Nuremberg

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This was an interesting day: starting out with evidence of the absolute megalomania of Hitler, followed by the beauty of the old fortress, and then to the amazing amount of work done to save the works of art in and around the city from being destroyed during WWII.

The bus from the ship took us around the area where Hitler held his massive rallies once a year. 10,000 shouted their allegiance to “The Fuhrer” in the massive Zeppelin Field during the Nazi regime and he had plans to build a new Congress Hall to rival the Roman Colosseum but only 2/3 of the outer structure was completed before the end of the war. It is now used as a documentation centre (in one small part of it) and the rest of the structure is used for storage of Christmas market stalls. Since we were driving around and through it in a bus, I could not hope to get an adequate picture of the size of this complex. It was fitting that, immediately afterwards, we drove by the Palace of Justice, the venue of the Nazi war trials.

The 13th century walls (3 miles in all), gateways, and 80 original watch-towers are still intact around the old city of Nuremberg. Amazingly, most were not destroyed during WWII (some were reconstructed). We walked around the medieval Palace within the walls, and then ventured down into the town which is still highlighted by half-timbered houses, Gothic fountains and churches. The market area was busy with many stalls and various street performers, including a musician whose dog sat on a cushion on top of his accordion – a great draw for tourists and, surprisingly, the dog seemed to be enjoying himself as well!

After the tour Tony and I found a traditional restaurant that served Nuremberg bratwurst (by this time we had learned that each town has its own speciality). Nuremberg sausages were a specified width – thin enough to be stuffed through the keyhole after forced closing time of an establishment (although we didn’t find out how they got the requisite beer through that same keyhole!). The standard fare is 6 sausages and either sauerkraut or a rather sloppy potato salad on a traditional v-shaped plate. We shared both.

Then we did a tour of the art bunkers of Nuremberg. Originally built as beer cellars, these underground caves were fortified with insulation and air conditioning to enable the preservation of centuries-old artifacts from Nuremberg and further afield. The displays throughout the rooms show how priceless statues, stained glass windows, and paintings were taken down, crated, and stored in these caves. The “Monuments Men” (art historians in the US army) managed to prevent the looting and theft of many pieces of art stored here during the Battle of Nuremberg. Photos were discouraged but I could not help but take a photo near the end of the tour of an exhibit showing a few of the bombs that fell on the city.

In the final few “rooms” there were two fascinating videos showing the major buildings after the battle and what they looked like after reconstruction, and then the plan for the city after the war and how they decided what to restore and what to tear down and start over. From what we saw – the reconstruction effort was immense and incredibly well done. We went into St. Sebaldus Church after the tour, having seen how the stained glass windows were saved and somehow they had much greater significance than they would have otherwise.

As we wandered through the town square afterwards, there was a party atmosphere – a number of people were dancing and there was wine and beer as well as bratwurst and other delicacies to purchase. An Italian fair was taking place on the bridge on our way back to the bus – it was tempting to try some wine and pasta but…dinner awaited on the Bragi.

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Bamberg

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Our walk into Bamberg started at the home of the famous Bamberg Symphony. Along the way we found the first of many signs in this town stencilled onto walls and streets to welcome refugees. The old city, another UNESCO site, was founded in 902 and the streets are filled with beautiful Baroque patrician houses. Emperor Heinrich II made Bamberg the centre of the Hold Roman Empire in 1007.  Built on 7 hills, each with a church on top, it was modelled after Rome. The Cathedral dates from the 11th century and houses the tombs of both Emperor Heinrich and his wife as well as Pope Clement II.  It was rebuilt in gothic style in the 13th century.

Behind the cathedral is the old residence of the Prince-Bishop (with lovely window boxes filled with red and white flowers under each of the windows) which now houses a museum and concerts are often held in the courtyard. We gather the last 3 Musketeers movie was also filmed here. Across the street is the “New Residence” which was built to replace the old, less opulent, dwelling. Built in Baroque style, one wing was never completed because, rather than a symmetrical U-shaped, it forms an L. The rose garden at the back of the building was still beautiful even in October.

The Protestant Reformation later cut the bishopric’s territory in half and in the 17th century Bamberg became a centre for witch trials (5 of its mayors were even burned at the stake, suspected of being accomplices to black magic).

The Altes Rathaus (old town hall) is situated on a small island on the Regnitz River, supposedly because the Bishop refused to give the city land. The outer walls are covered in colourful murals. Looking over the bridge up the river we noticed a gondola – a smart entrepreneur taking advantage of the town’s claim to being the “Venice of Germany”.

We never miss a walk around the local market, resplendent with delicious looking vegetables and fruits and again we found an amazing selection of mushrooms (including lobster mushrooms that I had been introduced to by Laura and Sean). We ventured into a bookshop and upstairs found remnants of an earlier time – an ancient porcelain stove in the corner of a room. As we walked back to the bus to take us to the ship, we found the ubiquitous “love locks” along the bridge.

Tony didn’t try the local Rauchbier (smoke beer).  Perhaps it was because our guide likened it to drinking from an ashtray.

Wurzburg

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Our walking tour guide took us along the riverbank and up steps to an historic stone bridge, first built in 1120, restored in 1476, great damaged in 1945, and restored once again. He mentioned that it was traditional to purchase a glass of the local wine in the little restaurant on the side of the bridge and take it out to enjoy the view of the Marienberg Fortress on the opposite side of the river. Despite the grey weather we and some new friends decided to do so before we headed back to the ship.

The tour took us through the town, another city with roots in the Roman Empire, built up in the 18th century, but heavily damaged from bombing during WWII. The large square has a distinctive, permanent Maypole beside the church – a tradition I attributed to Britain, not to Germany! The guide pointed out the best place to try their famous bratwurst in a bun – a small kiosk in the marketplace that Tony and I noted for a quick snack after the tour.

Then we proceeded to Wurzburg Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage site which was built over a 25 year period, starting in 1719, for the Wurzburg Prince-Bishop. A magnificent palace, it had truly stunning frescoes, some of which were saved from the bombing of the building because they were painted in ceilings that were arched. It was interesting to learn that the paintings that had survived had not been retouched at all, yet the colours were still quite vibrant. Evidently this was because the painter worked on them while the plaster was still wet, therefore permanently setting the colour. Sadly, I could not photograph the frescoes or the magnificent rooms (reminiscent of Versailles) but I could the beautiful gardens and grounds outdoors. Although most of the ceilings and floors of the Imperial Apartments were destroyed  in 1945, the furnishings and wall panelling were removed, and therefore preserved, beforehand.  Restoration was completed in 1987.

We returned to the town, had a bratwurst standing in the square, then after hunting for a few things for our Canadian Thanksgiving celebration, made our way to the bridge and some wine. We enjoyed the company of Donna and Norm from Niagara on the Lake.

On our way back to the boat we passed a park that had some intriguing sculptures. They were meant to be turned and each twirl produced a sound. How could you resist?

Miltenberg

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This beautiful Bavarian town with half-timbered houses and red sandstone buildings dates back to Roman times. We loved ambling through the cobblestone streets and crooked lanes. Hotel Zum Riesen is reputed to be one of the oldest in Germany, built in the Renaissance and opened as a hotel in 1411.

Mildenburg, the castle overlooking the town, has ruins dating from the Middle Ages but, within the walls are buildings from the 18th century that have been restored and now house a large collection of modern art. The grounds are dotted with modern sculptures and the one remaining tower has been refurbished with stairs up to the top and magnificent views over the town and the River Main. Tony and I really enjoyed wandering through the gallery and grounds as well as the climb up the tower to gaze from the top.

When we came back down the hill we happened upon the most magnificent wine shop I’ve ever seen.  It was like a cave built into the hill, full of a huge variety of wines (all German) in bottles and barrels.  We had to ring the bell to bring the proprietor indoors (he was shovelling old bricks at the side of the shop) and he looked offended when I asked him which of the wines were dry (considering our experience with German wines in Canada).  “They all are”, of course!  We chose a white and we’re pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

Glass Artistry

Just prior to leaving the ship to go into Miltenberg we were treated to a demonstration of glass-blowing by an artist from a neighbouring village. Not only was it an excellent demonstration, but he had a wonderful sense of humour.

He inherited the business, which originally made scientific glass products (beakers, test tubes, etc.) from his grandfather and quickly realized that he wasn’t cut out to do such repetitive work.  He wanted to be creative with the skills he had learned.

He studied, and later worked with Chihuly in the US and all over the world and has the only rights in Germany to the Corning formula for glass.

We were thrilled to hear him say “oh, everyone knows Robert Held” when I asked if he was familiar with our local glass artist.

Castles Along the Rhine

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Although a slightly chilly afternoon, most of the 180 guests on the Bragi were huddled on the open deck at the bow of the boat to view the 40 or so castles along the Rhine River.

We were given a list of the largest ones along the way and their corresponding Kilometre posts which we could follow along on an excellent map produced by Viking (numbers that are posted along the riverbank).

We learned from our cruise director, who provided commentary from time to time, that many of the castles were destroyed during various wars and had since been reconstructed.

Koblenz & Marksburg

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We arrived in Koblenz an hour or so before our tour was planned to take off for the Marksburg castle so Tony and I had time to stroll around the town. It was very quiet, shops were just beginning to open, and it felt like we had the downtown area to ourselves. We wandered around the square next to the Rathaus (City Hall) and there was a cute little fountain called the Schangelbrunnen.evidently the “little rascal” was created in 1940 and is a symbol of Koblenz. Conquered often over the centuries, many children were fathered by the invading troops and the term “Schangel” was an insult implying illegitimacy, although later became an affectionate term for local children. The mischievous boy (Schangel) on the fountain spits out water every once in awhile.

We then jumped on a bus to go to the Marksburg Castle above nearby Braubach. Built in 1117, this castle is the Only one of the 40 castles between Bingen am Rein and Koblenz that was never destroyed although it was fired upon in 1945 from the other side of the Rhine. In 1931 it became the head office of the German Castle Association.

The guided tour throughout the fortress was extensive and gave us a fascinating view into the lives of the various inhabitants over the ages.