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TRAVEL: The perfect weekend: Bavaria

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Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 6/2018 vom 30.05.2018

Entdecken Sie Verbindungen zur englischsprachigen Welt – und sprechen Sie Englisch – in einem wunderschönen Teil Bayerns. Von CLAUDINE WEBER-HOF


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Bavarian idyll: The Kranzbach, a spa hotel near Garmisch

Foto: Hotel Kranzbach GmbH/E.Krupp

Day 1

9 a.m.
The swallows fly in a cloudless sky over my garden in a village near Murnau. The area here is famous for the Expressionist paintings of the Blue Rider artists’ group, and mountains that inspired them rise in the distance. It’s a beautiful place to speak English.

Wait a minute! What was that?

Yes: in Bavaria, a place of fairy-tale castles and Alpine views, ...

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... you can find creative ways of using your English. There are native speakers here who will take you on tours or teach you things. You might not expect it, but in the region between big city Munich and the popular ski town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, there are unusual links to the English-speaking world: at fine hotels, for example, and on hospitable farms.

11 a.m.
I arrive at The Kranzbach hotel just outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Known locally as “the English castle”, it was built by British aristocrat Mary Portman shortly before the First World War. Would it surprise her that this Arts and Crafts villa is now a spa hotel? Certainly — but its location at the foot of the Zugspitze makes it seem a natural choice.

Klaus King, the hotel director, meets me in the bar. He traces his family back to Scottish royalty, and he tells me that Mary’s people, the Portmans, still own big parts of London. She was the black sheep: fast cars were a hobby, and she had awful friends — writer Virginia Woolf among them. What really set her apart, though, was her talent: she was a top violinist. She moved to Germany to study music, and one of her teachers, it seems, spent summers here.

At the turn of the 20th century, says King, 70 English families had property in Garmisch. Mary didn’t like town, but she loved Bavarian King Ludwig II’s exquisite Schachenhaus. She bought 13 sunny hectares of land on the road leading up to this royal mountain chalet and put her plans for a dream house in the hands of two English architects.

Then came the war, and Mary’s father, Lord Portman, could no longer send funds to Germany. The builders took her to court, and to guarantee her freedom, US ambassador James W. Gerard had to pay $40,000 (a sum that, back then, had the buying power of close to a million dollars today). She left, never to return, not even to see her house completed.

In 2003, an Austrian investor bought the place and, four years later, opened it as “The Kranzbach”. London designer Ilse Crawford was responsible for its playful interiors. Director King, who ran a fine hotel in England’s Lake District, says British understatement still defines the place.

As I look around, sunlight warms the grey, cream and navy interior. I could stand more understatement, really. Would a week be asking too much? You’d find me practising this fine British art on a chaise in The Kranzbach’s famous Badehaus spa.

2.30 p.m.
A short drive from the Kranzbach are the shops and cafes of Garmisch. In the pedestrian zone there, American tourists laugh and locals shop. I see a group of visitors who, by my guess, are from the UAE.

One of them, a woman in a veil, stops at the shop window of Grasegger. On the other side of the glass, a mannequin models a pink and green dirndl with a daring neckline. Surely, the lady outside would like to try it on?

Day 2

11.10 a.m.
Outdoorsmen like this fact: Hoher Peissenberg is home to the oldest mountain weather station in the world. Another unexpected highlight on this hill, one that appeals to the entire family, is the “Shiremeier” estate. Owner Robert Mittelmeier welcomes me to his farm with a firm handshake. I get nods, too, from a couple of shire horses standing in a pen. They are right out of a fairy tale: magnificent, tall and compact, with “feathering” at their hooves and very long, supermodel manes. They are said to be the biggest breed in the world. You would expect to see them in “the Shires”, English counties like Lincolnshire or Leicestershire. What’s a farm devoted to this very big British breed doing here, an hour’s drive from Garmisch?

Playful, calm interiors: the Portman Bar at The Kranzbach hotel

“It’s an odd story,” Robert says. In the 1980s, he went to Aberdeen, Scotland, to study geology — that is, to learn how to drill oil to make a mountain of cash. While living on a farm there, he got to know Clydesdales, the Scottish version of the shire horse. Then he met a man who was going to England to buy shire horses. After a few drinks at the pub, Robert joked that he’d like to own a couple of them himself. Weeks later, the horses were ready to be picked up.

Robert’s been mad about them ever since: currently, he has 20 shires. He has taken his horses to the famous Shire Horse Show in England, too. “It was, of course, an honour for a German to ride English horses in front of the queen,” he says. Now, he’s a breeder and welcomes guests to stay in the farm’s apartments and have a riding holiday. Visiting him is educational. People think that shire horses were always used in farm and forestry work. Not so, says Robert: part of the breed has developed that way, into horses with long backs and short legs — horses that are good for pulling things.

Enjoying the great outdoors at the Shiremeier farm

“The shire horse was originally a warhorse, for combat,” he explains. “It was the tank of the Middle Ages.” A knight in full battledress could weigh 250 kilos. Still, his horse had to be nimble and, above all, calm. “Shires have very short backs and very long legs,” he says. “They are completely different from a workhorse.”

We enter a barn filled with “combat” shires. I reach out my hand to a dark horse named Manni. He has an aura of quick intelligence and quiet power. I ask about riding regular horses compared to shires. Robert answers in excellent English: “It’s like having a Fiat 500,” he says, “or, well, having a Mercedes or a Rolls-Royce.” The horses are powerful and take some getting used to. “Some people are scared at first,” he says. “A shire horse weighs about 1,000 kilos.”

That’s a ton of horse. I thank Robert and walk back to my car. The big, gentle horses nicker softly as I go.

6 p.m.
Dinner is at Gasthof Petermichl in the village of Antdorf. No horse on the menu, thank goodness. I notice that the diners say, “Ah, Felix…” out loud when their food arrives; it’s chef Felix Ponholzer they’re giving thanks to. I orderZwiebelrostbraten — a steak with fried onions — and cake,Bockbier-Schokoladenkuchen , for dessert. Everything is delicious.

Day 3

1.25 p.m.
The road to Weilheim is a dream, with soft curves formed by ancient glaciers. On my left are mountains: the Karwendel range, the Heimgarten, the massive Zugspitze, at 2,962 metres, Germany’s highest peak. Before long, I arrive in Lichtenau, just a handful of farmhouses. At one of them, I meet an American: Lord Gardiner-Smith, 29, of the Murnauer Kaffeerösterei. The gourmet coffee shop is in Murnau, a tourist town 20 minutes away. This farm is where its coffees are given their distinctive flavours.

Looking good in a lab coat and a hairnet, I follow Gardiner inside. A big roasting machine pushes masses of hot, dark beans in a circle. In his two years as a roaster, Gardiner has been training with Thomas Eckel, whose company it is. Thomas, a coffee sommelier, introduced Gardiner to Paul Songer, a coffee guru in the US. “He taught me a lot about coffee,” Gardiner says. How it’s grown, at which altitude, in which region: it all plays a role.

When the beans, still green, arrive at the roasting facility, they are tested for colour and size. Moisture levels in and on the beans have to be optimal, too. “What this tells us,” Gardiner says, “is how the bean is going to react to the heat once it goes into the machine.” Because of the many variables, a roaster follows a “roasting profile” to deploy heat and time to optimal effect. Next to the roaster is a computer. Gardiner opens a program on it to show me a profile called “Bio-Brazil”:

“We have a roast curve,” he says, pointing to a graph on the screen. “The turning point is when the beans begin to hold the heat. Now the heat is starting to go upwards. Then we have our ‘first crack’. The first crack is when the sugars from the outside of the bean reach the amino acids inside the bean, so there’s this chemical reaction, and they start to pop.”

He points to the sea of beans in the roaster: the “El Castillo” blend, featuring two types of Arabica with a caffeine-rich robusta bean. The beans are imported from Africa, Latin America or Asia; Thomas and Paul Songer designed the mix. Before he worked here, Gardiner says, his concept of roasting coffee was basic: “I always thought you put the beans in green, and they come out brown. Finished!” He laughs and shakes his head. He knows better these days, and now, so do I.

4 p.m.
The Murnauer Kaffeerösterei is a nice, big open space with antique tables and chairs. I order a big cup of El Castillo from the barista. There’s also a glass case filled with sweet things. Coffee may be nuanced and complex, but cake? Easy.

A nose for nuance: Lord Gardiner Smith at the Murnauer Kaffeerösterei roasting facility

Green and blue: foothills and the Karwendel mountain range

Artist Mark Harrington in his huge exhibition and workspace in Mooseurach, a hamlet near the town of Königsdorf

Day 4

12.45 p.m.
The hamlet of Mooseurach is an unusual place. Stuttgart industrialist Robert Bosch bought the Gut Mooseurach estate in 1912 and turned it into a model farm that his family still runs today. There’s the Bosch farm shop, but several unrelated residents, too: a carpenter, a psychotherapist and, thrillingly, artists. Mark Harrington — 66, born in California and a resident of Europe since his early teens — is one.

I see his red dog first. Then the man comes into view. He calls to Cosmo and invites me in. Where 2,500 cows once stood, his art now reigns supreme: large-format paintings in a contemplative, abstract style dedicated, in his own words, to “rhythmic horizontal line”. We drink coffee and talk. It’s easy to relax in this creative space.

3.05 p.m.
Talk turns to his paintings on canvas and linen. We walk over to a large work in black and beige. “The diptych format is a kind of spatial dynamic — two becoming one — that I’ve worked with and rendered in different ways since 1995,” he says.

Next, we look at a work on paper, a copperplate etching. “The simplicity of this, or the directness of it, of course, is that it’s purely black and white,” he says. Many of his paintings start out that way. “When you go back to black and white, it’s just drawing, and it’s the most basic kind of tonal contrast that exists. If you sort things out in black and white, then you have a chance of adding in colour. So I tend to start with black and white and then evolve through colour.”

He describes finding inspiration in works by the great masters of colour.

“Monet has been a huge influence, Claude Monet’s work of the 20th century, in particular the paintings, some of which you see in the Orangerie in Paris,” he says, paintings such as theWater Lilies , that are on a very large scale. “Then you get an idea of what pictorial space, the infinitude that pictorial space in painting, can suggest.”

He mentions American abstract expressionist Clyfford Still and Germany’s Gerhard Richter, too: “They are extremely stimulating because they are using differing iconographies of outright abstraction in the case of Still and Richter, and near abstraction in the case of late Monet.”

Mark welcomes people to his atelier by arrangement. In other words, serious art people only, please.

4.15 p.m.
Driving away, I think about what Mark has said: he taught art in many places in Europe, then was an artist-in-residence at the Villa Waldberta on Lake Starnberg, not far from here. He has had the barn space since 2002. Mark told one of his artist friends, Sean Scully, about Mooseurach and as a result, the well-known Irish-American painter has a large space here, too. This region is blessed, I think, a real magnet for talent and creativity. Perfect for much more than a weekend.

If you go…

Where to stay

At The Kranzbach.www.daskranzbach.de

What to do

Meet Robert Mittelmeier and his shire horses.www.shiremeier.de Artist Mark Harrington shows his atelier on a limited basis.www.markharrington.net , studio@markharrington.net

Where to eat

At Gasthof Petermichl in Antdorf.www.gasthof-petermichl.de Visit the Murnauer Kaffeerösterei and their coffee academy.www. murnauer-kaffeeroesterei.com

Fotos: Hotel Kranzbach GmbH/A.Kompatscher; imago/HRSchulz

Fotos: Claudia Becker; FooTToo/iStock.com

Fotos: Claudine Weber-Hof; Alex Raths, Smitt/iStock.com