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June 1999

Pfaffenwinkel: It's a beautiful life in Parson's Corner

Travel to Pfaffenwinkel to get away from the more touristed areas

The pfaffenwinkel is generally regarded as the region between Ammersee and the Alps, framed by the rivers Ammer and Lech. Its unusual name — “Pfaffen” means parsons, “Winkel” is an angle or corner — was coined by an 18th-century priest, when he loosely translated the Latin term angelus monachorum. The most adequate English translation is Clerics’ Corner. With slight irony, yet much respect, the name pays tribute to the Pfaffenwinkel’s densely clustered monasteries and Baroque churches. What the Benedictine, Augustinian, Franciscan and Premonstratensian orders have created here since the early Middle Ages has made this strip of land in the Alpine foothills a unique cultural treasure trove. Over the centuries the monasteries have promoted both spiritual and cultural life so that the Pfaffenwinkel was and still is said to be the land of farmers, artists and monks. The beautiful sacred buildings, often within short walking distance or even in sight of one another, are embedded in the lovely pre-Alpine landscape, making the Pfaffenwinkel an ideal choice for combining a cultural tour with a walk through the picturesque countryside. The Pfaffenwinkel landscape is sweeping and uncluttered. Situated between two river valleys, gentle hills with only a few higher peaks like the Hohenpeißenberg (988 meters), alternate with deep forests, moors, meadows and fields. Lakes and small villages are sprinkled throughout. Hiking trails and bike paths criss-cross the idyllic region, opening it to sportsmen and vacationers alike. In the summer, blooming meadows and shaded forests invite casual strollers as well as serious hikers, while lakes and remote ponds beckon to swimmers. selected highlights of the Pfaffenwinkel: Weilheim was once the principal town of the region, home to distinguished artists and famed for its goldsmiths. The parish church Mariae Himmelfahrt, a charming early Baroque building, gives the visitor an idea of the town’s one-time artistic peak. The Pfaffenwinkel museum also displays the area’s rich cultural heritage in a fine collection of sculptures, paintings, prints, furniture and ecclesiastic art from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Only half an hour’s walk from Weilheim lies the former monastery of Polling. Thought to have been founded as early as the 8th century, the entire monastery burned down in 1414. Rebuilt several years later and expanded over subsequent centuries, the church remains among the most interesting in Upper Bavaria, a rare example of a successful mix of styles: an austere Gothic structure decorated with characteristic Baroque and Rococo elements — flowers, angels and garlands. In Wessobrunn, once home to one of Bavaria’s largest and most important Benedictine abbeys, only a Romanesque tower, the Grauer Herzog, and the beautifully decorated guests’ and prince’s quarters survive. Two or three hundred years ago, the town was also the cradle of some of the most outstanding stucco artists and fresco painters, whose works dot palaces and churches throughout Europe. The stuccoed local parish church is a fine example of the skills of the “Wessobrunner School.” The Hohenpeißenberg, less than 10 kilometers further south, is perfect for a moderate mountain hike. Not even 1000 meters high, the Hohenpeißenberg rewards visitors with a stunning view of the Pfaffenwinkel, a lengthy section of the Alps and 11 lakes. The Hohenpeißenberg also features an observatorium of the German weather service, the oldest in Germany. Perched atop a hill above the Ammer Valley is Rottenbuch. While most of its 11th-century Augustinian monastery was torn down during secularization in 1803, the collegiate church Mariae Geburt has remained intact. Erected during the 15th century, the late Gothic church was richly ornamented with stucco and frescoes during the Baroque and Rococo periods. The result is a magnificent example of the Bavarian “Rococo Gothic.” The unrivalled jewel of the Pfaffenwinkel, however, is the pilgrimage church Zum Gegeißelten Heiland in der Wies (of the Scourged Savior in the Meadow), more often referred to as Wieskirche, or simply Wies. Built in the mid-18th century, it is a pinnacle of ecclesiastical Rococo architecture. Its gently curved forms are in perfect harmony with the surroundings, seemingly tracing the contours of the mountains in the background. The Wies was created by brothers Dominikus and Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Flooded with light, an abundance of pastel colors, gold stucco and frescoes make this a resplendent place of worship. In August, the Wies, which has been designated by UNESCO as a building of universal cultural significance, will celebrate its 250th anniversary. Be prepared to share this Rococo jewel as summer visitors number up to 10,000 people daily. Only a 15-minute drive away, on the old Roman street Via Claudia-Augusta, lies Altenstadt. After the hustle and bustle surrounding the Wies, Altenstadt is pleasantly calm. Even though the town has not yet been discovered by the major bus tours passing by on their way to the Wieskirche, it harbors a true treasure: The parish church St. Michael is the only Romanesque vaulted basilica in Upper Bavaria that is completely preserved. Erected before 1200, it has been called “a piece of the Middle Ages turned to stone.” The two massive towers rise high above the middle nave, dwarfing the small houses that surround the church. The powerful impression continues on the inside. For once, there is no playful sweetness, no pastel colors, no gold and no stucco have ever found their way into this church. Instead there are weighty pillars and a simple massive wooden cross. Recent renovation has also uncovered a magnificent, eight-meter-high Christopherus fresco on the Western wall. While the Pfaffenwinkel proudly reflects on its rich cultural heritage, it is obvious that culture is not relegated to the past here. How better to discover the breathtaking Rococo churches than with a festive concert? The concert series “Musik im Pfaffenwinkel” and “Festlicher Sommer in der Wies” provide this very special experience. Enjoy classical music in the Wies on June 13 at 17:00 (sacral folk music), and on June 27 at 19:00 (works by Haydn and Beethoven); in the collegiate church in Rottenbuch on June 6 at 16:00 (works by Pergolesi and Handel) or in the Basilica St. Michael in Altenstadt on June 27 at 16:00 (works by Bach, Handel and Corelli). The concert series continue throughout the summer. For information call (08868) 670 or (08861) 7216. If you wish to explore the region on foot, there are three Fernwanderwege (long-distance hiking paths) — Prälatenweg, the König-Ludwig-Weg and the Lech-Höhenweg — to lead you to the best views and significant attractions. For more information on the Pfaffenwinkel, including special events, cultural highlights and accommodations, contact the Tourismusverband Pfaffenwinkel, Bauerngasse 5, 86956 Schongau. Tel. (08861) 7773, Fax (08861) 200 678, email: or visit their web page at

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