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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY THIRTY FIVE For Whom the Bell Tolls

This morning was a little difficult: Bamberg has the highest consumption of beer per capita in Germany, not surprisingly, given the ease with which their local Rauchbier – an unique smoked malt beer made to a seventeenth century recipe – can be consumed. Anyway, we're recuperating by sitting in the sunshine mumbling at a Bamberger Hörnla, essentially a croissant (though we have opted for the potato variety with, I'm afraid, a small glass of Rauchbier) and gazing over at the truly extraordinary Alte Rathaus, built on an island on the river that runs through Bamberg.

Altes Rathaus (c)wikicommons – Tillman 2007

Bamberg rightly has a reputation as one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. In the eleventh century, it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire – and is built on seven hills, each with a church on top. There is a joke here: in this part of the world, Rome is known as the 'Italian Bamberg'.

Woodcut of Bamberg 1493 (c)wikicommons

Untouched by war or bombs, Bamberg displays remarkable architectural wealth – not least the thirteenth century cathedral, which has two treasures. One is Der Bamberger Reiter, perhaps the first equestrian statue made after classical antiquity -given a medieval twist with a green man tucked into one of its horseshoes. But the treasure that we have come to see is the marble tomb of the founder, Henry II and his wife Cunigunde, carved by Tilman Riemenschneider.

Cunigunde was deeply spiritual and theirs was a 'white marriage', never consummated. After Henry's death, Cunigunde briefly became Regent of the Holy Roman Empire before taking holy vows. Several miracles are associated with her: accused of adultery, she walked over red hot irons without hurt to prove her innocence; she put out flames in her bedroom by making the sign of the Cross; she slapped a young woman who was misbehaving on the Sabbath and the marks of her fingers on the girl's face never disappeared. But the main point of this post is that Bamberg is a World Heritage Site. The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage initiated two programmes under UNESCO's direction: World Heritage Sites and the Memory of the World initiative.

Nebra Sky Disc, bronze age (c)Pergamon Museum

The latter programme safeguards 'the documentary heritage of humanity' and Germany has made a fascinating contribution with things like early cylinder recordings; the score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; the literary archives of Goethe, Schiller, and the Grimm Brothers, of course; a restored negative of Fritz Lang's Metropolis; the extraordinary bronze age Nebra Sky Disc; and the original Patent for a 'vehicle with gas engine operation' submitted by Carl Benz in 1886. Germany has 46 world heritage sites: modernist like the Bauhaus, the Berlin Modernist Housing Estates (partly designed by Gropius) and the Fagus Factory (built by Gropius); ancient, such as the caves and ice art in the Swabian Jura; and more of what you might expect – Aachen Cathedral and Weimar. Cologne Cathedral is on the list, but its hold became shaky in 2004 when a plan was announced for high-rise buildings near the cathedral, buildings that 'threatened to inflict damage to the integrity of the property'. The cathedral was only restored to the list when the building plan was halted and a buffer zone introduced. Incidentally, the historic centre of Vienna is currently on the endangered list because of planned new high-rise projects. The founding principle of the world heritage scheme, which has been signed by 193 states, is that sovereign countries have important cultural assets and that these countries have the duty to maintain and protect them in the interest of the whole humankind for future generations. Each country holds its share of humanity's treasures on trust for all; it really is a case of for whom the bell tolls.

Thanks to the way the occupying powers reorganised Germany, that trust is delegated down to the 16 Lands (semi-autonomous states) that today comprise the German Federal Republic. Since 1998, there has been a federal commissioner for culture and media (Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien) who provides support and funding for institutions and projects of national importance - but the commissioner has no power: each of the 16 German Lands is sovereign in matters of culture, including heritage and conservation.

One of those treasures that you would think is held in trust for humanity- and indeed was once was designated as Germany's 47th world heritage site is an eighteen kilometre stretch of the Elbe Valley that included Dresden.

The Dresden Frauenkirche: rebuilt using the surviving masonry

(c) Lupus Wikicommons

While localism may be a bulwark against resurgent militarism, it proved a disaster in this one important case - the Elbe Valley/Dresden World Heritage Site.

As Der Spiegel explains it, there is in Dresden, 'the Dresden driver, to whom, at the wheel, culture is largely foreign. In this city, cyclists are cut up, pedestrians are forced to sprint across the street ... The repertoire of obscene gestures is almost infinite in this fine baroque city. The average driver is one thing above all: aggressive and chronically annoyed.' Dresden was certainly choked by traffic in the early years of this century, and when plans for a bypass were put to a local plebiscite, the driving classes, by a majority of 67% on a 50% turnout, voted for it. Their decision meant that a hideous four lane bridge with four lane approach roads would cut across the water meadows of the Elbe valley and, incidentally, destroy a colony of endangered lesser horseshoe bats.

Waldschlosschen Bridge (c)wikicommons

The Waldschlosschenbrucke horrified UNESCO and Dresden has become only the second World Heritage Site to be delisted. With the rest of Germany, powerless, the Waldschlosschenbrucke remains a 'Bridge of Shame', condemned by artists, writers and politicians: "a black day for Germany," said Wolfgang Thierse, former President of the Bundestag.

It was a disaster for German conservationists: the conservation movement dates back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars when the leading architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (who restored the house Prince Albert was born in) issued what is the first modern manifesto of 'conservation outrage', arguing that without urgent coordination of preservation by the state 'we will soon be left bleakly naked, like a colony in an uninhabited territory'. And it was a tragedy for most of the people of Dresden, under whose stewardship the city has been remade in beauty.

We are definitely going to Dresden on the way north from Bavaria, and more then. For now we have to concentrate on this evening's menu. The Race Marshal's suggestion is that we should seek out some Blaue Zipfel, the local ‘blue tail’ sausage: simmered with vinegar, onions, cloves, bay leaves and juniper berries, the sausages do actually turn a little bit blue. And perhaps another glass or two of Rauchbier. A walk around Bamberg in the company of, I think, an American soldier - The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt - A time-lapse film of what building a four lane bridge can do to historic water meadows - Martin Luther King For Whom the Bell Tolls - Metallica's For Whom The Bell Tolls -

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