Up at the crack of dawn and a final breakfast with the mother and daughter duo from NZ who had kept me company each morning. They headed off to join their tour group and continue their visit to Flanders. Car packed, it was time to say goodbye for this visit with a hope to return some day and continue to in the foot spoors of our WWI heroes. One thing I spent a lot of time on before I left was to map the 450 km route so that it would keep me away from that damned bridge that was closed in Leverkusen that had cost me 2 hours on the way down.
The route followed the same track I had across Belgium on the way down passing Ghent and Brussels (although the Brussels Ring was much quieter when I passed it this time), with a straight run to the German border. Once I had crossed the border I left the E40 autobahn at Aachen which would have lead me to Leverkusen for more tranquil smaller motorways and country roads heading in a more northerly direction of Duisburg and Essen. It was a beautiful sunny day so it was pleasant for driving and gave great open views of the countryside. Slightly different to the forested hilly areas between Dortmund & Cologne. I cruised into the Mövenpick Hotel in Münster about 5 hours after leaving Hooge without any major hitches or delays.
Arriving mid afternoon would allow a few hours to explore the town. The Hotel was located in a lovely parkland area only 15 mins walk from the city centre, so a perfect activity after 5 hours in the car was to explore the city on foot. Münster dates back to the time of Charlemagne (800 AD) and is the capital of Münsterland in the state of Westphalia. It has a colourful history from the Anabaptist rebellion of the 1500s to being a garrison town a for several decades for the British forces stationed in West Germany during the cold war.
Now you may be wondering what an Anabaptist rebellion is or was. Anabaptists believe that baptism is valid only when the candidate confesses his or her faith and wants to be baptized. This is a believer’s baptism as a opposed to baptism of infants, who are not able to make a conscious decision to be baptized. Amish and Mennonite people follow this belief which includes the denial of all modern technology, precludes the taking oaths, participating in military actions, or participating in civil government. So what happened in Münster?
The poor of Münster had been tangled up in the infected hatred between the Lutherans and the Catholics for decades, so a group of them decided to throw off the shackles of both. They proclaimed that the Bible called for the absolute equality of man in all matters including the distribution of wealth. They called upon the poor of the region to join the citizens of Münster to share the wealth of the town and benefit spiritually from being the elected of heaven. On Easter Sunday 1534 they drove out the Lutheran leaders and claimed the city. John of Leiden lead the faithful, stamping his authority by saying he had visions from heaven and that he was a descendant of David and Zion. At the time there were at least three times as many women of marriageable age as men in the town so he legalized polygamy and took sixteen wives. Well you can imagine this didn’t go down to well with the local Lutheran or Catholic leaders. The Lutherans by this time had conceded in a treaty that Münster would belong to Catholics for concessions made elsewhere. The Catholics then laid siege to the city and after a year the city it was taken in 1535 and John of Leiden and several other prominent Anabaptist leaders were captured and imprisoned. In January 1536, John of Leiden, Bernhard Knipperdolling and Bernhard Krechting were tortured and executed in the marketplace of Münster. As a deterrent to those who opposed the Catholic Church, their bodies were placed in three iron cages and hung from the tower of the St. Lambert’s Church. The bodies remained in the cages for 50 years before they were removed however the cages have remained there for the last 500 years as a grizzly reminder. So there you have it, the Anabaptist rebellion of Münster. Pretty grim that the bodies were left hanging there in the cages for 50 years.
Now Sweden and Münster have a connection. The Town Hall in Münster was the site where the Peace in Westphalia document was signed in 1648 to end the 80 year war between the Spanish & the Dutch, and the 30 year war between the Holy Roman Catholic Empire & the Protestant States of the North. In principle, Protestants vs Catholics. The Swedes being one of the northern Protestant states entered the war relatively late when most of central Europe was in ruins and expanded to be one of the 3 main powers forcing the Catholics to the treaty table. However, the Swedes delayed the peace talks in order to raid Prague and ransacked it for its considerable wealth and treasures including the Devils Bible (Codex Gigas; because of the picture of the devil in it) and the Silver Bible (Codex Argenteus; because it is written in silver ink) which are still housed in Sweden today. Typical Viking tendencies 😀
However, for all the fighting in the sixteen hundreds and the German states being Protestant, Münster was allowed to be Catholic under the peace treaty and to be self-governing under a Prince-Bishop (bishops who are also civil rulers). The Schloss (palace), was built in 1767–87 as a baroque residence for the Prince-bishops however today it is the administrative centre for the University of WWU – Westfälische Wilhelms Universität (5th largest in Germany with 43 000 students). Münster being a typical university town has also claimed the title of the bicycle capital of Germany (watch where you step).
In the 1940s The Bishop of Münster, Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen known later as the “Lion of Münster”, was one of the most prominent critics of the Nazi government. He led Catholic protest against Nazi euthanasia, forced sterilization & concentration camps, and denounced the Gestapo for their lawlessness. The Nazis feared if they executed him they could quickly lose the loyalty of the Catholic Westphalia. He would remain under house arrested for most of the war. In 2004, he was beatified and made a saint for his efforts.
During WWII, the city was heavily bombed with the old city centre being completely flattened, however, in the 1950s the Old City was rebuilt to re-create its pre-war state. In plcaes the old city ramparts are still intact including the the Zwinger (round tower) from the 1500s. During the Nazi occupation it was both a jail and a Gestapo place of execution.
Had a little giggle at this one. The river that runs through Münster is called the “River Aa” 😀 and the Lake near my hotel the “Aasee”. Make of it what you will and my sense of humor, however, it made a lovely view on my evening walk covered small yachts.
On the banks of the lake I found a park with this amazing bronze sculpture by Henry Moore called “Large Vertebrae” from 1967/68. Must be the biologist in me.
Anyway, walking tour of the city over, time to head to the hotel and treat myself to a lovely last night dinner before getting some rest for the final leg back to Sweden and home. As I wandered through suburbia, I was struck by just how reminiscent it was of a residential street in Christchurch or Dunedin back home. Night, night!