Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Portals of Durlach: its windows and doors

October 2012, I moved from Stuttgart, where this blog all started, to Durlach, which is actually where the city of Karlsruhe started 300 years ago this year. The Margraves of Baden-Durlach resided here in what has become today a suburb of its daughter city, but before 1715 it was the seat of margrave rule. 

What is a margrave, you might ask? The German word is Markgraf, and French equivalent, I believe, is marquis, a title which the British also still use in their ranks of aristocratic titles. Anyway, these nobles were originally military men given the responsibility of defending the "marches", or borderlands. The British word for the feminine equivalent is "marchioness". As I began to think about it and look through historical maps, surely enough, I found that the lands of a margrave were indeed right on the borders with other territories. In the case of Durlach, it is situated not far at all from the Rhine, across from which other territories once owned by kings or princes of other lands sit against which the local margraves were defend their lands. Today the former margrave's lands are an integral part of modern Baden-Württemberg in the Federal Republic of Germany. Between the time of the margrave of Baden being elevated to the status of grand duke, by Napoleon, many changes and border alterations have occurred in this part of Europe. How will long will the present configuration last?

Now, when I began to travel over here from Stuttgart after work in order to find an apartment before starting my job in Karlsruhe, I can only call it good luck that I ended up in this unique and tight little suburb community on the eastern edge of the city of Karlsruhe. 

Romans came through these parts more than two thousand years ago, and it has been permanently settled ever since and maybe even before; I don't know. Whatever the case, in addition to the Romans, the French were back and forth across the border as well over the many centuries and often left their mark through war and fire. 

Their last most destructive visit was in 1689 during the Nine-Years' War (also known as the War of the Palatine Succession, amongst others). Unfortunately for Badeners, the Palatine (Pfalz) is only just across the Rhine River. In those days, some Palatine territory was in present-day northern Baden-Württemberg. Rulers of the Palatine were known as electors and much of their territory was intricately woven through that of the Baden margraves as well. The ruling Elector of Palatine's residence was the castle of Heidelberg. (See upcoming post on Heidelberg Castle). 

In 1688, the French king, Louis XIV, supported the claim to the electorship of the Palatine by his sister-in-law the Duchess of Orléans, who was also the sister of the recently deceased elector, Karl.  In the end, it was not only a bad war for Louis, but even more disastrous for the people of the Palatine. As he retreated back across the Rhine into France, Louis XIV directed a scorched-earth policy which left not only Durlach, but also other cities such as Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms and Kaiserslautern utterly destroyed. Baden lands were simply too close to the Palatine and Louis could risk no chance in the margrave's supporting his German cousins in defeating him. Therefore, the burning of Durlach.

Surely you have seen pictures of the world-famous ruins of Heidelberg Castle? Well, that was destroyed at the same time the French made that notorious visit through the lands of Baden. As already stated, King Louis XIV was committed to burning everything in his retreat; and, well, he pretty much did. He burned the margrave out of his palace here in Durlach as well the rest of the town. This went on all over the lands of the margrave to make it clear that he, Louis XIV, would have no contender for the Palatine. Although the armies of Louis XIV were just about the most powerful in this part of Europe at that time, he did not get his way despite this destructive nine-year war. Later, in 1701, it would all happen again.

Now the point of this history lesson and what it has to do with windows, doors and any city gates is that almost everything seen here in Durlach today was constructed or reconstructed post 1689. It is said that my home was the first to be rebuilt in the town after the fires. The margrave's palace had to wait for some time because the townspeople were not too sure about letting him back in since he didn't let them know Louis' plans of burning them out ahead of time so they could run. You see, as the Margrave was of the noble and ruling class, King Louis gave him heads up about his plans, giving the margrave time to escape. Loving prince, right? Anyway, the building I live in, which is not seen in this particular post, was erected in 1690. However, it turns out that Louis' armies, as powerful as they were, missed a couple of houses as the conflagration consumed the town. A couple of buildings did survive, so my home is not oldest one. In some of these photos, you will notice some dates carved into the frames above a few of the doors which clearly go back to before 1689. 

I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to experience life in this town. Being the history nut that I am, being able to look out of any of my windows here on the Altstadtring and see such nice buildings and to sit and wonder about the lives that have occupied the rooms of these buildings is a privilege for me. As a kid, I always wanted to live in a historical building, and here I am, merely by coincidence or luck, doing just that.

Going back to what I had started out to say a few paragraphs back is that as I came here to look at an apartment on the marketplace one afternoon, I felt I was in some sort of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, which was founded in 1632. (As a native Virginian, I take great pride in the fact that there are older places at home than there are here in Durlach. LOL)  I knew I would end up here.

Notice the date. This home somehow survived the fire of 1689.
A piece of history trivia: the first English child, Virginia Dare, 

to be born in North America was born just one year before in 1587 
in what is today North Carolina.

I walked around before my appointment with the real estate lady in order to get to know the neighborhood a bit. I was immediately taken by its charm, restored history and very strong sense of community. It turns out that one never really needs to go into the city center of Karlsruhe for anything if one lives here. It has simply everything. I only go through Karlsruhe to get to work on the other side of the city. Mind you, getting from here into Karlsruhe is only a 15-20 minute bike ride. Durlach is like a town within a city and clearly unique and obvious in that distinction.

So yes, the doors and windows. Well, I have always had a thing for them. I used to like to draw or sketch them back in Virginia. You know, the elegant though somehow simple door and window frames of those nice old Tidewater plantations of Eastern Virginia (not to be compared to later, antebellum plantations of the deeper South). Over the years, I came to realize that doors and windows somehow represented escape for me - a way out. I used to do a lot of running away in my mind. So, coming here, I was in window-and-door heaven. Couldn't take enough photos of them. And still can't!

I have been particularly drawn to the huge arched doors found in many a city throughout Europe.  Depending on which region one finds oneself in Europe, the ones in Durlach have smaller doors within them. The larger doors open up widely enough to allow entry to a wagon, horses, whatever was big enough to require wide berth back in the day. Often there was a court behind the house or building where work went on. Today, many of these surviving passageways leading past the doors and basically through the house before entering the inner court (Innenhof) are used to park bicycles for the tenants. Quite convenient for all sorts of things and sealed from passers-by on the street, Whatever the case, I find them very interesting. They all tell me a story, which I usually make up as I gaze at them.

S  H  U  T  T  E  R  S

Now just about ANYone who knows me in Germany and Switzerland knows of my almost lunatic obsession with shutters! I love 'em! Shutters, for me, are what put the cherry on the cake in the building of a home. Of course, not all homes or buildings need to have them, nor would they even look good with shutters, but if the house comes from era in which they were originally used, then to take them off is, in my opinion, to destroy the character of the house. Just a minute, where's my soapbox? Ah, here it is: It's a sacrilege! It warrants psychoanalysis on the part of the individuals who claim they are too much trouble to keep and who want to live in a boring - no, drab, dead, soul-less - edifice! It's antiquities abuse! And it is done WAY too much around here! Just walk around and see the naked hinges still embedded within the outside walls of the houses where the shutters once hung. I used to think they were just taken down to paint or clean. Ha! Stupid me. Okay, let me get down off this box and get on with my tour. 

Look at the shutters!!!

What can be seen above the main entrances to many buildings can also be an interesting find. Coats of arms are not strange in this case. A number of them can still be found in Durlach. Not all arms were for one individual or family. I believe that some of them represent a guild of some sort as well, but I can't swear to that. If anyone of you readers here can understand Latin, let me know and I'lll make a clearer photo of the Latin writing that is sometimes found above the portals. Maybe that will help in finding out the origins. 

The grate above the door to the left causes me to wonder what kind of establishment this place was in the beginning. The simple glass window panes above the colorful door to the right tell me that this door is not older than the 19th century. The door itself is only the right ⅔ of the tri-paneled door. Many doors were created in this fashion 100 to 150 years ago.

Can you find the shutters? Might be hard to see.

This portal is the "Basler Tor", or Basel Gate. It is the only such tower gate left
in Durlach and was the south exit leading in the direction of Basel, Switzerland,
which is where the Margraves of Baden-Durlach also had a residence.

The next three photos show three different shades of green shutters. In the first photo, the shutters are simple pieces of wood - completely utilitarian. Sadly, the large shutters on the bottom windows were removed very recently. This house is a neighbor of mine. Every time I walk by it, I wonder if the top-floor shutters will still be there. The hinges can still be seen on the sides of the windows on the ground floor.

The location of this completely new building is where the western segment of the city wall of
Durlach once stood. Why do I include it in this posting? Well, I had to give it several points
for at least being very colorful and not drab, even though the windows are so simple. I rather
like it. After all, it is 2015 and I can't roll back time even though I sometimes wish I could.
Like my posting about Berlinerplatz in Stuttgart a couple of years ago here, I have to make
an effort to befriend some change. 

This last photo is of the Durlach town wall on the northern side of the Old Town. In many cases, privates dwellings took advantage of city walls so they could build their homes against it and save money on building one of the walls of their own homes. Today, the wall itself has basically become home to about a dozen or so dwellings, with the arches becoming entrances or rooms themselves.

Visiting Durlach, if in the Karlsruhe area, would be highly suggested. The old town hall from the first half of the 19th century, located on the Marktplatz, or main square, is quite attractive with its gabled façade. Restaurants and cafés here are quite charming as well and offer quite good local fare. Durlach is at the end of a major artery that runs east-west through the city of Karlsruhe and is located at the foot of the Turmberg, where a 12th century castle-fortress once stood above the town of Durlach. From the top of the large, square tower that remains of that fortress, the view on a clear day allows you to see all the way to France, the Pfalz across the Rhine and almost to the Hessian border to the north. It's worth a visit and good walk about. If you're lucky, you can arrange for the night watchman to give you the lantern tour of Durlach in the evenings.

Check it out...

How to get to Durlach: from Karlsruhe city center, the number 1 tram (Durlach) will carry you all the way down through Durlach's main street, Pfinztalstrasse, and end at the Turmberg stop. It should take only about 15-20 minutes from the Karlsruhe Marktplatz. The number 2 tram (Wolfartsweier) will take you as far as the stop for the Durlach train station before veering off to Wolfartsweier. Other trams are available directly to the Durlach train station and from there, you can walk into the town.

From Karlsruhe main station: there are several trains and S-bahns that run through Durlach station. The trip is only about 5 minutes if you take the larger trains.

Cycling: from the center of Karlsruhe eastward along Kaiserstrasse which becomes Durlacher Allee is also an option, using the bike path that runs beside this route. I can bike it in 15 to 20 minutes as well. There are other designated bike paths to get there as well. Check Google Maps for bike paths in the greater Karlsruhe area

By car, it is off exit 44 (Karlsruhe-Durlach exit) from the A5. Just follow the signs.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A second chance for Bruchsal

Well, I have to say that I owe Bruchsal a big apology. It isn't what I thought it was - ugly and depressing. Nope, Bruchsal, so it seems, is a very nice little town. To be honest, despite its long history, I think the baroque Schloß Bruchsal and St. Peter's church are what make it worthwhile to visit. But that's okay, because those two places alone will make your visit something to remember.

But, I am so glad I gave it a second chance because despite my personal requisites for what makes a city livable for me, it sure as heck doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by someone else. Following this recent visit I find myself so impressed that I humbly bow in apology for having spoken ill of the place since that first visit several years ago. (Of course, I have to throw in here that the spectacular weather probably didn't hurt.) So, if historical architecture and exquisite ceiling murals are on your lists of interests, then this former residence town of 18th century prince-bishops of Speyer is a must. 

Cherry orchard behind the garden wall of one of the several 
Bruchsal Palace dependencies. Today, several of these 
dependencies are apartments.

A view of the major dependencies which are located at the garden entrance of Schloß Bruchsal.
(The train tracks - not station - is directly across the road from here. If you know when to look,
you can see it zoom past your train window.)

There is a reason I brushed off Bruchsal a few years ago as a seemingly depressing place with little more to offer except for this little palace. It was a typical, dreadfully gloomy German winter's day with a bit of fog hanging about and obviously no leaves on the trees to be found. I had been making a habit of going somewhere out of Stuttgart every other weekend so I could take pictures and simply enjoy a day trip and get to know my new country. Upon arriving at the train station, which doesn't have much to boast to those passing through its doors, I walked out onto the street and was slammed in the face with YET another view of 1960's (give or take a few years) architecture. Having heard way too often as an excuse that the bland, drab buildings of this era were due to lack of money in all the rebuilding that had to go on post war, I rolled my eyes and thought oh no, not another such rebuilt town. (By the way, lack of much money does not mean something must be ugly, as if by rule.) 

Entrance through the garden.
Few enter through these gates, however, as the other side of the palace
is on the town side where a main road goes through.

Well, I started walking through this large town of Bruchsal and although the streets did appear quite clean and tidy, it just didn't have much appeal outside of simply being a place to reside. I walked to the palace, which, by the way, is not far at all from the station, and only viewed it from the street side, not the garden side. I walked into the main entrance and did in fact like the ceilings of the ground-floor entry of the corps de logis, but as I was not interested on that drab day to go through the entire palace on a tour, I went out front and walked around. It was "okay" but I wasn't impressed. The weather was depressing me, but I realize now that I was having more than just a bad day. 
There was hardly anything going on there. I walked about town, looking for a good hot coffee which I eventually found, but the town itself seemed so dull and had nothing to offer me as far as old beautiful buildings which I had hoped to see. But, here's the clencher: I began at that time to realize something about my own health in those days which a year or so later was to surface quite clearly; I was suffering from pretty deep depression. I am now convinced (and no longer depressed) that it was for this reason that I left Bruchsal with such a bad taste in my mouth. Nothing there pleased me. I had wiped it off my list of places to see; been there, didn't buy the T-shirt. 

But, I came back last weekend which was warm and very sunny. My experience in Bruchsal is worth posting here and telling you that if you should be in the area, the baroque  Schloß Bruchsal is absolutely worth your time. But, be sure to walk all around the grounds. Pay attention to everything. Read all the little plaques on the outside of doors. Further down here, you will see an aerial view of the palace and its dependencies. Everything that was destroyed in the Second World War has been meticulously and correctly rebuilt based on original designs by Anselm Franz von Ritter zu Groenesteyn as well as Balthasar Neumann. 

Inside the walls of the cherry orchard.

In the next few photos here, you will see what happens if you don't give up halfway from the gates to the palace. Even in winter, so long as the sun is shining (warning: good luck finding that in southwestern Germany), the palace will be worth the visit both inside and out. Exotic and elegant flower gardens? Um, sorry, no. Some spring flowers? Yes. You have already seen the cherry blossoms above which are thick and abundant; however, as you will see in the photos below, the palace is so colorful - dare I say like Candyland - that carpets of tulips or daffodils or anything else would almost clash with this place.  The prince-bishops and architects who designed and built Bruchsal certainly knew how to overcome dull German winters: just paint the residence in a variety of colors.

The closer one gets, the more the unsuspecting eye begins to register the amount of
colorful artistry on the walls of the buildings.

To the left can be seen a yellow-and-green-colored structure whose twin is on the
 opposite side of the main building.

History of the Prince-bishop's palace at Bruchsal

So, let's take a look at how this palace came to be. Schloß Bruchsal is actually a small part of the long and interesting history of the city and environs of Bruchsal. Although settlement in the area dates back thousands of years and the region was also known to the Romans, excavations within the city limits near St. Peter's Catholic church have uncovered traces of settlement dating as far back as 640 A.D. I'd say that qualifies the city as being rather old. 

I took a photo of this aerial photograph that is posted outside of the
palace to show the extent of the park. As I looked at this photo, I
realized that it is not quite up-to-date. The trees in the great park have
expanded their branches to create shade over the paths since this was
taken, as can be seen in the photograph below. Still, in this
photo, one
can still see 90% of all buildings associated with the palace, minus the
chapel steeple which is attached to the west wing of the palace as well
as a major gate which goes over the street in front at the left.
Photographs of those two edifices are further down in this posting.

The connection between Bruchsal the historical Bishopric of Speyer, which is located on the western side of the Rhine River in what is today the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), dates back quite far. In 1056, Heinrich III gave the then settlement of Bruchsal to Konrad I, Prince-Bishop of Speyer. At the time, Speyer, like many ecclesiastic domains, held additional land besides that which made up their immediate parrish. Bruchsal was just one of a number of other towns under the rule of a prince-bishop. I would assume that the combination of church property or parrish, together with land or towns that I guess was not technically church/religious property, was the reason for the dual title of "prince" and "bishop". The ruler was not only a "prince" of the church, but also an "earthly" prince as well. These roles were almost always filled by the sons of nobility or younger sons of kings anyway.

Every time I look at this arrangement of buildings, I always think of a
Russian Tsarist Palace. Tsarskoye Selo?

Note that just about everything you can see in the form of decorations on the building in the
foreground is painted on. Nothing, except the half-columns, is actually three-dimensional.

In time, the city of Speyer became what was known as an Imperial City, which, as far as we are concerned here, meant that the ruler/leader of the city was not the bishop (though I must say, I cannot prove that in all cases). In time, the prince-bishop found it easier to live elsewhere, despite still being head of the cathedral there in Speyer. So, by the late 14th century, the prince-bishops had taken up residence in one of their other palaces outside of the city of Speyer.

Direct shot of the same building in the photo above this one. You can see that the figures
above the windows are in fact painted on, as is everything else.

The largest of the simple fountains at Schloß Bruchsal. The intricately painted façades
of the palace itself make too much extra in the park unnecessary and potentialy
somewhat interfering.

So how did all of this get started? In the first half of the 18th century, Prince-Bishop Damian Hugo von Schönborn commissioned a beautiful new palace to be built at Bruchsal to replace the one already there. At about the same time, he also commissioned the building of St. Peter's church which can be seen just above the city. In 1725 the construction of the exquisite palace was begun based on the initial designs of Anselm Franz von Ritter zu Groenesteyn. Beginning in 1728, the job of master architect and builder went to Balthasar Neumann, who completed the spectacular grand staircase which can be seen today. Bruchsal Palace has been restored to its original design following almost complete destruction in March of 1945 (See photos of its destruction here.)

For views of the inside of the palace and its ornate baroque artwork, click here for the official state website about Schloß Bruchsal.

Coat of arms of the Prince-Bishops of Speyer to which
Bruchsal belonged. Notice the large, almost flat,
ecclesiastical Cardinal's hat (which might remind
you of the large hats found in Asian rice fields)
hovering over the secular prince's crown. These men
were not only royal or noble, but also princes of the church. 

Bruchsal is not terribly far from the French border. Over a period of several hundred years, the city and much of the surrounding area were regularly subjected to French military dominance with  their invasions, occupations and, sadly, destruction. The last major French military activity in Bruchsal was in 1796 with the occupation of the city.

In 1803, with Napoleon's secularization of church territory with the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the former residence city of the Prince-Bishops of Speyer was given to Margrave Karl-Friedrich of Baden-Durlach by the famous French emperor. In 1806, the emperor granted the margrave a boost in title status; quilted together a couple of other nearby territories and principalities, including Fürstenberg; and the Grand Duchy of Baden was born with the margrave as its first grand duke. 

This large building can be found across the street directly outside the main gate
of the palace. It was damaged in the war, but the main structure and interiors
of the building were left standing. Today, it is used as a government building.

Direct view of the building. The red bricks on the facade are actually all painted on.

Fortunately, this gate-like building found outside of the gates of the
palace complex is original, as it survived the war relatively unscathed.

The tower steeple of the palace chapel lost its cupola in the bombing and was burned out;
however, the rest remained and was restored in detail.

The end of hereditary monarchy in Baden, along with the hundreds of years of the rule by the House of Zähringen (of Baden), came to a close in 1918 with the end of the First World War. Some of the dependencies of Schloß Bruchsal were already being used as apartments and government offices for some time even during the grand-duchy period. Now, the beautiful main house would become  a museum for all to visit.

I found this fountain across the street from the palace a real delight.
The snails with water spouting from their antennae beneath the face
of what looks like a little child spewing water out of its mouth as well
were too good to pass up.

The original buildings here were constructed to house a hospital, built and patronized by the
prince-bishop at the time and the Duchess of Orléans in the 18th C. It is located along the
 street next to the palace and is part of the entire complex.

Some shots of other finds in the city of Bruchsal are below. I'm sure I could have added more here, but I figured I would leave something for you to discover when you go.

When walking away from the palace and simply exploring around the town, you will easily find not only a number of historical markers that you should make a point of reading, but a number of nice buildings both public and private as well.  

I left the palace and found myself heading, minus map or compass, through the pedestrian shopping district, across a very small bridge of some historical significance, and upward.

I passed the houses in the photo to the left and kept on walking, enjoying the buildings I was finding. It was becoming clear to me at that point that although the inner city had been badly damaged by the bombing, its circumference had not. It was also up here that I came across one of Germany's many beautifully manicured cemeteries with its perfectly laid-out flowers and shrubs planted directly on top of and around the graves themselves - very different from North American cemeteries and such a visual pleasure to walk through. 

St. Peter's Catholic church - built by Prince-Bishop Hugo
von Schönborn  of Speyer around the same time as Bruchsal Palace
 in the first half of the 18th century.

How to get to Bruchsal from Karlsruhe main train station: the trip is anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes depending on whether you choose a local tram or a regional train. Many people who live in Bruchsal work in Karlsruhe so a number of options are available every hour.

Via Autobahn from Karlsruhe: take the A5. Signs are everywhere for Bruchsal.

How to get there from Stuttgart main train station: there are two or three trains each hour ranging from around 25 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes depending whether you choose a regional (RE) or inter-City (IC).