Monday, January 28, 2013

travelling around

Hi friends!

For any of you keeping track, I promised that I'd write about our travels between Christmas and New Years, so here is the final post from our holidays (the second, chronologically).  We went to a lot of places and I don't want to write a book about it all, so I will try to limit myself to a few pictures and thoughts or anecdotes about each major stop.

When Sasha and I realized that our families were all coming for the holidays, we poured over maps to decide what to do outside of Marburg.  Our major criteria were these: 1. no more than a few hours of driving per day.  We wanted time to see the sights, poke our heads in churches, sample tasty treats, etc. 2. we weren't interested in hitting any of the major cities (they're expensive and we had some non-city people in the group) and 3. we wanted at least some cool castles/cathedrals/historic stuff to admire. So, we eventually settled on this somewhat unconventional itinerary, hitting a number of towns I hadn't heard of before beginning to plan the trip.

Eisenach: This city is famous for a few things, especially having once housed Bach and Martin Luther.  We didn't go to the Bach house, although it is supposed to be quite nice.  Instead, we spent most of our time in Eisenach exploring the Wartburg:
the Wartburg
The Wartburg is a giant fortress on a giant hill outside of town.  I liked that it looked like about half a dozen castles built in half a dozen styles (out of half a dozen building materials) that were all smooshed together.  Which, I suppose, is a fairly accurate assessment.  It was founded in the 1000s by Ludwig der Springer (gotta love the nicknames of some of the old dead German dudes, still, when they're all named Ludwig or Wilhelm, I suppose you need some way to keep them all straight). The most famous residents were St. Elisabeth, after she moved from Hungary, before her husband died and she moved to Marburg...yes, that Elisabeth, and Martin Luther, who will be a recurring theme of this trip.  The castle had somewhat fallen into disrepair between the time of Elisabeth and Martin Luther, but luckily in the 1800s a rich guy decided it was awesome and had it thoroughly renovated, although renovations are ongoing...I think castles take a fair bit of upkeep.  But, despite the age of some of the masonry, etc. there were also rooms with a much more modern feel, including this one with a mosaic from the 1920s, detailing Elisabeth's life.
It was a lovely room

Luther stayed at the Wartburg while he was hiding from the Catholic church, and he translated the new testament while here.  We looked into the "Luther room" but as a pilgrimage site, it was sadly underwhelming.  One disadvantage of protestantism, I suppose.  Still, they had a nice collection of paintings showing various parts of his life in a collection in the museum part of the castle, and Sasha and his brothers and I enjoyed climbing the tower. 
The "Luther Stube"- like I said, kinda underwhelming.  At least the whale vertebrae (!?!?) is from Luther's time.

We didn't spend much time in the town of Eisenach, and the evening was cold and rainy, making it less story-worthy. We stayed a bit outside of town in the "Schlosshotel am Hainich" that was quite nice, if less castle-like than the name suggested.

Mariendom on the left, Severikirche on the right
Erfurt: This city was pretty cool, and there were plenty of tourists around to show that other people know it, but it is on the list of "cities I had never heard of before planning this trip".  Erfurt is effectively centered around two giant, gorgeous church/cathedrals up on a hill: the Mariendom and the Severikirche (and no, Harry Potter fans, there was nothing Snape-like about it, it's honoring St.Severus, although I admit I'm still a bit unclear about what he did).

Zorro was the floor of one of those churches, I forget which...
There was a citadel on the hill, but mostly we spent the afternoon wandering about the town and sticking our heads into beautiful churches, including the one in the monastery where Luther was a monk (before he broke from the Catholic church and got married).   Unfortunately, we couldn't tour the monastery, although they do give tours if you either ask them in advance or go during the summer. 

There is also this awesome bridge that you can't even tell is a bridge while you're on it, because it's a bridge masquerading as a narrow street lined with shops.  Very cute shops, I might add.  There's a tower at the end of the bridge, and we climbed it and had a great view of the bridge and some of the town.  You'd never know the town had been bombed, it was so lovingly rebuilt...doubly impressive since it was in the East!

Erfurt, from above, with the Kraemerbruecke in the foreground
Again, we spent the night a bit outside of town, and in the morning headed on to...

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: This is one of the most heavily visited cities in Germany, and for a reason.  It still is completely walled, and is quite cute, although it did seem somewhat more like a tourist attraction than a town at times.  Still, since we don't know when our families will make it back to Germany, it seemed worth hitting this city that seems to make all the "must see" lists.  It's pretty rare for a city to have been preserved so well, and while it is probably a sign that the city wasn't very prosperous between the time the walls were built and now, it does make for good touristing.
As seen from the tower on the Rathaus...not a climb for the acrophobic, just to warn you...

The legend goes that the city was going to be razed since it was on the losing side of the 30 year's war, but the ransacker made a bet that the mayor couldn't drink a giant vessel of wine, and if he could, the city would be spared...he drank it all, and so the city survived.  While the guidebooks, wikipedia, etc. will tell you facts that might be a bit different, there's still a nifty clock that acts out the story.
Ransacker on the left, drinking mayor on the right.

We poked into some cute churches, ate a (vastly overrated) locally famous baked good called a "Scheeball", and enjoyed rambling along the city walls, but only spent the afternoon in Rothenburg, since we wanted to stay close to the Frankfurt airport that evening, to allow Sasha's family to fy home more easily.
Sasha climbing up to the walls...normally he takes the pictures, but I grabbed the camera for this one!

Worms: After Sasha's mom and brothers left, my parents and Sasha and I headed to Worms.  I have to admit, my favorite part of Worms was this awesome Turkish bakery near our hotel.  They had all sorts of pastries and filled breads that I'd never heard of, and an interestingly flavored tea, etc.  Plus, it was a nice change from meal after meal of German food...don't get me wrong, I am plenty satisfied with German food, but too many meals of dumplings and duck or pig and red cabbage start to get a bit tiresome. Sadly, Sasha didn't find it nearly so impressive of a bakery or was too busy eating to photograph our tasty treats.  Not that I blame him, the baklava was certainly tasty.

BUT, onto the sites of interest.  Worms has a large cathedral, quite lovely, although you are probably getting a bit churched out, so I'll spare you from many of the details.
To mix it up, here's an inside picture.  Not protestant, in case you couldn't tell from all the gilding.

 Worms also added to our tour of Luther sites, since this is the Worms of the famed "Diet of Worms" (and fear not, despite having talked about it for weeks, Sasha failed to eat gummy worms in Worms, thus failing to act out a truly embarrassing pun).  Still, there was a nice monument commemorating Luther and the rise of Protestantism, generally. SO, in the Cambridge Commons (the Massachusetts one), there's a tree that's renowned because George Washington slept under it (so the story goes).  I swear, every town in Germany seems to boast about having shared a bit of Luther's time; churches that boast that Martin Luther preached there, etc. There's even a painting in the Marburg castle detailing his visit to our fair city.  But, that said, Worms was a fairly important place in the story of the reformation, so perhaps it is worth this (for protestants) quite fancy sculpture.
Many of the important figures of the reformation, with my mother.

 And, inexplicably, a whole series of small dragons...
Asking directions from one of the many local dragons...

Speyer: This is the awesome town we almost didn't go to.  It wasn't on our original itinerary, but when the museum that we wanted to visit in Worms was closed, we decided to drive down the road a bit to Speyer, another town I had never heard of before this trip.  It has a beautiful Romanesque cathedral, as lovely in its simplicity as gothic cathedrals are in all their grandeur.  It was a HUGE church and had one of the largest crypts in Germany, although it was rather lacking in sarcophagi, the arches and quiet of the crypt were still cool.   There were some awesome looking museums that we didn't have time for (including one with whole airplanes to climb around in) and more churches and there was still a small Christmas Market, even though we were there only days before New Year's, with nice looking gifts and foods.  Alas, Sasha's camera must have run out of batteries, so you'll just have to take my word for it that Speyer was cool and will be worth another visit, if we go through our "must see" list fast enough for repeat visits.

All in all, we had fun traveling, but while it was sad to separate from our families, it was nice to get home and relax.  

"Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me. Amen." Luther

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