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Nina Nolan

Communication Specialist

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Tue
23
Jun '09

Germany here we come!

I said I would report on the accommodations at Schlägl and I’m happy to say that the beds at Schlägl were very comfortable. I think the down comforters they had should be required at all hotels.

Our first item of business today was breakfast as a community. Breakfast included a variety of meats, cheeses and breads plus fresh fruit, eggs, cereal and more. Lucky for us, the abbeys do not skimp when it comes to meals. In fact, at Schlägl we got to choose our preferred dinner entrée.

Who wants chicken cordon bleu for dinner tonight?

Who wants chicken cordon bleu for dinner tonight?

Paulus took us on a tour of Schlägl Abbey first thing this morning. The abbey was built step-by-step throughout the ages. Today, the Schlägl Abbey continues to be an important sector in their local economy. They employ 200 people to operate and maintain their properties including a forest, the Schlägl brewery and the tourist inn. The halls were really winding and at one point we ended up in Romanesque area catacombs. The lights went out for a brief moment and let me tell you, there are few things quite like being in an ancient catacomb in the dark. The temperature difference was crazy; the air in the catacombs was really cold compared to the rest of the building. The Norbertines at Schlägl have talked about converting the space into something usable but the temperature poses some problems for them.

The Romanesque catacombs at Schlägl Abbey

The Romanesque catacombs at Schlägl Abbey

Next up were the galleries. They had some really stunning pieces in their gallery. The most interesting room had painted portraits of all of the men who have been in the Order throughout the ages. Paulus’ photo didn’t appear because they’ve made it a practice to paint the men at age 60. They believe that more character comes through in the photos at an older age. If the men pass before age 60, they are painted from memory or from a photo. I think the room could be quite moving for others in the order that recognize the men on the walls around them. The library at Schlägl was similar to Strahov’s. It was filled with ancient books. Early Christian scientists were painted in the fresco across the ceiling.

Detail from a piece in the gallery at Schlägl

Detail from a piece in the gallery at Schlägl

We ended the tour in the abbey church. The church at Schlägl is not a parish. People from the community are welcome to join the Norbertines in prayer but it’s not a church that caters to the masses. When we were wrapping up in the church, we met Felix, the official tour guide cat. Apparently Felix has free rein over the building. He was quite friendly and we all got a real kick out of him being there.

Our Schlägl tour guides, Paulus and Felix the cat

Our Schlägl tour guides, Paulus and Felix the cat

We got a tour of the Schlägl Brewery before next. The brewery was founded in 1518 and it was more of a sophisticated operation than I was expecting. We saw the entire operation from mashing of the raw ingredients through filtration of the final product and finally bottling.

Tour of the Schlägl Brewery

Tour of the Schlägl Brewery

The bottling operation was my favorite part. Reason one, it was a normal temperature and humidity level and it didn’t smell. Reason two, it was fascinating to see all of the steps involved in the bottling procedure. We saw recycling at its finest. All of the old, used bottles were pushed through a machine that stripped them of their labels, sanitized them, refilled them, blew the froth off the tops, capped them, rinsed them off and then labeled them. They just printed a series of labels in English for the first time because they’re hoping to export to California.

Empty bottles about to be stripped of their labels and recycled at the Schlägl Brewery

Empty bottles about to be stripped of their labels and recycled at the Schlägl Brewery

We had lunch at the abbey restaurant before we took off. The decor was pretty unique. A couple of tables of people were dining in oversized casks. We were served our choice of chicken cordon blue, salmon or salad and a really good desert with berries a liqueur.

Bonnie and Elliot Elfner at lunch

Bonnie and Elliot Elfner at lunch

We boarded the bus and headed for Windberg Abbey in Germany. When we entered Germany there were huge peaked hills and I noticed a lot of cows, sheep and other animals that we didn’t see much of throughout Austria. On our way to Windberg, I caught site of the Danube River. The rain had the river filled to the brim. Many of the homes scattered throughout the countryside were pastel colored with white paned windows and/or shutters. It’s just the type of architecture you would imagine when you think German.

German countryside

German countryside

Windberg was a very small town. As soon as we arrived it was apparent that many of the buildings had at one time belonged to the abbey because they were contained within the same loosely walled area.

Windberg Abbey

Windberg Abbey

Jakob was our tour guide at the Abbey. He was one of the few confrères that were around today. The abbot happened to be at a conference of religious superiors somewhere in Germany and the prior was serving in his parish. It’s unknown when the Order really took hold at Windberg. The community is some 800+ years old. The first date they have is 1142, the date the altar was consecrated but it’s believed that the community existed 10-15 years prior to that. The abbey was secularized for a number of years circa 1803 and for 120 years there was no Norbertine life, only a brewery. Today the abbey is pretty vibrant. There are 24 confrères affiliated with the Windberg Abbey, some of who reside in Roggenburg, the abbey where we’re going tomorrow. In 1980, there were only 12 confrères so Windberg has seen some significant growth.

One of the men who will be vested this year is a young guy not much more than 20 years old, from Russia. About seven years ago he converted to Catholicism and then he decided he wanted to find a community. There were no communities in Russia so he searched out Windberg on the internet, organized his visa information by himself and came to Windberg to visit for two weeks. Following his first visit, he came back and decided to join the community. In the short time he’s been at the abbey he has already taught himself German. Jakob noted one really sad thing, when the young man is vested, his family will not be able to celebrate the occasion with him because of visa complications.

Adding to the vibrance of the community, the main level of the abbey houses a youth retreat center so there were kids everywhere. When we were touring the group of students who were there today were doing a trust-building activity where one in each pair was blindfolded. It was a little humorous and a little eerie with zombie-looking kids walking around everywhere. Jakob said they have 200,000 young people come to the retreat center each year.

The abbey church is shared with the parish of the community. It has a deceiving Romantic exterior. When you walk in you expect to see the same stone structure you see on the outside but it is done in 18th century Rococo to the max. There were kitschy little stars everywhere and mischievous cherubs peeking out from some of the decor. One of the earlier abbots had an obsession with stars and astrology and he left his mark everywhere (I mean everywhere). There were an excess of 1,000 stars filling the place.

The altar at Windberg Abbey

The altar at Windberg Abbey

An interesting thing about the church was the sequence of the Stations of the Cross. They weren’t in chronological order. Jakob said that at one point when the community did the stations, altar servers would move from station to station to highlight the current with a candle but it got so confusing for even them that they had to abandon the idea. Parishioners were trying to help and it just became too complicated.

Massive built-in cabinets in the Sacristy at Windberg Abbey

Massive built-in cabinets in the sacristy at Windberg Abbey

Before we left, we ate dinner with Jakob and a couple other Norbertines of the community. It was a very Bavarian meal with pretzels, some type of sausage and German potato salad. We are staying over in Straubing, Germany tonight. It’s a very quaint little town of about 40,000 people. There were a lot of shops sadly, we’ve gotten in after they’ve closed.

Bakery window in Straubing

Bakery window in Straubing

1 Comment »

1 Comment » to “Germany here we come!”

  1. Karlyn Crowley Says:

    Nina, if memory serves me right, there are juggling balls at Schlagel at every turn–one of my favorite whimsical Abbey touches. Also hope you got to dine there inside a beer barrel–who knew? Keep up the cat photos. Take Care!

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