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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries


Updated: Apr 18, 2020

The sun shone on Goslar this morning, so the Race Marshal and I had breakfast outside. We hoped thereby to avoid the pursed lips and slight shakes of the head that accompany our preference for muesli and fruit first, then meats and cheese. To no avail. Goslar is at the foot of the Harz Mountains – some rise to over 2,000 feet - and people have mined iron ore in the mountains for thousands of years: there are Harz ore artifacts in England. But one mountain in particular, the nearby Rammelsberg, has directed Goslar's fate for over a 1000 years. So the legend goes, a knight named Ramm was riding out on the mountain when he noticed the ground beneath his pawing horse's hoof was shining – like the silver it turned out to be.

The Rammelsberg mine brought the seat of the Holy Roman Emperors here. In in 1056, the Pope came to Goslar and, in meeting with Emperor Victor II, underlined the union of secular and ecclesiastical power. But the states still squabbled and in 1173 and again in 1198 the town was under seige. In 1206 it was captured and sacked. But in succeeding centuries, the wealth emerging from the mines made Goslar the seat of government in northern Germany and an important centre of Christianity. With its 47 churches, chapels and monasteries, this 'Rome of the North' was the place to visit. Goethe did and didn't think much of it – and, in 1798, during the coldest winter of the century, did Wordsworth and here embarked on The Prelude. . Poets, cyclists and other visitors to Goslar today can see the wealth that passed through. The presence of a prisoner of war hospital in the war meant there were no bombs. So, Goslar is a medieval jewel, a treasure trove of over 1,700 ancient buildings, more than any other town in Germany. After breakfast, we walked on the cobbles of the market square. To one side was the Hotel Kaiserworth, a former guild hall, with its rude corbel of a naked man with a gold coin dropping from his bottom (that's how rich they were). Opposite was the Rathaus with its Huldigungssaal, a hall with the grandest medieval interior in Germany: painted panels show the life of Christ as well as portraits of notable citizens (perhaps forebears of the immensely wealthy Siemens family, whose ancestral home, the Siemenshaus, is here). The most famous of Goslar's houses was built in 1527. This is the patrician Brusttuchhaus, the 'breastcloth', so called because of its triangular shape (I don't know either). The facade is a riot of 'Wild Man' decorative carvings. You may have seen Wild Men on the roof bosses of Canterbury Cathedral, or in engravings by Durer. These mythical hairy figures from the art and literature of medieval Europe often occupy spaces where you might expect to find Green Men. And, like Green Men, they are creatures of the woods. The most sought out carving on the house is not of a Wild Man, in fact, but of a medieval woman churning butter. As she churns with her left hand, she bares her medieval rear with her right – pointing the buttock towards the carved devil next to her. By so doing, apparently, one can stop butter and cream and so on from curdling. The Kaiserpflaz, evidence of the Imperial past, is not the original palace of the Holy Roman Emperors, sadly, but a nineteenth century restoration by the Kaiser. The surprise, though, is the sight in the Kaiserpflaz garden, of a statue by Henry Moore – The Goslar Warrior.

(c)Henry Moore Foundation

Germany has several internationally important art festivals, like the every-five-years Documenta in Kassel when virtually the entire town is turned into an art gallery, and Goslar too has global importance. Each year the international Goslar Kaiserring, the so-called 'Nobel Prize' of the art world, is awarded to an avant garde artist. Henry Moore won in the first year and The Goslar Warrior commemorates the award; Bridget Riley won in 2009; and other winners include Cindy Sherman, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Anselm Kiefer, Olafur Elliason and Nam June Paik.

This year it was won by Hans Haacke, who once famously said: 'There is no reason to leave to the corporate state and its public relations mercenaries the service of our sensuous and mental needs, or to allow, by default, the promotion of values that are not in our interest'. The Rammelsberg mine was finally worked dry in 1988. Now, the Kaiserring and a five gold star rating for tourism are Goslar's lodestones. These days the town meanders like the river that runs through it: a favoured retirement destination, a town with a surprising number of care homes. And a town that in the 13th century invented an extremely good beer - Gose beer - a sour wheat beer brewed with coriander and salt, still made and a reason for retiring here. Tomorrow we return to the topic of love across the Iron Curtain with a guest post from Lizzie Gibson. This is an enthusiastic film about Goslar and Rammelsberg - And thank you to Henrietta Bredin who recommended a wonderful addition to the German tree songs list - Hans Hotter singing Richard Strauss’s Gefunden:

here is a film of Hans Haacke - 'Fighting the Establishment' -

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