Monday, 11 November 2013

day-trip: oppenheim or down in the underground

The sun was out today as as part of disjointed reprieve in the weather and golden autumn before winter begins to set in.
I took a drive to the near- by town of Oppenheim around noon, marveling at the turning leaves of the vineyards racing past on one side and on opposite at the narrowing Rhine river and pleasure boots moored to hibernate for the season.
This town between Mainz and Speyer was along the road of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV's penitential Walk to Canossa (the source of the saying, “nach Canossa gehen,” meaning an act of humility or submission—taking ones lumps) a fortress in northern Italy, in hopes that the Pope might reverse the decision to excommunicate Henry for insisting that he was his sacral right to nominate bishops. The Emperor crossed the Alps barefoot and in a hair-shirt, the account goes, and was made to kneel outside in a blizzard for three days before being admitted into the fortress.
The town's history, however, extends back to Roman times and is nowadays renowned for its wine production, vines winding and cascading any place a foothold is available, and is anchored with a quite romantic little Altstadt surrounded by turreted-walls and the beautiful Gothic church of Saint Katherine, absolutely brilliant with a kaleidoscope of fine stained-glass windows.
This outstanding church is most significant work of the era between the cathedrals of Köln and Strasbourg, and having seen many additions and rebuilding since its dedication in 1225, has a small exhibit on stone-cutting and glass-liming as well as having a few extra puzzle pieces stored away. Behind the church is a small chapel with a Charnel House below, an ossuary with the bones of some 20 000 residents, pilgrims passing through and soldiers from the many battles that occurred here.

And just beyond, on the Weinburg, are the impressive ruins of castle Landskron, channelling the sunlight and offering a sweeping view of the region. These royal walls, the shell of an imperial palace, are testament to events the saw the town's complete destruction in the late 1600s, when burnt during the Nine Years' War when France took control of the Rhine valley, and the only other evidence is found in a suburban labyrinth of medieval passages that connect the vaulted cellars in a network that spans the entire town centre.
Guided tours can be arranged that lead one through these tunnels, though only an estimated three percent of mysterious maze has been rediscovered, corresponding to the town as it was before the fire and not necessarily as it was rebuilt, on the weekends, so this will be an adventure for another day.
Many houses and offices, however, are linked together by these passageways that rise and fall on several levels below the streets. This storied town also featured an elementary school with a wonderfully grand Art Deco (Bauhaus) doorway and façade from 1926.  There is too the former Franciscan Cloister of St. Bartholomäus (St. Bartholomew, now a parish church) with this really great modern, abstract mural on its walls makes it look like the shrine of the Autobots.