Museum of City History in Leipzig Diary

While visiting Leipzig on a day trip, I spent nearly two hours in the Museum of City History, which documents the history of the city that was first mentioned in writing during 1015 and founded as a town in 1165. The museum is located in the first Renaissance hall in Germany, built in 1556. It functioned as the town hall until 1905. The Museum of City History has been housed there since 1909. There was a special exhibition called “Modern Times,” which dealt with 200 years of city history from the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849 to 1995. I learned about the development of trade fairs, industrialization, life during the Weimar Republic with the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression of 1929, the history of publishing houses in the city, the Nazi regime during World War II, the nationalization of companies and founding of the German Democratic Republic in 1949, the role music played in the city, the 1989 demonstrations and the first free elections in 1990 after two dictatorial regimes that lasted 58 years. In many respects, the history of Leipzig was the history of Germany, and I was fascinated about life during the Weimar Republic and life during East Germany’s existence, for instance.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Nuremberg Diary

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

I had just returned from almost a week in Bavaria, and I was going back on White Saturday to Nuremberg for a day trip with arsviva, the Czech travel agency I sometimes used. I had traveled with them to Bamberg, where I had been enchanted with the fishermen’s houses of Bamberg’s Little Venice, the gushingly Baroque Böttingerhaus, the Early Gothic nave of the Imperial Cathedral with its Christmas Altar and the majestic New Residence Palace with its ornate Imperial Hall. The same guide that had put us under Bamberg’s magical spell was leading us through Nuremberg, which now was biggest city in the Franconia region, with a population of 500,000.
On the bus the guide gave us some background about the city. Nuremberg started out as a fortress in the 11th century. While medieval Nuremberg was an important town along the trade route to the east, it was not without its problems. A pogrom in 1349 wiped out almost half of the Jewish population in the town. The pogrom took place after it was decided to demolish the Jewish quarter in order to make room for a central square.

A historical building in Nuremberg

A historical building in Nuremberg

The year 1356 brought prestige to Nuremberg, which became an imperial city thanks to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV’s declaration of the “Golden Bull.” The emperor also declared that the first imperial diet when the seven electors were choosing a new German king would take place in Nuremberg. Emperor Charles IV also visited Nuremberg more than 50 times. The imperial crown jewels were stored at the castle in Nuremberg from 1424 to 1796. Nuremberg favored Protestantism from the 16th century. The seven electors held the imperial diet there until 1542.
Many inventors and artists lived in Nuremberg. Albrecht Dürer worked there in the early 16th century. Sculptors Adam Kraft, Veit Stoss and Peter Vischer decorated the town with their magnificent medieval creations. Martin Behaim invented the first globe, and Peter Heinlein made the first pocket watch in Nuremberg.

One of Nuremberg's unique fountains

One of Nuremberg’s unique fountains

The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the town, even though Nuremberg remained neutral. Then the town experienced financial problems and soon found itself broke. Nuremberg was made part of the Bavarian kingdom in 1806. During the 19th century, the town focused on industrialization.
Nuremberg would become the site of the National Socialist Party’s rallies in 1927. The Nuremberg Laws, enacted in 1935, denied Jews basic rights and German citizenship. Adolf Hitler was very fond of the city. The Allied Forces’ air attacks in January of 1945 destroyed 90 percent of the historical center and more than 2,000 people lost their lives. Many of the artworks had been moved to the Art Bunker under the castle, and thus were saved. The Nuremberg Trials that put the leaders of the Third Reich on the stand took place from 1945 to 1946.

The Congress Centre

The Congress Centre

First, we stopped at the gray, massive grandstand, where the Nazi Party Rallies had been held from 1933 to 1938. Bigger than Rome’s Coliseum, it included 60 hectares and had 28 40-meter high towers. We saw the exterior because on a day trip we did not have time to go inside the Documentation Center of the National Socialist Party Rally Grounds, where there is an exhibition about the Third Reich. Albert Speer’s architecture was so dehumanizing. Gray, drab and disintegrating, it lacked any human feeling, any feeling of life. Speer’s buildings did not even last 50 years, and they were meant to last forever.
I would have loved to have visited courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg Trials had taken place. I wondered what it would have felt like to have been in that courtroom during the trials, to have watched death sentences being handed out to Wilhelm Frick, Hans Frank, William Keitel and others. Even the death penalty was not a harsh enough sentence for what these Nazis had done.

The facade of the former arsenal

The facade of the former arsenal

Then we got back on the bus, and soon we were left off at the German National Museum, which was on the itinerary much later in the day. As we walked from the German National Museum to St. Lawrence’s Church, we passed Mauthalle or the former imperial customs office dating from 1500. Opposite it was the façade of the Renaissance former imperial arsenal, adorned with coats-of-arms and dating from the 16th century. I took notice of its two round dome towers. The guide pointed out a magnificent oriel on one building. There were about 80 oriels in the city.
On the way to the church, we passed by many stalls in the Easter Market that made the town lively, even jubilant. The sun was shining, and it would have been impossible not to feel cheerful in this environment. Stalls offered vegetables, flowers, postcards, soft pretzels and much more. I was especially drawn to the huge soft pretzels, which I had devoured during my stay in Munich the previous week.

The facade of St. Lawrence's Church

The facade of St. Lawrence’s Church

Soon we came to St. Lawrence’s Church. During the 13th century, a Romanesque basilica had stood on this site. The rose window between the two 82-meter towers fascinated me. The tracery of the window was remarkable. A wreath surrounded the window. Certainly one of the most beautiful Gothic facades I had ever seen, the façade dated from the mid-14th century. The buttresses and spires that looked like pinnacles made a strong impression on me, too. A decorative gable was situated above the rose window. The main entrance boasted such elaborate sculptural decoration and reliefs. The sacristy, two stories high, had a stunning relief on the façade. I noticed a sundial, too. One sculpture from 1912 showed a monkey reading The Bible.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

When we went inside, I was so overwhelmed by the spaciousness and weightlessness that I just stopped in the choir, ignoring the group for some minutes, and just stared. The Late Gothic choir and the Gothic vaulting amazed me and made me dizzy with awe. Everything seemed so harmonious.
What dazzled me was the choir carving of the Annunciation, with larger-than-life size statues suspended from the vaulted ceiling. It was the work of master sculptor Veit Stoss. I noticed Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, a dove fluttering over her head. Four angels seemed to float over this grouping. Fifty roses decorated the wreath framing the scene. The rosary beads included 63 pearls. Reliefs also adorned the ornate wreath. The flowing golden drapery of the figures also caught my attention. To see the carving suspended gave me an even greater feeling of weightlessness. It was as if the sculptural grouping was ascending to Heaven, rather than rooted on the ground, on Earth.

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence's Church

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence’s Church

The High Altar was stunning with a crucifix from the 16th century. The tabernacle, more than 20 meters high, entranced me. Pinnacles represented a crown of thorns. The reliefs were remarkable. I was awed by the latticework and tracery.
One of Nuremberg’s oldest sculptures, the Beautiful Madonna, showed the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus with bright smiles as the Virgin Mary looked lovingly at Jesus. The pulpit was Neo-Gothic. The Late Gothic brass chandelier in the nave was authored by Peter Vischer in 1489. Life-size Apostles also made appearances. It is possible that Stoss created the stunning sculpture of Archangel Michael wielding a sword in his right hand. I was especially drawn to the folds in the figure’s drapery and to the curls in his hair.

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence's Church

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence’s Church

Stained glass windows hailed from medieval days, reminding me of the cathedral in Regensburg with its brightly colored windows that brought light and knowledge. The stained glass of the rose window boasted decorative designs. The background of the Krell Altar showed the oldest rendition of Nuremberg, dating from 1472 to 1483. The town looked so realistic and detailed for that time period. I recalled the 17th century maps and vedutas at Mělník Castle near Prague, and how realistic and detailed they had looked.

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

During World War II the sculptures and other artworks were hidden in the Art Bunker rock cellar under the Imperial Castle. Although the building was damaged in the Allied Forces’ attacks, the two towers, the western façade and the walls remained standing.

A portal of St. Sebald's Church

A portal of St. Sebald’s Church

Next we visited St. Sebald’s Church, which was founded in 1230. The stained glass windows left me in awe. I saw another relief by Kraft, this one depicting the legend of the Holy Cross. The bronze font hailed from 1430. Below it I saw a relief of apostles and saints while the four Evangelists were positioned above the font. But the highlight was St. Sebald’s Tomb, almost five meters high. It took 11 years to build this masterpiece by Peter Vischer. The Gothic reliquary hailed from the 14th century. The tomb was decorated with portrayals of four dolphins and 12 snails, for instance.

St. Sebald's tomb

St. Sebald’s tomb

The figures of Mary, John and the crucifix on the main altar were the work of Stoss. I was enamored by the glass stained windows, some of which dated back to the 14th century. It was a bit disappointing that the upper part of the windows consisted of panes of smoked glass. On one of the memorial tablets there was a view of Bamberg, another Bavarian city that was dear to my heart. St. John and Apostle Andrew were depicted, and I marveled at the curls in Andrew’s hair and the folds in his drapery.

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald's Church

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald’s Church

We came to the main square, bustling with Easter stalls. In front of us was The Church of Our Lady, built on the site of a synagogue that was demolished in the early 14th century, when the Jewish quarter, which had been located here, was abolished, and half of its inhabitants were murdered. It was hard for me to believe that Emperor Charles IV, the beloved King of Bohemia, had permitted the demolition of the Jews’ homes or, most shockingly, did not stop the 1349 pogrom that resulted in the deaths of so many Jews. Yet I had read that the Christian prelates supported anti-semitism, and his actions toward the Jews probably made him seem pious and dutiful to many of his subjects.
The architect of the Church of Our Lady was Peter Parler, who had been responsible for completing St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague, among other significant works. He had certainly left his mark in the Czech lands. While the church had been damaged in the Allied Forces’ bombing of the city in 1945, part of its exterior remained intact. The west façade, the portal, the choir, some of the outer walls and the sacristy did not suffer the terrible fate of its other sections.

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

We spent some time studying the exterior. It boasted a stepped gable and neo-Gothic pinnacles plus a five-story tower. In the center the Virgin Mary was depicted with Jesus. Other figures surrounding them included Adam and Eve. Emperor Heinrich III stood out with his crown, orb and scepter. The German imperial eagle made an appearance on the balustrade. The portico boasted gilded statues, and the tympanum was richly decorated. We came to the north side with the depiction of the Foolish and Wise Virgins.
The building was one of the first hall churches in Franconia. Inside, a Star of David decorated the floor, symbolizing the expulsion and murder of the Jews during the 14th century. The main attraction, though, was the Tucher Altar, from the mid-15th century. It was one of the most significant artworks in the time period before Dürer. I loved the gold background of the triptych. It represented the divine and also gave the panel painting a certain vibrancy that attracted me. In the central panel I saw a crucifixion scene. Mary and John were depicted below it. John seemed mesmerized by the scene with Jesus.
On the right inside panel two holy hermits were talking to each other. I wondered what they were saying. Were they complaining that they were lonely and did not like being so isolated from the rest of the world? Or were they happy that they were recluses? I tended to be alone, and sometimes I wondered if I was really happy or if I had just accepted it as my fate. The gilded tabernacle at the base only dated from the 1980s. It was made to look like a torah roll in recognition of the pogrom.

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The choir featured life-size statues. Our guide pointed out to us Saint Ludmila and her grandson Saint Wenceslas, Czech saints. Wenceslas’s mother, a pagan named Drahomíra, had Ludmila, a Christian, killed because Ludmila had taught Wenceslas to be Christian. Wenceslas became duke of Bohemia and had a rotunda built to St. Vitus – later it would become Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. It was not so strange that Czech saints were represented in the German church. Emperor Charles IV, who established the church, was also King of Bohemia, and his mother came from the Přemyslid family, a dynasty that had ruled Bohemia from the ninth century to 1306. Besides, Bohemia had been a mixture of many peoples, cultures and languages.
In the center of the choir I saw the 15th century creation Madonna with Rays as rays of the sun shone on the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In the portrayal the Virgin Mary was stepping on a human face as she stood on a crescent moon. There were also 18 sculptures of tranquil angels gripping candlesticks on the sides of the choir. One of the keystones featured a rare scene of Jesus going to school as Jesus was portrayed as human. In the nave I found some epitaphs by Kraft.

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

We had some minutes before the noon scene at the clock, so we admired the Beautiful Fountain, constructed at the end of the 14th century. Over 17 meters high, it boasted 40 stone figures on four levels. At the bottom there were the seven arts and philosophy. The Four Evangelists made an appearance, too. The seven electors, Hector, Alexander and Julius Caesar were also sculpted in the central part. Old Testament figures were also present along with Charlemagne and King Arthur. The top part showed Moses and the seven prophets. The well was a copy from the early 20th century. The original was in the German National Museum. I admired the decoration and latticework. There was also a Wishing Ring that could be turned, and many gathered around the well climbed up the steps to turn the ring three times for good luck.
We watched the noon scene at the clock tower. Trumpeters announced the arrival of Emperor Charles IV, and the seven electors paraded around him three times, symbolizing the “Golden Bull” decree that made Nuremberg the seat of the first imperial diet when the seven electors selected a new German king. It was nice to see King Charles IV appreciated in a country other than the Czech lands. I decided I must come to the famous Christmas market in this square someday. It must be enchanting. I tried to imagine knights’ tournaments that had taken place in the square so many centuries ago. Or I tried to imagine the days when the imperial crown jewels had been shown to the public on this square. History sure seeped through the heart of this city.

Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

Before lunch we went to admire the Italian Renaissance style Old Town Hall, which hailed from the 17th century. The figures of Wisdom and Justice adorned the façade. We even got inside to the Great Council Chamber, which was not often open to visitors. Renaissance in style, it was 40 meters long. I admired the timbered ceiling. It was a reconstruction. The original had had burned down in 1945. I thought of all the council meetings, trials, balls, imperial assemblies and signing of peace treaties that had taken place here over so many centuries. If only I could have been a fly on those walls! Another Old Town Hall dated from 1330 and was an example of Gothic architecture. Visitors could tour the dungeons underneath it.

The interior of the Old Town Hall

The interior of the Old Town Hall

For lunch I found a small café where I could munch on a sandwich after devouring a large soft pretzel from a stall.
Next up was the medieval castle. Dominating the city, it looked romantic, perched on a rocky hill. The castle dated from the founding of the city, before 1050, when a fortress was situated on the site. Every German emperor set foot in this structure from 1050 to 1571. The imperial crown jewels had been stored in this fortification with four towers.

While walking uphill toward the ticket office, the views of the rooftops and town were superb. Half-timbered buildings were on the premises, too. I liked the look of these buildings; they reminded me of cottages and had a very intimate quality. It was possible to climb Sinwell Tower, though I did not feel like trying to conquer my fear of heights on this day.

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Soon we entered the Imperial Palace. The highlight of the interior was the Romanesque double chapel, hailing from the 12th century. Twin chapels, featuring a hall structure with two spaces on top of each other, are rare; there are only about a dozen in all of Central Europe. The emperor and his entourage entered from the Gothic portal of the upper level while the commoners came inside from the outer courtyard. On one capital there was a grotesque decoration of animals’ heads spouting leaves. A 15th century statue of the Madonna was on the main altar. Statues of four rulers were also present in the chapel. In the gallery above there were three bays with groined vaulting.

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

What impressed me most in the other rooms were the ceilings. The Knights’ Hall had an impressive massive joist wooden ceiling with no less than 30 crossbeams. Wall paintings from 1490 decorated both sides of the Late Gothic portal. Christ represented as a ruler was portrayed above the arch. The Emperors’ Hall featured a black-and-yellow ceiling with depictions of the imperial double eagles. Coats-of-arms adorned the ceiling, too. A small green stove caught my attention, too. Allegories of the liberal arts and portrayals of emperors decorated it. The Imperial Reception Hall had a painted imperial eagle painted on its ceiling. Its wall paneling was adorned with rosettes. The ceiling hailed from the 15th century, and the furnishings were Renaissance in style.

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

An exhibition featured how the emperor interacted with the empire and with the city. It explained the Golden Bull’s significance, the role of the electors and how Nuremberg had flourished during the Middle Ages.
After the tour of the castle, the other members of the group went to the German National Museum, the largest museum of German art and cultural history. I opted to visit Dürer‘s former home, a 15th century house that now was a museum dedicated to the artist. Dürer was so dear to my heart. I also did not think that two hours was enough time for me to visit the German National Museum, where the largest collection of pianos plus paintings and sculptures through the ages, were exhibited. I was also tired. I had woken up at 3 am, and I wanted to visit the museum when I had more energy and would appreciate the exhibits better.

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

The Dürer Museum displayed reproductions of the artist’s copperplates, portraits, etchings, sketches and woodcuts. The furniture hailed from the period when Dürer lived there, from 1509 until his death in 1528. It was a small, though intriguing, museum, and I also learned about Dürer’s life. I did not know that at the German National Museum originals of his work were displayed, but I was glad I had gotten a glimpse into the life and work of an artist I truly admired.
I had about a half hour free after that, so I sat at the outdoor seating of a restaurant and had one of my favorite foods, a hamburger. I watched the comings and goings of people at the Easter Market, which was filled with such joy and celebration. I loved seeing the city while a market was taking place. It gave the town even more energy. Then I walked down a few of the narrow, picturesque streets before heading to our meeting place, the German National Museum.
I was more than satisfied with the day trip. We had had a superb guide, and the sights had been remarkable. I loved the churches the most, especially the rose window and the Annunciation grouping suspended from the ceiling. I bought a booklet about the city and found out that there was much more to see –a tour of underground Nuremberg and the Art Bunker ranked high on my list along with the German National Museum. Yes, I knew I would be coming back to Nuremberg.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald's Church

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald’s Church

Regensburg Diary

A view of the town from the Stone Bridge

A view of the town from the Stone Bridge

 

My boss at a languageschool where I had taught had praised Regensburg back in 1997. Ever since then, I had wanted to visit the historic town, but the trip kept being postponed. Then I went on a one-day excursion with arsviva to Bamberg, Germany and got my first taste of the wonders of Bavaria. (I only have faint memories of my visit to Munich when I was nine years old.) I was so enthralled with Bamberg that I just had to explore other towns in Bavaria. So, during October of 2013, the next time I had a few days off work, I took the train to Regensburg.

The direct train only took a little over four hours to get to the only preserved medieval town in Germany. On the train I acquainted myself with the history of this architectural gem. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, Regensburg did not experience much destruction during World War II, enabling it to keep its medieval character. A Roman military camp was located there as far back as 179 AD, and the Romans would greatly influence the town for 300 years. During the Middle Ages, emperors, dukes and kings had frequented the town. After it became a part of the Carolingian Empire, Charlemagne visited Regensburg three times. Regensburg acquired the status of a Free Imperial City in 1245 and also was a bustling trade center. The town lost its independence and became part of the Duchy of Bavaria in 1486, but soon the tables turned again, and Regensburg regained its independence.

The facade of an architecturally intriguing building in Regensburg

The facade of an architecturally intriguing building in Regensburg

When the Turks overtook Constantinople, this Bavarian city was no longer a gateway to the East, triggering financial hardships. As a result, according to the unwritten law that blamed minorities for economic difficulties, the Jews were expelled in 1519. During 1542 Regensburg became a Protestant town. The town became a household name once again when the Imperial Diet political gatherings took place there for 150 years, from 1663 to 1806, when the assembly of estates held conferences at the Old Town Hall. Electors and princes were among those present for the meetings.

During Napoleon’s reign the town found itself in dire straits. The Imperial Diet was cancelled in 1806, and Regensburg was stripped of its independence once again. In 1810 it became a part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. From 1945 to 1949, the town was the site of the largest displaced persons’ camp in Germany, with mostly Ukrainians in residence. And to think that throughout all those centuries, throughout all those trials and tribulations, Regensburg never lost its medieval flavor!

The Hotel Kaiserhof across from the cathedral

The Hotel Kaiserhof across from the cathedral

My hotel, the pistachio-colored Hotel Kaiserhof, was situated across from St. Peter’s Cathedral, a Gothic wonder. The clean, no-frills, comfortable room sported a double bed, even though I was paying for a single room. I had stayed in other singles the size of a closet in various hotels throughout Europe. It was refreshing to find myself in a room that was spacious enough, though not large.

After unpacking the necessities, I headed straight for the St. Peter’s Cathedral. The first cathedral in the town had hailed from the end of the eighth or ninth century, but it fell victim to a fire in 1273. Then this cathedral was erected in a Gothic style inspired by France.  However, there were interruptions, and the cathedral was not completed until 1872, some 600 years later. The west façade boasts two towers while the cathedral has a triple-choir design. The nave is short and has five bays. I had read that the architectural design of the cathedral had influenced Peter Parler’s plans for Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, my favorite cathedral in the world.

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral

The medieval sculptural decoration on the façade, which dated from around 1400, was breathtaking.  On the train I had learned that this sculptural adornment ranked among the most impressive artistry of the Middle Ages. I gazed up at the main portal with its stunning tympanum and the 22 reliefs focusing on the Virgin Mary’s life.

On the south portal I was awed by a scene showing St. Peter being scooped out of prison by an angel.  I could hardly believe that the relief hailed from 1320. The tympanum of the south façade boasted plentiful rich sculptural ornamentation as well. Reliefs decorated the buttress fronts, too. I spotted St. Peter in a boat, a rendition that I knew appeared on the current coats-of-arms for the cathedral chapter.

However, it made my stomach churn when I saw a sculptural figure of Jews suckling from a pig. I recalled reading that Jews had been expelled from the town in the 16th century. The anti-Semitic artwork reminded me of the anti-Semitic and racist portraits of a Jew, an Arab and a black man stricken with diseases in the library of the Hrádek u Nechanic Chateau in Bohemia. I also recalled eating in a pizzeria in downtown Prague a few years ago, when a waiter told me that Neo-Nazis were marching through the Jewish Town. I also thought of the prejudice against Roma in Czech society today. So many centuries later and religious and racial tolerance were still serious concerns.

The rich ornamentation on the facade of the cathedral

The rich ornamentation on the facade of the cathedral

Upon entering the cathedral, I was instantly transported back to the Middle Ages. It was dark and gloomy except for the light that the stained glass windows let in, giving the cathedral an airy quality. Made from 1300 to 1370, the windows had a mystical aura. I felt as if the light cleansed me spiritually, as if it cleansed my soul. I was so entranced. I could not believe I was looking at original Gothic stained glass. I had read that one window portrayed scenes from Christ’s childhood while another showed scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul. Pictures of saints decorated the windows, too. Some of the stained glass came from the original cathedral that had burned down. That part was in Romanesque style, dating from 1230.

The vibrant colors inside the cathedral

The vibrant colors inside the cathedral

Then I took notice of sculptural figures of St. George and St. Martin on horseback. They were remarkable works of art hailing from the 14th century.  I also saw something I had never seen before – creepy creatures with human heads in niches near the main entrance. Called the Devil and his Grandmother, the figures supposedly kept away any evil spirits that might try to wander inside. Bishops’ tombs also made up the interior. A stone sculpture of a Madonna and Child above one altar was created in 1320. A huge colored wooden crucifix dated from the 16th century. The main altar was silver and was made glorious by busts of St. Mary and St. Joseph as well as Saints Peter and Paul.

On one section there was a relief of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech saint who was thrown into Prague’s Vltava River from the Charles Bridge on the order of Bohemian King Wenceslas IV, who was married to Joanna of Bavaria. The Queen’s confessor, John of Nepomuk would not tell the king what his wife had said to him in confidence. I thought of the many times I had walked by the five-haloed statue of St. John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge. Once again focusing on this cathedral, I was amazed by the ribbed vaulting designed with crossing piers. There was a Late Gothic pulpit, and exquisitely carved Baroque stalls adorned the nave.

One of the side altars in the cathedral

One of the side altars in the cathedral

Another highlight of the interior for me was the Smiling or Laughing Angel, one of the Annunciation figures. Enthusiastic about bearing exciting news for Mary, the angel was absolutely jubilant, and the sense of pure happiness that emanated from the sculpture made me joyful and thankful for everything I had in life. The joy was characterized by a sense of innocence, and it brought to mind the happy moments of my childhood. Opening Christmas presents in my grandparents’ house as Grandpa pretended to be Santa Claus, striking out batter after batter in Little League baseball, riding my sleigh in the fresh snow near our townhouse, reading Paddington the Bear books over and over, holding my Paddington and Snoopy stuffed animals, receiving an autographed picture from one of my favorite baseball or ice hockey players, hugging my mother and knowing that everything would be okay. I was amazed that a sculptural figure from the late 13th century could depict emotions so poignantly.

Downtown Regensburg

Downtown Regensburg

Then I walked around the center of the town, admiring the large patrician houses, some even with towers. One building dating from the 14th century even had a fresco of David and Goliath, created from 1570 to 1580. Dating back to the 12th century, the Stone Bridge measures 30 meters in length and includes 15 arches. I tried to imagine knights of the second and third Crusades marching over the bridge on their way to the Holy Land. The views of the river and town from the bridge were incredible. I loved the small street called Kramgasse, next to my hotel. Once home to shops of grocers and junk dealers, now it flaunted luxurious shops. The oriels on the buildings intrigued me. 

There were other delights in this colorful, vibrant town, too. The Fountain of Bishop’s Court was built in 1980 and showed a priest giving a sermon to geese while a fox nabbed one goose by the neck.  In the tale the priest is an impostor, the Devil pretending to be a man of the cloth. It made me think of the false friends I had known through the years, the times I felt betrayed by people I had trusted.

View from the Stone Bridge

View from the Stone Bridge

I explored Neupfarrplatz, where the homes of 500 Jews had once been located until their expulsion in the early 16th century. The homes were gone now, and stylish shops lined the square. A reminder of the Jewish presence in the town, a relief showed the floor plan of a Jewish synagogue that had once stood near the middle of the square. I felt an emotional connection with the relief. It was modern and fresh, yet also represented the lost history of the town.

The Goldener Turm, built from 1250 to 1300, included the highest patrician tower in the city. Part of the Old Town Hall dated from the 13th century and had a tower, too. I was intrigued by its Gothic windows. Patrician houses also lined Haidplatz Square. Emperor Karl V had been a guest at the architecturally captivating Goldenes Kreuz building. I also gazed at the Porta Praetoria Roman gate from 179 AD with its stone arch and side tower. As I walked through the center of town, I was surprised that Regensburg had so many tea shops and bookstores. A teetotaler and a literature addict, I wandered through each one. The varieties of teas offered were astounding.

In the morning I ate croissants in the hotel’s quaint breakfast room and headed for the Collegiate Church of Our Lady of the Alte Kapelle. A farmer’s market was in progress in the square where the church was situated. All the fruit and vegetables looked delicious. 

The interior of the Alte Kapelle

The interior of the Alte Kapelle

I knew the church dated from 875, when a grandson of Charlemagne had it erected. The medieval sculptures decorating the main portal did not prepare me for the strikingly different interior. I gaped at the 18th century Baroque and Rococo ornamentation. This was definitely one of the most beautiful chapels I had ever seen.  It was light and airy, full of vibrant colors that emitted joy and hope. The main painting depicted the Pope handing Holy Roman Emperor Henry (Heinrich) II a picture of the Virgin Mary.  It was only possible to see the two naves and six bays through an iron grille, unfortunately. I longed to walk through the chapel and peer closely at each decoration.

The Alte Kapelle

The Alte Kapelle

The stucco work was astounding, and the white walls were adorned with putti. The frescoes narrated described the legend of how the church came into being. They also celebrated the Virgin Mary as the patron saint of the church and glorified the founders of the church, Emperor Henry II and Empress Cunigunde of Luxembourg. Emperor Henry II had believed in centralized authority and had strongly supported the Catholic Church. Due to his devotion to the Catholic Church, Pope Eugene III canonized him in 1146. He was the only German bestowed this honor. His wife Cunigunde was involved in politics, participating in the Imperial Diets in Regensburg. She is said to have performed miracles, such as walking over flaming irons. One fresco showed the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven, surrounded by angels and saints. The main altar was decorated in rocaille and focused on the Virgin Mary. God the Father was perched on a globe above her, and a dove symbolizing the Holy Ghost also appeared.

It fascinated me that this church retained elements of the Middle Ages and at the same time celebrated the Baroque and Rococo periods with a flourish. I could not get over how the 18th century styles gave the chapel a sort of weightlessness and airiness that so poignantly represented joy and hope for me.  It was uplifting. I was in an ever better mood when I left the chapel, after staring through the grille for at least a half hour.

Next I found my way to the Emmeram Abbey. I would be touring the Thurn und Taxis Palace adjacent to it later in the day. The monastery had gained independence from the bishopric in 975 and did not lose its independence until 1803. Then, at the beginning of the 19th century, the abbey was secularized. The King of Bavaria gave the Thurn und Taxis family the monastery because the postal services that they had managed for centuries had been nationalized. I had read that the stone reliefs on the north portal, dating from the Middle Ages, were the oldest north of the Alps.

Religious ornamentation on the facade of a building

Religious ornamentation on the facade of a building

The complex was named after the bishop Emmeram, who had lived in Regensburg in the 700s. Inside frescoes told his exciting life story: He had worked as a missionary for Theodo I, the Duke of Bavaria and was much respected throughout the realm. Then the duke’s unwed daughter confided in him that she was pregnant, and she did not want to tell the duke who the father was. Emmeram advised her to lie and say that he was the father. Then he set off on a pilgrimage to Rome.

When the duke’s daughter told her father the news, he had his son and followers chase Emmeram. When they caught the pious missionary, the duke’s followers tied him to a ladder and chopped him into pieces, slowly torturing him. Then the duke found out that Emmeram was not the father of his daughter’s child and ordered his body to be bought back to Regensburg. Emmeram was made a saint.  I also saw fascinating altars and a crypt dating from 780, showing off masterful Romanesque architecture.  The high altar hailed from 1669.

My next stop was the palace. I had to use an audio guide at the palace because the tours were only in German.  I was disappointed that the Electors’ Fountain was covered in scaffolding. I wanted to see the sculpture of Emperor Arnulf bearing a scepter and shield and the eight coats-of-arms standing for the Holy Roman Empire and the seven electors who selected the emperor.

The architecture of Regensburg

The architecture of Regensburg

Upon entering the palace, we came to a monumental marble staircase. The guide spoke animatedly for some minutes before my audio guide started. The German-speaking tourists were enthralled with whatever he was saying. Then we went up one of the 14 marble staircases in the complex that was the largest residential palace in Germany. It included more than 500 rooms. A ceiling  painting looked as if it was about to burst with color above the staircase.

The Thurn und Taxis clan dated back to the 13th century when the family was named Tasso. During the end of the 15th century, Francesco Tasso created the first postal system going from Innsbruck to Brussels. It took a week for the mail to reach its destination. The key to its success was that the rider and horse were changed at each postal station. For his ingenuity, Tasso was given nobility status by Emperor Maximilian I and thus became Franz von Taxis in 1512. By the end of the 18th century, the postal system was flourishing.

Then bad times came. At the beginning of the 19th century, most of the postal service was nationalized. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to the Thurn und Taxis’ control of the postal service in 1815. After the Napoleonic era, the family managed the postal service once again, but only until Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor of the North Germany Federation in 1867. A very conservative politician and nationalist who did not favor democracy, the prominent Prussian statesman was responsible for forming the German Empire in 1871.

A fascinating facade in downtown Regensburg

A fascinating facade in downtown Regensburg

I was intrigued by the grotesque figures on the ceiling of the Conservatory, also called the Winter Garden. Female figures represented the seasons, though winter was conspicuously absent. I noticed that a sickle and grain stood for summer. The Brussels’ tapestries in the Large Dining Room were astounding. The Throne Room featured a throne from the 18th century and tapestry decoration. The Ballroom took my breath away. Its wall paneling, frames, balustrades and stucco ceilings boasted Rococo and Neo-Rococo styles. Faience Neo-Rococo stoves were present, too. The Ballroom, created in 1730, had been transported from Frankfurt to Regensburg in 1890, when the Thurn und Taxis clan moved to Regensburg. Even the glass chandeliers had been equipped with electric lighting at the end of the 19th century. I liked the idyllic landscape paintings hung high on the walls and the rich white decoration that included garlands and putti as well as plant and ribbon motifs.

I noticed a portrait of Elizabeth of Austria, often called Sisi, in the Balcony Room. Because her sister Helene was married to Crown Prince Maximilian Anton von Thurn und Taxis, she had often stayed here. The sisters’ father had been a Bavarian Duke while their mother was the daughter of the Bavarian King. I had read how uncomfortable Sisi had felt around the ceremony of royal life and how she had been a free spirit who had traveled around the world. I thought about Franz Joseph intending to propose to Helene but changing his mind and asking for Sisi’s hand in marriage instead. And I thought of Sisi’s assassination in Geneva, when an Italian anarchist stabbed her while she was taking a walk. And I remembered reading about the lavish funeral with all the pomp and ceremony that she had despised.

The gate to the Stone Bridge

The gate to the Stone Bridge

The Silver Room featured a silver chandelier with cupids holding candles. The tapestry with a battle theme in the Gobelin Salon got my attention as well. The Yellow Salon exploded with color. It was decorated in Rococo style and dated from about 1740.  I tried to imagine members of the noble family playing music here, the tinkling of piano keys or rich melody of a clarinet. I was happy whenever I saw yellow because it was my Mom’s favorite color and the color of the kitchen walls in my parents’ house. I recalled all the earnest conversations I had with my Mom, seated at that circular kitchen table, sipping green or black tea.

The Green Salon had served as a bedroom for Princess Therese from 1812. I was mesmerized by the bed decorated with four swan figures on its legs. I loved the detail of the feathers and long necks of the swans. A curtain was adorned with gold bees. Both the swans and bees were characteristics of the French style that dominated this room. In the Czar Nikolaus Salon a portrait of Princess Theresa von Thurn und Taxis showed the 37-year old clad in a chemise dress and wearing pearls in front of a forest. I noticed an exquisite blue with gold tea set in another room.

Then we came to a contemporary art exhibition of portraits of the living family. The portraits of four women and one young man had blinking eyes. I thought it was a good idea to put portraits of the current family in the exposition, but I did not understand why their eyes were blinking. I guess it was meant to emphasize that they were living, that the tradition of the family continued, but it seemed out-of-place with the décor of the other rooms. Then I saw the House Chapel that had once been a bedroom for Crown Princess Helene. After the Princess’ death in 1890, her son Prince Albert I had it reconstructed into a chapel. The alloyed coats-of-arms decorating the windows impressed me.

Regensburg's cathedral dominates the skyline.

Regensburg’s cathedral dominates the skyline.

Next we entered part of the cloister. I imagined monks walking through the round Romanesque arches while singing hymns. I saw statues dating back to 1200. I imagined how the room had looked in the Middle Ages with its then colorful decoration depicting biblical stories. I admired a Neo-Gothic tomb chapel as well. Another wing featured high and thin Gothic arches. The cloisters were certainly full of architectural wonders!

After touring the palace, I visited its museum. I saw a Japanese lacquered cabinet from 1690 and took special notice of the exquisite Asian landscape scenes on the front. White gold porcelain featured floral motifs. A ceremonial carrying chair also caught my attention. Medals from the chivalry Order of the Golden Fleece that was founded in 1430 and 55 richly decorated 18th century snuff boxes also made up the exhibition. One room was decorated with Biedermeier furniture, dating from 1815 to 1848. The furniture was not positioned against the walls in order to encourage communication. The highlight, though, was the white with gold porcelain service set from the early 1700s, made by a Viennese manufacturer that had only been in existence for 30 years. It was the only complete service of this manufacturer in the world.

The Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall

I had a late lunch at an otherwise empty café near the monastery. It was decorated plainly and appeared to be a place for locals as the menu of five entrees was written only in German. I imagined that the restaurant would be packed on weekdays. I chose the Wiener Schnitzel and received a generous portion. It was delicious. I had dessert at the oldest coffeehouse in Germany, the Café Prinzess, where I managed to find a free table despite the crowd. I ordered almond cake and green tea. Surprisingly, service was not slow. The cake and the green tea were excellent.

Soon it was time for the English tour of the Old Town Hall across the street from the coffeehouse. I got a free ticket because I have a press pass and would be writing about the exhibition. However, only the torture chambers in the cellar were open that day. The lavish rooms once used for the Imperial Diet were closed for a conference. Two tourists complained that they had to pay full price for their tickets, even though the Imperial rooms were off limits that day. They decided to come back the following day when both parts of the tour would be open. I was leaving the next day, so I had no chance of seeing the Imperial rooms on this trip.

For almost 150 years from the 17th to the beginning of the 19th centuries, the Imperial Assembly had held political meetings in this building. But the Imperial history of the town was above, in those lavish rooms that I could not see. I descended into the torture chamber, which helped paint a portrait of the history of the town. I peered down at a dungeon that was three meters deep with no light. A Jewish gravestone served as the toilet seat, another reminder of the rampant anti-Semitism that had riddled the town. Once again, I recalled the 1519 expulsion of the Jews.

An ancient door at the Old Town Hall

An ancient door at the Old Town Hall

I also saw a so-called spiked rabbit, consisting of spikes on a wooden chair. I could not imagine the pain a person would feel seated on those spikes. It was too awful to think about. Some prisoners were locked in a neck iron, exposed to the public in a pillory. I also saw a timber cell without any light.  Prisoners sentenced to death stayed in the Dead Man’s Cell, where there was light and fresh air. An opening allowed family members to touch the incarcerated’s hands before the execution. A big beam balance from the 16th century kept the merchants honest. If merchants cheated customers, they went to the pillory.

The instruments had been used from 1530 to 1781, during three centuries. It was difficult for me to imagine that such horrific methods had been used for such a long time. Then again, in in today’s world there is waterboarding. When the accused was detained, he or she might have heard a concert taking place in one of the Imperial rooms above, but the prisoners were never tortured to musical accompaniment.  

The Romanesque portal at St. James' Church

The Romanesque portal at St. James’ Church

I walked around town for the rest of the day, the history of the town seeping into my soul. The next morning I had a little time before I headed to the train station. I was disappointed that I did not have a chance to visit any of the museums, especially the Historic Museum that told the tales of the town from as far back as Roman times.

First I walked to the Church of St. James, which was built by Scottish monks in 1150. The church still retained its Romanesque style. The entrance portal was pure Romanesque, richly decorated with sculptural figures and grotesque symbols. The architectural gem was encased in glass, so there was a physical barrier between the viewer and the object. I could understand the need to protect such an ancient treasure, but the glass barrier restricted the visual communication with the viewer. I gaped at the entrance portal for about a half hour. The interior was austere but beautiful.

Next, I headed for Dachauplatz, trying to find the remnants of the Roman wall as they were marked on my map. A small section of the wall that did not even come up to my knees disappeared into a parking garage. Modernization had destroyed some of the historical roots of the town, replacing significant reminders of the past with an eyesore common in the contemporary world. I was very disappointed that a car park had been built in the historical center of the town, marring the cityscape. I had read that in the past a monastery had been on the premises.

The decoration on the Romanesque portal

The decoration on the Romanesque portal

As I had made my way to Dachauplatz, I had taken note of all the various architectural styles of the buildings and the artwork adorning the facades. Standing on the square, facing the Historic Museum, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been present in 1945, near the end of the war. Residents had taken part in a demonstration, eager for the Americans to take over the city. Some protestors were executed in that same square.

Soon it was time to take the train back to Prague. I yearned to visit the town again and to get to know Bavaria even better. On the train a pleasant surprise awaited me. I began chatting with the woman seated across from me, an American world traveler in her sixties on her way to Prague. It turned out that she also loved reading mysteries and adored cats. As we discussed many topics, I realized that the best thing about traveling is the people you meet on the way to your destination. We would keep in touch, for sure.

I returned to Prague, elated, ready to face the long winter ahead with energy and enthusiasm and ready to plan a spring trip back to Bavaria.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

 

Another look at the Romanesque portal of St. James' Church

Another look at the Romanesque portal of St. James’ Church