Posted by: Nazausgraben | March 27, 2011


It is Lent, and  the perfect opportunity to visit one of the jewels of the nearby German  Allgäu. In less than five minutes, we are propelling ourselves through the tunnel that marks the border between Austria and Germany. Although a scant kilometer or two from Pinswang, the difference in the surrounding Landschaft (terrain) is immediate; the rolling hills of  a greening Bavarian countryside stand in stark contrast to the snow-capped Alpine Tirol now behind us.

Scattered about these forest-bedecked hills are scores of ancient villages and farmsteads. Gothic spires and Baroque Zwiebelturme (onion domes) pierce an intensely blue fore-noon sky. One sees massive farmhouses dating from the 16th century and clusters of private homes, inns and small shops. These villages (separated by countless acres of cultivated land) seem to spring directly from picture postcards; tourist office ideals that are pleasing to the eye, evoking a sense of warmth, gemuetlichkeit, and beauty…visions that one would certainly entice any traveler to immediately depart the local road and stop even if just for a moment or two of quiet solace. There is an almost innate, natural appeal to this scene; the beauty is immediate, restful and refreshing. It draws one without any expense into its universal harmony. 

What is immediately noticeable is that nowhere is there to be seen the rows of post-modern single slab-roofed sterile bunkers that one sadly encounters sprouting in the midst of and about some otherwise lovely historic Tirolean villages and towns.  Here, throughout this part of the Allgäu, there is continuity between the old and new; tradition is considered the heart of rather than anathema to the general aesthetic. Nothing is permitted to clash with the eye and soul…nothing to obliterate the almost transcendent sense of historical surround that, in the quest to establish fashion and recognition, too many town and city planners purposely eschew in their quest for architectural secularism. 

Please do forgive this moment of detour from the discourse at hand. It is just that as one wends one’s way through this serene pastoral scene, it is especially the lack of such visual discord that prepares the traveller for what lies ahead atop a lush plateau not very far at all from Pinswang. For we are headed to the village of Ottobeuren; more specifically, to the magnificent Benedictine Abbey that has made this village a center for pilgrims, tourists and wanderers since the Middle Ages.

As per the abbey website (, ” Ottobeuren was founded in the year 764 by the Graf Silach. Monks from St. Gallen and Reichenau, villages  near the Bodensee,  were the first to occupy the new Abbey. Interestingly, the Abbey, at its inception, was independent from any state ecclesiastical body; the responsibility for the oversight of the Abbey fell directly to the Kaiser. The monastery was the Church for the village of Ottobeuren as well as for twenty seven surrounding villages, and remained so until 1802 when it, along with other monasteries and religious bodies were secularized by the monarch.  Ottobeuren was re-dedicated as an active Abbey in 1918 and has remained so ever since. Today, there are approximately 22 monks that live and work in Ottobeuren.” 

One is immediately struck by the size of the structure; a towering edifice whose twin towers can be seen beacon-like by the traveler kilometers before reaching the village itself. Each tower is capped by an almost flattened Zweibelturm and double transept cross. A large clock face graces each tower.

Ottbeuren Abbey

The ornate Baroque facade is punctuated by masterful artistry in colorful Luftlmalerei (paintings on flat surfaces that create the illusion of multi-dimensionality)  and intricate metalwork.

Yet, it is upon entering the Abbey’s Basilika Church of St. Alexander and St. Theodor that one truly can appreciate the height of 18th century architecture and painting masterwork.  I have created a composite Powerpoint photograph of the High Altar and ceiling over the Transept. Whilst not perfectly aligned, I believe it provides some idea of the grandeur one sees within the magnificent Church. You can see it by clicking the following link:


Everywhere one turns, one is greeted by such human expressions of glory. The walls, side chapels and roof are covered in a host of frescoes by Tirolean masters F.A. Zeiller and Franz Jakob, elegant fragile filigree and luftlmalerei. Glassed cases atop altars contain holy relics of ancient venerated Saints. A splendid 13th century Crucifix can be found in front of the ‘Volksaltar’.

13th Century Crucifix

Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, Susi and I also encountered miles of metal scaffolding that created a complex skeleton within most of the Schiff (the part of a Church before the High Altar where the pews are situated). A new inner roof was being constructed. The work exposed many of the ancient beams that supported the roof very high above us. This is part of a general restoration of the Church that will be underway for some time to come. Do not be alarmed or disappointed by the mammoth metalwerk built for the restorers; for the visitor can still wander about the aisles, into the side chapels and up to the High Alter…to see with great clarity the majesty of this stirring example of the Bavarian Baroque Master Architect Johann Christian and his colleagues.

 The Abbey is also known as a center for its splendid music, both at Mass and in concert.  We were unable to see the magnificent 18th century Riepp organ as it was encased in sheets of plastic covering to prevent damage during the restoration.

After visiting the Basilika, Susi and I sought out the splendid Kloster Library and music archive.  Another disappointment awaited us, as both were not available to visitors; apparently, this time in February was when many Bavarians were on skiing vacation in Austria. Still, abit of our disappointment was assuaged when we entered the warm, comfortable Kloster Cafe. Hot Klosterkoffee and a slice of fresh Torte designed to nourish the belly as well as the soul.

A brief walk about the lovely village, and it was time to retire to our metal steed, already straining at the bit to brave the winding mountain road that would mark our descent from the plateau and back in the direction of our beloved Alps.

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