25 October 2006

Medieval Bamberg

About two hours by bus north of Eichstaett lies Bamberg, a town of around 70,000 people in the Franconian region of Bavaria. UNESCO recognizes the town as a World Heritage Site because of its well preserved city center with dense clusters of historic buildings primarily from the Middle Ages. However, one can find textbook examples of other architecture styles around town. There is also an American military base near by. Under the reign of Heinrich II, circa 1000 AD, Bamberg also acted as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

I foresee that last statement causing some confusion and maybe it’s been quite some time since your last history course, so let’s review. The Roman Empire was of course centered in Rome for its wonderful stint in history, but it eventually collapsed around 500 AD. Some time passed, Europe entered that thing called the Middle Ages and a guy by the name of Charlemagne began to have visions of grandeur modeled after the glory of the Roman Empire. Based out of present-day Germany, he founded what would become the Holy Roman Empire around 800 AD. In summation, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and the Roman Empire (Rome) occurred at different periods in history. The Holy Roman Empire lasted for roughly a thousand years. I confess that I did have to perform some quick research myself to get the dates. Now with that out of the way let’s get back to Bamberg.

This past Saturday the study abroad students of my semester and some other foreign students went on an excursion to this medieval gem of a town. Here is the play by play of my day spent discovering Bamberg.

Rain greeted us for our arrival in town at around 10 o’clock in the morning. First up on the day’s schedule was a boat cruise on the Main Danube Canal. Below you can see our wheelless rudder bus, it’s the one on the right and obviously the flagship of the fleet.

As the rain let up to a drizzle some of us walked up to the top deck to take in the sights. The majority of the time the cruise rewarded us with lovely views of an industrial district, and at one point we even had the good fortune to pass a landfill.

We did pass through a lock though, and that added some interest to the trip. Here we are upon first entering the lock.

After the water was pumped out we went on our way.

The poor scenery aside, we managed to have a good time with the cruise. This is Marine from France.

We joke with Chris about his perfect teacher appearance.

We actually did pass some attractive scenery, so not quite as bad as it may have first sound.

After the cruise we had some time to get lunch and then we met back up for a city tour. The first photo below came out a little dark, but in it from left to right is Briana (America), Chris, Olga (Spain), Elena (Spain), Fabrizio (Italy), and me with the frisbee.

The main stop on the tour was the Kaiserdom, the local cathedral. It was built under the command of Heinrich II and was the site of his coronation in 1012. A unique feature of the cathedral other than its four towers is its style of architecture, it actually has two. Construction began on the back portion of the cathedral, the left side of the building in the photo below, and is an example of Romanesque style. By the time the right side of the church was completed the Gothic period was in full swing and the builders followed the style of the era. Actually, the cathedral is still unfinished and some construction continues. The church installed the organ only a few decades ago.

Near the cathedral is the New Residence and State Library with a rose garden court yard that overlooks the city. In the second photo one sees the characteristic red tiled roofs of the medieval city center, but look close enough and you can see signs of the 21st century, like satellite dishes.

After the rose garden we headed back into the narrow streets of the city center and passed Wirsthaus zum Schlenkerla, which, since 1678, has brewed smoke beer. As the name suggests, this smoke flavored beer. We then made our way to the Old Town Hall, which in my opinion is the coolest building in town. It sits on its own island in the middle of the Regnitz River and looks like it could fall in with the next flash flood. Towards the end of the day Elena and I successfully went in search of the perfect vantage point to view the building.

Other than some more free time spent roaming the city with the Spanish girls, that concluded my visit to Bamberg. By the end of the day the skies cleared and Bamberg glistened after it’s fresh wash. Below one sees St. Michael’s Cloister overlooking the town from its hilltop perch.

However, the story of the day would not be complete without telling what happened on the bus ride back to Eichstaett. At some point in the drive, Marine randomly sang a song to us over the bus speaker in French. I think she was following through with a dare poised to her by a of couple French boys. Whatever the reason, the light bulb went off in the excursion coordinator’s head. Kristin had the idea for each group of students to sing a song in their mother tongue from their homeland. After hearing from France again, Italy, and France once more, it became clear that we had to prepare something. There were only four Americans, Chris, Briana, Christen, and me. Chris and Briana refused to sing, so it was up to Rebecca and me to represent the USA. As the Czechs belted out their selection, Christen and I quickly realized we had a problem. All nations were singing drinking songs or something of the nature, and we came to the conclusion that America has no traditional drinking or party songs.

The closest thing to traditional American songs we could think of was "Yankee-Doodle Dandy" and "Home on the Range," but we couldn’t remember more than one verse for each. By now most of Europe was accounted for and some poor lonely soul from Uzbekistan was straining our ears. Kristin kept asking for the Americans to come to the front and take the microphone, but we managed to stall every time. We moved on to pop songs, Christmas songs, and Memphis music but either one of us (mostly Christen) wouldn’t know the lyrics, or it wasn’t a song fitting for only a few lyrics to be sung, like the National Anthem. A French boy looked at me and questioned how a guy from Memphis couldn’t think of any songs to sing, then, all in good fun of course, started a chant with his French buds for the Americans to sing. Christen and I decided on the one verse we knew of "Yankee-Doodle Dandy" and walked the long walk to the front of the bus.

It was short and sweet, but too short. Kristin told us to sing more because our selection was so much shorter than all the others. With the pressure on Christen said the first thing that came to her mind: "The Wheels on the Bus." Worse yet, I agreed. And so it was that we represented the good ol’ US of A with a heartfelt rendition of the "The Wheels on the Bus." On the second round of "round, round, round" the other foreigners joined in, and it occurred to me that to those unable to comprehend the lyrics this silly child’s song may actually seem like a drinking song. Who knows, go to a bar in Poland five years from now and maybe you’ll hear "The Wheels on the Bus" being sung by a group of drunks.

In seriousness though, this event reminded me that America still lacks some the deep traditions that fill so many other cultures of the world. Honestly, do we have any drinking songs? I hope that Christen and I are simply clueless on this matter. Coming from the Bible Belt I can think of plenty of gospel and church songs, but nothing from the other end of the spectrum. Please let me know if you have anything, and something other than "99 Bottles of Beer."

Stay tuned for another entry by Saturday on my first week of classes. I have also been busy taking pictures around town, and I plan to make a post about Eichstaett and the university sometime soon.


B said...

I have some drinking songs but seeing as how not many people listen to the same music that I do I cant say that they are real drinking songs as much as they are songs that I like to hear while drunk.

Nick O. said...

Ya, I don't think that's quite the same thing, but thanks.

Mycroft Jones said...

i saw your first photo and immediately thought "why aren't there sheep? that picture needs sheep!"

and drinking songs:


Mycroft Jones said...

and judging by all your pictures, there's nothing to eat in germany but pig and fermented cabbage. are daily heart attacks a quaint part of bavarian culture?

also, pray for us. natalie and i have to go to...the city which shall not be named...to apply for visas. apparently france requires them of all students, and apparently america doesn't issue them unless you show up at the consulate in person. hints: it's three hours from knoxville, is big into planes and sodie pop, and is cursed by ALL the gods.

Nick O. said...

Mycroft: Oh no, there's no reason for clarification, I knew which city you only with "the city which shall not be named." But are you sure you must do that? I thought I had to do that at first too, but then I discovered that I could do that once I arrived in Germany at a local office. Then again France is another country so it probably doesn't work exactly the same. Good luck with that, let me know how it goes.

As for the food, I really don't see that many overweight people. I think part of it is because they live more active lifestyles, like walking and riding their bikes to stores. But there are other, less greasy, foods consumed over here as well. I really don't think the average Bavarian or German eats brats and kraut everynight for dinner.