Places

Grossglockner and beyond

During our stay in Matrei, we visited Grossglockner, which is the highest mountain in Austria and one of the highest in the Alps. It has an elevation of 3798 meters above sea level and is reached via the appropriately named Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße).

Technically, there are two peaks on the same mountain: the Grossglockner (the one holding the records) and its little brother, the Kleinglockner. The Pasterze, Austria’s most extended glacier, lies on the Grossglockner’s eastern slope.

You’ll be able to see photos from our ascent into the mountains from Döllach, of the big mountain and the long glacier themselves, and of our descent toward Ferleiten in the gallery I’ve uploaded here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Standard
Places

Matrei in Osttirol

Here is a large set of photographs from a visit to a little town in Austria called Matrei in Tyrol (Matrei im Osttirol). We visited it back in 2008 and stayed there for a few days, taking daytrips to various cities and places around the Hohe Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.

The photos are of the town itself, of the surrounding countryside (including the Klaunz, Glanz, Hinterburg and Strummerhof settlements), and of a hike up and down Inner-Klaunzer Berg, the mountain that rises right next to Matrei. (You can see photos taken at the top of that mountain in this post.) There are also a few photographs of the exterior of Castle Weißenstein, which we would have liked to visit but was not open to the public.

We stayed at Hotel Goldried, which has spartan interiors but good views of the town and a funicular that you can operate yourself. It’s right next to the ski slopes, in case you should visit in winter. And on some evenings, you’ll get to see and hear people singing Austrian folk songs, which was a surreal experience for us. We were coming down from the top of the mountain, tired and sweaty, and as as we approached the town, we could hear songs echoing in the valley below. Not crappy modern music blaring from a loudspeaker, but songs sung by people and laughter, lots of it. Night had fallen around us, and in the dark, the hotel’s open door shone like a beacon, music spilling out of it. Exhausted, we stumbled in and saw a full restaurant swinging back and forth on their chairs, singing a folk song in unison. Those Austrians! 🙂

Standard
Places

A jaunt through Dresden

Dresden (known as Drježdźany in Sorbian, Drážďany in Czech and Drezno in Polish) is the capital city and, after Leipzig, the second-largest city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic. Its name derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning “people of the forest”. An important thing to note here is that there is a difference between Sorbians (also known as Lusatians) and Serbians; they are separate ethnic groups in Europe, with completely separate histories.

Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor, and was once the family seat of the Polish monarchs. The city was known as the “Jewel Box”, because of its baroque and rococo city centre. The American and British bombing of Dresden in World War II towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city centre. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Zwinger and the Semper Oper.

A view of Dresden in 1945, after the Allied bombing

We visited that old part of the city and we walked around in the section between the Frauenkirche and the Hofkirche in the course of an afternoon. We didn’t stay. We were on a fairly tight schedule and needed to move on. That evening, we made it to a small town named Radebeul, where we spent the night. Enjoy the photographs, there are 93 of them!

Standard
Places

Cecilienhof Palace

Inbetween the two days of visits to Schloss Sanssouci, we made time to visit Schloss Cecilienhof, which is nearby and is a larger compound, in spite of its less imposing facades. Sanssouci was originally projected with just 10 rooms to be used by Frederick the Great, while Cecilienhof was built with 176 rooms. Although the various buildings seem separate, they are interconnected at ground level and below ground and feature quite a few private gardens, set in private courtyards. We visited all we could manage in the space of an afternoon and evening that stretched till dusk, when we had to call it quits.

Cecilienhof is a palace in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany built from 1914 to 1917 in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous (or infamous) for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia. In other words, the Potsdam Conference is singularly responsible for drawing the dark iron curtain of communism over most of Eastern Europe, so it’s not an event that many from Eastern Europe remember fondly. The palace’s history is also a fairly sad one, because in spite of its beauty and functionality, it was only used for its intended purpose for a few years.

On 13 April 1914 the Imperial Ministry and the Saalecker Werkstätten signed a building contract that envisaged a completion date of 1 October 1915 and a construction cost of 1,498,000 Reichsmark for the new palace. The architect was Paul Schultze-Naumburg, who visited the couple in Danzig to work out the design for the palace. It was based on English Tudor style buildings, arranged around several courtyards featuring half-timbered walls, bricks and 55 different decorative chimney stacks. The palace was finished in August 1917. It was named Cecilienhof after the Duchess and the couple moved in immediately. Cecilie gave birth at Cecilienhof to her youngest child, Cecilie of Prussia who was born on 5 September 1917.

However, when the revolution erupted in November 1918, for security reasons Cecilie and her six children moved for a while to the Neues Palais, where the wife of Emperor Wilhelm II, Empress Augusta Victoria, was living. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, where he remained until his death, on his estate Huize Doorn. (Incidentally, a film was made about the last years of his life and it’s called “The Exception” (2016). It stars Christopher Plummer, Lily James and Jai Courtney.) After the Empress followed her husband into exile in the Netherlands, Cecilie remained in Potsdam and returned to Cecilienhof where she lived until 1920. As the property of the Hohenzollern family had been confiscated after the revolution, Cecilie then had to move her residence to an estate at Oels in Silesia, which was a private property. Only her sons Wilhelm (William) and Louis Ferdinand remained at Cecilienhof while they attended a public Realgymnasium (school) in Potsdam. Crown Prince Wilhelm had gone into exile in the Netherlands on 13 November 1918 and was interned on the island of Wieringen. He was allowed to return to Germany—as a private citizen—on 9 November 1923.

In June 1926, a referendum on expropriating the former ruling Princes of Germany without compensation failed and as a consequence, the financial situation of the Hohenzollern family improved considerably. A settlement between the state and the family made Cecilienhof property of the state but granted a right of residence to Wilhelm and Cecilie. This was limited in duration to three generations.

Prince Wilhelm subsequently broke the promise he had made to Gustav Stresemann, who allowed him to return to Germany, to stay out of politics. He supported the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who visited Cecilienhof three times, in 1926, in 1933 (on the “Day of Potsdam”) and in 1935. However, when Wilhelm realized that Hitler had no intention of restoring the monarchy, their relationship cooled. After the assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, Hitler had Wilhelm placed under supervision by the Gestapo and had Cecilienhof watched.

In January 1945, Wilhelm left Potsdam for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. Cecilie fled in early February 1945 as the Red Army drew closer to Berlin, without being able to salvage much in terms of her possessions. At the end of the war, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets.

After the Potsdam Conference ended, Soviet troops used the palace as a clubhouse. It was handed over to the state of Brandenburg and in 1952 a memorial for the Conference was set up in the former private chambers of Wilhelm and Cecilie. The government of Eastern Germany also used the palace as a reception venue for state visits. The rest of the complex became a hotel in 1960. Some of the rooms were used by the ruling party (SED) for meetings. After 1961, a part of the Neuer Garten was destroyed to build the southwest section of the Berlin Wall (as part of the Grenzsicherungsanlagen) which ran along the shore of Jungfernsee. Beginning in 1985, the VEB Reisebüro (state-owned travel agency) modernised the hotel.

Today, parts of Cecilienhof are still used as a museum and as a hotel. In 1990 it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. The private rooms were opened to the public in 1995 after comprehensive restoration work. Queen Elizabeth II visited Cecilienhof on 3 November 2004. On 30 May 2007, the palace was used for a summit by the G8 foreign ministers. In 2011, Schloss Cecilienhof was awarded the European Heritage Label.

I hope you’ll enjoy this gallery of 113 photographs I took there!

Standard
Places

Sanssouci Palace

After sightseeing in Berlin, we visited Potsdam (which in our days is technically within the territory of Berlin but was once a separate place), where we spent time over the course of a couple of days at Sanssouci Palace (Schloss Sanssouci). The Palace was once the summer home of Frederick the Great, the former King of Prussia. The town of Potsdam was a favourite place of residence for the German imperial family until the fall of the Hohenzollern dynasty in 1918.

An interesting aside: the House of Hohenzollern is also notable for being the official monarchy of Romania from 1881 to 1947 and unofficially from 1991 onward, with the current heir being Princess Margareta, Custodian of the Crown of Romania.

Sanssouci was built in order to fulfill King Frederick’s need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court. It was designed and partially built by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747. Because of a disagreement about the site of the palace in the park, Knobelsdorff was fired in 1746. Jan Bouman, a Dutch architect, finished the project. The palace’s name emphasises this; it is a French phrase (sans souci), which translates as “without concerns” or “carefree”, symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power.

Sanssouci is little more than a large, single-story villa—more like the Château de Marly than Versailles. Containing just ten principal rooms, it was built on the brow of a terraced hill at the centre of the park. The influence of King Frederick’s personal taste in the design and decoration of the palace was so great that its style is characterised as “Frederician Rococo“, and his feelings for the palace were so strong that he conceived it as “a place that would die with him”.

Frederick the Great (1712–86)

During the 19th century, the palace became a residence of Frederick William IV. He employed the architect Ludwig Persius to restore and enlarge the palace, while Ferdinand von Arnim was charged with improving the grounds and thus the view from the palace.

Here is a gallery of 56 photographs I took there. Enjoy!

Standard
Places

Three days in Berlin

During the same trip where we visited Prague, we spent three days in Berlin. It is an interesting, vibrant city that holds the tragic distinction of having been the most bombed city in history. During WWII, the Allies dropped 67,607 tons of bombs on the city, destroying 6,427 acres of buildings. As a result, the city’s architecture is a thorough mix of the historic and the modern.

Because it was the start of summer and it got fairly hot during the mid-days, I was able to appreciate the strong breeze flowing along the Spree, which you will see in a few of the photos shown here. It was also a blessing to be able to step into large, majestic historic buildings that always stay cool, to take shelter from the blazing heat.

Enjoy this gallery of 126 photographs!

Standard
Places

Two short visits to Prague

Back in 2011, we visited multiple cities in Germany and on the way, we stopped in Prague. It was only for an hour or so while we were on our way to Germany and half a day on our way back. It was about to rain the first time we were there and the second time it was quite hot, even for early June.

Prague is a beautiful city. I was glad to so many historical buildings restored to their former selves. Practically everywhere you turned, there was something beautiful to see. The photos shown here are combined from those two occasions. Enjoy!