The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
Discovering the Power of Art in Munich

On Wednesday, November 3, TASIS AP and IB Art History classes embarked on a (long) journey to Munich, where they were going to see some of history’s most celebrated pieces of art. Alex Gabriel ’23 recapped the trip.

By Alex Gabriel ’23

The sharp scent of gasoline filled the air. I gasped as I trailed the slithering line of the dark liquid emerging from the bus. Even with my extremely limited knowledge of automated mechanisms, I knew that a pond of leaking gasoline was not the best of signs.

We were sitting in the bus awaiting instructions from our valiant guides, Ms. Schumacher and Mr. Aeschliman, when the news finally arrived: unless we pushed this bus to Munich, it would not be moving anywhere.

Instantaneously, talk began to spring of how we could possibly reach our destination. Upon further consideration, the distraught students decided that the only presumable option was to wait 2.5 hours for a new bus to arrive. Thankfully, there was an alternative that we were all too tired to take into consideration: another TASIS bus, which was headed to Outward Bound in Austria, was only 30 minutes away from us.

Thirty minutes later we saw the familiar headlights of the Outward Bound bus—we’d run into that group at the same rest stop we were now stranded at—and experienced a sense of relief that single-handedly managed to unify a group of people who were practically strangers before the trip began (given that many of us, myself included, had only been at TASIS for two months). We boarded the bus filled with hungry teenagers who were eager to experience the comfort of sleeping arrangements that did not constitute uncomfortably leaning on the window. Yet they were welcoming, understanding, and, above all, kind. At that moment I finally understood the significance of TASIS unity. When it was needed, our own TASIS faculty and students made sure that no one was left behind.

A few of us were huddled around, anxiously debating our upcoming presentation. As we entered the Alte Pinakothek, I distinctly recall frantically gathering all my thoughts about The Battle of Issus. Even with extensive prior research, none of us was particularly overjoyed to deliver a lecture about our piece in front of dozens of very confused German tourists.

We entered the museum and took a few moments to appreciate the breathtaking layout of the room. Richly colored burgundy and forest green walls enclosed us in a room that was brimmed with some of the most celebrated pieces of all time. We then each took our turn presenting our piece. While I do not think any of us will be hired as curators any time soon (especially since one of us did refer to Leonardo da Vinci as Leonardo DiCaprio), we did all enjoy presenting our paintings. We continued this pattern of presentations followed by Mr. Aeschliman or Ms. Schumacher delving deeper into the meaning of the piece, its technique, or the artist’s story. 

Finally, we landed in front of a piece that deeply influenced me. While I do not precisely recall its content, I do recall its meaning—and is that not the power of art itself exemplified? It was a piece that evidently displayed some anti-semetic messaging, and in response a conversation was started on art that contains bigoted ideas. Should art that promotes hatred toward a certain group be destroyed? Does art need to be politically correct? If not, how can we benefit from art that no longer aligns with the modern perspective of acceptance and tolerance?

We explored a similar theme throughout our visit to The Lenbachhaus House. We were now in the realm of contemporary art and an immediate difference was evident. As we observed pieces by Beuys, it was clear that the physical was not the primary consideration, but rather the messages behind it. In contrast with Renaissance paintings that concentrated on the textures, the anatomy, the colors, and the overall physical expression, certain contemporary artists were not as focused on making the piece aesthetically pleasing as making it emotionally captivating and meaningful. 

While I do accept that Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance art often did hold meaning, none had the effect of a hospital bed and a few bloody rags. 

Joseph Beuyce’s “Show Your Wounds” exemplifies the power that contemporary art has on the beholder. In that moment, observing the painfully hollow yet meaningful scene, a group of 12 of us, each coming from different ends of the world, sat in silence. It did not matter where you were from or who you were. For a few minutes we each sat in horror. All cultural differences were put aside, for art and pain are universal languages. The pain of the Holocaust transcended all. Perhaps that is the solution to all the bigotry in the world.

Königsplatz directly translates to King’s Place and describes a magical corner of Munich that was built by King Ludwig the First. The Structures there are adaptations of Greek architecture and are practically copies of some of the Greek structures we have studied previously. Therefore, these traditional Greek buildings were the perfect premises to house some of the most breathtakingly beautiful marble statues of Classical Antiquity. 

We began our tour in the Glyptotek, the only museum to solely display sculptures. The statues’ "noble simplicity and quiet grandeur," as so eloquently described by Johann Heinrich Winckelmann, was perfectly cast against the museum’s pristine white walls. 

As we observed the Roman sculptures in Greek buildings in a German city, I could not help but feel a pang of appreciation and familiarity. Places such as the Glyptothek enforce the importance of cross-cultural interaction and adaptation and highlight the privilege of being able to interrelate with people of varying origins. 

A moment in which I was particularly grateful for cross-cultural interaction was when we finally got to eat some German food. From the meal to the milieu, my lunch was distinctly German. 

We then proceeded to tour the churches of Munich. Mr. Aeschliman and Ms. Schumacher explained the history and style of each church. I can proudly say that I now know far too much about organs (the instruments), but I am perfectly satisfied with that. 

After a few failed attempts to catch the tram, we finally arrived back at the hotel. We relaxed for a bit and then prepared ourselves for, perhaps, the most disappointing game of laser tag in the history of time. Upon arriving at the arena, we realized that none of us had a certain app that was necessary for entrance. While the actual occurrence was disappointing, I still regard it optimistically. We did get to see a fair amount of Munich during our 30-minute car ride there. 

Once I arrived at the hotel, I located the nearest sushi restaurant—which, luckily enough, was right across the street. “Two Hawaiian rolls, bitte,” I asked in perhaps the worst German the poor waiter had ever heard. After a short wait, I received a tightly packed plastic box that contained 10 compact pieces of rice filled with fresh tuna and vibrant green avocado. For this roll I was willing to miss a million games of laser tag. I made my way back to the hotel and gleefully ate one of the best sushi rolls I have ever had in my life.

We could clearly observe Neuschwanstein Castle in the background of the mountainous scene. Although the air was crisp, we were delighted by the fact that after days of gloomy forecasts, the sun had graced us with her presence yet again. 

Suddenly, Mr. Aeschliman’s voice was heard on the microphone. For a few minutes we sat and listened to the complete history of the infamous King Ludwig the Second. As a German, I have often heard tales of the “Mad King Ludwig,” who stole the Kingdom’s money to fund his obscene obsession with architecture and art. Now, imagine my surprise when I learned that absolutely everything I had ever heard about this man was false. What lay behind the notorious tale was an even more dramatic reality. Mr. Aeschliman proceeded to tell us the story of King Ludwig the Second, a beloved king who was planning to fire his administration and was therefore declared mad by that very same group. In reality, the king was most likely not mad and was simply a victim of an ambitious and cruel plot. Although he may not have been as wild a character as the rumors claim, he still was a fascinating man who we, as art admirers, must appreciate. He was devoted to the arts and funded some of the grandest projects, which we nowadays have the honor of observing and cherishing.

In the nick of time we made it to our tour of Hohenschwangau Castle. We observed the breathtaking view from the top floor, spent far too much time at the gift shop, and headed back toward the bus.

The next few hours were passively spent watching the development of the seasons as we exited Alpine landscapes and returned to our familiar fall wonderland. As the bus passed the threshold of the TASIS parking lot, the culmination of the past few turbulent days brought a sharp pang to my chest. Even though certain parts of the trip did not go as planned, like a piece by Beuyce, each odd aspect of it intertwined, contrasted, and shifted to create an experience that transcended language and culture and deeply impacted us all.

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