Freising – Last stop on my Ratzinger Pilgrimage (10 November 2023)

Click here for today’s pictures on Google Photos.

It was raining lightly as I dragged my suitcase and backpack to the train station, but although I was 20 minutes early, the train to Freising was already waiting on the platform, so I was able to get on and get settled. The trip was quiet (electric) and quick, with beautiful scenery, no hassle, and few passengers. When I arrived in Freising, I found a demonstration going on in the main square, the Marienplatz. I thought I might finally have come across some of the disturbances I have been constantly warned about by Australian security regarding protests around the Gaza war, but it seemed to be about the rising prices of household energy… My first impression of Freising is that everything everywhere was being dug up and rebuilt or restored or fixed. Roads and buildings – including the Freising Museum – all gutted and excavated. It was a real obstacle course getting along on the streets. Even the main church in the town, with its iconic tower, was swathed in scaffolding and undergoing a remake.

But I arrived at my hotel in the heart of Freising. I’ve splurged a bit on this – it cost €95 (including breakfast) – so about $160. Still, it is very comfortable, and that’s what I wanted on my last day. I immediately went out looking for the Domberg – the hill on which the Cathedral is located, where Ratzinger’s seminary was, and where he was ordained with his brother in 1951. It took me a bit to find the right route up, and when I did, the Dom Gymnasium (high school) was just finishing for the day (1:00pm), so in one hit I saw more teenagers in one place than I have in all my time here in Germany (I see a lot of parents with a single baby or toddler, but there hasn’t been much evidence of older children). There was a caravan selling food, so I bought a cup of coffee (served in a mug) and eine Bretze (the proper name for a Pretzel) mit Butter for lunch (I had had a big breakfast of Bircher Muesli and Scrambled Eggs and sausages).

I pushed on toward the Cathedral. At first I was a bit dismayed. It too seemed to be experiencing major renovations. One of the towers was half covered in rigging. The entire Domhof – the plaza which you can see in the famous film of the Ratzinger brothers processing along with the other candidates for their priestly ordination – was cut off with barriers and digging equipment. Thankfully, there was still a small corridor that gave access to the interior of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is very old – although bits have been renovated and rebuilt and added on over the centuries (as it still is). The crypt has the tomb of the founding bishop, St Corbinian (670-730AD). The crypt was not open due to renovations, but a side chapel has a large reliquary of his remains. There is an entire collection of funerary stones of past canons of the cathedral around the cloister, and a much older chapel with some remaining medieval stained glass as well. In a side chapel, I saw a notice which said that the regular Friday mass is no longer offered in the Cathedral and mass should be sought elsewhere in town… The whole building had a decidedly unused feeling.

I left and went in search of the seminary buildings. I had not done enough study on where these were, but in Munich I had seen a poster advertising a Francis of Assisi exhibition at the Dom Museum, so I headed there. When I was purchasing a ticket to enter, I was told that this building was in fact the previous seminary, but “we don’t have anything of Ratzinger here.” I think if Pope Benedict could see it now, he would be a bit shocked. It is a bit of a mix between an art gallery and a museum, with some great medieval stuff, but also a bit of “modern”. The lower floor is the modern art section. The first floor has an entire realm of devotional and religious art running basically from about the 11th century to the Baroque period. This is a really good collection. The visiting Francis exhibition from Assisi was on the top floor. It was good – but I’ve been to Assisi and seen the museum there, so it was not anything that I haven’t seen before.

But two pieces of contemporary art in the gallery below caught my interest. The first is an installation called “The Chapel of Luke”, which sadly I missed going into because it closed early while I was looking at their St Francis of Assisi exhibition. But it appears to be a totally blank room which is infused with completely consistent light in a single colour – creating a kind of blank space. The second was outside, and was marked as the “Chapel of Our Lady’s Mantel” – inside there was just a shawl hanging on the wall, a bunch of stars (with a traditional place to light a candle as before a Shrine) and a window high up on the wall with the moon on it. That was it. All a bit weird. Evidence of another side of German “spirituality” that is a little less certain about the concrete details of the faith.

I was a feeling a bit off about this whole experience. Thus far, I had found nothing to indicate that Joseph Ratzinger had ever been here. I needed the toilet, however, and so headed back to the Dom where I had last seen a public convenience. On my way there, I snooped around a bit more around the building site – and caught a glimpse of a bronze plaque on the wall of the arch leading into the Cathedral yard. It was cut off by the building works, but I squeezed my way through the barrier, and – sure enough – it was an effigy of the recently departed Holy Father, marking his visit in 2006. Not a very good effigy, but at least it was marked. Back inside the Cathedral, after gaining the sought physical relief, I returned to the chapel of St Corbinian and prayed the rosary (using the set of beads that Cathy had given me for the trip).

It was now after 4pm, and evening was starting to set in. Leaving the Domberg, I tried to make my way towards a hill which I had seen from the Museum windows which had a set of medieval type buildings on top. I was a bit disorientated, and so wandered around for a bit until I saw a couple of signs that pointed to a “nature walk” and the “Weihenstephan”, which sounded promising. From here on in, the rest of the evening I seemed to be led to all the best bits of Freising as if by some divine tour guide. The walk, along a creek through forest parkland, was excellent, and then I took a left turn and found a path leading up the side of hill. This seemed promising so I kept on going. On the way up, I came to a strange kind of lookout over the southern part of town, with what looked like the apse of a ruined church and some kind of installation art. I was just trying to make out what the German sign said (it was a sheet of metal with cut-out lettering that was hard to read in the growing darkness), when the lights came on and lit the whole stage up. It turns out that this was the site of a chapel that had been built by St Corbinian and had lasted right up until the 1803 secularisation of the convents and monasteries in Germany. I had read about this in the Bavarian Museum in Regensburg. It all had to do with the creation of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the seizure of all lands owned by the Church and the religious orders.

A bit further up the hill, I came to the peak, and the “medieval buildings” I had seen from the Museum. This appears to have been the Weihenstephan Benedictine cloister until 1803, and today is a kind of “Hochschule” or university of applied sciences. There was a lookout at the top, looking south, from which it was possible even in the gathering gloom and the overcast skies to see the Swiss Alps to the south. Making my way through the complex of buildings, I found myself on the other side – and all the pieces suddenly fit together: I was at the home of the Bavarian State Weihenstephaner Brewery, whose beers I have often enjoyed and have a reasonable stock of in my fridge at Casa Schütz-Beaton! There seemed to be a Beirgarten/Wirtshaus there, but a large number of people were gathering and it appeared to be a social occasion I wasn’t invited to, so I made my way discreetly out onto a path leading back into the city (involved wandering through the back of the brewery and the university).

The walk home was pleasant – for once it didn’t rain. I was on the lookout for somewhere to eat. The chap at the hotel had recommended a place around the corner from the main street, but it looked pretty pricey to me, so I was a bit more attracted by the Augustiner restaurant. When I went in, however, I found it was quite small, and completely filled with young people in traditional Bavarian dress, lederhosen and all. The barman said I could get a meal here, but I’d have to find a place among the wedding guests and it would be a wait. So I decided to go back to the pricey-joint – the Weisbräu Huber. On my way, I saw someone come out of what looked to be a church door, and so poked my head in – and discovered a largish church – with a bunch of women praying the rosary around the statue of Mary. So I joined them for the last two decades.

The pricey restaurant, as it turned out, was excellent. The service was very efficient – as soon as I entered, I was shown to a table and had an English menu placed in my hands (I would have been quite happy with the German one). Quick as a wink, there was a half litre of Huber Weiss Dunkel before me, and before another wink my Liver Dumpling soup had arrived. For main course, I ordered the Bauernenterl, of “Farmers Duck”, which was a leg quarter of duck served with a potato dumpling, hot Blaukraut (made with red cabbage and apple), and a beer gravy. Excellent. The whole lot came out €26,50, and as I had exactly €30 in cash left that I wasn’t going to need for the rest of the trip, I paid with that which included an almost perfectly calculated tip (I admit it had taken me a while to get the hang of this practice).

So I was back in my room by 8pm and feeling very happy with the way my last day went. Tomorrow my plane leaves Munich Airport – which is just an 18 minute bus ride away – at 2:30pm, but check out is 10am here, so I don’t plan to do much else than have breakfast and head on out to the airport. But I’ve done all I wanted to do here in Germany (well, almost anyway) and a bit more besides. I’m very tired, and very keen to be back home. Lots of business awaits me there – marking for my theology class, intensive Core Curriculum teaching at ACU, editing the next edition of Footprints at the Archives, and getting stuck into writing two more chapters of my thesis. But I will be happy to be back with Cathy and the kids, and to be able to have a conversation without worrying about what language to attempt to speak.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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