Friday, 25 April 2014

The Oldest City in Germany!?

We visited three places that each claim this title and passed several more.
The Moselle valley was lined with  resorts on the Lux side and camping parks on the German side and vineyards on both
 Following the Moselle river from Schengen up to where the E44 bridges the river we crossed into Germany. The ancient Roman gate at Trier had been recommended to us as an interesting stop so we wound down the 51 and crossed the Moselle again into the city. Every time we go to a new place we are so thankful for the GPS guiding us to Parking stations.
The Audi came home to the land of it's birth and finally found car parks that it could fit into with ease, the UK has very short and narrow spaces. We uncouth Aussies laughed every time we saw an exit sign on the German autobahns!
The GPS on M's phone finally made contact with its satellites and was able to show us a route to the 'Black Gate'(Porta Nigra). I find that when planning itineraries for our trips I am constantly battling the desire to see everything with the knowledge that the best bits of travel are often the unexpected which need 'free time' in which to occur. Our trips are not restful - we go home for that. We are constantly surprised how messed up our compass is here in the northern hemisphere - North just always seems to be in the wrong place. In Trier we marched along the streets noting landmarks in case the GPS dropped out again and we had to find our own way back to the car. The great thing about old city centers is that they are usually quite compact and crammed with church bell towers of various colours and shapes so wandering usually gets you back to somewhere you recognise.
Staring at a book sale knowing there was no point in browsing.
Left: towards tourist information and the Roman gate. Right: opposite end of the street towards the main market square.
Trier makes some big claims for itself. The tourist info center next to the Black Gate sold a booklet in many languages (I bought the UK/USA one - no Aus or NZ flags on the English version cover!) and found on the first page that Emperor Augustus established a city here in the land of Treveri, a Celtic people which "makes Trier Germany's oldest city" They celebrated their 2000th anniversary in 1984 but Kempten (Allgau -south of Munich) celebrated theirs in 1950 for they claim a written mention in an historical document as their city status point. A quick google on this subject brings up some fairly emotional posts and difficult to prove arguments.
The last of the Roman walls and gates of Trier, from Medieval times called Porta Nigra (The black gate)
Left: standing in the centre of the gate, iron portcullis used to be in the arches with internal wooden gates.
The Porta Nigra is certainly an impressive site. It was once one of four gates into a walled Roman city.  The stones are held together with only iron clamps cast into place with lead. It was built near the end of the 2ndC but it was probably called the North gate (in Latin?) as it was just part of the 6.4Km of the city wall. As it aged,  the sandstone turned grey and black which gave rise to the name in Medieval times. The top story was converted to a church at one stage with cloisters on the second floor. A Greek friend of the Archbishop in 1028, who was a hermit, asked to have himself bricked into a small cell where he lived until his death in 1035. As this gate overlooked the markets since 958 I'm not sure how isolated he would have been.

We found a Villeroy & Boch outlet store just across the road from the Black gate. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I always thought the company was Italian but discovered that the two families had their headquarters in Western Germany with close links to Lorraine and Luxembourg before they merged. Although the prices were excellent and the products elegant, we resisted temptation and left to explore the Hauptmarkt and look for lunch.
A quiet day in the market square. We bought thin crusted oval pizzas that were served in cardboard sleeves for lunch.  The red cross in the center was built to commemorate the city's right to hold markets in 958BCE. The fountain we are sitting in front of is of St Peter and the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance)
The scent of spring flowers carried on the breeze made up for the light spray blown our way from the fountain.
We saw so many florists in Germany and all with creative displays and affordable prices. These are just market stalls.
Trier claims that their Dom(Cathedral) is one of the oldest Christian church buildings in Europe - it is the combination of two churches built side by side in the 4thC. Their most famous relic is a tunic said to be the one Christ wore and lost to gambling soldiers at the cross.
The building on the left is the Dom(Cathedral), the one on the right is Liebfrauenkirche(Church of Our Lady)

Image from
Pilgrims at the 2012 viewing of the tunic. It is seamless, has taffata and
silk patches and was dipped in rubber in the 18thC to try and preserve it
so carbon dating is not possible. Several other churches claim to have
the true tunic with different legends of how it was found and bought to
Europe. It is usually kept in a reliquary and is unable to be viewed.

Superb artistry in the Baroque stucco west dome ceiling.
While M and Petal were visiting the Dom, I doubled back to buy the giant Pretzels that seem to be the staple snack of Germany to dip into our cuppa soups for tea that night. We had listened to a 'Learning to speak German' audio book in the car and I proudly used the 'This please' (Das bitten) with the recommended pointing gesture after my 'Gutentag'(Good afternoon) and held up fingers for the quantity. As frequently happened on this trip the lady serving smiled and responded in confident, if strongly accented English. The cheese and pumpkin seed ones were nice, the plain were heavy and very salty.
The White building on the right is the Steipe, it was built in 1430-83 as a drinking house for
the City Council. The Red House(center) has the words 'Before Rome, Trier stood 1300 years,
 may it continue to stand and enjoy eternal peace. Amen!' Both buildings were destroyed
by the Allies in 1944(perhaps an officer who read Latin choose the target) and were rebuilt.

The house Karl Marx was born in - now a Museum
filled with documents from his life.
The warm spring sun, copious Easter decorations and flowers made this a very pretty stop but we decided to push on to Worms without sidetracking north to Eifelpark. The brochure promised a giant toadstool swing, Wallaby kangaroos (Europeans don't seem to be able to distinguish between the two), bears and wolves.

Although Worms is said to have been a center for farming and even markets since 5000BCE and a Roman garrison since 1CE claims for oldest city in Germany are argued against by others because of long periods of empty settlement. On the way back from Bavaria we stopped in Koln (Cologne) which is also on the list of oldest city. It grew to a major town in 19BCE at the crossroads of two busy trade routes, the River Rhine lent aid to the last leg of the land routes north from the Mediterranean and the from the East. Cologne celebrated it's 1900th anniversary in 1950. It seems to me the definition of 'city' and the accuracy of interpreted documents will always leave room for dispute in this competition and Trier would be wise to remove the absolutes of its claims in the tourist trivia.

Left: Even the sausage shop was displaying marbled, boiled eggs for sale this Easter
Right: M came to Germany determined to have white asparagus with burnt butter sauce (we saw fields of plastic covered  farrows growing this specialty and strawberries) and I was looking forward to a slice of genuine Black Forest Gateau.
HHhH by Laurent Binet, Grasser et Fasquelle 2009
English translation Sam Taylor, Vintage Books 2012

Historical Nonfiction - The author talks directly to the reader as he grapples with how to present his research - how far to storyise it. It's an interesting voice and certainly gives a clear picture of how history can be bent through the lense of retelling.
The title is an anacronym for a saying that did the rounds in Nazi circles - "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich" Heydrich was a forceful brute who made the Final Solution efficient after acknowledging the waste of ammunition in mass executions and the toll it was having on even his toughest stormtroopers. The Czechoslovakian WWII trauma is related through the eyes of two agents sent by the Czech control in London to assassinate the 'Blond Butcher'. There is no real happy ending. The author's understanding and sympathy for Czechoslovakia makes this area of conflict warmer than a mere listing of events.

"It's funny how, as soon as you take a close interest in a subject, everything seems to come back to it." Chapter 11

A suggestion is made that Heydrich has Jewish ancestry - lack of evidence leads to exoneration but Himmler is worried that rumour may make his prodigy a hindrance to his place in the Nazi hierarchy.  Hitler's advice is -
"This man is extraordinarily gifted and extraordinarily dangerous.  We would be stupid not to use him  The Party needs men like him, and his talents will be particuarly useful in the future.  What's more, he will be eternally grateful to us for having kept him and will obey us blindly." Chapter 33.

"It is noon.  It has taken 800 SS stormtroopers nearly 8hrs to get the better of 7 men." Chapter 250

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