We walked down a country road, with a forest on our right and a meadow on our left. The soothing silence was interrupted only by the occasional moos of the cows in the field. The rain had come and gone, and the sun appeared through a crack in the clouds. In the distance, illuminated by the sun’s rays, I spotted a low, flat-topped structure, supported by numerous columns. This structure, STOA 169, turned out to be an unexpected highlight of my recent southern Germany road trip.
The columns of STOA 169
An artistic project developed over thirty years by Bernd Zimmer, a German artist, STOA 169 is a wondrous place just outside the village of Polling in south Bavaria (map). Surrounded by nature, STOA 169 resembles a Greek colonnade, with a flat roof supported by more than a hundred columns. Each column is unique, designed by renowned artists from all over the world.
The idea behind STOA 169, as described in a booklet, was to create an archive of today’s art and represent an appeal for mutual understanding of differences and peaceful coexistence. Looking at the seemingly simple structure from a distance, the artistic notions sounded rather high-flown. However, the minute I stepped inside the hall, my slight apprehension was swiftly replaced by feelings of wonder, curiosity and above all, serenity.
A temple of wonder and contemplation
As I strolled around the columns, I felt the undeniably contemplative nature of the hall. Each column told its own story of love, struggle, wonder and joy. The different materials used, from steel and wood to kitchen utensils, bones and even old videotapes, only served to spark a bigger curiosity. I walked around silently appreciating the intrigue of each column, and every time I thought I’d seen enough, another column caught my attention. I could’ve spent hours there!
Meeting Bernd Zimmer
While we were there, we got to meet the founder of STOA 169, Mr. Bernd Zimmer, who was, by chance, strolling around for an inspection. We learned that Mr. Zimmer found the inspiration for STOA 169 during his travels in southern India where he visited numerous Hindu temples. The halls of the temples, often with hundreds of individually designed columns, serve as places of meditation and refuge. He dreamed of creating a similar structure, supported by pillars individually crafted by artists from all continents, that “will become a symbol for boundlessness, peaceful co-existence, and respect for the freedom of others.”
With the help of his neighbour, Dr. Gerald Meier, he reached out to artists around the world to create STOA 169. A labour of love that has so far taken thirty years, Mr. Zimmer’s work is not over as he seeks to add more columns to this truly wondrous place.
How to get to STOA 169
STOA 169 is situated on the outer edge of the village of Polling, about an hour’s drive southwest of Munich. If you’re heading towards the Alps from Munich, it’s easy to include a stop there. Visitors are required to park their car at the special parking lot (map) and walk the rest of the way, a tranquil 15-minute stroll past forests, meadows and agricultural fields. Entrance to STOA 169 is free (though donations are welcome) and the site is open 24 hours/day. Read more about STOA 169 on their website.
Where to stay
I stayed in the nearby town of Weilheim in Oberbayern (map), a historic town with remnants of its medieval walls, colourful houses and a beautiful square.
If you opt to stay in this area, I recommend the Altstadthotel Bachbraü in the town centre. This small hotel has spacious rooms with very comfortable beds. For a meal, don’t miss the wonderful Dachs Bräustüberl, a local brewery which serves delicious regional cuisine, including arguably the best knödel I’ve ever had!