The other weekend I rode the S-Bahn down to Gauting and walked east to Buchenhain, about 11.5 km — 5 or 6 of which was on the exact line of the old Roman road that ran through the area. Here’s the map of my trek:
If you zoom in on the regular map, you can see that “Römerstraße” is actually labeled for a good part of the way. That’s because it’s been fixed up and turned into a bike path by the Via Julia project. You can read about the similar (but much bigger) project for the Via Claudia Augusta here on Wiki — that was the road that actually crossed the Alps and ended in Augsburg. Augsburg is less than an hour’s drive northwest of Munich, but the Via Claudia Augusta went almost straight north to Augsburg (along the Lech River), so it didn’t pass through Munich. The specific offshoot of the road that goes south of Munich, from Augsburg to Salzburg, was not named in Roman times. But today it has a modern name, the Via Julia, and you can walk it or bike it almost the whole way. (I say almost because at times the real road goes somewhere they couldn’t put a path, so sometimes you’re just going sort of near it.)
So I just did a few Google Maps searches and found this stretch of the Via Julia that went right through Gauting, which is an S-Bahn stop that I could get to easily. Then after Mass on Sunday, I printed off a few maps (because I am still terrified of getting lost and stranded in the outskirts) and went!
Gauting is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in Upper Bavaria. The first discernible settlements go back to 2000 B.C. There is a nearby grave mound from the Bronze Age, and remains of a Celtic “schanze” (or ring fort) from the Iron Age, which we’ll get to in a minute. The farmland around Gauting was one of the first areas to be cleared and made arable in the forested regions around Munich. It was known as “Bratananium” to the Romans, who built villas and other public buildings in this valley along the river Würm. They left in the 5th century, and as the Bavarians emerged as the local people from the 6th-8th centuries, the village became “Goutingen” (among other spellings!).
It sits alongside the river Würm — the same river that runs through my neighborhood in Untermenzing, actually right next to the house. It’s about 16 km down the river to Untermenzing, and there are roads and paths that follow beside the river the whole way, so I could have basically walked, if I wanted to.
Places that have been lived in for a long time are cool.
I didn’t find out anything about the village before I left, but once I got there and started walking down the main street, I realized that sooner or later I would happen across an old church… which I did.
This is the Frauenkirche in Gauting, or the Church of Our Lady – a cemetery church and an old pilgrimage church. Its another Bavarian late Gothic building with Baroque fixtures. It was finished in 1489.
The nave was blocked off for security, so I could only get pictures from way in back…
A fragment of a fresco with St Christopher.
Moving on — I crossed the Würm and saw this wayside statue of St John Nepomuk. The bridge is dedicated to him…
A little further down the road, what should I see but another church? Sorry.
St Benedikt. The church here was a gift, as far back as 800, to a nearby Benedictine monastery. The tower preserves part of its late Gothic form, but the current building was built in the 1930s by an architect who built a number of churches and public buildings during the 20s and 30s. Then he was snatched up by the Nazis and he built things for them, although he had apparently filed appeals to be exempted from this due to his connection with the Catholic Church. One of the churches he built in the 20s was Leiden Christi (Passion of Christ) Church, within walking distance of where I live. They are both, more or less, neo-Romanesque.
Here’s the chancel… What is that ODD stuff around the altar? Well…
It’s a baldachin. But I have literally never seen one before in a modern church like this one. And the altar, while it is modern plain cut stone, is back against the wall, with the tabernacle in the middle and that rich burgundy mural behind it. It actually makes me think that this must have been the original arrangement in the 1930s when it was built – before the architectural chaos of the liturgical reforms, but on the forefront of the new style. But I really have no idea; this arrangement could have come wholesale from the 60s or 70s. Speaking of those wall paintings:
On the north side of the chancel, the angel drives Adam and Eve from Eden.
On the south side, Christ is born.
Where the south side altar would have been, there is a crucifix with this whole program painted around it. In this lighting, at least, the effect was wonderful.
I don’t know for sure when these were painted, but they’re an example of modern sacred art that I actually like… it is at least consistent with the iconographic tradition (not veering too far into abstraction) and I could definitely worship with it.
But by now you are thinking, ugh, you said you were going to show us ROMAN ROADS, Kristen, not MORE CHURCHES. And I am!
I’m on the right track! I followed the main road up through some suburban homes, and
found the right road, and
set out across the fields down the road the Roman soldiers walked on! This was built around 50 A.D., so it is nearly 2000 years old.
A wayside cross out between the fields and paths. This is where the road crossed with the lane to Buchendorf, the nearby village. I could see the church, but I was conscious of my failing January daylight, so I didn’t go see. But it looks cool. I’ll have to go back. (In the summer.)
Did I mention the wind? It was very windy. Luckily I was walking with it almost the whole way.
After walking for a while I got to the Celtic ring-fort or, since this is rectangular, the Celtic “enclosure,” which sounds way less cool.
Excavations found what they believe to be a temple structure in one corner of the enclosure, along with three wells or shafts purportedly used for animal sacrifice. I’m not sure how recent this research is. They have been unsure, over the years, what exactly these enclosures were for, and some of them seem to have been used as fortified households, or cultic sites, or both.
Since there are three gravemound sites, or yes, I am going to use the word barrows, in the surrounding region, they think they may have been associated with this settlement/cultic site. I’m going with that explanation. Because it makes me think of Rohan. Or the old kingdoms of Westernesse.
(I mean, the Rohirrim were really Anglo-Saxons, except for the fact that they rode horses into battle, which A-S’s never did, and so the more proper German analogy is Rohan=the Franks or Alemanni or Bavarians or these other post-Roman groups. But the Rohirrim supposedly came down from the North, invited by Gondor (and who is Gondor/Numenor? France?? their architecture seems to fit), and they carried down their language and traditions from somewhere up there. But maybe that’s supposed to be the Norse influence. I’ve never been sure whether the kingdoms of Westernesse/Numenor would be pre-Roman or the Romans themselves — the constant motif of coming from across the sea sort of reminds you of the foreign “high” culture of the Romans, but I just can’t ascribe to Tolkien that much imaginative sympathy for Latinate culture. On the other hand, who built all those roads in Middle Earth??? I could probably look this up. But I have things to do in my life. [Of course, Tolkien never meant to make real historical analogies; I’m just spitballing.] And so I’ll just square off with this equation: the Wild Men in Rohan/Gondor would be the Britons in Britain would be the Celts in Germany. BOOM.)
There was this sign and a parking lot and a small wooded area with a little wooden village playground for kids, just your basic 2500 year old tourist stop. DAMN YE EUROPEANS! There were a couple of kids playing in the “Celtic” wooden playhouse, cheerfully putting to mockery my entire childhood.
So then the official, marked road came to an end and was taken over by farm fields. But I, with my canny eye, could see that they’d plowed their fields along the lines of the old road anyway. So I walked down it. That was very exciting because I’d seen, on Google satellite, that the road disappeared at some points, but the pattern of the fields or gaps in the trees could show where it went, carving the landscape with its not-quite-straight but persistently-going-somewhere line. So being able to trace it actually on the ground was cool.
Here we are back on the bike trail.
Eventually I went from field to forest…
Hello German woods.
Smelling snow and fir trees sent me right back home to Washington…
There was a crossroads in the woods, with this little watchtower on one corner! What is it for?
It had a good view.
I walked and walked…
After a while I came out of the forest (Forstenrieder Park, a reserve, former hunting ground for the Wittelsbachs) and ran smack into a highway.
Yup. You can see on the map how the Römerstraße cuts straight through and keeps going through the woods until it meets up with another maintained section of road. On the map, I thought I might get lucky and just gross the highway and keep going. But it was way too huge, and I couldn’t cut back to it on the other side because there were chain-link fences guarding a power-line station.
So instead I just started walking down the straight path cut along the power-lines. It was so straight, on and on, the most un-ancient-road thing ever. I could have eventually cut across or taken one of the side roads and tried to find the Römerstraße again, but it was getting darker and I didn’t want to get lost.
Another wayside cross.
It was dark by the time I got to the S-Bahn station in Buchenhain, and then I had to wait about 45 minutes in the cold and wind for the next train. But it was definitely worth it. I’d walked for about 2.5 hours and 7.5 miles and I was pleasantly tired. I want to find more Roman roads and go walking through villages, maybe find some barrows or other Celtic sites, and see more little churches. But maybe when it is warmer and stays light for longer! One of the very coolest things about actually living here for a year, instead of just traveling, is that it means I have the time and ability to go and find inconsequential, non-famous, local places like these. As much as it is really cool to visit a world famous city or building, I like finding the obscure stuff as much or more.