A Travellerspoint blog

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They Love Colours in Donauwörth

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Donauwörth is on the Romantic Road, the probably most visited tourist route in Germany. However, it is one of the many places along the route that most visitors don't take into consideration for a stop because they have never heard of it. It is not as spectacular as Rothenburg or Nördlingen, admittedly, but if you have time it is worth a few hours.

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I was not touring the Romantic Road, though. I was on the way back home from Ingolstadt and decided to hop off the train and see another new place on the way. Donauwörth is about halfway along the regional train route between Ingolstadt and Ulm.

The town can well be visited in a couple of hours and walks are short, hence a perfect stopover destination, except for one practical problem: There are no lockers at the train station. Many thanks to the nice lady at the tourist information for storing my suitcase!

Unfortunately Donauwörth shared the fate of most cities and many towns in this country: heavy damage in World War II. However, if you don't know you won't notice. The old town has been rebuilt well and the result is indeed pretty.

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What impressed me most? The colours. The houses are each painted in a different colour. All shades of pastels are there but also stronger colours. The general appearance is lively and colourful even on a grey autumn day like this. I can only imagine how spectacular it may look on a sunny day.

Colours are a striking feature in the appearance of Donauwörth. The town's inhabitants seem to like bright colours. The houses of the old town and also on the island are all painted in different shades of any pastel colour you can think of, plus bright yellow and ochre, terracotta and blue.

The blue building is the catholic parish community centre, by the way.
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In a side street on Ried Island I found the lilac garage.

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Colours in Reichsstraße, freshly painted...

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... while this side street looks a bit faded out.

Rieder Tor - The Town Gate

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If you arrive at the train station of Donauwörth and walk into town this gatehouse will be your first impression of the old town, and the first „wow“ effect. From the station you walk over a bridge across Wörnitz river and over Ried island, then you reach a second bridge across the smaller branch of the Wörnitz and the impressive gate.

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Imperial coat of arms

The gate bears the imperial coat of arms with the double-headed eagle and the imperial crown, informing every visitor about the town's status as a free imperial city, which it led until 1803.

This used to be one of four large gates, but it is the only one which is preserved. It has a long history but received its present shape only in 1811.

It hosts the house of town history (Haus der Stadtgeschichte) a museum with very limited opening hours, only on weekends from 2-5 p.m., otherwise upon appointment.

Town Hall

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Donauwörth's town hall originates in the 13th century. The building burnt down a couple of times and was rebuilt, refurbished and extended a couple of times. Its present appearance with the neogothic facades is the result of the renovation in 1853.

The main portal is positioned right in the axis of Reichsstraße, the market street. The stairs in front of the portal provide the best photo option.

Important for visitors: The tourist information is located in the side wing in Rathausgasse. Their leaflet with a self-guided walk proved very helpful.

Reichsstraße: The Main Street

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Streetview from the stairs of the town hall

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Fuggerhaus
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Reichsstadtbrunnen
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Tanzhaus
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Baudrexlhaus

The main street of the town, rather a wide street market that substitutes a central square, extends between the town hall at the lower end and the parish church and Fugger House at the top end. It is lined by the gables of the (rebuilt) houses of the wealthy citizens of past centuries. Reichsstraße is Donauwörth's main shopping street.

The name „Reichsstraße“ refers to the old trade route between the imperial cities of Nürnberg and Augsburg, the two richest and most influential cities in the Holy Roman Empire. It also refers to Donauwörth's own status as a free imperial city who was subject to no one but the King or Emperor.

One big minus disturbs the pleasure: heavy traffic. Donauwörth does not seem to have a bypass road so all traffic runs through the town centre. That means noise, and the need to care when crossing the street.

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A tiny but noteworthy detail in Reichsstraße is the figure of a little knight on the former customs house (Stadtzoll). The knight is down on one knee, he seems to carry the tower-like oriel on the corner of the building. He is holding a shield with the crest of the city, the black eagle, and a flag with the city's colours. An inscription dates the figure to 1524. Legends tell that the little man will be heard sighing at night if the city is in danger.

Several buildings in Reichsstraße deserve an extra look and an extra mentioning.

Fuggerhaus belonged to the mighty Fugger clan, bankers and merchants in Augsburg and the richest family in the whole Holy Roman Empire, if not Europe. They acquired the position as representants of the Empire in the imperial city of Donauwörth in 1536 and built their seat at the top end of the market street. Nowadays the building hosts the administration of the district (Landkreis).

The fountain opposite the parish church is a more recent addition. It was created for the millennium of the town in 1977. The eagle has been the town's crest since the 12th century and refers to its status as free imperial city.

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Opposite the church's choir we find the big inn named „Goldener Hirsch“ , the Golden Stag, one of several inns in the main street and probably the one with the most beautiful sign.

Tanzhaus served as trade and festival hall. It was built around 1400. Every Sunday there was dancing for the citizens of the town, organized by the magistrate. The original building was destroyed to the foundations in the air raid of April 1945 that did so much damage to the town. It was rebuilt in the 1970s. The facades were reconstructed according to the original but the interior is a modern, functional building. It contains the theatre, a restaurant, some shops, and the archaeological museum.

The yellow building on the right next to Tanzhaus is the Stadtkommandantur , the seat of the military commander of the town. The baroque facade covers a much older building. This is about the only building in the whole Reichststraße that does not turn its gable towards the street but its long side.

Timberframe architecture is rare in Donauwörth but there is a fine example opposite the town hall, the Baudrexlhaus. The weathervane shows the date 1592. The ground floor hosts a little crafts shop with pretty old fronts and shop windows, probably from the late 19th or early 20th century.

The Alte Kanzlei, the old chancellery, i.e. administration of the town, is not located in Reichsstraße but just round the corner in Rathausgasse.
More details to notice in Reichsstraße and also elsewhere in the town: the shop signs. Many shops and inns, cafes and restaurants have those old-fashioned wrought-iron signs.

My favourite is the one of a hairdresser's salon. The hairdresser's big scary scissors are threatening the lady's beautiful locks... (Yes I'm a devoted longhair.)

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Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady

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The gothic parish church with its one steeple dominates the upper part of Reichsstraße. It is a 15th century building that substituted an older church.

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The church is open in the daytime as befits a catholic church. The frescoes in the vaults originate from the time the church was built. They were hidden under plaster and paint until 1938 when they were rediscovered.

The church was built on the gentle slope and the builders of the late middle ages did not bother with levelling the ground: The floor has a visible decline towards the choir. The difference in altitude from back to front is 1,20 metres.

Kloster Heilig Kreuz - Abbey of the Holy Cross

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The former Benedictine Abbey on the edge of the old town, on a hill a few metres above the river bank, is the most impressive building in Donauwörth's townscape.

Its history dates back to the 11th century when a precious relic of the Holy Cross - certified to be authentic since the times of Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine - was brought here. This relic is still the most valuable treasure of the church.

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The tomb of Duchess Mary

The present appearance of the complex is entirely baroque. The convent buildings were renewed in the 1690s, the church was finished in 1720. For baroque experts: the church is a model example of the „School of Wessobrunn“.

Like most abbeys in Bavaria the one in Donauwörth was closed down in the secularization of 1803. The convent buildings now host a boarding school and cannot be visited. The church, however, is open to visitors in the daytime and worth a look.

The tomb in the western part of the nave is the one of Duchess Mary of Brabant, wife of the Bavarian Duke Ludwig II. She was killed in Donauwörth in 1256; her husband had her beheaded although she was innocent.

Uncle Ludwig And His School

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„Uncle Ludwig“, actually Ludwig Auer (1839 - 1914), founded the Cassianeum, the catholic school in the former convent buildings, in 1875. His aim was education in Christian, i.e. catholic piety, way of life and values.

He also founded a publishing house for religious and pedagogic literature. He himself wrote many educational stories for children and published them under the pseudonym of „Onkel (Uncle) Ludwig“.

Onkel Ludwig is still present in white marble. A monument that shows him with a boy and a girl has been put up in the square between the abbey and the modern school buildings.

After his death in 1914 Ludwig Auer was buried in the little chapel by the entrance to the churchyard, originally the grave chapel of an abbot of the monastery. His son and successor and his wife, victims of the air raid of April 1945, were also buried here.

Ried Island and the Rivers

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The town is located where the small river Wörnitz meets the Danube. The big river provided work for the citizens - fishing and trade. The river by the town is not the Danube but the Wörnitz, though.

The island of Ried is surrounded by two branches of the river Wörnitz. (Again, this river is not the Danube.) A narrow canal named Kleine Wörnitz separates the island from the old town. The first settlement that later became the town of Donauwörth was located here on the island.

Fishermen were the first inhabitants. A small modern statue with a man and a boy carrying a full net recalls their hard life.

The buildings on the island are a mix of old and new. The biggest historical building is the Haus zum Hohen Meer (House of the High Sea - no idea how it got this name, as the sea is far) with its seven storeys.

What else is remarkable... the red house with the museum of local history and culture (Heimatmuseum), and the number of Italian restaurants.

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Färbertor

For a romantic walk with some photo options, don't miss the trail along Kleine Wörnitz. The so-called „Small Wörnitz“ is the narrow branch of the river between Ried island and the old town. The trail leads along the river bank and the outward side of the town wall.

It must be especially beautiful in spring when the old apple trees by the river are in bloom. But autumn colours aren't bad either!

Along the way you'll find a smaller gate tower with a half-timbered top, the Färbertor (Dyer's Gate).

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Further along the trail leads around the sports fields of the boarding school; from there you have the best view of the buildings of the former Benedictine Abbey.

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The smaller Wörnitz meets the big Danube at the eastern end of the old town. Cross the bridge over the Wörnitz (nice view of Ried island and the skyline of the old town) and you reach the point between the rivers. It bears a little park with some benches, a nice spot to rest, relax and, weather permitting, have a picnic.

The stone monument in the park is a memorial for the German-French war of 1870/71 which lead to the foundation of the German Empire.

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The Calvary on Schellenberg

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In 1704, during the Spanish Heritage War, the hill above Donauwörth saw the Battle on Schellenberg between Bavarians and French on one side, the Emperor and his allies and the English on the other. Bloody as it was - 16,000 soldiers were killed in this battle -, the adjacent town of Donauwörth was not harmed. Grateful to have been spared, mayor and citizens donated the Calvary as a pilgrimage site.

The site consists of the Way of the Cross with its 14 stations along a steep stairway that leads up to the crucification group, the little yellow baroque chapel, and a 15th station with the resurrection of Christ. The little chapel looks cute and the landscape setting is beautiful, but remember that this is a war memorial.

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Enter through the baroque wrought-iron gate under the verse Gal. 6,14. Before you start climbing the stairway, note the stone on the right with the metal insprition: Here post-war times have declared their opinion about this war memorial, which should be understood as a warning and for solemn contemplation.

The little station chapels show the 14 stations on the Way of the Cross. Each has a painting inside showing the resp. scene.

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The Way of the Cross leads uphill on a short but steep stairway. At the top you reach a plateau with the Crucification: the three crosses with Mary and John standing underneath.

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From the crosses, continue to the little chapel. It was closed when I visited - no idea if it is ever open outside official pilgrimages.

The chapel looks cute and all in all this is a pleasant site... as long as you don't think about its significance as a war memorial and the 16,000 soldiers whose blood was shed on this hill.

The Way of the Cross does not end with the crucification, though. After the chapel you will find a 15th station which depicts the Resurrection of Christ. There is hope!

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From the hillside you have a view of the old town and its steeples. It should be even better further up Schellenberg.

Posted by Kathrin_E 22:36 Archived in Germany Tagged bavaria bayern Comments (1)

Gotha in October Rain

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Gotha and its surroundings were „burnt soil” to me. Pathetic as this sounds: I had no intention to ever return.

What else could be the reason than a certain male inhabitant of this region. A long and ugly story that I do not want to bore you with.

But then I received an invitation to speak at a conference. One of those invitations that should not be refused. Unfortunately it took place in Gotha. After several years it was time to overcome the bad memories…

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Augustine convent

I feared most that “he” might show up there, but luckily the conference coincided with the Frankfurt book fair so “he” would be busy there.
Phew. Relax.

The conference took place inside the palace, Gotha’s main sight. Us speakers were all accommodated in the former Augustine monastery, now a house for conventions and seminars and guesthouse. Simple rooms, but perfectly fine. My room faced the inner cloister, which meant a nice view and relative quietness. Hence no complaints from my side.

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View from my window

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It was late October and the weather was as “octobery” as can be: a light but constant drizzle from low grey clouds that soaked everyone and everything. Even the memories drowned in it, and the last bits were drowned in local beer with the colleagues. About time.

The conference was to begin in the morning and I live several hours away, so I had to arrive one day earlier. I and used the afternoon and evening for a walk of the town and round the palace.

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The heart of the town is the market square, rather an outstretched trapezoid than a square.

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The upper end points towards the palace. The cascade in the middle of the street is part of a water conduit which is in fact about 500 years old.

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The lower part has the town hall standing in its middle. The building has received a fancy red coat of paint in the latest renovation.
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A walk through Gotha's streets on a rainy evening:

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Ernst der Fromme

Gotha’s palace - I refuse to call it a castle because it is not - made its appearance in each and every seminar and lecture on early modern palaces. Built in the 17th century, it was one of the first that abandoned the previously standard pattern of four wings enclosing an inner courtyard, which about all renaissance palaces have (like the one in Schmalkalden, which I'll present in the following blog entry). In Gotha, the fourth wing has been reduced to a low arcade, almost non-existent. This is one of the earliest baroque palaces. Three wings embracing an open courtyard, that’s the characteristic pattern of palaces built in the baroque era. Later on the courtyard will open towards the city outside. Here, however, it opens towards the garden side and the landscape view towards the Thuringian Forest.

The palace’s name is Friedenstein (“peace rock”), a reference to its predecessor. Gotha used to have a heavily fortified castle called Grimmenstein (“grim rock”) which had been destroyed in the wars of the 16th century. Wars which had caused a lot of distress to the ducal house and the country, the loss of the electorate to another Saxon line, years of imprisonment for the then ruling duke. Now, three generations later, Duke Ernst der Fromme („the Pious”) wanted to start a better future and set a different signal. The duchy had been divided among Ernst and his brother, which Sachsen-Gotha as a separate duchy and line. (Oh yes, Saxon history is complicated.) Thus, Gotha became a ducal residence.

Ernst had his new palace built on the hilltop above the town, using the topography to express his power. The terrain rises steeper and steeper. Climbing up market square and then the ramps, the front of the palace appears like a huge, uniform block. Only in the middle there is one gate.

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Walking through the passage, you reach the wide courtyard which reveals the true size of the building complex.

The long side wings end each in a stumpy square tower. Their roofs have different shapes. They form Gotha’s characteristic skyline.

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Left

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Right

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The portal to the arsenal

All facades are very simple, with uniform small windows. From outside it is impossible to tell what is behind them. You cannot tell from outside where the palace chapel, the festival hall, the theatre, the arsenal, the library is located. Only the portals underneath the arcades might give an idea, but the facades do not show.

It wasn’t my first visit. I had visited before on two excursions, where we had extensively seen and discussed the historical rooms and halls inside the palace.

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Underneath the arcades

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The tower at the end of the western wing contains the theatre.

On one occasion, during a special tour for conference participants, I even had the chance to see the theatre, including access to the stage machinery behind and underneath the stage. This theatre is Gotha’s most valuable treasure. It is one of the very few completely preserved baroque theatres in Europe, complete with the original machinery and a dozen or so stage settings. It is still in use. An annual theatre festival with baroque plays and operas takes place here. The plays are selected according to whether they match the existent stage settings. Everything is operated by hand. A crowd of volunteers is operating the machinery and changing the settings. Sorry, I did not take any photos then.

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The palace chapel is an important example in the history of protestant church architecture... but I am sparing you another lecture.

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:08 Archived in Germany Tagged castles thuringia thüringen Comments (0)

Excursion to Schmalkalden and Waltershausen

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Schmalkalden palace and the newly reconstructed garden terraces

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The conference excursion took us up into the Thuringian Forest. They had hired a large coach for us, which took us across the main ridge through large forest areas. Autumn leaves were everywhere, but the dull greyish weather dampened the colours.

Schmalkalden is a small town in the western part of the Thuringian Forest. Its history is particular: This town and a few villages in the surroundings belonged as an exclave to the Landgraviate of Hessen (Hessen-Kassel). Until 1583 they had shared the possession with the Counts of Henneberg, then they became the sole owners.

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Landgrave Wilhelm, the founder

Landgrave Wilhelm IV immediately decided to establish this town as one of his secondary residences. A palace had to be built as a symbol of his government, a modern palace in the then ‘en vogue’ renaissance style. Its completion took no more than five years. In 1590 the new palace was already completed. Some interiors and the gardens took a bit longer, though. After its founder and owner, it received the name “Wilhelmsburg”.

Landgrave Wilhelm and then his son and successor Moritz stayed here often. Later generations of the princely house rarely visited any more, though, hence later times never modernized the palace. Its renaissance architecture and interior have been preserved in their original shape. There is hardly another renaissance palace in Germany in such extraordinary authenticity.

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The ground plan is a perfect square. Four more or less identical wings enclose the inner courtyard. The small octagonal towers in the corners contain spiral staircases.

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Two portals, big enough for horse-drawn carts and carriages, lead into the courtyard from opposite sides and allow a straight passage in and out.

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There is one larger tower on the outside. It marks the location of the palace chapel.
There were renovation works going on, thus the strange ‘box’ on top of the roof.

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The interior from the late 16th century is almost completely preserved. Most rooms and halls are decorated with frescoes.

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Giant guardsmen keep watch by the doors.

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The White Hall, devorated with
modern gobelins showing abstract landscape views

Two rooms, however, differ from all others. Their walls and ceiling received a more special and surely more expensive coat. All surfaces are covered in “white work”: three-dimensional stucco.

A skilled Dutch artisan, the sculptor Wilhelm Vernukken, was engaged to create this elaborate decorum which must have been the ultimate fashion in those times.

The two interiors thus distinguished are the palace chapel and the adjacent White Hall, from there the princely family entered their box on the upper gallery of the chapel.

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The palace chapel

The palace chapel of Schmalkalden is an incunable in the history of protestant church architecture. It is not unusual to see the pulpit behind the altar and the organ above them both, forming one vertical axis, and a princely box on the opposite side – but here in Schmalkalden, this design was employed for the very first time. And even more - the baptismal font is integrated in the altar. Schmalkalden is one of the most important Lutheran churches of the reformation era.

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A visit to the town centre was not included in our schedule, unfortunately.

Waltershausen

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Stadtkirche Waltershausen

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The group re-boarded the bus after a tour of the palace, guided by our conference experts, and many discussions about details. Lunch was booked at a restaurant in Friedrichroda. We were in Thuringia, hence it necessarily involved Thuringian dumplings together with a beef roast and red cabbage. I will never be over-enthusiastic about Thuringian dumplings – give me honest boiled and salted potatoes any time. But they belong to this area.

Then we continued to the other side of Thüringer Wald ridge to the small town of Waltershausen. This place would hardly be remarkable if it wasn’t for their parish church, a large and beautiful baroque building which proves the widespread assumption false that there is no evangelical baroque style.

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The structure is the same as in Schmalkalden, here in perfection, 150 years later, but the basic idea is the same: altar and pulpit form the liturgic centre, the organ is placed above them, while the gallery on the opposite side is occupied by the box for the Duke and his court. The Duke occasionally came to Waltershausen for hunting and took great interest in the building of the church.

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Built in the years 1719 to 1723, it was designed on an oval ground plan. The high inner hall is surrounded by galleries in three storeys. They let us climb all the galleries, and we all took loads of photos from many different perspectives.

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The ceiling fresco shows the Holy Trinity, surrounded by allegories of the virtues.

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The church’s treasure is the huge organ, they claim it is the largest in Thuringia, built in 1730. After some changes throughout the centuries, it has in recent years been restored to its original state and sound. The organist of the church gave us a little concert and explained the instrument and its special features.

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Market square, gate tower and town hall

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I took the chance and ran off for five minutes between our tour of the church and the beginning of the concert to see what the town is like.

I did not get far, imaginably, but I discovered the wide market square and the pretty half-timbered town hall.

In the distance I spotted an old gate tower, somehow forlorn in the middle of the main street since the town walls are gone.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 23:19 Archived in Germany Tagged churches castles thuringia thüringen Comments (0)

Cruising the Rhine on a Whale

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M. S. "Moby Dick"

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“The” famous day cruises on the Rhine are those on the Middle Rhine Gorge. However, there is another scenic option further north, starting from Bonn in upstream direction past the Seven Mountains. During my recent stay in Bonn I decided to dedicate my last day, a beautiful sunny afternoon in early October, to this pleasant and relaxing pastime.

It was a “trip down memory lane”: As a kid I used to do Rhine cruises with my grandparents, who lived in the surroundings of Bonn. The classic tour from Bonn goes to the small town of Linz on the right river bank. The ride takes about two hours – a bit longer in upstream direction, a bit less back downstream. To make it really classic, the family would stay in Linz for two hours for a walk of the town and of course coffee and cake.

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A local company named Bonner Personenschifffahrt is doing these cruises. They have ‘normal’ boats, the usual white ones just like those on any other lake or river, but they also have a peculiar vessel which is unique… it is meant to resemble a whale, and they named it “Moby Dick”. When the boat was built, I was ten years old – the perfect age for such funky designs. On the one hand we laughed about this weird thing, on the other hand it was and still is fascinating.

There is a story why they wanted a whale sailing on the Rhine, and why the boat got this name. Some years earlier, in 1966, a real whale had indeed made an appearance in the river. It was a captive young Beluga who was meant to be transported to London zoo. But the ship he was on toppled over in a storm, the whale escaped and made his way from the North Sea into the Rhine and upstream as far as Bonn. Media named him Moby Dick after Herman Melville’s novel. Protests from nature activists with growing support in the population frustrated all attempts to capture the whale. This was one of the first pro-nature movements in Germany. Moby Dick finally found his way back to the sea and disappeared.

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My plans were tight because I had to catch the train back home in the evening, hence there was only one possible departure time for me. By coincidence it was the “Moby Dick” that did this course. My original plan had been taking my bike on board and going as far as Bad Honnef, and then cycling back to Bonn along the right river bank. However, the low water level made this plan obsolete since the stops at Bad Honnef and a few other places were cancelled. Königswinter was too close for a cycling tour, Linz much too far.

So it was Plan B: I chained my bike to a lamp post behind the ticket office and bought a ticket to Linz and back. I would not have time for the obligatory coffee break in Linz but simply stay on the boat and go straight back to Bonn.

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I grabbed a seat on the upper deck by the railing, with the intention to keep it for the whole cruise so I’d have the view of one river bank on the way to Linz and the other on the way back. They have tables there, drinks and small food dishes can be ordered from a waitress to be served right there.

All seats were soon taken. I was, not surprisingly, not the only one who decided that a river cruise would be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the most glorious weather October is capable of. Most passengers disembarked in Linz, so the boat was much less occupied on the way back.

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Good views from the lower deck, too, thanks to the big windows

I shared the table with two retired couples. The two men were notorious “explainers” who knew everything (a type of men that I heartily dislike) but luckily they sort of neutralized each other. Next to me I had a single lady, a bit younger than myself, with whom I had a pleasant long chat and happily shared my pack of biscuits. She told me that she was staying in Bonn for work for some weeks and that she was doing this cruise to relive her childhood memories, and it had to be on “Moby Dick” – her grandparents had been living in the area and they used to take her on cruises… doesn’t this sound oddly familiar?

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The wombats enjoyed the cruise, too…

The cruise starts at Bonn Alter Zoll, a bulwark that’s left of the city’s fortifications. This is a few steps from the palace and a few minutes from the city centre, hence easy to reach. Tickets must be bought on shore from the pavilion by the boat landing. But you can also board at every other stop along the way. All details, routes and timetables and a lot more can be found on the company’s website: https://www.bonnschiff.de/en

During the ride there is a commentary in German and English. It is quite basic and superficial but enough to know where you are and what you are looking at. Besides, it is pleasant that they are not talking all the time.

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Langer Eugen

The route first passes the former government quarter. The government of the Federal Republic of Germany had its seat here in Bonn from the foundation in 1949 until the move to Berlin in 1999 after the reunification. Some buildings are still used by our government while others now host UN and other organizations.

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The parliament building is located right on the river bank, but recent construction works have changed a lot there. The skyscraper nicknamed “Langer Eugen”, now used by the UN and proudly displaying their logo, was built in the 1960s and contained the offices of the Members of Parliament. It is a landmark of Bonn. Its even taller neighbour, the post tower, is a more recent addition.

The bridge across the Rhine was built in the 1950s for Chancellor Adenauer: He lived in Rhöndorf on the opposite riverside, and crossing by ferry was too time-consuming, so he ordered the construction of the bridge. Consequently, it was later named after him.

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Round the bend the landscape view opens up. The Seven Mountains appear on the eastern river bank. This ridge has, strictly speaking, far more than seven peaks, but the name has stuck.

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Petersberg made history. The large complex of buildings on top is now a luxurious hotel. It previously served as the guest house of the Federal government. All state guests who paid official visits to Bonn the capital of West Germany were accommodated up there. This includes all the big names from all over the globe. The remote location was easy to handle security-wise. And the views from up there must be breathtaking.

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The most spectacular mountain is Drachenfels, the one that is closest to the Rhine. A castle was built on top in the middle ages in order to control the valley. Only a ruin is left of the castle. Drachenfels is a popular destination among locals. A funicular goes up, but many people do the hike.

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Halfway up another castle appears, but this one, known as Drachenburg, is not as old as it pretends to be and in fact it is not a castle either. It was built in the 1880s in neogothic style as a residential palace for a rich banker and broker, who, however, never lived there. In the meantime it has been turned into a museum.

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Rolandseck on the opposite side of the river used to be a proud castle, too, but hardly anything is left of it except one open arch, named Rolandsbogen. A restaurant has been built next to it, this is another popular destination to visit.

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The village below is famous among art lovers. The train station building has been transformed into a “Kunstbahnhof” that does exhibitions of contemporary art. A large museum building has been erected on the hillside above, which is dedicated to the abstract painter and sculptor Hans Arp.

Outside Bad Honnef the river forms two islands, Nonnenwerth and Grafenwerth. Nonnenwerth is the seat of a convent and a renowned school. The former castle on Grafenwerth is long gone. The island is now covered by a park with leisure activities, a boat harbour etc.

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The village of Oberwinter appears in regional radio news every day: It is the seat of the tide scale which measures the water level of the Rhine. Important for ship traffic on the river.

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Low water creates new playgrounds
Water levels are terribly low after the long, hot and almost rainless summer. Boats and barges are still able to run but not all boat landings are accessible. Wide pebbled banks have fallen dry. People enjoy playing on them. But this is not what the river bed ought to look like.

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Then the boat reaches Remagen, a small town on the western river bank. Its skyline, if we want to call it such, is dominated by the beautiful neogothic church of St Apollinaris on a hilltop above the town.

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However, Remagen is most famous among the so-called “history buffs” whose interest in German history is focused on World War II. The bridge of Remagen was, in March 1945, the last functioning bridge across the Rhine. German soldiers were to blow it up before the arrival of the Americans but they failed because they used too small an amount of explosives, but they nevertheless caused substantial damage. The U.S. Army were able to use the bridge for several days until it finally collapsed.

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The bridge towers on both sides are still standing. They are memorials, but not for ‘military glory’. One of them contains the Peace Museum which informs about the gruesome sides of war rather than glorifying it.

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Linz is the turning point. The boat stops for some 10 minutes to let passengers disembark and new passengers board. I simply stayed on board. It was a pity not to have time for a walk round the town, though. Linz is known for its beautiful half-timbered houses and I would have liked to see it and take some photos. But then I would have missed the evening train back to Karlsruhe.

The right riverbank was now in my full view. It was accompanied by a serving of French fries and an alcohol-free beer that I treated myself to.

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Traffic on the river was heavy. The Rhine is a major highway for freight barges.

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Opposite Remagen lies a village with the funny name of Erpel (which is the German word for a male duck) with its pretty church.
The mountain behind Erpel, where the railway line across the Remagen bridge entered a tunnel, is formed from basalt. The typical rock structures are amazing.

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Unkel is another of those landings where we could not stop due to low water. It is a wine village which looked quite interesting from afar.

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The panorama of the Seven Mountains can now be seen from the other side. The view of Drachenfels is most spectacular from the south, where it has its steepest and rockiest slope.

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Königswinter sports the river promenade of an upscale resort town. Another place that would have merited a stopover.
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Back in Bonn

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:50 Archived in Germany Tagged cruise bonn rhine nordrhein-westfalen Comments (0)

Bonn

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Beethoven monument and one of the prettiest post offices in the country

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Münster church (currently under renovation), the historical city hall, and the monstrous new Stadthaus

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Bicentennary advertised on the hoarding

I came to Bonn because of a conference I had signed up for. Since I had neither paper nor talk to give, I had a relaxed approach to this event. The programme had some nice features but not everything was of interest to me. So I granted myself the freedom to run off the last panel of the day.

The conference took place at the university’s main building, which is no other than the big yellow palace that had once been inhabited by the Archbishops and Electors of Cologne. At some point the city of Cologne did not want the Archbishop to reside within their boundaries anymore, so Bonn was chosen as the new residence.

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The university of Bonn is celebrating its bicentenary this year. In time for the festivities they decided to do some renovations and refurbishments…in other words, parts of the building are a construction site. The iconic view from Hofgarten is thus obstructed by an ugly high fence.
Hofgarten, formerly the gardens of the palace, is now a public park. Its wide lawn is a popular hangout among university students, be it for studying, chatting with friends, playing games or just doing nothing.

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The interior of this university building is a maze. The organizers failed to set up a logical system of signposts, so finding one’s way was a complicated matter, at least for those who, like me, did not know the location. I have always considered universities (semi-)public buildings but in Bonn they are very tight about who may enter. That means many corridors and passageways blocked by locked doors secured by alarm, which does not make matters easier. Or doors were opened for a few minutes before and after lectures, and then relocked. Even to leave the building you needed to ask for the door to be opened. They say that due to their location in the middle of the city they have to be this careful, but to me it all seems overzealous. It was certainly confusing and annoying for us temporary guests.

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The conference programme included a guided tour of the main palace as well as a visit to Poppelsdorf, the summer palace of the Archbishops. Sadly, both have been hit excessively by World War II bombings. There are very few rooms which have preserved a bit of original stucco and give an idea of the baroque splendour that ruled here. After all, the Archbishop of Cologne was the one who crowned the Kings and (in the early modern era) the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the second highest in rank (after his colleague in Mainz) among the Prince Electors. He needed a home that befitted his status.

The palace consists of four wings around a rectangular central courtyard, with the characteristic four towers on the corners, and a number of side wings. We learned, though, that not everything is as old as it pretends. In the baroque era the palace had not been completed. One and a half wing and one of the towers were still missing. Only in the 1920s the gap was closed. The interiors show distinct 1920’s style.

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Clandestine snapshot of a historical photo from the beginning of the 20th century that we were shown during the tour. Front wing and tower are still missing.

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The central courtyard, unfortunately used as a parking lot for university employees, which does not add much good to its looks.

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Two rooms in the souterrain, once the Archbishop’s private “party cellar”, have preserved their stucco. They now host the library of one of many university institutes.

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A seminar room on the first floor with some leftover baroque stucco.

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The neoclassical university church, formerly palace chapel. In recent times it has been turned into a protestant church.
This is, apart from the inner courtyard, the only bit which is freely accessible. All the rest is off-bounds to tourists.

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A perfectly straight boulevard in westward direction, lined with trees, connects the main palace with the summer palace in the suburb of Poppelsdorf. Perspective makes it look rather close but in fact the distance sums up to about 3 kilometres. It’s quite a walk. I wish I had rented a bike already on the first day!

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Weird things were going on along the way. These must have been some strange rituals for the welcoming of the new first-semester students of medicine - including some kind of race dressed in underwear.

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The little palace on Poppelsdorf has a square ground plan which looks rather simple from the outside. It was supposed to be one storey higher but financial problems required a simplification of the plan. The architect’s fanciest idea was inserting a circular inner courtyard into this square block. Unfortunately, you guessed it, this building is also currently undergoing renovations.

It is occupied by university institutes like zoology and botany, and the politics of closed doors apply here just the same. The inner courtyard is accessible during the day but not the interior of the building. There is one hall which is preserved in its original shape with baroque stucco, all the rest is post-war.

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In order to show us this hall, the organizers had obtained an arrangement with the caretaker who had, after some negotiations it seems, offered a time slot for us in the last 15 minutes of his workday.

It almost went wrong because the caretaker had expected a call on his cell phone while our guide had expected him to show up at the appointed time… a search party then found him somewhere in the building, so all looked well… but the battery of the electronic key was empty so the substitute key had to be found… phew… in the end the door opened and we were able to enter.

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The hall has some interesting stucco that shows gardening tools and devices. The Archbishop had founded some kind of “gardeners” order who held their meetings in this room. Nowadays the university rents it out as a venue for seminars and conventions. They do not even use it for their own events.

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The palace is surrounded by the botanical gardens of the university. These, including the greenhouses, are open for everyone and can be visited for free. They are worth seeing. After the tour we still had plenty of time before the evening reception, so some of us took the chance for a walk in the gardens (while others did not get any further than the terrace of the café). In the meantime the sun had come out, the first autumn colours were shining.

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Once in every couple of years the botanical gardens of Bonn make the headlines and attract thousands of visitors at once: when the titan arum is in bloom. The largest flower in the world blooms for hardly more than one single night. They are currently hoping in Bonn… the question is whether this here, about 25 cm high at the moment, will grow into a blossom or a leaf.

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Information board showing the life cycle of the titan arum

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Biking Bonn and the Rhine

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My hotel offered rental bikes, and the next morning I got one for the rest of my stay. No more painful walking…

Biking in the centre of the city isn’t that entertaining. Bike lanes exist on the main roads but they are narrow and car traffic is heavy. The pedestrian zone in theory allows cyclists, which is fine in the evenings, but during shop opening hours the crowds of pedestrians are just too dense. The side streets are a maze of one-way streets, tram tracks, huge buses that take almost the whole width of the street. But the numbers of cyclists are nevertheless high, also due to the vicinity of the university, so we hold our ground.

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Ready for takeoff

As soon as you leave the immediate centre, though, the situation changes drastically for the better. A signposted network of bike trails and bike lanes leads practically everywhere. The finest route for a little bike tour is, of course, the river promenade.

The weather was much too nice and sunny to spend the whole day inside a darkened lecture hall watching PowerPoint presentations. During the afternoon coffee break I ran off and jumped on my bike. The wombats were already hiding in my backpack as they had expected this and wanted to join – they know me ????

We made our way down to the Rhine promenade and cycled upstream. There is a bike trail right by the river that leads I don’t know how far, but one could cycle for several days in a row.

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This afternoon I went as far as Mehlem, the southernmost suburb of Bonn. The next day, watching the river bank from the boat, I was actually very proud of myself when I saw how far I had come, all the way against the wind!

The route first passes the government quarter, seat of the Federal Government from the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 until the move to Berlin after the reunification.

After passing the former parliament building (Bundestag), the trail runs through a large park that covers a vast area in the wide river bend, known as Rheinaue. This area was the site of the Bundesgartenschau (garden exhibition) in 1979. I remember our family visit. My father was very much into gardening, so the Buga was a must. As a teenager who had to spend far too much time in the family’s allotment garden, I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic. – The exhibition grounds were then turned into a permanent park, truly a gain for the city and the citizens.

The Rhine promenade continues along the following suburbs of Plittersdorf and Bad Godesberg, the spa town within Bonn's boundaries.

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In Plittersdorf this chapel-like building next to church and cemetery caught my eye. In the 19th century it had been built as mausoleum for the noble family von Carstanjen. The last member of the family died in 2005. For about a decade it has now been used as a burial site “for everyone”. The architecture was designed after the Pantheon in Rome, a popular model in neoclassical architecture, though at much smaller scale (obviously).

Cycling past Bad Godesberg, the Seven Mountains on the other side of the Rhine came into clearer view. I was already opposite Königswinter, and almost opposite Drachenfels. Two car ferries cross the river, one at Bad Godesberg and one at Mehlem.

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The Mehlem-Königswinter ferry and Petersberg

Reaching the promenade of Mehlem, I decided it was enough and I deserved a break. The café by the river wasn’t open, unfortunately, so the snack was limited to an apple and some water on a park bench, enjoying the landscape view.

And resting my aching backsides: the bike itself was fine but it had a terribly hard saddle!

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Enjoying the view of Drachenfels

The return back to Bonn was easier because I now had the wind in my back. In the city I had a quick light dinner and a big glass of Apfelschorle, before it was time for the evening event.

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Memories coming back - found this in an old photo album: Family walk on the Rhine bank, 1971

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:15 Archived in Germany Tagged bonn rhine nordrhein-westfalen Comments (1)

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