Medieval Bavaria

Trip Start Nov 25, 2010
Trip End Feb 23, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Monday, December 6, 2010

Making nest of Nuremberg for our whirlwind tour of Bavaria, the last four days has seen us experience so much that it seems both daunting and ridiculous to transcribe it all onto virtual paper. Similarly, with Nuremberg hosting Germany’s most famous and, indeed, grandest Christmas market - whilst day trips to Bamberg and Rothenburg brought with them delights of their own in the form of even larger medieval markets and Germany’s oldest markets, respectively - it seems difficult to recount these events without running risk of repeating myself. The markets have probably proven to be our favourite experience in Germany thus far, and undoubtedly you get some idea of what they entail via previous entries, however it remains nigh impossible for me to put into words the subtle nuances between markets that make each one special in its own way and a fresh, new experience to be had. So yeah, I could tell you again of the lights, the decorations, the food and festivities, but to do so once more would just miss the point. Just let it be known that they are truly awesome, and that the German people sure know how to celebrate the holiday season.

But there was a time when the German people did not know quite so much in the way of human rights and compassion for one’s fellow man; it was a little historical event you may have heard of called World War II. Excellent segway aside, Nuremberg is practically drenched in pure, unadulterated, sopping wet history; world renowned not only for its markets and medieval old town, but for the unfortunate claim to fame of being the site of Hitler’s little Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Yes, yes; we strolled the cobblestone streets lined by steepled rooftops and old Germanic architecture, marvelled upon the wonderful feats accomplished at the German National Museum and toured the Kaiserburg castle complex perched proudly upon Nuremberg’s hill top, but when in Germany, it always seems to come back to Hitler, doesn’t it? On the outskirts of Nuremberg sits the Documentation Centre, the last remaining structure of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds turned museum documenting Hitler’s rise to power, the use of the grounds themselves, the propaganda that changed German history and the atrocities committed from Dachau to the Final Solution. Both fascinating and sickening, the Centre covers in great detail an aspect of World War II history that had long remained ambiguous to myself, in just how a man like Hitler came to be such a political powerhouse, with an unprecedented number of supporters - most museums of such nature seeming to focus primarily on, and with good cause I might add, the Holocaust itself. It was equally disturbing, via the various media and documented footage of rallies throughout Nuremberg, to see the streets we had been walking down not hours earlier, literally crawling with Nazi’s; parading through the very same cobblestone streets, swastikas raised high amidst the very same steepled rooftops.

It’s not difficult to see why Nuremberg was chosen as a backdrop for nationalistic extremists, though. Described as ‘the most German of German cities’, the place is certainly that. Everywhere you look within the confines of the city’s old town wall, Gothic and Baroque architecture stands neck and neck between the timber-framed structures almost synonymous with Germany. In fact, all the destinations we’ve encountered thus far in Bavaria have shared this imagery of the classic, picturesque German town, each with immaculately preserved, picturesque old Germanic buildings and historic centres. The first of these little side trips was the town of Bamberg, easily likened to Bruges in some ways for its quaint atmosphere, stores and townhouses decorating the riverfronts and canals. The Altes Rathaus - or Old Town Hall - is a bit of delightful eye-candy in itself, having become something of a town landmark that blends timber-framing style buildings of old with magnificent mural work of pastel oranges and reds, seemingly teetering atop the middle of the Regnitz River. Likewise, with a rather pretty cathedral, palace and Christmas market to call its own, the streets beckon you to explore, often finding ourselves lost in our explorations and many pleasant walks. It even had yet another medieval themed market; a curiosity I hope for us to see more of on our travels, as they are ridiculous fun. This particular market carried a variety of fine quality bows, quivers, leather pouches and even ocarinas for sale, warm cider in clay mugs making the experience all the more pleasant as a quartette of buxom babettes serenaded us with string instruments and song.

The gem of medieval German towns, however, is that of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Barely touched during the war, the town’s historical Aldstadt centre remains completely in tact surrounded by its undamaged fourteenth century town wall. The structures here are some of the oldest in Germany and remarkably beautiful, being yet another favourite of the Nazi Party, whom believed the town encompassed all that was quintessentially German. And although one tends to avoid agreeing with Nazi’s, I’d have to say they were right on the money with this one. The town was a joy to explore and possibly the highlight of our stay in the area. Rothenburg is also home to the world famous, year-round Christmas decoration store, Kathe Wohlfahrt. Although now a chain in Germany, this is the original and largest, with its displays spread across three floors of gigantic Christmas trees, nut crackers, baubles, rotating anomalies, flashing lights, carved figurines, tiny villages and just generally all things Christmas. The grin plastered across my face throughout its many winding passages and shelvings was in no small part thanks to the knowledge that my mother would go absolutely nuts within its confines. We were also treated to an amazing medieval-themed store that sold hundreds of bladed weaponry with the chainmail, suits of armour, gauntlets, robes and garments to match. We spent quite some time browsing its wares, every inch of the store seemingly crammed full of new treasures to explore. Mead, wine and goblets opposite shields, dice and maces - what more could one want? They even had an original katana from the Japan’s Meji period circa the eighteen-hundreds on sale for some seven thousand Euro. I almost forked out our savings right then and there.

However the highlight of Rothenburg for me was the Criminal Museum which documented crime and punishment - well, mostly punishment - of the Middle Ages. Torture devices galore in the dank cellars of this one-time prison, including thumb screws, stretching devices, iron maidens and generally things of a sharp, pointed nature. If nothing else, the museum convinces you that people of the time were actually stupid. As in, its a wonder they weren’t all still just flinging faeces at one another. It seems if one or more witnesses suspected you of a crime, that was enough to warrant imprisonment and torture until a confession was received, followed by the inevitable execution. There were many actual executioner’s blades on display as well, carrying with it the disturbing subtext that each and every one of them had taken possibly countless human lives in the upholding of shaky laws. Indeed, it seems nothing was legal during those times, with absolutely everything - and I mean everything - carrying with it its own unique ‘fitting’ punishment. Without going into too many details, there were laws dictating that a baker must not bake is bread to light, little or large and punishments offered for ‘bad musicians’. You couldn’t drink too much, and telling a quote ‘lude joke’ would certainly land you in a rather sticky situation. The majority of these punishments, although by far certainly not the worst, involved being chained to a pillock in the town square with an uncomfortable, metal ‘shame mask’ attached, among other things, to make you look the fool, whilst passers by were encouraged to humiliate and belittle you. Seems this was the only form of fun that was actually encouraged in those days, and I’m surprised even that wasn’t illegal too.

Throw onto all this a terrific schnitzel or two, potato dumplings and market food and you’ve got yourself some good old fashioned Bavarian memories in some of Germany’s most historical cities. But with all said and done, it’s time once again to move on to bigger and better things. In the thick of the markets by night, we wave goodbye to Nuremberg’s astronomical clock, snow falling heavily overhead. It’s time to prepare ourselves for big-city adventures ahead in Munich, capital of Bavaria, nestled moments away from the Austrian alps. Until next we write...

Tom, out.
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Julia Gendle on

So glad you are enjoying the amazing Christmas vibe of this wonderful country. You know how much I loved it!!!
Your blogs are wonderful, Tom - an absolute pleasure to read.
Miss you,
<3 Ma xoxo

Duke Nukem on

When are you guys getting back it's really boring here.

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