Day 9 – On the trail of the Grand Tour

Awoke to a lovely sunny morning and over breakfast faced the fact that in an hour I would have to say bye to my friends from NZ and head north (first sad thing of the day).  The start of a list of several things that would take the edge off the day.  Nine o’clock sharp it was hugs all round before climbing into the car for a 670 km trip to tonight’s stop in Göttingen.  As they faded in the rear-vision mirror, next stop would be in Würzburg for lunch in 4 hours.  The Swiss, however, were not finished with trying to extract money out of me before passing over the borders out of their country.  One of those things with a flash went off as I headed out of Lucerne.  I was not sure if it was me or the guy in the vehicle beside me which tripped it, but it went off.  It had me cursing for the next 20 km muttering about how much that was going to cost me in a few weeks when the fine arrived (second depressing thing of the day).  Good news – after a few sweaty weeks the fine never arrived so it must have been the guy in the other car or they decided not to follow it up with a Swedish vehicle.  If so, it was a little revenge for extorting a year’s road taxes out of me yesterday.

Lucerne to Göttingen

The route north would take me around the outskirts of Zurich, crossing the border at the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen and heading north past Stuttgart before arriving in Würzburg.  The first break came an hour and half after I left Lucerne just before the German border at the Rhine falls.  A major stop on the Grand Tours of Europe for the rich and famous in the 1800s.  Arriving by car these days is probably much more comfortable than arriving by horse and carriage back then.  The Rhine Falls are the largest waterfall in Europe, a 150 metres wide and 23 metres high.  The Schloss Wörth (Water Castle; b. 1348) is built on a small island in the Rhine river and on the opposite side on the cliff is the Schloss Laufen (Laufen Castle; b. 858).  Both acted as custom houses for the shipping on the Rhine.  The falls can not be climbed by fish, however eels are able to worm their way up over the rocks.  Tourists have been awed by the Rhine Falls for centuries.  There are several viewing platforms above and under the falls.  It is even possible to take a boat out and climb to the top of the pinnacle rock in the middle of the falls.  In the 19th century, the famous English painter J. M. W. Turner made several studies and larger paintings of the falls, and the poet Eduard Mörike wrote of the falls:

“Hold your heart, oh traveller, tightly in mighty hands!
Mine nearly collapsed, shivering with pleasure.
Restlessly thundering masses thrown upon thundering masses,
Ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?”


After a short break at the falls it was back onto Highway 81 and on to Würzburg.  I would have liked to stop in the historical towns of Ludwigsburg or Tübingen along the way but I had to put some kilometres behind me if I was to have time in Würzburg and make my goal in reasonable time tonight.  Another time maybe.  I arrived into Würzburg in time for a late lunch and having found a parking house under one of the squares right in the centre of the town it was off to explore the town.  The name Würzburg comes from the German word Würze meaning “herb or spice” and the name was even Latinized as Herbipolis in the medieval period.  Würzburg was occupied by Celts, Alamini, Franks and Merovingians through until the 7th century when it was Christianised by the Irish missionaries St. Kilian, St. Coleman and St. Totnan.  Later, the bishops of Würzburg created a secular fiefdom where they not only tended to the religious needs of their flocks but also governed them as Prince-Bishops.  The citizens of the city revolted several times against the Prince-Bishops depending on how they were treated.  The first church in the city was built as early as 788 and consecrated by Europe’s father Charlemagne.

Würzburg received a notorious reputation during the period 1626 to 1631 for its famous witch trials.  They are one of the largest peace-time mass trials ever.  Under Prince-Bishop Philip Adolf an estimated 600 to 900 alleged witches were burnt.  In 1631, the Swedish King Gustaf Adolf (here he is again; named in earlier posts) invaded the town and plundered the castle.  In 1720, the foundations of the Würzburg Residence were laid by the then Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn.  From the late 1700’s a large number of military incursions took place in and around Würzburg (including the Battle of Würzburg) with the city losing its status as religious principality and passing into the Kingdom of Bavaria.  At this time many Imperial Estates, ecclesiastical principalities, free imperial cities, secular principalities, and other minor self-ruling entities of the Holy Roman Empire lost their independent status as the Empire collapsed and dissolved.

The University of Würzburg was founded in 1402 and it was here at the Institute of Physics that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-Rays in 1895.  In the early 1930s, there were around 2,000 Jews in the city and by June 1943 they were all gone having been sent to the Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe.  It was not the first time Jews in this city had been persecuted, with massacres having taken place earlier in 1147 and 1298.  On 16 March 1945, about 90% of the city was destroyed in 17 minutes by fire bombing from 225 British Lancaster bombers during a World War II air raid.  Würzburg became a target for its role as a traffic hub for Nazi logistics.  All of the city’s churches, cathedrals, and other monuments were heavily damaged or destroyed.  The city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was totally destroyed in the firestorm.  Over the next 20 years, the buildings of historical importance were painstakingly and accurately reconstructed.  The citizens who rebuilt the city immediately after the end of the war were mostly women – Trümmerfrauen (“rubble women”) – because the men were either dead or still prisoners of war.  On a relative scale, Würzburg was destroyed to a larger extent than Dresden was in a firebombing the previous month.

I emerged from the subterranean car park onto the Unterer Markt (Lower Market Square) outside the Marienkapelle (Maria Chapel), a magnificent 14th century Gothic Church in red and white stone.  It was started in 1377 on the site of a synagogue which was destroyed in the pogrom in 1349.  There are conflicting reports about whether the building of a chapel dedicated to Mary was intended as atonement for the murder of the local Jews or as atonement for having earlier tolerated the presence of Christ-killers (as the Jews were called).  From there I headed east on to the Oberer Markt (Upper Market Square) and to the Falkenhaus (Falcon House), an iconic building in downtown Würzburg with a bright yellow rococo facade.  It was built in 1629 and served as a guest house and later as Würzburg’s only concert and dance hall.  From there it was south past the Neumünster (New Minster: b. 1065) before turning west onto the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge).

The bridge was built in 1473–1543 over the Main River.  In the 1730’s, the bridge was adorned with twelve 4.5 metre high statues of saints and historically important figures such as John of Nepomuk, Mary and Saint Joseph, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short.  It reminded me of the Charles Bridge in Prague but on a smaller scale.  The bridge was damaged by explosives in the final days of World War II.  US troops threw the original Pepin statue into the river to make way for an anti-aircraft gun.  Cultural illiterates.

From the bridge you get a great view of the Festung Marienberg.  It is a fortress on Marienberg hill to the west of the city centre and overlooks the whole area.  It served as the home of the local Prince-Bishops for nearly five centuries.  It also doubled as a military fortress for the Prince-Bishops when being attacked by foreign armies or citizen’s revolts.  Most of the fortress’s current structures date to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but the foundations of the chapel go back to the 8th century.  It has impressive fortifications which stayed many an attack but succumb to the Swedish King Gustav Adolph when he conquered the area in 1631 during the Thirty Years’ War (here he is yet again).  The fortress was plundered by the Swedish troops and most of the well-known library was carried off to Uppsala in Sweden where it still resides today.  The fortress was held by the Swedish and their allies until 1635 when the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was signed (see earlier post on Münster).  In 1720 the Prince-Bishops moved across the river to the Würzburg Residenz and the fortress became solely a military fortification.  It was occupied by Napoleon’s forces between 1806 & 1813 with Napoleon himself visiting prior to his Russian campaign.  It was used as a barracks in both World Wars and was heavily bombed by the RAF in 1945.

Perched on a hill facing the fortress is the Käppele, a small Baroque/Rococo chapel with its onion domed towers.  The Käppele (‘Little Chapel’) is the commonly used name for the Wallfahrtskirche Mariä Heimsuchung (Pilgrimage Church of the Visitation of Mary).  It was built following plans by Balthasar Neumann in the mid-18th century in the Rococo style.  Until 2014 it was run by members of the Capuchin Order of Friars. Originally, a local fisherman erected a statue of Mary holding the dying Christ in what was then a vineyard in 1640.  About ten years later, four miracle cures were reported in connection with the statue and this lead to a chapel being built around the statue, and then this large church later on.  Together with some other reported phenomena, the cures began to attract pilgrims to the site.

The east side of the river done, I headed back across the bridge to the west side past the Cathedral up to a place my friend Martin said I must see if I was in Würzburg.  The Würzburg Residenz.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, commissioned by two brothers who were Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn and Friedrich Karl von Schönborn.  The place is massive as you approach it across the square in front of it.  The building was reportedly called the “largest parsonage in Europe” by Napoleon.  It was started in 1720 and finished in 1744 and is best known for the following features:

  • Hofkirche: The church whose interior is richly decorated with paintings, sculptures and stucco ornaments. The altars were painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
  • Treppenhaus: A magnificent marble staircase created by Balthasar Neumann (who designed the Käppele) and painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo who created the largest fresco in the world adorning the vault over the staircase.  A work of architectural uniqueness & beauty I had read about and wanted to visit.
  • Kaisersaal: The “Imperial Hall”, the centerpiece of the palace which illustrates the close relationship between Würzburg and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Residenz has had many prominent guests: Napoleon in 1806 and Queen Victoria & Prince Albert in 1845 stayed here on their way to Schloss Rosenau, in Coburg.  The palace suffered severe damage in the British bombing of March 1945, but has been completely rebuilt.  Having wandered the gardens and grounds of the Residenz it was time to head back to the car.  It was nearing 4 pm and I still had just under 3 hours to Göttingen.

From Würzburg it was back onto the A7 and 2.5 hours north to Göttingen.  It was at this point the third depressing thing of the day reared its head.  Already, when I left the Rhine Falls I noticed I was feeling a little sluggish and a little off.  By the time I left Würzburg I was no better and as I drove to Göttingen I began to go down hill rapidly.  As I arrived at the hotel about 7 pm I was not feeling good at all.  I just skipped dinner and dosed up on paracetamol and hit the hay.  Things got pretty bad in the night and I was already thinking if I was not better by morning I would not be capable of driving any further.  Lets hope I can stay another night if needed.  Night, night.


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3 Responses to Day 9 – On the trail of the Grand Tour

  1. Mike W says:

    These remarkably ugly buildings would look better with a malamute in front of them.

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