Southern Gerrmany, especially Bavaria and Swabia (with the 'Oberschwäbische Barockstrasse'), is well known for its Late Baroque and Rococo churches. One of the most beautiful examples is the Pigrimage Church of Birnau, high above the 'Überlinger See', the northwestern finger of Lake Constance. Already the location is superb, standing all by itself in the middle of vineyards with sweeping views.
Unlike the usual pattern of churches with their west-east orientation, here the entrance is in the south, facing the lake, with the altar thus in the north. The exterior is kept in white and antique pink. At the front is an administrative building of the priory with a high tower in the middle, while the church proper is attached to it at the back.
The pigrimage church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built in the mid 18th century, once belonged to the not far away imperial abbey of Salem, which ceased to be a monastery with the general secularization after the Napoleonic Wars (it is now an elite boarding school).
Being a church no entrance fee is requested, when visiting. In the administrative building in front is now also a souvenir shop. If one has not booked a guided tour by local staff, it makes sense to buy a booklet (with good photos) about the church - available in German, French and English for EUR 3.50. Inside - besides decorated 'Blessed Candles (Geweihte Kerzen) for EUR 3 to be taken home and also 'russarme Opferkerzen' (EUR 1) to be used in the church, a small leaflet in German (Eur 0.20) is for sale, which is quite useless though. Photography is not allowed inside.
When entering the wide 'Saalkirche' with no pillars, columns or naves I was overwhelmed by the harmony and beauty of the place. The colours are quite subdued with brown dominating, unlike the sometimes aggressive and rich in contrast colouring of earlier baroque churches. That this church is predominantly Rococo in style can be discerned by the several signature ornaments of ths style on the walls: the asymmetric Rocaille.
The part close to the altar is off limits to visitors, and open only to 'Stille Beter' (for quiet praying). The kind of bulls eye window panes have no colours. There are a few side chapels and the ceiling is of a rather flat barrel vault. Above the entrance is an organ and there is a narrow gallery all around the church. Near the high altar are some life size sculptures of saints, and to the left and to the right of it are a 'Moon Clock' and a 'Solar Clock'.
The most famous single element of this Basilica is the 'Honigschlecker' (honey licker), a charming little 'putto', holding a hive and putting a finger in his mouth. It can be found on the right hand side by the altar of St.Bernhard. And if one looks up at the three ceiling frescoes one can see at the edge of the middle one a self portrait of the painter, holding two brushes and with an obvious leg injury.