Friday, 3 April 2015

Of hats and hockey

The abbey from the bishops' summer palace
We’d decided that, irrespective of the weather, Tuesday would be a day off – or to be more specific, would not involve a long walk.

It had taken half an hour or more the previous evening just for my feet, once out of boots, to stop throbbing. A phone app said that, all told, we’d done nearly 19km the previous day, including 15 flights of stairs (that’s ascending – it doesn’t register going down).

A very great deal of water has passed under the bridge since I’ve done anything like such a lengthy walk. I like walking – but London is not really conducive to the sort of walking I like, a point not helped by crowded pavements, or cyclists trying to mow you down, even on the canal towpaths, where pedestrians are supposed to enjoy right of way.

So we set off at a gentle pace to do more exploring of the old town, with stops for bowls of milky coffee as required.

That walk took us into the inner courtyard of the summer palace of the bishops of Augsburg for the first time. At this time of year, it’s only open to the public on a Friday afternoon, though much of it – together with parts of St Mang’s Abbey next door – serve as civic office space.

Summer palace of the bishops of Augsburg
The inner court was built between 1490-1504 by bishop Frederic of Zollern, but what makes it most distinctive is the illusionistic paintings on the outer facades, which date from 1499 and are unique in German late-Gothic architecture.

These trompe-l’oeil windows, brickwork and door frames are extraordinary, but while they are unique, painting on buildings in the Alps is hardly rare, and we saw plenty of delicate work on walls around the town, including clearly recent work that maintains the tradition.

And talking of tradition, there is plenty in the area – and not least sartorially.

In Munich on the Saturday, we’d even seen a gaggle of young men walking around in bits of regional dress, with soft, brimless caps. Students, we concluded, in a fraternity.

Looking into the palace courtyard
There was also a group of young women with matching clothing walking around too.

Alpine-style jackets were visible all over the place – some more traditional than others. We even spotted one man wearing a tracksuit top that had a round Bavarian collar and was trimmed in green, while hip, young men were wearing them with jeans.

There was even a smaller amount of lederhosen on view, and many eateries in the region see female staff wearing the dirndl.

I like it: I like what feels to be a statement against the globalising homogeneity. And that aside, a lot of it looks damned good.

Then there are the hats.

There are various types of regional headgear, as this hat lover had discovered via the internet by way of pre-trip research.

View of the palace from our room
We’d only been in Munich a short time before I managed to get one on my head. Indeed, this was such a specific hat that it an Allgäuer loden hat – from the very region of Bavaria that we were on our way to.

Loden is becoming familiar in the UK as a shade of green, but it’s actually a material. Items made from loden are often a dark hunter green or an olive green, certainly, but not always.

The word comes from the German ‘loda’ for a cilice, a coarse, rough garment worn by medieval monks to show repentance.

Once that’s complete, it becomes a dense but light fabric that can repel water, while also cheating wind and keeping the wearer warm. It’s sheered and brushed up to 20 times to gain the desired nap.

War memorial between the abbey and palace
Long viewed as the fabric of peasants, it emerged from the mountains in the 18th century, making its way into civil jackets and military uniforms, before becoming acceptable in the upper circles of society when worn by Austrian emperor Franz Josef in the 1870s.

So, that’s loden for you. The shape of the hats vary a little, but many come with a cord ‘band’ and it is traditional to dress them with brushes, feathers, brooches and pins – the latter often being linked to walking clubs.

I’d already decided I wanted a brush for mine, and found a super one in the shop where I bought it: boar hair set in a pewter brooch.

Then, as we were rambling around the city, I stopped to browse at an antique shop. The owner had seen me coming, new hat and all, and pointed out to me some delicate, carved edelweiss pins.

One, he said, was about a century old. It was carved from bone or horn and, when he told me that it was just €20, I decided not to resist.

Trout – there was a large bowl of salad with it
A few days later, after visiting Neuschwanstein, I added a further brush and feather combination, held in a mountain goat brooch, sold to me by a woman who was managing to dance and sing to Status Quo’s In the Army Now.

The final pin was added from a shop in Füssen and is a metal walking stick and hat, with fir leaves and ‘Neuschwanstein’ on a slender strip, with a single crystal hanging below.

It’s a cracking statement hat.

We took a rather fuller lunch on Tuesday, sitting outside Nostalgie-Restaurant Madame Plusch, where I enjoyed some trout, with mental accompaniment by Schubert.

We’d decided to make this our main meal of the day because we’d spotted a poster on
Sunday that had given us an idea for an evening out.

Ice cream van outside the old fire station, now a market
The local ice hockey team, EV Füssen, were due to play a home match on the Tuesday evening against EV Weiden in a Oberliga ‘best of five’ game.

Neither of us have ever seen an ice hockey match before, but it seemed an ideal cultural counterpoint to seeing a piano Wagner had played.

We snacked on more cake and coffee at Kurcafe and then headed off, managing to take the scenic, but ridiculously long, way around to the stadium. It did, however, provide another good sunset shot.

Another lovely sunset
EV Füssen was founded on 11 December 1922 and are historically one of the most successful ice hockey teams in Germany, having won 16 titles before slipping into the third tier.

Nicely, their shirts bear a silhouette of Neuschwanstein.

We took our seats as the players were warming up and in time to see the opposition manage to shatter one of the glass panels around the edge of the rink, which provided entertainment of a different variety as staff worked to replace it before the game could kick – puck? – off.

Having not a shred of knowledge of the rules between us – not bad for two former sports journalists – didn’t hamper our enjoyment and, at the end of the first period of play, Wikipedia came into its own with a run down of the sport.

EV Füssen take to the ice
We were obviously lending our support to our hosts – The Other Half had rapidly decided that their colours could pass for Castleford Tigers, making it even easier to get behind them, particularly when he also decided that the opposition could pass for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Unfortunately, by the end of that first period of play, Füssen were 4-0 down. By the end of the second period, they’d pulled back two goals, and the third ended with a final score of 6-4 to the visitors.

Hopefully, it wasn't our presence that had jinxed them. We did, however, see a couple of superb goals from distance. And all in all, it was fast, furious and hugely entertaining.

I’ll say this though: if ever I go to an ice hockey match again, I need to wrap up more warmly – it was freezing in the stadium!

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