Sunday, 30 November 2014

Historical Musings of a Renovator*

Having recently project managed the renovation of my grandfather's house, I found myself discussing some of the discoveries I'd made with some girlfriends over breakfast, and we wondered over the interconnection of various elements of the house.

When I had been receiving quotes for new carpet in the bedrooms, upon measuring the bedrooms the salesman had emphasised the ease of the laying due simply to the size of the room. A rectangular room, it possessed standard dimensions that were also the standard measurements for the carpet we were intending to lay. It seems a roll of carpet is made with a width of 360cm/12ft (the exact measurement may differ slightly) which is the standard width of the bedrooms in Federation houses.

This interesting coincidence led to the series of questions of whether it was in fact a coincidence or actually a causal relationship.

Had the standard width for carpet become 360cm because of the room size? 
Why had 360cm become the standard room width? It seems an unlikely number, so was it based upon the maximum or standard length of the ceiling beams, or the ultimate width of the house (eaves, two rooms and a corridor between)?

It's unlikely that the carpet width came first with the rooms built to fit. That's just not the order in which most houses are built. In addition, initially the houses were possibly not designed to have fitted carpet; the underlying Jarrah floorboards and removable rugs would have been far easier to maintain. It makes sense that carpet would have become a standard feature later and if the majority of rooms are this one size, then why not weave the carpet to fit, without the need for cutting and adding and fitting together.

But if the majority of homes had rooms of this one size, then what was it that had determined this measurement as the standard room size?

Even in this day and age where houses seem to almost be rolled out on a production line there is still enough variation in the size of rooms. So why did 360cm/12ft become the standardised measure? Or how?
Is the room size based upon the length of ceiling beams? Across one room, or across the whole house? Or is it instead related to another element of the house's construction that I haven't even considered? Something must have determined this specific measurement over say 10ft, but I'm at a loss to determine what it might have been.

This initial subject lead to another one.

Why are the ceilings of Federation houses so high?

Now it is most definitely not a standard feature and yet then, 100 years ago it was. It was almost guaranteed not to have been the result of cost; they were more likely to have been lowered again to save on costs. In addition, in the earliest days, if costs were of greatest concern the doors would have been scarcely higher than the owners and the ceilings barely higher again.

I wonder if the tall ceilings are due instead to the Australian climate in which they are built. For they would enable the unfamiliar (and unbearable) heat to rise away from the inhabitants and slip out through the ornate holes in the upper wall.

This would seem somewhat of an illogical move given that in the winters the idea would have been to conserve what existing warmth there was (particularly given how cold Federation houses can be) as opposed to letting it rise and escape outside.
But perhaps then practices were different.
The houses were furnished with at least one fireplace and wood to burn would have been readily available. Besides, most of the early settlers probably hailed from the United Kingdom and so would probably felt far more at home in the cold misery of winter.

*title courtesy of Miranda 

Seeon Abbey

Surprisingly, our first few days were spent together... kind of.
We traveled over to Europe together in time for a conference Mum is attending at Kloster Seeon, just south of Munich (as she puts it).
Having arrived at 17:00, long after the sun had sunk below the horizon, we didn’t gain a very good idea of what this Abbey and its surrounds actually looked like. Supposedly, it’s an abbey on a small island in the middle of a small lake. At least that’s what Google told us. 

The abbey is unusual, a mixture of corporate function centre and old cloister with modern monochrome lines mixed in with the occasional vaulted ceiling, wood paneled ceiling and useless sundial fresco.  

In the reception hall the grey stones of the vaulted ceiling have been left bare standing out against the white wash of the walls. 

And more time was spent at breakfast leaning out the window looking at the quaint old features and photographing the ceiling than eating I think. 
Something about this abbey has a connection with Eugene de Beauharnais (son of Empress Josephine of France) though I’ve yet to work it out. In amongst the history (all in German unfortunately) displayed along one of the lengths of the cloister is the family tree, dating back to Josephine, and the nearby cafĂ© is named after the title of Eugene’s wife.

Leaving the island of Herrenchiemsee early on Friday we had time to make a loop around this particular lake and attempt to photograph the Abbey across the water, through the ever-present mist and fog. It was a pretty though again the camera had some difficulty distinguishing the silhouettes from the fog. 

The village of Seeon (as separate from the Cloisters) was quaint and picturesque with the suitable winding road scarcely wide enough for one car let alone the dual carriage way it was supposed to be. One got the impression that it was one of those towns that became a popular ‘beach’ resort in summer, but the remainder of the year,(including when we were there) it was more like a ghost town.

The one last place of note at Seeon Abbey was the church. 

Opened only from 10 until 5, I was worried that we would miss it, but on the final day had time to pop in for a glimpse before we made our way back to Munich. 
After the opulence of the day (Herrenchiemsee) it was delightfully simple; flat white washed walls lightly painted with vines and pseudo-trompe d’oeil.

Friday, 28 November 2014

A Poor Man's Replica - Herrenchiemsee

Having spend the previous day some distance from Seeon, Dad and I spent this day a little nearer exploring the lake the conference delegates had assumed we'd been exploring the day before. It was also a sensible move, as Mum’s conference ended mid afternoon and we then had to make the trek back to Munich to meet Tegan and Andy.

I’d heard about Herrenchiemsee from a book I’d lugged home on my last trip and thought it pretty enough to be worth a visit.
Instead the whole day turned out to be pretty strange.

For starters, every timetable indicated that the ferry across to the island left every hour on the hour and yet when we rocked up to buy tickets, the ferry was scheduled to leave in only 10 minutes (half an hour ahead of its timetabled departure).

On the island itself, with the icey air cutting right through you, we walked briskly up to the schloss for the guided tour.

Herrenchiemsee is beautiful, but its ultimately just a scaled down version of Versailles. Ludwig II, otherwise known as mad Ludwig felt that as a Ludwig/Louis he should be as powerful and magnificent as Louis XIV and so he decided to emulate the Sun king. He became the Moon King, and began building a replica Versailles complete with replica gardens on this island.


Unfortunately, he seemed to have failed to realise that Louis XIV was an absolute monarch, as opposed to a figurehead, was the King of France, as opposed to King of the much smaller Bavaria, and therefore had access to, and could get away with spending the same sort of money on Architecture.

The palace is very much a homage to Louis XIV; some of the rooms like the Hall of Mirrors have been replicated exactly (there were some slight changes in dimensions)down to the last smile in the last painting. (Unfortunately photography was not allowed and so the only pictures I have are courtesy of a book of postcards).

Other rooms are simply ‘in the style’ but look as though they’ve been transported out of Versailles.


We were told that there isn’t a single Bavarian element to this castle. All the styles, all the stories told, all the symbols are French, from the reign of Louis XIV or older.


Even the portraits of the king himself do not depict Ludwig, but instead Louis. In fact the only Bavarian element appears to be the nationality of the workers who did all of the replication.

While it is beautiful and whimsical in places, Ludwig only slept there for 10 nights, he never entertained and lived at night in the shimmering light of the thousands of candles he insisted were lit for him, alone.

Only a third of the rooms are complete, the incomplete ones no doubt destined to be more grandiose again, there isn’t even a kitchen.

At Versailles (the proper one) you get an idea of the life of the chateau and its past liveliness when it was the centre of the French court through the hoards of tourists who swarm through the building nad over the grounds. Here in Herrenchiemsee it looked as though it would have been a great house for parties and such and yet there was nothing, not even the ghosts of past festivities. It was sad, silent opulence in the middle of manicured gardens on an island in the middle of a large lake, about as far away from civilisation as a king could possibly get.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Road to Konigsee, Hintersee and back

Aware that Dad preferred the natural to the man-made in terms of sightseeing options, we did our research before we left and decided to spend the day heading down towards the Berchtesgarten national park, in the south-eastest corner of Germany, without quite reaching Salzburg. There were supposed to be some scenic views and walking trails in the area that Google images indicated might be rather beautiful.

Leaving the Cloister on a foggy day, we did wonder how much of these vistas would actually be visible.

None the less, we decided to head in that direction anyway, hoping that the fog would clear, we’d see something scenic regardless, we’d see something else that would make the trip worthwhile or a combination of the above.

Dad was driving, in the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, with the road winding away from him into the mist and fog. Thankfully with 1 GPS and 1 navigator it was alot easier and I was able to take photos from the front seat in addition to scenery-shoot (as opposed to trouble-shoot) so Dad could find the nearest parking spot and enjoy the vistas along the way.

In fact, though I’d expected to do most of the scenery shooting around Konigsee and Hintersee, it was in fact the journey itself that was most rewarding.

We passed through forests of conifers and deciduous trees silhouetted by the fog,

Under sheer mountain faces,

Rolling hills with a backdrop of pine trees peeping put from under the low lying clouds,

Lakes of mist settled in the valleys between the snowcapped Alps

Sunlight streaming through the trees and radiating beams in the mist

Eerily silent lakes and rivers, the vegetation mirrored in the rippling water.

All scenes that are typically European(as opposed to the Australian countryside/outback) but at the same time picturesque and unusual and nothing like what you would expect to find in Australia. The fact that much of the mist and fog was a result of the (very) low temperature may have had something to do with it, but on this occasion, because we spend most of the day  in the warmth of the car, or at least breaking up our excursions into the cold with lengthy drives in the car, it made it bearable.

At Konigsee we parked, having got our bearing and a map of the national park further up the road at Wimbackklamm. There was supposed to be a walking trail or two to do that snaked their way up the surrounds hills and no doubt provided breathtaking views of Konigsee lake, or fascinating wildlife.
Unfortunately, the wildlife was hibernating (sensibly), and the views were shrouded in fog, so thick that it was difficult to see more than a few dozen meters in front of you.

So instead we wandered around the near part of the lake where during warmer seasons there was obviously a resort type atmosphere. On this particular day, only the  ducks were making use of the lake.
Later we were told that this lake is famous for it's echo. It's just a pity that someone informed one of the ducks, for though there was 30-40, only one was audible wherever you ventured around the lake.

After photographing that misty lake and the island monument within, we  headed west to Hintersee, another lake I'd discovered had reputable vistas.

Wandering around this lake before heading back to civilisation we stumbled upon a quaint little church and cemetery in I believe the town of Ramsauer Ache. Dedicated to St Sebastian, the church was light and airy and simple. 

The memorial garden, however, was absolutely delightful. It comprised of no more than 80 plots, each one no longer than one metre and no wider than 50 centimetres and yet each one was meticulous in its presentation with bright flowering plants, lanterned tea lights and not a single weed or unkempt branch in sight. 
I've heard that the maintenance of these plots is an expected weekly ritual within a village community and the love and care that goes into it is obvious. 

Throughout our ramble Dad kept saying that this is the type of place Granddad would probably like as his memorial as it looks far happier than the barren unkempt cemeteries that are prevalent in Perth.

 The drive back was as picturesque, dipping in and out of the clouds as we would our way back along country roads.

It made for a very visually rewarding day.

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