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Lest we forget

May 31st, 2009 No comments

Tommy’s travel tip #6: Munich

May 30th, 2009 No comments

Travel Tip #6: Navigating a foreign city without a map? All you need is a camera – and the ability to take photos of local area maps posted at bus stops.

Munich is a city of many contrasts. The industrial brutalism of its main station leads across a tree-lined, bustling and jumbled avenue to the simple lines of the Selingor Tor, one of the city’s several gates, and narrow, winding streets filled with medieval houses and baroque churches. A blue-and-white striped maypole makes it seem like a small Bavarian town, yet just down the road, the sprawling Gothic New Town Hall and the disproportionately lofty towers of the cathedral reminds the visitor that this was the capital of one of the great German kingdoms. A short subway ride away are reminders of Munich’s modern claim to fame: the stately curves of the BMW headquarters, and the more fluid shape of the BMW museum, sit snug against the graceful web-like canopies of the Olympic Park. Then there’s the curious mixtures of the old and new. The Residenz, the Munich palace of the Bavarian kings, is all Italiante splendour on the outside; but closer inspection reveals that that facades are painted on. Much of the palace burned down during the war, and reconstruction efforts have tried their best to connect surviving parts of the original, with mixed success. For me though, Munich stood out for its food, food, food, and drink. One of the city’s key attractions is the Hofbrauhaus, a temple to beer. The Ratskeller, a beer hall underneath the town hall, is one of my all time, worldwide favourites. Here are sausages like you’ve never had them before. For a carnivore like me, it was heaven.

And now, for my photos…

Munich’s Town Hall, built from 1867 to 1908, houses council offices, shops, and a restaurant in the cellars. In the main tower is the Glockenspiel – “story clock”
The New Town Hall of Munich

The working parts of the Town Hall are just like any other government office building, but quite suddenly the drab corridor would break into a little landing, framed by Gothic fireplaces and arched windows.
Inside the Town Hall, Munich

Munich has a habit of keeping its modern institutions of government in great buildings from the past – the Palace of Justice is another example (this time, in Baroque)
The dome of the Palace of Justice, Munich

Whereas the town centre feels very Germanic with a dash of Baroque, the area around the Residenz is firmly Italianate, from the Feldherrnhalle modelled after Florence’s Loggia dei Lanzi, through the Italian high Baroque Theatine Church, to the neo-classical concert hall.
The Antiquarium in the Residenz, Munich
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Tommy’s travel tip #5: Neuschwanstein Castle

May 23rd, 2009 No comments

First sight of the castle, from Hohenschwangau village

Tip #5: Don’t let the fear of a public loss of dignity get in the way of doing something crazy. Remember, you don’t have a reputation to maintain in this country*!

* (Unless you actually do)

We knew something was up as soon as we stepped aboard the train to Füssen, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The carriage, you see, was full of Asians. I was pretty sure we hadn’t got onto the express to Beijing via Moscow. Or did we?

The slightly surreal feeling from being surrounded by Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanese speakers on a German train became a full blown Escheresque moment when we arrived at our destination and joined a line dominated by Asians of all nations – including a party of Mongols in full traditional regalia.

Neuschwanstein, you see, is the archetypal Romantic castle. Situated atop a hill in the Bavarian Alps, the castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) as a homage to the fantasy world of German romanticism, especially as represented by the operative works of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

On the train to FüssenThough today regarded as one of the most important composers of the 19th century, until 1864 Wanger darted from physical exile to artistic isolation, his lack of income exacerbated by a political ban imposed by the royalist Saxony government due to Wagner’s involvement in republican politics.

In 1864, the 19-year-old Ludwig had been freshly crowned King of Bavaria the year before, and was popular for his youthful energy and brooding good looks. Ludwig was introduced to Wagner’s latest wrok Lohengrin, the tale of the Swan Knight. Ludwig was immediately captivated by this fantasy world, and asked to meet Wagner. The king and the composer left a deep impression on each other. Immediately, Ludwig facilitated the performance of Wagner’s latest work, Tristan unde Isolde in his capital Munich. He paid off Wagner’s debts, and installed him in a large villa.

Hohenshwangau Palace, built by Ludwig's fatherHowever, the world in the 1860s was very different from the world of the Swan Knight. The realities of being a head of state soon caught up with young Ludwig. Within the complex political world of 19th century German states, Bavaria was a middle power sandwiched between the stronger states of Prussia and Austria. The Seven Weeks’ War between Prussia and Austraia was fought in 1866. Bavaria sided with Austria, but was forced to accept a mutual defence treaty with Prussia after the war. This brought it into the midst of the brewing conflict between Prussia and France, later to culminate in the Franco-Prussian war. Though Bavaria was formally on the winning side, the war helped Prussia become the overwhelmingly dominant German state, and subsequently the creation of the German Empire. Amidst the celebration of the German victory over the French, Luwdig had to sign a humiliating proclamation giving away Bavaria’s sovereignty to the new Empire headed by Prussia.

From Hohenschwangau castle looking towards Neuschwanstein1867 was no more pleasant for Ludwig on the personal front. Wagner’s extravagance scandalised conservative Bavaria, and the king was forced to ask him to leave the country. Pressure to produce an heir led to an engagement with his cousin, the Duchess Sophie in Bavaria. This made Ludwig even more morose – he longed, he wrote, to be with Wagner instead. After much dithering, he broke off the engagement. He wrote to Wagner: “Thank God I am alone at last. My mother is far away, as is my former bride, who would have made me unspeakably unhappy. Before me stands a bust of the one, true Friend whom I shall love until death. . . If only I had the opportunity to die for you.”

It was during this difficult period that Ludwig retreated to Hohenschwangau, a castle built by his father on the ruins of a knight’s castle first built in the 12th century. Ludwig had spent many summers with his family there, and he enjoyed the seclusion offered by the castle, nestled between the mountains and a pristine lake.

Neuschwanstein castleHohenschwangau castle (still owned by the Bavarian royal family) is only a short stroll from the village of Hohenschwangau, a short bus ride from Füssen. Visits to the castles are carefully timed, so we used the short time we had before our scheduled entry into Neuschwanstein to run up the hill and look around the older castle. Painted yellow, the castle gives an impression of medieval solidity – with its square keep and stout turrets. One interesting flourish was a set of brightly painted knights installed on the outer wall of the castle facing away from the village. However, one is constantly reminded of the real star of the show – the eye is almost involuntarily drawn to the brilliant white jewel that is Neuschwanstein, seemingly perched far above, with its elegant tower and many-faceted ridgeline.

From Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein is approached via a long, sloping carriageway through the woods. Horse-drawn carriages convey visitors close to the top, though we chose to walk (and had to pick our way carefully between the mounds of horse manure).

The gates of NeuschwansteinIt was during his self-imposed exile at Hohenschwangau that Ludwig began contemplating bringing his fantasy into reality. He chose the top of a hill above Hohenschwangau, where centuries ago there were two small knights’ castles, a complete ruin by this time. To realise his fantasy of the castle of the Swan Knight, he hired a stage designer to supply the design (and the royal architect to supply the technical expertise that would keep the castle standing at its perilous location). Constrution began in 1869, while Ludwig lived in seclusion in Hohenschwangau – and as the new castle became more complete, Neuschwanstein itself. He became increasingly eccentric, obsessively trying to retreat into his fantasy world. So much so that Ludwig earned the nickname “the Mad”. The Bavarian establishment became increasingly dissatisfied by his extravagance – although he did not use state funds, he borrowed heavily from his own family, and when that source ran low, wanted to borrow from all the royal families of Europe.

The castle in winter presents a unique perspective. While the surrounding fields of snow made the castle’s pure white exterior seem especially brilliant, the snow also means that a number of more picturesque paths up the mountain are closed. For example, the Mary Bridge, across a gorge behind the castle, offers a postcard overview of the castle – but is closed in winter. We decided to chance it up a closed path that wound around the back of the castle, despite the warning signs. I soon realised why it was closed – covered in ankle-deep snow, the path was steep and narrow, with nothing to hold onto except barbed wires (okay, nothing to hold on to, period.) The end of the path was blocked by a fence which we had to climb over. Still – it was worth it for the view of the back of the castle.

The front tower viewed from the first courtyardAfter clambering over the fence, we found ourselves in the small court at the gate of the castle. It was here that the Neuschwanstein castle saw its only siege – or something like it. The year was 1886. The conflict between Ludwig and his ministers were boiling over. His ministers, Luwdig felt, were cramping his (opulent) style, while his ministers saw little use for a monarch who held power over them but did nothing on matters of state. Ludwig considered dismissing the whole cabinet, which prompted the ministers to act first. They assembled a medical report from four psychiatrists who had never met the king, which diagnosed him of paranoia. With this as pretext, a group of government commissioners went to Neuschwanstein to demand Ludwig’s capitulation. Tipped off by a loyal servant, Ludwig summoned the local police, who held off the commissioners at the castle gate with bayonets. He held the commissioners prisoner, but released them soon after. One enthusiastic local baroness rushed to the castle at the news of the siege, attacked the commissioners with her umbrella, and then ran into the castle to identify the assailants to the king.

The lower courtyardImmediately inside the castle gate is the main, outer courtyard. From here, stairs lead into the main buildings of the castle. The strange juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern was immediately apparent. The castle was built in a fantasy medieval style. Just 100 years later, most of the stonework still seems new, giving the sensation of being in a medieval castle newly built – or, more accurately, still under construction. Alongside Gothic dragon gargoyles are electric lights: Ludwig pioneered electricity in Bavaria. This juxtaposition was all the more apparent in Ludwig’s own bedroom. A posted bed was topped by a carved wooden top which represented all the prominent towers of every cathedral in Bavaria, a massive wooden hybrid between a beehive and a wedding cake. Yet, within the same chamber, is a basin (in the shape of a swan) fed by running water delivered via modern plumbing, and even a flushing toilet.

One of the grandest completed rooms in the castle is the Singer’s Hall. Intended as a place for Wagner to write and perform his plays, the hall is gloriously decorated with murals and frescoes. Though Ludwig never saw the hall put to use, the hall is today regularly used for musical performances.

However, the comical scene of the siege at the castle gates quickly turned serious. After the first attempt at deposing him, Ludwig took no measures to strengthen his position. Less than a week later, the government, now better prepared, arrested him at Neuschwanstein and deposed him. The crown, ingeniously, passed to his brother Otto, who was genuinely insane, and power passed to Prince Luitpold, his uncle, as regent, and a willing supporter of the conspirators. The next day, June 13, 1886, Ludwig went for a walk with the psychiatrist who diagnosed him, and both were found dead in the lake. Debate rages to this day about the circumstances of his death.

The old Hohenschwangau castle seen from Neuschwanstein. The lake, Alpsee, is seen on the left.At this death, the interiors of the structurally complete parts of the castle were only 1/3 finished. A main structure, the Keep, was intended to be built in the upper courtyard (in front of the main structure seen today), but only the foundations had been laid. The new government halted all works on the site, and the castle later became state, rather than royal, property.

Ironically, however, a project lambasted at the time as an extravagant and lunatic waste of money is today one of the most iconic symbols of Bavaria and Germany. In parts of Asia, for example, it has become almost the symbol of the romantic Europe. As the inspiration for fantasy castles such as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, it is perhaps not a far stretch to say that Neuschwanstein has become a worldwide cultural motif. The castle is visited by 1.3 million people annually, generating hundreds of millions of Euros in revenue for the state and far outstripping the maintenance cost of the castle.

Vladimir gets tired from waiting for the train at Fussen, delayed by more than an hour!Ironically, too, for Ludwig, whose death was in a significant part caused by his extravagant spending on Neuschwanstein and other projects, the castle has become the legacy by which he is remembered. Hardly anyone remembers the few political and social decisions he made, and were it not for the castle, Ludwig would only be a footnote in the history of a regional dynasty.

For the hordes of foreign tourists, though – I wondered whether they stopped and thought about what they were seeing. Here they were, at the archetypal “European” castle, unmistakeably solid in all its gleaming splendour. Yet the castle was as much make-believe as the papier-mache that its designer would have been more accustomed to working with. The castle has no defensive purpose, and its beauty comes from the manipulation of traditional defensive forms – turrets, keeps, battlements – into aesthetically pleasing forms. The interiors, with pencilled-in drawings and unfinished plaster walls, intensify the feeling of walking through a stage set, especially when a roughly whitewashed corridor leads into a spectacular completed room. Perhaps, it’s best to see the castle, not as an archetype or a symbol, but a sui generis creation of its times and circumstances. That it remains unfinished is, in a sense, a blessing: it offers us a glimpse into 19th century Romanticism, whereas the finished product would have simply been an imitation of a real medieval castle. It is beautiful, and it is unique, and that’s what counts.

IceTV Pty Limited v Nine Network Australia Pty Limited [2009]

May 4th, 2009 3 comments

I set out to write a ‘brief’ casenote on my blog on this case a week ago, but almost inevitably it’s morphing into a 5,000 word paper. To spare my readers the pain of waiting a month to read something gargantuan, I’m posting up this condensed note. I’ll upload the full note as a document in due season.

On 22 April 2009, the High Court of Australia delivered its judgment in the case of IceTv Pty Limited v Nine Network Australia Pty Limited [2009] HCA 14 (hereafter “IceTV“. The appeal by IceTV Pty Limited (“IceTV“) was upheld unanimously by a court comprising French CJ, Gummow, Hayne, Heydon, Crennan and Kiefel JJ. The court found that IceTV’s use of program title and time information originating from Nine Network Australia Pty Limited (“Nine“) did not infringe Nine’s copyright in its published programming schedules.

Significance of the case

The IceTV case has been a running saga in Australian copyright law for several years. The case is significant for several reasons. First, it is an important indication of the present High Court’s views on several open issues of copyright law which have been in flux in recent years. The bench which sat on IceTV encompass all but one (Bell J) of the present court, which has changed significantly in the last couple of years. Specifically, the case was a decisive statement of the court’s view on copyright’s protection of labour and time, versus the need for a “creative spark”, in compilations, an issue with increasing ramifications in the digital age. While the case considered this issue in the context of copyright infringement, and specifically the question of what constitutes a “substantial part” of a work, their Honours provided a strong indication of their views of the parallel issue in the context of subsistence of copyright.

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