DOWN MEMORY LANE – A STOPOVER IN THE OLD COUNTRY
(Posted 19th November 2016)
(The ‘Barockschloss’ in Bruchsal, lovingly restored after it was destroyed in the final days of World War II)
When opportunity to travel and explore comes knocking does an avid traveller, aka travelling writer or writing traveller like myself not say no.
A few weeks ago an invite arrived, jointly issued by RwandAir and Airbus, to witness the delivery of the airline’s first Airbus A330-200. A flexible ticket to Toulouse allowed it to make plans for a stopover in Germany and a visit to my stomping grounds of old.
After an excellent flight in a ‘King Seat’ on Brussels Airlines from Entebbe via Kigali to Brussels was it on to the trains. That journey however was marred first by change in departure venue and then further messed up by a broken down ICE, which limped at almost walking speed into Cologne, causing me to miss all my onward connections and getting me into my final destination, the ‘Barockstadt Bruchsal’ nearly two hours late.
The weather though had mercy with me, a fact perhaps even more appreciated by my readers who will be able to see impressions from my old home town from its sunniest side.
(A view over parts of town from near the ‘Belvedere’, part of the palace’s more outlying buildings higher up in the hills. The tower on the left is the fully restored ‘Bergfried’, a defensive tower dating back to 1358 AD)
Digs unearthed, literally, evidence of early settlements dating back to the year 640 AD though the first official mention of Bruchsal in documents came in 976 AD, after which King Otto II then reportedly stayed for several days in 980 AD.
Henry III then gifted the town, lock stock and barrel and folks included to the Bishops of the town of Speyer, in whose possession Bruchsal remained until 1802 when just ahead of Napoleon’s conquest and occupation of much of Europe an administrative reform took place.
My home town attained city status as early as 1246 AD and key landmarks, all restored or rebuilt today after the devastations of wars through the ages, like St. Peter’s and the Bergfried Tower, were first established in 1278 AD and 1358 AD respectively. A full circle defensive wall, parts of which has also been restored, was completed in 1452 AD.
Doing my research on the history of the city, yielded plenty of material and much of it previously unbeknown to even me, so this article will not only be an eye opener for my readers but was one too for myself.
(St. Peter’s Church, despite of her two towers, was never raised to the level of a cathedral but is a landmark nevertheless in the region)
Things began to shape up for the better when Heinrich von Rollingen, then the Bishop of Speyer, decided to move his residence to Bruchsal in 1716 and his successor, Cardinal Damian Hugo von Schoenborn in 1722 commissioned renowned architect Balthasar Neumann to design and build not just the palace but also a new St. Peter’s church. Schoenborn’s own successor, Franz Christoph von Hutten, then completed the works with the construction of guard barracks and new city gates, one named the ‘Damianstor’ in recognition of his predecessor’s vision for the city.
(The famous ‘Damian’s Gate or Damianstor’ which is part of the palace’s outbuildings and next to it one of the intricate works displayed at the front of the palace, on the left the Coat of Arms of the City of Bruchsal. Also shown is one of the ‘dragons’ which adorn the entire roof)
Most notably though was under von Hutten’s rule the so called ‘Water Chateaux’ completed of which the earlier mentioned ‘Belvedere’ is part. It is here that in 1753 the ‘Schoenborn Gymnasium’ was founded by von Hutten, a school which exists up to today and where I learned my first two foreign languages, Latin and Classical Greek when, following the family tradition, I was entered into the classic education branch from which a line of doctors and lawyers emerged before I ditched family tradition and entered the world of aviation and tourism.
(The ‘Schoenborn Gymnasium’ where classical languages, values and topics were taught and which always understood itself to be the school for the elites – now nearly 264 years old and next to it a section of the ‘Water Chateaux, aka Belvedere’ and one of the many sculptures found in the park surrounding the buildings)
The restored palace today has become a museum but also a centre of art and chamber music performances are held several times a year for aficionados of classical music. Over 500 such performances were given over the past decades, with artists and visitors coming from across the world, a sign how popular this form of classical music for just four or five instruments has become.
The middle section of the palace today houses the main museum for the city of Bruchsal with exhibits from the distant Stone Age until modern times. The adjoining museum for music apparatus’ holds a collection of over 500 priceless pieces dating from today back to the 17th century, an exceptional display for those keen on this field.
(History is found everywhere in the city of Bruchsal, this building almost 280 years old. Also found are churches across the city which has 5 Catholic and several Protestant parishes. Notably are all the outbuildings of the main palace also modelled along the same lines and offer great insight into the ‘Barock’ architecture of those days)
Apart from the palace and its gardens, all lanes and paths lined with chestnut trees, is Bruchsal today Europe’s largest Asparagus market with the delicatessen grown in the sandy soils outside the city for kilometres at end.
Three key railway lines converge in the centre of town, the main line from Frankfurt to the Swiss city of Basel, the turn off in the direction of state capital Stuttgart and on to Munich and the line from the side of Speyer on the Rhine River from which trains join either direction.
Some level of notoriety however has been gained as a result of almost constant traffic jams on the main freeway from Frankfurt to Basel, with Bruchsal regularly named in traffic news updates as one of the hotspots for jams.
(A great variety of local produce, homemade pasta, cheeses, flowers, drinks and more is on sale every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., come rain or shine regardless)
Twice a week is a Farmer’s Market held in the city centre, today an all pedestrian zone. In addition, from the Sunday of the first Advent in late November or early December, does a Christmas Market showcase foods, drinks and of course suitable presents for the Festive Season. And all this, a magnet for all Bruchsalers and people from the outlying villages, takes place in a safe and secure environment under the watchful eyes of the local police force, which in best German tradition drives Mercs, but also – no joking – Porsche’s to catch speeders and runaways on the autobahn.
(One of the policemen walked up to me as I took this picture to ascertain my motive and was after a friendly chat happy to hear that it would be part of a feature on my old hometown)
(Impressions from across the city of Bruchsal)
All too soon were the three days over and my visit to Airbus and the French city of Toulouse, the main reason for my trip to Europe, was imminent.
Parting ways after such a sunny visit, sunny in many ways, is never easy but I had given myself one final piece of sightseeing before leaving the Federal Republic again.
A train trip along the River Rhine as far as Cologne, before changing ICE’s and heading for Brussels, combined with a blue skied morning, proved to be the icing on the proverbial cake of this trip. The trains ran on time, I had booked a window seat on the downstream side and had perfect views out of the window as the landscapes changed. When the Rhine valley came up, high hills on both sides, often lined with vineyards, did the villages, castles and of course the shipping traffic fly by me as the ICE sped down the line towards Cologne.
(The scenic route down the River Rhine along all the castles, vineyards and ancient villages and towns)
From transport ships to Rhine cruisers was the river busy with traffic going up and down this most important of European waterways. From Switzerland all the way through Germany and Holland is this river an artery for commercial and leisure traffic, passing through larger and smaller cities and, most important for tourist visitors to Germany, gliding along dozens of castles and ancient villages. Some of the castles are still inhabited, a few by owners, others have been turned in to luxury hotels or restaurants, yet others are in part in ruin while others yet have long lost their shine and more look like a heap of boulders than the imposing and often threatening hilltop fortresses they were of old.
There are two ways to explore the River Rhine, one by train where tracks run along the edge of the river. Some ICE’s actually have elevated carriages which permit passengers sitting on the upper level perfect views on to the castles and the shipping traffic. Alternatively, one can book a cruise, along the entire length of the river on Rhine cruisers with private cabins, or else just certain sections of the river, as time and budgets permit. There are even options to take excursion boats and do trips ranging from two hours to half a day, worth it just for the experience and of course the history lessons given by guides.
But it is not just the River Rhine where such cruises can be done. In my part of the country, the South West of the Federal Republic, a State called Baden-Wuerttemberg, are cruises easily accessible from the city of Heidelberg. There the cruise ships move up the River Neckar all the way to the State capital of Stuttgart, along equally picturesque castles and villages.
Those ready to take a longer access can do their cruise from Koblenz – the city where the Rhine is joined in its journey to the North Sea by the River Moselle – where one can take similar tours up that scenic river with very similar features as seen along the Rhine or Neckar.
And last but not least, there is the River Donau, aka Danube in English, immortalised by Johann Strauss in his Waltz: ‘An der Schoenen Blauen Donau’. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtqgXUkzPE4)
That River, which springs in Germany, makes its way through Bavaria into Austria, the Balkans and eventually into the Black Sea. Cruises offer plenty of opportunity to sightsee on land too, visit old towns, museums, attractions and most important, meet the locals.
(Rhine cruises – a perfect way to discover Germany)
My visit to Germany brought out long buried memories and recollections of such trips in my younger days with my maternal grandfather who, while never having learned how to drive – he was of a generation when horse drawn wagons were still in use – took me places by trains, bus and boat, not to forget making me walk till my feet wanted to fall off my legs.
I hope you enjoyed the story of my late summer visit to my old home town and the pictures, giving you an insight of what life in our part of Germany still is like.