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Art Lover's Guide to Speyer Cathedral

While we were climbing to the top of every aviation and boat exhibit we were allowed in the Technik Museum of Speyer, we could see the Cathedral waiting patiently, a jewel box on the horizon. It certainly built the anticipation. The museum and the cathedral are close enough, and Germany is in general pedestrian-friendly enough, that it was an easy, safe walk from one to the other. One weird intersection with crosswalks and a street until you’re in the larger park leading to the cathedral.

From the Technik Museum of Speyer to the Speyer Cathedral, about a 10 minute walk

Largest Romanesque Architecture
You could describe this cathedral as so many firsts, largest, best. Being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List tends to suggest as much. Speyer Cathedral, or Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Kaiserdom zu Speyer, is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World, the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe, the first to have an exterior gallery and system of arcades around the entire building, a pilgrimage site, the resting place of 8 Kings and Emperors, and was the biggest church in the western hemisphere at the time of it's completion in 1106. Phew! To say this is a very important building feels like an understatement.

Speyer Cathedral is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World and the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe.

But, how does it make you feel? Personally, it was a calming, solemn, space. Not in anyway creepy as some older European churches are. With minimal ornamentation and varying natural colors shining purely from the carefully placed red sandstone from the nearby Palatine Forest Mountains, this cathedral is the most naturally beautiful church I’ve seen. I have to wonder if the architect Antoni Gaudi hadn’t once visited the Speyer Cathedral? The smooth, soaring semi-circular columns offers the same feeling of being in a quiet forest, just as I had felt in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

The view of the nave from the western portal in the Speyer Cathedral in Germany

An Image Worthy of a Pilgrimage
A delicate, carefully painted standing Madonna statue quietly demands your attention at the front of the nave with fresh flowers at her feet and candles lit before her. This image, sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker, consecrated by Pius XI in Rome, was brought into the Speyer Cathedral in 1930. In doing so, the pilgrimage history for the Speyer Cathedral gained a new chapter to a centuries-long legacy.

Speyer Standing Madonna Statue Sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker in 1930

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s. These frescoes were part of an even larger installment and collaboration with Joseph Schwarzmann that was unfortunately removed in the 1960s in an attempt to make the cathedral appear more ‘romanesque.’ Some of the frescoes that were removed have been restored and are now in a new display in the Emperor's Hall of the Cathedral.

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s.

The Mount of Olives
Beside the Cathedral in a leafy clearing, you discover the sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856. A roof was built above the statue to prevent further wear and tear. Not sure why the roof has a rooster on top. Puzzling, but charming.

The outdoor sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856.

Speyer Cathedral Bowl
Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories. Prisoners would make a run for the bowl in order to be out of the city's jurisdictional area, now being protected by the church. And historically, to welcome a new bishop, the bowl was filled with wine for the citizens to freely enjoy.

Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories.

The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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The Art Within the Art: Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

The Art Within The Art: Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

You have to admit, the building is impressive. It reinforces the idea that you’re about to witness man-made achievements before you even buy your ticket. I wonder if the architects were playing against the idea that you should think outside the box when they decided to literally build a modern, cold-looking, glass box, and then enclose the art in warm, Jurassic-age limestone. The new museum building was opened in 2005, and designed by architects Hascher and Jehle, the triumphant winners of a competition amongst 341 architect offices. They sought and accomplished building a museum that offered varied exhibition spaces, and felt open to the city outside. For the museum visitor, the act of changing floors is both becoming a part of the public art of the museum architecture itself, as revealed by the glass windows to passersby outside, and a visual delight with its panorama views of the city-center.

Swabian Impressionism
Thanks to Count Silvio della Valle di Casanova's donation of his private collection of Swabian Impressionist works in 1924, the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart had a hearty foundation to start. Impressionism is my favorite art period, and the ‘Swabian’ element grabbed my curiosity. What made this Impressionist collection ‘Swabian’? Swabia refers to a region of fluctuating borders within Germany, one that usually included the city of Stuttgart. In today’s geography Swabia has been swallowed up by the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württenberg.

Swabian Impressionist referred to where the artists were from, more than a different variation of Impressionism. Although some may point out that their paintings consisted of more earthy tones than their French counterparts, this was in reflection of the Swabian landscapes they were depicting. The names to know are Hermann Pleuer, Otto Reiniger, and Christian Landenberger. Hermann Pleuer, whose landscapes often included some form of rail or trains in the scene are easy to identify. Impress your friends when you name the artist without looking at the calling card.

Otto Dix
We’ve discussed Expressionism before as it related to the architecture of a special street in Bremen, Germany called Böttcherstrasse. You can check out those earlier posts here, Böttcherstrasse: An Introduction (Part 1), Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum (Part 2) Mostly Expressionist, Sort of North German Gothic (Part 3). Expressionism also has a painting counterpart, a style that Otto Dix is very well known for. He distorted the figures in his painting for an emotional effect, to express a feeling. Expressionist; expressing feeling.

Dix had plenty to express! He was the perfect age to suffer through the entire duration of World War I, which thematically weaved through his subject matter for his entire art career. As a professor his artwork met the ire of Hitler, and was exhibited at the Degenerate Art Exhibit in Berlin. Hitler wasn’t fond of his Anti-War sentiments, nor his distorted painted figures. In the final years of WWII, he was drafted with the older men and young boys. He ended up a prisoner of war in France. Otto Dix died in 1969.

If you only have time for one painting, see his massive triptych Metropolis. Be forewarned it is not the most lovely thing you’ll see in Stuttgart. That's beside the point. The artist risked his life for a country, which upon losing the war and paying reparations, was degraded to prostitution in exchange for basic needs and widespread neglect of its veterans. His disillusionment spilled over into this piece, Metropolis. On the far left is the lowest of the low, and the far right is only slightly better. The middle is the bourgeois who are physically separated from their miserable counterparts on either side.

Metropolis by Otto Dix, part of the permanent collection of Kunstmuseum Stuttgart | Germany • Gallery Photo Attributed to Peter Bilz-Wohlgemuth

Always New
As a municipal museum focused on modern art, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart always has new exhibitions being shown.Check their English website for the latest and greatest.

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Böttcherstrasse Part 2: Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

What you need to know visiting the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany • Böttcherstraße Museums

The first museum dedicated solely to a female artist, and the first female artist to do a nude self-portrait.

Paula Modersohn-Becker certainly has my attention!

You might be wondering why you haven’t heard of her before. It is surprising that her life hasn’t been appropriated for a major motion picture or a best-selling historical novel by Susan Vreeland. Paula Modersohn-Becker led a dramatic, full life, with hundreds of paintings to her credit before dying at the young age of 31. Her greatest love in her life was her art, and she battled the same struggle women do today of balancing career with having a family. She married an older man and died a few weeks after giving birth to her one and only child. She documented her life through countless letters and diaries, available even in English (affiliate link).

Often the argument I’ll make for modern art is that it's the first of it's kind, and while something may not be as aesthetically pleasing as we may prefer, it's still notable because it's first. Although Paula's style of work may not be my favorite, to see it up close and in person is something else entirely. Her paintings are so textured that it's impossible to reproduce what they’re like in two dimensional form. You simply must see them. Trust me. She would use the sharp end of her paintbrush to scratch into the thick oil paint, making her paintings sculptural in person. They're visually fascinating.

Paula was moved to paint how a scene felt, rather than appeared. She was trained and capable of reproducing a scene realistically, but she chose to express a scene with shapes, simplicity and feeling. Paula has been attributed saying, translated from German, “I believe that one should not think too much about nature when painting, at least not during the painting's conception. The color sketch should be made exactly as one has perceived things in nature. But personal feeling is the main thing.”

A Closer Look at the Museum's Highlight: Self-Portrait on the Sixth Wedding Day

To be clear, six year anniversary. This life-size, self-portrait demands to be seen. Statuesque, and staring out at the viewer, Paula looks confident, but also as if she's thinking hard. We have history's advantage to know that she was not pregnant when this painting was done. With that knowledge, viewers can make all sorts of guesses and observation as to what Paula's thinking so hard about. This painting is a great example of how she sculpted her paint. The brushwork follows the direction of the form.

Self-portrait on the Sixth Wedding Day by Paula Modersohn-Becker • Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany

My Personal Favorite: Girl in a Birch Wood with a Cat

I'm a loud and proud cat fan, and I'm immensely charmed when I see cats starring in paintings. Girl in a Birch Wood with a Cat easily stole my heart. This painting also stars Paula's favorite tree, birch. I love how the birch tree the girl is leaning against seems to be leaning against the girl as well. The figure holding a baby on the right side of the canvas is mirrored in the girl holding the cat. Is the girl pretending the cat is her baby? Maybe that's the girl's mother behind her, on the right side of the canvas, holding a younger sibling. Maybe the girl wandered off to be alone, taking the cat with her while she pouts? That's what I wonder about when I look at this piece. The pattern on the cat's coat also seems to mirror the pattern of the birch tree. The cat alone looks at the viewer, almost protectively, or perhaps startled. I can easily picture this as a real life scene that Paula observed while at the Artist Colony in Worpswede.

A side note: It seems as though someone at artsy.net made a beautifully detailed scan or photo of both of these paintings, and you're able to see the brushwork clearly. Click either of the paintings to go to their respective pages on artsy, and while your mouse is over the image on that page, the cursor is a magnifying glass, click to see the painting even larger. Its really nice.

Girl in a Birch Wood With a Cat by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1904) Oil on canvas • Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany

Planning Your Trip to the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, as well as Ludwig Roselius Museum, is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 11am – 6 pm, closed Mondays. Admission is 6 Euros, but may be discounted for family groups and kids under 6. Click here for the official Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum site.

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Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist at the Hamburger Kunsthalle Cheat Sheet

"I just don’t understand why that is art! I could have done that. Why is that in a museum? ” Sebastian asks me this if we happen to cross paths with a modern abstract art gallery. Often, art is noteworthy because it's completely different than what’s come before it, or even revolutionary for the genre and pushes styles forward. Certain pivotal paintings in history affect all of those to come after.

As tourists visit the Louvre in Paris in hunt of the Mona Lisa, tourists visit the Hamburger Kunsthalle in hunt of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Mist. I’ll quickly fill you in on why you should visit Friedrich’s work and what you need to know to appreciate what you see. The Hamburger Kunsthalle has several esteemed works of Friedrich's in their collection, but for attention span’s sake, I’ll stick to the Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist at the Hamburger Kunsthalle Cheat Sheet

Pictured Above, Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist (1818) Caspar David Friedrich, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, on display in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany

Why was Friedrich's paintings revolutionary?

Caspar David Friedrich pushed the boundaries of the landscape painting genre. Coming from a generation where landscapes impersonated gardens and gardens impersonated landscapes, when only beauty and composition mattered, Friedrich’s landscapes moved towards being illustrative and symbolic. His paintings weren’t all blue skies and fluffy clouds, so to speak.

You feel something, as a viewer, whether that be sad, scared, reverent, or in awe. His peers were striving to deceive the viewer into feeling they were looking out of a window or at the real scene. Friedrich took the direct opposite approach, and said “A painting must stand as a painting, made by human hand; not seek to disguise itself as Nature.”

Friedrich was recognized for his work while he was alive, to the extent at one time he worked on commission for the Russian Royal Family. However, his work fell out of popularity and he died very poor. Alfred Lichtwark, the first Director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, acquired the Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist painting in 1970. His numerous Friedrich acquisitions for the museum have led to the rediscovery and appreciation of Friedrich’s work

There are countless analyses on Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Mist painting, and for better or worse, almost all are speculation and can not be substantiated with a helpful diary entry. Oh the mystery! Personally, I love artwork that’s open for interpretation. It's more interesting that way.

Here’s the art gossip and hearsay mixed with verified facts:

Some speculate that his early brush with nature's brutality at a pivotal moment in his life may have instilled his respect for nature and passion for landscape paintings. Friedrich, at age 13, almost drowned in a frozen lake while ice skating. His younger brother Johann Christoffer died in his effort to save Friedrich from drowning.

Some speculate that it's a self-portrait, judging by the gentleman’s hair color as reddish-blonde, like Friedrich’s. However, others would argue that if it's a self-portrait, why didn’t he entitle it as a self-portrait? There’s no way of knowing who the Wanderer is as he is turned away from the viewer.

During this period of Friedrich’s paintings, the addition of groupings of figures are prevalent.

Some speculate his finally getting married at age 43 to a girl twenty years younger and starting a family made him more inclined to include figures in his landscapes.

Others argue that his including figures from behind in his paintings is his way of reminding the viewer that this is NOT a real scene, that it is a painting. This was counter to what his peers were doing, trying to make their landscapes as realistic as possible in order to be mistaken for real nature.

Where is this epic cliff that the Wanderer is using as a look out?

Technically speaking, as it is shown, it does not exist. Friedrich’s process included making very detailed sketches from life, and then returning to the studio to assemble the sketched motifs into a composition of absolute perfection. The rocks that the Wanderer is standing on are likely to be from Kaiserkrone, as evidence by preliminary sketches Friedrich made.

Some speculate that Friedrich combined pieces of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Zirkelstein, Rosenberg, or the Katlenberg.

Bonus Resources

Go Prepared Buy your Hamburger Kunsthalle museum tickets in advance online here. Visit the English version of the Hamburger Kunsthalle website here.

Connect You can follow the Hamburger Kunsthalle in English via Instagram. They recently reopened after a major renovation and modernization and have all sorts of interesting behind the scenes shown: @hamburger.kunsthalle

Explore a virtual tour of several rooms after the renovation and modernization, thanks to the Hamburger Abendblatt.

Read this excellent article by the museum director about the Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist painting.

Watch an interview in German in the newly reopened Caspar David Friedrich room, you may not know what they’re saying, but it's still nice to watch.

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P.S. The Best Caspar David Friedrich Book Out There

For my research, I visited my alma mater Ringling College of Art & Design’s library, went through their nine different monographs available on Friedrich. Hauled them to a study table and carefully reviewed each one, promising myself I’d only borrow one. This is the one I chose. It’s phenomenal. It’s the coffee table book other coffee table books aspire to be. It makes full use of it's oversize pages with close-up reproductions of paintings that bleed off the edge of the page. The author provides an unbiased, overview of Friedrich’s work, life, and times, and how it fit in with what was happening in his time. I felt that he presented all of the speculation fairly and let the reader make their own conclusion, and his doing so inspired me to do the same with my post. Amazing monograph. See if your local library can borrow a copy for you to check out, or buy now online.

Grave, Johannes. Caspar David Friedrich. Trans. Dr. Fiona Elliot. Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2012. Print.


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