Down the Lahn

Sunday 20th June 2010, Marburg-an-der-Lahn
Today's report comes to you courtesy of Ian. I was too tired to write it after a mammoth session using the internet to catch up on emails and uploading blogs:

The walk into town was along the wooded banks of the River Lahn across which we could see the slate roofs climbing up the hill toward the Landgraves castle. Once across the bridge we passed beside the old University buildings (neo-gothic to match the 14th century University Church). The University was established by the Landgrave Philipp the Magnanimous in 1527. It was the world's first Protestant university and now bears his name.

View across the Lahn to the Landgrave's Castle, Marburg

Old University Buildings and University Church, Marburg

The presence of 19,000 students in a town of 75,000 population probably explains the presence of a wide range of reasonably priced eating places. Lunch was consumed at tables in front of a half-timbered cafe accompanied by the World Football Championships, quietly relayed from a TV screen, and consisted of an Auflauf each - essentially a pasta, rice or potato dish covered in tomato sauce and cheese and baked. Ian had a chicken breast, spinach and rice base and Jill pasta, bacon and mushroom. Both were deliciously rich but did not prevent us from diving into a more genteel cake shop for a coffee later, although we drew the line at indulging in a cake.

Among the students at the university were the brothers Jacob Ludwig Carl and Wilhelm Carl Grimm who studied law between 1802 and 1806 with the intention of entering civil service. At Marburg they came under the influence of the writer Clemens Brentano, who awakened in both a love of folklore and between 1812 and 1815 they published their collected tales as the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, some 200 stories mostly taken from oral sources, aiming to reproduce the original teller's words and manner of expression. Two houses in the market place lay claim to being their residence. On the market place too we noticed a plaque to Denis Papin, inventor of the pressure cooker, whose statue we had seen in Blois. He was professor of mathematics and physics here between 1688 and 1695.

Brüder-Grimm-Stube, Markt, Marburg

The sloping market place with the impressive gothic town hall dating from 1525 is very lively with tables in front of the half-timbered buildings and a fountain. Every hour a mechanical trumpeter sounds his horn and a cock flaps its wings atop the town hall but more amusing to us was to watch a group of children busily using the fountain to flood the market square in a relief model of the town centre placed nearby for the benefit of the blind.

Fountain and another Grimm house, Markt, Marburg

Another figure who has dogged our footsteps around Europe is Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. We had met her first in Budapest then in Bamberg and recently, at the Wartburg. After the death of her husband Louis IV of Thuringia en route to the crusades in 1227 she took refuge with her uncle the Bishop of Bamberg and joined a lay Franciscan order, building a hospice for the poor and sick in Marburg and generally doing good works. She died in 1231 at Marburg and was canonised in almost unseemly haste in 1235. Little remains of her hospice but the Elisabethkirche, built in less than fifty years by the German Order of Knights between 1235 and 1283 is located on the site of her grave. Apart from the shrine, which became an important place of pilgrimage, there is a delightful 15th century statue of her holding a model of her church and various panels showing events from her life. There is also a striking modern organ in the church, which is one of the earliest purely gothic buildings in Germany.

Remains of Elisabeth’s hospice, Marburg

Elisabethkirche, Marburg

Statue of Saint Elisabeth, Elisabethkirche, Marburg

Story hour with Saint Elisabeth, Elisabethkirche, Marburg

Modern organ, Elisabethkirche, Marburg

Higher up in the town is the Lutheran parish church of Saint Mary and as we passed it on our way to the castle we heard the voices of a children's choir singing the lively modern oratorio Israel in Egypt. The church has a spire which is almost as crooked as the one in Chesterfield and it has become a symbol of the town. The Langrave's Castle dominates the town, like so many of the buildings in a sombre red-brown sandstone, reminiscent of many buildings in the north of England. Its construction started in the 13th century and it was the residence of the Langraves of Hessen until the 17th century. It was here in 1529 that the reformers Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli met for a famous theological discussion. We enjoyed excellent views over the rooftops of the town to the wooded hills beyond, but unfortunately the castle park was closed for redevelopment.

Landgrave’s Castle, Marburg

The crooked spire of the Lutheran church seen from the Castle, Marburg

We also walked through the Old Botanical Gardens to cross the river and walk along the Weidenhäuser Strasse, one of the oldest streets in Marburg, lined with half-timbered and tile-hung buildings housing centuries old businesses. We noticed the family home of the painter Tischbein in the street.

Slate hung building, Weidenhäuser Strasse, Marburg

Tischbien family home, Weidenhäuser Strasse, Marburg

On our way home we stumbled across a plaque recording Neptune in the Planetenlehrpfad, a Solar System trail at a scale of 1:1,000,000,000 which starts at the sun, six kilometres south of Marburg and end with Pluto, at the Hauptbahnhof. (Why are railway stations always so far from the centre of things?) By now we were rather weary and baulked at the thought of walking all the way to the sun (the only way of finding it on such a chilly and cloudy day) and frightened too that we might disappear up Uranus, so we returned to the campsite to make the most of our free wifi.

Neptune on the planet trail, Marburg

Monday 21st June 2010, Limburg an der Lahn
It's the longest day. From here on we creep inexorably towards winter! Still, it has been a pretty good year for us so far.

We have not moved very far, though roads in this part of Germany are faster and busier than we have been used to. By mid morning we had bypassed the University town of Geissen and reached Wetzlar, which seemed a smaller place to park and explore, and one less affected by the devastations of the 1939-1945 war. We found it to be a typical little town with its streets of half-timbered houses, individually charming with unique carvings on the wooden gable-ends and around the doors. We still delight in wandering the streets of such towns but they are so plentiful they all merge together in my memory to become a kaleidoscope of slate hung and Fachwerk houses, quaint coffee shops and tempting bakeries.

Wetzlar has a rather peculiar cathedral that appears to be a hotch-potch of different architectural styles and materials. Inside it has been completely painted over, disguising the varied stonework but also making the cathedral seem impersonal. We were not bowled over by it.

Slate-hung houses beside the river Lahn, Wetzlar

Centre of the old town, Wetzlar

Part of the cathedral, Wetzlar

Ian, I discovered, had an ulterior motive for navigating me to Wetzlar. It is the headquarters of Buderus, the main manufacturer of German manhole covers! Help me please. Am I destined to be dragged forever around the iron foundries of Europe or to stand endlessly on street corners while Ian photographs yet another plaque for his collection? I've already had to take him to Pont-à-Mousson (France), Ullafoss (Norway) and Cavanagh (Ireland) as well as several small foundries I can no longer recall, and now Wetzlar as well! Is this rational behaviour in a man?

More reasonably, Wetzlar has links with Goethe who worked there as a lawyer at the supreme court of the Holy Roman Empire, which was based in the town until the Empire was dissolved in 1806. While in Wetzlar Goethe became infatuated with Charlotte Buff, but it was a hopeless affair as she was already engaged to somebody else. Her house can still be seen in the town. In Wetzlar Goethe wrote one of his earliest novels, Die Leiden des jungen Werther, based on a work colleague who had committed suicide through unrequited love. The house in which he lodged is also one of the sights of the town.

Building used by the Supreme Court during the time that Goethe worked there, Wetzlar

Next we stopped at Limburg, a delightful place downstream on the river Lahn, which eventually flows into the Rhine near Koblenz. Once again it is perfectly set, with a cathedral on the hilltop overlooking the town with its network of pretty streets. All these towns are so perfect and all so alike. Seeing them all one after the other must be like judging a beauty contest. What makes one stand out from the rest? Well in Limburg's case it really is the cathedral. It is different from anything we have seen before. It stands protectively above the town with its interestingly shaped twin spires. Externally it has been completely painted over in pink, yellow and orange, the carvings and decorations picked out in bright colours. We were surprised and not over impressed by this, thinking at first that it must be a fairly recent building. Inside though, it became obvious that it is 13th century! It is accepted as one of the finest examples of late Romanesque architecture in Germany. It has 13th century frescoes and a wonderful memorial tomb to the founder of the cathedral, Konrad Kurzbold, who died in 948.

Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

West door to the Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

Interior of the Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

Gothic font in the Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

Mediaeval fresco in the Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

Tomb of the founder, Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

Fresco, 1638, showing the Tree of Jesse, Cathedral, Limburg an der Lahn

The afternoon passed very quickly amongst the streets of the old town. We also walked across the mediaeval bridge with its gatehouse, stone statues and views of the town, and explored the smart and attractive pedestrianised shopping area with its modern shops and civic buildings.

View from the bridge towards Limburg an der Lahn

Mediaeval bridge with gatehouse, Limburg an der Lahn

Old town, Limburg an der Lahn

Detail of a house in Limburg an der Lahn

Returning to Modestine we passed a sign indicating a campsite on the river bank within sight of the cathedral. It is a convenient place to pass the night and decide where we move on to tomorrow. Already though, we are finding campsites much fuller than further east. Incidentally, I sometimes think I will never understand German. Puzzling over a sign in the dish washing area this evening it seemed to mean "Please twist the necks of the waterfowl very firmly". Ian patiently explained that "Bitte die Wasserhähne fest zu drehen" is actually asking people to turn the taps off properly! Thank Heavens for that, the river bank here is crowded with coots, ducks and moorhens.