My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology
I Won the Nano Again
The fourth win in a row: National Novel Writing Month 2017. It was a bit harder this time, but I kept going for the minimum of 1,667 words every day (on good days it was more) and it paid off.
Of course, I will continue writing until the end of November. There should be some more words by then.
EDITED: 61016 words is the final result. I kept it at that because it looks sort of funny.
American Trees and an Enchanted Rock - Some Hiking in the Harz
It's quite some time I last posted photos from the Harz mountain range, one of our favourite hiking areas. This time we took one of the walks in the Arboretum near Bad Grund. A rather North-American walk. *grin* It will also give you some pretty autumn pics.
The arboretum, recently renamed Welt Wald
(World Forest) was founded in 1975, so the trees are still comparably young. A storm had brought down some 20 hectares of spruce monoculture in November 1972, and the Lower Saxon Forestry Commission decided to use the space for a botanical garden to research how non-native trees would cope with the climate and to offer a recreational area for visitors to this part of the Harz.
Trees in the afternoon sun
The park now encompasses 65 hectares, with more than 600 species of trees and shrubs from nothern America, Europe and Asia, including sequoia, hemlock, grand firs, incense cedars, tulip trees, and lots of other interesting species. They were planted according to the woodland communities they would form in their native countries and climatic regions.
Hemlock and British Columbia fir
The trees are included in a long term monitoring and measurement scheme. One of the reasons it to test their suitability for further commercial use. Douglas firs, grand firs and Sitka spruce seem to thrive particularly well.
In the dark forest
We did the North-American walk, one among the several tours you can do in the park. It starts with the Pacific coast via southern Alaska to the Rocky Mountains. To add a bit fun for the kids, the walk featurs some extras like a watch tower, a pendant bridge and some hidden models of native animals. 'Spot the wolf' turned out to be quite popular.
The tour starts with some giant sequoias - called mammoth trees in German - form the Sierra Nevada and the coastal mountains north of San Francisco, moves to southern Alaska with its lovely hemlock, Sitka spruces, coastal firs and cedars. Next step are the Rocky Mountains (featuring - among others - bull pines and lodgepole pines) and then the path winds back to the Sierra Nevada, planted with incense cedars, Colorado white fir, and redwood species.
Geologically, the arboretum belongs to the upper Harz. Two geological zones meet here: The southern and western parts of the park consist of greywacke and slate from the Carboniferous period. The north-eastern area is part of the so called Iberg-complex, a limestone block which developed from coral reefs. The soils on top of the rock layers are base-poor and loamy.
View from the watch tower
The park is situated between 305 to 448 metres above sea level, in the transition from submontane to montane zones. Its natural communities would be beech dominated mixed forest (which had partly been replaced by spruce monocultures in the 19th century, a step which is now often reversed). The average temperature is 7.5°C and the average annual precipitation 1,070 mm; the nutrient supply is moderate to failry good. Not a bad place for tress, overall. :-)
The surrounding Harz mountains
Not far from the arboretum lies a limestone rock formation called Hübichenstein
. It was the seat of the dwarf king Hübich, a small man with long, unkempt hair and a beard down to his belly, lord over the dwarves and fairies. He was a kind man as long as you didn't intrude in his subterranean realm or damaged his favourite rock. He often helped the poor by dropping pine cones in their way; if they were good of heart, the cones would turn into silver when they picked them up. But those who tried to spy on his secrets he turned to stone.
Some soldiers destroyed the peak of the limestone rock during one of the fights in the Thirty Years War, and Hübich was never seen again. A a momument dedicated to Emperor Wilhelm I was erected on the peak in the 19th century which was dismantled after WW1; only the bronze eagle remains. During the creation of the momument, rough steps were cut into the rock, so you can hike to the top.
Upper part of the main peak
The rock has two pinnacles. I have mentioned the Iberg limestone complex above; the Hübichenstein is part of that one, the remains of a coral reef. Not far from the rock is the Iberg dripstone cave, one of several to be found in the limestone formations in the Harz.
The way between the two peaks
I only went as far as the connection bridge between the two peaks - the higher one is 50 metres above ground. I'm not so good with heights and the steep slopes of that last part didn't look so enticing, not worth braving just to see a big fake eagle. That swaying pending bridge had been bad enough.
Detail shot of the limestone
On another note: I've decided to particiapte in the National Novel Writing Month
again. Maybe I can manage to win that one for the 4th time in a row.
Another photo of the Hübichenstein
A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Erfurt
I had been to Erfurt, the capital of the county of Thuringia, back at the time of analog cameras, and only for a few hours. But it takes more than a few hours to explore all the interesting historical sites, so I always wanted to go back, especially since Erfurt plays such an important role in German Mediaeval history.
Cathedral (left) and St.Severus Church (right)
We'll start with the most iconic view of Erfurt, the two churches and the stairs on the cathedral hill: St.Mary's Cathedral and St. Severus Church. The cathedral is the kernel of the town. The first church on the site was built by St.Boniface in 742. Erfurt belonged to the diocese of Mainz and later the diocese of Paderborn during most of its history, but today the cathedral is the centre of the diocese of Erfurt, which administers mostly the Thuringian Eichsfeld - the rest of the county is predominantly Protestant.
The present building is early Gothic; a three naved hall church (which means all three naves have the same height) without a transept. The choir was added in the 14th century by enlarging the hill by those huge stone arcs called cavates
which you can see in the first photo. Until the 19th century, litte houses snuggled inside those large caverns.
Cathedral, the crypt
The crypt, which should rather be called a lower church, was added together with the choir. It is usually not open to the public, but sometimes they'll leave the door open for a bit after an event. I was lucky to catch such a moment, since I have a soft spot for crypts. Crypt and cloister are today used by the University of Erfurt.
The main portal of the cathedral
The portal with the parable of the ten virgins was also added about 1330. The parable tells about ten virgins waiting to escort a bridegroom to the celebration. Five of them brought extra oil for their lamps and so when the bridegroom came, they could follow him. The stupid virgins had to run to the market to buy oil, missed the bridegroom and were excluded from the party. The parable means that one should always be prepared for the Day of Judgement. The motive is quite popular for church portals.
View to the cathedral square
The stairs are a popular place to sit and look down at the cathedral square. Halfway down the hill is a kiosk with a garden, which sells original Thuringian bratwurst
and dark beer. Very yummy and just the thing for a little break. The weather produced some spectacular clouds, but there was very little rain.
The Inn to the High Lily at the cathedral square
A particularly pretty house at the cathedral square is the 'Inn to the High Lily' (Gasthaus zur Hohen Lilie). It is first mentioned in a document from 1341, thus making it one of the eldest inns mentioned by name in Europe. The present building dates to the 15th century. Martin Luther stayed there in disguise, as well as King Gustav Adolf II of Sweden and other famous people. I had a lunch snack in the garden restaurant.
Renaissance houses at the Fishmarket
Erfurt lies at the crossing between the Via regia
which ran all the way from Santiago de Compostela via Mainz and Frankfurt /Rhine to Kraków, and the trade route from Nuremberg to the Hanseatic towns in the north, so it is not surprising that the town has several markets. The Renaissance houses at the Fishmarket are particularly nice.
Merchant's hose To the Great Paradise and Donkey
This building is somewhat older, a fine example of a half-timbered first floor atop a ground floor and cellar made of stone. It was once the house of a wealthy merchant. Unfortunately, I could not find out where the odd name 'To the Great Paradise and Donkey' comes from.
Woad Storage Hall
From the 13th to 16th century, the production of blue dyes made from woad was one of the foundations of Erfurt's wealth. The woad hall was built in mid-16th century for storage and working of woad. Towards the end of that century, the imported indigo developed into a competition with which the Erfurt woad could not compete in the long run.
The Old Synagogue
The Old Synagogue dates to the 11th century, was rebuilt in 1270 and is thus one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. The synagogue had been abandoned after the progrome from 1349 and put to various other uses. It was converted into a ballroom and bowling alley in the 19th century and therefore survived Hitler's demolition program. The original use of the building was recovered in 1992.
Old synagogue, the Gothic wall
I admit I was pissed that photographing inside the synagogue is not allowed - it is a museum, after all, and not everyone interested in Jewish history can afford to travel to Erfurt. I would have liked to share some more photos with you than just the above and one of the entrance side of the synagogue with its Gothic windows.
But I managed to snatch a shot of the mikveh
, which was verboten als well *grin*. The 13th century Jewish ritual bath, which makes use of the fresh water of the Gera river, was discovered in 2007 under a former cemetary. It is one of the eldest in Germany, though the mikveh in Speyer
is even older.
The Merchant's Bridge is the second iconic site in Erfurt. It started with a timber bridge across the Gera river in the 1250ies which was rebuilt in stone in 1325. The bridge is 125 metres long and 20 metres wide, supported by six stone arcs. It had been additionally expanded by timber constructions to allow for three-storeyed houses.
On the Merchants' Bridge
Originally, there were 60 small houses on the bridge, today there are still 32 (some houses have been 'merged'). There are little stores and boutiques on the ground floors, selling handcrafted pottery and carvings, spices, very good ice cream (Goldhelm
) and other items. People still live in the upper floors, making the Merchants' Bridge a unique remnant of Mediaeval town architecture and a big tourist attraction.
St.Egidius Church with entrance gate to the Merchants' Bridge,
and the Red Tower
Originally, the Merchant's Bridge was closed by gates. Above the remaining gate sits a little church which dates to the 12th century, though the oriel at the outside is late Gothic. Its separate belfry - an unusual feature in Germany - is known as the Red Tower.
St.Augustine Monastery, the cloister
The Augustine Monastery was founded in 1276. The whole complex of buildings, including a library and a woad storage hall, were finished in 1516. After the Reformation and secularisation (1559), the buildings served various purposes; some of them suffered from neglect. A few of the buildings have recently been replaced with modern ones which fit surprisingly well, but most have been repaired and reconstructed. Since 2004, the former monastery serves as religious community centre. The church and some other parts can be visited during guided tours.
St. Augustine Monastery, refectory
The Augustine Monastery is famous because Martin Luther stayed there as monk 1505 - 1511; he then moved to Wittenberg (where he had his 95 theses nailed to the church portal in 1517). Little did he suspect he would change the religious landscape of Germany and Europe when he first studied the Bible and other writings in his cell.
The Collegium Maius was the old university of Erfurt, the third eldest in Germany after Heidelberg and Cologne. It was officially acknowledged by the pope in 1392 and offered studies in four faculties: Theology, Philosophy, Law, and Medicine. The university was closed in 1816, and the building destroyed during WW2, but it was re-erected in the 1980ies. Since 1999, there is a university in Erfurt again (though it uses other buildings).
St. Michael's Church dates to the 12th century, but - as so often with old churches - it was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century. It was used as church of the university since 1392. Martin Luther held sermons there 1522 and the church became the first stronghold of the preachers of the Reformation in Erfurt.
Dominican Church (Predigerkirche), interior
The Dominican Church, also known als Predigerkirche
(Preachers' Church) was once part of a 13th century Dominican monastery. It is another fine example of the early Gothic style and another hall church without a transept. Today it serves as the main Protestant church in Erfurt. It is less tourist infected than the cathedral, but I recommend a look inside; it's pretty in a somewhat austere way.
Ruins of the Franciscan Church (Barfüsserkirche)
Erfurt was littered with churches and monasteries in the Middle Ages. Not all of them survived the passage of time, but the more important ones were repaired after the damage of WW2. The 14th century Franciscan Church belonged to a monastery which already had been damaged during the Thirty Years War. The church was deliberately left a ruin after WW2, as memorial of the war.
Mill at the Gera river
The present mill dates to 1736, but there has been a mill at the site since the 13th century. It was in use as corn mill until 1982; the last remnant of a whole set of mills at the Gera river.
I hope you liked the little tour. There will be more detailed posts about some of the sites.
Some More Castles in Thuringia - An Overview
I spent a week visiting the towns of Erfurt, Jena, and Weimar. Two days I went hiking to some castles in the surroundings. Here are some first impressions (posts about the towns of Erfurt, Jena, and Weimar, and more detailed portraits of the castles will follow).
Castle Gleichen near Erfurt
Some ten miles west of Erfurt, three hills of almost identical conic shape rise in the Thuringinan Basin, and each of them has a castle on top: Burg Gleichen, Mühlburg and Wachsenburg. The castles itself are pretty different, though.
(BTW, Google Maps got the location of Castle Gleichen totally wrong. It is several miles away from the second castle, the Mühlburg.)
Castle Gleichen, the keep
Castle Gleichen is the largest of the three. It is first mentioned in a charte dating to 1088 and was used as residence by the counts of Gleichen until the 16th century. The remains range from Romanesque to Renaissance buildings.
Inner bailey with old hall (left) and the chancelry
The castle is connected with the legend of a Count of Gleichen who was happily married to a noble lady. But then he went to a crusade, was captured by the Turks and rescued by a beautiful sultana
whom he promised to marry. They went to the pope in Rome to get a dispens and then returned home. The first wife must have been a model of all female virtues, because she didn't throw a fit but instead welcomed the beautiful rival, and all three lived happily ever after.
Detail shot of the 16th century arcades
The top of the hill has been flattened during the various changes in the layout of the castle, therefore the inner bailey is unusually large. There once were more buildings than today, mostly made of timber.
The old hall, interior
It was a fine day for hiking, warm and dry, and often sunny, though some clouds made for pretty dramatic photos, like the one of the Mühlburg below.
Castle Mühlburg near Erfurt
The Mühlburg is smaller, but its history is equally interesting (albeit lacking legends about beautiful sultanas
). Most of the remains date to the mid-14th century. Significant traces of the fortifications remain; the trenches are still visible in parts, and the Mühlburg had a zwinger.
Remains of some buildings
Since the castle is close to the village of Mühlberg, it is a fine destination for a little family afternoon out, especially on a Sunday. There is a booth selling beverages and ice cream, and yes, Köstritzer
dark beer and chocolate ice cream do
go together. I earned myself both, lol.
The Wachsenburg, which today houses a hotel, has been altered most, so I wasn't that interested in going there as well. It took me a day to cover the other two, after all. Luckily I got a ride back to Erfurt.
Castle Lobedburg near Jena
Castle Lobdeburg near Jena ist not a large castle, but it must have been impressive once due to its compact structures along the steep slope; the remains still are. The interior of the middle bailey is closed off because of the danger of falling stones, and the lower bailey is under repair. I managed to sneak through a gap in the fence to take some photos, though.
Lobdeburg, the lower bailey
The Lobdeburg dates to the 12th century. The castle was inhabited until the end of the 16th century, afterwards it was used as quarry until the Lobdeburg Society started to take care of the ruins about hundred years ago.
Remains of the middle bailey
The walk around the ruins is a bit of an adventure path right now. I was glad for my trusty walking staff. But I got some good looks on the fine Romanesque windows and other features.
The Fuchsturm (Fox Tower) near Jena
The Fox Tower is the only remaining part of another castle near Jena. There was a chain of three castles on the Hausberg ridge in the 12th century; Castle Kirchberg was the most important of them. They were destroyed in 1304 and never restored except for the Fox Tower.
A Little Autumn Tour
I will be away for a few days traveling to Erfurt, Weimar and Jena in Thuringia. I've mentioned Erfurt a few times in my history posts; the town played an important role in the Middle Ages.
Weimar, and to some extent Jena as well, are mostly connected with the Weimar Classicism, an important period in German literature during the late 18th century. Its most famous representants are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe und Friedrich von Schiller. Visiting Weimar is pretty much like visiting Stratford-upon-Avon for the English people.
So there should be some Mediaeval buildings, maybe even a castle or two, and several late 18th century sites, for a change.
I'll leave you with a pretty sunset over the Baltic Sea.
Neolithic Orkney - Life in Skara Brae
Skara Brae might look like a cozy little village at the end of the world, but it was in fact part of a net of settlements and stone settings in the area, from the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness and the burial mound of Maes Howe to the settlement of Barnhouse and the really intriguing structures found at the Ness of Brodgar. Finds on the site also show contacts to places on the Mainland and in Ireland.
5,000 years ago, Skara Brae didn't sit as closely to the coast as today. No one wants the ocean in his living room on a regular basis, after all. The sea level was lower and the settlement was therefore situated some hundred metres inland, on a gentle slope of bedrock covered by sand dunes and grass. Today, precautions have to be taken to prevent the sea from claiming the place.
Erosion at the coast and the protective wall of Skara Brae in the background
We don't know much about life at Skara Brae and the other Neolithic settlements. Archaelolgical remains are helpful, of course, but a lot is still guesswork. Does the uniformity of the houses point at a society without a clearly distinguishable elite, or was it an elite settlement, and other members of the tribe lived elsewhere in places not yet found? The construction of sites like the Ring of Brodgar would have required a good deal of organisation and probably some sort of leadership as well. We will likely never know for sure.
A covered passage
What we do know is that they were skilled workers of stone, walrus ivory and bone. They held cattle, sheep and pigs and thus ate meat and diary products, eked out with some barley and emmer wheat. They hunted red deer and boar, went fishing in the ocean for shellfish and cod, and gathered bird eggs. One came imagine that they would have found additional sources of food like kelp in bad times. They were probably clad in fur and leather, since no traces of working fabrics like wool have been found (like spindles or loom weights). Perhaps they knew felting techniques.
Remains of a house from the outside
The - less well preserved - village at Barnhouse had some houses of the same basic design as Skara Brae: the central hearth, the dresser, the beds to both sides, like Stone Age Ikea had a sale going on. *grins* We cannot say for sure whether that structure had a deeper meaning or just turned out to be the most practical one considering the material - local red sandstone that can easily be worked into slabs - and climatic conditions on Orkney. The slabs that framed the beds would surely allow for generous layers of dried heather, hay and furs against the cold.
The reconstructed house
The hearth had a central place in every house, even those not following the basic pattern. The hearths in Skara Brae and other settlements were framed with stone slabs and open on top - kids likely learned early not to go too close. Hearths were the main source of light and warmth, the fire was used for cooking and other endeavours that required heat (like the pre-heating of chert, see below), its smoke would cure leather and preserve fish and meat. We don't know if there was a chimney-like hole in the roof of the houses or by whatever means it was finally released into the air. The importance of the hearth is also shown by a hearth-like structure in the Stones of Stenness.
Interior of the reconstructed house, with the toilet enclosure in the left upper corner
The houses at Skara Brae were ensuite; I mentioned the toilet in the first post. This photo shows the special little corner, though there was no electric light, of course. In fact, we know little about the light sources other than the hearth fire. There may have been portable lamps filled with oil or fat, or maybe torches, but no archaeological digs have so far rendered clearly identifiable objects.
Interior of the reconstructed house at Skara Brae
I took this one with a flash to illuminate the limpet box to the right, between bed an dresser (about the limpet boxes see the first essay about Skara Brae). The dresser is a curious feature. It could have been used simply for storage, but since there is a lot of storage space in the walls and the position of the dresser opposite the entrance so prominent, it most likely held precious objects for display.
Carved stone objects
Something like this, maybe. We don't know what those objects were used for; the general assumption is that they had some religious significance which remains unknown. Religion and society remain mostly a mystery without written documents. The role of burial mounds and cairns implies that the dead, the ancestors, played a role in the religious thinking of the people, and the effort it took to built stone henges like Brodgar means those must have been important as well.
Bone pearl necklace
Or perhaps those small stone objects were just proof of the skill of the stone workers. To invest time in creating something of no practical use could indicate that the people were well enough off to be able to afford time to make decorative items, or had the means to purchase them. Jewelry like the above necklace most likely belonged in that category, except for bone pins necessary to hold clothes which also have been found at the site. Some slabs, like the bed frames, are sometimes decorated with carved butterfly designs.
Pots and pot sherds
Stone was not only used for the houses and furniture, but for cutlery and storage vessels as well. Some jars were so large and heavy that they probably were not moved around a lot but remained in the storage niches in the walls. There may have been wooden items as well, but those decay more easily and have not yet been found.
Worked stone tools and a hammerstone
The last photo from the displays in the small museum at the site shows some of the tools: sharpened sandstone flakes known as Skaill knives, chert (a flint like stone that is best worked by prior heating in a fire) tools, and a hammerstone. The Skaill knives were the Swiss knives of the time, used for everything from cutting wood to scraping leather.
A detail shot of House 8
I've mentioned that House 8 is different from the other houses at Skara Brae and might have been a place used for work, mostly of bone and walrus ivory. The knapping of the chert probably took place on the paved area outside of the house. An open space would be better suited for that sort of work since splinters tend to fly around, and you don't want them in your food or bed furs. It doesn't become clear from the description of the guidebook if the so called 'market square' was covered like the passages, though.
The 'market square'
Barnhouse shows a similar building outside the village proper, surrounded by a separate wall. In that case, it is assumed that it was some sort of gathering hall. Maybe the house at Skara Brae served a double function as work space and place for gatherings (since there is no other house suitable for the purpose, if not lost to the sea), though it would have been a bit small to hold all inhabitants of the village. Maybe it was only a special group who met there.
Skara Brae, seen from a different angle
Neoltihic Orkney continues to be an intriguing place. Maybe the digs at the Ness of Brodgar will help to solve some of the remaining riddles. And probably bring up new ones. *wink*
Dr. David Clarke: Skara Brae - Official Souvenir Guide, published by Historic Scotland 2012
Sally Foster: Maes Howe and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Historic Scotland Official Souvenir Guide. 2006
The Orkneya website