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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FORTY FOUR Songs of Love

Lunch today was a picnic of Leberkässemmel – a hard bread roll with slices of hot Bavarian Leberkäse, pickles and Bavarian sweet mustard. Leberkase (lit. liver cheese) is a meat loaf made of finely ground corned beef, pork and bacon. In Bavaria, curiously, it contains no liver but in other parts of Germany Leberkase must comprise at least 4% liver. It was delicious – as were the cherries that have started to trickle in from Italy.

Portrait of Walther von der Vogelweide from the Codex Manesse (c)wikicommons

We munched away in a quiet little park under the statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, the most famous of the medieval Minnesingers – troubadours of aristocratic heritage who sang their way round the many courts and Imperial cities of medieval Germany.

These men – they were all men – were talented poets and musicians and the focus of their talent was the favourite subject of the day - courtly love. Their collective name comes from the old German 'Minne' meaning love.

That was how the noble lady, struck by love, spoke with her mouth of red.

It hurt her that he rode away, the beautiful hero. (Minnesinger von Wissenlo)

The courtly Minnesingers faded away in the fifteenth century, along with noble knights and the chivalric age, and were succeeded by the different and earthy tradition of Meistersingers, who were commoners. Wagner covered both high and low in his operas: Tannhäuser was a real Minnesinger, a Bavarian aristocrat whose poems are in the Codex Manesse, and then there are the amateur musicians of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Walther von der Vogelweide was the doyen of Minnesingers - the greatest German lyric poet until Goethe. He pops up in some unespected places, including Samuel Beckett's short story The Calmative: "Seeing a stone seat by the kerb, I sat down and crossed my legs, like Walther."

Walther von der Vogelweide's score of Palastinalied (c)wikicommons

Here is the last verse of Walther's most famous poem, Under the Lime Tree (in Raymond Oliver's translation):

If any knew

He lay with me

(May God forbid!), for shame I'd die.

What did he do?

May none but he will

Ever be sure - and I,

And one tiny bird,


Who will, I think, not say a word.

We can assess Walther's love poems because most of them have survived in the Codex Manesse, which also contains the poems of over a hundred other Minnesingers. Looking up at his statue, one could only think about his good luck. Reputations do depend on work surviving and so much art does not survive.

The stone leaves of Southwell Minster, for example, were hacked with swords; two boys fighting in the British Museum broke a hind hoof off the Elgin Marbles; the poor man who fell down stairs in the Fitzwilliam crushed two Qing vases; Caesar burned the 400,000 scrolls of the library at Alexandria; the insurance company AXA Art described 9/11 as "the biggest single disaster ever to affect the art industry" (which is one way of looking at it); a stolen panel of the Ghent Altarpiece has never been recovered; Banksy shredded his own work after auction; Michael Landon had the sets for Little House on the Prairie destroyed.

This list is endless and crosses continents. But when enough work survives,

reputations can be assessed and reassessed. The firebombing of Wurzburg destroyed many Reimenschieders but a critical mass remain both here and elsewhere. The great architect Balthazar Neumann (1687 – 1753) built the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers not far away, near Bamberg, and here he built what many regard as the most beautiful and well proportioned palace in Europe - the Bishop's Residenz.

The Bishop's Residenz in Wurzburg by Balthazar Neumann (c)wikicommons

These two buildings made Balthazar's reputation - but the Basilica was largely destroyed in 1945 and the Residenz was almost completely burnt out. Only the core - the Garden Hall, White Hall, staircase and the Imperial Hall, the Kaisersaal, survived. Balthazar's reputation had become secure before 1945 - but we and posterity see his best work now through reconstructions.

Napoleon's description of the Bishop's Residence as 'the largest parsonage in Europe' would not have pleased Balthazar, nor, of course, would the hail of incendiaries - but in one respect he would have felt a certain professional satisfaction.

The Kaisersaal remains one of the most impressive spaces in Germany, if not Europe. The walls are of stuccoed marble and the dome still has frescoes by Tiepolo: Apollo in his Chariot of the Sun is at the centre, while around him Venus, Ceres and Bacchus lead Beatrix to Barbarossa for the Bishop of Wurzburg to perform the wedding rites. But extraordinary as the dome paintings are, Balthazar would take more pleasure in the strength of its construction.

He learned his skills in the military: Balthazar became a colonel of artillery, the most mathematical of military occupations, and fought in the Austro-Turkish War of 1717. Interestingly, in the following year, he travelled through northern Italy and did some work in Milan. But like Brunelleschi before him, he undoubtedly would also have gone to Rome to see the Pantheon. Brunelleschi drew inspiration from this ancient building and so, it appears, did Balthazar.

The Kaisersaal has an extraordinary stone vault that floats without beam or buttress. Even Brunelleschi put a chain round his dome to hold things in place. At the time, Balthazar was derided by his fellow architects. The vault would collapse at the first shock, they mocked – derision Balthazar batted away by offering to fire his field artillery in the Kaisersaal. He never did, but the RAF did much the same thing – and the dome stood and so does Balthazar's reputation.

Walther von der Vogelweide's Under the Lime Tree -

A somewhat comic film of art being destroyed -

PBS film art stolen by the Nazis -

A film to give pleasure -

And if you liked that -

For Sheila and for Barb, who really need no cooking advice, at their request for further and better particulars is a one minute and fifteen second guide to embellishing a Frankfurter Kranz. One starts by making a sponge kugelhopf and then -

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