Friday, January 25, 2019

Culture, literature, music and candlelight give Leipzig a rich history

St Thomas Church in Leipzig was one of two locations where Johann Sebastian Bach was choirmaster  (Image: Public Domain)

LEIPZIG, GERMANY — Bach, Goethe and Clara Schumann give Leipzig much to celebrate this year in Germany's tenth largest city.

Leipzig has always been a major
European crossroads
(Courtesy: Leipzig Travel)

Since the days of the Holy Roman Empire, Leipzig has been situated at the intersection of two major medieval trade routes. As an international crossroads, it became one of the most important centers of culture, particularly in the fields of publishing and music.

Bach was a native of
Leipzig (Courtesy:
Leipzig Travel)
As the birthplace of Johan Sebastian Bach, Leipzig's musical legacy stands front an center in a city that undeniably ranks in status with other European nations. What makes 2019 so special however, is that it honors the heritage of other contributions which only add to the richness of Leipzig's euphonious endowment.

Beginning in late February, from the 22nd to the 24th, the Clara Schumann Festival honors the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Clara and Robert Schumann were beloved in Leipzig
(Photo: Public Domain)
Regarded as one of the most distinguished composers and pianists of her day, Schumann's concert career spanned more than 60-years. Among her achievements was altering the format and repertoire of piano recitals.

Another innovation was being one of the first pianists to play from memory during recital performances.

Johannes Brahams
(Photo: Public Domain)
Clara Schumann's prolific body of work included piano concertos, chamber pieces and choral works. She was also the first person to publicly perform any work by JohannesBrahams who was unknown at the time.

Clara married Robert Schumann in 1840, one day before her 21st birthday. Though 9 years older than his wife, Robert Schumann's marriage became a legendary business partnership that endeared the couple to Germans throughout their careers.

Clara's father had long opposed the marriage and following a long and acrimonious battle, the couple waited until parental consent was no longer required to wed.

Though Clara's demeanor was that of being fragile and mild, her decision to marry demonstrated a strong-willed personality that captivated German romantic sensibilities.

Before their marriage, the couple secretly rendezvoused often in small cafes in nearby cities following one of her concerts just to steal a few minutes together.

During their 16 year union, which ended in 1856 when Robert died in an asylum, they had eight children.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Schumann's bond were secret messages Robert incorporated into his music in tribute to their devotion to each other.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe contributed to Leipzig's literary
legacy  (Photo: Public Domain)
Not to be overlooked is also Leipzig's contribution to literature. As a student in the city, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, more commonly known simply as Goethe, was a regular patron at the basement-level restaurant Auerbach's Keller.

Even in the 16th century, the second oldest restaurant in Leipzig, had the reputation as an one of Germany's most important wine bars.

Auerbach's Keller is as popular now as it was in Goethe's day
(Photo: Public Domain)
Thanks in large part to Goethe, Auerbach's Keller's fame spread throughout the world, as a result of being the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust during their journey.

The Auerbach's Keller scene in Goethe's play Faust serves as a literary memorial to his favorite wine bar during his time at Leipzig University.

Goethe's inspiration came from two 1625 paintings in the establishment; one showing Johann Georg Faust, the well-known magician and astrologer, drinking with students and the other a depiction of Faust riding out of the bar upon a wine barrel. The second painting represented something that could only have occurred with the aid of the Devil.

Today, the restaurant is located beneath the Mädlerpassage, a historic covered passage built from 1912 to 1914 at Grimmaische Straße 2 in Leipzig's historical district. It contains five historic dining rooms as well as the Mephisto Bar on the floor above.

Thomas Church was Bach's
home for 27 years
(Photo: S kay -- Public Domain)
Not far away, the historic Thomaskirche (Church of St. Thomas) adds to Leipzig's musical legacy thanks largely to Johan Sebastian Bach who was choirmaster there for 27 years.

Believe it or not, even without Bach however, the church was instrumental in Leipzig's fame. It was at the Thomaskirche in May, 1539 that Martin Luther introduced the Protestant Reformation to Leipzig. 

In 1789, 250 years later, Mozart played the church organ there, and in centuries that followed both Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner also performed at the church.

Leipzig at the turn of the 20th century (Image: Public Domain)
The church choir has been in existence since 1254. Today the Thomas Choir features 80 boys singing music particularly dedicated to Bach in weekly performances of motets and cantatas, as well as regular Sunday services.

But there's more to this story with contemporary roots that date only as far back as 30 years.

Though the Church of St. Thomas was Bach's primary venue in Leipzig, he was also choirmaster at St. NicholasChurch during the period of 1723 to 1750.  Oddly enough, St. Nicholas is nearly a hundred years older than St. Thomas dating to ll65. 
St. Nicholas Church sits at an important intersection in Leipzig
(Courtesy: Leipzig Travel)
St. Nicholas Church is situated at the intersection of two important north-south, east-west trade routes which not only played an important role in Leipzig’s past, but was also critical to the events that reunited Germany in 1989.

Each November during the early 1980s, young people from all over the region would gather at St. Nicholas Church for ten days of prayer for peace. 

Peaceful protesters made regular demonstrations in the late 1980s
 (Photo: German Federal Archives --licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license)
With large demonstrations all over East Germany protesting the arms race, the gatherings in Leipzig were regarded as nothing more than non-violent prayer vigils.  The only places where issues could be openly discussed in Germany were at meetings held in churches, and the Church of St. Nicholas was one of those sites.
Soon a youth group from the church decided to increase the meetings by having prayer services every Monday evening.

Demonstration in 1989
(Courtesy: Leipzig Travel)
Slowly the movement gathered strength.  Each day the church was decorated with flowers and each night it was filled with the light of hundreds of glowing candles. 

After a while the government took notice and became concerned. From May of 1989 all access roads to Nicholas Church were blocked by police checkpoints.  . 

By October, the militia battered defenseless East Germans in the streets, but they remained passive, refusing to fight back. 

Hundreds were taken away in trucks.  Many others were locked up in stables, but the people continued to pray. 

Candlelight vigil
1989 (Courtesy:
Leipzig Travel)
Thousands of East Germans stood  in the square with candles in their hands.  To carry a candle outdoors requires two hands.  One holds the candle while the other prevents it from going out.  Therefore, to keep a candle burning it's not possible to carry a stick or a club. 

When police arrived, they didn't know what to do. Bewildered, they quickly lost any incentive to fight.   

Eventually the police withdrew.  As one officer said, “We were prepared for everything.  Everything, that is, except candlelight.”

Since that time in 1989, Leipzig has been known by many as the "City of Heroes."

Massive organ in the St Nicholas Church in Leupzig
(Courtesy:  (Roel van der Hoorn)

From as far back as 1254 to the present, 765 years, Leipzig's legacy of culture, literature, music and, yes, candlelight endure.

Leipzig is a traveler's journey through time -- past, present and, hopefully, future.

Friday, January 18, 2019

In family-friendly Arosa, the ski is not the limit

One of the best ways to arrive in Arosa is by train -- It's fast,
efficient and convenient  (Photo: Taylor)

AROSA, SWITZERLAND One of the best things about visiting  Arosa, Switzerland is getting there. Situated at the bottom of a wide valley and accessible by car or branch line train from Chur, the snake-like route takes an hour of traveling across  serpentine twists turns as it passes through several tunnels before arriving.

Making tracks to Arosa  (Courtesy:

Rhaetian Railways trains operate hourly between Chur/Arosa, through panoramic scenery where pictures fail to fully capture the spellbinding magic of the journey. As the old adage goes "seeing is believing," and nothing can top the "marshmallow world" ride to Arosa.

By the time visitors arrive in Arosa, they are already in a festive holiday mood, which further enhances the ambiance of the storybook village.

Arosa is a year-round resort
(Photo: Taylor)
Since 1877, Arosa has been a well-known sunny Alpine family-friendly health resort. Thanks to its geography, it is largely sheltered from strong winds which adds to its appeal.

Arosa is a year-round resort making it equally enjoyable in summer and winter. With more than 4,000 guest beds ranging in every price range plus a year-round population of slightly over 3,000, the village is geared for tourism with nearly a one-to-one ratio of visitors to locals.
The Arosa Bear Sancutary was an overnight favorite
Among the favorite things for families with children is the newly opened Arosa Bear Sanctuary working in partnership with the Arosa Bear Foundation, VIER PFOTEN. Capacity for the sanctuary is up to five bears and the foundation organizes tours of the exhibition for those who wish to learn more.

The on-going program allows families to view the animals "up-close-and-personal" during their rehabilitation process.

The viewing area is safe and fun
Complete with a restaurant, visitor's platform and children's playground, the sanctuary also organizes tours through the reserve.

Also popular with families is the Squirrel Trail,  a nearby path beginning in front of the Romantik Hotel BelArosa that allows guests the opportunity to feed squirrels and birds right out of the palms of their hands. The picture book trail is well worth a stroll even if visitors choose not to feed the creatures along the way.

Arosa is fun any time of year
Another favorite in August and September is the International Hill Climb Arosa Classic Car which takes place between Langweis and Arosa. Sometimes called the "Monaco of the Mountains" attractions include both on and off-track events.

With two lakes in the center of Arosa, the Untersee (Lower Lake) is ideal for summertime activities with a sandy shore, solar-heated paddling pool, a 165-foot slide, diving boards and a garden restaurant.

Horse racing in the snow always attracts a crowd
(Courtesy:  Michael

The Obersee or Upper Lake, is more popular in winter with ice skating and, better yet, the stunning but unusual sport of snow horse-racing.

Skiing is a staple of Arosa's activities with an emphasis on families  (Courtesy: Arosa Tourism)
Skiing is, of course, a staple of Arosa's winter appeal, however the Weisshorn Cable car takes both summer and winter guests to a new panoramic restaurant some 8,700 feet above sea level. With views of more than 400 mountain peaks, including the city of Chur, the 360-degree panorama is especially alluring.

The Weisshorn Cable Car was
important for ski business
(Photo: Taylor)
The first-known settlements in Arosa date as far back as the 13th century, but it would not become a popular winter resort until it began to gradually evolve in 1900. The first ski lifts were built in 1938, but it wasn't until 1956 that the Weisshorn Cable Car was opened.

Arosa was part of the municipality of Davos until 1851. Not until then did the town begin to develop its own identity.

A. Conan Doyle loved Switzerland and wrote about Arosa in 1894 Soon, the Brits discovered it too (Courtesy: Switzerland Tourism)
Historically, the region and skiing received much recognition from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was an avid sportsman who was wintering in Davos when he ordered some "skiing boards" from Norway and hiked up the mountain with two guides.

The trio skied into Arosa before stopping for lunch at the Seehof, the first hotel in the city. Doyle later wrote of his adventure in The Strand in 1894, and soon after, British skiers were making a beeline to Arosa.

Though quiet, Arosa does have
a unique history (Photo: Taylor)
Arosa has had some other important events as well. During Christmas in 1925, Erwin Schrödinger was vacationing there when he made his breakthrough discovery of wave mechanics.

In 1933, Thomas Mann stayed in Arosa during the first week of his Swiss exile.

And on 20 February 1940, Germany's Ulrich von Hassall met with Britain's J. Lonsdale Bryant in Arosa to plot the overthrow of Adolf Hitler.

With 140 miles of slopes, Arosa has space for everyone
(Courtesy: Arosa Tourism)
Skiers, snowboarders and sledders can choose from 140 miles of slopes with guaranteed snow in winter in the region of Arosa Lenzerheide, making it the largest interconnected skiing region of Graubünden.

The modern Urden cable car can now also be used by pedestrians who can enjoy 87 miles of well-maintained hiking and walking trails.

The snow-sport region of Arosa Lenzerheide awaits with  numerous family-friendly blue slopes. On these specially marked slopes, racing is out and leisurely curving in.

Honeyland is another favorite attraction for children
(Courtesy: Arosa Tourism)

At the children's facilities in Arosa Lenzerheide where kids get their first experience on skis, funny characters  highlight the first turns which are not difficult. The Honeyland Prätschli, the Kinderlands Auarara, Fastatsch and Heimberg are easy to reach and the terrain is only slightly descending.

The Prätschli production "Honigland" (Honeyland) is a public, free beginner/children's area where the ski lift features various staging elements that create a new world of experience. The topic of "honey" is based on the bear sanctuary adventure. 

Try something really different --
night skiing
Those who enjoy snowshoe hiking, night skiing, sledding, cross-country skiing and even curling will also find everything their hearts desire in Arosa.

There are even horse-drawn sleighs where you can snuggle under warm blankets for a delightful hour-long ride into  Alpine vistas.

After a long day on the slopes, head indoors in December where big name comedians show up for the Arosa Humor Festival during the winter pre-season.

Each January, the unofficial Ice Snow Football world championship, brings former national players from all over the world to battle for the much-coveted title right in the heart of the snowy mountain peaks.

Arosa is truly a family-friendly "land for all seasons", where Sherlock Holmes would have most assuredly described the joys of the region as "Elementary, my dear Watson."

Friday, January 11, 2019

Skindles Guesthouse in Popertinge, Belgium has 5-star service at 3-star prices

Historic Skindles Guesthouse in Poperinge, Belgium
(Courtesy: Skindles)

POPERINGE, BELGIUM — Finding accommodations that suit your lifestyle when traveling can be a daunting task. There are almost as many options as there are personalities ranging from five star hotels to family operated inns, home stays, pensions, youth hostels, B&Bs and everything in between.
Historic, quaint B&Bs may be ideal for some for example, but not so much for those who prefer the comforts of services that can be dialed up with a single touch of the phone.

Obviously, a high percentage of travelers would enjoy five-star luxury more often were it not for the expense. That said, for many the next best alternative is a family operated establishment that is neat, clean, relatively inexpensive and allows you to interact with the proprietors who may ultimately become lifelong friends.

Skindles entrance hall today
(Courtesy: Skindles)
Using the familiar adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover", one such place is the Skindles Hotel and Guesthouse in Poperinge, Belgium. The classical 18th century mansion located at Gasthuisstraat 57 was once the residence of the Renynghe Voxvrie family.

Later, during and after World War I, Skindles was a British club available only to officers. Originally located on the same street as "La Bourse Du Houblon", the club moved to its present location at number 57.

Hunting Goddess Diana protects
the entrance (Courtesy: Skindles)
The fronton of the house is decorated with the hunting goddess Diana with all the interior furnishings dominated by the styles of Louiis XV and Louis XVI.   

While the house is charming with its casual ambiance filled with beguiling nooks and crannies that beg to be explored, there is no doubt that the key to Skindles' charm lies in the hospitable personalities of its proprietors, Chantal and Peter.

Proprietors Chantal and Peter make hospitality an art form
(Courtesy: Skindles)
Go online to read reviews of the guesthouse and, more often than not, Chantal and Peter garner rave reviews for their friendliness where each visitor receives royal treatment. In that sense, the owners would personally rate 6 or 7 stars when compared to their more elaborate counterparts.

The Meeting Room is quaint and quiet (Courtesy: Skindles)

Upon entering the inn, a cozy bar/library to the left welcomes visitors while the lounge and adjoining dining room are located to the right.

A few steps ahead lies the centrally located kitchen which is fully equipped with a refrigerator, desk, microwave, dishwasher and oven.

Continuing onward into the lovely courtyard, the "backpacker's room" provides spacious accommodations for 6 travelers who share a spirit of adventure.

Skindles garden
(Courtesy: Skindles)
The terrace overlooking the courtyard features garden furniture and barbecue facilities. Skindles also offers a large multi-purpose room for indoor activities as well as storage space for bicycles. There is private parking as well.

The three story guesthouse comfortably accommodates 16 people, thereby giving guests a sense of being at "home away from home" without dealing with hoards of anonymous faceless travelers. That intimate atmosphere is part of the charming character that is most appealing to Skindles' guests.

The salon was the place to
relax (Courtesy: Skindles)
The town of Poperinge with its history dating to medieval times, first became prosperous through the production of cloth.

Later, in the 15th century it thrived for its production of hops for beer, the favorite drink in Belgium.

Today, Poperinge also produces high quality lace.

During World War I, Poperinge was one of only two towns in Belgium that was not under German occupation even though it was less than 10 miles from the front lines.

As such, neighboring Ypres, just 8 miles away, was totally destroyed, while Poperinge became an oasis surrounded by the chaos of war.

Town Hall in Poperinge (Photo: Kenneth C Zirkel -- Creative
Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International License)

As a result, Poperinge, today, has dozens of quaint restaurants and sights for travelers to visit by using it as a base for nearby historic day trips.

A grim reminder of that period can be found at the town hall, where two death cells are preserved. Outside in the courtyard, there is a public execution post once used by firing squads. 

Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest British war cemetery in mainland Europe (Photo: Gary Blakeley -- Creative
Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International License)

Another reminder is the location of a number of military cemeteries on the outskirts of the town such as Tyne Cot, the largest British war cemetery in mainland Europe.

The British Army lost nearly 300.000 men while capturing the ruined village "Passion Dale."

Talbot House was known as
"Little Paris"
Next door to Skindles is Talbot House. From December 1915 until the end of the war, "Every man's club" provided rest and recreation for soldiers, regardless of rank, to escape the horrors of war.

Known as "Little Paris", "Toc H", as it was also known, is, today, a popular museum as well as a small guesthouse.

St.George's Church is nearby
(Courtesy: Skindles)

Just 12 minutes from Skindles is the Pilgrimage Church of St. George's which attracts thousands of visitors each year to the World War I sites of the Ypres Salient. Today, there is a small resident congregation living in Ypres and the surrounding areas of Belgium and Lille in Northern France.

Ypres was leveled and the Cloth Hall was totally destroyed
Completed in 1304, and totally destroyed during WWI, the Cloth Hall has since been  rebuilt. The first floor now houses the In Flanders Fields Museum which opened in 2012.

Last Post buglers participate in the nightly ceremony at Menin Gate  (Courtesy: Last Post Association)
Other than St. George's Church, perhaps the best known of the memorials to the fallen in Ypres is Menin Gate where at precisely 8 p.m. every evening since 1928 the "Last Post" ceremony pays homage to the 54,896 British soldiers who went missing in action during the war. Needless to say the brief ritual is both solemn and meaningful.

You see, Skindles Hotel & Guesthouse is one of those off-the-beaten path places where everything a traveler desires unites into a classic journey through time with all the comforts of home. Chantal and Peter will see to it.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Every-Man's-Club: Belgium's Eden in a world gone mad

Talbot House was a safe haven oasis amid the ravages of war
during World War I  (Courtesy:

POPERINGE, BELGIUM — In the cold, dark days of World War I, there was a haven in the small town of Poperinge, Belgium that was known as "Every-Man's-Club."

The motto was as poignant as it was simple, "An oasis of serenity in a world gone mad."

On the 11th of December 1915, a house at number 43 Gasthuisstraat in Poperinge, Belgium opened its doors to welcome British soldiers to a new club called "TalbotHouse."

Talbot House and garden as it was in 1915

Earlier in the year, the large house had been struck by German shrapnel that landed in the garden damaging the rear of the building. The owner, a wealthy beer brewer named Monsieur Coeyoet Camerlynck, opted to remove his family and their belongings to safety and, in the process, offered the empty home to the British Army for 150 francs a month.

Rev. "Tubby" Clayton
Enter Army Chaplain Reverend Philip "Tubby" Clayton who decided to use the property as a soldier's club; a safe haven, a sanctuary, a quiet place to relax even though  gunfire and bombs could be heard just a few miles away at the front.

The club became known as "Every-Man's Club" where soldiers rested, relaxed, get hot meals, showers and slept in clean sheets regardless of rank. Over the front door was a sign containing just seven words that represented the most important rule of the establishment: "All rank abandon, ye who enter here."

By and large Poperinge was spared the destruction of its nearby sister city Ypres just eight miles away. Ypres was completely leveled during in no less than five major battles that took place there.

Safe haven surrounded by war
Poperinge, on the other hand, was used as a garrison town for British soldiers, rapidly becoming a thriving metropolis thanks to its relative safety, restaurants, bars, concert halls, movie theaters and even brothels.

Thousands of soldiers passed through Poperinge each day, either go to or coming from the front. So many, in fact, that the city became known as "Little Paris."

Talbot House, as it was formally known, became a place of serenity in spite of the hostile sounds that rumbled in the distance. There were books to read while sitting on comfortable chairs drinking tea from a bottomless urn.

At the top of the house, one room had been converted into a chapel that was furnished by the soldiers themselves.

Soldiers relax with the world at war less than 10 miles away
Here men could write letters, meet with friends, relax and enjoy the solitude of being in a "home-away-from-home."

Belgium is a country of beer drinkers meaning that store rooms for hops were, and still are, plentiful. After years of renovation and financial assistance from several sponsors, the former hop store at Talbot House was officially listed as a historic monument in 1998 after being lovingly restored to its original state.

Lamp of Maintenance honors Tubby Claytons birthday
Among the Talbot House relics that can be seen today, is the old lift mechanism that pulled bales of hops to their storage space.

The Concert Hall, another feature of reconstruction was also created within the hop store. Today it displays unique artifacts from the private collections of family members of deceased veterans who donated their photos, relics and diaries to the Talbot House to establish a permanent memorial.

The Quiet Room
Today, the Concert Hall, on the ground floor of the original hop store, features a "Life Behind the Lines" exhibition focusing on Poperinge and the neighboring areas during the war.

In 1916 and 1917, Poperinge swelled to about 250,000 soldiers although during peace time it only had a population of approximately 20,000 inhabitants.

Among the exhibitions are haunting testimonials presented by single narrators. By design, they are slowly paced without music, cg's or fanfare. The speakers stand vertically rather than horizontally, leaving the impression they are talking directly to their viewers.

Artifacts, documents & relics
Illustrated with images, letters, quotations, artifacts and authentic documents, each messenger presents a personalized aspect of the roles they played during the war. For example, American brain surgeon, Dr Harvey Cushing is the central figure who describes medical aid while Lt. John Gamble talks about life in the tent camps.

Perhaps the most popular place at Fulton House was the garden, which Tubby Clayton called "the largest room in the House."

Soldiers who spent days wallowing in muddy trenches and living in cramped tree branches, found the Fulton House garden to be an oasis of tranquility. Recently restored to its original lay-out, the garden still offers restful solitude for visitors a hundred years later.

The Concert Hall was used for shows and entertainment

From the garden, touring guests arrive next at what is known as "the Slessorium", named after its builder Major Paul Slessor. Among the relics in the Slessorium is Tubby's hut, where the chaplain himself lived during the evacuation of Poperinge that took place during a German offensive in 1918.

Following the war, Tubby took his hut to the UK, but 90 years later it was returned to Belgium, and today features much of Clayton's personal memorabilia.

The Chapel was an active place for war weary soldiers seeking
tranquility and peace (Courtesy:
Old Talbot House is accessible to modern visitors, complete with authentic objects that are on display and still in use. Also newly opened is the Chaplain's room, which was Tubby's room during the war.

With seven historical bedrooms, Talbot House, remains a working B&B today. Visitors wishing to get the full effect of this World War I Eden can do so by making reservations on the Talbot House website.

Talbot House Gardens as they appear today are still a source of'
solitude and comfort  (Courtesy:

Note, the house is much as it was during the war so each room has a washbasin with hot and cold water. There is a common sanitary room on each floor with showers and toilets that are cleaned daily.

On the night of December 11 at 9 p.m. until 9 p.m. December 12, Tubby Clayton's birthday is honored in the Upper Room with the lighting of the Lamp of Maintenance.

Thus, even when war rages all around, man's capacity for peace and survival continuously innovates new ways to find solace. Tubby Clayton had the right idea, and for three years during World War I, his Every-Man's-Club was a candle of hope in the darkness of despair.