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German Wanderlust with Julia Bradbury [DVD]
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In this new series, Julia Bradbury takes her boots and backpack to the Continent to explore the landscape of Germany and the cultural movement that made it famous Romanticism. The Germans enjoy a relationship with walking that has lasted over 200 years. By walking in four very different parts of Germany (the Rhine, the Bavarian Alps, the island of Ruegen and Saxony) Julia explores river valleys, coastlines, mountains and gorges, following in the footsteps of Richard Wagner, Caspar David Friedrich, Johannes Brahms as well as British romantics like William Turner and Lord Byron. This is Julia s chance to discover her own sense of German Wanderlust .
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The four walks are well-chosen - covering the north, south, east, and west of the country - and are as follows: 1. Downstream along the Rhine from Rudesheim to the Loreley (40km); 2. In the Bavarian Alps, a 17km circular walk from the Tegelberg to the Alpsee via Neuschwanstein; 3. Along the shore of the island of Rugen from Binz to the Konigstuhl beyond Sassnitz (23km); and 4. Another virtually circular walk through `Saxon Switzerland' from Rathen to the Bastei Bridge via Hohnstein (20km). Each walk is mapped on screen and is viewed initially from the air. At places Bradbury is accompanied by local guides along the way who elaborate on their special topics.
Bradbury attempts to enlighten the viewer on the strength and varieties of German Romanticism, but in each half-hour programme the focus is naturally on the walk itself with very little time to spare to dig very deeply into the subject. For example, the only literary examples we hear about are Byron, Goetzinger, and Hans Christian Andersen: hardly a representative sample. The Rugen episode includes many extracts from a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, but she wrote long after the Romantics had faded.
Things are slightly better with painters: the works of Haag, Turner, and Friedrich appear, and the Saxon episode focuses on the work of Zingg, Richter and Veith. But again, these are purely superficial considerations - just a quick mention, and then we're off again on another section of the walk. And walking IS the focus, so much so that we see no interiors along the way - none of the Rhine castles, no churches, not even the interior of Neuschwanstein castle or Hitler's holiday complex for the masses at Prora. No time to linger and smell the roses before marching off again.
The music used to accompany the series is right: excerpts from Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Offenbach, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss (II), Wagner, and Weber. But apart from Wagner in the Bavarian Alps episode, very little is discussed about this side of German Romanticism. A trip to Neuschwanstein - Bradbury describes it as "the world's most outrageous castle" - cannot fail to mention Wagner and King Ludwig II, but the king is only described in terms of his "artistic tendencies" with not a mention of his being gay. (At times I wonder if the BBC has yet to enter the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first.)
I'm pleased to see that she is one of the few presenters who gets her `ups' and `downs' right about the direction of flow of the Rhine, but Bradbury did fall often into the trap of confusing the German `nation' with the German `state'. (There was no `German' state until 1871.) And, I was most disappointed to find how poor is Bradbury's German.
And yet, as already mentioned, I was left with wanting more. Bradbury, despite her poor language skills, is an excellent presenter; the places visited are beautiful; the sun (seemingly) always shines; and my curiosity about this era of German history has been vigorously aroused. More, please, but with greater detail!
Like all of her walks, she seems to chose them for historic, natural, and cultural reasons. The result is interesting and relaxed (even if I could never do in a day's walk what she does).
For me at least, these are great at the end of the day to get away for a half-hour to see sights with an enthusiastic guide, and end, as she often does, with a great view.
As with her earlier programmes, this series offers plenty of inspiration for walkers who haven't tackled a foreign ramble before. Each route is explained using overhead photography, so that you get a real sense of the topography of the area and the scale and distance that Julia will be walking. In the first episode she takes a two-day walk along the banks of the Rhine, deep in the vineyards and surrounded by ridiculously picturesque medieval castles. The countryside is indeed spectacular: the terraces for the vines are astonishing on their own.
Then the action moves south to the Alps where Julia treads in the footsteps of the Bavarian king Ludwig II, which includes details of his friendship with the composer Wagner and a trip to Ludwig's astonishing castle at Neuschwanstein. This episode features breath-taking scenery of the Bavarian mountains and lakes, and contrasts their beauty with the sad true-life tale of the 'fairy prince', all set to Wagener's stirring compositions.
The next segment goes to Ruegen on the Baltic coast, a popular holiday destination which sees Julia walking alongside beaches and cliffs, bathed in the unique light of the area. We also learn about the less pleasant remains of a Nazi holiday camp which Hitler tried to establish in the area.
Julia Bradbury is an engaging and likeable presenter, who always appears to adore her walking. She romps up fearsome inclines with a big grin and a firm grasp on her Nordic walking poles, and makes intelligent and thoughtful comments about her discoveries as she travels through the landscape. However, in German Wanderlust it's seems to me that she is less familiar with her subject, and these programmes are not packed with personal experiences like the Wainwright or railway walks. In earlier series it's been obvious that Julia is very familiar with her surroundings, but in this one she's more like `one of us', more of a tourist and less of an expert.
Overall, this DVD provides a couple of hours of enjoyable entertainment. It's part travelogue, part history, part appreciation of the natural world, plus an inspiration for armchair ramblers everywhere. It give us a snapshot of the landscape which inspired German romanticism - music, literature and art - and an insight into some of what lies behind the modern German nation. These even a tip of the hat to British artists like Turner and Byron - more than you might expect from a series about walking tours!
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