Sunday, May 1, 2011

Potsdam - a royal city

The Neues Palais  - resplendent example of Baroque architecture with stunning Rococo style in the theatre
We calculated there were around 400 statues adorning the roof of this palace

It says "Sans Souci" which is French for 'without worry'.
This huge windmill adjacent to the palace reflect the dutch influence
The frontal view of Neues Palais - reflecting the Prussians as a European power house in the 18th and 19th century
Front view of the Sans Souci Palace - elegant and imposing!
The Neues Palais with just some of the sculptures above
The Old Town City Hall - very much in keeping with the elegant charm of the rest of the city
Referred to as the Dutch Quarter - the red brick characterized some 170 of almost identical structures in Potsdam
Friedenskirche is the burial place of Wilhelm IV, Emperor Fredrich III and  Friedrich Wilhelm I
Neuener Tor - the site of an original gate of the walled city
This statue called the Christus is one of the originals of Bertel Thorvalsen's which are now found throughout the world
Brandenburg Gate - a triumphal arch - you can see the church through the arch  (see picture)
 Potsdam tops my list of places to see in Germany and I have visited many.  There were two million visitors in Berlin and Potsdam during the Easter weekend.  It is no surprise that this impressive city with its palaces, parks and history takes center stage as one of Europe's top places to visit.  We enjoyed every minute at  another of Gemany's marvelous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We have seen most of them now and this encompasses acclaim for its architecture, art, spacious gardens and the city's overall aesthetic plan and design.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Budingen is another gem only 40 kilometers from Frankfurt.  It deserves special attention as a true example of a medieval town.  Often the term medieval is misunderstood. The medieval period represented actually covers a thousand years from 500 AD to 1500 AD.  This town is sufficiently old and retains vestiges of nearly every century within that period of time.  It lies along the famous Fairy Tale Road and there is evidence that the Grimm Brothers likely received some of the inspiration for their well known fairy tales here.  It also has retained the walls of the ancient town with signs of even an older inner wall.  It has its castle (schloss) which also kept its original design in spite of the prevailing baroque modifications that took place in other castles and palaces of Germany.  The abundance of half timbered houses is particularly appealing.  These houses were left untouched during the 2nd World War.  Around every corner are prime examples of the craftsmanship of the carpenters and masons of the period.  Marks and seals identifying individual artisans can be found in various locations throughout the town if one is observant or has the benefit of a guided tour.  This was one place where
we enjoyed the company of an excellent native Budingen who entertained us with various and sundry details about this fascinating place.  This town deserves several hours of focused attention and study.  The colourful history is replete with stories a plenty.

A number of such stories were shared.  One
recounted to us tells the story of a Count who was wisely  counselled by his wife to not go out on a boar hunt.  She had seen in a dream that he would suffer death if he did.  Nevertheless, he went any way and had a successful hunt.  The boars were lined up in an impressive line after the hunt; apparently there was a large party of hunters involved.   The Count thinking he had escaped harm as his wife predicted was admiring the day's kill and was walking along the line of (supposedly) dead boars when one of them in the last throws of death lashed out and cut the Count's leg.  Two weeks later he died of blood  poisoning.  The message here--you better listen to your wife when she tells you not to do something!

Another interesting aspect of this town is that it was originally built in a marshy area and consequently was under-girded with oak posts. If covered in water, they were not subject to rot as quickly.   However, the town was subject to periodic flooding.  Signs of centuries old floods are recorded on the walls of some of the houses.  Over the centuries, with the infill from the floods and the gradual buildup of soil, the actual foundation of nearly all the older buildings is several feet below the present ground level. An 11th century church provides a good example, as the original entry (no longer used) is several feet below the ground.  Windows on a number of houses are quite low.  Residents just built up to accommodate the changing terrain.

Characteristic of several towns and villages in Germany, the residents fell victim to plague and fires from time to time.  We were told that many of the residents here can trace their ancestry back centuries.  In fact, the present owner of the castle can trace his lineage back a thousand years and generations have lived in the same castle for that length of time.  Unbelievable!

There is a story told of how the count acquired his ruling status. Frederick I Barbarossa (1122 – 10 June 1190) was a German Holy Roman Emperor.  He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March, 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March, crowned King of Italy in Pravia in 1155, and finally crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV, on 18 June, 1155 and two years later in 1157, the term "sacrum" (i.e. "holy") first appeared in a document in connection with his Empire.  The name Barbarossa came from the northern Italian cities he attempted to rule, and means "red beard" in Italian – a mark of both their fear and respect.  One time, while on a hunt he got lost.  It was during the winter and getting dark when he noticed the lights of a man making coke from coal, late at night, in the woods near Budingen.  His nighttime efforts proved a lifesaving stroke of luck for Barbarossa.  Barbarosa went to him and received directions to return home.  The next day Barbarosa returned and made this humble man Count of Budingen and the surrounding villages.

Years later, in 1522, a story is told of the young Count of Budingen who had just married Elizabeth of Wied in her home county and was returning with his young bride to Budingen.  A royal welcome accompanied her arrival, banners, gun salutes, a lavish banquet and ceremonial addresses all proved very exhausting for the 13 year old bride.  Alas, when the long day was over she no doubt welcomed a refreshing night's rest.  That was not to be. Given the castle's fortified position next to an extensive moat of impenetrable swamp, her nightly rest was accompanied by the chorus of croaking frogs.  One fitful night was followed by a second and a third with little sleep, at which point in open rebellion, she threatened to return to her own town.  In desperation, the Count rallied the towns folk to assist in resolving the situation.  The idea was to collect all the frogs and dispose of them by some means away from the town.  This is where the story begins to take on legendary proportions.  Their dilemma was how and where to dispose of all these frogs.  One version states that they deposited them on the far side of the town only to discover that frogs can climb and were soon  back over the walls, making their presence felt all over the town, on the streets, in the square and populating every nook and cranny.  Now, once a year, they have a frog festival to commemorate this memorable "frog drive".

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Auerbach revisited and Bensheim

Auerbach Castle was mentioned in an earlier blog and warranted another visit because of its prominent position atop a cone shaped hill.  The view from the tower was spectacular, particularly as the day was sunny and relatively clear.  Additionally this castle was left in its semi ruinous state for the last few centuries so it captures its likely appearance over the past number of centuries.  This was noted by the a fully mature pine tree growing along the walkway of an upper level wall.  We spent quite a bit of time just taking in the scenery of the plain spreading below us.  The accompanying youtube video gives one a more appreciative perspective than the pictures I have here.

This part of Germany is considered to be one of the mildest regions of Germany and the vegetation we saw suggest this is true.


Bensheim is a town located at the foot of  this hill and promised to be worth a visit.  Over the past 19 months, we have seem many small and mid size towns with their busy markets, half timbered houses, an old church or two replete with fountains, cobblestones and rustic charm.  What is perhaps most appealing is the unique flavor each town offers.  There is a tidy orderliness to the layout.  Invariably there is a mix of old and new, but somehow the old town flavor is not lost in the mix. Winding streets, abundant greenery, a clean, well-looked after impression is left in one town after another.  Herein lies the ongoing appeal as it speaks to the pride, work ethic and orderliness of the people.  Irrespective of the age of each residence, due care is taken to protect the overall image it presents to those around it.

On a sunny day, the townsfolk like to gather in these delightful surroundings and sit or stand around a local eatery with a mug of beer and pass the time in pleasant company.  Passing them individually on the street, there is little eye contact, as each appear preoccupied with some important matter, but given an opportunity, they will readily stop and talk with an acquaintance and engage in an animated discussion, quite oblivious to the throngs of people that may be around them.

Bensheim has a long history.  Lorsch, a famous abby, one of the oldest intact sites in all of Germany, is not far from here.  The rich plain and warm climate attracted early settlers and has been favored with constant habitations for centuries.  Archeological digs establish indications of human population from 1500 to 2500 BC

Each town has at least one or more buildings that stand out for architectural design features, age or for what may have occurred there.  As we entered a large square, straight ahead was a house that was painstakingly painted; tucked behind it is a hospital and to the far side is a church with barely enough room on each side to allow entry.

It was a most pleasant trip.  The temperature was a balmy 50 degrees and as the pictures suggest the populace was taking full advantage of the sun.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gelnhausen - Kaiserpfalz Palace

 A number of cities lay claim to be the geographic center of the European Union.   Of course the Union is constantly changing boundaries as new countries are added.  This one probably has a somewhat biased perspective in that it was done by the National Geographic Foundation of Germany.

Gelnhausen was founded by Staufer Emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa. The Kaiserpfalz is one of the best preserved palaces of the Staufer Dynasty.

The half timbered houses stand out because of their color and meticulous maintenance.  This city is also known for the Witches Tower. The tower (not displayed here) was preserved in its original condition.   It was impressive as the walls were 2 and a half meters thick and 24 meters tall.  The front door is 4 meters above ground level and is accessed via a wooden staircase from the passing wall walk.

The restaurant "Zum Löwen"  and the plaque on this restaurant says it is "one of the oldest restaurants in Germany, first mentioned in 1506 (by Dr. Johannes Faustus). Owned by the same family since 1639."

"Zum Löwen" means "to the lion", and Dr. Johannes Faustus was a German alchemist, magician and author who lived from about 1480 to about 1540. Not much is known about his life, but there is evidence that he was in Gelnhausen in 1506 as a performer of magic tricks and horoscopes. After his death he became the protagonist of numerous folk tales, puppet shows and finally serious works of literature such as Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

And of course there have been several operas based on the Faust legend or on Goethe's Faust, including the marvelous "dramatic legend" called The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Church Historical Sites in Herefordshire and Preston, England

 We had three days in England to fulfill an assignment given by the Area Presidency.  In the process of completing our assigned duties, we managed to see and briefly visit several important church historical sites.
Travelling from Birmingham to Preston we stopped at Gadfield Elm.  Gadfield Elm was the first chapel in England and was use before anything built in America. It was originally built in 1836 by a religious group known as the United Brethren.  Through the efforts of Wilford Woodruff, most of the members of this group were baptized into the Church in 1840.

The United Brethren, led by a man named Thomas Knighton, had separated themselves from the Methodists and were seeking further light and knowledge about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Wilford Woodruff recorded that "on the 21st day of March I baptized Elder Thomas Kington.  He was superintendent of both preachers and members of the United Brethren. "The first thirty days after my arrival in Herefordshire, I had baptized forty-five preachers and one hundred and sixty members of the United Brethren, who put into my hands one chapel and forty-five houses, which were licensed according to law to preach in."

After the conversion of the United Brethren, the Gadfield Elm Chapel, deeded to the Church of Jesus Christ by John Benbow and Thomas Knighton, was used for several conferences of the Church, at which Brigham Young, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke at least once.  The Gadfield Elm Chapel became the center of activity for the Church in the area. With the call of the Saints to gather in America, the chapel was subsequently sold to help fund ocean passage of the converts.  It was deeded back to the Church in 2004.

On July 22, 1837, the first seven missionaries arrived in Preston's Market Square (namely Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, Isaac Russell, John Goodson and John Snider).  The Elders preached beneath this obelisk on a number of occasions where "both rich and poor...flocked from all parts to 'hear what these dippers had to say."  (The elders were 
referred to as dippers given the mode of baptism by immersion).

We then proceeded down to a beautiful park.  In this park are three LDS plaques - the largest of which commemorates the first baptisms in England.  The Ribble River flows along the perimeter of the park.  It is here that a number of baptisms took place.  Heber C. Kimball is quoted as saying, "The circumstances of baptizing in the open air being a somewhat novel, a concourse of between seven and nine thousand persons assembled on 
the banks of the river to witness the ceremony."  The bridge on which we are standing is called the old Tram Bridge and is actually only 45 years old.  The original wooden bridge was torn down in the 1960's and a new one was constructed in exactly the same style but this time in concrete.  It was a beautiful day, rather rare for that time of the year.  The first two candidates for baptism were so eager they had a foot race to the water's edge to see who would be the first British baptism.  George D.  Watt was the lucky winner.

This farm house was owned by John Benbow, a rather well-to-do land holder who occupied the house from 1832 to1840.  Wilford Woodruff gave his first gospel sermon here on March 5,  1840.  We visited the property and the pond where Bro. Benbow and 31 others were baptized in the space of 5 days.  In the short time Elder Wilford Woodruff was there, he baptized 301 people in Herefordshire.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Rhine and Main in Flood January 2011

Flooding like this has not been seen for many years.  This wreaked havoc on their transportation system as
rivers are the primary means of distribution of goods in Germany.  The river was so  high the barges could
not go under the bridges. Road links made normal access to some places  much more challenging.

This is looking across the Rhine.  It looks like a lake.  It forced us of our normal routes onto some very
picturesque country side.  Damage to some river side towns was extensive.

We stopped along the side of the highway on  the way to Rudesheim.  This is the Rhine River
Ben and Andrea were with us earlier when we traveled on this road to Rudesheim

We took a cruise previously from this site.  No boats or barges were allowed on the river.  

Heavy rains and short spell of warm weather caused some towns to be flooded along the Rhine
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Dinkelsbuhl - Saved by a child

 Dinkelsbuhl is a medieval walled city with the flavor and character of Rothenberg.  It escaped the destruction that befell so many other cities in Germany.  Therefore it retains the appealing features of previous generations.  Germany was always a divided country and various forces including the Swedes, French and Romans plundered or invaded at will.  In addition their own infighting on religious or secular grounds also served to give reason for razing whole cities.

The name is derived from the German word for "child", and is called such because of the legend that a child saved the town from massacre by the Swedish troops during the surrender.  The legend tells  that when a Swedish army besieged the town, a teenage girl took the children  begging the general for mercy.  The Swedish general had recently lost his young son to illness, and a boy who approached him so closely resembled his own son that he decided to spare the city.

In the picture to the right I am holding a  map of the town with the prominent buildings identified.  This one is of a corn house, a storage facility of significant dimensions, obviously a sign to the importance of their winter stores.

The town was full of steep pitched roofs with ornate designs.  Around every corner their were relics of bygone times; wells, statues and towers.

The church is a masterpiece of the gothic style in the late 15th century.  The rather unadorned exterior belies the grandeur of the splendid interior.

I would rank this city right up with the best of any walled cities visited to date.  It was certainly worth the visit. All the car traffic in the old town took away from its otherwise historic image.