disappeared. The village church was an oasis of cool. It felt icy as we entered. What if we did need to share it with the displayed bones of a couple of local saints! I'd willingly have laid down beside them for the rest of the day if it meant keeping fresh and cool.

The church was built by the Asam brothers in the 18th century and is at the furthest extreme of late baroque. Indeed it seemed more like a stage set than a church. They were major exponents of illusionist decoration in religious architecture. Their work in this church was filled with religious fervour. Heavy clouds that looked like substantial scoops of ice cream held up equally substantial cherubs. The decoration included heavy use of gold paint, baroque carving, oil paintings, statues and ceiling frescoes. Everything had been created together to form an entity. Stunning as the overall effect was though, the quality of the actual craftsmanship – the oil paintings and carvings for example - was not always outstanding and much of the marble was trompe l'oeil painting. Of particular note were the pulpit, organ and above all, the flamboyant altar, lit from a stained glass window above, showing the ascent of the Virgin into Heaven. To us it looked more as if she was emerging from an ornate bath! Only in Bavaria!!

Interior, Rohr

Altar showing the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin, Rohr

Holy relics, Rohr

Organ, Rohr

Painted ceiling, Rohr

The only article in the church that was not part of the "stage set" was the Romanesque style baptismal font, beautiful in its simplicity and its contrast to the surroundings.

Romanesque baptismal font, Rohr

Our next church, in the village of Biburg was gothic and simple inside with very little decoration. It too was deliciously cool. Indeed, a church trawl was the perfect occupation for what has been officially recorded as the hottest day of the year here with temperatures of 35 degrees. Its main decoration was a series of figures around the entrance depicting the seven deadly sins.

Village church, Biburg

Gothic interior, Biburg

It was lunch time before we reached Abensberg, another pleasant little Bavarian town dominated by the local brewery. Rather like Guinness in Dublin, it is on the tourist trail for Bavaria with visits around the brewery where samples of the beer are included. It was not something any of us fancied on a hot day though, unlike Guinness, this brewery included facsimiles of art work and a wonderful Hundertwasser tower with its gold dome and surreal charms. This brought a very different architectural experience to the town but unfortunately the tower can only be climbed as part of the brewery tour. We first encountered the extravagant contemporary architecture of Friedensreich Hundertwasser in Vienna on 27th June 2006 In some ways it is not dissimilar to the Gaudi works we have seen in Barcelona.

Hundertwasser Tower, Abensberg

Arty photo by/of Ian, Hundertwasser Tower, Abensberg

Anne and Jill playing in the children's corner, Hundertwasser tower, Abensberg

A more traditional tower, Abensberg

Anne knew of a cool restaurant with a Bavarian menu for lunch. Ian chose sensibly, ending up with cold pickled fish in a chilled courgette sauce with salad and parsley potatoes. Anne and I went for adventure and accidentally ended up with a board piled with mashed camembert with cream, butter and chillies, served with heavy brown bread, strawberries and beer! Not what we wanted on such a hot day and far too filling. Lesson learned – next time we select things we understand from the menu!

Unable to cope any longer, we took the motorway back to Rohrbach, gulped down several glasses of water and disappeared to our beds for a couple of hours where we slept solidly until the heat had eased!

By the time we woke around 6pm Ray had finished breakfast and was wondered why we were all so sleepy. Anne was out during the evening so we were wonderfully entertained by Ray with his delightful mix of eccentricity and enthusiasm to discuss any topic under the sun before turning it somehow into a criticism of national governments, the European Community and globalisation. When I finally retired to bed around midnight I left Ian and Ray happily sampling large bowls of bio-ice-cream.

This morning the air was slightly fresher and Anne needed some shopping. It was a good opportunity to rediscover Pfaffenhofen with Anne as our guide. We strolled the large central square with its pleasant old houses, the church at one end and the town hall at the other. Beneath the clock tower we discovered a grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary while in the adjacent church several interesting epitaphs from the 17th century were set into the walls. In common with most Bavarian churches of course it had its full complement of saintly bones swaddled in white satin.

Main square, Pfaffenhofen

Grotto at the base of the clock tower, Pfaffenhofen

Maypole and clock tower, Pfaffenhofen

More to our taste was one of the pleasant cafe/bistros where we stopped for lunch – jacket potatoes with quark and herbs. A refreshing change from Wurst or worse!

On the way home we decided to visit Hal, Anne's delightful but sometimes stubborn Fell pony she brought over from England some years ago. He leads the life of Riley in a hippo- commune which he shares with a dozen other lazy horses, munching their way through great swathes of Bavarian grassland until their owners appear, when they hurriedly hide in the shady shed in the corner of the field in the hope they won't be discovered. It took several large carrots before Hal could be persuaded to come out and be sociable. He really does have a happy life getting fat on rich pasture that is full of clover and sweet juicy flowers. He is surrounded by the hopfields and his great pleasure is to be hand fed carrots while Anne, his devoted slave, grooms his tangled mane, brushes his tail and rubs his flanks with a stiff brush until he gleams. On an earlier visit he even let Ian ride him. Once though was quite enough for both of them. This time they eyed each other with mistrust and doubt.

Anne and Jill with the stable cat, Rohrbach

Anne with Hal, Rohrbach

Saturday 12th June 2010, Rohrbach, near Pfaffenhofen
Actually it is only just Saturday. We arrived back home this evening around midnight from our evening out in Ingolstadt to discover the house empty, Ray having taken himself off somewhere for a late supper (or in his case lunch!) It is still far too hot to sleep.

The evening was starting to lose its heat when we arrived in Ingolstadt, home of the Audi car producers. Having discussed with Anne "When shall we three meet again?" and "Where the place?" we left her to join a friend for a modern production of Macbeth in German. We set off to explore the town which we last visited in 2006. This evening is the start of the World Cup for football and the centre of most German towns have been given over to what they quaintly term "public viewing". This English term was meaningless to us. It turned out to be a huge overhead screen set up so that anyone who wished could watch the latest football game as they sat at long trestle tables with large flagons of beer and a plate of Wurst to tide them over until the end of the match.

Before the match, Ingolstadt

Around the town almost everybody we saw seemed to be either drinking beer or eating bowls of ice-cream. Eventually, after following the town trail for a while, we found a footbridge across the Danube to a very pleasant park, where people were gathered to enjoy the cool of the evening. Here, amid the old fortifications of the town, we discovered a beer garden surrounded by roses and fairy lights that twinkled in the gloom of the evening. We each ordered something different and then shared each meal. In fact portions were so huge one meal between us on a hot day would have been more sensible. It was just so pleasant sitting in the garden with our beers as dusk turned to night and the stars twinkled above the fairy lights that we failed to return to town and continue our walk of discovery. Instead, we strolled back just in time to meet Anne as Macbeth ended. She had found it a very stimulating performance – but then she has lived in Germany for thirty years so is presumably familiar with such everyday German phrases as "Eye of frog and tongue of newt." With cries of "lead on Maxted" we followed Ian back to the car park and so home.

Part of the town fortifications, Ingolstadt

Night view across the Danube to the Neues Schloss, Ingolstadt

An earlier report about Ingolstadt, Rohrbach, the Hop growing industry and our friends can be seen on the4th and 5th July 2006 where there is further information about Ray's publications and the awards he had received around the world for his research with telescope mirrors.

Saturday 12th June 2010, Rohrbach, near Pfaffenhofen, Continued
I have spent most of today indoors, avoiding the sun and catching up with photos to illustrate several days of blogs. Meanwhile Ian and Anne visited a friend of Anne's who is an asparagus producer and this is the last week she will be pulling it. The area is glutted with it and everywhere there are signs advertising white "spargel" at around 6 Euros a kilo. It is also on the menu of every Bavarian restaurant. Unfortunately we have not actually seen it being removed from the ground but have been told that the earth is piled up around it to ensure it does not break through the surface and it is then lifted out with a special tool.

Grading and packing asparagus, Pfaffenhofen

They also went strawberry picking, returning rather hot and sticky. Later the four of us ate the strawberries with ice cream, and the asparagus with hollandaise sauce and smoked ham for supper on the terrace in the evening accompanied by chilled white wines from Switzerland and the Bourgogne.

Friends Anne and Ray, Pfaffenhofen

It turned slightly cooler during the afternoon so we were able to take a very pleasant and interesting walk through the local woodlands and across the open fields, amongst the hop fields. Hops grown in the Holledau area of Bavaria are used worldwide in the production of light beers and lagers. We also discovered several plantations of English hops which have been imported and are now used for producing more bitter beers.

Looking across the fields towards the village of Wolnzach

Hopfield in the Holledau

On our way back we called on Hal again. He was still avoiding the heat, hiding right at the furthest corner of the wooden shelter. He prefers the chilly fells of Northern England. Still, he did come scampering down the field to join us when he realised Anne was carrying carrots rather than a halter so he'd not have to take her for a ride. He was quite sociable until a hornet landed on his rump when he galloped, tossed and jumped his way back to the shed with a carrot dangling from his mouth!