The day was spent in Bamberg, Germany. It is a lovely town that somehow avoided being bombed during World War II so there are lots of original buildings dating from the medieval to the Gothic and Baroque periods. If you want to see a variety of building types, this is the small town to visit.

Bamberg is also called the Venice of Germany because of all the lovely homes built along the river.

It was not bombed during the war because it simply was not an important target. There was nothing of interest there to waste bombs on, however, there are legends of other stories about why the town was protected.

During the Middle Ages, the local king or emperor, Henry II, married Kunigund, a descendant of Charlemagne. She was said to be a wonderful woman who was adored by her husband. Legend says this was a true love match because the couple never had any children and yet the woman was not divorced, killed, or banished so the emperor could marry a fertile woman.

The other opinion, of course, is that it was a political marriage and there wasn’t enough fraternization to produce children. Either way, they never had any children and I have no idea what happened to the rule after the emperor died. I do know that Kunigund outlived her husband by many years.

The next legend about this protector of Bamberg is that she spread her loving arms over the city and protected it from bombs during World War II.

There was another Kunigund who lived in a different time from the one mentioned above. This apparently was a popular name back then. This other Kunigund was not a nice person and murdered her children, but I don’t recall her motivation. When she died, she was sentenced to wander the street of Bamberg as a ghost.

There is a story about a tour group taking a night tour of the city to see its splendor in the artificial lighting as well as moonlight. As the tour group wandered the twisting narrow cobbled streets, they came upon a local woman walking in the other direction. One of the group stopped her to ask if she had ever seen the local ghost. She replied, “I’ve never seen one and I’ve been walking these streets for 500 years.”

The reason you may have heard of Bamberg before is because they are famous for their lace. They make beautiful lace in the city and much of it today is designed by the locals but produced with machines using the patterns from here. In times past, it was made by hand and probably prohibitively expensive. There were beautiful lace things from decorative pieces to tablecloths. Most was done in all white, but some was multi-colored.

The rathouse is the local city hall, not because it is full of rats but because that is what they call it. During the baroque period, there was much decoration of the buildings with the paintings designed to look three dimensional. However, there was usually one place where there was some actual sculpture included and in the local town, there is a leg that protrudes from the painting in the lower center of the west side of the building.

There is a river running through the city. On the west side of the river lived the townspeople of lower means and on the east side lived the clergy and rulers of the town. Therefore, the east side of the river had much nicer buildings, residences, and even streets.

On the west side of the town we came upon the market square and there was a fountain with Neptune rising from the center. But the old locals weren’t really aware of ancient Greek mythology and they had no idea who Neptune was. So they called the fountain, The Man with the Fork.

St. Martin’s cathedral is on the west side of the city and it is still used today. However, the building is unstable with lots of cracks in the ceiling and dome. The priest has said he will continue to say Mass here and all the parishioners should just pray harder. The church was of a more Gothic style and older than the church at the top of the hill on the east side of the river. It was still impressively built and wonderful to look at. Barb and I decided that if had stood for hundreds of years, the likelihood of it collapsing while we were inside was small and so we entered the sacred space.

The most amazing thing about these old churches is always the size. The vaulting ceilings, the art, the sculpture, the immenseness is all overwhelming and that is true even with the ability to have seen large new buildings. Their ability to create these massive structures without all our modern tools and gadgets is simply amazing.

We also walked to the bridge crossing the canal and there were hundreds of locks attached to the wires making up the sides of the bridge. There is a custom, started in Venice many years ago, where young lovers attach these locks to the bridges. They proclaim their love and mark up their padlock with their names or initials and then lock it on the bridge. They turn their backs to the bridge and throw the key in the water thereby making the lock impossible to remove. The lock will last as long as their love.

But, that doesn’t quite work. While an individual padlock doesn’t weight much, when they get to hundreds or thousands, they start adding up. These bridges were constructed with the carrying capacity of people walking on them and with cars and trucks driving over them. They didn’t know to including the extra weight of thousands of locks. So, when there are too many locks on the bridge, it becomes worrisome and the local authorities come by and cut the locks off. The pessimist in me says that many of the couples have already split anyway.

Back in the Middle Ages, the river was not in the same condition it is today. It was not only used to transport goods but it also was used to transport garbage. One of the first buildings after the low bridge was the butcher’s shop. It is obviously the butcher’s shop because there was a large pig over the door to let illiterate and foreign language people know what the hell the building was used for. It was a slaughterhouse.

Because there was a great need to use as much as possible and not waste, the skin of the pigs or cattle was saved and sent on to the tanner. Another reason the river area was less that totally magnificent was because of the manufacturing going on. The animals at the butcher’s house weren’t any more pleased about their fate than they are today. So there were a lot of upset beasts around.

Then at the tannery, one of the ways to turn hides into usable leather is to cure it and the tanning process needs the alkalines found in urine. So there was some poor schmuck whose job it was to collect the morning pee from the locals and bring it to the tannery so the hides could be cured and leather could be produced. This is a rather rotten job, but at least it wasn’t truly crappy.

All the usable parts of the critters were, in fact, used. But even those who use as much as possible will end up with offal to dispose of. That was done by sliding it down a chute so that it landed in the river. People were rather nonchalant about dumping their own waste and garbage into the river as well. This is why it was always best to live closest to the part of town where the river entered into the city rather than the part of town where every Tom, Dick, and Harry had already dumped icky stuff into it.

Bamberg was the home of a bishopric and so there was a cathedral high on the hill overlooking the town. This church with fortification was St. Michael’s and was built in the Gothic tradition. However, time moved forward and there was more money than sense and some redecorating was done. The living quarters for the bishop’s minions was torn down and rebuilt in the Baroque style. This was a grand building and like all Baroque stuff, needed to be perfectly symmetrical. The plan was to tear down the bishop’s house and build him a mirror image of the already constructed living quarters but they ran into hard times and the old Gothic bishop’s house stands.

When it was built, there was still the need to show off a bit. To proclaim one’s wealth, one did useless things just because one could afford it. I don’t know which bishop built the house, but he could afford a bit of grandstanding, as it were. When facing the grand house, off to the right side for two stories, there was an area that was built out like an enclosed balcony. It was not for blessing the masses or delivering sermons. It was simply to show that the bishop had so much money, he could afford this frill.

In these cobblestoned old towns, the roads are narrow and twisting. But even in the 1200s they knew to build little troughs to carry the waters away. There were holes, now covered with grates and I have no idea how they looked many years ago, every so many feet. The water could thus be effectively removed from the streets.

The streets are narrow unless they have been improved. But in the older parts of towns, they are cobble stones as are the walkways. But because everything is so narrow, people often just walk wherever they feel like walking and then there are shouts of “Car” or “Truck” or something in German that none of us understand, and we obligingly move out of the way. Drivers will then swerve around the annoyances in the street who close in once again behind them waiting for the next warning shout.

Bicyclists are a different problem. They tend to swerve in and out and try not to fall over or stop and getting out of their way is probably more important for your safety than getting out a car’s way. They usually have bells and ring it constantly as they approach and you better get the hell out of their way because they are coming through.

It has been difficult to tell if we are taking our lives in our hands or not because quite frankly, there are alleys that look no different to me than streets where it is perfectly permissible to walk anywhere. But even after saying that, it also seems perfectly permissible for a car to just decide to take the alley as a shortcut.

The cobblestones are beautiful to look at and charming, but they get to be a bit of drain after walking on uneven and unstable ground all day. I’m glad I’m getting to see this stuff but I’m also glad I live in the land of pavement, asphalt, and concrete.

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