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Essential Highlights at the Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau in Konstanz, Germany

Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

We wandered only a short distance through the old part of town before spotting the highest tower of the Cathedral, then used it as our compass. In Konstanz, Germany, we sought out the Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau, Cathedral of Our Dear Lady. We opened one of the side nave doors, and found ourselves surrounded by tracery windows, and stained glass windows with the afternoon sun shining through them. Stained Glass Windows at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, and I took a deep breath. The interior of the cathedral is brighter than I expected, and with almost all church/castle/cathedral/palace.. your eyes tend to wander up. The original Romanesque painted wood ceilings are long gone, but the whitewashed, plastered ribbed vault ceiling is pretty, and does make the Cathedral bright and spacious.

White washed, plaster, arch ribbed ceiling at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Baroque-Style Ceiling at Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Don't Miss This-
Allow a healthy hour to explore the whole cathedral. There are truly details everywhere, even the crypt. Don't let the word 'crypt' scare you. It felt more like a basement or a cellar, and while it did have low-sloped ceilings, its not cramped. If you venture down, you'll discover three copperplates, one large plate depicting Christ which dates back to the 10th century, and two smaller copper plates from the 13th century. The faceless figure in one of the smaller copper plates depicts the patron saint of Konstanz, Saint Pelagius, whose relics were held for a time in the tomb that is opposite the copperplates.

Copperplates from 10-13th Century and Saint Pelagius Tomb in the Crypt of Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

Its hard to beat stained glass windows in wow-factor, but look for the wooden spiral staircase that leads to the pulpit. If you have time, try and plan for hearing the Cathedral bells ring, which are fondly considered by some as one of the most harmonious in Germany.

Wooden spiral staircase pulpit in Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

BONUS Konstanz Cathedral Architectural History, in English

Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany Architectural History, as Displayed in the Church

It would be a disservice to try and summarize the English synopsis of the cathedral's history that was on display in the entryway. I've looked online and I can't see it posted anywhere, so I've retyped it from a photo I took. The Wikipedia page for Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau in English is an 1/8th of the size of the page in German, so here's to bridging the language barrier in regards to this stunning building.The official website for the cathedral is completely in German as well.

"Cathedral of Our Dear Lady in Constance is a cruciform, three-nave column basilica with a square east end. The former episcopal church (circa 600-1821) is considered the most significant Romanesque church building in South-West Germany. The patron saints of the present minor basilica (designated in 1955) are the Virgin Mary, St. Conrad of Constance (10th century) and St. Pelagius (3rd century). The cathedral dates back to the early days of the bishop's see and was mentioned for the first time in official documents in 780. For over twelve centuries, it served as the bishops' cathedral and was used as a meeting place during the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Since the dissolution of the bishopric in 1821, the cathedral has been used as a Catholic parish church.

Nave
The main section of the three-nave Romanesque basilica (consecrated in 1089) is supported on eight monolithic columns with bell-shaped capitals made of sandstone from Rorschach. It is spanned by a plastered ribbed vault (1679/80) made of brick that- as in the aisles- replaced a flat painted wooden ceiling. Demand during Baroque times for light-flooded rooms was met by enlarging the clerestory windows and the whitewashing the church interior.

Transept and chancel
The main chancel with a square end and classic high altar (1774) join the almost square crossing to the east. To the north and south are the St. Thomas choir and Maria-End choir with monumental Baroque side altars. The interiors moulded in the French Classicism style from the period around 1775, created by the famous French castle and church builder Jean Michel d'Ixnard, still determines the appearance of the cathedral today. The rear wall has been windowless since the three large gothic east windows were closed off in 1923. In front of the middle window hangs a significant oil painting of the "Assumption of Mary" (1701) by Franz Carl Stauder, flanked by the statues of the church's patron saints Conrad and Pelagius (1923).

Side naves/Side chapels
After the Council of Constance, the Romanesque interior was converted to a late Gothic style with ribbed vaults and tracery windows (1423-53), a measure that still characterizes the appearance of the interior today. From the 1470s onwards the side chapels were successively expanded starting with the south chapels in the east and finishing with the last chapel in the east of the north side built in 1623. The chapels are largely furnished today with the altars from the 17th and 19th century and stained glass windows (1880-1906).

Towers
The mighty sandstone facade is divided into a northern, a middle, and a southern tower. The northern and southern towers (13th and 14th centuries) are divided visually by circumferential cornices. The foundation stone for the middle tower joining the two was laid in 1497; the vestibule is topped by an embellished four-part stellar vault (1518). The tower was completed in 1853 by placing on it an octagon with a tracery spire.

Bells
The cathedral has 19 bells weighing some 35,000 kg in total. Together, they form the second-largest group of bells after Cologne Cathedral and even the largest in terms of numbers. Of the seen historic bells, St. Ursula's bell (1584) made by the H.C. Löffler from Innsbruck had one of the most beautiful chimes in the 16th century. Its foundry pit was uncovered during excavations in 1990 in the area south of the church. In 1966, the historic bells were supplemented by 12 new ones, a gift from the state of Baden-Württenberg to the minor basilica. The bells as a whole are considered among the most beautiful in Germany on account of their harmonious sound."

Exterior of Muenster Unserer Lieben Frau | Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, Konstanz, Germany

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Explore a Zeppelin Replica in Friedrichshafen

Exterior of the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany

The size of the museum building was intriguing. A classic Bauhaus style building from 1933 enhanced with a large glass annex and three double-doors serving as an entrance. Inside I found myself in the middle of a marble entrance hall with water views of Lake Constance. Just off to the side I spotted a 33 meter long Zeppelin replica. Impressed, I was excited to take a look around.

Size comparison to the LZ 129 Hindenburg Exhibit at the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany

Friedrichshafen is the second-largest city on Lake Constance and owes its present size to partly to the establishment of the Zeppelinwerke, the first Zeppelin factory in 1908. The development of the gigantic airships started in Friedrichshafen, and up to this day many airship related companies have remained faithful to this city, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Zeppelin Museum. After the acquisition of the harbor station by the city of Friedrichshafen, architects and museum specialists, the museum opened in 1996.

After purchasing the admission tickets, we entered the first room, showcasing the history of the Hindenburg airship and Graf Zeppelin. Above our heads was the gigantic looking exterior hull of the Zeppelin replica. I began to understand my family’s fascination in the stories of these huge airships.

Recreated lobby and crew member rooms from the Zeppelin Museum in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany

I was itching to get up into the Zeppelin replica. We walked up a staircase and crossed a small aluminum bridge into a corridor, which led us to see two guest rooms and one larger lobby room. The guest rooms were very tight, however the illusion of the reproduction was perfect. It felt like you were aboard an airship and could run into someone very rich and/or famous at any time, who were the only people that could afford such a trip.

Several glass cases displayed crew uniforms, food menus and items like a compass or maps, which were used to navigate this big balloon.

Our next stops were in the light-filled and more modern-themed history rooms, where there was more to discover. We found ballast containers, gearboxes, coins, tin toys, newspaper clippings and even original porcelain pieces with the name Hindenburg engraved on them. Passengers that booked such a trip did not eat from ordinary white plates. There were also corner displays with iPads showing 3D models of the different artifacts.

Artifiact and Model Exhibits in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany

Another part of the exhibit halls revisits the use of airships in WWI and as American aircraft carriers. It felt like we were looking at Zeppelin-themed treasures, collected from all corners of the earth.

After spending most of our time on the second floor looking at all the knick-knacks and historic timepieces, we went up to the third floor. It was dedicated to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was an art lover. There is really no relation to the airships on this floor, and save a few pieces that Denise liked, we left disappointed after about ten minutes. To be honest, when we first arrived on the third floor we thought we were lost. This is a section you can skip if you’re tight on time. Do however make sure to take the time to appreciate the architecture of the building from the outside and inside and spend time on the second floor exploring all the artifacts in the glass showcases.

Recronstructed Zeppelin Bracing System in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany

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Flowers and Whimsy at Mainau Island

An island of flowers? It's not the first image that pops into my mind when I think of Germany. As we were planning our family trip to Lake Constance and it's towns, the flower-filled island of Mainau popped up. I’m passionate about flowers, and deeply appreciate the labor that goes into making beautiful gardens. Seeing the recommendations that you can easily spend a half day, or full day there, I was really looking forward to exploring Mainau.

To kick off our flower adventure, we needed to cross Lake Constance. We rented a house for the week in Meersburg, and the fastest, cheapest way to get there was by ferry boat. And not just any ferry boat, a ferry boat that carries cars! It would be my first time on a car ferry. We were so lucky, as we pulled up to the ferry boat, we realized we would be the first in the line of cars. Our view from our car would be perfect! While we were waiting, a man walked up and down the cars selling newspapers. It boggled my mind that this was for many an every day commute! Lake Constance was foggy this early in the morning, and there was a nip of chill in the air. Torn between wanting to hear the water and the birds or staying warm inside the car, we compromised and rolled one window down. It made for better photos that way too.


After the ferry ride, it was just a short drive to the parking lot where we left all wheels behind. We paid our admission, and walked along a short path by the lake and spied the feathered residents enjoying breakfast. We saw several ducks and swans diving down and up again.

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

There are several circuits that you can take around the island and we chose to walk counterclockwise. Right away, we saw a group of duck sculptures built out of flowers, then an extravagant peacock built out of flowers! It was like being in Cypress Gardens again. There was once a fantastic botanical park in Winter Haven, Florida called Cypress Gardens, and they had numerous animal sculptures built entirely of flowers. My grandparents used to take my brother and I every time we came to visit. It's no longer open, and has been transformed into a Legoland Theme Park. It made my heart smile to know in Germany flower animal sculptures still exist.

Duck Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Peacock Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Then we discovered a miniature farm where a rabbit had chickens and roosters for roommates. The rabbit had an extra espresso carrot that morning and sprinted in between the roosters, startling them. It was comical to watch. There was a goat who said good morning, and we visited with a calm, orange tabby cat that was not phased by anything. With the morning sunshine starting to bust up the fog clouds, his orange fur was angelically lit.

Mainau Island Farm & Petting Zoo | Germany

The farm was beside an area with a charming wooden bear stuck in a tree log, and a moss-covered troll couple.

Wooden Bear Stuck in a Log Garden Statue | Mainau Island, Germany

'Together in the Garden' Planted Statue in Mainau Island, Germany

The path we were on wound up and down the shore of Lake Constance. I loved the Dahlia garden which were in season, and they had about 75 to 80 different varieties on display.

Posing by the stunning Dahlia Gardens in full bloom on Mainau Island, Germany

Further along, we saw the Italian cascading fountain, and the map of Lake Constance illustrated through flowers.

Italian Style Flower & Water Cascade | Mainau Island, Germany

Floral Map of Lake Constance

We took a break at a garden cafe where the tables had built-in flower planters. It was just what we needed, walking halfway around Mainau Island already.

Garden Cafe Where Tables Had Built-in Flower Planters | Mainau Island, Germany

On top of the hill, the 13th-century Baroque palace and church stands from the time the Teutonic Knights owned the island. Alongside the church is an Italian rose garden complete with statuary and fountains. Wherever we looked there were colorful blooms surrounded by lots of greenery.

13th-century Baroque palace and church | Italian rose garden | Mainau Island, Germany

We passed giant redwood trees on our way to the butterfly house. The butterfly house was overwhelmingly crowded, both with people and butterflies. A pond with a waterfall entertained a gang of turtles, gorgeous orchids hung from the ceiling, and butterflies were everywhere. Specific feeding trays put out for the butterflies was a sure-fire way to get a good photo. I made myself dizzying trying to photograph a few of them! There was always a fluttering of wings passing overhead.

Mainau Island Butterfly House

By the end of the day it felt like we had seen the entire Nature Encyclopedia. It was refreshing, and a wonderful experience not to be missed, if your ventures take you to Lake Constance.

Flowers of Mainau Island

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German Real Estate 7,000 Years Ago

Prehistoric Pile Dwellings Along the Alps

Ever heard a real estate agent talk about the importance of location, location, location? This is not a new idea and you will find out, that people who lived around the Alps region 7,000 years ago already knew that location is a very important aspect of living.

Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen

When I think back what housing might have looked like 7,000 years ago, the picture of caves pops into my head. I learned better when we visited the Pile Dwelling Museum in Unteruhldingen on Lake Constance. Here you will find replicas that show how people lived in the Stone and Bronze Age. A total of nine pile dwellings, also called stilt houses, are located on the shores of Lake Constance and 93 additional sites in Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland that were all added to UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2011. One hundred and eleven of them have been protected as a World Heritage Site so far. For more sites and exact locations, visit this site. What is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? We explained it in an earlier post.

Reconstructed Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen at the Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany

Our tour starts in a room that looks like the inside of a diving station. It is filled with oxygen tanks, rope and other diving gear. The entrance door closes and you hear a conversation of a male and a female diver talking about the pile dwelling remains that they have found. This gives you a quick overview and can imagine how wonderful it must have been to find remains of the Stone and Bronze Age. Unfortunately, the conversation is in German only at this time, so just lean back and look at all the artifacts around you.

Hornstaad Stone Age House | Reconstructed Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen at the Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany

After a few minutes you enter the next room, which is a 360 degree video installation, which brings you down to the bottom of the lake. You see the piles that have been there for thousands of years, complete with underwater wildlife swimming around in between them. You will also see both divers and overhear another conversation. Both divers are fascinated by what they have found and start exploring, while swimming around the room. The waterlogged environment has protected the foundations and other relics that were left underwater when the inhabitants moved on. A few minutes later a large door opens and gives you a stunning view of the rebuilt pile dwellings outside.Bronze Age Village | Reconstructed Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen at the Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany

We step onto a large, wooden deck and a museum guide explains the key facts about the buildings and starts the tour with us by stepping onto a long bridge to the first few houses. Our guide tells us, that there are several advantages of elevated houses along the edges of lakes and rivers. Firstly, the waterways on which the houses were constructed served as main trade routes, which made it easy to do business with other people passing by in canoes. Secondly, the elevated houses served as protection from wild animals, since most of them avoided entering the wetlands. And even if they made it to the houses, it was impossible for them to climb up the wooden piles. Lastly, the closeness to the water gave the people easy access to food, like fish and other aquatic animals and they could also use water as an ingredient for pottery and to do their laundry.

Reconstructed Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen at the Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany

The first extensive investigations and findings of the original remains in this area took place in 1899 and the museum opened its doors in 1920. A big leap was the creation of the “aqua-lung” by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau together with Émile Gagnan in 1955. This was nothing less than the first open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, which helped to dive to lower lying areas and investigate the pile dwelling remains closer. You can see a video of their first equipment tests here. Finally, archaeological investigations from 1981 to 1989, together with the photographs of aerial archeology, yielded 87 ground plans and three settlements for the period 975-850 BC.

Wattle and Daub Stilt House Dwellings Along Lake Constance | Germany

The construction of the buildings was quite rudimentary, but you can see the sense of community in the overall design. Huts are grouped together in a round shape, leaving a large, shared community area in front for inhabitants to meet their neighbors. Inside each hut you will find everyday items and get an impression of how our ancestors lived day to day. Some items show how painstaking and exhausting the life must have been during the Bronze Age. It was hard labor getting the grains from the fields and then grinding them with stones to have flour for bread. The tour took us through several houses, which included a pottery and a residential house while the museum guide explained how people lived back then. The hunting and cattle-breeding were also illustrated with miniature dioramas and life-size figures in some of the other houses. Our guide tells us that more than 600 people lived here on Lake Constance in 87 buildings at one time.

SWR TV Village Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany

The tour took about 30 minutes and was offered in German only. They do offer a brochure in English, which you can view here.

The visit to the pile dwelling museum was educational and entertaining and is a must for every visitor who is at Lake Constance. Their official website can be found here, and if you feel like taking a drone flight over the museum, check out this video:

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Bad Buchau Bronze Age Reconstructed Pile Dwellings of Unteruhldingen at the Open-Air Lake Dwelling Museum | Germany
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Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle

It really had been a long day. We’d already visited two castles as a family of five, Sebastian, his parents, his sister, and I. It was my 31st birthday, and everyone’s energy level was starting to wane. Yet, with a third castle looming literally on the horizon, the sun setting on my day, I looked deep into Sebastian’s eyes, gauging if he was up to the challenge. His parents had had it, and his sister sensed better shopping opportunities outside of Germany’s reputed oldest castle. It would just be us two going for three castles. And it was just I, who would climb ...the tower!

First, let me say it was so very much worth it. Meersburg Castle was medieval fun, unusual, creepy in good ways, and an adventure! In this very real, Choose Your Own Adventure, I elected to do the additional tower tour on my own. Sebastian’s fear of heights beat him this round. We hurriedly went through the entryway looking for the meeting spot for the tower tour, afraid we’d miss it. It was the last one of the day. We waited in a white-arched room with Bambi’s friends all over the walls. Since it was late in the day, the tour group was small. I left Sebastian behind, to be reunited after the tower.

Antique Hunting trophies in Meersburg Castle

I had guessed it would be exactly a tower climb up and climb down, escorted. Nope! It was actually a very-involved 20-minute German-language tour, which kindly reminded me how bad my German is. None of my core vocabulary words were used in the making of this tour; apfelstrudel, bier, kaffee. I made use of my time by taking photos, and trying not to be a nuisance taking photos. After a full day as a family of five, suddenly being alone with a group of Germans I didn’t know was odd. However, I think there is something appropriately poetic about having a solo adventure on your birthday though.

The highest lookout of Germany's Oldest Castle, Meersburg Castle

We finally started climbing some stairs. A good sign, on a Tower Tour! We ultimately ended up in an attic! I was expecting an open, stone platform with the stepped gable wall surrounding us, but instead we were in a wholly wooden attic which creaked and croaked every time we moved from one window to the next, and there were four windows. The stalwart tour guide continued on talking, but everyone’s attention was torn away by the stunning views of Lake Constance and the lower city streets below. Another window overlooked vineyards, and then even still a third window spied the pink ‘Neues Schloss’ around the corner. I tried to take a few selfies, but they either captured me with a blown-out white background, or a beautiful lake scene with a black silhouette. I was too shy to ask in my broken German for someone to take my photo. I concentrated instead on taking a deep breath and living in my own moment in my own little world in this tower.

After the tour I looked through empty medieval-appearing rooms for Sebastian, finding him exactly where I left him at the beginning.

You’re allowed to navigate the castle unescorted, and its labyrinth of rooms. The castle is so much bigger than it first appeared. There were various dioramas and figurines set up in many of the rooms, a medieval kitchen, dungeon, knights hall, and more. It's easy to get lost in the rooms.

Knight's Hall in Meersburg Castle, Germany

Throne in Meersburg Castle, Germany

When we discovered Annette von Drost-Hülshoff’s rooms, I was curious who she was. Her poetry hasn’t been widely distributed in English, although I’m told she’s part of German curriculums. Although she lived in the time of Goethe, her work doesn’t fit into the same style of Goethe’s, or anyone else for that matter. One interesting tidbit I read was that she and her sister actually contributed folk tales to the very famous folktale collectors, the Brothers Grimm. She lived and worked at Meersburg Castle for eight years, visiting her sister and her sister's husband who owned the castle at that time. In cross-checking for this post, I found a scholar who has translated many of her works and contextualized them with her biography for English readers. The scholar's name is Marion Tymms, and she has two books out, the first is Gods Sorely Tested Child: The spiritual life of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff with a translation of Das Geistliche Jahr (affiliate link).

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's Work Rooms and Bedroom in Meersburg Castle, Germany

The Castle has a garden that you cross to get through more exhibits. The museum made use of some of the outer buildings to recreate more dioramas of medieval life.

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle Gardens

And be sure to check out the gift shop, if nothing else to see these impressive medieval helmets! I find the goose one the most intimidating! For information on visiting the castle, check out the tourism site of the city of Meersburg am Bodensee. Its a privately-owned, and inhabited castle, and the official castle website is unfortunately German only. You can find it here.

Strange Medieval Helmets in Meersburg Castle, Germany


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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler