Goethe and Schiller at a gallop

Since seeking out the previous apartments of the 1920s Bauhau artist set was an epic fail the day before. I figure its easier to look for homes of these who were never chased out of Weimar, that is the writers – Goethe and Schiller.

Its threatening more rain but I figure I can make an early morning circuit of the Park an der Ilm to see Goethe’s summer house before stopping into the ‘official’ Goethe Haus on Frauen Platz.

I wander through the sleepy streets and pause at the mounted statue of Duke Carl Alexander, who features large as a benign benefactor for both writers, as I turn into the park.

I follow the park’s chalky trails cantered by joggers, through idyllic green forest and wide plains of tall grass, bisected by a river. I halt in front of a Goethe’s cottage with its manicured gardens as a ticket collector arrives, who whilst the church bells chime 10, the opening time, says the house is not open yet. I give her space to decide when 10 am exists on her time clock and wander the grounds and notice a huge old tree, now fallen on its side its so large, and wonder if Goethe ever sat under it.

I spend so much time in the grounds taking photos from every angle of this small romantic cottage, I decide I don’t need to go inside. I leave the ticket collector alone as clearly thats how she likes it.

Over at Frauen Platz, the Goethe circus is beginning. Swarms of people are gathered. Horse drawn carriages are lined up and the cafes are heaving with coffee and sugary cake consumers. I head up to the counter and ask in my best German for a ticket. I cant quite understand at first why I cant have one. The line behind me grows impatient. I finally get it as the hostility behind me peaks. I needed to have pre-reserved a ticket to get into the Goethe House as it is so busy.

I slink out ticketless, commiserating with myself, that I have at least seen through Goethe’s birthplace house in Frankfurt without incident a couple of years back. Then I head for Schiller’s house hoping for a better reception. And I got it.

Schillers house, by comparison, is an oasis of calm and staffed by patient ticket collectors who indulge my mangled German, in the home city of the most eloquent German literature you will find.

In comparison to Goethe, Schiller had a hard time of it. From his first play, he attracted the wrath of the duke of his home state. He left penniless seeking shelter from friends and eventually settled in Weimar, after the honourary appointment as a City Councillor by the enlightened Duke Carl Alexander. He married a local member of a threadbare aristocractic family, Charlotte, whilst maintaining a strong relationship with her sister Carolina, a soon to be divorcee. Watch the recent German film for a more saucy rendition of their eventual joint household. How he found the energy to write a play each year, whilst of poor health and permanently broke whilst romancing two sisters, is beyond me. He died at 45 years of age.

Schiller’s legacy is vast and includes a poem called ‘Ode to Joy’ which was the inspiration for Beethoven’s work of the same name and later for the play, Wilhelm (William) Tell, which regrettably Hitler’s propagandists seized on for a time before the narrative changed and it was dropped.

I get soaked walking back to the hotel and head inside the Neues Museum partly to escape the downpour and partly because it was the host of many Bauhaus exhibitions in the 1920s.

There is an exhibition of Winckelmann, the father of art history (1717 – 1768) called Moderne Antike. He fostered the love of Greek and Roman antiquities and perfection in the human form in the classical statues he discovered. There are examples of ethnography in the exhibition and some of the displays touch on rasse (race). I am unsettled by the direction of some of his later followers and exit glad its time for my train.





Chotesov Cloister close up – Czech Republic

I admit it. I am exhausted and all three of my devices, Go Pro, iPad and iPhone are drained out too. What an incredible day of discovery and connections.

I am met again today by the historian for Chotesov and two amazing volunteers from nearby Stod. They take me to Cross Hill by what can only be described as a farm track, to show me the now defunct church that has a special dedication to those who left for New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s. Dagmar speaks a bit of English so fills some knowledge gaps for me.

Later they drive me by some houses that were most likely in my family in the old days of Mantov.

Afterwards, the historian and I are dropped at Chotesov for me to have a private tour of the Cloister in the daylight with him. So we are back to conversing in German, a second language for both of us.

Like many major sites in central Europe, there have been many owners in the 800-plus-years history of the building. It was built in the 12th century by Magnifico Hroznata and run by his sister the first Abbess.

It was sacked by the Hussites in the 14th century  and then again in the 30 Years War in 1618. It was later rebuilt in the Baroque style and operated by the Catholic Church. In 1784 Emporer Joseph the second ordered its closure to curtail the increasing power of the Catholic Churches.

It was leased then to a group of German Salesian Sisters as a nunnery. The sisters opened the place up as a girls school. It operated up until almost to the end of WW2 when anyone with German connections, no matter how long distant, were banished by the Benes decrees.

For a few months American  troupes were based here, whilst Europe was carved up by the Allies. In 1950 the Soviet soldiers based themselves here using it as a barracks and munitions store. The building and its ancient frescoes were almost completely destroyed.

It is estimated millions and millions in Czech kroner damage was done in that time until they left in 1975.

The building is considered to be in the top 100 most important but seriously damaged buildings in the country.

I have a top to toe tour. We traverse echoey cracked corridors, observe restoration work on the damaged frescoes, and finally I see the cellar. Its a bit creepy as the last of my Go Pro battery drains out down there. I switch to my IPhone and that spontaneously dies too.

I suggest to my host, perhaps we head out of the slimey darkness to the sunshine. Thinking to myself clearly some captive spirit doesnt want us down here.

We move on to a cafe for more excellent Czech pastries I have enjoyed here, before my historian takes me to catch my Plzen train. Its hard to say goodbye and embarrasingly I burst into tears.  His eyes moisten too, but we still bid each other stiffly goodbye in the polite German Sie.




Sunken cities – Egypt’s lost worlds at The British Museum

If you are an archeology fan then get to this exhibition on at the British Museum.

Outside its chaos in the main part of the museum, but in this beautifully staged exhibition, its soft lights with a gurgly under water sound track and murmured voices.

A video begins the exhibition with a background on the extraordinary discovery made beneath the sea in Abukir Bay, at the edge of Egypt’s northwestern Nike Delta. The lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus known in ancient writings, were only discovered recently.

They were set on a fragile aquatic landscape of lakes and marshes that slowly sank into the sea. 1000 years later these cities are being recovered piece by extraordinary piece.

The monumental statue of Hapy, was a major find and is on display in the ante-room before we dive into a treasure trove of antiquities recovered.

A large part of the exhibition is on the interplay of Greek and Egyptian ideas that merged in the port cities. In particular how the cultures merged their dieties, borrowing back and forth, to suit the population.

We track various dynasties of rulers including Alexander the great, who encouraged the Eygtian belief in kings being divine beings. His general, Ptolemy, ascended to the throne post his death and this dynasty lasted 300 years. Fast forward to Cleopatra’s ill-fated reign as the last descendant of the Greek Ptolemies, and the region is lost to Roman rule.

We also see likenesses of Hadrian who visited Eygpt in AD130 where his Greek lover, Antinous, was to drown in the Nile.

Allow yourself a couple of hours to really savour all the treasure. It will be the best exhibition you will see in London this autumn.